NOTES II Corinthians
8:16-9:5 (click here for
In this letter Paul has discussed the importance of generosity and a willing spirit. He has urged the Corinthians to complete the collection they had begun to gather for the saints in Jerusalem. He has urged them Corinthians to remember Christ's willingness to give up his own riches for their sakes that they could "excel in this grace of giving." (v.7) He has also called them to finish well. A big hustle at the beginning doesn't count for much if there is no follow-through. The Corinthians had begun their collection with enthusiasm, but they had abandoned the project. Paul calls them to finish strong.
Now Paul outlines the protocol he and they will follow to collect and deliver the gift. In order to be accountable and to protect his own reputation and the reputation of the gospel, Paul takes great pains to include men of good reputation besides himself in the process of collection and delivery.
Titus is going to be the point man for the Corinthians' collection. He had grown to love this church during his time with them the previous year. (see 2 Cor. 7:6-7, 13-15) In fact, he had been the person who had helped them begin the systematic process of gathering the collection in the first place. Titus will return to Corinth both because Paul has asked him to return and also because he wants to go back. God had "put into the heart of Titus the same concern that I have for you," Paul writes. (v.16) Titus's love for the Corinthians was so deep and genuine that Paul called him "my partner and fellow worker among you." (v.23) They shared the same deep commitment to the church at Corinth.
This insight into Titus's heart is also an insight into how God helps us know the work he wants us to do. Titus's love for the Corinthians is not just a result of their charming personalities and warmth to Titus. God ordained his work among the Corinthians, and he placed in Titus a deep love and concern for the Corinthians. God's will is sovereign, and he accomplishes his own purposes by placing desires in people's hearts to do the things that will work out God's plans.
Revelation 17:16-17 explains how even God's enemies accomplish God's purposes because God puts certain desires into their hearts that cause events to happen as God's wants them to happen. "The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute.
They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled."
God directs us as Christ-followers to the work he has planned for us by placing his love for certain ministries into our hearts and then opening doors for us to walk into the service for which he has already provided. Sometimes he even leads us into work for which we do not feel love at first. Sometimes he clearly brings his work to us and says, "Do this not because you love these people but because I love them." And sometimes he accomplishes his purposes by allowing evil people to play out their sinister intentions while God sovereignly uses those wicked deeds as part of his ultimate plan to wipe out evil and establish righteousness.
Paul explained that he was sending two other brothers with Titus to Corinth. These men were going with titus not only to help him in his ministry but also to accompany him as he carried the collection back to Jerusalem. Paul clarifies that he is sending these men to travel with Titus because "we want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. We want to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men." (v.20-21)
In his earlier letter, Paul explained that the Corinthians would also select men to accompany the gift. (1 Corinthians 16:3) Thus Paul was providing people to whom he was accountable, and the Corinthians also were sending men they chose to be in the entourage that delivered the money to be sure it was handled correctly. All parties involved in the collection and delivery of the money were represented, and all were accountable to each other. This protocol ensured that no one involved in the collection could accuse another of fraud.
Paul makes it clear that he takes these precautions because he wants to do what is right, not only before God but also in the eyes of men. Paul was probably not worried that God would accuse him of fraud if he delivered money. With the accusations already flourishing that Paul was not a legitimate apostle, however, he knew that if he did not surround himself with men the churches trusted as he handled the collections, he would undoubtedly be accused of mishandling those gifts.
Sometimes we are tempted to think, "Who cares what people think? God knows my heart; I don't have to worry about people."
It's true that we should not temper our commitment and love for the gospel and for truth with fear of what people will say. But when we conduct our affairs as Christ-followers, the way we do business and interact with people colors how others respond both to us personally and to Jesus as we represent him.
Jesus said, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:16)
Our good deeds, as Christ-followers, include everything we do that is motivated by the Holy Spirit. In the context of 2 Corinthians 8 and9, these good deeds include generous giving to the needy. We are to let our love of Jesus and the light of the gospel shine unhindered from us, so that when we do good deeds, people will praise God for them. The good deeds will not be seen as our own acts of altruism, but they will be recognized as gifts directly from God. Our light cannot shine clearly if we are secretive or not accountable to each other.
