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Liberality shown by the Macedonian Churches (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). He is sending Titus to receive their contribution for the Church of Jerusalem, and he invites them to give according to their power (verses 6-15). Recommendation of Titus and the other delegates (verses 16-24).
These two chapters (8 and 9) form an independent section of the Epistle. The plural alone ("we") is used throughout; participial and unfinished constructions abound; the style is a little embarrassed; and various words, such as "grace," "blessing," "righteousness," "simplicity," occur in somewhat unusual shades of meaning. All this arises:
1. From St. Paul's natural delicacy in alluding to pecuniary subjects.
2. From a desire to conciliate the Corinthians, while at the same time he cannot conceal from them a little apprehension that they were rather more forward and zealous in words than in deeds. Their large promises had led him to speak of them in a way which seemed unlikely to be justified by the fulfilment. He was thus more or less under the influence of conflicting emotions. Out of patriotism (Romans 9:3) and compassion, and an effort to fulfil an old pledge (Galatians 2:10), and a desire to conciliate and, if possible, win over the affection of the Jewish Church—which had been much alienated from him by differences of opinion and by assiduous calumnies—and from a wish to show that his Gentile converts were faithful and loving brethren (Romans 15:31), he was intensely anxious that the contribution should be a large one. This feeling is apparent, not only throughout every line of this appeal, with the solemn topics which it introduces, but also in all his other allusions to the subject (Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-24.; Acts 20:22; Acts 21:4, etc.). On the other hand, he was careful lest he should seem to have even the most distant personal aims, and lest he should lay on his Gentile converts a wholly unfamiliar burden.
2 Corinthians 8:1
We do you to wit; rather, we make known to you. The phrase is like the modern "I wish to inform you." In this and the next chapter St. Paul, having fully spoken of the joy which had been caused to him by their reception of his first letter, and having said as much as he then intended to say in answer to the charges insinuated against him, proceeds to give directions about the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem. He had already spoken of it (1 Corinthians 16:1-4), but feared that they were behindhand, and now sends Titus to stimulate their zeal. The style throughout is brief and allusive, because he had already, in various ways, brought this matter fully before them. Throughout this section he shows in a remarkable degree the tact, courtesy, high sense of honour, and practical wisdom which were among his many gifts. The "but" with which the chapter begins in the original is St. Paul's ordinary formula of transition, as in 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 13:1, etc. (For the phrase, "we inform you," see 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 15:1.) It is one of numberless incidental proofs of the genuineness of this group of Epistles—the Epistles of the second great missionary journey—that the same words, phrases, and thoughts constantly recur in them. The grace of God (see next note). Bestowed on the Churches of Macedonia; rather, which is being bestowed in the Churches. St. Paul wants to tell the Corinthians how extremely liberal the Macedonians have been, since it was his custom to stir up one Church by the example of another (2 Corinthians 9:2); but he begins by speaking of their generosity as a proof of the grace which they are receiving from the Holy Spirit. The Churches of Macedonia. The only Macedonian Churches of which we have any details in the New Testament are those of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea. They seem to have been peculiarly dear to St. Paul, who was attracted by their cheerfulness in affliction and their generosity in the midst of want.
2 Corinthians 8:2
In a great trial of affliction; rather, in much testing of affliction; i.e. in an affliction which put to the proof their Christian character. "They were not simply afflicted," says St. Chrysostom, "but in such a way as also to become approved by their endurance." (For the word rendered "trial," see Romans 5:4, and in this Epistle, 2Co 2:9; 2 Corinthians 9:13; 2 Corinthians 13:3.) "Affliction" seems to have befallen the Churches of Macedonia very heavily (1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14), chiefly through the jealousy of the Jews, who excited the hatred of the Gentiles (Acts 16:20; Acts 17:5, Acts 17:13). The abundance of their joy. Another reference to joy in sadness (see on 2 Corinthians 7:4). There is not the least necessity to understand the verb "is" or "was" after this clause. "The abundance… abounded" is indeed a pleonasm, but is not at all unlike the style of St. Paul. He means to say that their joy overflowed their affliction, and their liberality overflowed their poverty (Mark 12:44). Their deep poverty; literally, their pauperism to the depth; their abysmal penury. Though they were βαθύπτωχοι, they showed themselves in generosity to be βαθυπλουτοι. Stanley refers to Arnold's 'Roman Commonwealth,' where he mentions that the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia, which had suffered greatly in the three civil wars, appealed successfully to Tiberius for a diminution of their burdens. The gift of the Macedonians was like the widow's mite (Luke 21:3, Luke 21:4, where similar words occur—perisseuo, husterema). Of their liberality; rather, of their singleness of purpose or simplicity (Ephesians 6:5). The "grace" and single-heartedness to which he alludes showed themselves in liberality.
2 Corinthians 8:3
They were willing of themselves. "Of their own accord," as in 2 Corinthians 8:17. The verb in the original is energetically omitted, with the "they gave" of 2 Corinthians 8:5. St. Paul does not mean that the notion of making the collection originated with them (2 Corinthians 9:2), but only that they displayed a voluntary energy in carrying it out.
2 Corinthians 8:4
Praying us. The entreaties came from them, not from me. That we would receive. These words are almost certainly an explanatory gloss. The translation then is, "begging us for the grace of participation in this ministration to the saints." They were so willing in the matter that they entreated me, as a favour (χάρις), to allow them to have a share in this contribution, because it was to be given to the saints, that is, the suffering peer in the Church of Jerusalem. This Church suffered from chronic poverty. Even the Jewish population were liable to famines, in one of which they had only been kept alive by the royal munificence of a proselyte, Queen Helena,of Adiabene. The Christians would, of course, suffer even more deeply, because they were drawn from the humblest classes and had fewer friends. This was one of the reasons why, as an act of common humanity, it was incumbent on the Gentile Christians to help them (Acts 11:29; Romans 15:25, Romans 15:26). St. Paul had already brought the subject to the notice of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).
2 Corinthians 8:5
Not as we hoped; rather, not as we expected. They were so poor that it was impossible to expect much from them, but they surpassed my expectations in every way. The Church of Philippi, perhaps under the influence of Lydia, was remarkable for generosity, and was the only Church from which St. Paul would accept any personal help (Philippians 2:25; Philippians 4:15-18). First. "They gave themselves to the Lord, which is the best of all, and they gave themselves as helpers to us also—by the will of God." (For a similar use of "and" to imply a matter of less importance, see Acts 15:28.) The phrase, "by the will of God," implies thanksgiving to God for the grace which enabled them to give themselves to him, and their goods to his saints. Being "a peculiar people," they naturally showed themselves "zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). First (Romans 1:16; Romans 2:9, Romans 2:10).
2 Corinthians 8:6
Insomuch that. Their liberality encouraged me so greatly that I exhorted Titus to return to Corinth once more, and see whether he could not receive some proof that you were equally liberal. The remarks that follow are full of delicate reserve, but under their exquisite tact and urbanity we can perceive that the Corinthians had talked very loudly about their contributions, and had promised with great zeal, but had shown themselves somewhat slack in redeeming their promises. We exhorted Titus. It is curious that this word is constantly used of the missions of Titus (verse 17; 2 Corinthians 12:18; 1 Corinthians 16:12). As he had began. "That as no inaugurated (this collection), so he would also complete towards you this gracious work also." Among other works of grace which Titus might complete by returning to them from Macedonia was the kindly collection which he had begun to set on foot in his previous visit (2 Corinthians 12:18).
2 Corinthians 8:7
Therefore; rather, but. In the following verses to 2 Corinthians 8:15 he tells them his wishes about this collection. He desires them to show generosity among their other graces (2 Corinthians 8:7), not by way of command, but that they may emulate others and show their love (2 Corinthians 8:8) by following the example of Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). And by acting thus they would prove the sincerity of their former promises (2 Corinthians 8:10, 2 Corinthians 8:11), especially as he did not wish them to give more than they could justly spare by way of reciprocity (2 Corinthians 8:12-15). As ye abound in every thing, in faith, etc. Perhaps "by faith," etc., "St. Paul," says Grotius, "knew the art of the orators to move by praising." This method of conciliating attention is technically called proparaitesis. The praise was, of course, sincere, though, no doubt, it was expressed with the generosity of love (see 1 Corinthians 1:5). And in your love to us. The Greek is more emphatic," and by the love from you in us;" i.e. by the love which streams from you, and which I feel in myself. In this grace also; namely, the grace of Christian liberality.
2 Corinthians 8:8
Not by commandment. St. Paul felt an honourable sensibility which prevented him from straining his authority by urging the Corinthians to give of their substance. Among Gentiles such contributions towards the needs of others—the result of unselfish compassion—were all but unknown. The forwardness; i.e. the ready zeal. The sincerity; more literally, the genuineness.
2 Corinthians 8:9
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word "grace," as in 2 Corinthians 8:4, 2 Corinthians 8:6, 2 Corinthians 8:7, here means "gracious beneficence." Though he was rich (John 16:15; Ephesians 3:8). Became poor. The aorist implies the concentration of his self-sacrifice in a single act. By his poverty. The word "his" in the Greek implies the greatness of Christ. The word for "poverty" would, in classical Greek, mean "pauperism" or "mendicancy." Dean Stanley (referring to Milman's 'Latin Christianity,' 5. bk. 12. c. 6) points out how large a place this verse occupied in the mediaeval controversies between the moderate and the extreme members of the mendicant orders. William of Ockham and others, taking the word "poverty" in its extremest sense, maintained that the Franciscans ought to possess nothing; but Pope John XXII., with the Dominicans, took a more rational view of the sense and of the historic facts.
2 Corinthians 8:10
And herein I give my advice; and in this matter I offer an opinion (only). For this is expedient for you. It is more to your advantage that I should merely suggest and advise you about the matter than command you. Who have begun; rather, seeing that you formerly began. The verb is the same as in 2 Corinthians 8:6. Not only to do, but also to be forward; rather, not only to do, but also to be willing. The "to do" is in the aorist, the "to be willing" in the present. We should naturally have expected a reversed order, "not only to be willing, but also to put in action." There must be a strong touch of irony in the words, unless we interpret it to mean "not only to make the collection, but to be willing to add yet more to it." Perhaps in the "to be willing" lies the notion of "the cheerful giver," "the willing mind "(2 Corinthians 9:7; 1 Timothy 6:17-19). A year ago; rather, since the previous year; i.e. last year (2 Corinthians 9:2). They had probably begun to collect in the previous Easter, and it was now soon after Tisri, or September, the beginning of the Jewish civil year.
2 Corinthians 8:11
Now therefore perform the doing of it, etc.; "but now complete also the actual work, in order that, as was the readiness of the willing, so may be also the completion according to your means." Out of that which ye have. This, and not "out of your ability," is probably the right reading, as we see from the next verse.
2 Corinthians 8:12
For if there be first a willing mind, etc. "For if the readiness is forth- coming, it is acceptable," etc. In other words, God considers not quantum, but ex quanto; not the magnitude of the gift, but the proportion which it bears to the means of the giver.
2 Corinthians 8:13
And ye be burdened; literally, for not that there may be relief to others, but to you affliction. In other words, I have no wish that you should distress yourselves to set others at ease. You must not suspect me of Jewish proclivities which would lead me to impoverish you to provide luxuries for the Christians at Jerusalem. Others refer it to the Macedonians: "I do not wish to burden you, but the Macedonians, who are poor, have contributed, and if you join them in this good work now they may help you hereafter." But there is no hint of this anywhere.
2 Corinthians 8:14
But by an equality, etc. The verse, like so many in this chapter, is expressed very elliptically: "But by a reciprocal fairness in the present case, your superabundance to their lack, that also their superabundance may be in proportion to your lack, that there may come to be reciprocal fairness." St. Paul may possibly be thinking of the reciprocity of spiritual and temporal benefits, as in Romans 15:27; but if so he leaves the thought unexpressed. The application of the text to "works of supererogation" (Art. XIV.), as forming a fund at the disposal of the hierarchy in the way of indulgences, pardons, etc., is a singular perversion. The passage has been pointed out by Dean Stanley as one which indicates a possible acquaintance with the writings of Aristotle.
