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The Grace of Giving
In chapters 8 and 9 Paul returns to the theme he had already dealt with in chapter 16 of his first letter to them (1 Corinthians 16:1-Exodus :). It relates to the financial support of believers who live in poverty. To put it more bluntly he is concerned with the contents of your wallets. It will cost you in terms of money if you delve into this chapter. So consider well before you do this.
In the section which you now have before you Paul in a very impressive way will set you free from your earthly possessions. He deals with this sensitive subject without the slightest self-interest. He speaks not for his own benefit but for the benefit of the suffering believers in Judea. Again I must caution you when you read this section, because he will relieve you of your money.
You can learn a lot from the instructions he gives to the Corinthians. He does not speak about the percentage of income one should give. Everyone knows that the Old Testament norm is ten percent of the income. In the New Testament it is not about the amount but about the motive, the mind and the why of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:1-Exodus :. One gets the impression that there were believers in Corinth who were wealthy. But Paul does not say that they should give because they were rich. He commends to them the churches in Macedonia as the model. They must learn from them. These churches had every reason to think on themselves only. The believers there were going through tough times; they were going through persecution. Perhaps they were living in terrible poverty due to affliction. But they were not concerned about their own plight. In the midst of affliction they had an overflowing joy in the Lord. They always thought of others who were in need, and that is the reason why they were abounding in their giving. That is, as Paul calls it, the “grace of God”.
2 Corinthians 8:3-Numbers :. That grace had led them to give on their own accord. Here the subject is not about a command or a commandment. On the contrary, you read of these believers in Macedonia that they begged Paul to allow them to give. What was their motive? This attitude is something you can find exclusively among believers who are deeply aware that they are connected to one another as a family. This is the special characteristic of brothers and sisters who have the same new life, the same Father, the same Lord and the same Holy Spirit. They wanted to have a part in the ministry that took place among other believers. So ministry is not only the ministry of the Word but also the ministry in deeds.
Of them Paul could testify that they gave according to their ability and even beyond their ability. They did this because for them giving was a grace. For them giving was not an obligation but a privilege. The one who is of this view does not cling to his money. “It is more blessed to give than to receive”, said the Lord Jesus (Acts 20:35). What the Macedonians gave exceeded the expectation of Paul.
2 Corinthians 8:5. What is the secret behind such generosity? That you can find in 2 Corinthians 8:5. First they gave themselves to the Lord. The one who devotedly gives himself fully to the Lord first has no trouble giving his earthly possession to others. He knows full well Who the Lord is and trusts that He will provide all his needs. Did He not say: “The world [is] Mine, and all it contains” (Psalms 50:12)? Someone once said to me: ‘You can always keep on giving because you can never empty God.’ In other words you can always continue to give away what you receive, for God’s resources can never be depleted.
It is the will of God that you first give yourself to the Lord. Next you read that the Macedonians gave themselves up to Paul. That means they fully agreed with what Paul exemplified to them as the model for the art of giving. My admonition to you is that you also give yourself up to ‘Paul’. By that I mean you read his letters from the Bible and listen to his instructions in them and take them to your heart. This is what God expects from you.
2 Corinthians 8:6. With this thought in mind Titus was urged to go to Corinth to take the money which they had laid aside and stored up in response to his first letter (1 Corinthians 16:2). By this act they can have a share in the grace of giving. You can notice that in all this there is no trace of manipulation or exploitation for the sake of money. Paul’s point is that the believers in Corinth handle money in the right way, in the Christian way.
2 Corinthians 8:7. He points to them the abundance of spiritual blessings they already possessed namely, “faith and utterance and knowledge”. He mentioned these blessings already in 1 Corinthians. There he had to say that they had used those blessings in a fleshly way. Now he speaks positively about them and also adds something more to them. With great joy he speaks to them about the “earnestness” they had shown and their “love” to him. They proved their diligence in listening to what he wrote in his first letter. This also showed their love for him.
