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The Generosity of the Churches of Macedonia With Regard To The Collection (2 Corinthians 8:1-6 ).
‘Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, how that in much testing by (proof of) affliction the abundance of their joy and their in depth poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality (singleness of heart, genuine sincerity).’
We should note here the oblique way in which Paul introduces the question of the Collection, so much so that to begin with we are not aware of what he is doing. The first appearance is simply of giving admiring testimony concerning the generosity of the Macedonians in giving, which has clearly moved him deeply. It is an impulsive introduction rather than a thought out one, and as 2 Corinthians 9:1 reveals, one which he came to realise was a little tactless. But his own selflessness and dedication and admiration for what they had done prevented him at first from recognising his lack of tact.
He draws attention to the generosity out of poverty of the Macedonian churches, which has clearly stirred him deeply. This is described as being as a direct result of the grace of God, God at work within them in unmerited favour (Philippians 2:13). Compare the ‘gift of giving’ in 1 Corinthians 13:3.
And yet these churches were suffering affliction and persecution (1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; Philippians 1:29-30), and were themselves in dire poverty, literally ‘down to the depths’. They had almost reached rock bottom. Yet from that affliction they found abounding joy in Christ, and this had resulted in their rich liberality to others in need.
A PLEA CONCERNING THE PAYING OF THEIR ‘DEBT’ TO THE JERUSALEM CHURCH BY MEANS OF ‘THE COLLECTION’ WHICH WAS TO BE FOR THE RELIEF OF THE EXTREME POVERTY OF THE SAINTS IN THAT CHURCH AND WHICH WOULD ITSELF BE A CONTRIBUTION TO THE FORWARD GOING OF THE OVERALL PURPOSES OF GOD (2 Corinthians 8:1 to 2 Corinthians 9:15 ).
This next section of the letter deals with Paul’s activities in collecting money for "the poor among the saints in Jerusalem" (Romans 15:26). He had declared his great concern for the poor in Galatians 2:10, and that it was genuine comes out in that he seems to have encouraged the churches to gather these funds over a period of about five years (52-57 AD), seeking to obtain them from the churches in Achaia (Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 1 Corinthians 2:0 Corinthians 8-9); Galatia (Acts 18:23; 1 Corinthians 16:1); Macedonia (Acts 19:22; Acts 2:0 Corinthian 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 2 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 9:4), and Asia Minor (Acts 20:35).
But he saw it as more than just an act of loving charity, he saw it as having at the heart of it the fulfilling of the ancient prophecies of the overt uniting of Israel and the Gentiles as one under the One God of the whole world.
Delegates from most of these regions, and possibly from all, were to accompany Paul when he took the gift to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). They wanted it to be an act of fellowship and encouragement as well as an act of giving, an overt declaration of their oneness in Christ.
The recipients were to be the Jerusalem church who were seemingly on the whole especially poor and in need. The very prominence of their position counted against them. Becoming Christians, and particularly being baptised, might well have eventually resulted in social and economic ostracism within Jerusalem's society where Judaism dominated the whole way of life. At various times Christians were discriminated against and victimised.
The communal sharing of goods that the early Christians in Jerusalem practised demonstrated levels of poverty already in existence among the Jerusalem converts right from the beginning (Acts 6:1), and it would be exacerbated by the fact that ageing Jewish Christians (like their Jewish compatriots) would come to live in and around Jerusalem in their final days so that their bodies would be there ready for the day of resurrection. The communal sharing in the beginning may have helped in the short term, but it could not solve their economic problems, and it inevitably left those who gave so sacrificially, in a worse position to help in the long term (compare Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32; Acts 4:34-35).
But the whole of Palestine in fact suffered from lack of food around that time due to a famine that arose during the reign of Emperor Claudius in 46 AD (Acts 11:27-30) and lasted some years, and as the mother church of Christianity, the Jerusalem church would undoubtedly have a larger number of visitors to give hospitality to than did others, as well making some provision for those who went out from it.
And finally there was the fact that all Jews in Palestine, including Jewish Christians, had to pay double taxes, to Rome and to the Jewish authorities. All these things then would contribute to the poverty of the Jerusalem church.
