One of the more difficult subjects for a Biblical teacher involves financial giving, a theme that serves as the focus of attention in 2 Corinthians chapters eight and nine. One commentator remarks on the challenges associated with this subject for teachers and students of God’s Word…
“I love teaching through the Bible because it forces me to deal with issues I might otherwise conveniently choose to avoid. Chapters 8 and 9 of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians are one such example, for they deal exclusively with the subject of giving. I’m not alone in my tendency to cringe when the subject of giving comes up, for evidently the Corinthian congregation felt the same way. And Paul knew that, although they were excited about spiritual gifts, they needed to be exhorted about the spirit of giving.
You see, on his third missionary journey, as Paul traveled between the churches of Macedonia and Achaia, he took an offering—not for himself, but for the church at Jerusalem, which was going through hard times financially due to a severe famine in the region. Seeing this as an opportunity for a bonding between the Gentile Christians in Greece and the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, Paul was eager to complete the gift.
Yet, although the Corinthian congregation had initially welcomed the opportunity to help their brothers in Jerusalem, after a year had passed, they hadn’t raised any money in the endeavor. So it is this issue Paul addresses in chapters 8 and 9.” (1)
2 Corinthians chapter eight offers several important insights that should guide our approach in this area. These include…
- The voluntary and sacrificial nature of financial giving (verse three).
- The importance of seeking God’s direction in this area (verse five).
- Applying Jesus’ example in the area of financial support (verse nine).
- The need to follow through on our financial commitments (verses ten to eleven).
- The importance of prayerful discretion in the area of financial giving (verses twelve to thirteen).
- The relationship between those who give and those who receive (verses thirteen to fifteen).
- The need for integrity in administering financial gifts (verses sixteen to twenty-three).
- The importance of leading by example in the area of financial support (verse twenty-four).
Finally, one source makes an insightful comment on this portion of Scripture: “The spiritual nature of this offering is evident in the terms Paul uses. He never calls it ‘money’ because he never seems to think of it as such. Instead, he calls it ‘grace’ or ‘generosity’ or ‘blessing’ or ‘partnership.’ Thus, Paul speaks of the ‘grace of giving’ as one of the highest Christian virtues.” (2)
(1) Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 1130). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
(2) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2354). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).
The famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes once solved a murder case by noting a curious incident- a guard dog on duty at the time of the murder did not bark at the presence of the murderer. From this, Holmes deduced that the assailant was known to the dog, thus narrowing his list of suspects and eventually leading him to identify the guilty party. (1)
What does this have to do with our look at this portion of Scripture? Well, 2 Corinthians chapter eight opens a discussion on the subject of financial giving by referring to the example of the regional churches of Macedonia. Macedonia was located in the northern portion of Greece while Corinth was located to the south in an area known as Achaia. Those who are familiar with the New Testament Scriptures will recognize the names of several congregations that met in the cities of Macedonia, a list that includes the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.
Yet much like the dog that didn’t bark in Sherlock Holmes’ murder mystery, the fact that Paul the Apostle never discussed financial issues in his Biblical letters to the churches at Philippi or Thessalonica suggests the churches of that area had not been exposed to the dangers associated with the love of money. In fact, many commentators note that those who lived in the Macedonian region were impoverished by war and first-century Roman economic policies.
Nevertheless, Paul referred to their example in encouraging the Corinthian church to support the members of the Christian community in Judea, an area that had been affected by a severe famine. Yet despite the fact that the churches of Macedonia were experiencing extreme poverty (CEB) and a severe test of affliction (ESV), they were still extremely generous in their giving (GNT).
The motivating factor behind their response can be explained by Paul’s reference to God’s grace. a word that continually reappears throughout 2 Corinthians chapters eight and nine. Earlier we defined the word grace as “God’s unmerited favor” and much like an image that is reflected in a mirror, God’s gracious favor towards the Christian community in Macedonia was reflected in their generous support of those who were in need. Thus, their response served as an example to the Corinthian Christians (and us) regarding this important virtue.
