2 Corinthians 8:1-24
L. New Covenant Stewardship - 8:1-9:15
The historical background to the Jerusalem Collection:
See 1 Cor. 16:1-4; Rom. 15:25-27. Ralph Martin gives this explanation for the causes of poverty in Jerusalem:
"It may be the church had grown in size, and with increasing numbers of widows to care for, the relief fund was overburdened (cf. Acts 6:1-7). We know that elderly Jewish families migrated to the holy city to spend their last days and eventually to be buried there in expectation of the resurrection of the dead. Some scholars suggest that Galilean Christians undertook a similar pilgrimage to Jerusalem to await the advent of the Messiah whose appearing there was anticipated" (The Worship of God, 69-70).
In addition to overpopulation, there was social and economic ostracism, disinheritance, disruption of family ties, persecution, and the lingering effects of the famine of a.d. 46 (cf. Acts 11:27-30). Paul's efforts to raise money to help the saints in Jerusalem were obviously justified. This was a concrete expression of his resolve as stated in Gal. :2:10 - "They only asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do."
By pointing to the example of sacrificial giving set by the Macedonians (the Christians in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea), Paul hopes to stimulate the Corinthians to complete their efforts at contributing to the poverty-stricken church in Jerusalem (cf. vv. 10-11).
Before turning to 2 Cor. 8-9, let us look briefly at 1 Cor. 16:1-4. Here Paul says that giving is to be:
· purposeful ("for the saints"; cf. Gal. 6:10);
· periodical ("on the first day of the week");
· private ("let each one of you put aside by himself in store"); and
· proportionate ("as he may prosper").
[There is one point that must be made. The exhortations in 1 Cor. 16 as well as the instruction in 2 Cor. 8-9 are ad hoc, i.e., they pertain to a special, one-time, circumstance that arose because of hard economic times in Jerusalem. In other words, Paul's counsel in these passages concerns a special offering for the church in Jerusalem. Are we free to conclude that Paul intended everything he says in these texts to apply to the ordinary, week-in, week-out, financial stewardship of believers in the local church?]
1. the example of the Christians in Macedonia - 8:1-5
a. their giving was the result of God's grace in their lives - v. 1
If the Macedonians "gave themselves to the Lord" in this ministry (v. 5), it is because God had first "given his grace" (v. 1) to them. Whatever achievement on their part is praised, it is ultimately attributed to the antecedent activity of divine grace. Here we see the harmony between the antecedent presence of divine grace and the moral accountability of human decisions. In v. 3 Paul says they gave "of their own accord," while in v. 1 their willingness is traced to a gift of God: grace. The same principle is found in vv. 16-17 where Paul says God put "earnestness" in Titus' heart, who in turn, "of his own accord," went to the Corinthians.
The use of the perfect tense in the verb, "has been given," perhaps points to the fact that, although given at a point in the past, grace continues to exercise its influence into the present.
Note the use of the word charis, "grace", throughout this section of 2 Corinthians. It is used in 8:1,4,6,7,9,16,19;9:8,14,15, with a wide range of meaning, from divine enablement to human privilege to a monetary gift to a word of gratitude to divine favor. What does this tell us about the nature of our giving, as well as its ultimate cause? Grace is more than an attitude or disposition in the divine nature. It is surely that, but an examination of the usage of this word in Scripture reveals that grace, if thought of only as an abstract and static principle, is deprived of its deeper implications. The grace of God, for example, is the power of God's Spirit converting the soul. It is the activity or movement of God whereby He saves and justifies the individual through faith (see esp. Rom. 3:24; 5:15,17). Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well. Grace, however, is not only the divine act by which God initiates our spiritual life, but also the very power by which we are sustained in, nourished, and proceed through that life. The energizing and sanctifying work of the indwelling Spirit is the grace of God. After Paul had prayed three times for God to deliver him from his thorn in the flesh, he received this answer: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Although Paul undoubtedly derived encouragement and strength to face his daily trials by reflecting on the magnificence of God's unmerited favor, in this text he appears to speak rather of an experiential reality of a more dynamic nature. It is the operative power of the indwelling Spirit to which Paul refers. That is the grace of God. We should also consider in this regard the many references to the grace of God in Paul's opening greetings and concluding benedictions (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess.1:1; 2 These. 1:2; Titus 1:4; 2 Cor. 13:14). This no mere literary formality, but an earnest and constant wish of Paul that his converts may continue to experience grace, that they may know afresh the gracious power of God moving in their lives, that they may find in that grace the spiritual resources by which to live in a way pleasing to Him. Besides the general soteriological usage of the word with which everyone is familiar, grace can also denote the particular acts of God whereby He grants enablement for some service or authorization for a specific duty or mission (Rom. 12:3; 15:15-18; 1 Cor. 3:10). It is not without significance that the word grace and its derivatives are used in the description of what we call "spiritual gifts." We read in Romans 12:6: "We have different gifts [charismata], according to the grace [charin] given us."
b. they gave joyfully, notwithstanding their own affliction - v. 2a
See 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14.