Faith, utterance and knowledge were no more things which they wanted to flaunt. Now they enjoyed those fundamental graces in the right way. Their trust in God (faith), how they spoke about it (utterance) and what they knew of God (knowledge) were visible in their lives. Now they should add something more to them. They were allowed to give abundantly and therefore he again uses the word “grace”.
2 Corinthians 8:8. To avoid any misunderstanding Paul stresses that he does not give any command. He writes about the diligence of others, i.e. of the Macedonians, to motivate the Corinthians to emulate them in their generosity in giving. He goes further still. A good example has a good following. You also can inspire others to do good by your good example. The subject here is not the sum of money but the motive of giving.
Here Paul adds one more point as the litmus test to prove their love. John writes in his first letter: “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). So John presents in strong terms that someone who sees his brother or sister in need and does not mind about it, though he can, is not a believer at all. In such a person the love of God doesn’t dwell.
Your purse is the easiest test for your brotherly love. Paul says here as it were: ‘Show that your love for your poor brother is genuine by giving him what you are able to.’ This aspect of the test of love you may apply to yourself.
Now read 2 Corinthians 8:1-8 again.
Reflection: What do the Macedonians say to you by their example?
That There May Be Equality
2 Corinthians 8:9. 2 Corinthians 8:9 is again the strong evidence that Paul, like other Bible writers, always presents the Lord Jesus as the role model especially for all practical issues. In the forgoing verses he presented the Macedonians as role model; but the example of the Lord Jesus Whom he presents now of course outshines all others.
You indeed also do know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, don’t you? The Lord Jesus here is called by His full name. The complete glory of His Person comes to expression in the verse in the middle of the section which speaks about giving. There have been many generous people, but no one has ever given so much as the Lord Jesus.
He was rich. How rich? He is the Creator of heaven and earth. Everything you perceive around belongs to Him. He owns the “world … and all it contains (Psalms 50:12; also read the previous verses of this psalm). Innumerable angels serve Him in heaven. At His command they do what they are asked to do (Psalms 103:20). His wisdom is unsearchable and in Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). He upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). Who could ever estimate how rich the Lord Jesus was?
He renounced all His wealth when He was born as a poor Baby on earth. He was wrapped in swaddling cloth and laid in a feeding trough for animals. Of His wealth and wisdom there was nothing to be seen at that time, although He remained God the Son still in full possession of all divine wealth. He grew up in the most despised part of Israel, Nazareth of which it is said: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). As He went through Israel He had “nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). He did not possess money. To pay the temple tax He had to order a fish to supply the needed amount (Matthew 17:24-Daniel :). If He needed a boat or a donkey He had to borrow (Luke 5:3; Matthew 21:2-Leviticus :).
At the cross the soldiers tossed dice for His possessions. All that He had were a few pieces of clothing, probably given to Him by some women (John 19:23-Jeremiah :; Lk.8:2-3). Even the grave in which He was laid belonged to another: “And Joseph took the body …, and laid it in his own new tomb” (Matthew 27:59-1 Peter :). What poverty!
We could guess that the Lord Jesus surely had friends and they could have helped Him to make His poverty bearable. But when it really mattered His friends left Him in the lurch (Mark 14:50).
The last thing that still remained (and what remains for every man) was God. Now the real and terrible poverty of the Lord Jesus is clearly shown: even God forsook Him. We did not become rich by the normal poverty of the Lord Jesus. We could become rich only through what the Lord experienced in the three hours of deep darkness on the cross. There you see the absolute depth of His poverty and the deepest bitterness, because then He was forsaken even by His God. There He was made sin and bore your sins in His own body on the tree. God Himself turned against Him and judged Him.
Why did the Lord Jesus want to endure this terrible poverty? That is said in the next part. It was “that you through His poverty might become rich”. He did it all for you who was so incredibly poor – poor through sin. And now you have become so rich, “blessed … with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3), “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), with a dwelling place in the Father’s house (John 14:1-Leviticus :). They are too many to enumerate and to be listed. You should stop and think for yourself all that you have received thanks to the poverty of the Lord Jesus. Then you will say: ‘What unspeakable riches have I received!’ Against this background will it be difficult to give away some of your material wealth? Surely not.
