Click here to learn more!
1. 2 Corinthians 8:1 to 2 Corinthians 9:15 is one continuous section, concerned with the completion of the Corinthian contribution to Paul’s great Jerusalem Christian Poor Relief Fund. Mentioned 1 Corinthians 16:1. where see for this Collection generally.
2. The section is characterised by a specialised use of χάρις (= grace, generally, but here also) “gift,” or “bounty,” as in 1 Corinthians 16:3 (2 Corinthians 8:1; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 8:6-7; 2 Corinthians 8:19; 2 Corinthians 9:14). In lesser degree also by similar specialisation of εὐλογία (= “blessing,” but here) “bounty” (2 Corinthians 9:5-6), and a like turn given to ἁπλότης (= “simplicity,” “sincerity” [cf. a “single” eye, Matthew 6:22], but here) “liberality” (2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11; 2 Corinthians 9:13). The key to this specialised sense impressed upon the first pair of words is evidently this: What God’s grace is to man, that is the Corinthians’ grace to the poor saints at Jerusalem,—a spontaneous, unearned, free gift, out of a loving heart; man’s grace to his fellow-man is his copy of God’s grace to himself; and, going deeper, such a heart of grace in man is thus expressing its sense of God’s grace in his own case; the human grace has sprung from the blessed effect of God’s grace in the heart. Similarly, as to εὐλογία. (See homiletic exposition.)
2 Corinthians 8:1. Do you to wit.—See R.V.; or 1 Corinthians 15:1, or Galatians 1:11, A. V. Cf. the words of the old writs, “Scire facias A. B.,” i.e. “You are to let A. B. know,” etc., “Faire savoir.” Grace.—Obviously in the more usual sense. Macedonian Churches.—From whose midst he was writing. Writing the First Epistle from Ephesus, and many months earlier, perhaps before the Macedonians had even heard of the Fund, he speaks of setting the Galatian Churches to work (1 Corinthians 16:1). We know of Philippi, Berœa, Thessalonica; there may have been others.
2 Corinthians 8:2.—Take the grammar of the sentence as, e.g., A. V. or R.V. Something may be said for taking thus: “That the abounding of their joy is in the very time of their much trial by their afflictions, and the depth of their poverty has abounded,” etc. Trial.—See the same word in Romans 5:4, “experience.” The word wavers between, or includes, the trying and the result of it; the proving and the proof; the “experiment” (2 Corinthians 9:13) and the “experience” acquired by the “experiment.” Here the process, rather than the result arrived at. The “trying” was going on. What the “afflictions” were is unknown; suggestions may be found in Acts 17:5 sqq.; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5 (written some years, earlier). Abundance.—Notice this word running through the section (2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 8:7; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 9:12). Deep.—“Reaching deep down” (Stanley); “deep-searching” (Speaker’s Commentary). N. B.—“Abundance of … poverty … abound unto riches of liberality” (if verse is so to be construed).
2 Corinthians 8:3 Of their own accord.—Beet suggests: Moved by what Paul told them of the Corinthian zeal (2 Corinthians 9:2), though without his laying any injunction on them to do anything similar.
2 Corinthians 8:4. Gift.—“Grace.” The Macedonian gift was their “grace” (as above), and was also their opportunity and their method of taking a practical share in the reciprocal fellowship of all believers No need to distinguish between
(1) a fellowship with the Corinthians in giving, and
(2) a fellowship manifested by the gift between themselves, though Gentile Christians, with the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem. “Fellowship” all round, in widest sense, is here. No new feeling in them (1 Thessalonians 2:14).
2 Corinthians 8:5. Not as, etc., but, obviously also, “better than.” Hoped is more than merely “expected.” To us.—Surely not “as travelling companions” (Stanley); meagre, and only true of the elected deputation. “Not money, but [also] themselves; not to men, but [also] to Christ,” and this first. “Their self-surrender to Christ was also a surrender to those whom Christ had set in authority in His Church” (Beet). By the will of God.—As 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; a practical recognition of Paul’s authority as an apostle.
2 Corinthians 8:6. Insomuch that.—Too subtle to press this to mean a real fulfilment of a Divine design. Not said in First Epistle that Titus had initiated the local Fund at Corinth. [Not named at all in First Epistle.]
2 Corinthians 8:7.—There is also “abundance” at Corinth; but how different. Love to us—In 2 Corinthians 7:11 we see this happy effect of the First Epistle. Note the R.V. margin. Grace.—Inclining rather to the meaning of “gift” here. “Abound in your giving also.” Also.—Q. d. “as well as (not the good works of 2 Corinthians 7:11-12, but) in these good points and qualities” just mentioned.
2 Corinthians 8:8. By (way of) commandment.—They were in a good mood just now, even toward himself, and had been very obedient to his first letter; but it was very uncertain how far they would bear much “telling” from him. “I don’t order you to do this, but.…” (See under 1 Corinthians 7:6) To prove.—The poor Macedonians have had their “proof” (2 Corinthians 8:2); now here I have a little proof for you! Your love.—That of 2 Corinthians 8:7, primarily, but not only.
2 Corinthians 8:9.—Cf. the appeal implied in 2 Corinthians 9:15; a higher basis of appeal than even that of 2 Corinthians 9:8. [
1. An Article of Faith;
2. A Matter of Experience;
3. A Principle of Action.—J. L.] Observe, “The Grace of … Christ.” Not, as more often, “of God” Romans 5:15 is a remarkable expository illustration; Galatians 1:6 [and 2 Corinthians 8:4] should be looked at. [Cf. Colossians 3:13, even with the variant reading, where forgiveness is attributed directly to Christ. So also, whilst the Father gave Him, the Son “gave Himself” (Titus 2:14; Ephesians 5:25; 1 Timothy 2:6).] Poor.—Not merely in His human circumstances, as dependent during His three years ministry upon charitable gifts, but in the far larger sense of Philippians 2:6-8. Therefore also “became poor” is better than “was poor.” [Stanley refers to Milman, Lat. Christ, Book XII., chap. vi, for the wonderful growth, at the beginning of fourteenth century, of the Mendicant Orders, indirectly, from this verse; and, more directly, of the rule and life of Francis of Assisi, earlier.]
2 Corinthians 8:10. Advice.—R.V. is truer, “judgment”; 1 Corinthians 7:25. This is expedient.—Viz. (not “that I do not command but rather give my judgment,” but) that they “should abound,” etc. (2 Corinthians 8:7). Note, their precedence in collecting, and their precedence in thinking of such a collection: “ye were the first to” (R.V.). The Galatians were before them only in the particular point of adopting the method of weekly offerings (1 Corinthians 16:1).
2 Corinthians 8:11.—As R.V.; also emphasise “now” in contrast to “a year ago.”
2 Corinthians 8:12.—See special Homily.
2 Corinthians 8:13.—“God is just in His requirement; so am I.” Too narrow to make this only mean: “I do not desire at your expense to relieve the Macedonian Churches from their share of giving.” This, so far as true, would only be a particular incidence of his (supposed) principle of action. “I do not want to throw burden—all the burden—on you, to the exemption of others.” The Jerusalem Church could hardly, with any appropriateness, be included amongst those giving Churches, which were in his mind in making the remark. Yet 2 Corinthians 8:14 seems to carry the suggestion that even the then beneficiary Church and the benefactor Churches might in some sense, or under some circumstances, come to change places, and benefactors of to-day become the beneficiaries in their turn. Best comment is Romans 15:27.
