2 Corinthians 9

 

CHAPTER 9

 

There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people.
2 Corinthians 9:1

Scholars have noted that this chapter seems a little repetitive and perhaps somewhat awkward.  However, we can be assured that Paul is continuing to deal with the same subject of chapter 8.  Carver says, “These verses are not a misplaced fragment, for the connection in thought is close with the preceding verses.” 1

Paul did not wish to be redundant but he did want to thoroughly make his point.  He continues with his thought of service to the Lord’s people. The word for service is the Greek diakonias.  Lowery points out how this word occurs more often in 2 Corinthians than it does in all the rest of Paul’s letters combined.  The word can refer to the work of collecting the gift for Jerusalem or to the actual gift itself.  He thinks the latter is more likely.2   This word is used in other places for Christian stewardship (e.g.  Acts 6:1; Rom. 15:31; 2 Cor. 8:4; 12, 13).

The apostle is just anxious that the Corinthians will get on with the matter of collecting the offering for Jerusalem.  Barclay cites an old Latin proverb which says, “He gives twice who gives quickly.”  He thinks that the best gifts are those made before they are actually requested.3

For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action” (9:2). Once again, we see that Paul is playing somewhat off the natural rivalry that existed between the Greek and Macedonian cities.  Corinth was the proud capital city in the province of Achaia and the city had a good deal of civic pride.4  No doubt the apostle is using the poor Macedonians to stir into action the well-to-do Corinthians.

Paul mentions how the original enthusiasm of the Corinthians stirred up the Macedonians and challenged them to give.  The word for “stirred” is the Greek erethizō and it means to excite in a good sense.5   Of course, it is a good thing in the Christian world that we encourage others in this area, as Hebrews 10:24 has it, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…”

We can easily sense that Paul was in a tough spot.  He had bragged about his friends in Corinth, which was a customary thing to do in the ancient world as we have seen.  However, there had been a lot of evidence that the Corinthians did not carry through with their good plans.  The results of this could be quite embarrassing for Paul and for the Corinthians as well.

“But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be” (9:3). Suddenly, Paul is putting the pressure on the Corinthians.  The brothers from Macedonia are being dispatched and will be there soon.  This reminds me of my daughter and son-in-law when their five children were small.  They always kept what they called the fifteen-minute closet.  When the house was strewn with toys and the telephone rang, often the cry of distress was “O my goodness, they will be here in fifteen minutes!”  On such occasions, everything was crammed into the fifteen-minute closet and they were ready for guests.  We can imagine how the money was flying in a flurry around Corinth when they got Paul’s word.   

“For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we— not to say anything about you— would be ashamed of having been so confident” (9:4). It seems that Paul was concerned that he might have to “eat crow” as the American idiom has it.  If the Corinthians were found unprepared, he would be greatly humiliated and even mortified for having bragged on them.  

“So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given” (9:5).  So Titus and the two unknown brothers were about to make their departure for Corinth to see how the saints there were coming along with their generous gift.  Obviously the Corinthians had made a rather sizeable pledge and now it was time to squirm.

It is probably true that Titus and the team would also be there to help the Corinthians get it together.  Comfort mentions how the Billy Graham organization operated when they were about to hold a great crusade.  The organization would send an advance team and that team would spend many months making all the arrangements, like meeting people, negotiating contracts, training volunteers— all this for an evangelistic meeting that would take only a few days.6  Long ago, I had the opportunity of being a cooperating pastor in one of these crusades and can verify that this information is correct.  We pastors were carefully trained on how to encourage our own people to attend and also how we were to counsel those who would come forward for salvation during the meetings.

God certainly did not want the Corinthian gifts to be squeezed out of the people or to be grudgingly given.  He wanted the gifts to be a blessing (eulogia) to both the giver and the receiver.

 

SOWING KINGDOM SEED

 

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2 Corinthians 9:6 

It is likely that Paul is repeating a saying or maxim with which most everyone at the time was familiar.  This saying is very similar to Proverbs 11:24, and may be based upon it: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.”  7  Certainly, the apostle was speaking to people who were, for the most part, involved in an agricultural economy.  People knew about seed and the mysteries of sowing and reaping.  It was well-known that those who sowed seeds in a miserly fashion would reap the same way and those who sowed bountifully would reap bountifully.  It was surely more difficult for the ancients to sow seed than it is with the farmer today.  In those early days, the seed was also the food that the family would need for the winter.  It was surely difficult to part with some of it.