2 Corinthians 8:10-2 Kings :. Paul says it is ‘profitable’ for the Corinthians that he shares his opinion in this way with them. And it is profitable for you also. A year ago the Corinthians began to do something for the poor brethren in Judea. They did not simply do it; they desired to wholeheartedly involve themselves in this act. You can give something without knowing why and what for you do it. But it was not so with the Corinthians. But there was something more: they had to finish their task.
You can have the intention to regularly lay aside a certain amount for the Lord’s work or for someone who has a need. You might make a good start but after some time you can be slack or careless. There could be all sorts of justifiable reasons. At first you are impressed about a certain need. After some time your willingness diminishes and finally it dissipates into nothing and you stop your giving. Therefore you must be reminded of your original plan and of the good start you made.
It is about what you have. Your giving is acceptable if you have the eagerness, the desire to do according to what you have and not according to what you do not have. “Acceptable” means your gift is accepted with great joy. This joy is with God and those who receive your gift.
2 Corinthians 8:13. In this passage you are not compelled to give more than what you have. Paul is quite sober. The idea is not that you give beyond your capacity to the welfare of others and then beg for your own needs. No, it is about an equal distribution of possessions. From your wealth you give away the superfluous to others to help meet their basic needs. Then there will be equality.
There must be a difference between us believers and those in the world. The reason for the unequal distribution of wealth among the nations is man’s self-centeredness. While people die of hunger tons of food are destroyed to create an artificial demand and to keep the prices high.
2 Corinthians 8:14. Your abundance may serve the lack of your fellow believers. This act of yours will prompt others to stand by you when you are in need. This happens as something normal in the church of God. This equality is not a kind of communism. Communism says that everything that belongs to you also belongs to me. In communism one enriches himself at the cost of others. In the church of God it is the other way round. In the church of God one enriches the other at his own cost saying everything that belongs to me belongs to you also. Think again of the example of the Lord Jesus.
2 Corinthians 8:15. To illustrate the principle of equality Paul points to the example of Israel in the manner they collected the manna in the desert (Exodus 16:18). Every morning the manna was available in abundance as food for the day. There were Israelites who gathered much and there were those who gathered less. Some collected more than they could eat, while others could use some more. What did they do? Whoever collected more than he could eat, gave the superfluous to him who had less. They shared.
I do not think they shared with the lazy Israelites. Also in our days the word applies: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). But when someone was not guilty in which he was not able to collect, for instance because of illness or age, it was shared with him. By the way, what would the one who collected too much do with the superfluous? He could not keep it until the next day, because it was then infested with worms.
So consider the abundance that you might have. It is a better spending to give from your wealth instead of spending it for the worthless things which have no lasting value.
Now read 2 Corinthians 8:9-15 again.
Reflection: Do you cooperate to get equality?
After all that Paul had said about giving there is yet an important question that needs an answer. That question is: Who are the ones who ensure that the money (which means all the money and not just a part of it) reaches the correct destination? It is good that such ones are regarded for their trustworthiness. When you give money surely you will not be indifferent about whether it reaches its destination.
The people who were entrusted to collect the gifts from the Corinthians and to take them to Jerusalem were introduced to them by Paul. He does this in order not to give the impression that he was seeking his own advantage. He also does this to ensure the Corinthians that their money will be handled with great care. This is a responsibility on his part which he gladly accepts. Checks and balances are essential, even today.
In the church of God money is still collected, usually on Sunday, the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2). The church has appointed brothers who must take responsibility for the money collected. They are called deacons. There is not just one brother but more than one. The risk of abuse is greater when money is in the hand of one brother than in the hands of two or three brothers.
Things can happen unintentionally. For instance suppose that the brother who handles money alone needs some money at a certain moment for his private use but he is not able to draw from the bank because he has not enough money on his bank account. But he has in his hands the Sunday’s collection. Then he takes that amount – as loan of course – with the intention to pay it back. This is postponed due to some unforeseen circumstances. In the meantime he faces some financial problems. Sure you understand well that the brother who handles money alone can easily abuse the responsibility. Therefore each brother appointed to take this responsibility will appreciate doing it with other brothers and be controlled by one another.