But why did Paul devote so much of his time and energy to raising and delivering this collection? Undoubtedly the first reason was because of his love for his needy Christian brethren (Romans 12:13; Romans 13:8; Galatians 6:10). He also believed that this gift would bring glory to Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 8:19), and that it would help to level out by mutual assistance God's provision for His people's physical needs (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). Moreover, it provided a visible demonstration of the equality of status that existed between Gentile and Jewish Christians (Ephesians 2:11-22), and would undoubtedly reduce the tensions between them. The Jerusalem church tended to be very conservative and ‘Jewish’, and while Acts 15:0 had laid down the position with regard to Gentile Christians, not all would have been convinced. A genuine expression of loving concern could therefore only help to improve the relationships.
He probably also hoped that God might use it in order to allay Jewish suspicions about Christianity, and about his own mission to the Gentiles (compare Acts 11:2-3), demonstrating that it did not see Jews as enemies. It also illustrated the spiritual indebtedness that the Gentiles owed to their Jewish brethren (Romans 15:19; Romans 15:27; 1 Corinthians 9:11), and was personally a way in which he could partially compensate for his own 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), which had undoubtedly largely in the first place contributed to its poverty.
But above all Paul almost certainly saw in the entry of his large Gentile contingent, with their munificent gift, into Jerusalem, a partial fulfilment of the prophecies which spoke of the Gentiles and their riches flowing into Jerusalem in the last days (Isaiah 2:2-5; Isaiah 60:5-22; Isaiah 61:6; Micah 4:1-5; Haggai 2:7). It fulfilled the vision of the one ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16).
So Paul wrote as he did in the following two chapters of 2 Corinthians in order to facilitate the Collection, which he clearly considered to be of great importance, and to bring out its significance, while at the same time laying out a philosophy of Christian stewardship for all time, and defending himself against charges that some would make against him..
This is certainly not the first time that the Corinthians had heard about this collection. Paul's abrupt mention of "concerning the collection for the saints" in 1 Corinthians 16:1, and his subsequent discussion of it, emphasises that he had spoken to them about it previously at some length, and that it was well known and of interest to them, and 2 Corinthians 8:10; 2 Corinthians 9:1-2 below indicate that their interest had continued, even though the controversy that had developed between them and Paul may well have contributed to some delay (2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 2 Corinthians 7:12).
However now that Paul had learned that the Corinthian congregation were responding more positively to him again, he sought to reintroduce the subject and press for its completion, beginning by describing the generosity of the Macedonian churches, and then expressing his confidence in their own anticipated generosity to the glory of God.
He begins in chapter 8 by stressing how eager the Macedonians were to have their full part in the Collection, and stresses their example of self-sacrifice, probably hoping that it would be an incentive and example to the Corinthians to give as well, following this up with the example of self-giving of Jesus Christ Himself and what he saw as the approach that they should now take. Then he informs them that Titus and two others will be coming to see them partly for this purpose.
And he finishes the chapter by mentioning the glorying he has engaged in on their behalf before the other churches.
But this seemingly pulls him up short as he suddenly realises how tactless he has been. Here he had been, lauding the Macedonians without any thought that the Corinthians who were reading his words might have been priding themselves on being the first to be involved in the Collection, and without having mentioned how he had in fact been glorying in their zeal. Even the sending of the three men could be seen as suggesting that without them the Corinthians could not be depended on to act. So he hurriedly does an about face in chapter 9 and assures them that he realises that what he has been saying has actually been unnecessary because it is they who have been involved in the project from the beginning, and explains that the reason that the three men are coming is simply so as to ensure that when the Macedonians pay them a visit they might not be caught out unprepared, and as he has already stated (2 Corinthians 8:20-21) in order to protect his own reputation.
In his infectious enthusiasm he then adds further reasons why they should be forward in giving, and finishes by giving thanks for God’s glorious gift of Jesus Christ. This adequately explains why there seem to be two accounts of his appeal to the Corinthians, while also explaining their dependence on each other.
‘For according to their power, I bear witness, yes and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints.’
For they gave as much as they could afford, indeed more than they could afford, and they not only did it freely, they actually begged to be allowed to give it in order to serve those in even greater need than themselves. This suggests that at first Paul was reluctant to take it from them in view of their own extreme poverty. But the grace of God was so at work within them and they so longed to have their part in serving the needy saints of God, that they insisted vigorously. Their spirit was that of the widow whom Jesus praised in the Temple (Mark 12:41-44).
‘The fellowship in the ministering to the saints.’ ‘Fellowship’ means sharing in common. ‘Ministering’ is diakonia, acting in service. They wanted to show themselves a part of the worldwide church, and a part that truly served and worked as one with all.
‘And this, not as we had hoped, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God.’