2 Corinthians 8:15
As it is written (Exodus 16:17, Exodus 16:18, LXX.). The reference is to the gathering of manna.
2 Corinthians 8:16
Which put; rather, which giveth. The zeal is continuous. The same earnest care. The same in the heart of Titus as in my own.
2 Corinthians 8:17
The exhortation. My request that he would undertake this task. Being more forward. Because he was more earnestly zealous than I had ever ventured to hope, he went spontaneously. (On the word authairetos, see 2 Corinthians 8:3.)
2 Corinthians 8:18
The brother, whose praise is in the gospel. The phrase means, "whose worth is praised wherever the glad tidings are preached." There can be no reference to any of the four written Gospels, for they were not in the hands of Christians till a later date; nor did the word "gospel" acquire this significance till afterwards. From Acts 20:5, it is somewhat precariously inferred that St. Luke is meant. Others have conjectured Barnabas, Silas (who are out of the question), Erastus, Mark, a brother of Titus, etc. St. Luke is not unlikely to have been selected as a delegate by the Church of Philippi; but further than this we can say nothing. St. Luke was not a Macedonian by birth, and any Macedonian (e.g. Aristarchus, Sopater, Secundus, Epaphroditus) seems to be excluded by 2 Corinthians 9:4. Palsy notes it as curious that the object of St. Paul's journey to Jerusalem, Which is so prominent in this group of Epistles, is only mentioned indirectly and incidentally by St. Luke (Acts 24:17) in the Acts of the Apostles.
2 Corinthians 8:19
Chosen. The word (literally, chosen by show of hands) implies a popular vote. This brother Was not only widely known and valued, but also specially selected for this task. To travel with us. "As our fellow traveller." The word occurs in Acts 19:29. With this grace. The better reading is "in:" "in this matter of kindness." To the glory of the same Lord. The word "same" should be omitted. And declaration of your ready mind. The best reading is "our," and the clause should be rendered, to further the glory of the Lord and our readiness.
2 Corinthians 8:20
Avoiding this. The object in sending Titus and the brother was to cut away the possibility of blame and suspicion. The word "avoiding" (stellomenoi) literally means "furling sail," and then "taking precautions." It may, however, mean "making this arrangement" (see2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:6). Too much stress has been laid on St. Paul's "use of nautical terms" (Acts 20:20; Galatians 2:12, etc.). They belong, in fact, to the very phraseology of the Greek language. That no man should blame us (see 2 Corinthians 6:3). St. Paul here sets a valuable and necessary example to all Christians who are entrusted with the management of charitable funds. It is their duty to take every step which may place them above the possibility of of suspicion. Their management of the sums entrusted to them should be obviously and transparently business-like and honourable. St. Paul taught this behaviour both by example and by precept (Romans 12:17; Philippians 4:8). There is such a thing as a foolish and reprehensible indifference to public opinion (1 Peter 2:12). Yet with all his noble carefulness, St. Paul did not escape this very slander (2 Corinthians 12:18). In this abundance. The word, which occurs here only, means literally "succulence," but in the LXX. the adjective means "rich" (1 Kings 1:9). It here implies that the sum which had been collected by St. Paul's exertion was a large one.
2 Corinthians 8:21
Honest things. The word "honest" means "honourable" (Romans 12:17; Proverbs 3:4, LXX.). Not only in the sight of the Lord. Such precautions would be unnecessary if others were not concerned, for God knows our honesty (2 Corinthians 5:11). But also before men. Although the text "avoid all appearance of evil" should be rendered "avoid every species of evil," the mistranslation conveys a wise lesson. "In a field of melons," says the Chinese proverb. "do not stoop to tie your shoe;" for that will look as if you wanted to steal one of the melons.
2 Corinthians 8:22
Our brother. It is impossible to conjecture with any certainty who was the brother thus warmly eulogized. Clement, Epaenetus, Apollos, Luke, Zenas, Sosthenes, Trophimus, and Tychicus have all been suggested. Stanley conjectures that the two who accompanied Titus were the Ephesians Tychicus and Trophimus (Acts 20:4; Act 21:9; 2 Timothy 4:12; Ephesians 6:21; Titus 3:12; Colossians 4:7).
2 Corinthians 8:23
Whether any do inquire of Titus; literally, whether about Titus, or, as to Titus; i.e. "if I speak about Titus." (For the phrase, comp. Titus 1:6, Titus 1:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:1.) Titus, long afterwards, was delegated on a similar mission to Crete (Titus 1:1-5; Titus 2:15). My partner and fellow helper concerning you; rather, my associate (Philemon 1:17) and, as regards you, my fellow worker. Messengers; literally, apostles. The word is used in its original and untechnical sense of delegates (Philippians 2:25; Romans 16:7). The glory of Christ. Men whose work and worth redound to Christ's honour (Galatians 1:24).
2 Corinthians 8:24
Of your love. Not only of your love "to me," but of your brotherly love in general. And of our boasting. Show to the Church that my boasting of you was justifiable.
2 Corinthians 8:1-9 - Genuine beneficence (1).
"Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God," etc. The subject of these words is genuine beneficence, and they suggest certain general truths concerning it.
I. THAT ALL GENUINE BENEFICENCE IN MAN IS FROM GOD. "Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of [we make known to you] the grace of God." All that is loving and generous in all moral beings is from one Source, and that is God. He is the primal Font whence all flows. Wherever you see love, in young or old, rich or poor, cultured or rude, you see an emanation from and a reflection of the Eternal. As you may see the ocean in a dewdrop, you may see God in every throb of affection in human souls.
II. THAT IN SOME MEN IT IS MORE STRONGLY DEVELOPED THAN IN OTHERS, According to St. Paul, the "Churches of Macedonia" displayed it in a remarkable degree. It would seem from what Paul says concerning the beneficence of the Macedonian Churches that it was:
1. Self-sacrificing. "How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality." It would seem from this that they could ill afford—as the phrase is—to render any help in the way of property to others, and yet their contributions "abounded unto the riches of their liberality."
2. Spontaneous. "They were willing of themselves." They were not pressed into it by outward appeals. The only pressure was from love within.
3. Earnest. "Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift." Instead of giving because they were besought by others to do so, they themselves besought the reception of their gifts. They might have presented plausible reasons for withholding their contributions to this charity. They might have pleaded distance, and said, "Jerusalem is a long way off, and charity begins at home." They might have pleaded lack of personal knowledge, and have said, "We are utterly unacquainted with any of these saints at Jerusalem;" or they might have pleaded their own affliction or poverty. But instead of that, they earnestly seized the opportunity to render what help they could.
4. Religious. "And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God." "This means," says a modern expositor, "of course, that they had done what was far beyond his hopes. And here the point lies in the fact that they gave, not their money only, but themselves, their time, thought, energy, primarily to Christ as their Lord, and then to the apostle as his minister. And this they had done because they allowed the will of God to work upon their will." Consecration of self to God is at once the cause and virtue of all our gifts to men. Unless we give ourselves to God, all our gifts to men are morally worthless.
III. THAT THOSE IN WHOM IT IS MOST STRONGLY DEVELOPED MIGHT BE URGED AS AN EXAMPLE TO OTHERS. Paul here holds up the beneficence of the Macedonians as an example to stimulate the charity of the Corinthians. It would seem that the Church at Corinth had, through the influence of Titus, commenced a subscription for the poor at Jerusalem, and that Titus was about to return in order to obtain larger contributions. The charity of the Macedonian Churches Paul quotes as an example in order to help forward the work. His argument seems to be this—You have the advantages of the Churches at Macedonia in many things; you "abound in everything," you are wealthy, they are poor; your endowments are greater than theirs, your "faith, and utterance, and knowledge," and "in your love to us;" this being so, "See that ye abound in this grace also;" see that you excel in your contributions to this charity. It is wise and well to hold up the good example of others to stimulate men to a holy emulation. The good deeds of other men are amongst the Divine forces to purify and ennoble our own characters.
IV. THAT THE HIGHEST EXAMPLE OF IT WE HAVE IN THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc. Christ is the supreme Model of philanthropy.
1. His philanthropy was self-sacrificing. "Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor." Observe:
(1) He was rich in material wealth before he came into the world. It is of material wealth that the apostle is speaking.
(2) His existence on earth was that of material poverty. "The foxes have holes," etc.
(3) He passed voluntarily from one stage to another. "For your sakes he became poor." Of all the myriads of men that have appeared on this earth, and that will appear, he alone had the choosing of his circumstances, and he chose poverty.
2. His philanthropy aimed supremely at the promotion of spiritual wealth. "That ye through his poverty might be rich." Rich spiritually. Great is the difference between spiritual wealth and material.
(1) The one is absolutely valuable, the other is not.
(2) The one is essential to happiness, the other is not.
(3) The one is within the reach of all, the other is not.
2 Corinthians 8:10-15 - Genuine beneficence (2).
"And herein I give my advice," etc. In these verses there is a continuation of the subject presented in the preceding passage, viz. genuine beneficence. And there are three further remarks suggested concerning this all-important subject.
I. IT IS THE EMBODYING OF THE BENEFICENT DESIRE IN CONTRIBUTIONS FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS. "Herein I give my advice [judgment]: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before [who were the first to make a beginning], not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform [complete] the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance [completion] also out of that which ye have." They had shown the will to contribute, for they had "a year ago" commenced their subscriptions. Now Paul exhorts them to go on and complete the work. "As there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance." The mere generous will is good in itself, but is not enough; it requires to be embodied in deeds. Every good desire requires embodiment:
1. For our own sake. It is only as our best desires are translated into deeds that they give solidity and strength to our character. In words and sighs they die away; they are like the morning dew. A good desire in itself is like the raindrop on the leaf of the tree; it may excite admiration as it glistens like a diamond in the sun, but it is soon exhaled, and probably does no good to the tree. But when embodied in a generous deed it is like the raindrop that penetrates the roots and contributes some portion of strength to all the fibres. A charity sermon delivered with the eloquence of a Chalmers may excite in the congregation the beneficent idea, almost to a passion, but, unless that passion takes the form of a self-denying act, it evaporates and leaves the congregation in a worse state than the preacher found it.
2. For the sake of others. It is generous deeds that bless the world. They go where ideas cannot penetrate, into the hearts and consciences of men; they work silently and salutarily as the sunbeam.
II. THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF BENEFICENCE ARE ONLY VIRTUOUS AS THEY SPRING FROM A GENEROUS DESIRE. "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not." The doctrine is this, that the disposition of the heart, not the doings of the hand, constitute the essence of moral character. This is the Divine method of estimating human conduct. "The Lord judgeth not as man judgeth," etc. The motive is the soul of the deed. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,.., and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Do not judge the desire by the effort, but judge the effort put forth by the desire. The poor widow would have made munificent contributions, but she could only give a "mite;" but in that mite there was more value than in all the amount in the temple exchequer. Some have the means to do good and not the heart, and some have the heart but not the means. The former are grubs in the universe, the latter are angels. There are deeds done in the body, seen of God, infinitely more numerous and essentially more valuable in most cases than deeds done by the body.
III. THE CONTRIBUTION OF OTHERS CANNOT SUPERSEDE THE OBLIGATION OF OURS, BUT MAY SUPPLEMENT THEIR DEFICIENCIES.
1. It is not a substitute. "For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened." It behoves every man to contribute to the extent of his riches, to the good of others. If one man gives a thousand it does not relieve me from my obligation to contribute what I can.