2 Corinthians 8:15.—“So far as the Christian life permeates church members and churches will there be reproduced this ancient and beautiful ideal of a company in which each has sufficient, an ideal never realised in material good so completely as in Israel in the wilderness. For all men are but gatherers of food freely given by God.” (Beet, very admirably.) More than a mere happy quotation, or apt parallel.
2 Corinthians 8:16. Putteth into.—Same phrase as, and well explains, “given in,” 2 Corinthians 8:1. More earnest.—Q. d. “than to need it.”
2 Corinthians 8:18.—Quite uncertain who “the brother” was. No intentional concealment of his name; the Corinthians knew him, or would very soon, when he arrived in Corinth. Curious old fancy, based on a misunderstanding of “in the Gospel,” that this was Luke. (So Ignat., Epp., and Jerome.) Three Macedonians are mentioned as travelling from Corinth again (with the collection, probably), Acts 20:4; Stanley thinks Tychicus perhaps “the brother” in 2 Corinthians 8:22, and, more confidently, Trophimus here. N. B.—He of 2 Corinthians 8:22 is a second, additional to, not the same as this of 2 Corinthians 8:19; see “brethren,” 2 Corinthians 8:23; Titus is mentioned, and two others. Probably he of 2 Corinthians 8:22 is not a Macedonian, but some usual, business-like, useful travelling companion of Paul.
2 Corinthians 8:20.—Lit “taking in sail to avoid the danger that.”
2 Corinthians 8:21. Honest.—In the old sense: “What looks, and is, honourable.”
2 Corinthians 8:22. Confidence.—Note R.V., rightly, “which he hath”; perhaps having been to Corinth with Titus, and gained confidence from what he had seen. This had increased his earnestness in the matter.
2 Corinthians 8:23.—Good example of the “letters” commendatory (2 Corinthians 3:1). Messengers.—Really “apostles”; but not yet in the technical, specialised sense. (Cf. of Barnabas, Acts 14:14; but not Romans 16:7.) It had been a Jewish, official name for such accredited messengers from Sanhedrin or synagogue, as, e.g., Saul of Tarsus was when sent to Damascus. Glory of Christ.—Q. d. “They and their errand will bring glory to Him and His religion” (as 2 Corinthians 8:19).
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—Whole Chapter
Four names are the nuclei around which the chapter organises itself:—
A. Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
B. Our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 8:6-11).
C. Corinth (2 Corinthians 8:12-15).
D. Titus (2 Corinthians 8:16-24).
A. Macedonia.—We have, concerning the Macedonian Churches:—
I. Their circumstances.—They were poor, in deep poverty; their country was at that time notoriously poor. The civil wars of the preceding century [including the battle of Philippi] had laid the country waste, and in Paul’s day it had not recovered. Thessalonica was becoming a busy centre, but the country had petitioned Tiberius for some relief from its heavy taxation, and, to lighten its burdens, Macedonia [with Greece; but this was restored by Claudius to the Senate, so that Luke is right; Gallio was proconsul (Acts 18:12)] had been made an imperial, instead of a senatorial, province. If Lydia were even still at Philippi, she was hardly a sample of Macedonian Christians; she was an immigrant, and her dyeing establishment, with its household servants, may not have been large. And the rest were mostly humble people, in Thessalonica, Berœa, Philippi, as elsewhere.
2. They were being sorely tried by afflictions. Lost to us as this is in detail, all was then very real, every detail was then fully known to Paul, who was writing in their midst. And fully known to their Lord also, Who was then suffering them to be put to the proof. [Cf. Exodus 3:7, “I have seen, I have seen.… I have heard.… I know,” etc.] Not a stroke fell on them without His sympathetic knowledge, Who was making their circumstances His testing, purifying fire for the gold of their faith and patience (1 Thessalonians 1:4). With better show of reason than some Churches, they might have said: “It is of no use coming to us to beg, Paul. We have nothing; we are a set of poor people. And this is a bad time”—it always is, to unwilling hearts—“to come raising a fund here; we have enough to think about, holding our own amidst the persecution and the steady, active disfavour of our neighbours to us as Christians.” But we have
II. Their generosity.—
1. Out of the assayer’s furnace, heated with sevenfold fires, flowed—overflowed—a stream of most precious, most pure, grace, in the shape of a most liberal and eagerly spontaneous gift. If there had been any tendency to selfishness or to the scanty giving of fearful hearts and narrow faith, their own poverty had cast it out. They “must” help the deep poverty of their brethren at Jerusalem. Much fear, narrow faith? How could these live in hearts full of abundant joy? Did they count it all joy that they were fallen “into divers trials”? (James 1:2). And “exult in tribulations also”? (Romans 5:3, same Greek word). They were “cheerful givers.” Their cup was abundantly full; but their hearts were abundantly full also. They were full to the overflow; running over in simple-hearted, unhesitating benevolence, and that richly. The fountain ran over in a stream; the very stream ran over the banks of expectation, and also of human “prudence” and ability. Very poor, greatly tried, abundantly generous!
2. “Abundantly.” Measured by their power, what could have been expected? A small gift would have been great for them to give. Hardly anything at all was to be looked for, much less hoped for. Paul had indeed told them of the collection, and of the eager zeal with which Corinth had taken the matter up; but not by way of command, or injunction, or exhortation, and scarcely even of suggestion. They needed no suggestion; they were willing of themselves. Corinthian zeal provoked very many (2 Corinthians 9:2) in other Churches; but here, to mention the object of the Fund, and the need of the mother Church, was sufficient. The torrent of their charity had poured over, from hearts that only needed a touch [no flinty rock that needed smiting, perhaps twice], and the grace gushed forth, carrying away before it Paul’s prudence and reluctance and care for them. There was no “screwing it out” of unwilling givers. There was no “whipping up” the last few pounds, as at Corinth. No need for it. Good cause shown; then their heart and hand were ready. Paul had tried to stay it, or to keep it within narrower bounds. But no. He must, and should, let them have a share in the ministering to the saints. If it did not mean this, what was the worth to them of the fellowship and the brotherhood? If really “Jew” or “Gentile” counted for nothing in Christ, if really Macedonia as well as Jerusalem were common partakers in the same Christ, then Paul must let them give their grace; and he must receive their gift, along with the rest. They begged him that he would. They would not be said nay. And they gave, and gave beyond their power.
