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Bible Commentaries

The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide
2 Corinthians 9

 

 

Verses 1-15

CHAPTER9

SYNOPSIS OF THE CHAPTER

i. He proceeds to stimulate the Corinthians to almsgiving by motives of human shame and praise; he bids them not to be put to shame before the liberality of the Macedonians.

ii. He dwells (ver6) on the fruits of almsgiving, how it enriches those that give with good things, now and hereafter.

iii. He points (ver11) to the thanksgiving that flows from it to God, and the joy of the poor Christians, who are the recipients, and who will pray for their benefactors the Corinthians.

Ver1.—For as touching the ministering to the saints. At the end of the last chapter, Paul had commended to them Titus and his companions, but not their errand of collecting alms; for, as he says, it was superfluous for him to write about this, since they were of their own accord ready for it (Anselm). It is a politic device on the part of those that ask for alms to praise the liberality of the givers. Public beggars in the streets and churches are experts at this.

Ver2.—Achaia was ready a year ago.—I boast to the Macedonians that you, 0 Corinthians, and the rest of Achaia, have been long ready for this almsgiving; and this zeal of yours, being proclaimed by me, has stimulated others. See, then, by your action that my boasting of you be not in vain, lest we both be put to confusion.

Ver5.—As a matter of bounty. As a blessing (Latin version). That your beneficence may seem spontaneous and generous, not extorted from greedy persons (Anselm, Theophylact, Chrysostom). Why bounty is called a blessing is explained in the note to ver6. The Greek, ευ̉λογία denotes both blessing and a good and fruitful contribution or almsgiving (Erasmus). In 1 Corinthians 16:1, the Apostle called these contributions or collections ευ̉λογίαι. Both meanings have place here. S. Paul is urging the Corinthians to spontaneous and cheerful (denoted by blessing), as well as to fruitful and liberal, contribution. He is engaged in describing the spirit that should animate the giver, viz., one ready and cheerful, unforced, unconstrained, unstained by covetousness or meanness.

Ver6.—He which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Literally, he which soweth in blessings, i.e., liberally scatters, as it were, seeds among the poor, shall reap of them again. For God, who reckons that to be done to Himself which is done to the poor, does not suffer Himself to be surpassed in liberality, but to the liberal is far more liberal, and repays them in greater abundance, both corporal and spiritual gifts. For parallel expressions, cf. Joshua 15:19; 1 Samuel 25:27; Genesis 48:25. In this last passage, Jacob hints at the reason why the Hebrew calls beneficence blessing. It is because, by a pious form of speech, they wish to point out that the beneficence of God, which is the fount and origin of all ours, flows from His benediction. With God to bless is to do, and is the same as to benefit, and therefore God by His word alone bestows on us all good things. (2.) Another reason is that the Patriarchs and early Christians, such as the hermits and other Saints of the New Testament, were wont to distribute the gifts with solemn prayer and blessing, and for this reason to call them by the name of ευ̉λογία. (3.) A third reason is that it is pleasanter, both to giver and receiver, to call the gift an act of benediction rather than of beneficence. Hence poor honest men, when asking for alms, call them benedictions, extenuating their importance, and rich givers in their turn do the same. Theophylact adds that S. Paul by this word stimulates them to cheerful giving, reminding them by it that what they give is a blessing to him that gives and him that takes. No one is saddened by giving such a blessing, but cheerfully imparts it. Cf. also Proverbs 22:9; Ecclesiastes 11:1-3.

Notice also the use of the words "sow" and "reap." Almsgiving, like other good works, is a seed which produces a harvest of grace, and even of temporal good things, as is explained in vers8,10. Hence you may infer against Calvin that good works effect and merit a reward, for seed, by its natural powers, produces its proper fruit at harvest-time; therefore almsgiving produces truly its reward, not physically, as is evident, but meritoriously.

Ver7.—Not grudgingly or of necessity. Avarice makes reluctance, and regard for one"s reputation induces constraint. Let each man give what he likes, not influenced or compelled by my authority or that of Titus, and not because regard for his honour makes him ashamed of giving less than others.