2. It is a supplement. "But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want." It is the duty of all to contribute. Some have the ability to contribute a hundred times the amount of others; let their large sums go to supplement the deficiencies of their poorer brethren, so that there may be "an equality." Thus the old Scripture will be illustrated, that "he that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack."
2 Corinthians 8:16-24 - Stimulating men to beneficent actions,
"But thanks be to God," etc. The verses under notice present to us the subject of stimulating men to efforts of beneficence, and three remarks are suggested concerning this occupation.
I. IT IS A WORK THAT REQUIRES THE HIGHEST ORDER OF CHRISTIAN MEN. We find here that not only Paul employs himself in it with all his loving earnestness and logical power, but he engages Titus also, and a "brother" with him of such distinction that his "praise is in the gospel throughout all the Churches." To excite men to beneficent enterprises is preeminently a Christian work. Christianity is the mother of all philanthropic labours and institutions. Christian piety is a fountain whence all the myriad streams of human beneficence that circulate through all the districts of human life proceed. To stimulate this beneficence in men is the highest ministry on earth, and for it men of the most distinguished character and faculty are required. No man is too great for it, and but few men are equal to its successful discharge.
II. IT IS A WORK DESERVING THE GRATITUDE OF ALL. Paul refers to:
1. The gratitude of those who had been excited to beneficent efforts. "But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you." It is implied that Titus conferred on them an immense favour in stimulating them to generous deeds. No man can render us a greater service than by taking us out of ourselves and inspiring us with a genuine concern for the interests of others. It is not he who gives me a good thing, but who stimulates me to do a good thing, that is my greatest benefactor; for it is "more blessed to give than to receive." In giving we become God-like, and therefore we ought to thank the man most devoutly who evokes within us the spirit of true charity. Instead of endeavouring to avoid appeals to our benevolence, we should hail them and thank our Maker for them.
2. The gratitude of those who have effected the excitement. Paul says, "Thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you."
(1) There is no office higher in itself than this. This is the work for which Christ came into the world, the work for which he established the Christian ministry. The aim and tendency of the gospel are to drown the selfish ego in the sunny tide of universal charity. The love of Christ constrained men to feel that they should not henceforth live to themselves.
(2) There is no office more useful than this. Success in this means ruin in all that is ruinous to souls in human history, ruin to selfishness and all its fiendish brood. Well, therefore, may those who are engaged in such a work thank God for the distinguishing honour to which they have been called. Paul says nothing here about the gratitude of those on whom the excited beneficence has bestowed its favours—the beneficiaries. He seems to take it for granted that they ought and would be thankful; that they ought to be admits of no doubt, but that they always are cannot be asserted. Ingratitude, alas! is one of the reigning sins in human life.
III. IT IS A WORK EXPOSED TO THE SUSPICIONS OF WORLDLY MEN. The apostle seems to have been afraid that the contributions that would flow from stimulating the beneficence of the Corinthian Church would occasion the allegation that they were participating in them, and so obtaining some personal advantage. Hence, to guard against the possibility, he gets the Churches to choose from amongst them some men of the best reputation, whom he calls "messengers of the Churches," and Titus, and perhaps Luke, in the administration of the charity, and thus "providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men." Dishonest men have existed in all ages, and the more dishonest men are, the more suspicious. Paul here guards himself against all scandalous imputations. He had great respect for his own reputation, so much so, that one at times, in reading these Epistles, is well nigh astonished that a man so great in nature and sublime in character should think so much about the opinions of others.
HOMILIES BY C. LIPSCOMB
2 Corinthians 8:1-6 - Christian liberality in the Macedonian Churches.
Grace prepares the way for grace. Denial of self in one direction leads to cross-bearing in other forms. Duty is a spirit, not a mechanical thing; a life, and not a mere performance. If the Corinthians had shown such a "godly sorrow," they would now be eager to demonstrate their renewed Christian strength by a more faithful regard to all obligations. Carefulness, zeal, vehement desire, had characterized their repentance, and these would not expire with the occasion that had called them into exercise. Deep feeling is quiet feeling, and therefore permanent, and deep feeling is always the mark of true penitence. St. Paul had confidence in his Corinthian brethren, and it was a large-hearted trust; "confidence in you in all things." The "all things" is the nexus between the seventh and eighth chapters. So then he proceeds to speak of the liberality of the Macedonian Churches preparatory to urging on them the duty of benevolence. Observe his manner. If he states a doctrine, he illustrates it. If he teaches a duty, he gives an example. Never so abstract as to neglect the practical side of life, never so intent on action as to lose sight of the determinative principle, he reminds one of Lord Bacon's remark, that the highest order of mind is that combining most fully the abstract and the practical. The example of these Macedonian Churches was well worthy of imitation. Macedonia had been overrun by armies, and we all know how armies devastated countries in those days and stripped the inhabitants of their wealth. St. Paul speaks of their "great trial of affliction," the losses and persecutions they were enduring, and yet they had "abundant joy," that could only be represented by its filling the depth of their poverty and overflowing in "the riches of their liberality." No common poverty was theirs—"deep poverty;" and no ordinary love was theirs, but a very profound and tender love. "This sentence is completely shattered in passing through the apostle's mind" (Stanley). How much more is unsaid than said in the marvellous words, "Their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality"! Two things are taught us.
1. The inspiration of a joyous influence. Duty, motive, impulse, all exalted into Christian happiness. "Rejoice evermore." Such joy is a glorious power. Let us not make a mistake here. Fine feelings, exuberant emotions, loud hallelujahs, the thrill and shout and ecstasy, may deceive us. If they exhaust themselves in sensational excitement, they do deceive us, and that most awfully. Joy as a fruit of the Spirit is a giving joy, a sacrificing joy, a joy in the cross by which we are crucified to the world and the world unto us.
2. And we learn that even "deep poverty" is no obstruction to helping others. It often hinders us from doing what we would; but in the estimate of the Lord Jesus, the heart of this matter is in the "could," not in the would. "She hath done what she could." Capacity is always a mystery. It surprises us ever, and more and more, and in nothing is it so surprising as in the charitable heart with small means at its command. The glory of giving is in the quality of love, and it never fails to find something to bestow. "She of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had." If this poor widow could spare "two mites," who can plead depth of poverty? Notice that St. Paul emphasizes the depth of poverty in the Macedonian Church. If it had been simply a case of poverty, the example would not have been so instructive, and, accordingly, we find the apostle citing his cases from such as had to make sacrifices of personal comfort in order to aid those poorer than themselves. So that while in the Acts of the Apostles we hear of "possessors of lands or houses" selling them and. laying the prices at the feet of the apostles, this fades from view in the tragic deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. But the image of the poor widow returns to us in the Epistles, with many suggestions as to the class of persons who do the most of the steady Christian giving. What is further noteworthy is the apostle's description of the self-moved generosity of these Macedonians. "Willing of themselves." Liberality is not a common virtue, and self-induced liberality is its rarest form. Men wait to be urged, begged, entreated; special occasions set are for special efforts; fine speakers are engaged; and the whole system of giving, or very much of it, proceeds on the habitual reluctance of giving for the support of the gospel. As to spontaneousness in this matter, who thinks of it, who trusts it? Now, we do not suppose that all religious people in the apostolic age were like these Macedonians. We know they were not. Yet, consider this fact, viz. they were the persons held up as shining examples of what liberality ought to be in the Church of Christ. And this accords precisely with the incidents mentioned concerning Mary of Bethany, and the poor widow and her mites, and the disciples after Pentecost who disposed of their property to hell, the poor. It was cordial and voluntary action, no external agency operating to give inducements. Without pressing this point too far, we must say that whatever utility belongs to the machinery of collecting funds for Church uses (and this seems to be necessary), it is nevertheless clear enough that spontaneous liberality is the truest, noblest, surest, mode of cultivating this grace in our hearts. So, unquestionably, the apostle thought. With what a glow he writes! "According to their power;" nay, it was more than this, for they went "beyond their power [beyond their means];" and so earnest was their purpose that they prayed the apostle to receive their gifts and let them share the grace and fellowship of ministering to the saints. No doubt many of these men found life a hard struggle, and for them, in more senses than one, "without were fightings, within were fears." Yet they deemed it a privilege to give; they coveted earnestly the best gift, which was the gift of giving; they prayed "with much entreaty" that they might participate in a work which was most blessed. To let such an opportunity slip was more than they could bear. And this conduct exceeded his expectations; for they had given themselves first to the Lord Jesus, and then, anxious to show their affection for the apostle, had given themselves in this special matter to him. Heart and property; what a consecration! What a page in spiritual biography! Out of "deep poverty;" what chorus of voices ever rose like this, pleading that these Macedonians might be permitted to share the grace of ministration! "The short and simple annals of the poor" have added much to our English literature, nor is it extragavant to claim that this is one of the most praiseworthy marks of that distinctive genius which has signalized its excellence in so many departments of poetry and fiction. But do we realize our indebtedness to the Bible for this beautiful and humanizing element in English literature? Here, in this single chapter from the Apostle Paul, what a touching picture of Christian poverty, surrendering means it could ill afford to spare, and doing it "with a self-dedication which involved a complete renunciation of all personal interests" (Kling)!—L.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 - Appeal to the Corinthians.
