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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 9

 

 

Verse 1

‘For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you, for I know your readiness, of which I glory on your behalf to those of Macedonia, that Achaia has been prepared for a year past, and your zeal has stirred up very many of them.’

Note the connecting ‘for’ which connects the chapter with his words in chapter 2 Corinthians 8:24. It reads as though it is as a result of his mentioning of his glorying in the Corinthians in the previous verse that he now writes as he does.

This verse must surely be seen as a piece of delicate diplomacy. Having urged on them incentives for them to make their gifts, including the self-sacrificing giving of the Macedonians, he now back-pedals a little and assures them that he realises that what he has said was in fact superfluous, and need not have been said, because he does indeed know of their present readiness to collect funds for Jerusalem, and has already boasted about it to the Macedonians. The fact of the matter is that he had not only informed the Macedonians that Achaia has already been collecting funds and had been ready for a whole year to contribute towards the collection, but that he had actually done this to such an extent that their zeal had aroused others to give.

It may also be that he is bearing in mind that he is speaking in his letter to two audiences. The main church in Corinth, with whom he had been at cross purposes, who may have slackened their zeal for the Collection, and the other churches in the area known locally as Achaia, around Corinth, who may not have been involved and may have therefore have continued collecting apace. And he would know that his letter would be read in both places, with the right emphasis being passed to each by the bearer. (That is why such a pastoral letter can sometimes appear to be saying two slightly different things. And he would certainly not be the only writer to repeat himself from a slightly different viewpoint when he has a point that he desperately wants to get over).


Verses 1-15

Further Reasons Why They Should Reveal Their Generosity (2 Corinthians 9:1-15).

It is often noted that this chapter appears to repeat to some extent the ideas in chapter 8, yet from a different angle, and seems to begin almost from scratch. And this has caused some to think that this is a separate letter. But this is not only unnecessary and not supported by any manuscript evidence, but ignores the niceties of his situation.

He has finished off chapter 8 with a reference to his ‘glorying’ on their behalf, something which in fact is not otherwise mentioned in chapter 8 but is clearly explained in chapter 9, and the mention of ‘the brothers’ in chapter 9 assumes their introduction in chapter 8. In fact, his very mentioning of his glorying on their behalf may well be precisely what pulled him up short and made him realise that he had up to this point been less than tactful. We might see him as realising that here were the Corinthians, with whom he had just recently been reconciled, who had been the first to take a real interest in the Collection (1 Corinthians 16:1), having newcomers to the idea thrust in their face as an example, and lauded to the skies, while they could argue that it was they who should be held up as an example.

It was true that on him the eager self-sacrifice of the Macedonians had made a great impression, but he probably suddenly recognised that it might not be seen in the same light by the touchy Corinthians. Indeed their pride might well be hurt. Thus 2 Corinthians 9:1 sees him hurriedly trying to assure them that in fact he does recognise that what he has said might seem a little superfluous in the light of the fact that they have already proved their readiness, and goes on to stress that in reality they had been the example that he had used to spur others on to take up the idea of the Collection with enthusiasm.

Thus his point about the self-sacrifice of the Macedonians might now, he hoped, be taken for what it was, an example of sacrificial giving, but not as a suggestion of their having failed. There may even be a case for suggesting that he had had a break in his letter writing which had made him recognise how tactless he had been, so that on again taking up his pen he sought to put matters right. (Such bursts of realisation often come out of the blue when least expected).


Verse 3-4

‘But I have sent the brethren, that our glorying on your behalf may not be made void in this respect, so that, even as I said, you may be prepared, lest by any means, if there come with me any of Macedonia and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, you) should be put to shame in this confidence.’

So he now assures them that he has not sent the three men because of the church’s perceived reluctance to give, but so as to ensure that the church were prepared in readiness for a visit by the Macedonians, who might well visit them when he himself comes to see them. What he does not want is for them to be put to shame if the Macedonians arrived and found no collection ready. This would shame both him and them, him because he has been glorying in their readiness, and them because they will lose face.