3. They gave with the most blessed completeness. There was a “finish” about their benevolence; from first to last it was most admirably thorough; intelligent, orderly, gracious principle ran through it all. They began at the right place, and at the right end. The true gift is the expression of the man, as between man and man; as between God and man it is the embodiment of the man too. God of old asked for Isaac; but He wanted Abraham; and Abraham himself really lay upon the altar by which he stood. A gift loses much, whilst yet it may be worth something to man, if the heart of the giver be not in it; to God it is worth nothing, if the man’s self be not in it. All the overflowing readiness of the Macedonians was, after all, no such torrent of resistless, impetuous impulse as that they should forget, before doing anything in actually putting their gifts together, to devote themselves afresh to God. So eager to begin, and to give, and yet they pause [at the beginning of their effort, not like the Corinthians at nearly the end of it] solemnly to consecrate themselves to the Giver of all grace. In modern phraseology, before a single subscription was announced, the Church held a consecration meeting. Then all they had, all their poverty too, was avowedly the Lord’s; they were His stewards, for little or much; they then proceeded to give “of His own” (1 Chronicles 29:14), not their own. [A model for all Church financial efforts, Memorial Funds, Jubilee Funds, and the like.] After that, it was comparatively a small touch of excellence that they unreservedly put themselves under the direction of Paul in their effort; accepted him as their almoner to Jerusalem; and in the most ungrudging, unquestioning, unqualified way recognised him as Paul the Apostle by the will of God (2 Corinthians 1:1), falling in with that will, in their very act and its heartiness. It was not his first experience of Macedonian generosity and affection to himself (Philippians 4:10-19). But he had not looked for such a display of grace as this, even in them. Of “grace,” for
III. All this was grace of God bestowed upon Macedonia.—Human nature was not in itself of different material and quality in Macedonia to what it was elsewhere. It was grace which had bred grace. Their open hand and open heart were the reflection, the offspring, of God’s own. Giving is good for Churches and for men, as checking any tendency to selfishness, and as enlarging the heart and keeping sympathy tender. No change of medical opinion can ever make this kind of “bleeding” anything but good for the soul’s health. Good even for the mind, to have something to check self-centering of thought and purpose. Self-interest might conceivably urge to beneficence. But before the initial act, and the impulse to it, can arise in the heart, grace must have begun its work. A bit of beneficence fills the heart with blessing, and in turn this full heart of blessing will flow over in beneficence. And so on, in reciprocal action. But this action and reaction needs starting. And this, grace must needs do. All good begins there. The grace of God bestowed upon the Church at Corinth (same words as here, 1 Corinthians 1:4) assumed a noble form, and enriched them with gifts which called forth Paul’s thanksgiving, and made them the paragon Church of the world in such endowments. But this grace of God … upon … Macedonia, was it less noble or less fruitful?
B. The Lord Jesus Christ and His grace.
I. One is ashamed of some of the motives urged and methods employed, to raise money for religious and benevolent purposes. The money is contaminated by its source and by the process of extraction. See here A model appeal.
1.To Paul “to live is Christ,” and naturally, instinctively, by the necessity of his new heart, his thought turns to, rises to, Him. “In Christ” traces the sphere within which Paul “lives and moves and has his” soul’s “being.” It is no narrow range which is so traced out; abundance of range, abundance of interests, a large, free, happy life; and everything within it is bound by a happy gravitation to Christ the Sun and Centre. Every plan and purpose derives from that Source motive and strength. In this, Paul is an Archimedes who has found his place to stand, and his lever and his fulcrum. With “the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” he can move the world, not to say a reluctant, or negligent, or laggard Church. 2. This appeal is a sample of the way in which the highest themes find place in his letters, in the midst of topics of temporary, and comparatively slighter, interest. [Striking example of this in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.] “Great texts” occur in the midst of “less useful” material. They occur suddenly; they occur en passant; he rises to them, and quits their high level again, without effort; there is no appearance of any feeling of “rising” to them, or of “sinking” from them to a lower plane of thought or feeling. All his life, its plans, its motives, its activities, are “of a piece.” He lives at the high level [probably without remembering that it was “high”]. He can pass from the temporary theme to a topic of eternally vital interest, and can resume his temporary theme without any shock at the moment of transition. By such motives as this of 2 Corinthians 8:9 he regulated his own life; by such motives did he seek to train his people to regulate theirs. He did not disdain auxiliary motives of a lower order. As we see, he uses Corinth to stir up other Churches to zeal and liberality; he uses Macedonia to spur on Corinth. [So again, descending yet lower, but not unworthily, in 2 Corinthians 9:4.]
II. [See Separate Homily on 2 Corinthians 8:9. But remark here:] The model of all beneficence.—Without much forcing, point by point of parallelism can be found between it and the Macedonian and Corinthian bounty.
1. Was He not “willing of Himself”? The Father had not spoken to Him “by way of commandment”; He came not to do His own will, indeed, but had “accepted the exhortation,” and willingly had been sent on His Father’s errand. He stood before the throne a servant waiting for commands, with loving, eager, volunteering readiness, proposing Himself for the service: “Then said I, Lo, I come … to do Thy will, O God” (Psalms 40:7-8); “I delight to do Thy will.”
2. One cannot say, indeed, “beyond His power,” but, very emphatically, “to His power” was He thus willing. His whole Divine-human resources and heart of love have been unreservedly drawn upon for us. There is no limit; however much we may have drawn upon Him, we have never even approached, much less touched, any limit to the sufficiency of His grace and power. A limit is inconceivable. In Him is “all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:19; with Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9-10), in order that we may be filled with it. He gives Himself to our need unstintingly, and to the measure of His power to bless and save. [May even borrow another word of human giving in this chapter, and say that as there was readiness to will, so there was a performance also out of that which He had (2 Corinthians 8:11). He did not rest, nor does He find His satisfaction, until He can say, “It is finished.”]
3. It belongs to the bottomless depths of truth beneath what we read in this Book, and then formulate into our doctrine of the Incarnation, to ask whether there were any original fellowship between the Son, the “Firstborn of all creation,” and our race, which made possible His assumption of the Redemption fellowship with our race in its deep need. At all events He has created a fellowship which now appeals to Him, as the new fellowship in Him did to the Macedonians and Corinthians, and as it should still appeal to Christian judgments and hearts. The need itself is a powerful appeal to all right hearts; and to His heart too. He cannot see need of any kind, and only see it. But this was a need of brethren in a real fellowship with Himself, and He “takes upon Him the … ministering to the saints.”
4. May we venture to use Psalms 40:6-7 again, and say that He, too, “first gave Himself to the Lord, and then”? etc. The psalm is the voice of a human heart; of all true servants of God; but it belongs also to Him, in that whatever of motive or excellence is found in His people is also found in its original, and most perfect, exemplification in Him.
5. May we say that the “abundance of His joy and of His deep poverty abounded to the riches,” etc. (as 2 Corinthians 8:1)? Or that as He “abounded in everything … He abounded in this grace also”? It would hardly be tracing too minutely the features of the correspondence between all highest Christian service and charity and His, Who is the Model.
III. A model of Christian completeness.—
1. “Abound in this grace also.” Every point of Christian character needs cultivating. All are not equally adapted for any one form of Christian service; nor is any given Christian equally well adapted for all his own forms of service. But there should be no systematic neglect or omission of any. The aim of Church education and of Christian self-culture should be an all-round, harmonious completeness of service and character. Natural enough to do most what we like best, what costs least of sacrifice or effort, what involves least of unpopularity or singularity. In many Churches, and in very many Christians, there are exaggerated graces, and there are defective, imperfectly developed graces. There are fashions in Christian work. Special forms take the fancy of a generation, and are pushed to the overshadowing of others very needful to be kept up. “Abound in this grace also.” Hard to preserve the balance of work and growth; but any point cultivated at the expense of other good ones, is apt to become a blemish. [The beautiful arm of the deformed boarder in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-table. A noble head, upon a body which has not grown beyond childish stature and strength. And so on.]