2 Corinthians 8:16-Esther :. Who are the people capable of doing this service? Three brothers are presented in this section. The first is Titus. Of him you learn the following: Titus was known to the believers in Corinth and felt related to them. In 2 Corinthians 8:6 we read that Paul encouraged him to go to Corinth. Here we read that God put the concern into his heart and so he really did not need Paul’s encouragement.
Paul underscores the fact that Titus was not an errand boy for him, as though he influenced him to do it. Titus did this on his own accord. So Paul cannot be accused that in a subtle way through Titus he sought his own advantage.
2 Corinthians 8:18-Psalms :. Then another brother is mentioned. Paul doesn’t mention his name but he mentions his qualities. From this we understand that a brother who is responsible for the believers’ money should be faithful and be someone of good reputation. Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3 also speak about the qualities such brothers must possess (Acts 6:3; 1 Timothy 3:8-1 Chronicles :).
Paul gives a good testimony about this brother in 2 Corinthians 8:18. He proved himself in the gospel. Everywhere he was known for his heart for the lost and the poor and for his desire to make known the grace of God to them. So in the church of God someone can be chosen to bring another kind of grace to meet another kind of misery. Again giving is called grace in 2 Corinthians 8:19. This grace was to meet the material needs of the believers in Jerusalem. This brother must however travel with Titus.
2 Corinthians 8:20. This should further make clear that Paul’s only concern in this ministry was the glory of God. That was Paul’s concern in whatever ministry he was occupied. This is what you too should remember in everything you do. That Titus takes this brother with him makes it clear that Paul takes all steps to prevent suspicion when he travels with so much money.
2 Corinthians 8:21. It is not only a matter of transparency before the Lord but also before people. He knew full well that God knew him out and out and nothing can be hidden from Him. He lived accordingly.
A transparent life before God helps in making right decisions. But there is more: you also have to do with people around you. Paul is not so arrogant to say: ‘I have got to do only with the Lord. The Lord knows how I am and further I have got nothing to do with anyone else.’ No, he is very careful about what people could think of him. He did everything to be honest to all people. There are always people who could think bad and talk bad, but that may not stop you from doing all that you can to take from them all ground to accuse you of dishonesty.
2 Corinthians 8:22. A third brother is mentioned who is going with them to pick up the money. This was the brother whom the apostle has “often tested and found diligent in many things”. He proved his diligence in all kinds of tasks he was entrusted with. He was not a novice; he was not an inexperienced person who got this important order. Even today it is good that the one who would carry the financial responsibilities before believers proves that he can handle such a task. The certainty that this third person will be well received by the Corinthians further encouraged this brother to do his task. Any task becomes pleasant when people react positively.
2 Corinthians 8:23. Paul again mentions the three brothers whom he presented in the preceding verses and adds something more. With Titus, as a partner, he had a common share in the work among the Corinthians. The other two brothers (mentioned earlier in the 2 Corinthians 8:18; 2 Corinthians 8:22) come on behalf of the churches and receive the special title “a glory to Christ.” In this purely material service both these brothers radiate the glory of Christ. This expresses the great value of this service in the eyes of God. Can it then be difficult for the Corinthians to accept these three valuable brothers in a worthy way? They would confidently commit the saved money to these men.
2 Corinthians 8:24. Paul makes the other churches spectators of the Corinthians’ behavior. The other churches had already given much. Can the Corinthians be lagging behind? They must prove their love by their contribution. Their love must be perceptible. Further they should not put Paul to shame by their reception of the three brothers; for he had boasted about them to other churches. Imagine nothing of his boastings is proved true now! Paul was counting that the Corinthians would respond as he expected. Is this not applicable to you also?
Now read 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 again.
Reflection: What are the qualities a brother must have to be a deacon?
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 2 Corinthians 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany