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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
2 Corinthians 8

 

 

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Verse 1

2 Corinthians 8:1. Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God which hath been bestowed on the churches of Macedonia. That celebrated peninsula which lies between the Adriatic Sea on the west and the Ægean Sea on the east, was divided into two parts, of which the southern and narrower portion was Achaia or Greece, and the northern and wider portion was Macedonia proper, or what constituted the ancient kingdom of that name. To the former division belonged Corinth, whose Christian Church owed its existence to our apostle, with Athens, where he failed to establish one. To the Macedonian division belonged Philippi, where the first European church was established; and Thessalonica, the seat of the second church; and Berea, where there certainly were “noble” Christians (Acts 17:11), and in all probability an organized church, with, no doubt, smaller groups of Christians lying between those places, or scattered up and down the province, and considered as belonging to “the churches” just named. These are “the churches of Macedonia,” whose Christian liberality is here so admiringly described and held up for imitation.


Verse 2

2 Corinthians 8:2. how that in a great trial of affliction—the nature and severity of which may be gathered from the storm of opposition in which they rose into existence (Acts 16:12 to Acts 17:13, with 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14),

the abundance of their joy, and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality(1)a striking collection this of redundancies, contrasts, and apparent paradoxes of language, as if words could hardly be found to describe their admirable conduct: “the abundance of their joy abounded;” their joy in a great trial of affliction; “their deep poverty” overflowed into “the riches of their liberality.” The “extreme poverty of these Macedonian congregations”(says Stanley) “was probably shared by them in common with all other parts of Greece, except the two great Roman colonies of Patræ and Corinth. The condition of Greece in the time of Augustus (as Arnold says in his Roman Commonwealth) was one of great desolation and distress. ... It had suffered severely by being the seat of successive civil wars. . . . Macedonia had lost the benefit of its mines, which the Roman Government had appropriated to itself, and was suffering from the weight of its taxation. . . . The provinces of Macedonia and Achaia, when they petitioned for a diminution of their burdens in the reign of Tiberius, were considered so deserving of compassion, that they were transferred for a time from the jurisdiction of the Senate to that of the Emperor [as involving less heavy taxation].” Such poverty might well have been thought to exempt them from contributing to the relief of others, probably no poorer than themselves. But, as is often seen in such cases, instead of taking advantage of this excuse, the “joy” of a new-found salvation not only overpowered all sense of their “poverty,” “deep” as that was, but rose into “rich liberality. No doubt they would feel the force of what had been said to the Corinthians, If we (Jews) sowed unto you (Gentiles) spiritual things, is it a great matter if they shall reap your carnal things?” (1 Corinthians 9:11). The Philippian church had stood alone in supplying the apostle’s own wants, on his departure from Macedonia (Philippians 4:15-16), and even after his imprisonment at Rome, they “sent once and again unto his necessities” (Philippians 2:25). And as to the Thessalonians, they supplied the wants of their own poor members so liberally, that the apostle had to caution them against allowing idlers to take advantage of them (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).


Verse 3-4

2 Corinthians 8:3. For according to their power, yea, and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord.

2 Corinthians 8:4. beseeching us with much entreaty. The apostle would hardly let them give what they offered, as being too much in their circumstances, but they insisted: in the matter of this grace,(1) and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints—that we would not deny them the privilege of having their own share in this good work.


Verse 5

2 Corinthians 8:5. And this they did, not as we hoped, but—far exceeding our expectations,—first they gave their own selves to the Lord (the Lord Jesus), and to us (as acting for Him) by the will of God. This evidently means something more than that, having consecrated themselves to Christ at the time of their conversion, they now gave this gift as an act of Christian principle. When the proposal was first submitted to them, as a thing not only eminently Christian in itself, but fitted to melt down Jewish prejudice against uncircumcised converts, the whole thing would seem to them a new idea; and meeting probably by themselves, and praying over it, they seem to have made a fresh gift of themselves to the Lord and to the apostle and his associates as His honoured servants in this business. The associates, it would appear, were “Sopater of Beroea,” one of the Macedonian churches, and Aristarchus and Secundus of Thessalonica, another of those churches; for these accompanied our apostle in his journey to Jerusalem, and were probably the bearers of this collection (Acts 20:3-4).


