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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
2 Corinthians 8

 

 

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Verse 1

VIII.

(1) Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit . . .—Better, we declare, or make known to you. There is no adequate reason for retaining a phrase which is now obsolete. The topic on which the Epistle now touches, and which is carried on through this and the following chapter, was one very dear to the Apostle’s heart. (See Note on 1 Corinthians 16:1.) When he wrote before he had simply given directions as to what the Corinthians were to do. Now he has something to tell them. The churches of Macedonia—Philippi, we must believe, prominent among them—had been true to their old generosity (2 Corinthians 11:8-9; Philippians 4:15), and were now showing it, not, as before, in personal kindness to their teacher, but in the truer way of acting as he wished them to act; and he sees in this a means of stirring up his friends at Corinth to an honourable emulation. There is something intensely characteristic in the way in which he opens his statement. He traces the generosity of the Macedonians to its true source. He is going to tell the Corinthians of the “grace of God” that has enabled them to do so much.


Verse 2

(2) In a great trial of affliction.—We do not know what is specially referred to, but a community of Christians in a heathen city was always exposed to trials of this kind, and the temper shown before by the rulers at Philippi and the Jews of Thessalonica (Acts 16:19-20; Acts 17:5-6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14) makes it almost certain that they would carry on at least a petty persecution with more or less persistency. The “poverty” at Philippi may possibly be connected with the preponderance of women in the Church there, as indicated in Acts 16:13. In the absence of the bread-winners of a household, Christian women in a Græco-Roman city would find but scanty means of subsistence. In part, however, the churches were but sharers in a widely-spread distress. Macedonia and Achaia never recovered from the three wars between Cæsar and Pompeius, between the Triumvirs and Brutus and Cassius, and between Augustus and Antonius. Under Tiberius, they petitioned for a diminution of their burdens, and were accordingly transferred for a time from the jurisdiction of the senate to that of the emperor, as involving a less heavy taxation.

Unto the riches of their liberality.—The primary meaning of the word, as in 2 Corinthians 1:12 (where see Note), is simplicity, or singleness of purpose. That singleness, when shown in gifts, leads to “liberality,” and so the word had acquired the secondary sense in which it seems here to be used. Tyndale, and Cranmer, however, give “singleness,” and the Rhemish version “simplicity.” “Liberality” first appears in that of Geneva.


Verse 3

(3) They were willing of themselves.—Literally, spontaneously. This was the point of excellence which he wished to indicate as an example to the Corinthians. Those of Macedonia needed no appeal or counsel such as he had given to the Corinthians and to others.


Verse 4

(4) Praying us with much intreaty . . .—The words “that we would receive” are not in the Greek, which literally runs: asking of us the grace (or favour) and fellowship in the ministry of the saints, i.e., asking to be allowed to share in it.


Verse 5

(5) Not as we hoped . . .—This means, of course, that they had done what was far beyond his hopes; and here the point lies in the fact that they gave, not their money only, but themselves, their time, thought, energy, primarily to Christ as their Lord, and then to the Apostle as His minister. And this they had done because they allowed the will of God to work upon their will.


Verse 6

(6) Insomuch that we desired Titus . . .—The sequence of events seems to have been this: When Titus came to Corinth, he, among other things, after seeing the satisfactory results of the First Epistle in other respects, had begun to take measures for this collection for the poor of Jerusalem. He had been, to a certain extent, successful. Encouraged by the report of that success, St. Paul had now entreated Titus to return to Corinth, and to bring the good work to its completion. “This grace also” practically means—this work of liberality, as well as that of repentance and loyal obedience already spoken of in 2 Corinthians 7.


Verse 7

(7) Therefore, as ye abound in every thing.—Literally, But, as ye abound, marking the transition from narrative to exhortation. He opens, as was his manner, with words of praise, and dexterously combines the gifts of “utterance and knowledge,” which he had acknowledged before (1 Corinthians 1:5), with the “earnestness and love” of which he had spoken in this very Epistle (2 Corinthians 7:12).