Contrast this with how we all too often respond to affliction, especially when it comes to the use of our money. We use affliction and hardship as an excuse not to give. Suffering often drives us inward, leading us to obsessive concern for ourselves. In the case of the Macedonians, they looked at their affliction as a platform from which to give generously, and rather than letting their hardship drive them inward, it drove them outward (to help others).
They did not give because God had prospered them financially. He hadn't! Financial blessing didn't lead to joy. Rather, joy led to a financial blessing (for the saints in Jerusalem). Their joy, therefore, was not in money, but in God and the experience of His grace. Piper explains:
"How did such countercultural and counter-natural behavior come about? How were the Christians freed from the natural love of money and comfort? Part of the answer in verse 2 is that their abundance of joy overflowed. Joy in something else had severed the root of joy in money. They had been freed by joy to give to the poor. But where did this powerful, unearthly joy come from? The answer is that it came from the grace of God. . . . What the Corinthians [as well as you and I] are supposed to learn from this story is that the same grace that was given in Macedonia is available now in Corinth" (Future Grace, 71-72).
We tend to think that affliction means that grace has lifted or that grace is absent. The worse the affliction we endure, the less grace has been given. No. Here we see that as affliction worsened, grace increased. Affliction is not necessarily a sign of divine displeasure. Indeed, it may well be the occasion for the display of extraordinary mercy and power.
c. they gave generously, notwithstanding their own poverty - v. 2b
Although they had hit rock-bottom in their poverty, they overflowed in rich generosity. Generosity is not the exclusive privilege of the wealthy. The depth and wealth of a gift is not determined quantitatively. Although the precise amount of their giving was probably comparatively small, they are regarded as having made a huge contribution. The issue in giving is not amount, but proportion. This is the point Jesus makes in Luke 21:1-4.
"And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, 'Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.'"
"In the midst of testing affliction the Macedonian Christians knew an abundance of joy, and their rock-bottom poverty they had used as an opportunity for abounding in the wealth of generosity" (Hughes, 288). Or again, "so deep was the poverty that you could not dig it out," says Lenski (1127), and yet "so great their joy that it poured itself out in a tide of wealth."
Note well the dynamic at work here: grace comes down, joy rises up, generosity flows out. It is because of divine grace that they experienced joy, and because they experienced such joy in grace that they gave so generously.
d. they gave not simply according to but beyond their ability to give - v. 3a
As they looked at their ability to give, they no doubt took into consideration both their present situation and their future needs and obligations. Having done so, they then showed total disregard for both! This is not because they were foolish. Undoubtedly they knew the consequences for themselves and willingly embraced them. In all likelihood, "they determined what they could comfortably contribute and then went beyond this figure" (Belleville, 213). They were able to take this approach because grace was operative in their hearts. That alone can account for this remarkable demonstration of love and earnestness on their part.
e. they gave not of compulsion or coercion but of their own accord, freely and voluntarily - v. 3b
They didn't give out of greed (thinking that by giving they would eventually get back more in return), guilt, fear, in response to an apostolic command, or any such reason.
f. their giving was not in response to Paul's request of them, but as a result of their request of Paul - v. 4a
Paul refused to ask them for money for the collection, knowing full well their financial condition. They were forced to urgently plead, indeed, beg Paul for the opportunity to participate in this ministry! Amazing: most people beg to get money; the Macedonians beg to give money!
"When poverty-stricken Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving money to other poor saints, we may assume that this is what they want to do, not just ought to do, or have to do, but really long to do. It is their joy --- an extension of their joy in God. To be sure, they are 'denying themselves' whatever pleasures or comforts they could have from the money they give away, but the joy of extending God's grace to others is a far better reward than anything money could buy. The Macedonians have discovered the labor of Christian Hedonism: love! It is the overflow of joy in God which gladly meets the needs of others" (John Piper, Desiring God, 104).
g. they looked upon the opportunity to give not as a burden but as a privilege (lit., a "grace") - v. 4b
The word translated "participation" = koinonia, "fellowship". They gave because they envisioned themselves in partnership or in fellowship with the Jerusalem saints.
The "saints" referred to here are most carefully identified in Rom. 15:26 as "the poor among the saints at Jerusalem." Evidently, not all the "saints at Jerusalem" were "poor".
h. they far exceeded Paul's expectation by offering more than money: they offered up themselves to whatever service might prove necessary - v. 5
As Clements says, "instead of the calculated thriftiness of an accountant, they had demonstrated the almost irrational extravagance of a lover" (151).
2. the effect on the Christians in Corinth - 8:6-7
a. the initial commitment must now be consummated - v. 6
Why had the Corinthians stopped short of bringing their participation in the collection to a conclusion? Perhaps Paul's opponents in Corinth were responsible, having suggested that Paul was somehow deceiving the Corinthians, all the while planning to keep the money (or a portion of it) for himself.
b. if the Macedonians gave in poverty, how much more ought the Corinthians to give in prosperity (both spiritually [cf. 1 Cor. 1:4-7] and materially) - v. 7
"The Corinthians were strong in activities that are local to and centered upon them (miracle-working faith, charismatic speech, and theological understanding), but weak on those that are for the benefit of those outside, in this case the 'saints in Jerusalem.' As they overflow in other 'graces,' let them also overflow in this" (Barnett, 403-04).
