2 Corinthians 8

 

CHAPTER 8

 

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Corinthians 8:1 

Pett remarks: “We should note here the oblique way in which Paul introduces the question of the collection, so much so that to begin with, we are not aware of what he is doing…” 1  Keener says: “Paul is forced to do here the very thing that he has so assiduously avoided in his own ministry (1 Cor. 9) – asking for funds…” 2

Paul begins his gentle appeal by speaking of God’s grace.  The Greek word for grace is charis and it means such things as gracefulness, loveliness, kindness, goodwill, favor.3  God had poured out his grace upon the Macedonians and they were more than ready to share their gifts with the needy Jerusalem church.  Stedman says, “…If I were to put that on a scale of one to ten, I would say that it [grace] rates absolutely number one as a motive for giving...” 4

As we enter into the subject of giving, there are a few things we need to understand.  Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians commanded to give the tithe, as was the case for the Old Testament people.  Initially, in the Book of Acts, we see that, because of God’s grace upon them, the Christians went far beyond any concept of tithing.  They sold their properties and gave the whole to the Lord (Acts 4:33-37).  We should thus never limit our giving to the tithe or ten-percent.  It might be a good place to start in our giving.

Old Testament giving began at the tithe, or 10 percent, but it never ended there.  In an agricultural economy the Sabbath observance would have cost the farmer the equivalent of another 14:2 percent in lost labor.  The Sabbatical Year would have required another 14.2 percent.  On these special years all Hebrew slaves were to be freed and all debts owed by fellow Hebrews were to be canceled (Deut. 15:1, 12).  Then, there were a lot of smaller laws, like the matter of not going back for second-pickings but leaving these for the poor (Lev. 19:9).  Speaking from my farm boy experience, these things would surely have cost the Israelite farmer another 5-10 percent.

Of course, we are already getting up over 50 percent of total income offered to God.  All this does not count the offerings. There were offerings of the first-born and first-fruits, plus, all males were required to go up to Jerusalem three times each year (Exo. 23:17), and they were forbidden to appear before the Lord emptyhanded (Deut. 16:16).  They had to bring choice animals from their flocks each time.  Then there were the whole offerings, cereal offerings, drink offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and trespass offerings (Lev. 1 – 5).  All these offerings could easily total up to another 5-10 percent of a family’s income. There were several other offerings that we could mention.  If the Hebrew, who did not know the grace of the Lord Jesus, could make such offerings, then what are we to do?  At least we can understand how the newly-saved Macedonians were anxious to give although they lived in near poverty.

These Macedonian cities, which surely included Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, were felt to be in a natural rivalry with the cities of Achaia.5  No doubt Paul is using this to create a friendly rivalry in the area of giving.

“In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (8:2).  The apostle makes clear that the Macedonian churches were under trial and that they were very poor.  Paul and Silas were severely oppressed when they brought the gospel to this area.  From what we read, it seems that the oppression continued after the team left.  Paul was even oppressed here as he returned to the area.

In many countries of the world today Christians are persecuted, and this often happens in the workplace.  We regularly read in mission journals of how Christians are often forced to take the most menial jobs, and how they are even oppressed on these lowly jobs. No doubt the Macedonians were experiencing this type of persecution and it was rendering them poverty stricken.

However, all this persecution did nothing to diminish the great joy they had in Christ. “The greater was the depth of their poverty, the greater was the abundance of their joy. A delightful contrast in terms, and triumph, in fact, of spirit over flesh… (compare Romans 12:8,..2 Corinthians 9:11…).” 6  My, how God loves a cheerful giver (9:7)!

“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (8:3-4).  The Macedonians probably began their giving around AD 55.  It is entirely likely that this was the reason Paul sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22). 7  It is clear that the Macedonian Christians were truly excited about giving to the needy in Jerusalem.  They were obviously begging Paul to let them give more.

The word “sharing” is an interesting one.  It is the Greek word koinonia, which is usually translated “fellowship.”  Barclay says, “In the Christian life there is a koinonia which means ‘practical sharing’ with those less fortunate.  Paul three times uses the word in connection with the collection he took from his churches for the poor saints at Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:4; 2 Cor. 9:13; cp. Heb. 13:16).  The Christian fellowship is a practical thing.” 8   It is amazing that in order to have true fellowship there must be true giving.

Corrie Ten Boom once said that the measure of a life is not its duration but its donation. The Macedonians gave and gave, even beyond their ability to give.  Trapp quips, “One such poor Macedonian might well shame a hundred rich Corinthian curmudgeons.” 9   We no doubt remember that it was the Macedonian church at Philippi that so often refreshed Paul with gifts, while the Corinthians and other churches did not bother (Phil. 4:10, 15, 16).