A wise use had been made by the apostle of the example of the Macedonians. He had not appealed to pride, vanity, or any selfish feeling, but had simply presented a remarkable case of Christian philanthropy. Robertson very properly remarks, "Had the apostle said, 'Be not beaten by those Macedonians;' had he called natural prejudices into play—a Corinthian to yield to a Macedonian!—then all the evil passions of our nature had been stimulated." Emulation is a true principle, and may be a religious principle. The danger lies, not in the thing itself, but in its abuses, and particularly in the encouragement which it may afford to false rivalry and jealousy. In a large measure, the spirit and conduct of others make the social atmosphere we breathe, nor can we live in the world without contact with it. Goodness assumes its most attractive forms in noble examples, and, except for these, our own ideals, if they existed at all, would be very imperfect. Consistently, then, with his purpose of stimulating the Corinthians to seek a high degree of Christian excellence, the apostle sets before them in most vivid colours the liberality of the Macedonian Churches. Titus had begun, and he would have him "finish in them the same grace also." Men are channels of Divine influence to our souls, and, as such, should be acknowledged in their work. St. Paul saw God's blessing on the labours of his young friend, and he would not deprive him of the honour of completing the task. He stood out of his way, encouraged his efforts, and lent him a fatherly hand in furtherance of his undertaking. This sympathy with young men is one of his characteristic qualities, and it is worthy of warm admiration. Many an elderly officer in the Church might heed it to great advantage. Titus should have all the credit. Let the brethren at Corinth heartily second his exertions in behalf of the poor saints at Jerusalem. If they abounded "in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence," and in their love for the apostle, let them "abound in this grace also." The quality being pure, quantity was a favourite idea which he never lost an opportunity to urge. "Abound" and "abundant" flow freely from his pen. "Not by commandment" was this written. Free hearts, joyous impulses, could alone be recognized in this enterprise of humanity. This was the value of example, it was a sympathetic influence; and hence his reference to "the forwardness of others," which would test the "sincerity of their love." What a great truth is taught here, and that too so incidentally as to escape the attention of all save those who make the cultivation of discernment a constant duty! Noble examples are Divine tests; they prove, as we have said, the depth and activity of our sympathies, and in this respect supply the means of a discipline otherwise lacking. "Forwardness of others;" study its meaning. God commissions the leaders. Vast enterprises are never born of masses, but of individuals; apostles first, and then Churches; Bunyan, and two centuries of literature for the poor and illiterate; Watts and the sacred poets following; Raikes and Wesley; Martyn and Judson; successors multiplied because of their "forwardness." Having dwelt on the example of the Macedonians, the transition is easy to the Divine Exemplar. A single verse reminds them of "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," the surrender of his eternal glory, the riches of his Godhead's state, the extent of the abnegation, the earthly poverty assumed, and all for their sakes, that "through his poverty" they "might be rich." The supreme consideration must be kept in full view. Of the Macedonians he had spoken; of the "great trial of affliction," of their "deep poverty," and how it abounded "unto the riches of their liberality." Whence came this power? A new heart had been given to poverty, so that now, though its means were meagre, its social position unhonoured, its claims to influence set at nought, yet it had achieved wonders such as had never been thought possible. Macedonia had stretched out her arms of blessing to distant Jerusalem, and Gentiles and Jews long alienated were now one in the holiest of brotherhoods. It was due to the grace of Christ. It was his Spirit reproducing itself in the lives of believers. And therefore he had cited their conduct; but most of all let them remember the one great sacrifice of the incarnate Christ. Years subsequently we have in another Epistle (Philippians 2:1-30.) a similar train of thought. Age was upon him then, and life was drawing to a tragical close at Rome. Yet then, as now, then and now as throughout his ministry, the grace of the Lord Jesus was the one thought that inspired all other thoughts. It is still "advice." "Advice" is better than "commandment." They had begun the work of the collection, complete the task; they had a "readiness to will," let the effort be consummated. And, again, an important principle is brought to their notice. Was not "advice" sufficient? Would not an opinion be strong enough without a command? Yea, indeed, for a year ago the Corinthians had made a start in this matter. A willing mind is the first thing; grace begins here, and if this willing mind gives all it can, it is accepted of God, according to what "a man hath, and not according to that he hath not." Mark the solicitude of the apostle as to the education of this sentiment of giving. He cannot think of it as a thing to which they must be constrained, and, accordingly, he acknowledges the largest freedom, only it must be Christian freedom. Motive must have free play. Conscience must advance into affection, or conscience is stunted. Sensibility must be self-impelled. Nor must any conclude that he wished to oppress them that others might be relieved, "but only to establish between Jewish and Gentile Churches a reciprocity of aid in time of need" (Dr. Farrar). To establish an "equality" was his object. Do not mistake his meaning. Political, social, natural equality was utterly foreign to his thought and purpose. No revolutionist, no anarchist, no leveller, was he in any sense, in any degree, but simply the advocate of such an equality as should be produced by the sentiment of Christian liberality in the distribution of gifts. That equalizing influence was not to proceed from an arbitrary law nor from force work of any sort. It was to be spontaneous, each man a judge for himself, and the superabundance in one place was to supply the deficiency at another place, so as to secure an abundance for all. Reference is made to the manna in the wilderness. If one gathered more manna than the allotted supply, it was sent to those who had not collected enough, so that the necessities of all were met. This was the law of Judaism as between Hebrew and Hebrew, and the spirit of this law, fifteen centuries afterwards, reappears in a letter to the Corinthians. History in one portion of the world and among one people becomes prophecy in another portion and among another people. Prophecy, in turn, becomes a new history. And today, A.D. 1884, thousands in Europe and America are acting on this equalizing sentiment in the use of their property.—L.
2 Corinthians 8:16-24 - Prudential management; care to avoid blame.
St. Paul has given us many sketches of himself, especially much insight into his varying moods; and in these chapters (7 and 8) he interests us in the character of Titus. The section opens with thanksgiving to God, who has inclined the heart of his young friend towards the Corinthians and awakened his zeal in behalf of their welfare. No doubt it had occurred to Titus to undertake the project of collecting for the Jerusalem Church, but he had not broached the subject to the apostle. It lay quiet in his heart, doing the Spirit's work, expanding and strengthening his purpose, yet nursed in silence. "While I was musing, the fire burned." St. Paul had presented the matter to him and found him willing, ready, and zealous to enter on the task. "More forward [more earnest], of his own accord he went unto you." Two brethren of reputation had been chosen by the Churches to accompany Titus, and the three travellers, having this loving embassy in hand, would manifest "this grace," so that they and he as coworkers in the ministration would glorify God. Not enough for the apostle to honour Christ in the gifts alone, but he would enhance the glory by the manner of doing the work. The way of performing it should be exceptional, impressive, and great hearted, and thus the very mode of the act should prove a blessing as well as the thing done. For this course another reason existed. Appearances should always be consulted. No one can afford to put himself above them, to neglect, and still less to despise, them. Circumstances have their laws, and they must be obeyed. The contribution was "abundant," and he would take all possible precaution in the administration, lest the enemies of his apostleship should invent and propagate some new slander about him. The inspired man, the ambassador, the pioneer of a new Europe, was not ashamed to practise the lowly code of common sense and put a very strong emphasis on prudence. Hence his extreme caution. Blameless in the sight of God, he would be blameless in the eyes of men. And now a commendation of our brother, and a special word in behalf of Titus, "my partner and fellow helper," not forgetting to say "partner and fellow helper concerning you" and to exhort the Corinthians to make good his boasting to the Macedonian Churches on their behalf. So ends this admirable chapter. Is it not a beautiful pendant to that lamp which, for eighteen hundred years, in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, has hung out its blaze of splendour before the world?—L.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
2 Corinthians 8:5 - Dedication.
If it seems strange to us that a large portion of an inspired Epistle should be occupied with directions as to a charitable collection which was going forward at the time, it should be remembered; that Christianity introduced into human society new and more powerful principles of benevolence, and further, that the new and Divine revelation was one which laid the foundation for this as for all human duties in the character and action of God himself.
I. THE PRIMARY AND ALL-IMPORTANT DEDICATION IS THAT OF THE WHOLE PERSONAL NATURE UNTO THE LORD.
1. This appears when it is recollected that the Lord has first given himself for us. His sacrifice thus becomes the ground of our consecration.
2. Our very constitution, taken in connection with our natural relation to our Lord, points to such a dedication. "No man liveth unto himself." Our "chief end is to glorify God."
3. This spiritual consecration is pre-eminently acceptable to God. His demand is, "Give me thine heart." Every gift which does not flow from this is vain and worthless in his sight.
II. THE DEDICATION OF SELF TO THE LORD SHOULD BE FOLLOWED BY THE DEDICATION OF SELF TO THE LORD'S PEOPLE. Paul looked for the brotherhood, the confidence, the cooperation of his converts, and indeed of all Christian people whom Divine providence might bring into contact with him. The Corinthians apparently wished to be personally associated with him in the ministration to the Judaean Christians who were in poverty, and their wish was a source of satisfaction and joy to him.
III. TRUE CHRISTIAN CONSECRATION INVOLVES THE GIFT OF PROPERTY TO THE LORD'S CAUSE. It is sometimes objected against calls for liberality that God cannot be enriched by our giving. This is true, yet God's people may receive advantage, and Christ has shown us that what is done for his people is done for himself. As most people value their possessions, their generosity is a proof of the sincerity of their love and the reality of their consecration.
"How can I, Lord, withhold
Life's brightest hour
From thee; or gathered gold,
Or any power?
Why should I keep one precious thing from thee,
When thou hast given thine own dear self for me?"
2 Corinthians 8:8 - Sincere love.
In giving liberally towards the collection made for the poor Christians of Judaea, the Corinthians showed their love to the objects of their charity, to the apostle to whose appeal they responded, and also to the unseen Lord and Saviour by whose desire and for whose sake they befriended the least of his brethren.
I. LOVE TO CHRIST IS THE MIGHTIEST OF ALL SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES, Human life abounds with evidence of the might of love; every family, every society, has some exemplifications of the power of love to overcome difficulties, to prompt to exertion, to sustain under self-denied. And all Christendom in every age has shown that love to Christ is an unrivalled motive to holiness, to patience, to benevolence. The hymns of the Church's literature, and the gifts and labours recorded in the Church's annals, are alike proof of the vitality and efficacy of Christian love.
II. THE PROFESSION OF LOVE TO CHRIST IS NOT ALWAYS ACCOMPANIED BY THE REALITY. The early disciples were admonished to "love unfeigned," were warned, "Let love be without dissimulation." Doubtless in all ages there have been those who have deceived themselves, and have imagined that they loved Christ, because they have felt some glow of admiration towards him, but who in time of trial have made it manifest that they had no depth of love. Weighed in the balance, they are found wanting. The soul is brought face to face with its own weakness and worthlessness, inconsistency and treachery.
III. THE LORD JESUS TESTS IN MANY WAYS THE SINCERITY OF HIS PEOPLE'S PROFESSION OF LOVE.
1. By his bodily absence from them, which shows whether they have an attachment to their professed Lord which can abide even though not fostered by sight and constant personal intercourse.
2. By permitting rival powers and persons to invite the supreme affection of the heart. These, though they cannot satisfy, may please, and the Lord of all suffers their attractiveness; for the love which cannot abide amid rival attractions is poor indeed.
3. By his demand that we should surrender what is dear to us, if to retain it conflicts with our supreme attachment to Christ. The young ruler was subjected to this test. In some form it comes to many. Feigned love will then go away, even though it go away grieved.
4. By our necessary and probationary contact with an unloving world. In the presence of the unspiritual and unsympathizing, the sincerity of the Christian's love is often sorely tested.
5. The trials and sufferings of life not only exercise the faith, they test the Jove, of the professed follower of Jesus. The storm proves whether the vessel is seaworthy or not.
6. By enjoining upon his people obedience to commandments which are contrary to our natural inclinations. Love can vanquish even the attachment to a "darling sin."
7. Love is tested when it is invited to direct itself towards others also, for Jesus' sake. Who can love Christ, and yet hate his brother, for whom Christ died?—T.
2 Corinthians 8:9 - The condescension of Christ.
According to the teaching of the New Testament, human kindness should be based upon Divine benevolence. Such is the import of this wonderful parenthesis—a jewel which the inspired writer drops by the way and passes on.
I. CHRIST'S NATIVE RICHES CONTRASTED WITH HIS VOLUNTARY POVERTY,
1. His proper rightful wealth is apparent, not only from his nature as the Son of God, but from his evident command, during his earthly ministry, of all the resources of nature. Bread, wine, money, he could multiply or create; the earth and the sea obeyed his will; diseases and demons fled at his bidding.
2. His poverty was not compulsory; it was a "grace." We see it in his incarnation, in which he emptied himself of his glory; in his ministry, passed in a lowly and all but destitute condition of life; in his refusal to use his power for selfish ends; in his cheerful submission to a shameful death. Compare the glory which he claimed to have had with the Father before the world was, with the homelessness and poverty of his life and the desertion and ignominy of his death, and his "grace" appeals to every just mind, to every sensitive heart.
II. OUR NATIVE SPIRITUAL POVERTY CONTRASTED WITH OUR ACQUIRED SPIRITUAL WEALTH.
1. Our natural destitution is undeniable; by sin we have lost our possessions, our inheritance, our powers of acquisition, and are left resourceless and friendless. Apart from the interposition of Christ, and where Christianity is unknown, such is still the state of man.
2. Christ's humiliation was for the sake of man's spiritual enrichment. Only by condescension, compassion, and sacrifice could man be reached. Thus he drew near to us, and imparted to us of his own true and Divine riches, of knowledge, of righteousness, of favour, and of glory.
3. By Christ's mediation all things are ours, God, giving Christ, gives with him all good things. "I have all things and abound," is the testimony of every right-minded and appreciative disciple of Christ. The history of the Church is the history of the enrichment of the race; and this in turn is the pledge and promise of the inestimable and inexhaustible riches of eternity.—T.
2 Corinthians 8:12 - The rule of acceptance.
Justice is distinctive of all the demands and of all the proceedings of the providence of God. Often, as in the case before us, the righteousness of the principles of the Divine government is so apparent that no question can possibly be raised concerning it.
I. THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE HERE PROPOUNDED. It is that the requirements of God correspond to the possessions of man.
1. What men have, they have received from the undeserved bounty of their Creator. This holds good with regard to property and to talents and opportunities.
2. An account is expected from every man by him who is the Judge and sovereign Lord of all. We are to some extent and in some matters accountable to our fellow men, but foreverything to him in whom "we live, and move, and have our being."