Verse 6

2 Corinthians 8:6. Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had made a beginning before—that is, when he went with others to Corinth as the bearer of his First Epistle to that Church, and availed himself of that opportunity to bring the proposal for this collection before them, and made a beginning in preparing for it,—so he would complete in you this grace also.


Verse 7

2 Corinthians 8:7. But—to bring this to a point—as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge (see 1 Corinthians 1:5), and in all earnestness—such as that exemplified in carrying out his directions in the painful case of the incestuous person (2 Corinthians 7:11), as the next clause seems to shew was specially in view,—and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.


Verse 8

2 Corinthians 8:8. I speak not by way of commandment—as laying my commands upon you to exercise your liberality,—but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity also of your love—to let it be seen that ye are not behind others in the outcome of your love.


Verse 9

2 Corinthians 8:9. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich. We have here an example of the apostle’s beautiful practice of connecting the most familiar duties and incidents of life with the grandest and most affecting truths of the Gospel, thereby teaching Christians to see everything, and discharge every duty, in the light and under the power of those saving truths.

And not only so, but it is just where, all unexpectedly, those truths are brought in to stimulate to very familiar duties, that they are expressed with a fulness and a sublimity not elsewhere to be found. (See Ephesians 5:25-33; Titus 2:9-14; Philippians 2:4-11, etc.) Here it is confined to a single verse, but one expressing the whole scheme of redemption in the Person and work of Christ in the fewest possible words, in the most affecting form, and with a suitableness to the case in hand which has in every age given it untold practical power. Every word here must be weighed.

1. “Grace,” when used by itself in the New Testament, denotes the whole compassion and love of God to sinners of mankind in Christ Jesus, embracing His eternal purposes of salvation, and every step in the process of it from first to last. (See, for example, Romans 5:21; Ephesians 2:7-8; John 1:14; John 1:16-17.) Hence the Gospel is allied “the Gospel of the grace of God,” and “the word of His grace” (Acts 20:24; Acts 20:32; Acts 14:3). In this all-comprehensive sense it is used here.

2. When our apostle would lay peculiar stress upon anything connected with Christ, he loves to give Him His full name—“Our Lord (or “The Lord”) Jesus Christ.” Out of numberless such cases (exclusive of salutations, etc.), we may refer to Acts 16:31; Romans 5:21; Rom_6:23; Rom_8:39; 1 Corinthians 15:57; Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:20. When therefore we read here of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we are prepared for something emphatic and impressive. Accordingly,

3. This grace is held forth as, on the part of Christ Himself, purely spontaneous. So in Acts 20:28; Galatians 1:4; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:25-27, etc. Elsewhere it is represented as, on His part, the acceptance and execution of a trust committed to Him—the discharge of a work given Him to do. (John 5:30; John 6:38; Luke 22:42; John 18:11.) But as if to shew how both views blend into a harmonious unity, we find our Lord Himself saying, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have right to lay it down, and I have right to take it again. This commandment received I from my Father” (John 10:17-18).