And in your love to us.—Some MSS. give the reading “our love for you,” but that in the text has abundant authority, and gives a far better meaning. The English expresses the general meaning, but there is a subtle delicacy in the Greek: “the love which, flowing from you, rests in us as its object.” The other reading would convey the sense of “the love which, flowing from us—i.e., from our teaching and influence—now dwells in you, and shows itself in act.” In any case, he is praising them for a quality which is actually theirs.


Verse 8

(8) I speak not by commandment.—The English, and, indeed, the Greek also, is to some extent ambiguous, and leaves us uncertain whether he disclaims merely the tone of command or the sanction of a divine authority. The former seems the preferable meaning, but ultimately the one runs into the other. He gives no commands in this matter to others because he has received no commandment from the Lord Himself. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 7:6; 1 Corinthians 7:12; 1 Corinthians 7:25.)


Verse 9

(9) Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.—The meaning of the word “grace” appears slightly modified by the context. The theological sense of the word, so to speak, falls into the background, and that of an act of liberality becomes prominent.

That, though he was rich, . . . he became poor.—Better, that, being rich . . . The thought is the same as that expressed in Philippians 2:6-7, especially in the words which ought to be translated He emptied Himself. He was rich in the ineffable glory of the divine attributes, and these He renounced for a time in the mystery of the Incarnation, and took our nature in all its poverty. This is doubtless the chief thought expressed, but we can scarcely doubt that the words refer also to the outward aspect of our Lord’s life. He chose the lot of the poor, almost of the beggar (the Greek word “poor” is so translated, and rightly, in Luke 16:20-22), as Francis of Assisi and others have done in seeking to follow in His steps. And this He did that men might by that spectacle of a life of self-surrender be sharers with Him in the eternal wealth of the Spirit, and find their treasure not in earth but heaven. As regards the outward mendicant aspect of our Lord’s life, and that of His disciples, see Notes on Matthew 10:10; Luke 8:1-3; John 12:6.


Verse 10

(10) And herein I give my advice.—We note the same careful distinction between command and counsel which we have seen in 1 Corinthians 7:25.

Who have begun before . . .—Better, who got the start, last year, not only as to the doing, but also as to the willing. At first, the words seem like an anti-climax, but what is meant is that the Corinthians had been before the Macedonian churches in both those stages. They had formed the purpose of giving, they had begun to lay by and to collect, before their rivals had started. They had, as it were, scored those two points in that game of honourable competition. It was “profitable for them” that he, as a by-stander watching the game, should give them a hint, so that they might not at last be ignominiously defeated. It is not easy to fix the exact limits of time indicated in the “year ago.” The First Epistle was written about Easter. Then, after remaining at Ephesus for a while, there came the journey to Troas; then that to Macedonia; then the coming of Titus, bringing word that the Corinthians had acted on the command of 1 Corinthians 16:1. This would bring us to the autumn months; and St. Paul, reckoning, as a Jew would, the year as beginning with Tisri (September or October), might speak of what had taken place in April or May as done “last year,” though there had not been an interval of twelve months.


Verse 11

(11) Now therefore perform the doing.—Better, complete the doing: to “perform the doing” being open, in the modern use of the word, to the charge of tautology. All the English versions, however, have “perform.” The three stages are distinctly marked out in St. Paul’s mind:—(1) Willing the purpose to give; in this they had shown readiness. (2) Setting about the work of giving; this Titus had reported, (3) Completing the work; this he now urged upon them, so that it might answer to the beginning.


Verse 12

(12) For if there be first a willing mind.—This grows “out of that which ye have” in the previous verse. He is expecting a sum large relatively, and not absolutely. The history of the widow’s mite, found in the Gospel of his friend St. Luke (Luke 21:1-4), was probably not unknown to him as belonging to “the words of the Lord Jesus” which he freely cites (Acts 20:35). He has, at all events, imbibed the spirit of its teaching from other like words.


Verse 13

(13) For I mean not that other men be eased.—The disclaimer is obviously an answer to something that had been said. The “charity begins at home” argument, with which the workers in the cause of missions and other distant works of charity are but too familiar, would seem not to have been unknown in the Church of Corinth.