2. Specially, the showy gifts and activities must not be allowed to overshadow or lead to the neglect of less obtrusive ones. “Faith … utterance … knowledge … (even) diligence,” will not find their completeness without prompt, perfected benevolence. [A suggestion of the same danger may be found in a letter to a Macedonian Church, Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians 5:20, “Despise not prophesyings”; a very serviceable gift, but then everybody could understand the “prophet,” talking clear sense in ordinary, intelligible language, though under the special influence of the Spirit. On the contrary, “tongues” was a showy gift, attracting attention to its possessor, who was greatly admired and envied, although it was true that only a man with another gift, “interpretation of tongues,” could understand him!]
3. Above all, a Christian character is wanting in completeness, if there be no heart to give and no practice of giving. High professions, great gifts, even abundant activities, cannot cover this deficiency. To omit this is not only to deny the fellowship, to lose the reflex blessing of giving to the givers themselves, but it is to leave out of the “Imitation of Christ” a most conspicuous feature. God is a Giver. The Lord Jesus Christ is a Giver. Corinthians must be givers too. “Let Titus finish in you this grace also.” “Also” is a leading word in the paragraph. Do not forget the “also” in life and service.
C. Corinthians, and the true Christian communism.
I. An ideal of social supply.—Israel was the “kingdom of God” on earth; amongst the other states and monarchies this was His. When actual kings were permitted to Israel, they were understood to be only viceroys; the real King of Israel was Jehovah. Divine law was State law; in the legislation of God for Israel are embodied in temporary, occasional forms the great principles which secure the wise government and well-being of all community-life. The ideal Israel would be an ideal state. But Israel never was ideal; the ideal of a kingdom under Jehovah never existed outside Deuteronomy. Still, in the wilderness God so ordered the life of His own special subject people that their wilderness life becomes a perpetual parable. Paul’s quotation is no mere felicitous parallel, adduced from an old classic of this people’s literature. He is guided to fasten upon and bring forward a case in which the very ideal of provision for the needs of a community was forcibly suggested, and in a small degree was actually carried into effect. There was no want, there was no waste; to-day had sufficiency for its needs, without stint, yet there was nothing over for the morrow. Each day brought its due supply, out of God’s fulness of resource; the morrow must to-day be trusted for, but each new morning justified the trust; and ended it, for the supply believed for was there, waiting to be gathered. Indeed, simplicity, and utterness, of dependence upon God were the very root principles of living. Men went forth morning by morning, not to make anything, but to gather what God had made and had brought to them. They went morning by morning; the act of the host said, “Give us this day, again, our bread.” The faith which underlay the dependence was kept alive in the very fact that, whether they would or not, they could not accumulate anything over. It was the simple life of a great family, where morning by morning the children rise, counting upon finding the renewed, sufficient provision of the father. It is the lovely ideal of Matthew 6:25-34, the children fed and clothed as the birds and lilies are, and “taking no” more “thought for the morrow” than they do. [In fact, the Sermon on the Mount is really the great, fundamental, Constitutional Document, the Magna Charta, of a new and more perfect embodiment than Israel had been of the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s Ideal State.] The Ideal was again in partial embodiment for a short time after Pentecost attempted in the Christian Church at Jerusalem. Not “attempted” in any sense of organising a modern “movement” or “scheme.” The thing was the spontaneous, instinctive growth of the new life of the Spirit. Hearts filled with the Holy Ghost were filled with brotherliness and charity. Rich landowners like Barnabas, and smaller people like Ananias—but with truer heart—“sold lands or houses.” None of them called anything he had his own. All was put into the common stock. With the happy result that “neither was there among them any that lacked.” In so far, it was Exodus 16:18 again realised. [Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32; Acts 4:35.] [N.B.—The general principle that no Christian has any of God’s gifts simply for his own use and help and enjoyment, goes very far. It is true of anything he may have learned from Scripture or from Providence; of any richer or new blessing to his own soul which may really have been a fresh disclosure to him of the will of God, or of the possibilities of a holy life. His “experiences” are for the common stock and the help of others. Thus H. W. Beecher: “I always feel as though, if a man has a fine garden, it is mean for him to build around it a close fence, so that nobody but himself and his friend can enjoy it. But, oh, it is a great deal meaner when the Lord has made a garden of Eden in your soul, for you to build around it a great dumb wall, so close and so high that nobody can look through it or over it, and nobody can hear the birds singing in it. And yet there are persons who carry a heart full of sweet gardenesque experiences all the way through life, only letting here and there a very confidential friend know anything about the wealth that is in them.”] But this already is passing over to
II. The real and its supply.—
1. A world or a Church where none have a surplus and none want, where there are neither “poor” nor “rich,” is only a beautiful vision. The ideal kingdom of God will only in the eternal world be the actual; and only there will man’s world, the world of the new race that finds its head in the new Adam, coincide with the kingdom. The very beneficence of Pentecostal days was based upon the fact that there was not “an equality”; there needed an equalisation. And the typical Christian remedy is Almsgiving, in the broadest sense of the word. Divested of all its unfortunate associations; regarded apart from unfortunate embodiments and expressions of the principle; the essential thing, the loving voluntary overflow of fulness into need, is the remedy. It is the copy of the Divine benevolence. It is the Divine order.
2. Political economy easily, and, from its point of view, rightly, makes out the economic unwisdom of almsgiving. Indiscriminately employed, it has promoted an unhealthy and indolent dependence, and even created a new sense of “right” to the dole. The monastery gate and the squire’s kitchen have fostered mendicancy. The mechanical almsgiving of a modern Poor Law system hardens giver and receiver. But the instinct of almsgiving is Christian, and was from the first a notable outgrowth of the new fellowship and fraternity in the Church. [See, e.g., Cave’s Primitive Christianity, Part III., chap. 2; or, more recent, Pressensé, Early Years of Christianity, “Life and Practice,” pp. 412–419.] The Eucharistic free-will offertory frequently went to the poor. The early Church historians and biographers are full of eminently “charitable” personages, official and private members alike. Poor were charitable, like the rich, each according to their means. “The community of spiritual things leads naturally to a community also of the inferior necessaries of life. There is no compulsion, but the simple application of the law of solidarity, that all those who live by the same life of the Word should have all things in common.” (Clement, summarised by Pressensé.) Wealth, in the broadest sense, and of every kind,—whatever one has and another needs,—is held as a trust from God, the Giver, for, not the possessor only, but for the sake of those who need. And the obligation to this larger “Almsgiving” lies equally upon those who to-day are the receivers. Tomorrow they may be able, in some other way, to be the givers; to-day’s givers may need to be the receivers. Spiritual benefits may repay the temporal. Indeed, true charity brings its own repayment in the enlarged sympathy, the tenderer heart, the check to selfishness. The principle of our paragraph tends to a self-acting redress of all need. As in the ocean, so here, any inequalities of level tend always to adjustment and equalised fulness in every direction.