Stedman thinks it is amazing here that Paul still has not brought up the subject of “money.” 10

“And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (8:5).  Herein lies the secret of the Macedonian liberality.  They first gave themselves to the Lord and then the rest was easy.  Wiersbe comments: “If we give ourselves to God, we will have little problem giving our substance to God.  If we give ourselves to God, we will also give ourselves for others.” 11

 

ANOTHER ASSIGNMENT FOR TITUS

 

So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 2 Corinthians  8:6

We are seeing that Titus was a devoted and effective troubleshooter on behalf of the apostle.  As we have said, Titus was one guy who could get the job done in the churches.  It appears here that Titus, in his previous visit, even had encouraged the Corinthians regarding the offering for Jerusalem.  Actually, the Corinthians had known about the offering since Paul mentioned it in 1 Corinthians chapter 16.  “It appears (cf. 8:10; 9:2; 1 Cor. 16:1-4) that the Corinthian church had dillydallied too long about this collection.” 12  No doubt, the false apostles working in their midst had discouraged such a thing, for they probably had their eye on receiving Corinthian offerings for themselves.

Paul just wanted the matter finished quickly.  As the Scripture says, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride” (Eccl. 7:8).  The Corinthians had surely manifested enough pride in the past.  The Scripture also says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

“But since you excel in everything— in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you— see that you also excel in this grace of giving” (8:7).  Coffman suggests that Paul’s words here may be touched with a little bit of friendly irony.13  The Corinthians in the past felt that they excelled in many of the spiritual gifts, especially in gifts like wisdom and knowledge.  The apostle seems to be saying that since they excelled in these, they should know to excel in the gift of giving.

After all, giving to the needy is such a necessary and practical thing for Christians.  In 1 John 3:17-18 it is written: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

 

TESTING LOVE

 

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 2 Corinthians 8:8

Although Paul had great apostolic authority (10:8; 13:10) he did not try to use that authority regarding giving.  My old pastor used to say, “Authority is like soap.  The more you use it the less you have of it.”  Utley comments, “Commands are inappropriate and ineffective in the area of Christian stewardship.” 14

Some might wonder if it is fair to compare the giving of one church with that of another.  Guzik reminds us that Jesus compared the giving of that poor widow with her two mites with that of the wealthy (Lk. 21:1-4). 15

Rather than a command, Paul gives a blessed example, that of Christ, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (8:9).  Before his incarnation in the flesh, the Son of God was unimaginably rich in the heavenly realms.  In order for him to come to earth and be the Savior of humankind he had to be born in the flesh.  To do this it was necessary for him to empty himself of his divine prerogatives.  Philippians 2:6-8 gives us an excellent summary of this transition: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Jesus was born poor, from one of the smallest cities in Israel.  He spent most of his life in a carpenter shop in the small and insignificant town of Nazareth.  Throughout his ministry his needs were met from a common purse, and Judas was always stealing from that.  Stedman says of Jesus that he:

…was always borrowing. He had nothing of his own. He borrowed food, he borrowed clothing, he borrowed a coin to give an illustration, he borrowed a donkey to enter into the city of Jerusalem, and he finally had to borrow a tomb in which to be laid. There was one occasion when it says the disciples all went to their own homes, but he went to the Mount of Olives. He had no    home to go to, no place to lay his head. Isn’t that amazing? 16

Indeed, Jesus once said to a would-be follower, that although the foxes had holes and the birds had nests, he had no place to lay his head (Lk. 9:58).  Barnes says, “He ‘took upon himself the form of a servant…all his personal property seems to have been the raiment which he wore…he died poor. He made no will in regard to his property, for he had none to dispose of…The word ‘poverty’ here may include more than a mere lack of property. It may mean all the circumstances of his low estate and humble condition; his sufferings and his woes.” 17  Many preachers today treat Jesus as if he was wealthy and they assume that they too may become wealthy, but this is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel.  The gospel states that he became poor so that we who are desperately poor may become spiritually rich.

 

FINISHING THE WORK

 

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 2 Corinthians 8:10-11

It is obvious here that the Corinthians had a good head start in getting their offering together.  They may have been working on the offering a year or more.  Keener tells us that the expression “last year” could mean anywhere from nine to fifteen months earlier.18  It is clear that they had actually begun collecting the offering months before but somehow they had lagged.  Barclay says, “The tragedy of life so often is, not that we have no high impulses, but that we fail to turn them into actions.” 19

Comfort thinks that all of Paul’s encouragement sounds a little like a coach in the locker room at the halftime break.20  He knows the Corinthians can do better and even do great things.  He is just anxious that they get started.

