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2 Corinthians 8

Lapide's Great Biblical CommentaryLapide's Commentary

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Verses 1-24



i. He exhorts the Corinthians to imitate the generosity of the Macedonian Christians in sending alms to the poor at Jerusalem.

ii. He points (ver. 9) to the example of Christ, who for our sakes was made poor, that through His poverty we might be rich.

iii. He urges them (ver. 10) to fulfil their purpose and half-promise, and bids each one give according to his means.

iv. He says (ver. 13) that by so doing rich and poor will be equalised, through the former giving their temporal goods in return for spiritual benefits.

v. He reminds them (ver. 16) that he had sent Titus and other Apostles to make this collection, and warns them that if they put His messengers to shame they themselves will also be put to shame before them.

The first example of the almsgiving referred to in this and the next chapters is related by S. Luke ( Act 11:28 ). This famine under Claudius is referred by many to his fourth year, by Baronius to his second, i.e ., A.D. 44. From S. Luke's narrative it appears that the Christians of Antioch zealously met the famine beforehand by sending alms by the hands of Barnabas and Paul. Many years afterwards, in A.D. 58, the collection spoken of in this chapter was made in Corinth and the neighbouring places. Further, a greater and more lasting cause of the poverty of the Christians of Jerusalem was the constant persecution suffered by them at the hands of the Jews since the death of Stephen, frequently taking the form of banishment and confiscation of their goods (Acts 8:1 , and Heb 10:34 ). From that time forward the Jews were sworn foes to Christ: and bitterly persecuted the Christians; and since the Church of Jerusalem was the mother of all others, the custom prevailed amongst Christians in all parts of the world of sending, help to the poor of that Church. When Vigilantius found fault with this custom in the time of Theodosius, S. Jerome, writing against him, testifies to its prevalence with approbation. He says: " This custom down to the present time remains, not only among us, but also among the Jews, that they who meditate in the law of the Lord day and night, and have no lot in the earth save God only, be supported by the ministry of the synagogues, and of the uhole earth ."

In this chapter, then, the Apostle is urging the Corinthians, as being rich, to the duty of almsgiving. Corinth was the most frequented emporium of Greece, and in it were many wealthy merchants Ver. 1 . Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace. God has given to the Macedonian Christians great patience, liberality, and pity for others. Ver. 2 . How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy. When greatly tried by sundry tribulations, they were very joyful.

And their deep poverty abounded. Having sounded the depths of poverty, the Macedonians, as it were, broke out into plentiful and abundant kindness and almsgiving

Liberality is given in the Latin version simplicity , and denotes a pure, liberal, and ready will to give. Liberality is measured not by the greatness of the gift, but by the promptitude of the mind, as Chrysostom and Theophylact say. " Simplicity " says Ambrose ( Ep. 10), " weighs not pros and cons, has no mean suspicions or dishonest thoughts, but overflows with pure affection ." Cf. Romans 12:8 . Ver. 3. For to their power . . . they were willing. Of their own free will, without being solicited, they came forward and contributed as much as and more than they were able to afford. Ver.4. Praying us. Begging us to undertake the gracious work of collection, and take our part in it. The Apostle often applies the word χάρις (gift) to what is gratuitous and munificent. Here he applies it to the work of collection. In ver. 7 and elsewhere he applies it to the alms itself. Ver. 5. Not as we hoped They gave much more than we expected.

But first gave their own selves to the Lord and unto us. They first surrendered themselves to the will of God and then to ours, to do and give whatever I wished.

Observe here that they who give alms ought, if they are to do it properly, first to give their hearts to God, and in token that they have so surrendered themselves to Him, they ought then to give alms, as tribute paid to Him.

