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III. INSTRUCTIONS CONCERNING THE COLLECTION FOR THE POOR SAINTS IN JUDEA 8:1-9:15
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.]
Even though Paul said he felt no need to go on writing about the importance of this collection, he did so in this chapter. This is the rhetorical device called paraleipsis (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1). Saying one is not going to mention a subject and then proceeding to do so has the effect of emphasizing it in an understated way that is less offensive than if one would simply speak on the subject. The emphasis in the verses that follow is primarily on Paul’s plan to come to them. It is only secondarily on the additional motivation this visit placed on the readers to get the collection ready (cf. Philemon 1:21-22).
D. The anticipated visit of Paul 9:1-5
Paul revealed his plan to visit Corinth soon after Titus and his two companions arrived to motivate the Corinthians further to complete their collection and have it ready to go to Judea. Chapter 9 continues the subject of chapter 8. Some scholars have argued for separating chapter 9 from chapters 1-8, but there are insufficient compelling reasons for doing so. [Note: See ibid., pp. 210-11.]
Paul said he told the Macedonians that the Corinthians had been ready a year ago. Evidently he meant that they had been ready to start collecting a gift rather than that their gift was ready to go to Judea (2 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 8:10). Their enthusiasm a year ago had faded since then (2 Corinthians 8:11), but they had been eager to participate in the offering project. It is this initial attitude that Paul commended here. Apparently the Corinthian Christians were taking the lead in their province that also included churches in Cenchrea and probably other communities. This explains his reference to Achaia.
Paul planned to bring some Macedonians with him to Corinth. The "if" does not imply doubt about this possibility in the Greek text. The first class condition in the Greek text describes a condition Paul assumed to be true for the sake of the argument. In this case we could translate the Greek word for "if" as "when" (cf. John 12:32; 1 John 2:28). Nevertheless there was a possibility that Paul and his Macedonian companions might find the Corinthians unprepared when they arrived. Paul evidently mentioned his intention as an added incentive for the Corinthians to complete their collection.
"There were two situations Paul wished to avoid. One was that his repeated and confident boast to the Macedonians about the Corinthians’ ’eagerness to help’ (2 Corinthians 9:2) and their expected ’readiness’ on his arrival should turn out to be without foundation (2 Corinthians 9:3). The other was that when the delegates of the Macedonian churches (not to be confused with the two companions of Titus) arrived at Corinth with Paul on his forthcoming visit (2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1-2), the Corinthians would be still unprepared and this would lead to his acute embarrassment-not to mention that of the Corinthians themselves (2 Corinthians 9:4)." [Note: Harris, pp. 374-75.]
"He is not afraid that they will refuse to give, but he is afraid that they may be dilatory for want of organization. It will produce a bad impression if the money is not ready when it is wanted. He carefully limits his anxiety to ’this particular.’" [Note: Plummer, p. 254.]
The brethren in view here are Titus and his two companions. The Greek word translated "bountiful gift" (eulogian, lit. good word) usually reads "blessing" elsewhere. The Corinthians’ gift would be a blessing to the Judeans. That is, it would be an occasion for the Jerusalem believers to bless or thank God for their gift. The word also implies a sizable blessing. Paul assumed that his readers would collect a substantial sum of money and that generosity rather than covetousness would motivate them. Paul was contrasting two attitudes to giving, generously or grudgingly, rather than two ways of securing the gift, simple reception or extortion.
"Apparently, Paul did not see anything wrong or unspiritual about asking people to promise to give. He did not tell them how much they had to promise, but he did expect them to keep their promise. When a person signs up for a telephone, he promises to pay a certain amount each month. If it is acceptable to make financial commitments for things like telephones, cars, and credit cards, certainly it ought to be acceptable to make commitments for the work of the Lord." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:660.]