4. Those who, with the old Socinians, deny the pre-existence of Christ, regard the period of the “riches” and the “poverty” of Christ as one and the same period. There was no transition (they hold) from the one state to the other, but His “grace” consisted in an exercise of self-denial, in that, “though rich,” He lived as one who “was poor”—who, though entitled to royalty and destined to a kingdom, yet refused it when pressed upon Him by enthusiastic admirers. (So Grotius, De Wette, etc.) Even some orthodox critics (as Osiander, Philippi, etc.) so far concur in this as to hold that there is no transition here from Christ’s pre-existent riches to His earthly poverty, but that the reference is to the self-denial which He exercised through all His earthly life, so veiling that fulness of the Godhead which dwelt in Him that “the world knew Him not,” and only the spiritually discerning “beheld His glory.” The criticism on the Greek word on which they found this, and our reply to it, we must throw into a footnote.(1) But the best proof that there is no reference here to any self-denial exercised by Christ during His earthly life, and while in the full possession of His riches, and that the reference is to what He surrendered or “emptied Himself” of when He became man, is one which the common sense of every one can appreciate as well as any scholar, namely, that on the former view the example of Christ would have no bearing on the case at hand. What the apostle wished the Corinthians to do was to part with some of their means, in order that by their so far “becoming poor,” their Jewish brethren might to that extent “become rich.” Now, would it have been any example of this to hold up Christ as, while remaining rich on earth, yet refraining from using His riches? No, surely. But by directing their thoughts back to “the glory which He had with the Father before the world was” (John 17:5), and reminding them how He “emptied Himself” of this (Philippians 2:7), and at His Incarnation assumed that “poverty” which confessedly began then, and deepened at every stage on to the last and lowest, the apostle brings before the Corinthians, and through them to Christians in all times, an example of self-sacrifice the most affecting. And the corresponding passage just referred to (Philippians 2:5-11) presents the example of Christ, with reference to every kind of sacrifice for the good of others, precisely in the same light.

But we have only settled the general sense of the statement. Its details demand further attention. How do we measure the “grace” or goodwill of any one towards others? By four things: By the height from which he looks down on his objects; by the depth in which he finds them lying beneath him; by the sacrifices to which he submits, for their good; and by the benefits which at much cost to himself he confers upon them. Among men there are not many cases in which even one of these is found in a very large degree; few in which more than one of them are found; none, probably, in which the whole of them meet in a degree worthy of note. But it is the peerless quality of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” not only that all these characteristics meet in it, but that each and all of them shine forth in it with surpassing lustre. Is it the height from which He had to look down upon His objects? “He was rich”—in “the glory which He had with the Father before the world was,” the glory too of having created all things that are in heaven and in earth, “things visible and things invisible” (Colossians 1:16), and of “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). Next, is it the depth in which He beheld His objects lying? “For our sakes” all was done—who lay “sold under sin” (Romans 7:14), under condemnation (Romans 5:18), under the curse (Galatians 3:13), and ready to perish (John 3:16); whose life here is all strewed with the wreck of a fallen state, and full of disappointments, sufferings, sorrows, and tears; while for the future there was only “a fearful looking for of judgment” from a holy God. Into this condition of ruin and wretchedness did “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” draw down, not His pitying eye only, but Himself. And what were the sacrifices He submitted to, to get us out of it? “For our sakes He became poor.” How poor? To become man at all was poverty to Him; but man “emptied” of his pre-existent glory (Philippians 2:7), yea, “made in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3); “tempted in all points like as we are” (Hebrews 4:15), living literally “poor,” though all nature was at His command; “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” and, though He “knew no sin, made sin for us,” and “bearing our sins in His own body on the tree, and made a curse for us”—this was in Him a “poverty,” the depth and bitterness of which who but Himself can comprehend? And what the benefits we thereby receive? “That we through His poverty might become rich”—rich in “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins,” rich in “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” rich in “newness of life,” in objects to live for and motives to live by; rich in mastery over ourselves, the world, and the wicked one, in joy unspeakable and full of glory: “all things are ours, and we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).

And now the apostle returns to his point—to stimulate his Corinthian children in the faith to large-heartedness towards their famished Jewish brethren—and this he does with the same delightful ease with which he had soared, for a brief moment, into the region of Christ’s matchless example, proceeding through several verses as if no such grand parenthesis had interrupted his flow of thought.


Verse 10

2 Corinthians 8:10. And herein I give my judgment—or “opinion;” for in 2 Corinthians 8:8 he had just disclaimed giving them a “command” on the subject (see 1 Corinthians 7:6; 1 Corinthians 7:25),

for this is expedient for you, who were the first to make a beginning a year ago—or as we should say, ‘last year,’ for a whole year had not intervened;

not only to do, but to will—a strange expression; but the meaning clearly is, ‘Since ye not only began to make this collection last year, before ever the Macedonian churches were addressed upon the subject, but set yourselves to it with a will (as we should say), it would only be becoming in you not to fall behind the Macedonians in the completion of it.’ That this is the meaning, seems plain from the next verse.


