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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
2 Corinthians 9

 

 

Verses 1-15

Chapter 9

THE WILLING GIVER (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

9:1-5 It is superfluous for me to write to you about this service designed to help God's dedicated people, for I know your eagerness, about which I have boasted for you to the Macedonians, for I have told them that Achaea has been ready since last year, and the story of your zeal has kindled the majority of them. But, all the same, I am sending the brothers, so that, in this particular matter, the boast I made of you may not be proved empty, so that you might be all ready, as I said you were. I do this in case the Macedonians should arrive with me and find you unprepared, and, in case, if that should happen, we--not to mention you yourselves--should be ashamed. I think it necessary to invite the brothers to go on ahead of us, and to get your promised bounty in order in good time, so that it should be ready as if you were eager to give and not as if I were forcing it out of you.

As many of the early fathers noted, there is a delightfully human touch in the background of this passage. Paul is dealing with the collection for the saints at Jerusalem. But now it becomes clear that he has been encouraging the Corinthians to generosity by quoting the example of the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:1-5), and at the same time encouraging the Macedonians by quoting the Corinthians! And now he is just a little afraid that the Corinthians may let him down! It is typical of Paul and of the greatness of his heart. For the whole point is that he never criticized one Church to another; he praised one to another. No bad standard by which to test a man is whether he delights in retailing the best or the worst about others.

There are at least four ways in which a man may give a gift.

(i) He may give as a duty. He may discharge the claims of generosity but do so as one pays an account or sends a remittance to a tax-collector. It may be done as a grim duty and with such a bad grace that it would be almost better not to do it at all.

(ii) He may give simply to find self-satisfaction. He thinks far more of the pleasant feeling that he has when he makes the gift than of the feelings of the person who receives it. There are people who will give a penny to a beggar rather because of the glow of satisfaction they get than from any real desire to help. Such giving is in essence selfish; people who give like that give to themselves rather than to the recipient.

(iii) He may give from motives of prestige. The real source of such giving is not love but pride. The gift is given not to help but to glorify the giver. In fact the chances are that it would not be given at all if it were not seen and praised. It may even be that the giving is done in order to pile up credit with God--as if any man could put God in his debt.

(iv) None of these ways of giving are wholly bad, for at least the gift is made. But the real way to give is under love's compulsion, to give because one cannot help giving, to give because the sight of a soul in need wakens a desire that cannot be stilled. This is in fact to give in God's way; it was because he so loved the world that he gave his Son.

Paul's great desire is that the gift of the Corinthians should be ready and not have to be collected at the last moment. An old Latin proverb says, "He gives twice who gives quickly." That is always true. The finest gifts are those made, before they are requested. It was while we were yet enemies that Christ died for us. God hears our prayers even before we speak them. And we should be to our fellow men as God has been to us.

THE PRINCIPLES OF GENEROSITY (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)

9:6-15 Further, there is this--He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. Let each man give as he has decided in his heart. Let him not give as if it hurt him to give or as if it was being forced out of him, for it is the happy giver whom God loves. God can supply you with an overflowing measure of every grace, so that because in all things at all times you have all sufficiency, you may excel in every good work. As it stands written, "He scattered his seed, he gave to the poor; his righteousness remains for ever." And in every point you will be enriched for every kind of generosity, that generosity which, through you, produces thanksgiving to God. For the ministration of this act of voluntary service not only fills up the lacks of God's dedicated people, but it also does something special for God through the many thanksgivings it produces. Through your generosity the reality of your Christian service will be so signally proved that they will glorify God because of the way in which you obey your creed, which looks to the gospel of Christ, and because of the generous way in which you have shared with them and with all men; and they will pray for you and long for you because of the surpassing grace of God which is upon you. Thanks be to God for the free gift of God he gave to us, the story of which can never be fully told.

This passage gives us an outline of the principles of generous giving.

(i) Paul insists that no man was ever the loser because he was generous. Giving is like sowing seed. The man who sows with a sparing hand cannot hope for anything but a meagre harvest, but the man who sows with a generous hand will in due time reap a generous return. The New Testament is an extremely practical book and one of its great features is that it is never afraid of the reward motive. It never says that goodness is all to no purpose. It never forgets that something new and wonderful enters into the life of the man who accepts God's commands as his law.

But the rewards that the New Testament envisages are never material. It promises not the wealth of things, but the wealth of the heart and of the spirit. What then can a generous man expect?

(a) He will be rich in love. This is a point to which we will return. It is always true that no one likes the mean man and generosity can cover a multitude of other sins. Men will always prefer the warm heart, even though its very warmth may lead it into excesses, to the cold rectitude of the calculating spirit.

(b) He will be rich in friends. "A man that has friends must show himself friendly." An unlovable man can never expect to be loved. The man whose heart runs out to others will always find that the hearts of others run out to him.

(c) He will be rich in help. The day always comes when we need the help which others can give, and, if we have been sparing in our help to them, the likelihood is that they will be sparing in their help to us. The measure we have used to others will determine the measure which is given to us.

(d) He will be rich towards God. Jesus taught us that what we do to others we do for God, and the day will come when every time we opened our heart and hand will stand to our favour, and every time we closed them will be a witness against us.

