NOTES II Corinthians
8:1-15 (click here for study)
Paul follows his expression of pleasure over Titus's good report by addressing the issue of the collection the churches were taking for the suffering saints in Jerusalem. The Corinthians had begun saving for this collection the previous year, but they had not finished the job. (see 1 Cor. 16:1-4) Paul opens this subject by telling the Corinthians what astonishing generosity the Macedonian churches have displayed.
He is writing to the Corinthians and all the churches an Achaia from Macedonia, the district north of Achaia. Acts 16 tells us which cities through which Paul passed on his Macedonian journey: Samothrace, Neapolis, Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, and Berea. We know that there were young churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. These churches, Paul stresses, were extremely poverty-stricken, yet they were richly generous. Such generosity is not natural to human nature. God, however, both makes our hearts generous and blesses us materially so we can we can be generous materially. He increases the "store of seed" and enlarges "the harvest of your righteousness." He makes us "rich in every ways so that [we] can be generous on every occasion" resulting in thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11)
Early Role Model
The first example of God's people bringing generous offerings was the Israelites' outpouring of wealth (which they had received from the Egyptians) for the building of the desert tabernacle. "They [the skilled workers] received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning." (Exodus 36:3) The Israelites brought so much, in fact, the workers had to ask Moses to make them stop.
These offerings were separate from tithe, which Israel was commanded to bring from their yearly profit. Further, tithe was expressly for the support of the Levites, who had no land allotted to them. These freewill gifts which Israel brought were for the building of the tabernacle. They were not mandated gifts; each person decided how much his family would donate. They were just for the purpose of building the sanctuary where God's presence would dwell.
The Corinthians' and Macedonians' collections of money for the needy Christians in Jerusalem is the New Covenant parallel of Israel's giving. On this side of the cross, the sanctuary, or tabernacle, where God lives is the church, his body. Today when we care for the needs of our brothers and sisters in need, we are giving for the building of the tabernacle. God no longer dwells in buildings made by human hands; rather, he dwells in the hearts of believers. God still allows us the blessing of participating in the building and support of his temple. He knows that as humans with sinful flesh still housing our born-again hearts, we need to keep our eyes focused on him, not on ourselves. He asks us to live not four ourselves but for him. He asks that we commit everything we are and that we have to him for his glory. When we allow God to have our money as well as our hearts, our offerings become acts of worship. The "living stones" our money supports receive God's blessing through us, and we, also living stones, receive God's blessing in response to our gifts.
Paul explains that the poverty-stricken Macedonians wanted to be included in the gathering of offerings for the needy in Jerusalem. The Jewish converts in Jerusalem were especially under attack. Not only were they hated by the unconverted Jews, as evidenced by Paul's earlier occupation of killing them, but they were also considered enemies of the Romans because they were Jews. At the time Paul wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians, Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. 2 Corinthians was written about 55 A.D.; the destruction of Jerusalem was 70 A.D. Political pressure, however, was increasing. Many of the early Jerusalem Christians were poverty-stricken and ostracized from family and friends over their conversion to Christ. (see Acts 24:17)
The Macedonians, unlike the Corinthians, were poor, yet they had shocked even Paul with their amazing generosity. They gave "beyond their ability." With no urging from Paul or from any other leader, they begged to be allowed to contribute. Paul holds them up as an example to the Corinthians.
The Corinthians had already taken a year to try to pull together a contribution. In his first letter to them, Paul had explained that on the first day of the week everyone should set aside an amount of money "in keeping with his income" which would be held for the gift to the saints in Jerusalem. If everyone decided on an amount he or she could give, the apostles and elders would never have to take up a collection. Each person would be contributing a pre-established amount, and a generous gift would be ready to send. (1 Cor. 16:2)
The Corinthians had started this project with great willingness, but they had slacked off. Paul is somewhat frustrated with them because they have ignored their commitment to give. To help them get back on track, Paul is sending Titus back to them.
Titus had just come to Macedonia from Corinth where he had ministered to the Corinthians and grown to love them. Titus had also been involved in helping the Corinthians begin their saving plan. Consequently Paul is sending Titus back so he can help them complete their commitment. What Paul had hoped to avoid, he now must do: Titus has to step in and motivate the Corinthians to give all that they had agreed to give. In spite of their relative wealth, the Corinthians have dropped the ball, so to speak, and now Titus has to intercede.