Commentators are surprised that Paul does not have a full discussion of Christian giving somewhere in this section.  The apostle does not command the tithe as we have already mentioned.  Paul teaches that we should prepare and carry through with our giving; that it should be private and proportional.  It should be freely given with much generosity and cheerfulness. (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. Ch. 9).21

In a real sense we cannot give anything to the Lord.  Everything already belongs to him.  God says, “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine” (Psa. 50:9-11).  We merely use these things while we live on earth but we do not own them.  When we offer, we merely give God’s things back to him.

“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (8:12). God loves a willing giver as well as a cheerful giver (9:7).  The Lord does not expect us to give that which we do not have.  However, David Lipscomb says, “It is clearly a self-deception for an individual to think he pleases God under the perfect dispensation of Christ while doing less than the Israelites did under the typical dispensation.” 22  Coffman says that a lot of folks who think they are giving the widow’s mite are doing no such thing.  We see in the Bible that the poor widow gave everything she had.23

 

THE BEAUTY OF SHARING

 

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 2 Corinthians 8:13

Christian giving is not designed to carry a burden that others are able themselves to bear.  It is not designed to make others wealthy while we impoverish ourselves in the process.  It is to be fair and equitable.  For instance, the church should not care for individuals who have family members that are able to do the job (1 Tim. 5:16).  We must be careful not to become enablers who assist people to continue in their slothful and irresponsible lifestyles.

The Scripture is clear that many in Jerusalem were poor.  We no doubt remember that on one early occasion Paul and Barnabas had actually delivered a food gift for the Jerusalem church when a famine struck (Acts 11:28-30).  That great famine in the days of Claudius may have hit Israel hard and especially impoverished Jerusalem. The Holy City was also a place where large numbers of travelers came and needed lodging and provision.  Then there was the matter of sending out apostles and other workers who also needed provision.  In addition, Jerusalem believers were required to pay double taxes, both to Rome and to the Jewish authorities.24  Perhaps the most important thing for the Christians was that they were persecuted and ostracized for their faith.  There was discrimination in things like employment and unfortunately, that is still true with today’s Messianic Jews in Israel.

Through the centuries Jerusalem has often been impoverished.  There were always righteous people who came to live there and serve the Lord.  Many of these were supported from abroad and the same is true today.  While the city of Jerusalem now is modern, and in many ways even wealthy, there are thousands of Orthodox Jewish people who are sorely impoverished in the heart of the city.  For several years our Christian organization regularly supported many of these with several truckloads of food delivered there each month.

Some people have thought that the sharing together or the koinonia of the New Testament mentioned here is a communistic sort of thing.  This is in no way the case.  The whole Bible strongly supports private property and individual labor and wealth. Although worldwide Communism has essentially collapsed, there remains a strong movement on America’s college campuses to resurrect it.  Many professors are trying to revive the Marxist dream and “glory” that once was.  They do so by praising Communist dictatorships like those of Cuba and China.25  This is sad when we consider that on the eve of the American Revolution, the colonies had a higher per-capita income than the Soviet Union had some 220 years later.26

Paul certainly had a spiritual motive in helping Jerusalem.  The church had sprung from the city and the apostle had a keen sense of needing to pay back the Jews for the great gift of the gospel.  In Romans 15:27 he stated this clearly: “…For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.”  Of course, deep in Paul’s theology there was the idea that the Gentile believers were spiritually grafted into Israel (Rom. 11:17); that Christians would eventually make the Jewish people jealous or envious (Rom. 11:14), so that all Israel would be saved (Rom. 11:26).  The gifts to Jerusalem were merely a small beginning in this direction.

“At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality,” (8:14).  Unlike Macedonia, Corinth was a prosperous area.27  Even the Christians had money and it was not a huge problem for them to share it with the needy.  Keener comments, “God always supplies enough to the whole body of Christ, but it is up to Christians to make sure that the ‘enough’ is adequately distributed.” 28  As we see in this verse, that which we give has a strange way of coming back to us.  The Bible says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days” (Eccl. 11:1 NKJ).