Paul also wrote to the Romans about the necessity of doing right in the eyes of those watching. "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." (Romans 12:17) In Romans 14:17-18 he says further that the kingdom of God is not about self-indulgence or self-denial-eating and drinking-but about "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Anyone who lives with the Holy Spirit's power instead of living focussed on his own behaviors and on the impression he is making will live a life that others will admire. It will be a life of unselfishness and humility instead of a life of self-consciousness and defensiveness.
In his letter to Titus, Paul counseled his protégé to teach, encourage, and rebuke "with all authority." (Titus 2:15) But he ended his counsel with these words: "Do not let anyone despise you." Not only was Titus not to be thwarted by other's possible criticism or resentment of his position as a godly teacher and mentor, but he was also to behave in ways that would not bring reproach upon him and upon the gospel.
Immediately after his exhortation not to let anyone despise Titus, Paul says this: "Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men." (Titus 3:1-2)
Even though we are members of God's family, joint heirs with Christ, and priests of the almighty God, we are to live as humble servants, honoring each other, respecting authority, and being sensitive to people's weaknesses and needs. We are never to claim for ourselves autonomy or absolute authority over the work God gives us. Since our work is our submission to God so He can accomplish his purposes through us, we must be willing to let Him direct us. We need to be willing to be accountable to our brothers in Christ, and we must be willing to be accountable to the people in spiritual authority over us as well.
People, both believers and unbelievers, will respond to our openness and sensitivity to their concerns, and our accountability will enhance the reputation of the gospel we proclaim. It is true that Christ-followers will always have detractors. Some will criticize and falsely accuse God's people simply because the critics refuse to respond to truth and to be accountable themselves. Those criticisms, however, are not to inhibit us. God will protect his name, and God will protect us as we proclaim him even as we take the arrows. Our responsibility is to be honest and accountable so people cannot legitimately accuse us of shady dealings. Beyond that, our reputations and God's reputation are in his hands. We are merely to trust him and allow him to teach us how to serve him responsibly.
Proof of Love and Pride
Giving, when it's done with a generous spirit, is an act of love. Without a generous spirit, however, giving is distasteful and offensive. Jesus asked us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind. (Matt. 22:37-39) He also said that wherever we invested our treasures, there are hearts would be. (Matt. 6:19-21) True love for God is the only thing that can generate true generosity.
Proverbs 15:8 says the Lord "detests the sacrifice of the wicked." Proverbs 21:25-27 is even stronger. It goes beyond stating God's attitude about the mere sacrifices of wicked men and addresses motives. The sacrifices of the wicked are detestable, the verse says, but they are even "more so when brought with evil intent."
Jesus also reinforced the idea that generosity yields more generosity. "Give, and it will be given to you," he said. "A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measure to you." (Luke 6:38)
Of course, people can give large gifts out of their abundance or out of a desire for return, either in terms of a relationship with the recipient of the gift, in gaining power and control, or in hopes of future returns from God. Such gifts, however, are not what Jesus had in mind. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you." If we give with ulterior motives, we will not reap the pure blessing of God. Our secret hopes for status and respect and love, which we hope our giving will yield, usually do not become reality. Our self-serving motives get in the way of experiencing pure blessings. Hidden self-serving motives taint our gifts and color our perceptions of God's responses to us. Before we can freely receive God's blessings in our lives, God has to deal with our motives which blind us to the reality of generous giving and receiving.
