It really is a faith venture to believe that the 90% we keep after giving away 10% (for example) is going to be better for us than keeping 100% for ourselves. That’s #GodMath.
It was not the natural proclivity of the Corinthians to think beyond themselves as to how they needed to be generous with their lives and gifts and successes; and they had been blessed with abundance. So Paul encourages them to be generous in giving monetarily for the good of the church locally, yes, but even more so to think beyond themselves for the support of the gospel’s expansion around the world.
Paul was especially passionate on this subject – the collection of resources to fund ministry. These resources would primarily go to the church in Jerusalem, though Paul also speaks of ways their generosity could help both he and Timothy in their gospel work.
This “collection” related to providing funds for the relief of Christians in the very first of all the churches – the church in Jerusalem.
Why was this church poorer than the others?
Jerusalem was a poor city to begin with, often a place flooded by people who came on pilgrimages related to the various feasts. As the center of Judaism, the early Christians there were particularly persecuted for their belief that the Messiah had come and been rejected by the Jews.
Many of those who were converted on the Day of Pentecost and thereafter had likely stayed in Jerusalem, sharing “all things in common” as it says in Acts, likely living with multiple families in a single home and scratching out a living. There was a famine in that region that lasted for four years; we see this referenced in Acts 11.
Paul also had a purposeful passion beyond the mere human needs to be addressed by these gifts. He wanted to see the body of Christ become One, bringing together the disparate backgrounds of Jews and Gentiles into one new and amazing family unity, unlike anything else. And he realizes this is a great opportunity to do just that.
Not only might he help relieve the needs of the Jerusalem church, but in an overwhelming act of love, this money from many largely-Gentile churches would go a long way toward solidifying unity in the family of faith. These early Christians, on both the giving and receiving ends, would realize that they were a part of something so much bigger and greater than anything else.
The background for today’s passage is seen in the first letter of Paul to Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 …
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.
And in today’s passage in 2 Corinthians 8, Paul says that the Corinthians were the first to have a heart for this gift, though they had not yet followed through fully – perhaps because of financial siphoning from false teachers? In any event, Paul exhorts to them to make good on their original intentions.
The first of two examples of generous giving that Paul lays before the Corinthians to consider is the kindness of the Macedonian churches. These churches were to the north of Corinth and primarily included Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea.
2 Cor. 8:1 – And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 6 So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
In reading through the book of Acts, we know that the Christians in these Macedonian cities were significantly persecuted for their faith. But God had given them great grace in their many trials.
Paul says that on their own initiative, they wanted to give. Though he may well have thought they should be on the receiving end because of their poverty, they found a way to have an overflow of generosity. They gave as much as they were able, Paul saying that it was even sacrificially beyond, because they so much wanted to be a part of this gift to Jerusalem – pleading with Paul to do so. They saw it as a privilege – giving first of their lives, and even helping Paul and Titus.
By application, do you see giving an appropriate portion of your income as a “privilege?” It really is a pretty amazing thing to think about the team we are on – that of the Creator God of the universe. Relative to people who don’t know the Lord, there is really nothing they are doing that will last any longer than this material world, let alone their brief lives – it all burns up.
The Corinthians had the ability; they excelled in everything else! And most of us truly are sufficiently blessed to systematically be generous with giving as a privilege of family relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Here is the second example given the Corinthians, beyond the model of the Macedonians, and that is of the gracious work of Christ …
2 Cor. 8:8 – I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Giving is the right thing to do. Paul did not want to tell them they had to do it and thereby only give in a grudging fashion, though he did want to see if they were as earnest in their faith as others. But if you are sincerely thoughtful about what has been given for us in Christ, it really is rather ungrateful to not be generous in return to advance the gospel message near and far.
If you saw someone who fell into a manhole on the street – helping them get out when they had no way on their own to escape – but then moments later you saw them walk down the street and ignore a person who had turned their ankle on a sewer drain and were lying in a lane of traffic, would you be pleased with that person?
This passage is Christ’s riches to rags story, that we might go from rags to riches.
At the Exit 7 interchange on Route 81, less than a mile from TSF, are two homeless camps. Would you be willing to give up what you have in your home, go to these camps and live with these people to help them out? Would you submit to letting them turn against you and kill you? Forgiving them even while it was happening? Christ did even more than this for us. He left the riches of heaven to take on the rags of humanity to the point of death. Then he would give us – the impoverished ones – new life in this world, with a promise of the riches of knowing the king of kings. Amazing sacrifice and generosity.
Paul concludes this section …
10 – And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
13 – Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” [from Ex. 16:18]
As with spiritual gifts, those who possessed abilities were to use them for the benefit of others. And in turn, those with other gifts were a blessing in return. God has set up the system this way so that we will be interdependent upon one another. And it is the same with material assets. It all has a way of evening out over time. God is faithful and can be trusted with everything, including the giving of our money in a proportionate way as we have first been blessed.