III. Unwise methods and motives are suggested by 2 Corinthians 8:8; 2 Corinthians 8:10; 2 Corinthians 8:13. E.g. “not by way of commandment.”—Compulsory legislation; violent reorganisation of the existing social system, with all its crude or selfish and unequally pressing methods of division of comfort or “wealth”; enforced Socialism or Communism, as a necessary preventive of undue poverty or undue riches, or as promising perfect contentment and happiness, and fairer sharing of labour and its rewards; must all fail, for the same reason that the Christian plan of the benevolence of God’s stewards towards God’s needy ones, fails in securing an ideal society. The fallen heart in man must be taken into account. If Capital be selfish, Labour may be selfish too. The social struggle is too often poor selfishness organising itself against rich selfishness. [Indeed, the oldest political economies formulated “laws” which proceeded on the supposition that self-interest, enlightened or not, was the one motive which could be relied upon as certain, always and in all men, to operate.] There must be no “commandment” on the one side; there must be “the willing mind” on the other. Else the issue may be, as the aim of some violent proposals seems of necessity to be, that a new inequality may be produced, in which the “haves” and the “have-nots” of the old order simply exchange positions. Christianity says all round, “I mean not that other men be eased and you burdened.” To enrich a “Jerusalem” by the impoverishment of a “Corinth”; to make a “Corinth” bear all the burden of helping a “Jerusalem,” whilst some “Macedonia” or “Galatia” or “Ephesus” goes free,—this is as imperfect a social order and supply as that which it is attempted to redress. In this also, “The foolishness of God”—the Christian “almsgiving” principle, condemned by the political economies, repudiated by the communising re-organisers of the existing order of society—“is wiser than men.” If this could only pervade a society of men, themselves first renewed by the grace of God, then a continuously self-renewing equalisation would be secured by Christian benevolence better than by the mechanical equality of systems or law. [The poorest give their rich benefactors very much, directly and indirectly.]
D. Titus and his fellow-deputies.—[For Titus, see Galatians 2:3, uncircumcised, a Gentile; converted by Paul, Titus 1:4; associated in work with Paul, Acts 15:2; Galatians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 8:23; 2 Corinthians 12:18; sent to Crete, Titus 1:5; called to Nicopolis, Titus 3:12; sent from Rome to Dalmatia, 2 Timothy 4:10; not named in the Acts.]
1. Note the remarkable fact that Titus is only known to us by the incidental references of four letters of Paul, one of them addressed to himself. Unmentioned in the direct narrative of the Acts, and even in the first letter to Corinth, though he was, probably, one of the bearers of it [1 Corinthians 16:11; 2 Corinthians 12:18; neither Timothy (1 Corinthians 16:10), nor Apollos (ib. 12) was], and not now for the first time associated with the Corinthian collection (2 Corinthians 8:6). Paul’s “fellow-helper concerning” the Corinthians. It may also not be too precarious a conjecture that he was a “stronger man” in every way, except goodness, than Timothy, who is mentioned repeatedly in the Acts. No such emphatic and recurrent words about courage are addressed to him, as 1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Timothy 5:21; 1 Timothy 6:12 (cf. also 1 Corinthians 16:10-11). Indeed, he had needed courage, as much as tact, in dealing with the Corinthians and their bearing towards Paul, and, more recently, with the business of their lagging collection. He was beyond suspicion, even by the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:18), of any malversation in dealing with their money, or of anything but most perfectly disinterested and above-board conduct in any particular. He was plainly not only full of affection for Paul, but a warm-hearted, zealous man, troubled about wrong, rejoicing over good, “comforted” when he saw it (2 Corinthians 7:7; 2 Corinthians 7:13; 2 Corinthians 7:15, etc.). One may infer his good sense from the fact that he was Paul’s trusted agent in the delicate task of “handling” these Corinthians and their affairs; as, later on, when he was despatched to regulate the ill-organised Churches of Crete, the native material of which was drawn from a coarse type of nationality [“liars, evil beasts, slow bellies,” 2 Corinthians 1:12]. [Methodist readers may compare such men as Alexander Mather,—Wesley’s “right-band man,”—Samuel Bradburn, Adam Clarke, Henry Moore, William Thompson, Joseph Benson, Joseph Bradford, a cluster of companions and fellow-helpers around the venerable Wesley in his later years, often sent on such errands as this of Titus.] Significant and suggestive that such a man—with strength of character, real piety, tact, courage, and altogether above the most sensitive suspicion; with lively sympathy for the work of God; the very ideal of a man who must bear responsibility and carry out the extension of the work of God (what pastor does not say, O si sic omnes?)—should be unmentioned in the Acts, and even in the first Corinthian Epistle. It is significant of the character of the Scripture record. It is historical; its record gives many a point of verification of the truth of the history in which the Revelation is rooted. One touch of historical veracity is found in the very informality of the record and the inequality of treatment. It is so far presumptively a genuine contemporary narrative, in that it moves with the insouciance of the consciousness of truth and of transparent simplicity of purpose, in and out amongst historical personages, scenes, events, dates; touching en passant; including quite incidentally; dealing fully, or by allusion only; or omitting altogether; just as may happen, whilst it pursues its course and its simple purpose. A simple, inartificial narrative, such as can omit any mention of an important worker like Titus without any suspicion of design attaching to the fact, carries with it a primâ facie credential of its truth.
2. The omission of Titus from the Acts is suggestive of much more of holy, valuable labour, which has found not even a chance mention in an Epistle, and of much, very much, the greater part of the work of the Church, which finds no earthly record at all; it is suggestive of workers whose only memorial is in the “book of life” (Philippians 4:3). In the modern, true Acta Sanctorum, the (holy “catholic”) continuation of the Acta Apostolorum, how many Titus-like men find no mention. But their work is no more lost than his; they are no more forgotten than Hebrews 3:0. This group of Christian men is completed by two other character portraits, anonymous, known only conjecturally by us, and yet so vividly hit off in a stroke or two that we feel as if we were very well acquainted with them. Here is one who has every one’s good word throughout all the Churches for his work in the Gospel. He is a successful evangelist, we may presume; and his gifts are not more the praise of every one than is his character. He, like Titus, is a trusted man. The “Churches”—not one only, but several—have accepted him as their trustee to hold, and in due course to administer, the accumulated relief fund. [There is no greater honour which can be paid to character than to give a man one’s trust. It “honours him that gives and him that takes.” The more complete the trust; above all, if it has to be unusually “blindfold” trust, or if there be risk involved; the greater the honour. (Trust speaks almost as well for him who gives it. The man who seems to count it a virtue and a boast that “He never trusts anybody any further than he can see them”; who poses as a universal sceptic as to the existence of any thorough and absolute honour and honesty in any man; is not himself the noblest type of man. His boasted shrewdness, which never allows him to commit himself to any other man, reveals a narrow, mean soul, which has not even in itself a witness to anything nobler in human nature. He honours his own heart, who can and does trust, without foolish credulity, and without dishonouring self-scepticism.) (Nothing pays greater honour to God’s word and character than our faith; hence, perhaps, so much is made to turn upon Faith.) Trophimus, or any other,—this man is rich and honoured in the trust of the Churches. Is the other unnamed portrait that of Tychicus? It may be; later on (Acts, ubi supra.) we find him and Trophimus travelling together in Paul’s company. (Paul and his band of companions moving from place to place recall the Master and His company of twelve moving up and down the land of Israel years before; personal attendants, messengers on occasion, learners, workers, friends.) As the other is the choice of the Churches, so is this one the choice of Paul. Trusty, with ability in practical affairs not now for the first time proved by Paul; the very man for the work just now in hand.