For God loveth a cheerful giver. Quoted from Prov. xxii9 , LXX. On cheerfulness in giving, see Romans 12:8. S. Augustine (Enarr. in Ps. xliii.) says beautifully: "If you give your bread grudgingly, you lose both your bread and your reward." And again (Serm45): "If good works are good seeds, why are they sown in tears?" S. Chrysostom (Hom. on 1 Corinthians 11:19) says: "If we give cheerfully, our reward will be twofold, one for giving and one for giving cheerfully." S. Gregory (Morals, 21 , c11 , on Job 31:16) says: "Job thus acted that he might increase his merits, not only by giving but also by the promptitude with which he gave his good things." Cf. Proverbs 3:28, Sirach 35:11. Alms then should be given with cheerful mind, not sadly, reluctantly, and tardily. Thus shall we imitate God, who cheerfully distributes His gifts.

The heathen depict the Graces as three sisters, embracing one another but looking in different directions. They meant by this to signify how gifts should be distributed. The first, named Aglaia, denotes generosity, it being better to give than to receive. "For he who receives a kindness sells his freedom," says the jester of P. Syrus. The second is called Thalia, i.e., flourishing in the midst of the course. The third is called Euphrosyne, or joy; for both he that gives and he that receives rejoice in the kindness done—God loveth a cheerful giver. Cf. Seneca (de Beneficiis).

Ver8.—And God is able to make all grace abound toward you. This is an answer to an objection: You will say to me, If I give much, I shall become poor, I shall be unable for the future to help my servants and others who are in more need (Theophylact). To this the Apostle answers: Do not be afraid of that; believe and hope in God, who is able to make all grace (or beneficence—Syriac) abound toward you, so that you shall always have a sufficiency of goods, out of which you may abound in every good work. God can and does enrich those that give alms, so that they have always means to spend, and so can abound in works of charity.

God is able denotes not only the power but also the act of God. The phrase is a meiosis. Similarly, a king might say to his commander-in-chief: "Go, end the war, spare no expense. I am able to bear it, and to enrich you as well."

In the Greek there is a beautiful use of the word all, which is three times repeated in the last clause of this verse, "always having all sufficiency in all things." Not in some particular necessity, but in all; not at one time, but always; not some sufficiency but all sufficiency will God give you, to enable you to succour others.

Again, S. Paul does not here speak of abundance, says Theophylact, but sufficiency, enough for one"s self and one"s own. Perhaps he means to imply that he who is content with his lot, and has enough for himself and his family, desires no more. God alone is properly said to be self-sufficient, being One who has no need of any one, and rests wholly in Himself. An almsgiver partakes of the same character. An avaricious man, on the other hand, is never satisfied—"the more that waters are drunk the more are they thirsted for;" and so it is with riches. Hence the avaricious man is always in need. But self-sufficiency, as Clement (Pædag. lib. ii. c12) says, is a virtue which makes us contented; or it is a habit of mind that is content with such things as are needful, and which by itself acquires those things which belong to the life of bliss. Hippias (Suidas, sub Verbo Hippias) made self-sufficiency or a contented mind the end of all good. Moreover, Epicurus used to say that "sufficiency is the richest possession" (Clement, Strom. lib. vi.). In the same sense Cicero said (Paradox1) that "to live happily, contentment was virtue enough." Socrates, too (apud Plat. Dial3de Legibus), thus prays: "Let me have as much gold as a temperate man can bear." For further notes on this subject, cf. 1 Timothy 6:6, and Philippians 4:11.

Ver9.—As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad ( Psalm 112:9). In all necessities, in all places, and at all times, a merciful man, such as S. Laurence, of whom the Church sings, distributes his goods and his alms; in the same way he who sows scatters his seed. The Apostle wishes to prove that God makes all grace to abound towards almsgivers, and gives them full sufficiency for that grace (beneficence). He proves this from the fact that the giver of alms of his sufficiency distributes his alms, disperses them as seed on every side, not among his boon-companions or free-lovers, but among the poor. Œcumenius says that the word "dispersed" denotes the largeness of the alms given. It also implies that these alms are not wasted or thrown away.

His righteousness remaineth for ever. Remains in God"s memory and in its eternal reward, as in its harvest. So, too, when the husbandman scatters his seed he does not lose it, but entrusts it to the ground, that he may receive a hundred-fold in return. Almsgiving, therefore, is everlasting, and blesses the giver with everlasting glory. Hence the Psalmist also says: "The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance; he shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his horn" (his dignity, strength, and, as Theodoret says, his power) "shall be exalted with honour;" in other words, it shall daily increase until it be exalted in the highest in celestial glory.