The subtle pressure that Paul put on his readers, which comes through especially forcefully in this section, raises a question as to his method of motivating his readers. Was he making it almost impossible for them to give from proper motives by stressing lesser motivating factors so strongly? Evidently Paul realized that the Corinthians might not follow through with their commitment unless they wanted to do so very strongly. After all, they had procrastinated a full year. The fact that he motivated them from several different directions does not indicate that what he presented as the proper primary motivation for giving in chapter 8 is secondary. If his primary arguments failed by themselves, these secondary arguments would add force and hopefully move his readers to do what was right.
"So far from opportunistically playing off one church against another, as is often concluded from this passage, Paul is, rather, seeking to preserve the reputation of the Corinthians in a situation of potential misunderstanding in which they would have lost face." [Note: Barnett, p. 435.]
One of the great spiritual principles of life is that God blesses people in proportion to their blessing others (cf. Proverbs 11:24-25; Proverbs 19:17; Proverbs 22:8-9; Luke 6:38; Galatians 6:7). Paul reminded his readers of this here by citing the example of the farmer. If he plants little, he harvests little; but if he plants much, he will harvest much. Giving to meet the needs of others is like sowing seed. It will yield fruit of the same kind in time. There will be a profit.
"The important lesson which Paul is urging upon the Corinthians at this point is that to give is to sow. What is given is not lost, but, like the seed sown by the farmer, contrary to all appearances it possesses the potency of life and increase. At the same time it is important to remember that, as the whole context shows, the Apostle is speaking of the quality, not the quantity, of giving." [Note: Hughes, p. 329.]
Is a proper motive for giving to get something in return? Both Jesus and Paul urged us to lay up treasure in heaven, to make investments counting on the fact that they will yield eternal rewards (Luke 12:31-34; Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Timothy 6:18-19; cf. Proverbs 19:17; Matthew 10:42; Luke 6:38). It is perfectly legitimate to remind people of the inevitable consequences of their actions to motivate them to do what is right, as Paul did here.
E. The benefits of generous giving 9:6-15
Paul concluded his exhortation regarding the collection by reminding his readers of the benefits God inevitably bestows on those who give liberally. He did this so they would follow through with their purpose and believe that God would provide for the need that their sacrifice would create.
The example of the harvest suggests that the farmer has the freedom to plant as much or as little as he chooses (cf. Acts 11:29; 1 Corinthians 16:2). We should give generously, freely, and deliberately. We should not give feeling that we hate to part with what we are giving. We should not give because we feel there is no alternative or because we think others will look down on us if we fail to give (cf. Acts 5:1-11). We should not give impulsively or thoughtlessly but with inward resolve. We should give cheerfully (Gr. hilaron), hilariously in the sense of very joyfully but not in the sense of thoughtlessly. Cheerful givers always receive God’s loving approval.
"What makes a man a cheerful giver is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." [Note: Richard D. Balge, "Exegesis of 2 Corinthians 9:1-7," Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 85:3 (Summer 1988):228. This article contains a good summary of what 2 Corinthians 9:1-7 teach concerning motivation in Christian giving and methods for encouraging it.]
Such giving need not produce anxiety in the giver even if he or she is giving away much. God demonstrates His love for cheerful givers by giving them more grace and more opportunity. He also makes us contented (Gr. autarkeia), sufficient in that sense (cf. Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:6). However, we always need to remember that God is the One from whom everything we have comes.
Notice the "able" in this verse. This should not lead to the conclusion that God can, but He may not (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). The righteous person who desires to give to the needs of others will not lack opportunity to do so because God will make this possible for him or her.
Psalms 112:9 supports Paul’s point that God will provide grace (divine enablement) to givers. In this psalm the psalmist described the God-fearing man distributing material goods to the poor. The words read like the epitaph of a philanthropist. Consequently God will remember his benevolent acts, Paul said. "Righteousness" (2 Corinthians 9:9) probably refers to benevolent acts here too (cf. Matthew 6:1). These are acts of giving for which God will reward the sacrificial donor with permanent benefits in this life plus an eternal reward. God will multiply His grace to those who bestow grace on others.
Paul applied this promise to his readers, and we can apply it to ourselves. However notice that what God promised is seed for sowing, the opportunities and resources to make further investments of good works. He did not promise wealth for our own consumption.