4. Men, all these, made for the work; and many such made by the work. In every Church are examples of men whose abilities lay dormant, hardly known—even to themselves—until the call and claim of the work of Christ revealed them—a discovery to themselves. How much of such many-sided fitness lies obvious enough, but unemployed and not available; because the possessors will not hear the call, and respond to the claim. And the fitness is a presumptive call. In the very correspondence between the work and the instrument, lie a cogent argument and appeal, which a fit man should require a very good reason indeed for declining to yield to.
5. Such men, with their proved ability, and, still more, with their trusted character, are no small gift to the Churches. “Thanks be to God” for them and for their readiness—like that of Titus—to present themselves living sacrifices to the Lord and His work. It is no small service that such men, in office and carrying responsibility, turn the edge of criticism and silence all possible suggestions affecting the honour of the Church and the fidelity of its administration, especially in the financial “abundance which is administered.” Their ability is a guarantee of the wisdom, their character of the honesty, of the management. The responsible leaders in the Churches not only must stand clear before the most searching light of the scrutiny of their Lord, Christ; they must also, so far as may be, “provide” that all commends itself as “honest,” honourable, to all reasonable human observation and examination. The Church should be a corporation with a more than ordinarily sensitive conscience. The honour of their Lord is involved. Such men, so administering the Church’s affairs “to the glory of the same Lord,” are not only a strength and a wealth to the Church, but they “are the glory of Christ.” [
1. The Churches should have properly audited accounts.
2. There needs be no undue sensitiveness about mere gossip or ill-natured talk (such as against Wesley or General Booth re finance). Do right, and let the rest go (2 Chronicles 25:9). “Hew a true line, and let the chips fall as they may” (saying of Feilden, the Lancashire merchant-prince). There will be plenty of criticism, do what the Church may.]
2 Corinthians 8:9. Christ; Poor, yet making Many Rich.
1. Apart from the circumstances which are its setting, this text is a gem of truth. The very stratum in which it is found has its value; it can be worked to a real spiritual profit. But the gem is priceless.
2. It is instructive as revealing (see Homiletic Analysis, B.) the habitual region of Paul’s thought. He enters and quits such a high theme, as one well accustomed to the heights; his manner of introducing and employing this great truth is incidental disclosure of the close relation in which such “doctrinal” grandeurs stood in his own life to practical conduct.
3. Doctrine may be presented with a forbidding rigidity; it ought to underlie, and be clothed by, the beauty of Christlike living. It is the firm basis of all Christian hope and the experimental life. [Beneath the most beautiful face is a hard, grinning skull. The most beautiful body is built up upon a skeleton, rigid, hard, strong; which may be exhibited—as doctrine sometimes has been—in its bareness and rigidity, stern, certainly not beautiful, even forbidding. Yet the face needs the skull; the body needs the skeleton. Teaching and experimental life which have beneath them no firm, strong skeleton of doctrine are apt to be feeble, fatally pliable, shapeless, unserviceable.]
4. Seems sometimes “cruel” to such a text, to dissect it for its underlying skeleton. The botanist sacrifices the flower, as he pulls it to pieces to examine and exhibit its structure. Yet the first topic in this text is—
II. The theology.—
1. Difficult to use any formulated language on this topic, as on many others, which is not open to legitimate criticism, or which would not, with very slight variation, swerve right or left into mischievous error. Difficult to use any which is not rather a protest against the assertion, or acceptance, of some point, or against some development or “consequences,” which are already, and in advance, negatived by some Scripture statement. Difficult to allow for the effect upon Scripture statements of the fact that everything relating to the manner of the Divine existence is exhibited in connection with the activity of the Trinity in the work of human Redemption.
2. “He was rich, … He became poor” is the practical, workaday shape of the Kenosis of Philippians 2:7. [The “poor” are to have “the Gospel preached to them”; they must have even its theology in a form apprehensible by the youngest and the simplest.] “The form of God” was not eagerly clutched and retained. He forewent it, and presented Himself to human observation in the “form of” man the “servant” of God, assuming to Himself, possessing, exhibiting, the characteristics of manhood, and in His intercourse with men normally conforming Himself to, confining Himself within, the conditions of man’s life; in many particulars of His work and mission submitting to be “a prophet raised up in the midst” of Israel, acting as the old prophets did, as the servants of Jehovah (Acts 3:22), [though He stands forth as the highest and most glorious example of the Prophetic Order, receiving the Spirit “without measure” (John 3:34),] only drawing upon the reserve possibilities of His proper “form of God,” and only speaking without a veil over His face of glory, just so far as might be needful for the accomplishment of His redeeming errand. And He further stooped to a yet lower level. Manhood was low, far beneath Godhead; man’s death was lower; the death of a crucified man, cruel, shameful, the death of a criminal or a slave,—man could even in death hardly go lower than that lowest; yet “even to” that point—death, death upon a cross—did He carry His “obedience,” the “Lord of all” Who had consented, had chosen, to become His Father’s “servant” for man’s sake. Paul thus expounds, in the passage where he most fully approaches the Incarnation topic, his words here.
3. There are depths beyond the sounding of the wisest beneath these quasi-popular expositions of the inscrutable Divine Fact. Subtle theories of wide-spreading consequence have been spun, in spider fashion, out of the bowels of the simple phrase, “Emptied Himself,” or that other, “The Word was made [became] flesh.” “One element is common to them all; … a literal merging of the Divinity of the Son into the finite spirit of the Man Christ Jesus. The general idea takes many forms: sometimes simply Pantheistic, the Eternal Spirit thinking itself as a Person in Christ; sometimes purely Eutychian, God the Son contracted into humanity, and both growing together to perfection; sometimes Apollinarian, the Potency of the Son working dynamically in the psychical soul and flesh of Jesus.” (Pope, Theology, ii 194.) Attempts all these to be precise where precision is impossible; where the Fact passes our apprehension altogether.
