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2 Corinthians 8

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-2

Paul tactfully began his appeal by referring to the good example of others rather than to the duty of his readers. The behavior of the Philippian, Thessalonian, Berean, and perhaps other Christians manifested the grace of God. These believers were both poor and persecuted (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; Acts 16:20; Acts 17:5). Notwithstanding they demonstrated joy and generosity (cf. Romans 12:8; Philippians 4:15).

"In 2 Corinthians 8:1 a similar pattern to that of 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 is used to describe the Macedonian participation in the collection. Out of their affliction and depth of poverty comes a wealth of liberality. Just as life has come from death in Paul’s ministry, so here the Macedonians give liberally from their scarce monetary resources." [Note: Kraftchick, p. 177.]

"The paradox of Paul’s expression, ’the abundance . . . of their extreme poverty’ (2 Corinthians 8:2) lies at the heart of this section; and it invites the present-day reader to see how Paul regarded the meaning of Christian commitment in the most practical area of stewardship." [Note: Martin, p. 255.]

"Liberality" means generosity that is free of any self-serving motive. Paul did not mention the size of their gift. Their attitude and their sacrifice were more important (cf. Mark 12:41-44).

"Christian giving is estimated in terms not of quantity but of sacrifice." [Note: Hughes, p. 288.]

The first of ten occurrences of the word "grace" (Gr. charis) in chapters 8 and 9 occurs here. Paul used it to refer to God’s enablement to participate in the collection here (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 9:14). Elsewhere it refers to the honor and opportunity of giving, which God gives (2 Corinthians 8:4), and God’s lavish display of His generosity (2 Corinthians 8:9). It also refers to the offering itself as an expression of goodwill (2 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 8:19). Paul further referred to grace as a generous, virtuous act of helping by sharing (2 Corinthians 8:7). He also used it as a synonym for thanks (2 Corinthians 8:16; 2 Corinthians 9:15). Thus the range of meanings of charis is quite broad.

Verses 1-7

A. The example of the Macedonians 8:1-7

Paul was not only proud of the Corinthians but he also rejoiced over the Christians in Macedonia, the Corinthians’ neighbors to the north. This joy connects the present section with the former one.

Verses 1-15


The New Testament reveals that Paul was actively collecting money for "the poor among the saints in Jerusalem" (Romans 15:26) for about five years (A.D. 52-57). He solicited funds from the Christians in Galatia (Acts 18:23; 1 Corinthians 16:1), Macedonia (Acts 19:22; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 2 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 9:4), Achaia (Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9), and Asia Minor (Acts 20:35). [Note: See the excursus on Paul’s collection in Martin, pp. 256-58.] Delegates from most of these regions accompanied Paul when he took the gift to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4).

The recipients were Hebrew Christians who were poor for several reasons. Conversion to Christianity, and particularly baptism, resulted in social and economic ostracism in Jerusalem society where Judaism dominated all of life. The communal sharing of goods that the early Christians in Jerusalem practiced did not solve their economic problems (cf. Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32; Acts 4:34-35). All Palestinian residents suffered from lack of food due to a famine that descended during the reign of Emperor Claudius (A.D. 46, Acts 11:27-30). As the mother church of Christianity, the Jerusalem church probably had a larger number of teachers, missionaries, and visitors to support than its daughter churches did. Finally, Jews, including Jewish Christians, who lived in Palestine had to pay double taxes, to Rome and to the Jewish authorities.

Why did Paul devote so much of his time and energy to raising and delivering this collection? Undoubtedly love for his needy Christian brethren was a primary motivation (Romans 12:13; Romans 13:8; Galatians 6:10). He also believed this gift would honor Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 8:19). It would help equalize God’s provision for His people’s physical needs too (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). Moreover, it provided a visual demonstration of the equality that exists between Gentile and Jewish Christians (Ephesians 2:11-22). It was something that God might use to allay Jewish suspicions of Christianity and of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 11:2-3). It also illustrated the spiritual indebtedness that the Gentiles owed to their Jewish brethren (Romans 15:19; Romans 15:27; 1 Corinthians 9:11). Personally it was one way that Paul could compensate in part for his earlier persecution of the Jerusalem saints (Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1; Acts 26:10-11; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:13).

Paul wrote as he did in the following two chapters of 2 Corinthians to facilitate the collection and to set forth a philosophy of Christian stewardship. This is not the first that the Corinthians had heard about this collection. Paul’s abrupt introduction of "the collection for the saints" in 1 Corinthians 16:1 and his subsequent discussion of it in that chapter suggest that he had spoken to them about it previously. Evidently they began to participate but then dropped the project. Probably the controversy concerning Paul that developed contributed to that decision (2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 2 Corinthians 7:12). However now that Paul had learned that the Corinthian congregation was responding more positively to him again he could reintroduce the subject and press for its completion. [Note: See Carson and Moo, pp. 440-42, for discussion of the integrity of these chapters.]

