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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

2 Corinthians 8

Verse 8


‘I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.’

2 Corinthians 8:8

If you will glance at the context, two things will, I think, appear upon the surface of it. First, that St. Paul is very anxious to obtain a handsome contribution from the Church at Corinth; and secondly, that he is just a little doubtful about succeeding in his endeavour.

There was still a sore feeling amongst the believing Israelites with regard to the reception into the Church of those who were of the uncircumcision. It might serve, then, to smooth away asperities, perhaps, to change ill-feeling into kindly regard, if the distrusted Apostle could bring with him on returning to Jerusalem a substantial proof of the love which the Gentiles entertained towards their elder brethren in the Christian faith. For these reasons we believe St. Paul was anxious to be especially successful in this particular appeal.

And now let us see how he sets about accomplishing his object.

I. He begins by informing the Corinthians of what the Churches of Macedonia had done in the matter.—Compared with others—compared, for instance, with the inhabitants of Corinth, one of the wealthiest cities of the old Greek world—these Macedonians might almost have been said to be abjectly poor. The Apostle speaks of their ‘deep poverty.’ And yet they had contributed a very large sum to the general collection. This good example of the Churches of Macedonia the Apostle fearlessly proposes for the imitation of his friends in Corinth. ‘Fearlessly,’ I say. He does not hesitate for a moment to stimulate the sluggish benevolence of the wealthier Church by narrating to them what the poorer Churches had done. He puts the bright example in the very forefront of his argument. He does not shrink from his line, as perhaps we should have done, for fear of arousing the baser motive of emulation. And yet, fearless as he is, there is a wisdom and a tact in his procedure which it would be wrong for us to pass by altogether without notice. In the first place, he traces the benevolence of the Macedonians to its proper source in the grace of God. ‘We do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the Churches of Macedonia.’ The statement, as you see, is an important one. It removes the act of the benevolent Macedonians into the higher region of spiritual impulse; and at the same time serves to remind the Corinthians that the same treasury of Divine grace from which their fellow-believers drew their inspiration to good is equally accessible to them if they choose to avail themselves of it. In the next place, the Apostle recalls it to their memories that the idea of a collection for the poor Hebrew Christians in Palestine originated in Corinth. The Corinthian Church itself was the first to suggest the plan and the first to begin to carry the plan into execution.

II. In taking the second step he turns to a different plea.—The Church of Corinth was conspicuous for the abundance of brilliant spiritual endowments which had been bestowed upon her. When the power of the Gospel had laid hold of the quick-witted and eloquent inhabitants of the Grecian town, it found a ready outlet and manifestation in those various forms of religious utterance of which the Apostle speaks so much in his former Epistle. The Corinthian Christians were blessed with especial insight into Divine mysteries. They were enriched, the Apostle says, in all knowledge. They spoke with other tongues. They prophesied. They exhorted. When they came together, almost every one could bring his psalm, or his doctrine, or his interpretation, to throw into the common stock; and indeed, so great was the profusion of spiritual gifts, and so eagerly were opportunities sought for the exhibition of them, that scenes of disorder and unseemly contention were of no unfrequent occurrence, even in the midst of their most solemn religious assemblies. But with all this display of the more showy spiritual endowments, there seems to have been a deficiency in the Corinthian Church—or a deficiency, at least, to some extent—of the solid, practical, Christian virtues. And the Apostle was grieved to observe it. ‘Therefore,’ says St. Paul, ‘as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.’ You take the Apostle’s meaning, of course. There ought to be a proportion maintained amongst what may be called the component parts of the Christian character. The inner and the outer should keep pace with each other; and if there is a high spirituality, we are justified in expecting to find a corresponding elevation of practice—a commensurate abounding in those things which are true, and pure, and honest, and lovely, and of good report.

III. In the third place, he puts forward the plea of the text.—Observe here, that the Apostle disclaims all intention of exerting anything like compulsory power. He will not command; ‘I speak not in the way of commandment’—for that is the meaning of the words. He will not dictate. He will only persuade. The matter, after all, must be left to themselves; for the absence of a willing mind would vitiate the largest bestowments, and utterly destroy their value in the sight of God. ‘God loveth a cheerful giver.’ He will not accept the grudging gift. We must put our heart into our donation, or God will have nothing to do with it. Again I am sure you will see the Apostle’s drift. When you are dealing with Christian people you have got something to work upon. There is in them a deep underlying love to their Master, and love to those for whom their Master died; and if you can succeed in touching this spring—in setting this motive free to act—you have more than half accomplished what you were attempting to do.