3. The rule according to which the supreme Governor will judge mankind is one of absolute rectitude—"according to that a man hath." The feeble man will not be expected to have done the work of the strong; the dull man the work of the genius; the peasant the work of the prince; nor the beggar to have given with the generosity of the millionaire. But each must answer for that which has been entrusted to himself. In all things the disposition, the spirit, the endeavour, will be taken into account; "if there be first the ready mind"—"if the forward zeal be at hand." Such is the universal condition of Divine acceptance and approval.
II. THE SPECIAL APPLICATION OF THE PRINCIPLE HERE DEDUCED.
1. In the matter of gifts there is scope for moral culture and watchfulness. Unless liberality be shown upon definite principle, it will most likely not be shown at all. There is need of watching against selfishness and avarice.
2. It is well for every Christian to anticipate and apply beforehand the Divine principle—to judge himself, that he may not be judged by God; to put to himself the question, "How much owest thou unto thy Lord?"
3. Especially should the inspired rule of liberality be observed by those who are prospering in the world. As means increase, let gifts be enlarged. The Judge cannot accept from the wealthy the gifts which were approved when offered by the poor.—T.
2 Corinthians 8:21 - Things honourable.
It might have been supposed that the apostle would have considered himself superior to the considerations here adduced. His life was so completely unselfish, so obviously governed by higher than interested principles, that it seems as if he might have taken it for granted that no suspicion could attach to his personal administration of the alms to be forwarded to Judaea. Probably others thought thus; few, if any, could have suspected Paul of fraud and misappropriation. But he judged himself by a standard which was applicable to all Christian agents, a standard which every wise man, experienced in the ways of the world, will do well to adopt as his own.
I. THE RULE OF CONDUCT HERE PROPOSED.
1. Things honourable are things actually good, admirable, beautiful, in themselves. The word in the original denotes primarily this. What things are morally excellent and praiseworthy, let these things be done.
2. Things honourable are things reputable and approved. It is especially prudent to be very careful and scrupulous, and very open, in the administration of public money, and so to act that there may be no opening for slander or misrepresentation. And the same rule applies to other departments of conduct. It should not be a prominent motive with us to secure men's approval, yet our conduct should be such as to secure that approval, and even to command it.
3. Things honourable may best be provided by endeavouring to realize the inquisitive inspection of men and the all-searching gaze of the omniscient God.
II. THE MOTIVES URGING TO THE PRACTICAL ADOPTION OF THIS RULE.
1. It will tend to the satisfaction and peace of our own conscience.
2. It will tend to the honour of the religion we profess, when it is seen to be, not a cloak for covetousness, but an impulse to disinterestedness and a principle of integrity.
3. It will be for the glory of God. Actions done in his sight and at his command, from the motive of his love, and with the hope of his approbation, are the actions which the Christian should aim consistently and constantly to perform, in all positions and in all relations of life—T,
2 Corinthians 8:23 - The appreciation of fellow labourers.
Anxious as Paul was that a generous contribution should be sent to Judaea for the relief and assistance of the poor Christians in that province, he was equally anxious that the mode in which this contribution was transmitted should be open and above all suspicion of carelessness or misappropriation. Hence he secured that Titus and two others should be appointed as trustees, so to speak, of the fund, to take charge of it and to carry it to the destined quarter. Of these three Christian men Paul speaks in terms of notable commendation. He terms them—
I. HIS OWN ASSOCIATES. The expressions used with this intent are three in number.
1. They are partners, engaged in the same work, under the same Master, and with the expectation of a similar reward, with himself.
2. They are fellow workers, each having his own faculty, his own implement, for labour, but all cooperating to the one end.
3. They are brethren; i.e. bound together by a personal tie, a spiritual kindred, in the Christian family and household of faith. These expressions involve a deep and lasting attachment, such as should unite those who are engaged in one and the same service rendered to the one great Master.
II. MESSENGERS OF THE CHURCHES. The expression in the original is very strong. They are apostles; i.e. sent forth by the congregation as their representatives and plenipotentiaries. This gives a special dignity to the office and work of accredited servants of the body of Christ, and therefore of Christ himself.
III. THE GLORY OF CHRIST. There is something mystical, something difficult to expound, in this epithet. It certainly implies that these faithful men were exalted to a position of very high honour, and were looked upon as related very closely to the Lord himself. Certainly it was to the glory of the Redeemer that a new principle of benevolence was introduced into human society, impelling the Gentile of Europe to display a practical interest in the welfare of the Jew of Palestine. Here was exhibited a moral glory radiating from Christ himself, before which the world might well bow down in wonder, admiration, and reverence.—T.
HOMILIES BY E. HURNDALL
2 Corinthians 8:1-7 - A pattern of charity.
The charity commended is that of the Macedonian Churches.
I. THEY GAVE UNDER VERY UNFAVOURABLE CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. They were in much affliction. (2 Corinthians 8:2.) This might have suggested special care of themselves rather than of others. Suffering often produces selfishness. Our pain often prevents us from realizing the pains of others.
2. They were in deep poverty. (2 Corinthians 8:2.) How could they give? Charity must begin at home, and does not "deep poverty" demonstrate that it must end there? How inconsiderate, and indeed absurd, to ask them to give! Was it not their duty to be provident? to hold some reserve in store against possibly worse times? No people talk more of duty than those who intend to violate it. The Macedonians saw the high duty of charity, and nobly performed that duty.
II. THOUGH AFFLICTED AND POOR, THEY GAVE LARGELY. (2 Corinthians 8:3.) Their danger was not that they might give too little, but that they might give too much. "Beyond their power." Affliction and poverty combined could not cramp their large heartedness. Many ask how little they can give; the Macedonian Christians asked how much. A modern curse of the Church is small giving. There are too many threepenny-bit Christians.
III. THEY GAVE VOLUNTARILY. (2 Corinthians 8:3.) Compulsory kindness is of little worth. And there are other compulsions than physical, "Voluntary offerings" are often anything but voluntary.
IV. THEY GAVE WITHOUT URGENT APPEAL. They gave "of their own accord." They did not require the importunities of a "collection sermon." They required only to know of the need; the charity was spontaneous.
V. THEY BEGGED FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF GIVING. (2 Corinthians 8:4.) They longed to help, and supplicated for a share of the good work. Giving, to them, was a privilege—a gain, not a loss. Giving was not a thing to be avoided, but a thing to be sought. Perhaps they remembered the words of the Lord, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Had they given in an assembly it would not have been necessary to have the collection in the middle of the meeting to avoid a stampede and empty plates at the close. Much giving of today is not an illustration of charity, but a burlesque of it.
VI. THEY GAVE WITH MUCH JOY. (2 Corinthians 8:2.) They reaped the firstfruits of charity at the time of the seed sowing! Such are the wonders of spiritual agriculture. The grudging giver defrauds no one so much as himself. To miss the joy of giving is to miss how much! There are few luxuries so sweet as the luxury of charity,
VII. THEY GAVE THEMSELVES AS WELL AS THEIR MONETARY CONTRIBUTION. (2 Corinthians 8:5.)
1. To the Lord. They solemnly dedicated themselves and their belongings to the Most High. 'Twas easy for them to surrender a part when they had surrendered the whole. We give haltingly because we do not believe the Scripture which saith, "Ye are not your own." Our gifts cannot be acceptable to God if we withhold ourselves or parts of ourselves.
2. To the apostle. As to a servant of their Lord. For service. When they surrendered themselves to God they did not surrender themselves to idleness, but to activity. Many present to God a mass of indolence. Some consecrated people seem consecrated to do nothing. The Macedonian conduct exceeded the apostolic expectation, not the Divine. This was what God expected, and what he expects from us. It was "by the will of God" (2 Corinthians 8:5).
1. Here is an example for us. Though we abound in faith, utterance, knowledge, earnestness (2 Corinthians 8:7), yet if we have not this practical love we are no better than "sounding brass" (1 Corinthians 13:1).
2. We can attain to this only as the Macedonian Christians attained to it, by "the grace of God" (2 Corinthians 8:1). We do not want more money in our pockets, but more grace in our hearts. God can work this work in us. Let us commit ourselves into his hands, that this miracle may be wrought in us also.—H.
2 Corinthians 8:9 - The great Example of benevolence.
I. HOW RICH THE SON OF GOD WAS.
1. In possessions. All things were made by him. All things were his. Not this world only, but all worlds. Not one race of creatures, but all races and orders.
2. In power. Omnipotence untrammelled and unrepressed.
3. In homage.
(1) The adoration of the heavenly hosts; and
(2) their perfect obedience to every command and wish.
4. In the love and fellowship of the Father.
5. In purest happiness.
II. HOW POOR HE BECAME.
1. In condition.
(1) The Godhead veiled in humanity.
(2) The Divine power restricted.
(3) The God of joy transformed into the Man of sorrows.
2. In circumstances.
(1) At his birth. His cradle a manger. An outcast; no room for him in the inn; a foreshadowing of the whole earthly life.
(2) At Nazareth an artisan, earning bread by the sweat of his brow, standing thus so closely to fallen Adam.
(3) As a preacher, dependent upon casual charity.
(4) As a traveller, journeying in penury.
(5) For his triumphal entry, dependent upon strangers.
(6) As a prisoner, stripped of the little he possessed. "They parted my garments."
(7) His dying bed, a cross; his last resting place, a borrowed tomb.
3. In surroundings.
(1) Instead of homage, mockery and insult.
(2) Few friends. One of these a traitor, and the remnant faithless at the supreme moment.
(3) Heaven darkened to him. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
III. THIS MARVELLOUS TRANSFORMATION AND ITS CAUSE.
1. It was purely voluntary. He gave himself. "No man taketh it from me .. I lay down my life" (John 10:18, John 10:15).
2. It was prompted by love. "Ye know the grace," the spontaneous, unmerited love. The compulsion was the compulsion of compassion and affection.
3. It had for its object the enrichment of men.
(1) Men were poor.
(a) Always dependent.
(b) Through sin, had forfeited all title to things bestowed by God, all title to the Divine favour, all title to brighter prospects.
(c) Thus were poor deservedly.
(2) Through Christ's poverty men are made rich. Those who are redeemed by Christ lose the poverty which is inseparable from sin, and:
(a) Gain holiness.
(b) Become partakers of the Divine nature.
(c) Receive the adoption of children and become heirs of God.
(d) Become inheritors of the heavenly kingdom.
(e) Obtain present and future joy.
(f) Become sharers in the glory which Christ for a while set aside. "The glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them" (John 17:22).
IV. CHRIST IS HERE OUR EXAMPLE.
1. If Christ did this for us, how ready we should be to do what lies in our power for others! In doing it to them, we show our love to him.
2. How small our sacrifice must be compared to his!
3. Self-sacrifice makes us like Christ. He not only said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive;" he himself tasted this blessedness. And he gave what? He gave himself for us.—H.
2 Corinthians 8:10-15 - Things that belong to charity.
I. TO WILL.
1. Charity must be voluntary. No one can make us will. We can be made to give, but such giving is morally worthless. God loveth a cheerful giver, because a cheerful giver is in all certainty a voluntary giver. The "voluntary system" is not one form of charity; it is the only form. Unless we willingly give, the less said about our charity the better; for we have none!
2. The "willing" must be rightly prompted. True charity means heart love. The coin is base unless it bears this stamp. Though it may pass current amongst men, God will arrest and condemn it. Motives in giving should be carefully studied; not others' motives, but ours!
II. TO DO. Some are charitable in intention, not in action. Fruit trees are sometimes destitute of fruit, but to those thus symbolized there is but little encouragement in the fate of that barren tree which confronted Christ as he walked from Bethany to Jerusalem. Charity must be spiritual, but it must be practical also. Our love will never feed' the hungry nor clothe the naked; and if our love does not prompt us to do, it is of less value than a mote in the sunbeam. Faith without works is dead, and charity without works is dead, buried, and rotting in its grave.