Jesus also said plainly that we are to be on our guard against greed. Our lives do not consist "in an abundance of possession." (Luke 12:15) Further, he bluntly stated that we cannot serve both God and money. (Luke 16:9) "It is more blessed to give than to receive," he further proclaimed. (Acts 20:35)
Peter admonished God's people to "offer hospitalitywithout grumbling" and to use "whatever gifts you have received to serve others." (1 Peter 4:9-10) Generosity of spirit goes beyond monetary gifts. It includes freely giving every gift God has given us to honor him and to serve each other. He further admonishes those entrusted with leadership to be shepherds and overseers "not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:2-3)
Paul told the Ephesians that "no immoral, impure, or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ or of God." (Ephesians 5:5)
Generous giving motivated by a heart of love for God, on the other hand, yields gifts through which God can glorify himself. A generous spirit produces continual "sacrifices of praise" to God. These sacrifices include verbal worship as well as good deeds and sharing which come from the Holy Spirit's impulses to us, not just from senses of obligation or guilt.
Motivating Good Behavior
Paul shamelessly begs the Corinthians to finish this collection with generous hearts so he won't be ashamed of having bragged about their willingness to participate. If any of the Macedonians were to go with him to collect the money, he reminds them, they and he would be shamed if the Corinthians had failed to complete their collection. The Macedonians, he previously explained, had begged to participate in this gift even though they were dismally poor. The Corinthians were blessed with much, and they were dragging their feet about giving. Paul motivates them by telling them how generous the Macedonians are being, and he emphasizes his plea by calling on them to "do it for him"! Don't make me ashamed of my boasting about you, he says.
We are taught not to motivate our children or our students by comparing them with each other or by guilting them into doing what we want so WE can look good. How does Paul get away with talking like this to the Corinthians?
Jesus also used some extreme-sounding metaphors and methods to teach the sanctity of our responsibility to carry the gospel to the world. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus abruptly said, "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces."
Interestingly, the passage above comes immediately after Jesus said his famous "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" statement followed by the illustration of removing the beam from your own eye before attacking the speck in your brother's.
If we are not to judge, how can we determine that another person is a "dog" or a "pig"?
Jesus' warning against judgment is not a statement against spiritual discernment. We are not to judge another person's eternal destiny. If we deem a person to be eternally accursed, we will not treat that person as someone to whom we must minister with hope and generosity of spirit. Jesus is asking us to commit final judgment to him. He alone will judge each person's heart, and he alone knows whether or not a person has truly been open to him or not.
Jesus is saying, however, that as born-again children of God, we are to discern whether or not a person is receptive to the gospel. If a person does not want to hear truth, if a person is resistant or argumentative or cold or hostile toward the gospel, we are not to persist in trying to make them hear. We are to stop haranguing them with truth, or they will grow to resent us and also to resent the message we are trying to give.
On another occasion Jesus shocked the disciples' Jewish sensibilities when he said regarding the Roman centurion's great faith, "I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 8:10-12)
Further, Jesus explained to his disciples why he finally stopped clearly teaching the kingdom of God to the Jews and began speaking in parables instead. "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them," he said. "Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." Then Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 which prophesied that the Jews would hear but not understand and would see but not perceive.
We in this age of tolerance and acceptance and relativism cringe when we hear Jesus speak outspokenly and graphicly in his identification of spiritual hardness. Part of our calling as Christ-followers, however, is the call to the truth that the gospel defines the way to the Father. The gospel news that Jesus took our sins on himself, died the death those sins demanded, and rose again so we can be intimately connected to God without our sins between us is the only message of hope in this world. There is no other way to God.
People who live where they never hear of Jesus are still not left without a witness to the true God. (see Romans 1:18-20) God knows which of those people have hearts receptive to the knowledge of him. If they do, they too are saved by the blood of Jesus.
No one, however, is saved because of sincerity or lip service or good deeds. As Christ-followers, we are to stand firmly on the truth of the gospel. We are to define deception clearly and to be a light in the confusing darkness of a world which says, "There are many paths to God." We are equipped with the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and with the discernment of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We are not to judge any person's eternal destiny, but we are to discern spiritual openness and receptivity to truth.
When Paul was motivating the Corinthians to give by reminding them of the Macedonians and pleading with them not to shame him, he was not trying to manipulate them into doing something for his sake. Neither was he withholding his love from them by comparing them to the Macedonians. He was not saying, "The Macedonians are much better Christians and have a warmer place in my heart because they are generous. You can also have a similar place in my heart if you will be generous, too."