Verse 14

(14) But by an equality.—The meaning of the word is obvious. The Church of Jerusalem was at this time suffering from poverty, and, therefore, St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to come to its assistance. A time might come in which their relative position would be inverted, and then he would plead not less earnestly that Jerusalem should assist Corinth. It is reading too much between the lines to see in the words the thought which the Apostle expresses elsewhere (Romans 15:27), that the equality of which he speaks consisted in the Corinthians giving money and receiving spiritual privileges. But for the fact that controversial ingenuity is “capable of anything,” it might have been thought impossible to see in them the doctrine that men are to give to the poor in order that, in their time of need, in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment, they might receive from them a transfer of their superfluous merits. And yet this has actually been done by Roman Catholic commentators—even by such as Estius.


Verse 15

(15) He that had gathered much.—The quotation is from one of the readings of the LXX. version of Exodus 16:18. The work of love was, in the Apostle’s thoughts, like the manna in the wilderness. In the long-run all would be filled, each according to his several necessities.


Verse 16

(16) Thanks be to God, which put . . .—Better, which putteth, the verb being in the present tense, and referring to what was then passing after Titus’s return from Corinth.

The same earnest care.—There is no direct comparison, but what he means is the same care as his own. Titus had shown himself a true son of his spiritual father (Titus 1:1).


Verse 17

(17) For indeed he accepted the exhortation . . .—The words have a two-fold purpose:—(1) To show that Titus was authorised by the Apostle, and acting at his request; (2) that he was so eager to go that he did not even need to be requested. The tense, “he went,” is what is known as the epistolary aorist. Titus was to start, probably, as the bearer of this letter.


Verse 18

(18) The brother, whose praise is in the gospel.—We cannot get beyond probable conjecture in determining who this was. The general current of patristic interpretation (represented, we may add, in the Collect for St. Luke’s Day in the Prayer Book of the Church of England, though not in that of the Breviary of the Church of Rome) ran in favour of St. Luke; but this rested on the assumption, for which there is no evidence, and against which there is a strong balance of probabilities, that he was already well known as the writer of a Gospel. (See Introduction to St. Luke, Vol. I., p. 239.) Apart from this, however, it may be urged that there is more evidence in favour of this hypothesis than of any other. If the words be interpreted, as they must, as pointing to a preacher of the gospel, we have indications of St. Luke having done this at Antioch, at Troas, and at Philippi. None of the other companions of St. Paul who have been suggested, such as Tychicus or Trophimus, was likely to have so wide-spread a reputation. None was so likely to be with him at the time at Philippi. And it may be noted further—and this, so far as I know, is a point which has not hitherto been dwelt on—that there was no man so fitted to stir up the Corinthians, by his personal character, to a worthy completion of the good work they had begun. We have seen that in his Gospel he dwells emphatically on all parts of our Lord’s teaching that point out the danger of riches and the blessedness of a generous almsgiving (see Introduction to St. Luke, Vol. I., p. 242); how at Philippi his influence was traceable in the liberal supplies sent to St. Paul at Thessalonica (see Note on Acts 16:40, and Philippians 4:15) and at Corinth (see Note on 2 Corinthians 11:9). Was not such a man, we may ask, eminently adapted for the mission on which the “brother, whose praise is in the gospel,” was now sent? and was not the Apostle likely to choose him above all others for it? For Mark and Gaius, who have also been suggested, there is not a shadow of evidence; and as the latter was of Corinth (Romans 16:23), he was not likely to have been sent thither from Philippi. The tense, “we have sent,” is, as before, the epistolary aorist, used of the time at which the letter was being written.


Verse 19

(19) Who was also chosen of the churches.—The word, as in Acts 14:23, implies a definite appointment, in this case, obviously, by popular election—on the part of the Macedonian churches. This falls in, it need hardly be said, with the facts of the case as indicated by the use of the first person plural in Acts 20:5, and through the rest of the book.

With this grace.—The word is used, as in 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 8:6-7, as we familiarly use the word “charity,” for the liberality which was the result of the grace.

To the glory of the same Lord.—Better, if we keep the Received text, of the Lord Himself; but the better MSS. give, of the Lord, only. There is no need of inserting the word “declaration of”; in relation to the glory of the Lord and to your readiness gives a perfectly intelligible sense.