4. His own words make one thing clear: the “I” Whom men heard and saw in His “poverty” carries His life backward [as our text does] into eternal depths of the past, and forward into eternal distances of the Future, with an unbroken continuity of existence and of personal self-consciousness. “I came forth.… I am come.… Again … I go” (John 16:28). In every sense is “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). Theological statement must in its rotundity of systematised completeness find room for all such Scripture statements as make a Godhead, “emptied,” even temporarily, of those characteristics which are part of the very definition of God, untrue and inconceivable. He was never so “poor” as to cease to be Himself. [Hebrews 1:1-4 is a Divine “Life of the Son of God,” going back to the date when “He” made the world, and yet earlier, to those undated, dateless ages when He was (essentially and all along) Brightness and Image; continuing through the years—the midway episode—of His redeeming work; and forward to, and past, His (resumed) session on “the throne of the Majesty on high.” Noteworthy is this: “Being the Brightness, … upholding, … when He had purged, … He sat down.” The continuous, native, inherent condition is contemporaneous with the acts wrought on the stage of human history at a definite, earthly date. As though the Royal Son, and Co-regent, and Prime Minister, of a Sovereign, without ceasing to be anything belonging to his nature and birth, or to his relation to his father, and without ceasing to uphold all the empire by his adminstra-tion, should add to his labours the special task of going to a remote and rebellious and ruined province, and himself winning, or reducing, its people to submission.] Human illustration is of course imperfect. Peter the Great of Russia is in personal character not even for a moment’s passing comparison, to be put beside the “Lord of glory.” Yet he may help to such apprehension as may be possible, of One Who, for the sake of His people’s well-being, “became poor,” though all the while He never ceased to be “rich” in His own proper right and in fact. Peter narrowed his life, in all respects needful for his purpose—in dress, in residence, [in a shipwright’s cottage in Holland,] in style of living, in manual labour as a shipyard operative—within the conditions of the life of a working-man. Yet, if need were, for the safeguarding of his true Imperial honour and the welfare of his people, he could and did, assert in word and act, and draw upon, his state and power and position as Czar of the Russias. Becoming a ship-wright; taking upon him the form of a servant; without ceasing to be the ruler of his empire and the possessor of all its resources.
III. The experience.—
1. The word “ye know” must not be unfairly pressed, to contain more necessarily than “Ye are aware of”; “ye remember that ye have been told of,” etc. Not necessarily more in it than an intellectual apprehension and recalling of the fact. But to serve Paul’s purpose the knowing must not stop there. The truth must by the understanding be brought to bear upon the heart, and, in the next step, upon the will, arousing the flagging activity of the Corinthian Church. No truth in the whole round of Christian doctrine is ever effective, if it be merely admitted into the region of the understanding. That is the mere outer Court of the Gentiles in the temple of our being. If it is to affect practice, to assist the life of fellowship with God, to promote the perpetual offering of self and life upon the altar, it must go into the inner court, the court of God’s Israel of to-day, the new Israel of the Spirit. It must enter the heart. The heart must “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” No Divine truth is known merely by the understanding. [Pectus facit theologum.] “Flesh and blood had not revealed” to Peter even the momentary and imperfect glimpse he had gained of the true dignity of his Master (Matthew 16:17). It was, directly, from “My Father which is in heaven.” A man may carefully collect and collate the statements of Scripture as to the Deity of Jesus of Nazareth; he may weigh the statements which seem, or are made, difficulties or objections to the truth; he may determine calmly, coolly, that for these there is sufficient explanation; and, in the end, he may regard, and accept, the Godhead of Jesus as the teaching of Scripture, arrived at by fair induction. But he does not know the truth. “No man can call Jesus Lord but by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). In like manner, no real knowledge of the meaning of this grace of Christ, which wrought His poverty, is ever gained by reading, by induction from Scripture facts and testimonies, by mere intellectual apprehension of any kind. Knowledge comes by “the demonstration of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:4). He takes of “the things of Christ” and “shows them” to men (John 16:14). Christ summarised in a sentence the teaching of many “prophets,” “They shall be all taught of God” (John 6:45). The only man to whom “doctrine” is “truth” is the man thus “convinced” by the Spirit. To him only is it an operative reality, and not a speculative opinion merely. The man who in himself is being “made rich” through the poverty of the humbled Christ, comes to the truth with a new, peculiar illumination upon it, with a new and peculiar verification of it. The road by which, perhaps intellectually, he arrived at the doctrine is by him re-travelled with the new light of heart knowledge, and is only properly known in that light; the truth he arrived at was a goal reached in the dark or the dim dawning, only seen clearly when the “Sun of Righteousness” Himself had “shined into his heart” (2 Corinthians 4:6). All this may not lie in the surface, argumentative use of the word by Paul; but it underlies the word, and is implicitly there. His argument will have no real force, where the knowledge is not that which has been gained by experience; it is knowledge which has been lived into.
IV. The purpose of the poverty.—
1. The enrichment of His people. Such “enrichment” as in 1 Corinthians 1:5 (and 2 Corinthians 8:7 here) is one aspect, one phase, of the many-sided blessing. But all the life of grace, from its first inception in a germinal life, through the growing maturity of the “perfect,” “spiritual” man, until the utmost earthly wealth of knowledge and of blessing enlarges into a new beginning of “enrichment” in the world of eternity; all its accompaniments of knowledge, communion, victory, light, peace, joy,—all is included. All that “grace” brings; all that “glory” means; all that is contained in the marvel of love “that we should be called sons of God”; all that is given and is pledged in that God calls Himself ours (see the argument in Matthew 23:32); all the eternally unfolding possibilities of a redeemed, restored Manhood, restored after the pattern of Him Who is the “firstborn amongst many [similar “sons” and so] brethren” (Romans 8:21);—all is included. Whether any other way of restoration and enrichment were possible we may hardly, and we need not, inquire. It should be ours to see that we explore, and allow ourselves to be led into, all the meaning of our heritage of wealth through His poverty. [If we have given a present, which has cost (for us) not a little, and which has only been possible for us to give at the price of some self-denial; into whose choosing, and perhaps whose making, we have put the most valuable thing we had to give,—our loving thought and labour,—how are we disappointed if the receiver thanks us perfunctorily, or in a conventional heartiness of phraseology which evidently covers an absence of appreciation of our gift, or of ourselves; if we find it put away into some drawer or casket, and only now and again for decency’s sake, or to save our feeling, worn or used, whereas we hoped it might be in constant use, a daily joy or service. Then what of His “disappointment” (to use a human word, and to think humanly also) when the “riches,” which He made available for us, at such cost of pains and sacrifice and loving design, lie plainly little appreciated, seldom appropriated, and never appropriated in any full measure, even by those who thank Him in a heart-betraying, cold, formality of eucharistic phraseology. Let us gladden Him and recompense His love by putting to the utmost experimental proof the meaning and contents of the “riches” which are His dear-bought “grace.”] [N.B.—He does mean that Himself “be burdened and others eased.”]
2 Corinthians 8:12. A Collection Sermon.—In reading the text the case of the Widow and her Mite immediately recurs to mind, as illustrating and embodying Paul’s statement. (See Homiletic Analysis.) Like so many other sayings, of temporary occasion, this embodies a great principle of abiding and many-sided applicability in our dealings with God.
1. The real offering to God is the “readiness,” the “willing mind.”—The word “it” is supplied in translating. It must not be insisted on with too definite a reference in exposition. The sense is general: “If there be … on man’s side, there is an acceptance on God’s side, according to,” etc. Yet whole drift of the passage shows that the thing which gives any value to the gift is the willing mind. It is the gift; all else is expression, accessory, robing, drapery. Unless “the willing mind” go before and lie evident before God’s eye, the rest counts for nothing. It must infuse gift and service with its own quality. If this spirit of the deed be absent, all else is a dead thing to offer to the living God. The silver and the gold are His; He neither needs nor cares for our money, nor is benefited by it. He Who has all power in heaven and earth, and all for the needs of His Church, does not depend, by any necessity, upon our puny labour or our gifts. Of old He did not for Himself want the carcases whose death made His Temple courts one great shambles. The life was the true offering. The willing mind is the life of the gift or service, the one true offering.