And in doing this they not only fulfilled Paul’s hopes but went further. They first ‘gave themselves to the Lord and to us’, and did it ‘through the will of God’. Paul’s Apostleship was ‘through the will of God’ (2 Corinthians 1:1), and the commitment of these men and women was of equal significance. It was God at work. And before handing over their gift they handed themselves over to the Lord, revealing that commitment practically by putting themselves at Paul’s service as the one who could guide them in the Lord. It is clear that Paul remembered vividly their dedication and their loyalty, and wants the point to come over to the Corinthians.
‘Insomuch that we exhorted Titus, that as he made a beginning before, so he would also complete in you this grace also.’
Indeed so deep was the impact of the Macedonian way of giving that it moved him to send Titus to Corinth in the hope of producing the same effect among them in regard to the Collection which he had already put into motion when he had been with them. This beginning had been made when he had previously been in Corinth, and now Paul hoped that he could stir the Corinthians to also revealing the work of God’s grace within them, revealed by the generosity of their own gracious giving.
‘This grace also.’ As well as the grace resulting from his ministering to the saints.
(It is clear on consideration that for a brief while Paul has expressed himself a little tactlessly, forgetting the touchiness of the Corinthians. Instead of letting them know how he has used them as a stirring example to others, as he does later, he has given the impression that all the credit is due to the Macedonians. This is something he will shortly recognise and strive to correct in chapter 9, and explains his change of tone there).
He Exhorts The Corinthians Also To Demonstrate Their Spirituality By Their Generosity (2 Corinthians 8:7-15 )
‘But as you abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love to us, see that you abound in this grace also.’
Did they not abound in everything that was spiritual and right? In spiritual gifts (faith, utterance and knowledge), in zeal and earnestness in going about things, and in love for Paul and his fellow-workers? That was their claim. Well then let them abound in the gift of ‘giving’, that gracious gift from God of loving generosity (Romans 12:8; 1 Corinthians 13:3).
If they have ‘faith’ in God’s power to provide they will certainly not be backward in giving. And if they are inspired to prophesy, bringing God’s moral message to man, and if they have true spiritual knowledge about the all-giving God, then he is confident that they will be open-hearted givers. Besides he is further confident because of their zeal for God, confident that that ‘zeal’ to act will surely cause them to act in this case of clear need. And finally he is confident that their love for him and his fellow-workers will ensure their response. So let them ensure that they abound in this gracious gift as well, the gift of giving. His message is wholly positive. He congratulates them on what they are, in the confidence that he will draw from them the right response. It is praise with a purpose. But it is genuine praise.
‘I speak not by way of commandment, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity also of your love.’
He does not want them to think that he is saying this as a commandment from God, or even as an order, but as an example so as to test out their love as well. The gracious, loving and earnest generosity of the Macedonian churches had so moved him that it had become to him the test of genuine and true love, and that is why he was revealing it to them, so that they could prove their genuine love in the same way. Let the Corinthians demonstrate that they too were of the same calibre. (Giving generously is also a test of our calibre).
‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.’
Indeed, laying aside the example of the Macedonians, was not the prime example of such giving the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? Such was His unmerited favour and love, freely dispensed, that He Who shared the abundant riches of eternity with His Father, became poor, emptying Himself of all His glory and suffering to the depths (Philippians 2:5-6) in order that through His poverty we might be enriched.
What greater example could there be than the self-giving of our Lord? He gave up what was measureless in its glorious splendour and abounding joy and fullness of satisfaction, the wonder of His Father’s presence, (what words can even begin to describe it?), in the light of which everything in the whole of Creation pales into insignificance, and He did it because in the dire poverty of our spiritual bankruptcy there was no other way that we could be delivered. He did it to save us. He did it to make us rich, rich in peace, and joy, and goodness. Rich in true spiritual blessing.
The letter contains many examples of these riches. No fewer than eight such riches have been mentioned thus far in the letter; the earnest of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5), daily renewal (2 Corinthians 4:16), an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:18), an eternal house in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1), unending fellowship with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8), a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), reconciliation with God (2 Corinthians 5:18) and the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Did the Corinthians claim that they were rich in spiritual gifts? Well, let them reveal that it has made them like Him. Let them also, like Him, be rich in self-giving (as the Macedonians were), and reveal it by the wholehearted generosity of their giving .