Verse 5

‘I thought it necessary therefore to entreat the brethren, that they would go before to you, and make up beforehand your previously promised bounty, that the same might be ready as a matter of bounty, and not of extortion (covetousness).’

So that was why he had felt it necessary to send these three men, ‘the brethren’, to them in advance, so that they could ensure that the collection, which in their bounty they had previously promised, was gathered together and ready on a fully voluntary and willing basis as a genuine act of bounty, and not one that was revealed as given reluctantly in haste.

The final word may demonstrate his concern against forcing a gift from them (extortion) or refer to giving the impression of a grudging response (giving with a money-loving attitude). The mention of these men in this way also assumes a connection with the previous chapter.

We should note here how little pressure he puts on in order to persuade them to give. He refuses to use high pressure methods, while at the same time giving pause for thought. However, his eagerness for the success of his project is such that he decides to add further force to his previous persuasive arguments in chapter 8. So with this in mind he quotes what is possibly a well known proverb, (although there is actually no evidence elsewhere of such a proverb), in order to gently urge them towards being generous.


Verse 6

‘But this I say (or ‘is always so’), He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.’

For the general thought see Proverbs 22:8-9, ‘he who sows iniquity will reap calamity -- he who has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.’ Meditating on this may well have spurred Paul on into inventing his own proverbs in this vein, which he applied to this particular situation. Compare Galatians 6:7-8 where a similar thought is in mind, ‘what a man sows that will he also reap, for he who sows to his own flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life’. And the thought is close to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:38, "Give, and it will be given to you -- with the measure you measure out, it will be measured to you." (See also Job 4:8; Proverbs 11:24; Hosea 10:12-13).

The thought is basic. If the farmer is meagre in his sowing he will receive a meagre harvest. If he sows generously, he will receive a generous harvest. It was a truth well known to farmers, and applies to much of what we do. So the Corinthians need to consider the level of their response, for they will reap accordingly. This is often true even of this life, and all would be aware of the parables of the harvest referring to the final judgment which emphasise that it is true in eternity (Matthew 13).


Verse 7

‘Let each man do according as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly, or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.’

Paul then draws out the lesson. Let them indeed give as they decide for themselves, but let them remember to give cheerfully and generously, for God looks at the heart, and He loves those whose thoughts are open-hearted and generous. The word for cheerful is hilarios, God loves those who give ‘hilariously’, without stint (compare Romans 12:8)

The perfect example is the widow in the Temple who gave to God what seemed like a pittance, but it was from a full heart, and of her Jesus said, ‘She has given more than everyone else, for they gave of their plenty, but she, out of what she needed, has given all she had’ (Mark 12:42-44). In other words God measures our giving by what we have left.


Verse 8

‘And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, may abound to every good work.’

For let not those who give generously from a godly heart be in any doubt. They serve an abundant God, and a God who knows how to abound in His giving, a God of superlatives.

And God will reward such accordingly. They need not fear loss. He is not stinting in His giving. Nor will He run short. Indeed the source of His giving is immeasurable. It is ‘all grace’, grace abounding, all the unmerited favour of a gracious God, Who has in fact already given us all that we have, revealed in ever more giving. And His giving is in power. ‘God is powerfully able (dunatei) --.’ The source is in His power. So there is no lack in their Provider, and in what He gives and in the power with which He gives.

And the result of His gracious giving will be that we have ‘all sufficiency in everything’. What a promise is this. We will always have all that we need in order to fulfil His will of being generous to those in need. And this in itself should lead us on to ‘abound in every good work’, which includes, among other things, even more giving, for as we do so we will receive even more of His sufficiency.

If we translate, ‘powerfully able -all grace - abound -all sufficiency in all things - abound - all good work’ we get something of the idea. With God there is no withholding anything from those whose hearts are right and who desire to abound towards others. He gives all that He might enable them to do all that is good.