There are several Scriptural ideas involved in sowing and reaping. The Prophet Hosea says, “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you” (Hos. 10:12). Then there is that great verse that also has a precious promise for us: “…Blessed is he who considers the poor; The LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive, And he will be blessed on the earth…” (Psa. 41:1-2 NKJ)Finally, it is Jesus’ words that are most meaningful: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Lk. 6:38).

So giving and helping the poor is much like sowing seed.  The measure we use to sow is the measure we someday will receive.  It pays us to give liberally and not grudgingly.  It pays both at the present and in the future.  The Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle tells of being at home alone as a small boy when a beggar came to the door.  On an impulse he broke his savings bank and gave everything that was in it to the beggar.  He says that never before in his whole life did he experience such sheer joy and happiness as he had at that moment.8

Sowing and reaping work both ways.  Galatians 6:7 warns us: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”  No doubt, there are those who have sown wickedness who are now praying for a crop failure.  Job says, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (Job 4:8).  The author of Proverbs says: “Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken…”
(Prov. 22:8).

So we must give, and do so with generous hearts.  Godbey, the circuit riding preacher, tells his own story of being assigned to a run-down and nearly dead circuit.  He was met with the stewards who themselves wished to resign and they quickly assured him that the circuit had never paid the preachers properly.  Instead, they had to wring money out of the stingy people.  Godbey said to them: “I have but one charge to make you with reference to your duty to collect money for me, and that is that you be sure that you never receive anything that is not given with a free and cheerful heart. If I find out to the contrary I will send back everything that is reluctantly contributed.” They promptly advised him that he would soon starve.  Godbey took the assignment and gave the people the same charge that he gave the stewards.  The year passed and the people gave more than double of that in former years.  Later, the stewards told of people actually running after them begging them to take their contributions.9

The blessed gift from the Gentile churches to Jerusalem was bound to work for good in many ways.  First of all, it would help an urgent need in the city.  Second, it would bring rich blessings to the givers and elicit praise to God from the receivers.  Barclay adds, “…The very fact of the gift of the Gentile Churches must have guaranteed to them the reality of Gentile Christianity.” 10  As we may remember, there was still much doubt and question in the Jewish community as to the legitimacy of Gentile Christianity.

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7).  Long ago Basil said: “People who give reluctantly or under compulsion present a blemished sacrifice which should not be accepted.” 11  God desires that we give freely and cheerfully.  Clarke tells how offerings were made in ancient Israel:

The Jews had in the temple two chests for alms; the one was… of what was necessary, i.e. what the law required, the other was… of the free-will offerings. To escape perdition some would grudgingly give what necessity obliged them;  others would give cheerfully, for the love of God, and through pity to the poor.  Of the first, nothing is said; they simply did what the law required. Of the second, much is said; God loves them.12

The Greek word concerning this cheerful manner of offering is an interesting one.  It is the word hilaron.  Utley comments on this: “‘God loves a cheerful giver.’ This seems to be from Proverbs 22:8 in the Septuagint…We get the English term, ‘hilarious,’ from this Greek root.” 13  Let us go ahead and say it, “God loves a hilarious giver.”

With this information, I think back to our early pastoral ministry. My wife and I heard of a young couple in the church who were having a difficult time financially.  We decided to give them a nice amount of money, but we wanted to do it in such a way that they would never know where it came from.  We managed to do that, and we were quite happy that we had pulled it off.  In fact, the more I thought about them finding the money and never knowing where it came from, the happier I got.  Finally, I could not restrain myself.  I laughed so hard that actually I got down and rolled in the floor laughing.  Perhaps this is something of what Paul is speaking of in this passage.

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (9:8).  Regardless of which translation of the Bible we read, we must be amazed at the repetition of the word “all.”  We cannot miss the universals— that in all things; at all times; having all we need, we abound in every good work.  God does not bless us so that we can live selfishly in our abundance.  He blesses us so that we may share our abundance with others.  As we give to others, the Lord blesses us more and more.

However, we should  note the Greek word for having all we need, or having all sufficiency.  The word here is autarkeia.  Barclay says of the word: “This was a favorite Stoic word. It does not describe the sufficiency of the man who possesses all kinds of things in abundance. It means independence. It describes the state of the man who has directed life not to amassing possessions but to eliminating needs. It describes the man who has taught himself to be content with very little. It is obvious that such a man will be able to give far more to others because he wants so little for himself.” 14

No doubt, we have all experienced with some disgust the hoarding of wealth in our society. Some of the people who earn the most are probably our professional football players, some whom earn multiplied millions of dollars in a single year.  By all accounts they should be happy and successful.  However, we are told that within 3 years after retirement 70 percent of these players will be divorced, bankrupt or even homeless.  The statistics for all professional sports players are about 60 percent.15

God wants to save us all from such a lifestyle.  He wants us to share what we have with others.  God even wants us to test him in this matter (Mal. 3:10) and to assure ourselves that his benevolent plan will work for us and for others.

