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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
2 Corinthians 8



Other Authors
Verses 1-24

Chapter 8

AN APPEAL FOR GENEROSITY (2 Corinthians 8:1-15)

8:1-15 Brothers, we want you to know about the grace of God which was given in the Churches of Macedonia. We want you to know that even when they were going through a severe test of their faith when things were pressing sorely on them, their overflowing happiness and their poverty which reached the very depths of destitution combined to overflow into the wealth of their generosity. For, I bear witness, they gave according to their ability, yes, beyond their ability, quite spontaneously, begging us and strongly urging us to give them the privilege of sharing in this service designed for the help of God's dedicated people. It was not only as we hoped that they gave, but, first, by God's will, they gave themselves to the Lord and to us. We were so impressed by this that we have invited Titus, as in your case he began it, so to bring to its completion this act of generosity. But, just as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all earnestness and in the love which went out from you to come to rest in us--I urge you to excel also in this act of generosity. This is not an order that I am giving you, but I am using the example of the earnestness of others to prove the genuineness of your love. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. You know that it was for your sakes that, though he was rich, he became poor, that you, by his poverty, might become rich. It is my opinion that I give you in this matter. This is to your good, you, who as long ago as last year, were the first not only to do this but to desire to do it. Now complete the action, so that your readiness to set this scheme in hand may be matched by your completing it according to your means. For if readiness to give already exists, to make it fully acceptable a man is called upon to give in proportion to what he has and not in proportion to what he has not. You are not called on to give so that others may have relief while you yourselves are hard pressed. But things will even themselves up. At the present time your abundance must be used to relieve their lack, so that some day their abundance may be used to relieve your lack, so that things may be evened up, just as it stands written, "He who gathered his much had not too much, and he who gathered his little had not too little."

One of the schemes that lay nearest to Paul's heart was the collection that he was organizing for the Church of Jerusalem. This was the Mother Church but she was poor, and it was Paul's desire that all the Gentiles' Churches should remember and help that Church which was their mother in the faith. So here he reminds the Corinthians of their duty and urges them to generosity.

He uses five arguments to appeal to them to give worthily.

(i) He cites the example of others. He tells them how generous the Macedonian Churches had been. They were poor and in trouble but they gave all they had, far more than anyone could have expected. At the Jewish Feast of Purim there is a regulation which says that, however poor a man is, he must find someone poorer than himself and give him a gift. It is not always those who are most wealthy who are most generous; often those who have least to give are the most ready to give. As the common saying has it, "It is the poor who help the poor," because they know what poverty is like.

(ii) He cites the example of Jesus Christ. For Paul the sacrifice of Jesus did not begin on the Cross. It did not even begin with his birth. It began in heaven, when he laid his glory by and consented to come to earth. Paul's challenge to the Christian is, "With that tremendous example of generosity before you, how can you hold back?"

(iii) He cites their own past record. They have been foremost in everything. Can they then lag behind in this? If men were only true to their own highest standards, if we all lived always at our best, what a difference it would make!

(iv) He stresses the necessity of putting fine feeling into fine action. The Corinthians had been the first to feel the appeal of this scheme. But a feeling which remains only a feeling, a pity which remains a pity only of the heart, a fine desire that never turns into a fine deed, is a sadly truncated and frustrated thing. The tragedy of life so often is, not that we have no high impulses, but that we fail to turn them into actions.

(v) He reminds them that life has a strange way of evening things up. Far more often than not we find that it is measured to us with the same measure as we measure to others. Life has a way of repaying bounty with bounty, and the sparing spirit with the sparing spirit.

Paul says a very fine thing about the Macedonians. He says that first of all they gave themselves--and so indeed they did. Two of them stand out above all the others. There was Aristarchus of Thessalonica. He was with Paul on the last journey to Rome (Acts 28:2). Like Luke, he must have come to a great decision. Paul was under arrest and on his way to trial before the Emperor. There was only one way in which Aristarchus could have accompanied him, and that was by enrolling himself as Paul's slave. Aristarchus in the fullest sense gave himself. There was Epaphroditus. When Paul was in prison in the later days, he came to him with a gift from Philippi, and there in prison he fell grievously ill. As Paul said of him, "he nearly died for the work of Christ" (Philippians 2:26-30).

No gift can be in any real sense a gift unless the giver gives with it a bit of himself. That is why personal giving is always the highest kind, and that is the kind of giving of which Jesus Christ is the supreme example.

The Old Testament quotation with which Paul concludes this passage is from Exodus 16:18, which tells how when the Israelites gathered the manna in the wilderness, whether a man gathered little or much, it was enough.

PRACTICAL ARRANGEMENTS (2 Corinthians 8:16-24)

8:16-24 Thanks be to God who has put into the heart of Titus the same earnestness for you as there is in mine. His earnestness is proved by the fact that he not only welcomed my invitation, but that also, with characteristic earnestness, he is going to you of his own choice. Along with him we send the brother whose praise in the gospel is in all the Churches. Not only does he enjoy universal praise, but he has also been elected by the Churches to be our fellow-traveller in this act of charity which is being administered by us to promote the glory of God and to show your eagerness. We are making arrangements to ensure that no one will criticize us in our handling of the administration of this munificent gift. We aim to produce conduct which is fair not only in the sight of God but also in the sight of men. With them we send our brother whose earnestness we have often proved on many occasions, and who is now even more earnest in this work because of his great confidence in you. If any further questions are asked about Titus--he is my partner and my fellow-worker in all that concerns you. If any further questions are asked about our brothers--they are apostles of the Church, the glory of Christ. Give them unanswerable proof of your love and prove to them that our boasting about you is true. You will be proving it in the face of the Churches.

The great interest of this passage is its intensely practical character. Paul knew he had his enemies and his critics. He knew well that there would be those who would not hesitate to charge him with turning part of the collection to his own use, and so he takes steps to see that it would be impossible to level that charge against him, by ensuring that others will share with him the task of taking it to Jerusalem. Who the two unnamed brothers were no one knows. The first, the brother whose praise is in all the Churches, is usually identified with Luke. The Collect for St. Luke's Day assumes this identification. "Almighty God, who calledst Luke the Physician, whose praise is in the gospel, to be an Evangelist and Physician of the soul; may it please thee that by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed." It was Paul's aim to make clear not only to God but also to men that he was above suspicion.

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.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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