IV. The Apostle speaks of an equalisation in the material conditions of Christian people.—That there should be an equalisation of lot of that community; that all should share and share alike, whether skilled or unskilled, whether clever or dull, whether thrifty or careless—this, of course, was never intended. To attempt to bring about such a state of things would be to contravene the Divine order, as well as to remove many opportunities for the exercise of Christian virtues that are now continually presented to us. It is the difference of lot between the rich and the poor, between the strong and the weak, which calls forth charity on the one side and gratitude on the other, and knits together with a firmer bond the framework of human society. This would be lost if all stood on precisely the same level of worldly prosperity. Inequality, then, in the present condition of being, enters into the Divine plan respecting the people of Christ. But it is the object of Christian benevolence to counteract this inequality as far as is possible; at least so far as to provide that the Christian brother should have what is necessary for his subsistence and comfort.

Rev. Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.

Verse 12


‘If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.’

2 Corinthians 8:12

It might seem to a superficial reader of the Holy Scriptures—and are there not too many such?—that the matter which the Apostle has here in hand is of very little general interest. The topic seems at first sight to be something purely local—the success of a collection which St. Paul was making for ‘the poor saints at Jerusalem.’ But when we consider that he devotes two chapters (8 and 9) to this one subject, and that he deals with the question of almsgiving as he deals with other definite Christian duties, enforcing it as such with a variety of unanswerable arguments, we feel that what seemed at first a purely local matter assumes at the touch of inspiration vaster proportions, and must become an important element of Christian teaching in every age of the world’s history.

I. The Apostle’s argument for Christian liberality is based partly upon lower grounds and partly upon higher; partly upon what we may call material considerations and partly upon spiritual.

( a) None felt more than St. Paul the value of Christian liberality as creating and developing a bond of sympathy between the Jew and the Gentile. Consequently it was his invariable habit to stir up the spirit of liberality amongst his converts. (See 1 Corinthians 16:1-Leviticus :, and Acts 24:17) Gloriously prominent in his teaching and in his actions did St. Paul keep the doctrine of Christian membership. ‘As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ’ ( 1 Corinthians 12:12).

( b) But in addition to the general consideration of the development of a bond of sympathy, comes the particular consideration, and a very material one it is, of the example already exhibited by the Churches of Macedonia ( 2 Corinthians 8:1-Ruth :).

( c) The Apostle had made some boast of their forwardness and zeal, and now was not unnaturally anxious that his words concerning them and their liberality should be proved true. These were the three leading material considerations upon which the Apostle of the Gentiles based his appeal for Christian liberality. There were other and more weighty considerations. The spiritual considerations are one by one advanced.

( d) First there stands in all its attractive loveliness the example of Him Who ‘though He was rich,’ etc. ( 2 Corinthians 8:9).

( e) With the thought of the blessed Saviour still in his mind, and perhaps recalling his commendation of the widow who offered her mite (St. Mark 12:41-Acts :), St. Paul emphasises the standard of Divine approval, viz. ‘the willing mind’ ( 2 Corinthians 8:12).

( f) There is presented the marvellous analogy of the natural world, the sowing and the reaping being not disproportionate but proportionate (chap. 2 Corinthians 9:6-Judges :).

( g) The Apostle enumerates in a few choice words an entire group of collateral considerations—the awaking of thanksgivings to God, the promptings of persistent prayer, the manifestation of the ‘professed subjection unto the Gospel of Christ,’ etc., summing all up with a final outbreak of holy gratitude for God’s unmerited mercy to our ruined race—‘Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift’ (chap. 2 Corinthians 9:12-Ezra :).

II. An unchanging principle of the Divine economy.—We shall see that our text, besides being a part of an important whole, is the whole of several important parts of that Divine scheme and system of things in which our lot is cast and with which our faith is concerned.

( a) The fact that God’s estimate of a gift is in relation to the mind of the giver, is a fact for the knowledge of which we cannot be too thankful. The ‘willing mind’ and not the money’s worth is that upon which God sets highest value. It is within the power of the poorest to match with a penny the gold of a millionaire!

( b) The doctrine is true of other things besides money. It is true of life and the service which God looks for from His people. To an aged Christian, whose ‘strength is to sit still,’ the doctrine of the ‘willing mind’ is very full of comfort. It tells him that the Master he serves is no Egyptian task-master, demanding ‘the tale of bricks as when there was straw.’ It certifies him of the truth of the Psalmist’s words: ‘He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust’ ( Psalms 103:14).

( c) And if to the aged Christian the text utters a whisper of welcome solace, to the youthful warrior, bending it may be under sometimes irksome restraint, it offers a word of needful encouragement. ‘Under other conditions’—how often earnest-minded youth has fancied—‘I could effect great things and produce grand results.’ The text steps in with a wonderful power to soothe a chafed and irritated mind. Dreamland is forsaken, and circumstances are accepted and made the best of, as God’s estimate of a willing mind is taken into due account.

—Rev. G. T. Harding.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.