Riches through Poverty
In both of his letters to the Corinthians, Paul acknowledges that they are rich in spiritual gifts. Now, however, he urges them also to "excel in this grace of giving." He connects the grace of giving with the grace of Christ who, "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." (v.9)
Jesus' humility and obedience to his Father resulted in an astonishing paradox. Not only is Jesus' experience a paradox, but his legacy to us is that we continue to live the results of that paradox in our lives. Philippians has the amazing explanation of Jesus' ultimate humility:
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross." (Phil 2:6-8)
Jesus, who was God, humbled himself-he divested himself of the physical transcendence that was his right because it was part of his nature-and took upon himself a human body. He didn't just take the form of a human, but he took "the very nature of a servant". He, absolute God, became fully human and limited himself to three dimensions. He expressed the ultimate act of humility by giving up his right to being physically as he had been and took upon himself forever the form of humanity. Although he did not lose the reality of being God, he also permanently took upon himself the nature and form of humanity. His act of humility exceeds anything he ever asks any of us to do. He forever linked himself to his own creatures, not just emotionally but physically and experientially.
Jesus made this unimaginable and eternal sacrifice for our gain. Because he gave up what was rightfully his and took on our humanity, we are now able to transcend our natural condition. By taking on our humanity, Jesus qualified himself also to bear our sins and their punishment. Because sin entered the human race by the disobedience of Adam, the punishment of sin had to be born by a human. No other creature could atone for humanity's sin. Only humanity could pay for humanity's fall.
Only a Creator of omnipotent love could have the authority to take on the nature of his creatures and bear in himself the weight and the penalty of their sin-while being completely without sin himself. Only through such a singularity-an unrepeatable event with irrevocable outcomes-could it become possible for us as separated creatures to be restored to intimacy with our God and to share in his nature and righteousness.
Paul explains to the Corinthians that God made Jesus, who had no sin, "to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)
While Jesus was on earth, James and John's mother asked that her sons sit at Jesus' right and left hands in his kingdom. Jesus told his 10 indignant and two embarrassed followers that whoever wants to become great must humble himself and become a servant-"just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matt. 20:28)
Jesus impoverished himself-not for the sake of poverty or of living an ascetic lifestyle to earn favor with God-but for the sake of giving eternity to his people who were otherwise doomed to eternal death.
Jesus became a curse for us. (Gal. 3:13-14) He was tempted exactly as we are tempted, yet he was blameless and pure and became a perfect offering for our iniquity. (Heb. 4:15-16; 7:26-27)
He bore our sins in his body so we can die to sin and bear his righteousness in our bodies. (2 Peter 2:22-25) He humbled himself and became human so he could "take away our sins," yet there was no sin in him. (1 John 3:4)
Jesus permanently changed his physical nature and permanently took on human nature-while still being God-and forever changed his identity. His impoverishing sacrifice was for our sakes. He emptied himself so we can receive forgiveness, eternal life, and adoption into God's family by rebirth through the Holy Spirit.
Grace of Giving
Paul acknowledges that the Corinthians excel "in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us." But he still has another admonition for them. "See that you also excel in this grace of giving." (v.7)
The grace of giving is the spiritual attribute that most reveals a person's servant heart. Generous giving, when it flows from faith and from love for Jesus, equals pouring out one's self and one's assets for the growth and support of others. Giving can include releasing one's desires for entertainment and leisure and embracing the needs and the work
God places in one's life. It can include giving tangible things, including service, that others need. It also includes generously giving one's money.
When we are in Christ, everything we have belongs to God. Increasingly, as we grow in him, we become aware that our houses, are cars, our time, and our money are not our own. All that we have is a gracious gift from Him, and all that we have we hold loosely, recognizing that these assets belong to Jesus and are his to use for his glory. We are merely stewards of his gifts of grace.
Giving, however, can be perverted. If giving is done without a generous heart, if it's done out of guilt of compulsion, it is not an act of grace. Rather, it becomes an act of manipulation or resentment. Grudging giving becomes an act of bondage. The giver harbors resentment toward the recipient of the gift, and the receiver, if aware of the ulterior motives, feels antipathy toward the "gift" which is really given as a "requirement". If a person gives with the hope of reward or return, the receiver feels pressure or resentment toward the giver.
If a person gives willingly, on the other hand, the beneficiaries will receive it as a blessing from God, and they will praise God for the gift as well as the giver. God sees willing, generous gifts as sacrifices honoring him. He reveals himself to both the giver and the receiver through their acts of generous giving and gracious receiving.
Paul exhorts the Corinthians in v. 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."
In this command Paul introduces the idea that finishing well is the most important goal, not merely beginning well. Many people initially respond eagerly to the gospel, but they fail to take root and grow, and they do not end well. While the initial response is necessary, it is not the measure of success or failure.