By the will of God. God wishes people to follow our directions, and regard our wish as His, and us as the interpreters of His will, so what we will God also wills to be done by those under us. He Himself says: "He that heareth you heareth Me" (Anselm and Theophylact). Ver. 6. Insomuch that we desired Titus. We asked Titus to collect these alms, just as we had collected them in Macedonia. We doubted not for a moment that the liberality of the rich Corinthians would not be outshone in readiness and amount by the poverty of the Macedonians. This is to stimulate the Corinthians to liberality by the example of the Macedonians. Ver. 7. See that ye abound in this grace also. See that, as ye abound in faith, care, and love towards me, so ye abound in almsgiving to the poor (Anselm). Ver. 8. By occasion of the forwardness of others . I do not command, but seek to move you by the example of the Macedonians, who were so anxious to help the poor.

And improve the sincerity of your love. I say this to make test of your love, sincerity, and goodness, and to stimulate you by others' example. The Latin ingenium , which is the rendering of the Greek γνήσιον , does not here denote the good disposition of charity, as Anselm thinks, in which case the meaning would be: I say this, not to test and show that your charity has a good disposition, by its suggesting, dictating, and advising that you do this good deed without any order from me; but γνήσιον denotes, not ingenium , but ingenuum , or an innate disposition. Again, the word for prove has the double idea of testing and then demonstrating. Maldonatus, indeed ( Notæ Manusc .), renders it, "longing to prove to others;" for, as he says, the Greek verb here denotes not the effect but the affection. Ver. 9. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a fresh stimulus to almsgiving. Christ, the King of kings, for your sakes became poor when He was born in the stable, because there was no room for Him in the inn. Instead of His royal throne He had a manger; for bedding, hay; for fire, the breath of ox and ass; for curtains, spiders' webs; for sweet perfumes, stable ordure; for purple, filthy rags; for His stud, ox and ass; for a crowd of nobles, Joseph and Mary. So, too, His whole after-life was stamped with poverty, or, as Erasmus renders the Greek here, with beggary. From this it appears that Christ was not merely poor, but was also an actual beggar.

That ye through His poverty might be rich. Rich with spiritual riches, with lessons of godliness, with forgiveness of sins, righteousness, holiness, and other virtues. The Corinthians are tacitly bidden, if they wish to imitate Christ closely, to enrich the poor with their alms, to impoverish themselves so as to enrich others. Cf. Anselm on the riches and poverty of Christ, and Chrysostom ( Hom. 17), who points out how the Christian should not be ashamed of or shrink from poverty.

S. Gregory Nazianzen (Oral. 1 in Pascha ) beautifully contrasts our benefits and Christ's loving-kindness. He says: " Christ was made poor that we through His poverty might be rich. He took the form of a servant that we might regain liberty. He descended that we might be exalted. He was tempted that we might overcome. He was despised that He might fill us with glory. He died that we might be saved. He ascended, to draw to Himself those lying prostrate on the ground through sin's stumblingblock ." S. Augustine again says beautifully: " What will His riches do if His poverty made us rich ?" Lastly, from these words of the Apostle, Bede infers: " All good faithful souls are rich: let none despise himself. The poor in his cell, being rich in his conscience, sleeps more quietly on the hard ground than he that is Rich in gold sleeps in purple ." Ver. 10. And herein I give my advice. Bede takes this: "Herein I give my opinion," but wrongly; for advice is here contrasted with precept.

Not only to do but also to be forward. Or "to be willing," i.e ., of your own accord, no one forcing you. This, as S. Paul hints, is more than to do it when asked (Anselm). Gregory ( Hom. 18 in Ezek .) says: " This very exhortation contains a reproach. 'A year ago,' he says. They did well then, but slowly. Their teacher, therefore, while he praises, chides. He is a physician who applies to the wound a remedy which both soothes what has been already cleansed, and bites the parts that are found unsound ." Ver. 11 . So there may be a performance. Lucian's lines are well known: "Sweeter is grace that is prompt;

If slow is the hand that bestows,

Its grace becomes empty and vain

And title to grace must resign."