Verse 20

(20) Avoiding this, that no man should blame us.—He gives this as the reason why he wished men thus appointed to travel with him. He desired to guard against the suspicion of those who were too ready to suspect. His companions were to bear witness that the sums which he took up with him from the several churches were what had actually been collected. They were to be, practically, auditors of his accounts. (See Note on Acts 20:4.) He dwells again, later on in the Epistle (2 Corinthians 12:18-19), on the same measure of precaution.

This abundance.—The word, which primarily signifies “succulence,” or juiciness, as used of plants and fruits, does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It has rather the look of belonging to St. Luke’s medical vocabulary, and is, indeed, used by Hippocrates (De Gen, p. 28) of the full habit of body of a youth attaining puberty.


Verse 21

(21) Providing for honest things . . .—Many of the best MSS. give: “For we provide for honest things,” as though he gave the general principle on which he was now acting in this particular instance. The rule of life is repeated, a few months afterwards, in Romans 12:17. The English reader does not recognise the fact, which the Greek reader would see at once, that the words are a quotation from Proverbs 3:4. where the Greek version has: “Write them upon the table of thine heart, and thou shalt find favour. Provide things honest in the sight of God and man. The citation is interesting, as showing that even one who was taught by the Spirit, as St. Paul was, could yet find guidance for his daily conduct in a book which seems to many almost to be below the level of the spiritual life. In this case, had the Apostle had only the judgment of God to consider, he could with a pure conscience have taken up the money to Jerusalem by himself. But he had to consider that men were judging him, and might suspect him, and therefore he insisted, as has been said above, on having his accounts audited.


Verse 22

(22) And we have sent with them our brother.—Who this second unnamed brother was is again simply matter of conjecture. Of the names connected with St. Paul at this period, that of Tychicus seems to have the greatest balance of probabilities in its favour. He went up with St. Paul to Jerusalem on this very business (Acts 20:4), and the tone in which the Apostle speaks of him in Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7, exactly agrees with his language here. In 2 Timothy 4:12, Titus 3:12, we have further evidence of his being one of the most trusted of the couriers, or “messengers,” of the Apostolic Church. The name of Clement has, however, I think, some claim to consideration. St. Paul refers to him as an active fellow-worker (Philippians 4:3). He was connected with the Philippians. Assuming his identity with Clement of Rome, this gives him a point of contact with the Church of Corinth, to which Clement addressed his Epistle. On the other hand, the distinction drawn in 2 Corinthians 9:4 between these brethren and the Macedonians may seem to exclude Clement, as it has been thought to exclude Aristarchus and Sopater and Secundus. The word translated “diligent” (“earnest” in 2 Corinthians 8:16) is used by St. Paul only in this passage. It implies what we might almost call the “business-like” side of the Christian type of character, and is therefore employed with special fitness here.


Verse 23

(23) Whether any do enquire of Titus.—There is no verb in the Greek, and its insertion is not required for the English. Our common phrase, As to Titus . . . as to our brethren, exactly expresses St. Paul’s meaning. In the “messengers” of the churches we find in the Greek the word “Apostles” used, as in Philippians 2:25, and possibly Romans 16:7, in a lower sense (the Greek has no article), for “delegates of the churches,” as the Twelve and Paul and Barnabas were delegates of Christ. The other epithet—“the glory of Christ”—is an unusual one. To say that they were working only to that glory, though true, seems hardly adequate, and we gain a deeper thought by connecting it with the language of 2 Corinthians 3:18. “These messengers,” he says, “are like Christ in character: they reflect His glory. You may see that glory in them.”


Verse 24

(24) Wherefore shew ye to them.—In adding “before the churches” (literally, in the face of the churches), St. Paul appeals, as he has done throughout the chapter, to that natural love of praise which takes its place as a legitimate, though it may be, and ought to be, a subordinate, motive for the activity of Christian benevolence. They were not to consider only what he and Titus and the two brethren would think of them. The eyes of the churches were upon them. Probably Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berœa are referred to.

The proof of your love, and of our boasting.—The “love” to which he appeals is probably their personal regard for him. What the “boast” was he states more fully in 2 Corinthians 9:2. With a subtle knowledge of human nature, he attacks them, as it were, on every side. They have to compete with Macedonia; they have to show their love for their teacher; they have to sustain their own reputation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/2-corinthians-8.html. 1905.


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