Jesus illustrated the principle of finishing well in some of his parables. In his parable of the seeds in Matthew 13:1-23, he tells of the seed of the gospel being sown in four different conditions: on rocky soil, in weed patches, on bare ground where the birds came and eat it, and on good soil. In the parable, the seed on rocky ground springs up quickly and develops a healthy-looking plant. As soon as the day gets hot, however, the plant withers and dies because it has not put down deep roots. The seeds in the weeds sprout and grow, but the weeds, illustrating the material concerns and cares of the world, crowd out the sprouting plants and choke them to death. In both cases, the sprouting plants represent people who hear the gospel and respond, beginning to grow in a manner that looks like true Christianity. When the going gets tough, however, or when their worldly concerns overwhelm them, these people do not sustain their experience. They with and die because they never allowed the Holy Spirit to root them firmly to God. Their enthusiastic beginning is far less significant than is the way they end.
In Matthew 21:28-32 Jesus tells another parable. In this parable a man asked his two sons to go work in the vineyard. The first answered, "I will not," but later he changed his mind and went and worked. The second son responded, "I will, Sir," but he never went.
"Which of these," Jesus ends the parable, "did what his father wanted?"
Ending well is of infinitely greater value than making an energetic beginning. While energetic responses are wonderful, they do not predict the outcome.
Paul wrote to Timothy that he had fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished the race. He now looked forward to the crown of righteousness that God had for him. (2 Tim. 4:6-8) Paul clarified that he finished the race. He didn't get tired of the persecution and hardship and privation and step out of the action to rest. He persevered relentlessly until the end. He kept following where Jesus led him, allowing God to determine what he should do and what he should endure, not protecting himself from men's anger. It was finishing the race that was important. It was persisting, keeping faith, not turning away from the cross of Christ that counted.
In Ephesians 6:13 Paul also admonishes the Christians in Ephesus to "put on the full armor of God" so they could stand, and after they "have done everything, to stand." He was instructing them that the only way they could finish well was to be protected by close fellowship with God. They had to continue to stand in intimate relationship with him, claiming salvation, faith, truth, Christ's righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and the gospel of peace in order to stand and not be overcome by the attacks of the evil one. To become lazy or distracted would be to allow chinks in the armor of God protecting them, and Satan would be able to harm them. Persisting, standing firm, staying protected by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of salvation are the only ways to survive and finish well.
The author of Hebrews has grave warnings for those who claim to know Christ but refuse to allow him to make them new. Like the seeds that don't root or that become choked to death by the cares of the world, these people look like believers, but they don't persist in clothing themselves with the armor of God that results from the new birth. People who claim Christ and participate in the life of His Body, the church, who even experience the power of the Holy Spirit yet refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to give them new hearts, these people will not finish well. They will not stand.
If people persist in sinning after "receiving the knowledge of the truth," there is no sacrifice for sins left for them. (Heb. 10:26-31) If a person falls away after experiencing the goodness of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible for him or her to be brought back to repentance. (Heb. 6:4-6) We share in Christ IF we hold firmly until the end the confidence in Christ that we had at first. (Heb. 3:2-14)
These texts are not saying we need to fear losing our salvation. When we accept Christ, however, we must accept him with our hearts and not just our heads. We must allow the Holy Spirit to give us a new birth. If we do not accept a new heart, we cannot see the kingdom of heaven. (John 3:5-6) Many people will appear to be Christ-followers, saying the right words, doing the right things, evangelizing the world, yet they do not know Jesus. They were never truly converted and reborn. These people may begin with enthusiasm and admirable zeal. They will not, however, end well.
Peter also spoke about the fate of those who do not receive the new birth when they acknowledge Jesus. If a person escapes the corruption of the world by accepting Jesus but again becomes entangled and overcome, that person is worse off than if he or she had never heard the gospel. (2 Peter 2:20-21)
In our passage in 2 Corinthians, Paul is warning the church against such apathy. They eagerly began collecting money for their gift to the suffering church. They abandoned the project, however, and Paul is calling them to integrity. He's calling them from the curse of laziness back to practicing what they believe. He's asking them to own their own conviction and to complete the gift so they will experience the awakening of God's grace in their hearts as they serve others out of the abundance God had given them. Paul is encouraging them to take seriously their commitments, to follow through on their promises, and to be truthful. If they promise to give but then do not follow through, their word will mean nothing.
God calls us to integrity and to persistent relationship with him. He asks us not to become lazy and refuse to embrace the changes and the work he gives us through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He asks us to become born again, to give up our right to ourselves and allow Him to have all of us. He asks us to be obedient to His love in our lives, to take on the challenges he brings and to let Him be our strength to change and to grow. He asks us to fight the good fight, to keep the faith, to finish the race-to end well. God wants to use us all of our lives; He wants to bless us until our work is done. He wants us to embrace him with everything that we are and to let him do his work in us.
Enough for All
Paul explains to the Corinthians n v. 14 that their plenty will supply the need of other brothers who are in need. Also, if they are ever in need, the plenty of other believers will supply their need.