Verses 3-5

Three characteristics marked the giving of these Macedonian brethren.

First, they gave sacrificially, beyond their ability (2 Corinthians 8:3 a). They gave more generously than their limited means and their difficult circumstances might have warranted.

"The meaning of this paradox is that, because of their extreme poverty, the amount collected by them was not huge in quantity; a man possessing only ten pounds cannot be expected to contribute a hundred pounds, for ten pounds is the absolute limit of his ability. In this sense, the Macedonians had given ’according to their ability’. But the proportion of his goods which a person gives is generally determined by a twofold consideration: (i) a reckoning of the basic necessities for his own immediate existence, and (ii) prudence in setting aside at least something as a measure of security against future needs and emergencies. Such circumspection is justifiable and reasonable. The Macedonians, however, poor though they were, had shown a complete disregard of their own requirements, both present and future. It is in this sense that, impelled by love and compassion for brethren in Christ whom they had never seen, they had given ’contrary to their ability’. And this was a noteworthy token of their refusal to take anxious thought for the morrow because of their confident dependence on God, who as the Heavenly Father, knows His children’s needs even before they ask Him and will not fail to supply those needs from the boundless storehouse of His grace (2 Corinthians 12:9; Matthew 6:8; Matthew 6:25 ff.; Philippians 4:19)." [Note: Ibid., pp. 290-91.]

Second, they gave on their own initiative, before receiving any suggestion or pressure from others that they should give (2 Corinthians 8:3-4). They wanted to extend "gracious fellowship" (Gr. koinonia) to the poorer saints. This is a better translation of the Greek hendiadys rendered "the favor of participation" in the NASB. Hendiadys is a figure of speech in which the writer expresses a single complex idea by joining two substantives with "and" rather than by using an adjective and a substantive. Having received grace from God (2 Corinthians 8:9) as needy sinners, they desired to extend grace to their needy brethren by sending them material assistance. Evidently Paul had not pressed the Macedonians to contribute in view of their economic condition since they begged him for that privilege.

Third, they gave as a part of their larger personal dedication primarily to the Lord but also to Paul for any service he might request of them (2 Corinthians 8:5). When people give themselves totally to the Lord and to His servants, their hearts are already open toward others in need. Meeting the needs of others is really service for Christ (Matthew 22:39).

Verse 6

Titus had begun to lead the Corinthians in assembling their gift sometime before his recent visit to Corinth. He had made this earlier visit a year before the time Paul wrote this epistle (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:10; 2 Corinthians 9:2). The Corinthians were not facing persecution nor were they facing financial constraints, as the Macedonians were. Nevertheless they had not yet assembled their offering even though Titus had been with them again recently.

Verse 7

Paul now called on them to remember the vastness of their spiritual resources and to make sure liberality marked them as a congregation as did so many other gifts of God’s Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:37).

"The Corinthians were strong in activities that are local to and centered upon them (miracle-working faith, charismatic speech, and theological understanding), but weak on those that are for the benefit of those outside, in this case the ’saints of Jerusalem.’" [Note: Barnett, pp. 403-4.]

This verse elevates giving to the status of a spiritual gift on the same level as faith, speech, knowledge, zeal, and even love.

"An ungenerous Christian is far from being a complete Christian." [Note: Tasker, p. 114.]

"I have met pastors and missionaries who have argued that, since they devote their whole time in serving the Lord, they are not obligated to give. Paul argued just the opposite: since you are wonderfully gifted from God, you ought to want to give even more!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:656.]

Verse 8

Paul wanted his readers to understand that he did not want them to take the following exhortation incorrectly. It was not an apostolic command since obedience to a command is an inferior motive for giving to others. Rather he hoped that the good example of others would motivate them. The others in view are the Macedonians, the Corinthians’ themselves in their initial efforts, and Jesus Christ.

Paul claimed full apostolic authority (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 13:10), which his critics challenged, but he chose not to use it. It is usually wiser and more effective to appeal for change by citing positive examples rather than by making authoritative demands.

"Paul uses the conventional rhetorical strategy of comparison (synkrisis), in this case competition, to spur the Corinthians to action (2 Corinthians 8:1-8, esp. 2 Corinthians 8:8)." [Note: Keener, p. 203.]