His righteousness or his beneficence does not perish, but remains before God to be rewarded here and hereafter. S. Chrysostom (Hom9 de Pnit.) says: "Heaven is to be gained by merchandise and trafficking. Give bread and you will receive paradise; give a little and gain much; give what is mortal and you will receive what is immortal."

Observe that in Scripture almsgiving, which is an act of mercy, is called righteousness, both because it forms a large part of righteousness in general, which embraces all virtues, as also because it is a mark of righteousness and holiness. The Saints are merciful, "but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" ( Proverbs 12:10). A third reason is that it disposes to righteousness, and merits it, firstly, de congruo, and secondly, de condigno, as increasing righteousness. Hence, it is to the merciful alone that Christ gives the crown of righteousness (S. Matthew 25:35). Hence, too, those that are hardened in evil must be exhorted as a last remedy to give alms, as Daniel did Nebuchadnezzar ( Daniel 4:24).

Ver10.—Now he that ministereth seed to the sower. This again is an answer to an objection which might be urged from the Psalm quoted. It might be said. You prove clearly enough, Paul, that alms remain in their heavenly reward, but I do not yet see how you prove from that that we ought not to impoverish ourselves. You have, therefore, given no answer to my first objection that if, I give alms liberally I shall make myself poor, and be unable for the future to give help to others. S. Paul"s answer to this is, that the contrary is implied in the verse of the Psalm he has just quoted. As a master who supplies his husbandman with seed to sow his field, provides him also with bread to eat, and multiplies his seed, that is the grain sown, at harvest times, so that for one bushel he receives three, which he can sow again, and receives still more at the next harvest, and so on from year to year—so much more shall God, who gives to almsgivers goods to disperse to the poor, give them bread and all other necessaries of life; nay, more, He shall multiply their seed or goods to sow again and disperse to the poor. For God is our Master; we are His husbandmen: His field is the poor, and alms are the seed. God, then, wishes us as His husbandmen, to scatter His seed (alms) over His field (the poor). Much more, if we do that, will He give us nourishment and a harvest of goods to sow again. Let rich men remember that their riches are given them as seed to disperse to the poor, not to store up in their coffers or to be spent on costly clothing or luxurious living. "It is," says Cicero, "a work of liberality to sow seeds of kindness, so as to be able to reap a harvest from them."

Gregory of Tours (Hist. Gallic. lib. v. c38) highly praises the Christian Emperor Tiberius for his almsgiving, and says that he uttered the following words, worthy of an emperor: "There will be no deficiency in our treasury so long as the poor receive alms, and captives are redeemed. For if we do these things, great will be our treasure, according to the words of the Lord, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." Let us then lay up in store in heaven by the hands of the poor from what God has given us, that the Lord may vouchsafe to increase our goods on earth." No wonder that God increased his wealth. He saw one day a cross engraved on the pavement, and when, out of veneration for it, he ordered the stone to be taken up, he found under it a vast treasure, containing more than100 ,000 pieces of gold. Then, when, according to his wont, he distributed of it largely to the poor, God gave him another treasure already amassed for him by Narsetes, Duke of Italy. This was found in a cistern, in which, when they opened it, they found so much gold and silver that it took several days to carry it away. Cf. Baronius (Annals, A.D582).

Both minister. The Latin version with the Syriac gives the future, shall minister, instead of the optative. Theophylact, Erasmus, and Vatablus read the optative. The future is better, because, as I said, Paul is endeavouring to banish from their minds all fear of poverty. But this is not to be done by wishing, but by making assertions and promising bread, seed, and fruits.

