By Sam E. Stone
Despite the problems noted in 1 Corinthians (such as division, pride, and immorality), the church had many good qualities. Generous giving, however, was an area in which they needed to improve. In today’s text Paul used various appeals to encourage them to grow in generosity.
2 Corinthians 8:1-5
Paul introduced a new subject in this letter by saying, And now, brothers and sisters . . . He began by describing the Macedonian churches. Paul had established churches in that region (about 100 miles from Corinth) on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-18; 2 Corinthians 9:2). He noted that their grace was prompted by the self-giving grace of Jesus (v. 9).
Civil wars in the region combined with the persecution of believers (2 Thessalonians 1:4) had reduced the Christians to poverty. Despite this fact, the Macedonians proved to be an excellent example of generosity for the Corinthian Christians to emulate. In the midst of every severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
Sometimes those who have the least put others of us to shame by their giving. In the Jewish Feast of Purim, a regulation says that however poor a person may be, he must find someone poorer than himself and give that person a gift.
Though the Macedonians were poor in worldly goods, they were rich in love and generosity. It appears that Paul had been hesitant to press them about giving because of their economic condition. They insisted, however. “Bring back the offering plate. You missed our row!” They exceeded all of Paul’s expectations. They gave themselves first of all to the Lord and then by the will of God also to us.
Their priorities were right. God does not seek your money; he wants your heart. If you give your heart to him, it won’t be a problem for you to give your money.
2 Corinthians 8:6-9
Paul urged Titus to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. When Titus was there previously, he initiated a collection of money to help the poor saints in Jerusalem (see v. 10; 9:2). Now as Titus returned, the apostle urged the church to complete this worthy project. In his previous letter, Paul noted their many spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 1:4-7). He also listed some of them here. He urged the church to add the gift of liberality to the others. Excel in this grace of giving.
Note that the apostle did not command such gifts. If charitable gifts are coerced, they lose their significance. Paul did not insist that they give; he only suggested it. I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. He used as an illustration the Macedonians, much less affluent than the Corinthians, to encourage full participation. Jesus is the superior example of selfless sacrifice for others (Philippians 2:6-8). As T. O. Chisholm sang, “Such love constrains me to answer his call, following his leading, and give him my all.”
2 Corinthians 8:10-14
Last year, they were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Paul’s direction was simply, Now finish the work. It was important that the Christians followed through with their original commitment.
According to your means is the key factor. God does not expect only members of one economic group within the church to participate. Instead, each is to give “in keeping with his income” (1 Corinthians 16:2). For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. Jesus taught the same principle (Mark 12:41-44).
Our desire is . . . that there might be equality. W. C. G. Proctor wrote, “No one should be overburdened in the giving if there is not a corresponding need in the receiver.” Generosity among all Christians is the goal. Those who have plenty are to share with those in need. Those in need likewise share with those who have plenty. Paul’s words likely reminded them of Exodus 16:17, 18. God’s provision of manna for the children of Israel illustrated the goal of equality.
For the Christian, sharing with those in need springs from Christlike love; it is not mandated by divine decree. God helps us help others as we give generously.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.