“As it is written: ‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever’” (9:9). Here Paul is quoting Psalm 112:9 from the Septuagint version.  When we give freely we are blessed.  There is a strange way in which what we give eventually returns to us in abundance.  The reformer, Martin Luther once said: “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” 16   Then there is that wonderful promise in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

The early Christian writer, Ambrosiaster, comments: “If the righteousness of a man who gives to the poor endures forever, how much more will this be true of a man who gives to the saints.” 17

 

GOD’S SUPPLY AND INCREASE

 

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 2 Corinthians 9:10

As we have said, God supplies and even increases our supply in order that we can supply those who are in need.  It is never to be used only for our selfish purposes.  It is thought here that Paul is referring to Isaiah 55:10: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater…” (Isa. 55:10).  Barker and Kohlenberger say, “God continues to enrich benevolent people so that they can go on enriching others by their generosity (cf. 1:4).” 18

I remember another incident from my early pastorate.  We had a dear saint in our church by the name of Frankie.  She and her husband lived very close, financially speaking.  On one occasion they learned that some of their relatives were coming for a visit.  They counted their extra money and found that they had very little to spare, only $5 in fact.  In a prayerful mood they went to the grocery store but they were only able to buy a little bit of ground beef and some other small items.  Frankie took the beef and made a meatloaf for her guests.  When they arrived she served them all with it.  Her guests were delighted and bragged profusely about the meatloaf.  For the next day’s meal the guests asked if they could possibly have more of the wonderful meatloaf.  Frankie happily brought out the small remainder and served her guests again.  This continued for about three days while the meatloaf kept stretching and the guests kept commenting on how wonderful it was.

All this reminds us of the time when the prophet of God had to entertain a hundred guests.  Fortunately, a man had just come bringing the prophet twenty barley loaves along with some heads of first ripe grain.  The twenty loaves would not go very far with the hundred hungry men, but the prophet served them and declared that they would all eat and have something left over (2 Ki. 4:42-44).  So it happened just as the prophet had predicted.

There is an interesting Greek word used here for “supply.”  It is the word chorēgeō, and in it we recognize the English word for “chorus.”  In Greek times certain rich benefactors would lavishly supply the local choir in their staged productions.19  This is but a small and incomplete picture of God’s lavish supply to those who are willing to share their wealth with others.

I also well remember when our little Christian organization in Israel heard that vast numbers of new immigrants from the former USSR were beginning to arrive at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.  We all knew that a miracle was beginning (Isa. 43:5-6) and we wanted to help, but our organization was extremely poor.  In fact, we could barely pay the rent on the small apartment we had acquired.  We decided that we would make a few welcome baskets with kitchen items for the new arrivals.  I remember how we made eight or ten of these and I also remember how I had to borrow $10 from the secretary to complete them.  We began to hand the baskets out and welcome the new immigrants to Israel.

That very night, the Director and I were called to speak to a US tour group.  They were excited about what we were doing and wanted to help.  They took an offering for us and we were amazed that it was over $500.  That was more money than we had seen in some time.  Then the tour leader said that a certain man who could not come had sent a check, and he revealed that the check was for $10,000.  The Director and I could have fainted in excitement at this news.  For several years afterward I kept a copy of this check for our encouragement.

It is interesting that from that night, our organization continued to give gifts to the new immigrants and we never stopped giving.  God also never stopped providing.  From a few dollars, the gifts increased to a few thousand, then a few hundred thousand and finally to many millions of dollars.  That was back in the very early 199os, and the organization continues to this day to give gifts of food, blankets, cooking utensils and other items to new immigrants and to many other needy folks in Israel.  Now, instead of just having one large warehouse in Jerusalem they also have another one in the Galilee.

“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (9:11). Here it is again, the great truth that we are enriched by God so that we can be generous to others.  This is not to be a one-time thing but something we do on every occasion.  We are reminded of the Dead Sea in Israel, which receives water from the Jordan and retains it all, as compared to the Sea of Galilee, which allows all the water of the Jordan River to flow in one side and out the other.  The Dead Sea over the centuries has become so saturated and crusty with salt that no life exists there, while the Sea of Galilee thrives with life in all its abundant forms.20

Again, the story of Mary of Bethany lives on and is told wherever the gospel is preached.  She lavished her precious gift on the Master while others clung to their precious gifts and used them selfishly.  It is only her story that is told.