(ii) Paul insists that it is the happy giver whom God loves. Deuteronomy 15:7-11 lays down the duty of generosity to the poor brother, and Deuteronomy 15:10 has it, "Your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him." There was a rabbinic saying which said that to receive a friend with a cheerful countenance and to give him nothing is better than to give him everything with a gloomy countenance. Seneca said that to give with doubt and delay is almost worse than not to give at all.

Paul then quotes from Psalms 112:3; Psalms 112:9 --verses which he takes to be a description of the good and generous man. He scatters his seed, that is he sows it not sparingly but generously; he gives to the poor; and his action is to his credit and joy forever. Carlyle tells how, when he was a boy, a beggar came to the door. His parents were out and he was alone in the house. On a boyish impulse he broke into his own savings-bank and gave the beggar all that was in it, and he tells us that never before or since did he know such sheer happiness as came to him in that moment. There is indeed a joy in giving.

(ii) Paul insists that God can give a man both the substance to give and the spirit in which to give it. In 2 Corinthians 9:8 he speaks of the all-sufficiency which God gives us. The word he uses is autarkeia (Greek #841). This was a favourite 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. It is so often true that we want so much for ourselves that there is nothing left to give to others.

Not only that, it is God who can give us the spirit in which to give. Robert Louis Stevenson's native servants loved him. His boy used to waken him every morning with a cup of tea. On one occasion his usual boy was off duty, and another had taken over. This boy woke him not only with a cup of tea but also with a beautifully cooked omelette. Stevenson thanked him and said, "Great is your forethought." "No, master," said the boy, "great is my love." It is God alone who can put into our hearts the love which is the essence of the generous spirit.

But in this passage Paul does more. If we read into its thought, we see that he holds that giving does wonderful things for three different persons.

(i) It does something for others. (a) It relieves their need. Many a time, when a man was at his wit's end, a gift from someone else has seemed nothing less than a gift from heaven. (b) It restores their faith in their fellow men. It often happens that, when a man is in need, he grows embittered and feels himself neglected. It is then that a gift shows him that love and kindness are not dead. (c) It makes them thank God. A gift in a time of need is something which brings not only our love but also God's love into the lives of others.

(ii) It does something for ourselves. (a) It guarantees our Christian profession. In the case of the Corinthians that was specially important. No doubt the Jerusalem Church, which was almost entirely Jewish, still regarded the Gentiles with suspicion and wondered in its heart of hearts if Christianity could be for them at all. The very fact of the gift of the Gentile Churches must have guaranteed to them the reality of Gentile Christianity. If a man is generous it enables others to see that he has turned his Christianity not only into words but into deeds as well. (b) It wins us both the love and the prayers of others. What is needed in this world more than anything else is something which will link a man to his fellow men. There is nothing so precious as fellowship, and generosity is an essential step on the way to real union between man and man.

(iii) It does something for God. It makes prayers of thanksgiving go up to him. Men see our good deeds and glorify not us but God. It is a tremendous thing that something we can do can turn men's hearts to God, for that means that something we can do can bring joy to him.

Finally, Paul turns the thoughts of the Corinthians to the gift of God in Jesus Christ, a gift whose wonder can never be exhausted and whose story can never be fully told; and, in so doing, he says to them, "Can you, who have been so generously treated by God, be anything else but generous to your fellow men?"

Before we go on to study 2 Corinthians 10:1-18; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33; 2 Corinthians 12:1-21; 2 Corinthians 13:1-14 of our letter, let us remember what we have already seen in the introduction. There is a most surprising break between 2 Corinthians 9:1-15 and 2 Corinthians 10:1-18 . Up to 2 Corinthians 9:1-15 everything seems to be going well. The breach is healed and the quarrel is over. 2 Corinthians 8:1-24; 2 Corinthians 9:1-15 deal with the collection for the Church at Jerusalem, and, now that that practical matter is dealt with, we might expect Paul to draw to a close. Instead, we find four chapters which are the saddest and the sorest chapters Paul ever wrote. It makes us wonder how they got there.

Twice in 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of a severe letter that he had written, a letter so stern that at one time he almost regretted ever having written it (2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:8). That description does not at all fit 1 Corinthians. So we are left with two alternatives--either the severe letter is lost altogether or at least part of it is contained in these 2 Corinthians 10:1-18; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33; 2 Corinthians 12:1-21; 2 Corinthians 13:1-14. All the likelihood is that 2 Corinthians 10:1-18; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33; 2 Corinthians 12:1-21; 2 Corinthians 13:1-14 are the severe letter, and that, when Paul's letters were being collected, it was placed here by mistake. To get the right order of things we really ought to read 2 Corinthians 10:1-18; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33; 2 Corinthians 12:1-21; 2 Corinthians 13:1-14 before we read 2 Corinthians 1:1-24; 2 Corinthians 2:1-17; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; 2 Corinthians 4:1-18; 2 Corinthians 5:1-21; 2 Corinthians 6:1-18; 2 Corinthians 7:1-16; 2 Corinthians 8:1-24; 2 Corinthians 9:1-15. We may well believe that we are reading here the letter which it hurt Paul most of all to write, and which was written to try to mend a situation which came near to breaking his heart.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 9:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/2-corinthians-9.html. 1956-1959.


Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 12th, 2018
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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