Verses 8-15

B. The supreme motive for giving 8:8-15

Paul cited the example of Jesus Christ’s gift of Himself for needy humanity to motivate his readers further to finish their work of assembling the collection.

Verse 9

The incarnation of Jesus Christ is the greatest example of self-sacrificing liberality. He gave up the riches of glory in heaven when He became a man and died on the cross so that we might share His riches of glory in heaven (cf. Philippians 2:1-11). Gratitude to Him for His condescending grace should be the supreme motive for Christian giving.

"Paul depicts the glory of heavenly existence as wealth, in comparison with which the lowliness of earthly existence amounts to ’poverty.’ Thus it is not possible [i.e., proper], from this verse alone, to deduce that Christ’s life on earth was one of indigence. In the context the stress is on his voluntary surrender of glory contrasted with the spiritual wealth derived by others (Ephesians 1:3) through his gracious act of giving." [Note: Harris, p. 368.]

Paul frequently used doctrine to appeal for proper conduct (cf. Romans 15:2-3; Ephesians 5:2; Colossians 3:9-10).

The Macedonians gave when they were very poor, but Christ gave when He was immensely rich. The Corinthians fitted between these two extremes. These two examples leave no question that giving is a grace that both the rich and the poor should manifest.

Verses 10-11

Though he did not command his readers, Paul advised them strongly to complete their collection. They had, after all, both desired to begin a collection and had begun their collection before the Macedonian churches had taken either of those steps.

Verse 12

The standard by which God would judge their contribution would be how much they gave in relation to how much they had, not just how much they gave (cf. Mark 12:41-44). God does not expect us to give what we do not have. The apostle assumed their giving sprang from proper motivation.

"Paul’s sentiment here is entirely in line with the OT prophets’ teaching that the right attitude to Yahweh is more important than the sacrifice itself." [Note: Barnett, p. 412.]

Verses 13-14

The objective in view was not making the Judean Christians rich and the Corinthian Christians poor. It was that there should be more equality than presently existed. In the future the Corinthians might be in need of help from other Christians who had more than they did. Then it would be their turn to receive. Paul viewed Christians as being brothers and sisters in a large family. As such we have a responsibility to care for each other.

". . . the Scriptures avoid, on the one hand, the injustice and destructive evils of agrarian communism, by recognising [sic] the right of property and making all almsgiving optional; and on the other, the heartless disregard of the poor by inculcating the universal brotherhood of believers, and the consequent duty of each to contribute of his abundance to relieve the necessities of the poor. At the same time they inculcate on the poor the duty of self-support to the extent of their ability. They are commanded ’with quietness to work, and to eat their own bread.’ Could these principles be carried out there would be among Christians neither idleness nor want." [Note: Hodge, p. 206.]

Some people see any financial demand placed upon them by church leaders, governmental leaders, or others as an evidence of discrimination. Their argument is that they should not have to give since others do not give as much as they are being asked to give. It was to this attitude that Paul responded in these verses. Paul did not legislate equality. He appealed for it.

Verse 15

Paul illustrated the fact that God wants all of His people to have enough by citing the Israelites’ situation in the wilderness (Exodus 16:18). Some of the Israelites gathered more manna and some gathered less for various reasons. Nevertheless they all had their needs met. God saw to that, though the Old Testament does not explain exactly how He did it. Now the Corinthians needed to see to it that what God had provided them in abundance reached those who did not have enough. As they did this, they would become God’s agents in maintaining sufficiency for all.

God has always wanted all His people to have enough and to share with their brethren who have less when they have more. We should implement this principle of relative equality in our giving. God’s desire is the same today as it has been throughout history. This is clear from Paul’s appeal to the past (2 Corinthians 8:15). There are no easy answers to how we can effect this relative equality in our world with its gigantic population and complex socio-economic-political problems. Moreover God’s will is not exactly the same for every Christian. Paul appealed implying that the Corinthians could decide what they wanted to do (2 Corinthians 8:10-12). Nevertheless our responsibility is clear.

Verse 16

One of Paul’s representatives, whom he was sending to Corinth to pick up their gift, was Titus. His readers had met him, received ministry from him, and would see him again shortly. Paul again affirmed Titus’ love for the Corinthians so they would receive him happily. The apostle also expressed thanks to God for working in Titus to give him his good attitude. Titus, as Paul, felt concern for the Corinthians personally, not just for their money (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:14).

"The Corinthians might think that the zeal of Titus for the relief-fund was zeal on behalf of the Jerusalem poor; but it was really on behalf of the Corinthians. They would be the chief losers if a suitable sum was not raised in Corinth." [Note: Plummer, p. 247.]