2. If we could see God’s copy of the subscription and collection lists of the Churches, we should find that His revision and appreciation had made marked discrepancies between His copy and ours. Ciphers struck off from some swelling printed amounts; thousands dwindled to the hundreds or the tens. Many of the shillings and the pence, on the other hand, standing entered at values which would surprise nobody more than the, perhaps humble, givers. The cup of cold water, forgotten by even the giver, remembered gratefully by Him Whose reminder and recognition call out the unfeigned amazement which cries, “Lord, when saw we Thee thirsty?” It is possible that the life’s work of some prominent Diotrephes will shrivel up into very modest bulk and receive the Master’s barest thanks. Yet, to be fair, remember: Let there be the willing mind and the liberal gift; let there be the thoroughly right heart and motive and the abundant labour; such a man’s deed is doubly, gloriously acceptable. Let us have a care how we give, and why; how we serve, and in what spirit; lest in the reckoning we be amongst those whose gift or work is used, who are themselves blessed (for God is no man’s debtor), but who do not find the best blessing of final, full, personal acceptance. Indeed, unwilling and unwitting instruments get used. Some are the mere conduit-pipe, the mere vessel, conveying blessing in which they have no share.
3. For our sakes—independent as He is of our labour or gifts—God seeks our co-operation. That there is any acceptance and reward at all, is altogether a matter of grace; but seeing that there is reward, He graciously allows us in this way to determine how large the reward shall be, how abundant the acceptance. Also: Every time we put the willing mind into practical embodiment, we cultivate the willingness. The impulse to do or to give, which takes no practical shape is not merely aroused in vain, but is weakened by the vain stimulation. Parents could as well, or better, do the little tasks which they give their children; they need sometimes after all to be done over again. But for their sakes they “ask” their help. So the gift of the willing mind is a blessing (2 Corinthians 9:5-6) to him that gives as really as to him that takes. Every least service done with the willing, devoted heart, strengthens the devotion, and helps to render permanent and instructive the willing mind. [
4. Then, as in the analytical exposition, the characteristics of true and acceptable service may be enlarged upon: “Willing of themselves;” “with much entreaty begged,” as a privilege, to be allowed to give; “beyond their power,” though this is not required by Paul or by God; they “gave themselves first to the Lord”; and the secret and spring of all was, they “remembered the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”] [If the occasion be (say) a Hospital Sunday, it may be further said:]
5. There may be (to-day) gifts of ostentation, of rivalry between Church and Church, for a good place in the published lists; gifts also springing from a mere sentimental admiration of the idea of a united day of charity. There is, manifestly, work done in the Church from training and habit; the workers were early set in their groove, and have had no strong temptation to leave it. There is work which happens to be the fashion. “Everybody in our set does it; we must.” To some, work is a stern duty, often a drudgery, but done because they ought. Better than many a motive, that; better far than merely the desire or the necessity to keep right with a master, or with some one whose favour is to be desired. Basest of all is the idea of, so to speak, earning so many “good marks” in heaven’s register. The gain is, materially, often the same to the Church, the hospital, the sick, the poor, the sanctuary, or the fund; but to the man himself such gain is counted as nothing, or as loss. There is not the “willing mind.”
II. The willing mind is not all.—
1. The Corinthian danger was of a failure between will and deed, between intention and performance, or, more exactly, between the beginning and the completion of their task. Partly will and partly deed can only be accepted when no more is possible; the will for the deed when no deed is possible. The snare besets all workers: work falls through after a hearty inception, for want of a patient endurance in carrying out. Easy to begin, under the force of a stirring appeal, or the deep stirring of emotion by the sight of a sad need; even to begin energetically. But to go on week by week (1 Corinthians 16:2), when the first enthusiasm has become a memory, is to some temperaments especially difficult. The enthusiasm must not be allowed to become a memory; the sense of debt to “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” must be perpetually renewed at the Cross. Paul’s words gently hint that, to even the most willing, and the (apparently) most active or liberal, the Lord’s question will be, not, “How much did you do, or give?” but, “Did you do all you could?” Five talents should bring five.
2. Happily the principle may be reversed in its application. We serve a Master Who is thoroughly acquainted with us, and thoroughly reasonable (to speak as of man) in what He requires. The trumpet-shaped funnels of the Temple money chests rang with the big gifts of the rich; the poor widow’s two mites made no noise as she slipped them in; but she gave a hundred percent., as no other had done. Ability could go no further.
3. Many gifts as valuable as money, and more necessary: hearty, loving, personal effort for souls; a week’s prayer contributed to the success of the Sunday’s teaching; the invitation of the neighbour to the house of God. There are willing, busy hearts which can give little money, little weight of influence, no very wise judgments, no preaching or teaching ability. Yet no humblest is to despond or be idle. “If there be, … it is accepted, according to that a man hath.” God knows, and the wise or wealthy workers and supporters should not forget, how largely the success which crowns the wisely planned, liberally supported, efficiently worked schemes, is the result of the banded prayers of a company of humble, godly people, who can contribute nothing else. A sick saint, bedridden, suffering, year after year, who can only lie and pray, but prays mightily, for the work and the workers, or who grandly exemplifies to every visitor, or domestic servant, the gain of godliness and the all-sufficient grace of the Saviour, is often making an offering very large in its acceptableness. A plain man, who cannot argue, but can live and testify at his work; who never misses one of the rare chances of speaking for His Master; it is a gift up to the full level of “that the man hath.” [Legend appended to this Homily.]
4. Let this principle obtain with us, in our judgment of others. Like God, as far as may be let us estimate “what a man hath.” Tempted to think hardly of a man who does not give as much as we thought he ought. But what claims has he upon him? Perhaps some of which only His Master knows. Perplexed at the blemishes, the incongruities, found in the lives of some very earnest, very demonstrative, very loud-professing Christian men and women. We can hardly conceive how they cannot condemn these things which lie so obvious to our censure, and to that of the world. Are they honest? Or hypocrites? It may well be that they are honest enough, though it is a great pity they are not more spiritually sensitive and enlightened in judgment. But what is the material out of which they have been made Christians? The class out of which they have been drawn? What their opportunities, their surroundings, their training? The habit and cast of their mind? Their own Master, looking into their heart sees, as between Him and them, the pure white light of a perfect intention; but it shines out to our observation through a poor, dimmed, coloured, distorted medium of human and personal limitation. Conversely, too, the clear white light of Divine truth on these points shines in upon their judgment and conscience through the same poor medium also. “According to that a man hath,” in His Lord’s judgment of him.
[Legend in outline.—King sitting daily at palace window watching his cathedral rise. Falls asleep; dreams; sees building finished; high up on tower the tablet which is to record his name and gift; another name there! A woman’s name; long inquiry of all about him quite fruitless; woman unknown. Proclamation made through the city brings a poor widow to him at last. “Your name?” “Yes.” “Why there?” “Do not know.” “What have you done?” “Nothing but carry water to the masons, to refresh them on hot, thirsty days.”]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29