The very strength of Paul’s argument here demonstrates the great importance that he laid on this once-for-all huge contribution to the welfare of the Jerusalem church. He more than others recognised the great debt that all Christians owed to that church which had from the beginning borne the huge weight of a great responsibility. Had he not himself witnessed its vicious persecution at first hand and personally ensured that their fulfilment of their responsibility was made as difficult as possible? (Acts 8:1-3). Was he not partly directly responsible for its poverty? But not just he. He had been but the representative of a sinful world. The Jerusalem Christians had borne the brunt from a sinful world of the consequences of the first steps in the redemption of the world, of following the way of the cross, of sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
‘And in this I give my judgment, for this is expedient for you, who were the first to make a beginning a year ago, not only to do, but also to will.’
Indeed he has considered the situation like a judge appointed to consider an important matter, and he has passed his judgment. And his judgment is this. That just as the Corinthians were the first, not only to start giving, but also to demonstrate that they had the will to do it, so it was now expedient and good for them to continue to both to do and to will. He has rather belatedly remembered their own primacy in commencing contributions, but has not yet awoken to the offence he might have unwittingly caused. This will dawn on him shortly, possibly drawn to his attention by his emanuensis.
‘But now complete the doing also; that as there was the readiness to will, so there may be the completion also out of your ability. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man has, not according as he has not.’
So let them now complete what they had begun. Let them complete ‘the doing’ of it, just as they had previously demonstrated that they had the readiness of will to do it. Let their readiness of will result in their finally completing their set task in accordance with their ability to give.
For what is being required is not extreme sacrifice, but a giving on the basis of what can genuinely be afforded. Readiness to give is proved by giving what one can afford, not by giving what one cannot afford. (The latter would indicate sacrificial love like that of the Macedonians, which goes one step further).
‘For I do not say this that others may be eased and you distressed, but by equality: your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality.’
Let them recognise that the purpose behind all this is not to make life easy for others as a result of distress brought on them (something which Roman and local taxes did do), but for both of them to share equally in God’s basic provision. At this present time their abundance could help meet the needs of those in dire want. At another time their poverty might be met by receiving from someone else’s abundance. The purpose was that all might be equally supplied by each other with their basic needs.
Note that the ‘equality’ does not indicate that all should have the same. It is speaking of equality of treatment. That each, when in great need, should be assisted by the other.
Some argue that Paul could not possibly have seen a time when the Jerusalem church would be in a position to reciprocate in physical assistance, and therefore argue that the reciprocation is in spiritual abundance. But 2 Corinthians 8:15 is against that idea. And he could well cite Old Testament prophecy which demonstrated that a turn in fortunes could easily come for Jerusalem.
However, we need not see Paul as prophesying that it would be, only as stating a principle. His idea was of all churches in the world being concerned for each others basic needs. The African churches of today have thereby a Scriptural right to enquire as to why we leave them to starve. But they are probably too spiritual to ask, and we are not spiritual enough to notice.
‘As it is written, He who gathered much had nothing over; and he who gathered little had no lack.’
This was in accordance with the Scripture principle illustrated in Exodus 16:18, which demonstrated God’s mind on the subject of provision, each according to his need. God did not shower jewels down on them, but manna. They received the necessities.
‘But thanks be to God, who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he accepted indeed our exhortation, but being himself very earnest, he went forth to you of his own accord.’
He thanks God that He is making provision for the need of the Corinthians. For He has put into the heart of Titus an ‘earnest care’ for them, a care for contributing to their spiritual growth. Thus while accepting his exhortation, Titus had not needed the exhortation of Paul to come to them, for he had intended to come to them of his own accord, and that was why he had now come, in order that he might contribute to their spiritual growth, and enable them properly to demonstrate to the churches their generosity in contributing to the Collection.
He Is Sending Three Representatives To See To The Collection and To Their Spiritual Welfare, One Of Whom Is Titus Whom They Know Well (2 Corinthians 8:16-24 ).
Three was the number of completeness from when numbers were first used, for originally men could only count up to three, which represented everything that was, apart from man and his mate, (and which is still true in some parts of the world today). Thus three representatives could be seen as the full number required.
‘And we have sent together with him the brother whose praise in the gospel is spread through all the churches, and not only so, but who was also appointed by the churches to travel with us in the matter of this grace, which is ministered by us to the glory of the Lord, and to show our readiness.’