III. TO GIVE ACCORDING TO OUR ABILITY. (2 Corinthians 8:12.) Not according to what others give. We are apt to give according to the ability of somebody else. Perhaps when we judge of our own ability we had better ask God to help us. There are two occasions when a man's possessions are apt to dwindle—the one when he makes out his income tax return, and the other when he is asked for a subscription. We need much grace rightly to estimate our own resources. Charitable appeals are apt to derange the laws of arithmetic and to lead to astonishing results.
IV. TO GIVE JUDICIOUSLY.
1. The needs of any case should be carefully considered. Not to make them less than they are, but to know them as they are. To give to undeserving cases is not only to waste our substance, but to do a vast amount of mischief.
2. We are not required to impoverish ourselves that others may be enriched. (2 Corinthians 8:13.) Though, if we had tendencies in this direction, perhaps we should not be travelling away from our Master's example (2 Corinthians 8:9). Our danger probably lies in being content with the impoverished condition of others. But the object of charity is not that the poor should be made rich and the rich poor.
3. An equality is to be aimed at. (2 Corinthians 8:14.) As to believers especially we should remember that they are members of the same faith, and should seek to make their condition equally healthy with our own. But our charity should not be restricted by the limits of "the household of faith." One has well said, "Our luxuries should yield to our neighbour's comforts, and our comforts to his necessities." This seems Paul's conception, who explains what he means by "equality" in the expression following: "Your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want" (2 Corinthians 8:14); and he illustrates it by reference to the manna given to Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 16:18). How far from approach to this equality is the giving of many!
4. We must not so give as to check the exertions of those whom we help. Paul does not apprehend that so undesirable a result will follow the charity which he recommends; he anticipates that the poor may become so rich as to help those now helping them. Unwise charity hinders, not helps, the recipient, Pauperism is a poor harvest to reap. Still we must see that this argument is not unduly pressed. It is to be a protector, it is not to be a murderer, of charity.—H.
2 Corinthians 8:18 - An enviable reputation.
I. A GREAT CHARACTER IS BETTER THAN A GREAT NAME. The brother referred to here is unnamed; a better mark than a name is put upon him. A great name may be inherited; may be won by a merely fortunate conjunction of circumstances; may be unmerited; may have no moral excellence associated with it. A great character must be earned. A great name blesses one's self; a great character, others.
II. THE APPROBATION OF HOLY MEN IS VERY PRECIOUS. The applause of a fallen world may be reckoned at a cheap rate. Mere popularity is quite in contrast with the praise of all the Churches. That men who love Christ, and who thus have corrected tastes, can see in us what is lovely should cause us to be deeply thankful to God, who has wrought this good thing in us. When the approval is widespread and general among such, it becomes correspondingly precious. The praise of God, indeed, is what we should strive after; but this may be expressed by the lips of his children.
III. REPUTATION "IN THE GOSPEL" IS MOST TO BE DESIRED. This was the reputation of the brother alluded to by Paul. It was in the sphere of the gospel that he had obtained his renown. And this is the very highest sphere. How can we make known the gospel? How can we exalt it in the estimation of men? How can we show forth its excellences in our lives? These should be supreme questions with us. Reputation in arms, art, science,—what are these compared with reputation in the gospel? What can arms do for men, or art, or science, compared with the gospel? The gospel presents the most magnificent arena for human life and achievement.
IV. OPINION IS TESTED BY TRUST. Here is a test of men's words. Will those who praise us put confidence in us? It was so with the brother in question (2 Corinthians 8:19). The friends who praised him trusted him with money, and this is an extreme form of trust with most men. They praised him for a piety which extended to the secularities of life. His gospel ruled the money bag. We want more pounds-shillings-and-pence religion. If our piety does not make us uncorrupt in practical life, we had better cast it to the dogs, for it is only fit for them.—H.
2 Corinthians 8:20, 2 Corinthians 8:21 - Ministerial carefulness in money matters.
I. STRICTEST HONESTY IS, OF COURSE, ESSENTIAL. How can a man preach this common Christian virtue if he lacks it himself? How can his ministry in spiritual things be blessed if he is tainted with the slightest dishonesty in things carnal? What peace of conscience can he possess if he knows that herein he is faulty; and without peace in his own conscience how can he minister in the gospel of all peace? Those who bear the vessels of the Lord must be clean. What a fearful condemnation will be theirs who, whilst expatiating upon the preciousness of heavenly treasure, are all the while dishonestly grasping the treasure which perishes!
II. STRICTEST HONESTY IS NOT SUFFICIENT. A servant of God may be perfectly innocent, and yet by carelessness may give occasion to some to denounce him as guilty. It is not only needful to do right, it is needful to appear to do right as well. Whilst no man should be content with satisfying men apart from God, a wise man will not rest content with satisfying God and his own conscience, but will recognize the importance of not giving a handle for reproach to those amongst whom he lives. Prudent, indeed, was the apostle when he resolved to "take thought for things honourable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men" (2 Corinthians 8:21). Through lack of such wisdom on the part of ministers:
1. Many a ministerial reputation has been wrecked. The lie has been believed, and has been believed because it has been corroborated by unwise conduct. A lie thus strengthened is very attractive to many minds. Lies need no help on our part. It is often easier to make a man believe the barest lie than to make him believe the barest truth. It has been quaintly said, "A lie will travel round the world before truth has finished putting on its boots."
2. Powerful ministers have been rendered impotent.
3. Churches have been greatly injured. The shadow falling upon the minister has spread its darkness over the Church.
4. Many have become prejudiced against the gospel.
5. Much dishonour has fallen upon the Name of Christ. Christians dare not be careless; they carry with them the honour of their Master. It is not a question about being careless of our own name; the matter affects his Name. No man can afford to despise popular opinion in such a matter as this. If a false accusation has been brought without occasion given, that accusation will have the elements of weakness in it, and may generally be successfully repelled; but if occasion has been given, the honest man furnishes evidence of his own dishonesty, he forges the chain wherewith he is bound, he signs his own condemnation. Public men have many enemies. Ministers are the targets of the devil, and often of the devil's children. Great wisdom do they need to walk so that they shall not unwittingly furnish their adversaries with a weapon against themselves and their cause. This applies, of course, not only to money matters, but to all matters. 'Tis the utmost folly to present our own sword to the foe. If we fall, let it be by our enemy's weapon, not by our own.—H.
2 Corinthians 8:23 - What true Christian workers are.
I. THEY ARE THE GLORY OF CHRIST.
1. They are the monuments of the triumph of Christ. They are "saved" to some purpose. Many assert that they are "saved," but they cannot discover, neither can any one else, unto what they are saved. They seem to be saved unto nothingness, and in this sense to have experienced a singularly complete redemption. But the active, devoted Christian proves the reality of his faith by works following. Christ has not only triumphed over the judgment and heart, but over all powers, which are now willingly dedicated to his service.
2. They resemble Christ. Christ was pre-eminently a worker. He "went about doing good;" they seek to do so. He practised self-denial and endured suffering that others might be benefited; they strive to imitate him.
3. They exalt Christ. They desire that his kingdom may be extended over the earth. Whilst they labour for others, they do this out of their love for him. He is first, all else second. The exaltation of Christ is their supreme wish. Their mission is to speak well of his Name wherever they go.
4. Christ delights in them. They are the fruitful trees which he loves. He cursed the barren tree, but these he blesses. They are the faithful servants of the absent Lord. He loves not idlers who filch the name of "servant;" but those who are servants indeed his soul rejoices in. He glories in these, for they show forth his praise.
II. THEY SHOULD SEEK FULLY TO REALIZE THEIR HIGH CALLING.
1. The dignity of Christian work is not always perceived as fully as it should be. It is infinitely superior to all other work.
2. Nor its privilege. Were this adequately realized, what alacrity there would be in entering upon Christian service! As it is, alas! almost force has to be employed in some cases.
3. Nor its responsibility.
4. Nor how much the work done is affected by the life lived.
III. THEY SHOULD BE HIGHLY ESTEEMED. They are the instruments through which God works. They are the means employed by him for the building up of the kingdom of Christ. They are the special representatives of Christ upon earth. They should be
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
2 Corinthians 8:5 - Praiseworthy Churches.
Praise from St. Paul was worth having. He was a serious man, who could not pay empty compliments, and having a high sense of the Christian calling, he would never think of praising a Church merely to please the people or ingratiate himself with them, if he had not judged it worthy of commendation. Here are two marks of a Church on which the grace of God has been bestowed.
I. CONSECRATION OF ITS MEMBERS TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Before they made their contribution to the relief of the poor saints elsewhere, the Macedonian Christians "gave their own selves to the Lord." Though poor and afflicted, happy were they and generous, because their conversion was thorough, and their devotion to Christ hearty and unfeigned. By profession all Christians give themselves to the Lord; but alas! in some cases it is a mere profession. Not every one so believes and lives as to entitle him to say, "I am my Lord's, and he is mine." This, however, is the true ideal. "Thy people shall be freewill offerings in thy day of power." And without this spirit in its members no Church is strong or pleasing to Christ, no matter how venerable its history, how admirable its constitution, or how well conducted its services.
II. SUBJECTION TO APOSTOLIC GUIDANCE BY THE WILL OF GOD. Some of the Macedonian Christians gave themselves to St. Paul as his companions and assistants in missionary labour. Such were Sopater, Secundus, Aristarchus, and Epaphroditus; of whom the first was a Berean, the second and third were Thessalonians, and the fourth was a Philippian. But these choice men were only favourable specimens of the Churches to which they belonged, and which were pervaded by reverence for the apostle and gratitude for his labours. Every true Church of Christ must be apostolic. It must stand on the apostolic testimony and doctrine, follow apostolic direction and practice, and both inhale and exhale the spirit of apostolic devotion to Christ. Of the history and writings of the apostles enough is extant to guide and comfort every Church that is, like those of Macedonia, ready to learn of an apostle by the will of God. We are "built on the foundation of apostles and prophets." On the twelve foundations of the wall of the holy city are inscribed the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
EXHORTATION. Follow those of Macedonia. Give yourselves to the Lord, and then to the apostolic word and fellowship. Present yourselves a living sacrifice.—F.
2 Corinthians 8:9 - Amazing love.
The insertion of this compact statement of our Saviour's love and self-devotion for our sakes into an exhortation to love and liberality in the Church, illustrates the habit of St. Paul's mind to revert often to central truths, and take his motives and arguments directly from Christ and the cross. "Ye know the grace of our Lord." But consider what you know, that it may influence your disposition and conduct; for nothing is more common than to hold known truth so loosely and carelessly in the mind that it is as though it had never been known or were quite forgotten.
I. THE SAVIOUR'S WEALTH. Of the riches of his pre-existent glory who can adequately speak? Who can tell the wealth of Divine power and dignity and love in the Word which was with God and was God—all the angels of God his servants, all the works of God full of his praise? But this is not a subject on which to dilate. It is above the reach of our comments and illustrations. Read John 1:1-51.; Colossians 1:1-29.; Hebrews 1:1-14.
II. THE SAVIOUR'S IMPOVERISHMENT. (Comp. Philippians 2:5-11.) Our Lord's participation of the Divine essence was not, could not, be surrendered. But the form of God could be and was laid aside. The form cannot be without the being and nature; but the being and nature may dispense with the form. So the Son of God in his grace toward us assumed the form of a man, and that in low estate—the form of a servant. He accepted a lowly human rank, with no attendants on his person but such as followed him in love, and no house of his own wherein to lay his head at night. In wisdom, indeed, and all that constitutes moral wealth and dignity, Jesus of Nazareth was rich; but in earthly station and treasure he was poor, and poor by choice. See him in youth in the carpenter's house, eating the bread of the working man with cheerfulness. In the little town there must have been many a piece of furniture, and on the farms and vineyards around many a tool, which had been under the human hands of the Son of God. See him on foot on the rough roads of Palestine, while others rode past on horses and mules. See him in the days of his ministry dependent on any who pleased to minister to his necessities; at last deserted by his friends and insulted by his foes—despised and rejected of men. Truly he became poor.