Coffman reminds us of the rich young ruler who turned away from Jesus’ invitation to discipleship (Lk. 18:18-23).  He could not part with his great wealth. “Forty years after this young man knelt at Jesus’ feet, God poured out the accumulated wrath of centuries upon Jerusalem. The young man was old when that happened, and there is no reason to doubt that he stood with his countrymen against Rome. All of his wealth and posterity were swept away in an hour by the soldiers of Vespasian and Titus.” 21

Perhaps we should look at a couple of Greek words in this verse.  God says we will be “enriched” in everything.  The word is ploutizomenoi, from ploutizō (cf. 1 Cor. 1:5).  The word commonly referred to wealth, but with the Christian it speaks of the great riches in Christ.22  The other Greek word here is haplotēta, the word for generous.  Barnes says of it, that it properly means sincerity, candor, probity; then also simplicity, frankness, fidelity, and especially as manifesting itself in liberality…” Barnes thinks that the latter is the proper meaning here.23

 

MANY EXPRESSIONS OF THANKS

 

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 2 Corinthians 9:12 

Comfort feels that the stingy Christian should be an extinct species by now.24  Unfortunately, we know this is not the case.  We in the church have still not learned the lessons of sowing and reaping— of giving and receiving.

Paul sees that the ministry given to us all is a service performed to the saints.  The word for perform here is leitourgia.  This word can speak of a service of worship to God or a service to other people.  It is from this that we get our word “liturgy.” 25   So, in a real sense the ministry of service to others is a priestly ministry, or in another sense, a sacrifice, or a sacred service.

Such a sacred service promotes glory and thanksgiving to God.  Surely, the Jewish people, as they were lifted from their poverty, had hearts full of thanksgiving to God for the bountiful Gentile offering.

“Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else” (9:13).  Barker and Kohlenberger state that, “Praise is offered less for the gift itself than for the spiritual virtues of the donors expressed in the gift.” 26  We can surely say that after this large gift, the Jewish believers in Jerusalem would see the Gentile Christians in an entirely new light.

The word for sharing or contribution is once more the word koinōnia, the word we generally use for fellowship.  This just makes plain again that fellowship has within it the aspect of sharing material things.  Wiersbe tells the story of a wealthy Christian who was having devotions with his family.  The father prayed earnestly for the needs of missionaries that were supported by the church.  After he concluded, his little boy said, “Dad, if I had your checkbook, I could answer your prayers!” 27

“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you” (9:14). We see here how those who give also receive in some amazing and unknown ways.  The Jewish believers in Jerusalem will now be praying for the Gentile believers scattered across the Mediterranean world.  Wiersbe says, “The extreme legalists in the church had accused Paul of being anti-Jewish and even anti-law.  The Gentile churches were removed from the ‘mother church’ in Jerusalem both by distance and culture.  Paul wanted to prevent a division in the church, and the ‘relief offering’ was a part of that prevention program.” 28

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (9:15).  The thought of all this makes Paul break forth in praise to the Lord.  His indescribable gift (anekdiēgētōmeans) is that which cannot be related, that which is unutterable (cf. Eph. 3:8).  In fact, no words of humans can express the greatness of this gift bestowed upon us.  It is much higher than the human mind can conceive and it is greater than human language can express.29

In essence, the gift is that of his Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:32).30  The great preacher Spurgeon exclaims: “Ah, how many times have I, for one, spoken upon this gift during the last forty years! I have spoken of little else. I heard one who said, ‘I suppose Spurgeon is preaching that old story over again.’ Yes, that is what he is doing; and if he lives another twenty years, and you come here, it will be ‘the old, old story’ still, for there is nothing like it.” 31

Barker and Kohlenberger give us a good summary of how everything would eventually work out for Paul and the Corinthians:

The apostle paid his third visit to Corinth as planned (12:14; 13:1), spending three months (the winter of AD 56-57) in Greece (Ac 20:2-3), during which he wrote Romans (see Rom. 16:23; 1 Co. 1:14).  In Ro. 15:26-27 he writes that the believers in Macedonia and Achaia eagerly made “a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”  Evidently in the five or so months between the writing of 2 Corinthians and Romans, the believers at Corinth had responded to Paul’s appeals.32

Continue to Chapter 10