Nothing displays generosity than springtime on a ranch. Branding time calls for help from neighbors and friends alike. For a lifestyle that prides itself on individualism and independence, the branding pen is a place where everyone leans on each other, trusts the team, and depends on every other person there to accomplish the task. The task is completed by the good will and generosity of the community. I have never been to a branding where money was exchanged. In most cases it is a handshake and thank you. Oftentimes the favor is returned, never out of compulsion, but out of generosity. A generous heart is at the very center of the cowboy lifestyle.
I see it in the arena; bareback riders helping a competitor setting their riggin; bull riders pulling their competitions rope; parents helping their daughters main challenger rosin a goat string, or helping another kid with their horse; pushing calves in the roping chute, pulling gates, or helping a horse back into the box with no return expected is generosity on display. Some of these jobs are so bad to do, its impossible to be fired from them. Its generosity on display. Generosity is the action of service, via time, money, or giftedness, that is given with no anticipation of return.
Over the last year or so my relationship with the Church, the Bride and Body of Christ, could be classified as tumultuous. I love it more than ever, but question what it is. I went to Scripture to try to rectify God’s word with the opinions of those I know and trust. Trying to answer the question of “what the church is?” and “what should it be?” has been a fun and frustrating study. I feel like I know less now than ever, but one thing I do know is this: generosity is at the forefront of a healthy community.
There was one community, a region that was known for their generosity. Paul appreciated them so much that he paused in the middle of a letter to another congregation, the Church at Corinth, to inform them about the generosity of the churches of Macedonia. When I first read 2 Corinthians 8, I was really confused by Paul’s rabbit trail, but then realized he does it everywhere else. The New Testament contains three letters to churches in Macedonia (Philippians, 1 & 2nd Thessalonians) and each letter contains similar praises for the congregations, perhaps the most common praise is for their generosity. Thessalonica and Philippi were some of the leading cities in the region of Macedonia and apparently leading cities in the early church. Every time they come up, Paul is bragging about their generosity.
At the end of the letter to the Roman Church, Paul mentions how pleased the church in Macedonia was in giving to the poor in Jerusalem. (Rom. 15.26) In the aforementioned Second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wants the Corinthian Church to know about the generosity showed him by the churches in Macedonia. (2 Cor. 8.1-9) The generosity flows out of a place of severe trial, extreme poverty, but overflowing joy. (2 Cor. 8.2) The generosity (gk – aplotes) that Paul talks about, elsewhere in Scripture, denotes not only giving, but the attitude with which it is offered. The word is translated “sincerity” and “sincere devotion” (2 Cor. 11.3). The Macedonian Church was not only generous in the giving and support of the Kingdom, but sincere in their generosity. Should Cowboys have ridden the Roman Range, the Macedonian churches would have been the first to show up at the branding, the last to leave the chutes, the first with trash bag in hand, and the last to ask for attention.
When it comes down to it, I need to be more like the Macedonian Church. Paul makes no qualms about how this region of Churches furthered the Kingdom of God. My mission on this earth is to bring God’s Kingdom to every life I encounter and every place I go. My generosity is part of that mandate and mission. These churches found ways to be generous, though the odds were stacked against them. Their attitude, in the midst of suffering at the hands of others and in their own homes, remained generous. We often, despite far less desperate circumstances, hold on to our possessions with white-knuckle grip, or give them over begrudgingly. Scripture from the pen of Paul, holds up these churches as an example for the Church of Corinth to emulate, and us to follow as well.
Make it a point this week to find an opportunity to be generous with your time, money, or gifts. Help someone who can’t help themselves. Do it not out of an attitude of suffering or expectation of return, but follow the example of the Churches of Macedonia and do it out of sincerity and the grace that you have been given by God. Whether its helping change a tire on some remote highway, pushing calves in the hot sun, opening a door for someone at Walmart, or bringing a coffee to a co-worker, acts of generosity bring the rule and reign of God to this earth. The Churches of Macedonia understood the role they played in the mission of God. And we get to be a small part of this grand plan that God has in redeeming the world by showing generosity to the lives we encounter every day. Paul thought that it is worth writing about!