III. THE SAVIOUR'S GRACE. "For your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be enriched." In this short statement the whole work of substitution and redemption is implied. You are enriched through his poverty, blessed because of his suffering, accepted by reason of his rejection, reconciled through his death. It is evident that the riches thus secured to those that believe are not treasures of this world, but of the same order with the riches which the Saviour laid aside for a season. They receive the privilege of sonship with God, and therefore also the heirship of all things with Christ Jesus. The Son of God became man, and a poor man, that they, being men, and poor men, might be owned as sons of God. Dwell upon the riches in redemption, regeneration, forgiveness, justification, adoption, sanctification, comfort, patience, the earnest of the inheritance now, and the inheritance itself at his coming. And all because he became poor for your sakes. You get sweetness out of sorrow, glory out of shame, strength from weakness, wealth through poverty, and life through death.
IV. THE PRACTICAL INFLUENCE OF CONSIDERING THE SAVIOUR'S GRACE.
1. Not to raise a foolish admiration of poverty for its own sake. At one time this text was cited in support of lazy beggary. The mendicant friars quoted it, insisting that the Lord himself was a mendicant, and that this must be the most holy and Christ-like state. Great schoolmen debated this, and papal bulls dealt with this notion. Such questions we can no longer discuss with seriousness. Property is not to be abandoned by Christians, but wisely administered. The rich and the poor are to continue together in the Church, each condition having its own duties and its own attendant temptations.
2. To set our hearts on the true riches—faith and good works, a calm conscience, and affections set on things above. He is rich who has a patient spirit, a pure heart, a heavenly mind, and a hope of glory.
3. To live and give that others may be blessed. Be generous in service and gifts to the Church and the poor. Be willing to communicate, ready to distribute. Otherwise do not allege that you have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. You have not felt the constraint of his love or the beauty of his example.—F.
2 Corinthians 8:12 - Readiness accepted.
It is characteristic of St. Paul that, when dealing with specific questions of duty, he laid down principles of much wider application. Thus, while the immediate topic was a collection for the relief of poor saints, and he acknowledges the liberality of the Corinthians, the apostle takes occasion to explain the value of "readiness," i.e. a disposition stretching forward to serve God and the Church, and not needing to be dragged forward by importunity. This is acceptable to God, the supreme Lover and spontaneous Giver of every good and perfect gift. What he regards is not the amount of the gift laid on his altar, but the disposition which gives promptly and gladly according to the resources at its command. Now, this principle is of wide application. It will prove all kinds of service. God is pleased with those servants of his who have a ready mind. An apt but misleading phrase is sometimes heard—"taking the will for the deed." Too often it is used as an excuse for shirking duty or withholding gifts. Two things must be kept in mind—
I. GOD DOES NOT ACCEPT INTENTION OR GOOD WILL INSTEAD OF THE DEED WHEN IT IS WITHIN ONE'S POWER TO PERFORM. And God looks behind the excuses that a covetous or indolent heart puts forward, and knows the absolute fact regarding what each man has or has not, can or cannot do. In giving to the poor or for the propagation of the gospel, one may obtain praise of men by bestowing a large sum in answer to an urgent appeal; but he has no praise from God if his contribution has been reluctant, or if it does not bear a fair proportion to the resources at his disposal. Sometimes one cannot give as much as formerly or as much as his neighbours, and therefore prays to be excused from giving anything, expressing a hope that the will may be taken for the deed. But it will not be so taken. He is required to give according to what he has, not what he has not. And the willing offering is just as acceptable to God as a gift a thousand times as large from a man a thousand times as rich. So also in regard to personal service. How many who call Jesus "Lord," when any definite piece of Christian work is proposed to them, put it aside, alleging that they have no turn for it or no time for it! So they stand all the day idle. Because they cannot serve with great ability or in a conspicuous station, they do nothing, and simply wish well to the cause of God and of righteousness. But empty good wishes are cheap and little worth, and God will not in such cases take the will for the deed. He who employs two talents with a willing mind will be commended in exactly the same terms as his fellow servant who has had five. And let him who has only one beware of hiding it in the earth. Men are very apt to take gifts from Christ, but not the gift of his "yoke." They are also not unwilling to own their faults, but do not mend them—merely raise a sort of foolish protest against their own weakness. In like manner they hear with muck satisfaction of the efforts made to purify and reform society, but personally they take no trouble about it; devote no time or pains to such endeavours. The hard work of philanthropy they complacently leave to others. Many act in the same way in regard to the expense incurred in a good cause. They are quite proud of the large sums raised in their church, and of the free handedness of their country. But they do not give. They blandly wave their best wishes over the gifts of others. But where there is power to do something for the good cause, God will not accept a wish for the deed. Where there is power to give, he will not accept a smile for a gift.
II. WHERE GOOD WILL SHOWS ITSELF IN DEEDS OR GIFTS, GOD LOOKS NOT SO MUCH ON THE AMOUNT OF THE OFFERING AS ON THE HEART OF THE DOER OR GIVER. It is the prothumia, the readiness of disposition, which pleases him. He loves the earnest worker and the cheerful giver. He approves that doer of the Word who does not need to be coaxed and pressed to undertake some part of Christian service, and that giver who, instead of waiting to be solicited, seeks out the objects most worthy of help, and makes his offering with a simplicity and a spontaneousness which greatly enhance the gift. In fact, while God does not accept the will for the deed from those who are able to do, he always accepts the will in the deed, and is pleased with the evidence of a ready mind. King David was not permitted to build a temple to Jehovah; but it was well that it was in his heart to do so (1 Kings 8:18), and the preparations which he made for the work are recorded with honour (1 Chronicles 29:1-30.). The women who prepared spices and ointments for the dead body of Jesus Christ were not allowed to carry out their purpose, for before they reached the sepulchre he had risen; but their readiness of mind was pleasing to the Lord, and they got something better to do than anoint a corpse. They were made the first preachers of his resurrection (Luke 24:10). The men who had followed Jesus were more slow of heart. They brooded over the disappointment of their hopes about the Messiah's kingdom, and the dark storm of odium which had broken on their Master and on his cause. So they had no thought of an early visit to the sepulchre. But the women thought less of the cause and more of the Master. And so with their ready mind they got the highest honour. Learn that the secret of happiness and usefulness lies in having the same ready mind, fastened, not so much on this piece of work or that, as on the Lord himself, for or to whom all Christian work is to be done. You may not get outlet for your readiness in the way that you planned or expected, but you will get outlet and employment for it; and God will accept it according to what it is, not according to its apparent success. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart.—F.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
2 Corinthians 8:1 - The model Churches of Macedonia.
By these we are to understand the Churches at Thessalonica, Philippi, and Beroea. There is a sense in which we speak of the Church of Christ as one, and also a sense in which we speak of it as many. It is correct to say, "the Church," and it is also correct to say, "the Churches." All who love the Lord Jesus Christ, and have surrendered their will and life to his ruling, and have made open profession of their devotion to him, make together the one catholic and apostolic Church, and may properly be thought of as a whole, as the members of the one body of Christ; but as these are located in various places, as they unite for purposes of fellowship and worship indifferent spheres and different buildings, they may be spoken of as Churches. The answering terms, which help to explain those on which we are dwelling, were used by our Lord, who spoke of his many folds and his one flock. St. Paul might with equal truthfulness have spoken of the Church in Macedonia, but he probably desired to direct attention to the special circumstances of each individual community, in order to bring out forcibly the remarkable character of their generosity and self-denial, He sets before us for our consideration this fact, that, just as a Christian man's conduct and character may make him a model to others, and a gracious power upon them, touching and quickening into power that spirit of emulation which dwells in various strength in us all, so an individual Church, or a set of Churches, may act with a nobility, a generosity, and self-denial that should make them an inspiring model to other Churches. We consider in what ways the Macedonians became a model to the Corinthians.
I. A MODEL AS THE OBJECTS OF DIVINE GRACE. "We do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the Churches of Macedonia." By "grace" here we are to understand the special favour of God, and the precise "gifts" with which they were endowed. The disposition and the power to give is to be regarded as a divinely bestowed talent or trust, and as a special sign of the Divine favour. The gift of benevolence, charity, generosity, is as truly a Divine trust or bestowment as the gift of healing, of preaching, or of tongues. And, like all other Divine gifts, it is dependent on recipiency, preparedness to use such gifts aright. Divine bestowments on Churches are never made at haphazard, upon any kind of favouritism, or in the exercise of any so-called sovereignty. Neither Churches nor individuals can get free from the responsibility of being ready to receive. The loving and thoughtful spirit of the Philippians, and the studious openness of the Bereans, and the suffering experiences of the Thessalonians, prepared them to receive this special grace of God unto generosity and brotherly charity. Illustrate and impress this point, that nowadays Churches lack "grace" because they are not in attitudes and moods fitting them for its reception. We are not straitened in God, in God's provisions, or in God's willingness, but we are sadly straitened in ourselves, in our unreadiness and unfitness to receive. Of God it is said, "He giveth more grace;" but of us it must be said, "Ye have not because ye ask not, or because ye ask amiss." Illustrating how God delays his bestowments until there is the fitting attitude for their reception, the Prophet Hosea (Hosea 2:21, Hosea 2:22) represents God as saying, "It shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel." When all unite to cry for the refreshing rains, then, and only then, shall the windows be opened, and grace in copious showers descend.
II. A MODEL AS RESPONDING TO DIVINE GRACE. For the grace may come, and be neglected or misused. Compare the expression St. Paul uses concerning himself (1 Corinthians 15:10): "By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." It is a great and ever working law that all Divine gifts that are unused or undervalued will be taken away or lost. The one condition of the renewal and enlargement of grace is that we have faithfully responded to the grace we have had. We retain the gift of preaching only by preaching, and the gift of charity only by the exercise of generosity and self-denial. The remarkable thing about the Macedonian Churches, the thing which made them a model to other Churches, was that they so nobly responded to the grace that rested upon them, and acted in so earnest and self-sacrificing a manner. So often Churches have more grace than they follow out, and so they lose the grace. The grace abounds, but the response to the grace is set under unworthy limitations.
III. A MODEL AS SELF-DENYING. The apostle notices two things which might reasonably have excused the Macedonians from sharing in the contribution.
1. Their persecution, and the anxieties and distresses which it had brought them.
2. Their poverty, for the Church was not gathered from the rich; the poor of this world were made "rich in faith." So their large and generous gifts were a delightful surprise, and a testimony to the power of Christian principle upon them. Christian motive mastered worldly considerations; and their gifts became peculiarly acceptable to God, because upon them rested the Christly stamp of self-sacrifice. St. Paul commends, in these Macedonians, just what our Lord commended when he directed attention to the poor widow who cast two mites into the treasury—"all her living."
IV. A MODEL AS THOROUGHLY EARNEST IN GENEROUS SCHEMES. St. Paul dwells, in a very delighted way, upon their willingness and their earnestness. It was not merely that they gave, but that they gave in such a hearty way, so cheerfully, under the sway of such high motives, and with such evident warmth of affection for himself. If it is true that "what is worth doing is worth doing well," it is especially true of the Christian duty of brotherly kindness as finding expression in self-denying gifts. The great blessing of a gift is the spirit in which it is made. The value is taken away when it is given grudgingly. God loveth—and so do men—the cheerful, willing giver.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 8:5 - The religion of association must be made personal.