Verse 11

2 Corinthians 8:11. But now complete the doing also; that as there was the readiness to will, so there may be the completion also out of your ability—‘according to your means.’


Verse 12

2 Corinthians 8:12. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable, according as a man hath, not according as he hath not—a delightful principle, worthy of Him who “loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7), that the acceptability of all our offerings depends not on the amount given, but on the proportion which it bears to our means. (Compare Exodus 25:2; Exodus 35:5; 1 Chronicles 29:9; Luke 21:1-4.)


Verse 13

2 Corinthians 8:13. For I say not this, that others may be eased, and ye distressed—that others be eased at your expense, your Jewish brethren placed in comfort and ye yourselves pinched;


Verse 14-15

2 Corinthians 8:14. but by equality; your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also (in your time of need) may become a supply for your want; that there may be equality:

2 Corinthians 8:15. as it is written (in Exodus 16:18, mostly as in LXX.), He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack. The apostle seizes on the principle of equality in the gathering of the manna, not only from the principle itself, but because there is a beautiful epigrammatic, gnomic force in the very manner in which it is expressed, making it handy and serviceable in every such case.


Verse 16

Of Titus and two other Brethren sent to get ready the Corinthian Collection, 16-24.

2 Corinthians 8:16. But thanks be to God, which putteth the same earnest care for you (as into me) into the heart of Titus.


Verse 17

2 Corinthians 8:17. For indeed he accepted our exhortation (2 Corinthians 8:6)—to go to Corinth on this errand;—but being himself very earnest, he went forth unto you of his own accord—needing no pressing from me.


Verse 18

2 Corinthians 8:18. And we have sent together with him the brother whose praise in the gospel is spread through all the churches;


Verse 19

2 Corinthians 8:19. and not only so, but who was also appointed by the churches to travel with us in the matter of this grace (the contribution), which is ministered by us to the glory of the Lord (the Lord Jesus), and to shew our readiness:


Verse 20

2 Corinthians 8:20. avoiding this, that any man should blame us in the matter of this bounty. The word “readiness” means ‘thickness,’ ‘fulness,’ ‘exuberance;’ and refers probably to the largeness of their contribution, and possible surmises as to his strict fidelity, which he would take means to ward off;—which is ministered by us.


Verse 21

2 Corinthians 8:21. for we take thought for things honourable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men—so as to be above suspicion, and give no shadow of ground for such unworthy thoughts as those hinted at in chap. 2 Corinthians 12:17-18. Who this “brother” was, it is quite vain to conjecture. For to all who have been supposed to be meant—Barnabas, Silas, Apollos, Trophimus, Mark, Luke—there are different objections, all having their own weight, while the arguments in favour of any one of them are too slender to build upon. Enough it must be for us to know that those written to did not need him to be named, and that he was held in such esteem that to send him with Titus would be deemed a boon.


Verse 22

2 Corinthians 8:22. And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have many times proved earnest in many things, but now much more earnest, by reason of the great confidence which he hath in you—on the double ground of his known Christian earnestness, and his confidence in the Corinthians. But neither can we tell who this “brother” was, more than the other.


Verse 23

2 Corinthians 8:23. Whether any inquire about Titus. ‘Need I say anything in commendation of him?’—he is my partner, and my fellow-worker to you-ward—therefore, in relation to the apostle and his work, above the other two;—or our brethren, they are the messengers of the churches, they are the glory of Christ—(as we should say) ‘They are an honour to Christ;’ their walk and work bring glory to Him. Noble testimony this!


Verse 24

2 Corinthians 8:24. Shew ye therefore unto them in the face of the churches the proof of your love, and of our glorying in your behalf. ‘By the reception you give to these honoured messengers, shew the love you bear to us and them, and to the cause they come to you in, and thus justify before the churches the high testimony of you which we have borne.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/2-corinthians-8.html. 1879-90.


Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 18th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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