And again: "He double gives who promptly gives." Ver. 12. It is accepted according to that a man hath. In other words, "Give what you can" (Ambrose, Chrysostom, Anselm). Observe here 1. that the perfection and merit of almsgiving and of every virtue consists in the readiness of the will and not in the greatness or the number of the gifts; and, therefore, before God, when this readiness is greater then the virtue is greater, even if, on account of poverty or some other cause, the wish is unable to issue in the external act of giving. Hence S. Paul says that the willing mind is accepted, not the gift. Cf. S. Mark 12:43 .

2. Notwithstanding, in order that this readiness be accepted before God, says S. Thomas, as true, earnest, and efficacious, it must issue in act according to what it has, i.e ., give of what it has according to its power; otherwise it would be merely a wish, not an earnest and ready will. It is not expected to give what it has not, as S. Paul says. "Let him who has," says Theophylact, "carry out his work; he who has not has already carried out his work by willing it." S. Leo ( Serm. 4 de Jej. Dec. Mensis ) says: "Unequal expenditure may give equal merits; for the intention may be the same, though the incomes be widely different;" and Anselm says: "Here all, whether poor or rich, give equally, if each gives in proportion to what he has."

3. It follows that amongst those who are equally rich or equally poor that one is the more liberal and has more merit who gives more. Amongst those, however, whose wealth is unequal, that one merits more who gives the more in proportion to his means, although absolutely he may give less than his richer neighbour. Cf. Tob. 4:9. S. Augustine ( Enarr. in Psalms 104:0 ) says: " If you can give, give. If you cannot, give courtesy. God crowns the goodness within when He finds not means without. Let no one say, I have not.' Charity is not paid from the pocket ." Ver. 13. For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened. I do not enjoin on you such liberal almsgiving as to enable the poor to live in luxury and you in need, but I wish every one to think of the necessities of others according to his power, without neglecting his own (Theophylact). S. Paul does not enjoin this, but he counsels it. It is, say S. Thomas and Anselm, an evangelical counsel, and, therefore, a sign of greater perfection, to give all your goods to the poor and become wholly poor yourself. "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor," said Christ (S. Mat 19:21 ). This can be done not only by those who are going to devote themselves to the religious life, but even by those who remain in the world, as, e.g ., by the poor widow (S. Mar 12:43 ). Do not mistake me: any one may do this provided he do not bring himself into extreme necessity, and if he has no family, for whom he is bound to provide. Theophylact adds that in the next verse the Apostle exhorts the Corinthians to give beyond their strength, when he says "that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want," meaning: If you wish for a great reward, give liberally; if for the whole reward, give your all. He takes abundance to mean profuse almsgiving, abounding beyond their strength, such as S. Paul praised in the Macedonians. The reason is this, that such an act is one of supreme, heroic almsgiving, poverty, fortitude, and hope in God.

We have a striking example of this in S. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, who, after spending all his goods on the poor, at last gave himself up to the Vandals to be enslaved in the place of the son of a widow. His self-abnegation is praised by S. Augustine ( de Civ. Dei , lib. i. c. 10). The event showed that his action was pleasing to God, for, when he was living as a slave, he was recognised by the Vandals under the inspiration of God, and was honourably treated and sent back home. S. Paula, again, was so liberal to the poor that her frequent prayer was heard, and, according to her wish, she had to be buried at the expense of others, and in another's garments. S. Jerome, in his Life of her, praises her warmly for this. S. Martin, S. John the Almoner, and many others are examples of the same liberality. But abundance in this verse more properly denotes the abundant wealth of the Corinthians; for S. Paul contrasts it with the poverty of the Christians of Jerusalem, and desires that one may relieve the other. Ver. 14 . But by an equality . I do not command so large almsgiving that your homes be pauperised while the poor have ample, but of your superfluity, which supplies the proper matter of almsgiving, I beg you to communicate with the poor, and supply their want, so that you may both have the necessities of life, and may each hold the mean between the two extremes of poverty and abundance. Let there be nothing superfluous in the means of them that give, and nothing deficient in the way of the necessaries of life to them that receive (Theophylact).