One of the words in this passage is evidently used in an unfamiliar sense. "Hoped" means "expected," "anticipated." The verse is connected with the collection for the saints at Jerusalem, and is part of the apostle's endeavour to inspire the Churches of Achaia to nobler endeavour by the example of the Churches of Macedonia. The text expresses the deeply religious character of the Macedonian gift. As St. Paul saw it, it was no mere gift, it was the expression of consecrated and devoted hearts. They gave themselves, and then their gifts. They gave themselves in their gifts. We dwell now, not on the charity, but on the expression, "gave their own selves to the Lord," which suggests for consideration the personal character of saving religion.
I. ALL OF US ARE, IN OUR MEASURE, RELIGIOUS. There may still be godless audiences, such as Whitefield gathered at the fairs, or Wesley and Hill at the mouths of colliery pits. But in the ordinary assemblies in our Churches there is not a man, woman, or child who is not, in some degree, religious. They are religious
(1) as belonging to a Christian country;
(2) as baptized into mystical relations with the Church of Christ;
(3) as by acts of formal worship making Christian profession; or
(4) as variously related to Christian families.
But the question comes again and again before us—Is our kind and degree of religion satisfactory?
II. IN TOO MANY CASES OUR RELIGION IS WHOLLY MATTER OF ASSOCIATION.
1. We are members of a Christian home, and share in the religion of the home. And this is, for the children, an every way beautiful and hopeful beginning of religious life.
2. We are affected by the tone of the spheres we occupy. Illustrate by young people in situations, where they join in family worship and in attendance at the house of God; also by the influence of Christian friendships.
3. We are swayed by our near relationship with those who are godly, as in the case of the husband and wife. But the question comes—Is this all our religion? Is it enough? Is it saving? Can any reliance be placed upon it? Will it stand in the coming testing day? It is so far good. It is a favourable breeze catching the sails, but it is not safety in the harbour. It is the angel's voice in our ear crying, "Flee for thy life;" it is even the angel's hand on our arm, as on the arm of Lot; but it is not safety in Zoar. There is a familiar old saying that "Hell is paved with good intentions;" it might have been with "good associations." Such associations are good if they are used as helps, but not if they are relied on as sufficient. They are only evil if they are allowed to hinder personal anxiety. Religion is personal or it is nothing.
III. GOD, BY HIS PROVIDENCE AND BY HIS WORD, IS EVER URGING US TO MAKE RELIGION PERSONAL. Providence breaks up our associations. A time comes when the child passes into manhood or womanhood, and must learn to go alone. Then changes and testing times come, which show what the religion of association has been worth. Illustrate by the child going to boarding school; the youth to business; the assistant changing his situation; the man or woman going through times of sorrow. In each God is wanting to lead the soul to personal religion. God's preached Word, with its various persuasions, is ever bearing on the same point. It is a singling out of the individual; a two-edged sword to the individual; a pressure of the personal claims of God on the individual. Its voice is, "Thou art the man;" "To you is the word of this salvation sent." It labours to secure a personal decision for Christ, a giving of "our own selves to the Lord." Is, then, your religion yet no more than the religion of your home and associations? And is your manhood come, your womanhood come? Remember that you are not saved, only associated with salvation. This is the question which should set you upon anxious self-searchings, "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" It is not enough to be close by salvation, to be even on its doorstep. Enter in. Strive to enter in. Strive to enter in now.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 8:9 - The poverty that made others rich.
The question is often asked—Which gives most pleasure to us—the faculty of memory, which vivifies the past, or anticipation, which brightens the future? The answers we make at once depend upon, and become revelations of, character. The apostle in this passage is using the faculty of memory; he is recalling what is known respecting the Lord Jesus Christ. He is treating of the grace of self-sacrificing liberality and generosity; and of this Christ is the most illustrious and glorious example. We hold the memory of a twofold exchange on the part of the Lord Jesus—
(1) from riches to poverty;
(2) from poverty to riches;
but here the apostle contrasts Christ's exchange from riches to poverty with our exchange, through Christ, from poverty to riches, and this is the double exchange on which we propose to dwell.
I. THE FIRST EXCHANGE. Christ—from riches to poverty. Christ's riches may be treated under the headings
Or we may say that he was rich
(1) in his Divine nature;
(2) in the infinite love and acceptance of the Father;
(3) in the adoration of all holy beings;
(4) in possession of all the wealth and joy of heaven.
Christ's poverty, which was a comparative thing, may be brought out by presenting such contrasts as
(3) at home—homeless;
He became poor by
(1) giving up the wealth of heaven;
(2) in his birth as a poor man's child;
(3) in his lowly station as one of the common people;
(4) in his death time of sorest humiliation.
Such a condescension in incarnation had never before been conceived. It surpasses thought. It is the exceeding great mystery which the eternal ages will not fathom. It is "so great love;" it is "what manner of love"
II. THE SECOND EXCHANGE. We—from poverty to riches. By our poverty we need not understand our earthly conditions, seeing that poverty is but a relative thing, and depends upon the degree in which a man matches his circumstances. The man who has little and wants little is not poor; the man who has little and wants much is the man who can alone be called "poor." Our real poverties are the conditions to which we have reduced ourselves by our sins. See how much we have thus lost, so that we are become poor indeed.
(1) Lost harmony with the world;
(2) lost peace within;
(3) lost brotherhood with men;
(4) lost fellowship with God.
Then what are the riches we attain through Christ Jesus? They are riches for the souls, which are our real selves; they are not any mere riches of circumstances. They consist in
(1) the smile and favour of God;
(2) the love of a living and Divine Friend;
(3) the prospect of an eternal glory.
Or we may say that we become rich
(1) in the hope that Jesus brought;
(2) in the words that Jesus spoke;
(3) in the love to us that Jesus showed;
(4) and in the salvation that Jesus secured.
But no human words can exhaust our riches in Christ Jesus.
III. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THESE TWO EXCHANGES. "For your sakes." The one exchange was made in order to accomplish the other. To bless us Christ must condescend to become one of us. Illustrate by the missionary making himself a Chinaman, and living all alone among the people that he might reach them with the gospel message. Or by the Moravian missionary, giving up friendship, love, and hope, to enter the lazar-house and try to teach and save the lepers. And what did Christ do for us when he had thus humbled himself to take our nature on him? It is said that "he went about doing good," and that was his way of making everybody rich with
(2) truth; and
And St. Paul appeals to the Corinthians and. to us, saying, "Ye know the grace." But do we know? Have we felt the persuasion and attraction that are in such "love Divine, all love excelling"?—R.T.
2 Corinthians 8:12 - Willing minds putting value on gifts.
"First a willing mind." The apostle has been calling to mind the resolve which the Corinthian Church had made a year previously. They had determined to join in the collection that was being made for the poor and suffering saints at Jerusalem. It seems that the disturbed state of the Church and the delay of St. Paul's visit had led to the forgetfulness of this resolve, and little or nothing had been done in relation to it. The apostle now brings the matter again before them, reminds them that there was at one time the willing mind, and he seems delicately to suggest to them that it would be a beautiful way of testifying to the restored relations between himself and them, if they would revive this collection, carry the matter through, and give him the joy of carrying their gifts to the poor Jerusalem saints, in whom he was so deeply interested. He was thus led to dwell upon the importance, before God, of the spirit in which gifts are made. They ought to carry our hearts to him, just as the old Mosaic sacrifices carried the hearts of the worshippers. Gifts have voices which God can hear, and he reads our hearts by the help of them. Two points are here suggested.
I. MAN ESTIMATES GIFTS BY THEIR MONEY VALUE. A fair enough standard in view of the institutions that have to be sustained and the work which has to be done. The Church needs large gifts, and is compelled to ask for quantity. She needs the devotements of the rich, and is not wholly wrong in trying to raise ever higher the standard of Christian gifts for Christian uses. But the money estimate of gifts needs to be set under most careful limitations. It fails to take account of the relative circumstances of the givers. A pound is a pound, whoever may give it; but the rich man passes it over, and knows that it will not involve his going without any one thing that he wishes to have. The poor man hands it over, and knows it means wearing the threadbare coat a few months longer, or going without some personal gratification. In really worthy scales that poor man's pound weighs heavy, for there is added to it that self-denial which is, in God's sight, of great price. Man cannot discern or rightly appraise motives. The business principle too often wholly sways men in their Christian and Church relations, and men are accepted by the largeness of their contributions rather than by the largeness of the love with which they contribute.
II. GOD ESTIMATES GIFTS BY THEIR WILL VALUE. "If there be first the willing mind, there is acceptance." God seeth not as man seeth. Man looketh on the countenance; God looketh on the heart. Man appraises the value of the thing; God reads the state of the will and the purpose of the heart. Illustration may be taken from the large gift of Barnabas to the early Church. God accepted it because it was the expression of a willing mind. The gifts of Ananias and Sapphira were smaller; they were not, however, refused on this ground, but only because the will was wrong and the motive mixed and bad. The "amount" of a gift is quite as important in the sight of God as in the sight of man, because a great gift alone can express the willing mind of a man with great means. God judges proportions. He only desires to see Christian love triumphing over disabilities, and making the rich, who cling to fiches, splendidly generous, and the poor making the "poverty which had consumed them even to the very bottom" (2 Corinthians 8:2) yield noble and self-denying contributions. With God the question is—How much did your heart give? It is a second thing, with him, to ask—How much did your hand give? But he does expect the heart and the hand to honourably act together, the hand honestly expressing what the heart feels.—R.T.
2 Corinthians 8:21 - Honest before God and man.
Comp. Proverbs 3:4, which, in the Greek Version reads, "Write them upon the table of thine heart, and thou shalt find favour. Provide things honest in the sight of God and man." This may be treated as a general precept, applicable to all Christian people; or it may be regarded as a reminder of the care which the apostle had taken that, in the administration of money affairs, he should not be misunderstood or blamed. Consider—
I. THE COUNSEL AS APPLIED TO THE APOSTLE HIMSELF. As a fact he had been jealously providing for honest things, and doing everything possible in order to secure the due checking of the gifts and safety of the stored money. Calvin says, "He was not so satisfied with himself as to think it unworthy of his dignity to avoid calumny." Dean Plumptre says, "In this case, had the apostle had only the judgment of God to consider, he could with a pure conscience have taken up the money to Jerusalem by himself. But he had to consider that men were judging him, and might suspect him, and therefore he insisted on having his accounts audited." F.W. Robertson says, "In this is to be observed St. Paul's wisdom, not only as a man of the world, but as a man of God. He knew that he lived in a censorious age, that he was as a city set on a hill, that the world would scan his every act and his every word, and attribute all conceivable and even inconceivable evil to what he did in all honour. It was just because of St. Paul's honour and innocence that he was likely to have omitted this prudence." Archdeacon Farrar indicates the kind of things that were said about the apostle by his Corinthian enemies, which made such an earnest self-vindication absolutely necessary. He represents them as saying that St. Paul was "half demented," and yet there was some method in his madness which showed itself partly in self-importance and partly in avarice, both of which were very injurious to the interests of his followers. What, for instance, could be more guileful and crafty than his entire conduct about this collection which he was so suspiciously eager to set on foot? He had ordered them to get up a subscription in his first letter, had, in answer to their inquiries, directed that it should be gathered, as in the Galatian Churches, by a weekly offertory, and had, since this, sent Titus to stimulate zeal in the matter. They dared to insinuate that all this was only a cunning device to hide his real intentions, and give him a securer grasp of their money." Give in detail the arrangements made by the apostle to secure the due safety and auditing of the collection; and urge that all who have responsible positions in relation to Christian monies should show a similar anxiety to "provide things honest."
II. THE COUNSEL AS APPLIED TO CHRISTIAN GIVING. Those who give must give only that which is honourably their own. The man who is in debt must pay his debts before he gives. The man who has family claims is bound to make adequate provision for them before he gives. To use the familiar proverb, "A man must be just before he is generous." When this rule is neglected, a man's gifts can neither be acceptable to God nor right in the sight of his fellow men.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25