Three activities occupied center stage for the earliest church in the book of Acts. Those three activities were preaching the gospel, baptizing the converts, and planting the church. But running under the radar of those three was the collection for the saints. Jesus had taught his disciples to care for the poor (John 12:5-8). The earliest church followed his example (Acts 11:29, 30; Galatians 2:10; 6:6-10). As Paul traveled on his missionary journeys, he collected money for the famine-stricken believers in Jerusalem (Acts 24:17; Romans 15:25-27). The earliest offerings in the New Testament church were for the purposes of benevolence and the proclamation of the gospel.
Second Corinthians 8, 9 is the largest stewardship of finances section in the Bible. It is rich with teaching and encouragement about making the most of our coined lives. Following a beautiful description of the ministry of the church (2:14–7:16), Paul instructed the church on giving justly. He certainly was not bashful about using one church’s giving habits to stimulate another church to give. In the immediate context Paul used the Macedonian churches (Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) to encourage the Corinthians.
Excel in Giving
2 Corinthians 8:1-9
Paul acknowledged that the Corinthians had already excelled (literally “to overflow” or “to abound”) in five areas—faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness (diligence), and love. He desired to add a sixth virtue to their list, namely “the grace (same word used for salvation) of giving.” Paul was kind spirited in how he made his appeal. He did not “command” them to give (compare 1 Corinthians 7:25), but he “tested” (in such a way as to be approved by the test) their desire to give by placing it beside the earnestness of other believers. As long as God receives the praise, no one plays the comparison game and motives are as high as the heavens. Christians profit greatly by hearing the “giving testimonies” of others so that we can excel in giving.
The greatest example of this excellence is Christ himself. One of the greatest incarnational verses in the Bible is verse 9. Jesus excelled in giving by the giving of himself. He was rich (a reference to his heavenly abode) but became poor (a reference to his earthly visit) so that through that act of selfless giving we might have salvation (described metaphorically as “becoming rich”).
Finish the Work
2 Corinthians 8:10-12
Giving is not just a grace; it is a work too—a good work. A secular proverb suggests, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Paul did not want the Corinthian church to lag behind in their promise to participate in the offering for the saints. It certainly is easy to do, and the enemy would not want anything more. The church had the desire (will) to participate which was evident in being first in line to help. But perhaps something had derailed them (they were a church fraught with problems—see 1 Corinthians). Twice in one verse Paul used the word finish (translated completion in the latter part of the verse). Anyone can start, but races are won when the tape is broken.
Paul did not seem to be concerned about the amount of their pledge since that differs according to their means. We can never give what we do not have. We can only be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. But all of us need to finish well. Keeping commitments is an issue of integrity. We must put our money where our mouth is.
Strive for Equality
2 Corinthians 8:13-15
This is the strangest part of our text. At first pass it almost sounds like a forced communism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul knew the value of having all believers participate in this grace of giving. Twice in two verses Paul used the word equality. Paul desired to spread out the joy of giving proportionately. No church should be over burdened, and no church should be exempt. When churches have plenty (as in the case of the newer Gentile churches) they should share with the needy churches (which were the Jewish believers in the mother church in Jerusalem). This goal probably never works out perfectly, but the greater the participation, the greater the joy.
The proof text for Paul’s argument was most intriguing. It was Exodus 16:18, which was a text dealing with collecting the daily bread from Heaven (manna). Larger families needed more bread. Smaller families needed less. But God’s goal was that no Israelite would go away hungry. When the church today follows these stewardship principles the result will be the same.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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