Preachers of "prosperity theology" have used these verses to support their contention that God will inevitably give you more material goods if you give what you presently have to Him. They often urge their hearers to give to God through their ministries. However Paul was comparing what God does on the physical plane with what He does spiritually. The farmer who plants a crop gets back more seed than he sowed. Similarly, Paul argued, those who sow spiritually by giving sacrificially to others will receive more spiritual seed, namely, divine enablement to help more people (2 Corinthians 9:8-9). Moreover God will not just supply more spiritual seed, but He will multiply it.
Generally what we give away is what we get back. That is the principle in view. However this is not a promise that we will inevitably get more wealth if we give away our wealth. The opposite usually happens. In Galatians 6:7 the emphasis is on "that" rather than "reap." Paul’s point there was that we reap in kind what we sow (cf. Galatians 6:8). He did not say that we will get back more of whatever we sow. "In everything" implies that God may give generous Christians more material resources that they can pass on to others. However, we should remember that the context is primarily dealing with righteousness that comes back to the person who sows righteous acts, not Rolls Royces and Rolex watches. [Note: For an evaluation of "prosperity theology," see Jim Kinnebrew, "The Gospel of Affluence," Mid-American Theological Journal 9:2 (Fall 1985):49-65, and Ken L. Sarles, "A Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 143:572 (October-December 1986):329-52.]
"There is no hint here of a ’prosperity theology.’ Enrichment, like ’overflowing’ (2 Corinthians 9:8), is metaphorical, and is not at all motivated by self-interest." [Note: Barnett, p. 443.]
Another result of the Corinthians’ benefaction would be that the Jerusalem saints would thank God when the gift came to them through Paul and his associates.
Their gift would not only meet the needs of their Jewish brethren and cause them to thank God (2 Corinthians 9:11 b), but it would also cause many other people to thank God. Paul viewed the benefits of their gift as spilling over onto others who would also praise God for the Corinthians’ generosity. The abundant grace that God has given us will overflow into the lives of many others too if we pass it on.
The Jerusalem believers and others who heard about the Corinthians’ gift would glorify God because it demonstrated the vitality of the donors’ faith (cf. James 2:14-26 for the alternative). News of the Corinthians’ former conduct probably raised some questions about their faith among the Christians in the other churches. All who confess the gospel imply that they follow the teachings of Jesus and His apostles who taught us to love the brethren (Romans 12:13; et al.). Another reason these onlookers would thank God was that the Corinthians had been sacrificially generous (Gr. haplotes) in their giving. Paul apparently believed that there would be more thanksgiving for the virtues of the Corinthians than for their gift.
Another benefit of this gift that Paul foresaw was that those who received it and heard about it would reciprocate by interceding for the Corinthians. Moreover they would long to see and be with the Corinthians because of the grace that God had given them. There is something attractive about people on whom the grace of God obviously rests.
The "indescribable gift" to which Paul referred in closing is probably Jesus Christ, the "divine gift which inspires all gifts." [Note: Tasker, p. 130.] It is probably not the gift God would give the Corinthians because they were generous toward the Judeans, to which Paul referred in the immediately preceding context. Some have suggested that it is the gift of eternal salvation. [Note: E.g., Lowery, p. 576.] Christ qualifies as an "indescribable" gift (cf. Romans 8:32). Furthermore reference to Him is appropriate and climactic at the end of this section of the epistle. Paul went back to the primary motivation for Christian giving again (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9) for his final appeal to his readers.
The Corinthians did follow through and assemble their gift. It was only a few months after Paul penned 2 Corinthians that he wrote Romans. In it he said that the Christians of Macedonia and Achaia (including Corinth) had made a contribution to the poor saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26-27). Paul and his delegation then traveled back to Jerusalem from Corinth through Macedonia and Asia Minor (Acts 20:3 to Acts 21:19). The leaders of the Jerusalem church evidently received the gift gladly (Acts 21:17).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 9". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30