Acts 4:32-34 explains how the early church supported itself. All the believers shared what they had, considering what was theirs to belong to God and to His Body, the church. "There were no needy person among them," Luke records. From time to time those who owned land would sell it, using the profit for the support of the believers who were in need.
In 2 Corinthians 9:12-13, Paul explains that when Christ-followers give, they are not only supplying needs. In addition, those who benefit from their gifts overflow into praise and thanks to God. The gifts of the giver result in honor to God. The grace of Christ transforms the gifts from mere money into sacrifices of praise.
In Numbers 18:21 is the statement that God granted to the Levites all the tithes of Israel in exchange for their work in the temple. Paul states to the Corinthians in his first letter that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
In the New Covenant there is no command to give tithe. Rather, everything we have belongs to God. Everything we receive from him is his to use for his glory. The priesthood is also different in the New Covenant. Instead of Levites serving in a temple, God inhabits his people and their fellowship. Each Christ-follower is a priest of God. (see 2 Peter 2: 5, 9) When we give to believers in need, we are indeed supporting the priesthood, just as the Old Covenant model foreshadowed.
Giving in the New Covenant is not about returning tithe. Rather, it is about giving as God blesses us, not satisfying ourselves with a mere percentage. Giving in the New Covenant includes being generous with the monetary gifts God has given us, but it goes even beyond money. It includes giving to God our time, our house, our car, our gifts-in short, whatever we have is His to use for his glory. When we give all that we are and all that we have to God, he glorifies himself through those gifts and blesses the whole body of Christ, the royal priesthood which represents Jesus to the world.
As you grow in grace, Jesus is asking you to trust him. He wants to do more for you than save you, which he has already done. He wants to give you an increasingly abundant life now! Abundance from a Biblical perspective, however, does not necessarily mean having more money or comforts. When we are in Christ, abundance increases as we make him more and more the center of our attention. As we learn to trust Jesus with the people in our lives, with our needs, with our dreams, with our talents-he grants us increasing peace. When we learn to let Him be responsible for providing the things we need, we let go of our anxiety and drive to figure out how to make things happen.
God has surprising ways to fulfill our needs-ways of which we would never think. As we allow him to bless us with what we need, he fills our hearts with contentment. We begin to realize that the things we longed for are not the source of our satisfaction, and Jesus himself increasingly becomes our reward and our comfort and our peace. God lifts a tremendous burden from our shoulders as we learn to trust him to supply what we need in his way and in his time. Sometimes he provides things we would never be able to provide for ourselves. Sometimes he changes our longings and satisfies us with less than we thought we needed-yet fills our hearts with joy that we never would have had as a result of attaining our original dreams.
As we learn to trust God to supply our needs and wants, as we learn to let him be our joy and focus and reward, he begins to minister to others through us. He teaches us that because we do not have to manage our own success, we can act on the generous impulses he puts in our hearts. Jesus will not only provide for us, he will also bring to us the people and the causes and the work which he wants us to support. As we surrender each part of our lives to Him, he transforms us into ministers of his love equipped spiritually and materially to give to others what God wants to give them through us.
God is not asking us to commit ourselves to lives of self-sacrifice per se. Rather, he is asking us to completely commit ourselves to him. Only when he becomes our desire, our pursuit, our treasure, our life's focus will our impulses to give become acts of love and true generosity. If we give out of altruism or from a desire to cement a relationship or from a sense of guilt, our gifts will be tainted and will carry with them a sense of bondage that shackles us to both the recipient and to our own arrogance and pride.
On the other hand, when we follow the impulses of the Holy Spirit and give to God, our gifts become blessings both to the recipient and to us. Giving becomes an act of praise and worship, and the beneficiary receives his blessing as a gift from God. Similarly, when God provides for us, we only receive his provision as a gift from him if we are making him our focus and our joy. If we look at the giver as having special feelings for us and receive the gift as something personal from him or her, we lose the awesome realization that God has provided for our needs himself.
God is calling you to trust him with all of your life. He asks you to lay before him your needs, your inability to accomplish what you need, your desperation to control your circumstances and to provide for the people in your life. Jesus said to seek his kingdom first, and he would provide all your material needs.
Ask Jesus to show you how you need to trust him. Ask him to reveal the places in your life where you worry, where you horde, where your control, where you make yourself a nuisance both to yourself and to those you love by micromanaging. Release your fears and worries to him, and let him be your comfort and peace. Let Him be your provider.
God is faithful. He will provide all your needs as you make him the focus of all your life.
Praise God for giving his Son-part of Himself-to reconcile with us. Praise
Jesus for emptying himself of what was rightfully his to identify with us
and to restore us to the Father. Praise the Holy Spirit for indwelling us
and for effecting the new birth in us. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
for making us part of their family-forever!
Copyright (c) 2002 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted September 7, 2002.