That their abundance also may be a supply for your want . So their abundant supply of faith and hope and all graces will, by their prayers and merits before God, assist your spiritual poverty in this life, and in the other life they will, when you die, receive you into everlasting habitations. The kingdom of heaven is the possession of Christ's poor (Anselm).

That there may be equality. By an interchange of spiritual goods as well as temporal. Ver. 15. As it is written. Exodus 16:18 . Paul applies what is said of the gathering and eating of manna, to show that God wishes men to strive after equality in communion of goods.

He that had gathered much. He that gathered much had no more than he that gathered little, and vice versâ. The passage quoted from Exodus declares that by a continuous miracle God rained down manna for forty years in the wilderness on so many hundreds of thousands of Jews, in such a way that the greedy who gathered much, and the idle who gathered little, both found, when they returned home and measured what they had got, that they had but an homer full, or enough for a day's food for each. If they collected either more or less, God or an angel subtracted from it or added to it invisibly, to bring all to an equality. So, then, an homer was the measure for men, women, and children, and it contained as much only as a man would ordinarily eat in a day (Nyssen, de Vita Moysis , Chrysostom, Anselm, Vatablus, Theophylact).

The reason for this was (1.) that God would in this way restrain the greediness and gluttony of the Jews, and their excessive love of earthly things (Chrysostom and Theophylact). (2.) By this continuous miracle God would remind us that in all our necessity we should look to His Providence, and recollect that He provides for each all that is needful for his life; therefore, as we sit at table, let us regard God as raining down manna upon us from heaven. So now God supplies, not only to the rich but the poor also, and those that have bad health or are burdened with a large family, their daily portion, which is enough to maintain the life of all. This will seem to any one who considers the matter, and compares the small gain made with the great expenditure of so many heads of families, a wonderful and incredible thing; and by this test alone any one may see God's sweet and wondrous care for all. Let not the poor, therefore, bewail their lot, nor desire great riches, " For since we all ," says S. Chrysostom, " have but one belly to fill, and one time to live in, and one body to cover, the rich man has no more from his abundance, nor the poor man less from his poverty; but both have food and clothing, and in this they are equal ."

Observe, again, the beautiful application S. Paul makes of the symbolic manna. As God gave of it an equal measure to all, so is it right that Christians should cultivate an equality: those who have abundant wealth should distribute to the poor, and make them equal to themselves, so far as the necessaries of life go, that all may be content, and, having what is necessary, live equally (Theophylact and Chrysostom). Observe, however, that as the rich, by giving of their superfluous wealth to the poor, make them equal to themselves, so too do the poor, by a fellowship of merits, make the rich equal to them, not altogether absolutely, but by way of proportion, in such a way that neither has any lack of either kind of benefits, or has an excessive supply when compared with others; for otherwise the rich would not by giving to the poor make them as rich as themselves, nor would the poor by giving in return his prayers and other spiritual goods give an equal gift, but rather a far more valuable gift than he received. Nor again does he give of his spiritual goods as much as he has (S. Thomas).

Analogically, S. Chrysostom and Anselm refer this passage to the glory of heaven, which all will share equally. But this must he understood of the objective bliss; for all will see the same God, and in Him will be satisfied and blessed; but in this vision, and consequently in joy and glory, there will be degrees, and a disparity proportioned to merit. It was so in the case of the manna: an equal share was given to each, satisfying all equally, yet it tasted differently to different people. Ver. 16 . But thanks be to God. For having made Titus anxious for you and for your spiritual progress and gain, whereby he was led to exhort you to liberality towards the poor. "The same earnest care" refers to the fact that S. Paul as well as Titus was exhorting them to this liberality. Ver. 17. For indeed he accepted the exhortation. The duty of exhorting you to almsgiving (Anselm).