Rather, Paul had already poured out his heart full of love to the Corinthians. They KNEW how dearly he treasured them and how he longed for their reciprocal love. Paul's bringing up the Macedonians was not a manipulative emotional game in which he held the Corinthians at arm's length as the less-loved church. He was instead merely stating the truth. He wanted to jolt these people whom he loved into reality. They were isolated from the suffering of the rest of the body of Christ, insulated by wealth and by a reasonably tolerant political climate. He wanted them to see the big picture: their Macedonian brothers in Christ who were suffering unimagined deprivation were eagerly contributing to the collection for the suffering saints in Jerusalem. The Corinthians needed to be able to see their attitude as it really was: self-centered and unaware of the rest of the spiritual family to which they were obligated as members of the body of Christ.
Further, Paul knew the Corinthians were capable of giving a truly generous gift, both of heart and of money. He knew they had originally been excited to participate in this project. He reminded them not to shame themselves and him not because he didn't want to look bad, but because he knew that if they failed to complete their collection, they would be perceived as stingy and unconcerned. Paul knew that the Corinthians were not inherently greedy; they were preoccupied with themselves. He wanted them to look outside their Corinthians lenses and regain their vision of the larger church in which they played a significant part.
Paul was calling the Corinthians to be true to themselves and to their consciences. He was employing the spiritual perception which Jesus modeled as he both shocked and taught his disciples the truth about spiritual blindness. Paul knew the Corinthians wanted to serve Jesus. He knew they had hearts that had responded eagerly to the gospel. Now he shocks them to wake them up from their spiritual lethargy. He is not manipulating them into doing something he wants them to do; rather, he is telling them the truth so they can wake up and choose to be obedient and responsible-something he knows they truly want to be.
In order to give with a generous spirit, we have to surrender our hearts and desires and needs to God. Life on earth is fractured. We have physical, financial, and relational limitations and wounds. Our natural impulse is to conserve what we have, hang on to what we might need, provide for what we lack. We have a drive to provide for ourselves, to fill our emptiness, to ensure that we will never be caught short because of poor planning or surprised by loss.
Such control, however, is not possible. In fact, the harder we try to provide for ourselves and manage our needs, the more frantic and frustrated we become. When we say "Yes" to Jesus, he calls us to surrender to him all our needs, our fears, our futures. He asks us to open our tight fists and let go of ourselves. Jesus has made our growth and our needs his personal concern. Until we can trust him to care for our deep shame, the wounds in our hearts, the financial needs and uncertainties we face, and the tenuous relationships with which we struggle, we can never experience the deep generosity with which God asks us to give to each other.
God is calling us to face our deep fear. He did not turn away from his own pain; he asks us who follow him to face our pain, also. But He walks into it with us. And as we face the things we most fear to see and know, Jesus reveals that he takes all those burdens as his own. We no longer have to protect ourselves. Jesus himself protects us.
His love and care frees us to experience the blessings he gives us. Instead of worrying about how we will live and survive and cope, we can begin to rest in the provisions God gives us. When we begin to realize that the more we release, the more God cares for us, our hearts begin to overflow with gratitude and peace. From this place of surprise and awe at being so loved by the God of the universe, we can trust Him as we begin to share the blessings he gives us.
Ask God to give you the courage and the trust to open yourself to his care. Take him at his word: seek his kingdom first, and all that you need will be added unto you. Let Jesus be your security, your protector, your healer.
Ask God to place his love in your heart and to give you the freedom to overflow with grace. Ask Jesus to make himself real to you, to teach you to be content in him. Praise God through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit for transforming you from a fearful, conserving, wounded person into a confident, trusting, restored child of God who overflows with His love.
Praise God for desiring a relationship with you. Praise Jesus for emptying himself and making you rich in love because of his poverty. Praise the Holy Spirit for bringing your spirit to life and causing streams of living water to flow from you even when you don't know they are.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for transforming you from a needy,
fearful, rigid person into a son or daughter of God, rich in confidence
and overflowing with His love!
Copyright (c) 2002 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted September 7, 2002.