And with Titus is coming a man who is highly respected in financial and indeed all matters, among all the churches. His praise with regard to Gospel matters is known throughout the churches. In spiritual terms he is not a nobody. He is the very man selected by the churches to travel with Paul and administer, along with him, the funds being collected, which is an act of service being ministered to the glory of God. The fact that his name is not mentioned may indicate that he was not actually known to the Corinthians. It certainly suggests that he was not one of Paul’s companions. (He may temporarily even have forgotten the man’s name).
Note the reference to the funds as ‘this grace’, this opportunity of showing and demonstrating the work of the grace of God within the givers. This expression of the goodness and love of God, and of His people, is considered as being as important as other ways of making known the Gospel.
‘And to show our readiness.’ This man’s presence with them as Paul’s partner in the enterprise demonstrates Paul’s own readiness in the matter.
‘Avoiding this, that any man should blame us in the matter of this bounty which is ministered by us, for we take thought for things honourable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.’
Yet it also assures that no one will be able to accuse Paul of self-seeking, or even dishonesty. He wants to make sure that there can be no danger of him or anyone else being accused of misuse of the funds. Being responsible for ministering funds is a dangerous position, says Paul, and it behoves Christians to ensure that all sensible precautions are taken, not only to prevent misappropriation, but also to prevent the possibility of malicious slander. It is not only good to be honourable in the Lord’s sight, it is equally good to be seen as honourable in the sight of men, for that too brings honour on the Lord.
That this was a common precaution in the first century is suggested by Philo's similar reference to the selection of highly regarded people from every town to accompany the temple contributions to Jerusalem (The Special Laws 1:78).
‘And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have many times proved earnest in many things, but now much more earnest, by reason of the great confidence which he has in you.’
And along with these two men Paul has also sent a third person, a man whose earnestness in many ways he can vouch for, and who is especially earnest in his desire to be of benefit to the Corinthian church because he has such a high view of them. This may signify that he was also helping administer the Collection, and was confident of the Corinthian’s generosity, or that he had come to provide them with sound spiritual ministry. Or even both.
If Paul had forgotten the first man’s name this further non-mention of a name might indicate a tactful touch which would ensure that the first unknown did not feel slighted. On the other hand the non-mention of names may indicate Paul’s unwillingness to give his personal Apostolic backing to people whom he himself had not appointed. See the next verse.
‘Whether any inquire about Titus, he is my partner and my fellow-worker to you-ward, or our brethren, they are the messengers of the churches, they are the glory of Christ.’
He recognises that some might well wish to check out the people he has sent. They can inform such people that Titus is Paul’s partner, and the fellow-worker he has appointed to oversee the Corinthian church in his necessary absence. As for the other two they are appointed ‘apostles’ of the churches. Here ‘apostles’ is used in its general use as a representative, those given authority to speak and act on behalf of those who appointed them. This might serve to demonstrate that Paul only names those who are appointed by him.
‘They are the glory of Christ.’ In the Old Testament ‘the glory’ of a nation was its wealth and prosperity (Isaiah 10:3; Isaiah 17:3-4; Isaiah 21:16; Ezekiel 24:25) or its powerful armies (Isaiah 8:7). Thus this may signify that such men are Christ’s wealth, Christ’s battalions. They are what shows Him to be what He is, men worthy of their position who by their lives reveal His glory. They are His particular assets, His chosen vessels.
Or he may simply be saying that their status is such that it outshines all others. While ambassadors may be the glory of their country, these men are beyond that. They are unique in status, they are His glory, for they are the chosen representatives of His people, and therefore of Him, representatives of the glory that is unseen. Or alternately he may mean that they are those in whom Christ glories.
Or Paul may have in mind 2 Corinthians 3:18 and be saying that these men are of those who see Christ, as it were, face to face with unveiled eyes, and are thus those who are well on the way to attaining His glory, indeed have potentially done so. They are as much of the glory of Christ as the world can see.
What it certainly means is that in some way they outshine, and are more important than, all that is in or of the world
‘Show you therefore to them in the face of the churches the proof of your love, and of our glorying on your behalf.’
Thus to such honoured men they are to show, as it were in the presence of the churches whom they represent, the proof of their love, the proof that they are really what Paul has boasted they are, by their generous giving. How can they do less before those who are not only the glory of the churches but are ‘the glory of Christ’, there to oversee what they will do.
‘Our glorying on your behalf.’ Had it not been for chapter 9 we would not have known what this meant. It would simply have left us with a puzzle. He has not yet mentioned his glorying on their behalf. Chapter 9 is required in order to explain it.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25