Multiply your seed sown. Your temporal goods. S. Basil (Hom13de Eleemos.) says: "As seed cast into the ground brings forth fruit an hundredfold, so do alms given to the poor. If you have then but one loaf, and it be asked for at the door, take it and lift up your hands to heaven and say, "Of my little I give to my brother, and do Thou, 0 Lord, supply my want." Then doubt not that the bread given out of your poverty will abundantly minister you seed for sowing." And again, commenting on S. Luke 12:18, he says: "As wells that are continuously drawn from send forth a sweeter and more copious supply of water, while if neglected and undisturbed they soon grow foul, so are riches when stored up useless, but when transferred to the poor they bring forth fruit." Clement of Alexandria (Pdag. lib. iii. c7) uses this same simile of a well, and adds another. He says. "As milk commonly flows into those breasts that are sucked, so does wealth flow to those who spend it." S. Cyprian says the same (Tract. Deuteronomy 0pere et Eleemos.), and adds that the best inheritance that parents can leave their children is alms given, and the more children there are the more liberal should the almsgiving be. He proves this by the example of the widow of Sarepta ( 1 Kings 7) and from Tobit 4:7. Cf. Proverbs 28:27, and Psalm 37:26.

Very many remarkable examples are given by Leontius, in his "Life of John the Almoner," who, like the Emperor Titus, bewailed that he had lost a day because he had given no alms. "Even if the world," he said, "were to come into Alexandria, it would not narrow my liberality and wealth." This he learnt from a vision he saw of a certain virgin named Mercy, who, standing before God, seemed to obtain from Him all that she asked for. Hence this holy man John, when he had nothing to spend, would frequently, in his love of almsgiving, change miraculously tin or honey into cold. The more he gave the more was brought to him to spend; and so he seemed to strive with God and God with him which should be the most bountiful. When he at length died, he had half a piece of money left, and he ordered this to be given to his brethren and masters, the poor, that all he had might be restored to Christ.

Sophronius, in his Pratum Spirituale, a work mentioned with approval by the Second Council of Nice (Gen. Act. iv. c185), narrates that a wife gave to her husband, who wished to increase his wealth, the advice to sell what he had and give it to the poor, and he would find that he would receive it again with interest. He did so, and distributed his whole estate to the poor, and for fifty he received three hundred.

Sophronius has a still more beautiful example (c195) in the philosopher Evagrius, who, having heard in church that almsgiving was rewarded a hundredfold in heaven, gave 60 to the Bishop, Synesius, to be distributed among the poor, and received from him a written promise that for each he should receive a hundred in heaven. When he was dying, he ordered his sons to place this writing in his hand when he was buried. This having been done, Evagrius, on the third day after death, appeared to the Bishop in a dream, and said: "Go to my tomb and take back your handwriting, for I have received a hundredfold what I gave, according to Christ"s promise and yours." In the morning the Bishop went with his clergy to the tomb, and took from the hand of Evagrius a letter, of which this was the tenor: "Evagrius the philosopher to his Bishop. I am unwilling for you, my father, to be ignorant that I have received according to your promise the money that I gave you in my lifetime, and received for it a hundredfold; therefore you are not bound to me by any debt."

Similar examples are found in the life of S. Liduina and other Saints. Hence Chrysostom says that "alms have the name of seed, because they are not so much expended as returned." S. Deusdedit well understood this, for, as the Roman Martyrology records (Aug10th), although he was a poor man yet he gave to the poor every Saturday all that he had earned during the week, looking only to obtain the heavenly reward.

"If you have any care for your children, leave them a written deed in which you have God as your debtor," says S. Chrysostom, referring to money left for the poor by will. A famous example of this occurs in Sophronius (c201), in the case of a nobleman of Constantinople, who, when dying, left all his goods to the poor and his son to the care of Christ. Nor was he disappointed of his hope; for Christ gave his son a wife, who was at once noble, rich, and pious. S. Chrysostom wrote at the head of his Thirty-third Homily to the people, "that almsgiving is the most profitable of all occupations." Cf. Proverbs 19:17.

And increase the fruits of your righteousness. God will increase the outgoings of your righteousness and charity, ie., He will give an increase of grace here and of glory hereafter (Theophylact). "By fruits," says Anselm, "he means God"s eternal reward." The Apostle seems here to speak of three fruits of almsgiving: (1.) when he says, "Shall minister seed to the sower;" (2.) when he says, "And multiply your seed sown;" (3.) when he says, "And increase the fruits of your righteousness." In this sense S. Anselm, as related by Edinerus in his Life, when he entered Canterbury on a visit to Archbishop Lanfranc and was honourably and lovingly received by the citizens, said, when he was explaining to them the glory and merit of charity, that "those who do works of charity have something greater than those who are recipients of charity. For the one receives a temporal benefit only, but the other spiritual; and they look besides for eternal thanks from God." Christ said the same thing in His paradox on the rich of this world: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" ( Acts 20:35).

Anselm again understands this passage to refer simply to the fruits of temporal goods. God will make your fruits and riches to increase, that you may have ever more and more to give in alms, and He will increase the fruits of your righteousness. In other words, He will give much more abundant increase to those fruits of yours which your righteousness gains for you; for it is only just that, since God gives to man all that he has, man should from it give to him who is in need. If we do this, our fruits will he increased by God. Hence almsgiving is rightly called seed, because he who sows once will reap twice, once in earth and once in heaven. This is Anselm"s comment, and he seems to be right; for the Apostle is explaining the words, "shall multiply your seed," and is impressing on the Corinthians that alms do not impoverish but enrich the giver, that so he may remove from their minds and from the minds of all Christians all fear of poverty, which so frequently deters men from almsgiving, and which is given as an objection so often to the admonitions of those who urge the duty.

Nevertheless, it is simpler to understand fruits of your righteousness of the wealth which God gives to the beneficent as a harvest for what they have sown. The increase of these fruits is nothing else but the harvest that follows on the seed. Since, therefore, it is evident that when the Apostle said, "shall multiply your seed sown," he meant by seed the money spent on the poor, it is also evident that here he means the same thing. As is the seed, so is the harvest. The one is correlative with the other, as are merit and reward. This, then, seems to be the drift of the Apostle"s words.

Lastly, we should observe that he alludes to the fields and estates of the rich. Beneficence, he says, is like a field, or a very fertile farm, which brings forth to the almsgiver plentiful and never-failing fruits from the seed of his alms. (1.) It gives bread or food. (2.) It multiplies his seed, or money to be dispersed again among the poor. (3.) It also increases his fruits, and enriches his family. These three things a temporal lord gives to his husbandman if he is faithful and diligent; much more will God do the same.

Ver11.—To all bountifulness. Or simplicity, or liberality. This simplicity or liberality of yours brings it to pass that I and all my companions, nay, all Christians amongst whom I speak of it, give thanks to God for having instilled into you such feelings of piety and mercy.

Ver12.—For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints. Ή διακονία τη̃ς λειτουργίας, literally, "the ministry of this liturgy." In this collection of alms there is, as it were, a liturgy, a mystic sacrifice of the Mass, in which the Corinthians, as offering the victim of alms, are the priests; the poor make the altar; the sacrifice is the alms. Paul may be the deacon, the minister exhorting, collecting, and distributing the alms, through whom the poor who receive and the rich who give, seeing and rejoicing at the grace of Christ, are stirred up to give thanks unto the Lord. S. Cyprian says (Tract. Deuteronomy 0pere et Eleemos.): "Since thanksgiving is directed to God in the prayers of the poor for our alms and good deeds, the total is increased by the reward given by God, who works in us." S. Chrysostom (Hom20) says: "When you see a poor man, think that you see the body of Christ, the altar of Christ, and do reverence, and offer the sacrifice of alms, that from it there may ascend, like incense, to God glory and thanksgiving." Thus almsgiving is an Eucharist or thanksgiving, and an Eucharistic sacrifice, not properly, but metaphorically speaking. So, too, in Rom. xv16 , the preaching of the Gospel and the conversion of the Gentiles are called a sacrifice. Nazianzen says beautifully (Orat. de Cura Paup.): "Out of all things none so honours God as mercy; for nothing is so peculiar to God as this is, before whose Face go mercy and truth. . . . Nothing is so Divine in a man as to do good. Learn, then, to open your heart to the needy. If you have nothing else to give, give your tears readily. Pity is a great solace to the afflicted."

Ver13.—By the experiment of this ministration. This almsgiving of yours will induce men to glorify God in Christ and to give thanks to Him for the law of grace which has stirred you up to this liberality. They will glorify Him first for your obedience to the Gospel, and then that you so obey its precepts as to show such charity and mercy.

Ver14.—And by their prayer for you. The poor Saints of Jerusalem who receive your alms, while praying, for you, will also glorify God. This clause is to he connected with "they glorify God."

Ver15.—Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift. For the gift of your charity and almsgiving, from which flow so many good things and so many praises of God, that it may be well called unspeakable.

 


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Bibliography Information
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 9:4". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/clc/2-corinthians-9.html. 1890.


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Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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