Paul says, “as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’” (8:15). The apostle is referring back to the giving of manna in Israel’s ancient history. When Israel hungered in the wilderness God sent this heavenly food each day, and the supply continued forty years until Israel reached the Promised Land (Exo. 16:35).  On a daily basis each person was to gather the amount needed.  For those who tried to hoard the heavenly food it spoiled and became filled with maggots (Exo. 16:20).  However, before the Sabbath they were able to gather twice as much as normal and it did not breed maggots or spoil.  Clarke thinks that people gathered as much as they could before it melted away and then it was distributed by the omer to others who did not collect enough or to those who were unable to collect.29   As the Scripture says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” (Prov. 3:27).

 

THE RETURN MISSION OF TITUS TO CORINTH

 

Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.  For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. 2 Corinthians 8:16-17

God had really done a work in the heart of Titus and through him a work was done in the Corinthians.  It appears that there was a spiritual repentance and awakening that changed the hardened hearts in Corinth.  In previous verses we noticed a concern, a grieving and a mourning among the people (7:8-11), and this in itself is often an evidence of revival.

It seems from these verses that Titus was quite anxious to return to the Corinthian church and he did not fear the weighty matter of collecting the offering.  It appears here that the return was actually the idea of Titus.  As we have seen here and in other places, Titus had the same concern for the churches as did Paul.  It is very likely that Titus actually carried this letter to the church.30

The word “concern” (earnestness or devotion in other translations) is the Greek spouden, meaning also diligence.  Lowery calls this “one of Paul’s favorite words…” 31 Clearly, Titus was quite eager and even enthusiastic to return to Corinth.

“And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.  What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.” (8:18-19). Paul now dumps a mystery upon us.  Who in the world is the brother that is praised so highly by the churches?   Many ancient commentators felt that this mystery person was none other than Luke, who was possibly writing his gospel at the time. Of course, this is only a guess.  Other commentators have suggested Apollos or Barnabas.32  Some have felt that this brother was a representative of the churches in Macedonia as verse 19 and 23 seem to make clear.  These have suggested Aristarchus, Secundus (cf. Acts 20:4-5) or even Tychicus and Trophimus (cf. Acts 20:4; 21:29).33

There is much commentary on this subject, but the simple truth is that these opinions are all only guesses and really we do not have any idea who this person was.  Barclay says, “It is most interesting to note that this same Paul, who could write like a lyric poet and think like a theologian could, when it was necessary, act with the meticulous accuracy of a chartered accountant. He was a big enough man to do the little things and the practical things supremely well.” 34  Had it been important, he surely would have told us.

One chosen to accompany such a large offering to Jerusalem was certainly a person of high and trustworthy position in the church.  Keener notes: “Just as “synagogues throughout the Mediterranean would send their annual tribute to the Jerusalem temple via local representatives of high reputation, this offering is also to be administered in an irreproachable manner…The term for ‘appoint’ could indicate election by a show of hands or (more loosely) a casting of ballots, as was common in Greek administration.” 35

“We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.” (8:20-21). The early Jewish writer, Philo, also tells how highly regarded people were selected to travel with temple contributions when they were sent to Jerusalem.36  Paul is loosely quoting from Proverbs 3:4.  Calvin says, “There is nothing which is more apt to lay one open to sinister imputations than the handling of public money…” 37  This was such an important task that Paul changed his mind and decided that he also would accompany the gift (cf. Acts 20:22-24; 21:11-14). In view of all we have seen so far in the Corinthian letters we can surely understand how Paul was extra careful not to arouse additional criticism from the Corinthian church.  He wanted everything to be above board with no exceptions.

I well remember a dear friend in Jerusalem who had faithfully given money to a ministry that was supposedly located in the city.  After giving for some time she decided to go as a volunteer and help this ministry.  However, upon arriving in Jerusalem she made the shocking discovery that there was no such ministry located in the city.  She made the best of her situation by volunteering for other ministries that actually were located in Jerusalem.

“In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you” (8:22). Once again, we would love to know who this second mystery brother is.  Unfortunately, there has been no success in identifying him over the centuries.   Bruce says, “If it is difficult to identify the ‘brother’ of verse 18, it is impossible to identify this additional brother who accompanied Titus and the other on this occasion.” 38

 “As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ” (8:23).  The word “representatives” is the Greek apostoloi.  It must be understood that although these were sent out from the churches to be representatives, they were certainly not apostles in the sense that Peter and Paul were, since the latter were apostles chosen by the will of God.39  Throughout the Mediterranean world such messengers or envoys were highly respected and always received with great honor.40

“Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it” (8:24).  Comfort says, “The fact that Paul spent so much time recommending these emissaries and their mission to the Corinthians might indicate that Paul was a little apprehensive of how the Corinthians would treat them.” 41  For the most part, however, Paul could implicitly trust Titus and be quite assured that all would go well under his care.

Continue on to Chapter 9