Of his own accord. Without being bidden by me, he took on himself this task of exhorting you to this pious work. Ver. 18 . And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the Gospel. Barnabas, whose praise is in the preaching of the Gospel. He was ordained as S. Paul's companion ( Act 13:3 ) (Theodoret, Chrysostom, Œcumenius); but since Barnabas and Paul were now separated, and Silas had taken S. Barnabas' place at S. Paul's side ( Act 15:40 ), it is better with Baronius to take the reference as being to Silas, or, with Anselm and Jerome, to Luke. S. Paul calls him brother , not Apostle, and this applies better to S. Luke, who wrote a Gospel, and was the inseparable companion of S. Paul. S. Ignatius, writing to the Ephesians, assigned this eulogy to Luke in the words: "As Luke testifies, whose praise is in the Gospel." Ver. 19. But who was also chosen of the churches. For this work of grace of collecting the alms of the Church. The word rendered here chosen is χειροτονηθεὶς , i.e ., ordained by imposition of hands consecrated either deacon or priest. It was the deacon's office to have care of the poor, and to distribute the alms to them; but the priest's to help the Apostle on his journeys in preaching and administration of the sacraments. The sacrament of Order is called by the Greeks χειροτονία , from the imposition of the Bishop's hands on the ordinands. Cf.

1 Timothy 4:14 ; 1 Timothy 5:22 ; Acts 14:22 . From this it is evident that to lay hands on presbyters is to ordain them, and by ordaining to make them presbyters.

Which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord. The Latin version reads, in the last clause of this verse, "to our destined mind;" the meaning of this is, to show the readiness of our mind in this pious service to God and the poor. The Greek is χειροτονία . "Destined," therefore, as S. Thomas remarks, does not here mean "predestinated by God," but ready, prompt, and cheerful. But the Greek MSS. give your , not our. We have received, says S. Paul, this grace, this ministry of almsgiving, to glorify God by it, and to make you more ready for it by the exhortations of Titus and Luke (Theophylact). Ver. 20. Avoiding this. I have sent Titus and Luke to collect such large alms that no one may suspect me of collecting for my own private use (Anselm). The possession of large sums of money is wont to expose a man to suspicion of fraud, because it is easy to abstract a little secretly from a large amount without any one being aware of it. Ver. 21 . Providing for honest things. I endeavour to act honourably, not only before God but also before men, lest suspicious persons should have some occasion for suspecting me of some wrongdoing. Wherefore, to show that I administer this collection honestly, I make Titus and Luke my witnesses, I make them the treasurers of it, and refrain from handling it myself. Hence learn this practical rule: We owe a good conscience to God, a good report to our neighbour. He who neglects good report acts cruelly towards his neighbour's salvation (Anselm). V er. 22. And we have sent with them our brother. Who this is is uncertain. Some, says Anselm, think that it is Apollos; but they suspect only, for S. Paul neither names him nor describes him, but leaves the Corinthians to their personal knowledge of him.

Upon the great confidence which I have in you. Having great confidence and hope that, as is right, they will be received honourably and lovingly by you, and also partly out of love and respect for Titus, who is my companion and fellow-helper. Hence Titus was now at Corinth, having been sent there by S. Paul to collect these alms and to transact other business.

Maldonatus supplies the verb show , and makes the sentence run: "Upon the great confidence that whatever love you show to Titus you will show to me, for he is my partner." But there is no need to supply anything the sense given above is clear enough without it. Ver. 23. Or our brethren. I trust that you will, as is right, receive them worthily, partly because of the brethren sent with Titus, and partly because of Titus himself.

The glory of Christ. The Apostles are the glory of Christ, inasmuch as they spread and make known His glory. "Whether, therefore," says Chrysostom, "You will receive them as brethren, or as the Apostles of the Churches, or as those who promote the glory of Christ, you will have many reasons for showing them kindness." By metonymy, glory is put for the cause and care of Christ's glory. Ver. 24. Therefore shew ye to them. Show to Titus and his companions that signal love which becomes you and your generous love, as well as my boasting of you.

Bibliographical Information
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. 1890.