Verses 16-24

C. The delegates of the churches 8:16-24

Having motivated his readers to finish the collection Paul proceeded to explain the practical steps he had taken to pick up their gift. He wanted the Corinthians to know what to do and what to expect. He gave a letter of commendation (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:1) in which he set forth the credentials of the three delegates who would visit them soon.

Verse 17

It is not clear whether Titus had already left Paul for Corinth or whether he was about to do so. The Greek aorist tense permits either translation, and no other textual reference provides a solution. He may have carried 2 Corinthians to its recipients. In any case, it was Titus’ desire as well as Paul’s (2 Corinthians 8:6) that led him back to Corinth.

Verses 18-19

The famous brother’s identity is also a mystery. He may have been Luke. [Note: See John Wenham, "The Identification of Luke," Evangelical Quarterly 63:1 (1991):3-44; and Hughes, p. 313.] Or he may have been any one of a number of others who assisted Paul. The churches of Macedonia, Asia Minor, and Galatia had chosen this man as a courier. They knew him well, and he had won their respect. Paul personally supervised the project for a double reason. He saw it as an opportunity to promote the glory of the Lord and to lend a hand in helping his needy brethren (cf. Matthew 22:37-39).

Verses 20-21

Paul was very conscious of his need to guard his project and the people involved in it from any charge of financial mismanagement. Doing what was correct was not enough for Paul. He wanted to make sure that everyone perceived what he did as honest and above board as well. Paul had learned to anticipate the suspicions or accusations of those who viewed his ministry critically and to take necessary precautions.

"Cicero’s words (De officiis 2.21.75) are appropriate: ’but the main thing in all public administration and public service is to avoid even the slightest suspicion of avarice’ . . ." [Note: Martin, p. 279.]

Some observers doubtless wondered if Paul was using the money of other people for his own advantage. Others probably suspected him of skimming a certain percentage of the large gift off the top as his commission. To guard against any misunderstanding Paul had originally thought that he would not accompany the delegates who carried the money to Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:3-4; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:16; Romans 15:25). He had also insisted that the churches rather than he appoint the delegates (1 Corinthians 16:3) and that two delegates accompany Titus to Corinth before he arrived (2 Corinthians 8:18-19; 2 Corinthians 8:22-23). He sought to apply the wisdom of Proverbs 3:4, which 2 Corinthians 8:21 virtually restates.

We need to apply Paul’s wise caution in our day when so many professed servants of the Lord have proved deceitful. We cannot afford to be naive or careless about doing things that are honorable in the sight of all men.

Verse 22

A third member of the delegation is also unknown to us. His qualifications fit him well for his duties, however, having previously proven himself faithful for significant responsibility. As Titus, this Christian brother also had great confidence in the Corinthians and consequently would have been welcome in Corinth.

Why did Paul not mention Titus’ two companions by name? Perhaps the Corinthians already knew who they were, or Paul may have wanted to heighten anticipation for their arrival by keeping their identities a secret. Paul may have sent three delegates to Corinth rather than one or two since his credibility there had been under attack. The anticipated arrival of three visitors would have also provided additional motivation for these previously slack Christians to complete the collection. One writer speculated that they may have been Jason of Thessalonica (Acts 17:5) and Sopater of Berea (Acts 20:4; cf. Romans 16:21). [Note: Lowery, p. 575.]

Verse 23

Titus was obviously the man in charge of this project. He was a special representative of the Apostle Paul (cf. Romans 16:21). The other two delegates were Paul’s spiritual brothers, the churches’ envoys, and credits to Christ. By calling these fellow workers a glory to Christ, Paul meant that they brought glory to Christ. [Note: See Keener, p. 210, for a parallel in Greco-Roman literature.]

This is one place where the Greek word apostolos, usually translated "apostle," but here rendered "messenger," occurs in the non-technical sense of someone sent on a mission (cf. Philippians 2:25; Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14; et al.). Usually it refers to one of the 13 apostles whom Jesus Christ personally commissioned (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:1, et al.).

Verse 24

Paul concluded his "letter of commendation" (2 Corinthians 8:16-24) with a warm appeal. He charged his readers to grant these messengers a reception that would demonstrate the Corinthians’ love for Christ, Paul, and the delegates to all the other churches. They were to be openhearted toward them as Paul had urged them to be openhearted toward himself (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). Their warm reception of the messengers would confirm the genuineness of their acceptance of Paul and their positive response to his admonition concerning the offering. Other churches were watching the Corinthians and knew of their history. Therefore this positive welcome of the delegates needed to be public to dispel any doubts in the minds of others.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-corinthians-8.html. 2012.
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