Verse 9

‘As it is written, He (a righteous man) has scattered abroad, he has given to the poor. His righteousness abides for ever.’

For the Scripture’s model of a righteous man is that he scatters abroad what he possesses, he gives to the poor and needy, and thus he continues in righteousness for ever and ever (Psalms 112:9). The lesson is an important one. Perseverance in faith results from continuation in righteousness. Those whose generosity and love continues to overflow will thereby ensure the growth of their own spiritual lives. They prove themselves to be those who themselves enjoy the righteousness of God, given to them in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), and their generous behaviour ensures that they continue in that righteousness in practical living.

But it may be that by this quotation Paul is also pointing out the truth of what he has said earlier. He has spoken in 2 Corinthians 8:13-14 of ‘give and take’. Here in the Psalm the righteous ‘Jew’ scattered abroad what he had. He supplied the need of the poor and needy. But now he is poor and needy himself, and it is therefore right that he himself should now receive the scattering abroad of others.


Verse 10-11

And he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness, you being enriched in everything unto all liberality, which works through us thanksgiving to God.’

And the consequence will be that the One Who on a continuing basis supplies seed to the sower (which supply is evidence of previous blessing) and bread to the eater, will be sure to multiply their ‘seed’ (their wealth) so that they may have more to sow and can give even more. He will ‘increase the fruits of their righteousness’, that is, in context, that he will provide them with more and more benefit (fruits) for the continual carrying on of their righteous behaviour as revealed in their generous giving. They will be enriched in everything so that they can be even more liberal.

Note how Paul’s promise is not that they will themselves become personally prosperous, but that they will be provided with the means to be able to give more and more, and to be more and more generous. Unlike many today who promise to donors that if they give they will thereby become personally prosperous, Paul is not concerned with the growth of their personal wealth, but with the growth of their spiritual generosity. He wantsthemto abound, not their wealth.

The thought is taken from Isaiah 55:10 (compare also Hosea 10:12 LXX for ‘the fruits of their righteousness’) where the idea is of the carrying forward of God’s final purposes as His word goes forth to accomplish His will, so that Paul is not only making a general practical application but showing in these results the fulfilment of God’s eternal plan. As a result of their generous giving they will be caught up even more in the continual going forward of God’s saving process.

‘Which works through us thanksgiving to God.’ And the result of all their liberality will result through the bearers of their gifts (‘us’) in thanksgiving to God by those who receive them. Thus are they contributing to increased worship of God.


Verse 12

‘For the ministration of this service not only fills up the measure of the needs of the saints, but abounds also through many thanksgivings to God.’

For that is what the carrying out of such service as a ministry achieves. It not only supplies the physical needs of God’s people, but results in abounding thanksgivings to God, both from the recipients and from those who learn about it. So will God also rejoice and so will His purposes go forward. This is not to be seen as just ‘giving to charity’, it is a genuine ministry of giving which is an important part of God’s overall plan, and it involves in this case overseas aid.


Verse 13-14

‘Seeing that through the proving (or ‘approval’) of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution (‘contribution in fellowship’ - koinonia) to them and to all, while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, long after you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you.’

For this ministration of generous giving will be the proof, in the eyes of all, and especially of the Jewish church, of the truth of their own profession of obedience to the Gospel of Christ, resulting in approval of them, and will thus produce the glorifying of God for what He has done in them. And it will also produce thanksgiving to God for the very benefits themselves, and the genuine fellowship that is revealed by them.

Furthermore it will result in the recipients praying for them, and ‘longing after them’ (feeling well disposed towards them and wanting more fellowship with them) because of the large amount of the grace of God that it reveals in them. The vision is of the fulfilling of Old Testament prophecies which portrayed ever growing good relationships in God between Israel and the nations (Isaiah 27:13), with both benefiting from each other, fulfilled in Jewish and Gentile Christians being blended together in the new Israel (Ephesians 2:12-22).

Thus they should see that by giving generously they will not only be relieving need, but contributing to the expansion of God’s ultimate purposes in many ways.