3. the model for Christian giving: Christ - 8:8-9
[Paul has already appealed to (1) the example of the Macedonians in vv. 1-5,8; and to (2) the initial commitment of the Corinthians themselves in v. 6. He has also based his appeal on (3) the abundance of spiritual gifts the Corinthians enjoy (v. 7). He will now appeal to the example of Christ Jesus himself.]
a. grace-giving is not in obedience to apostolic command - v. 8
b. grace-giving is to be patterned after the self-impoverishment of the Son of God - v. 9
Three questions need to be answered:
· First, in what sense was Christ "rich"? See Isa. 6:1-5; John 17:5; Phil. 2:6. Among other things, this refers to the incalculable "wealth" of his eternal glory.
· Second, in what sense did Christ become "poor"? See Isa. 53; Phil. 2:6-8.
· Third, in what sense have we become "rich" through his "poverty"? Clearly this is not material wealth he has in mind. Among other things, we have become "rich in the righteousness" of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
"If this love of Christ, so magnanimous in its motive and so self-sacrificing in its execution, is an active force in the believer's heart, how unnecessary, the apostle implies, any command to practice giving ought to be. What, without that love, might seem a cold moral duty has been transformed by it into a joyous privilege" (Tasker, 116).
4. the consummation of Christian giving - 8:10-11
5. the principles of Christian giving - 8:12-15
a. giving is to be in proportion to wealth - v. 12
See also v. 11b. Note well that Paul does not ask or expect them to do what the Macedonians did. The Macedonians had indeed given beyond proportion; they had, in a manner of speaking, given what they did not have. Paul's words in v. 12b indicate that he is not suggesting that the Corinthians (or anyone else, for that matter) go out and borrow money in order to give. He assumes that they have "disposable income" from which they might draw to provide the needed help. What does this say, if anything, about going into debt by using one's credit card to make financial contributions?
b. giving is to be characterized by a spirit of reciprocity - vv. 13-15
Paul is not suggesting that the Corinthians suffer financially so that others might flourish. It is "from the abundance or surplus of those who are better-off that Paul expects the needs of those who are worse-off to be met. He does not advocate that those who are better-off reduce themselves to poverty also. The reciprocity of giving and receiving is meant to promote an equality" (Kruse, 157). Thus Paul envisions a time in the future when the circumstances may be reversed. Perhaps one day the Jerusalem church will have a surplus and the Corinthians be in need.
Clements rightly points out that Paul "is not arguing for an ethic of distributive justice. . . . Paul is not suggesting that there is anything essentially immoral in the fact that the Corinthians seem to have more than their brethren in Jerusalem. That would only have been the case if the Corinthians' financial advantage was the result of exploitation on their part; and there is no hint of any such thing" (155).
6. the administration of Christian giving - 8:16-24
a. the role of Titus - vv. 16-17
Titus is motivated by his interest in them, not their money. Again, note that Titus' zeal for the Corinthians is itself a gift of God!
b. the commendation of Titus' first traveling companion - vv. 18-19
Who is this man? Barnabas? Silas? Timothy? Luke? Apollos?
c. the need for caution, care, and common sense in monetary affairs - vv. 20-21
Paul's credibility had been dealt a severe blow because of his unwillingness to accept financial support while ministering in Corinth at the same time he appealed for a special collection. "This led to various suspicions and, when his opponents arrived on the scene, apparently outright accusations about his handling of money matters and what it revealed about his apostolic status. Money matters were a – if not the – most serious obstacle to reconciliation between Paul and his converts, and these matters had to be addressed before he could go on the attack against the opponents" (Witherington, 412).
Paul was convinced that nothing could more easily destroy his ministry and his reputation with the Corinthians and others than doubts about his integrity in financial affairs. "Hence everything must be 'above board,' not only in the eyes of the Lord but particularly also before men" (Barnett, 424; cf. Prov. 3:4).
d. the commendation of Titus' second traveling companion - v. 22
e. the commendation of them all with an exhortation to receive them - vv. 23-24
The word translated "messengers" in v. 23 is apostoloi, or "apostles". Here we see Paul using the term in a broad, non-theological, non-technical sense to refer to church envoys or ambassadors, delegates appointed by churches for specific tasks and missions.
With regard to the administration of Christian giving or the handling of church funds, Paul endorses at least three fundamental principles:
· First, Paul evidently thought it wise that those who were to oversee monetary affairs should first be tested and proven (cf. 8:22; 1 Tim. 3:10).
· Second, Paul believed there was safety in numbers. The appointment of the two traveling companions for Titus was not only to protect him from thieves, but also to protect both him and Paul from accusation and suspicion.
· Third, those handling church funds should have the confidence of the people (cf. 7:13,15; 8:18b-19a).