Verse 15

‘Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.’

And what is it that achieves all this? It is God’s unspeakable gift of His Son, a gift beyond describing, Who through the sacrifice of Himself made all this possible. How great then are the thanks that are due to Him. Through Him He is achieving more than we could ever have dreamed of.

Others suggest that this is Paul's final attempt to motivate generous giving by suggesting that he is expecting the anticipated Corinthian gift to be ‘beyond all imagining’. Still others believe that Paul is describing the miracle of Jewish-Gentile unity or of the worldwide Gospel as proclaimed by Paul. Most, however, identify God's ‘indescribable’ gift with Jesus Christ.

Excursus. What Does This Teach Us About Our Responsibility To Give Today?

There are various principles that are apparent from our examination of these two chapters.

1) Firstly that we are to give systematically and according to our means (2 Corinthians 8:11 compare 1 Corinthians 16:2). That is we are weekly to set aside our gifts on the basis of how we have prospered, and on the basis of what our genuine needs might be (not on the basis of our greed). It should be noted that there is no suggestion of ‘one tenth’. Although that is a good standard to aim at in the first place, it is nowhere said to be binding on a Christian. Some might be unable to afford a tenth, others could well afford much more than a tenth, and fail if they do not do so. The important point to note is that according to Jesus the test of our giving is not so much how much we give as how much we have left (Mark 12:41-44).

It should be noted that Israel in fact gave considerably more than a tenth. For them that was only a beginning. On top of tithes came the offerings of various kinds, which were plentiful (e.g. Leviticus 1-7 which again are only a beginning. Offerings were multitudinous). The tithe was simply a means of providing for the physical needs of those who administered the Law and looking after the requirements of the cult, and of laying up provision for the poor, the needy and the stranger (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

Two standards are in fact laid before us, that of the Macedonians which was sacrificial and went beyond what they could afford (2 Corinthians 8:1-5), in the same way as the widow in the Temple (Luke 21:34). And the lesser standard applied as a general principle that we give as we are able.

2) Secondly that we are not expected to give in such a way as not to be able to provide for our daily necessities (2 Corinthians 8:12-14). Those for example with children to care for are clearly in a different position from those who have not. Giving should not hurt our children, although teaching them a certain level of discipline will do them no harm.

3) Thirdly that we should ensure that the needs of all in all churches worldwide are met (2 Corinthians 8:14). Paul defines need as a lack or shortage of life's necessities (1 Timothy 6:8). In the first century this amounted to a want of food, clothing or shelter (2 Corinthians 11:27).

4) Fourthly that our giving should be voluntary and from a generous heart. God loves someone who gives freely and gladly (2 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Corinthians 8:12). He wants nothing that is given grudgingly. If we begrudge our giving it is time that we re-examined our hearts, or the goal of our giving.

5) Fifthly that our giving is to be an individual matter that is settled in the privacy of our own family circle. ‘Each should give what he has decided in his heart to give.’ Each is placed first for emphasis. Each should give, but the question is then, ‘how much?’ And the answer is that we should not be influenced by how much others give, or bound by what the church thinks we should give, but only influenced and bound by how much our own heart decides that we should give, taking into account the teaching of His word.

6) Sixthly, our giving should result from a firm resolve. It should be "as each has purposed". Proaireomai, found only here in the New Testament, means "to choose deliberately" or "to make up the mind about something." Paul says that giving is to be based on a calculated decision made with considerable thought. It is not a matter to be settled lightly or impulsively. Giving is a ministry that requires as much thought and preparation as preaching.

7) Seventhly our giving should not be publicised abroad. It should be ‘decided in the heart’ and given accordingly. What we give should arise simply be between us and God, and because we want to give in the will of God and to the glory of God and not for the glory of ourselves or benefit. Thus paradoxically do we lay up treasures in heaven.

End of excursus.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 9:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-corinthians-9.html. 2013.


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Sunday, September 23rd, 2018
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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