(1) The Adventure of Silver Blaze https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Blaze
“For I testify, they gave according to their means and beyond their means. They did so voluntarily, begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints. And they did this not just as we had hoped, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5 NET).
In Mark 14:12-15, Jesus sent two of His disciples on a mission with the following instructions: “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, ‘Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples’?’‘ Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”
The owner of that upper room where Jesus ate His final meal is not identified within the pages of the Scriptures. Yet he faithfully made use of his resources in preparing the place where Jesus would later take some of the most decisive actions of His ministry and share some of His most important teachings. While his example may be easy to overlook in light of the momentous events that followed the Last Supper, its important to note that this man served as a steward of the home he possessed.
Despite his anonymity, he was ready and prepared to turn his God-given assets over to Jesus for His use. Thus, Jesus’ anonymous host serves as a silent witness to the importance of faithfully using the resources we possess in His service. In a similar manner, the anonymous Christians referenced in 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 also provide us with a good example as they voluntarily sought to make use of their resources (however limited) in order to help others.
We can follow these good examples today whenever we recognize and accept a similar kind of stewardship responsibility. The idea is that every Christian is responsible to prayerfully manage his or her God-given assets in a manner that honors Him. In the case of the Macedonian Christians, their support went beyond what their financial condition suggested they could afford. In the paraphrased words of Paul the Apostle, “I can guarantee that they were willing to give to the limit of their means, yes and beyond their means, without the slightest urging from me or anyone else” (Phillips).
We’ll examine the first of two important guidelines for good financial giving contained within these verses next.
“For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).
In light of their financial constraints, the offering taken up by the Christian community in Macedonia may not have amounted to much. But in proportion to their resources, they gave beyond any reasonable expectation. In fact, one Biblical paraphrase highlights the willing enthusiasm of these Macedonian Christians by saying, “They begged us to take the money so they could share in the joy of helping the Christians in Jerusalem” (TLB).
So the Macedonian Christians sought to help those in Jerusalem and Judea who were less well off. This represents the first of two important principles in regard to financial giving within these verses. It involves recognizing and responding to the needs of those who fall into difficult circumstances. This principle is reflected within the pages of the Old Testament as well…
“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: ‘The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,’ (1) so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.
Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11 NIV).
The churches of Macedonia set the right example by putting this concept in order to work to assist those who were less fortunate. But in a world where the needs are seemingly endless, how can we make the best decisions in regard to our limited resources? Well, the example of the Macedonian Christians offers another important principal that addresses this question and we’ll consider that principle next.
(1) An Old Testament-era Israelite could sell himself as a slave to pay a debt. However, that length of service was limited to a maximum of six years, a cycle that was renewed every seventh year. See Exodus 21:2
“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5 NIV).
This passage provides us with another important principle in regard to financial giving: “…they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (NIV). The example of the Macedonian Christians in this area should prompt us to ask if we are similarly seeking God’s direction regarding those we support and how we should give.
You see, the right attitude towards giving should naturally follow the act of giving oneself to the Lord. In the words of one commentator, the Macedonian churches were moved by the will of God who made them willing. (1) With is in mind, consider example of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians chapter eight and how they gave…
- They accepted responsibility to assist those who were in need and viewed that responsibility as a privilege (verses three and four).
- They committed themselves to the Lord first and then to the Apostle Paul by the will of God (verse five).
- They gave joyfully (verse two).
- They gave generously (verse two).
- They gave sacrificially (verse two).
So their internal decision to seek the Lord for His direction led to a series of God-honoring external responses. This concept is also reflected in New Testament book of James….
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:14-18 NIV).
To paraphrase the idea behind these passages, “…it isn’t enough just to have faith. You must also do good to prove that you have it. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good works is no faith at all– it is dead and useless” (TLB).
(1) Jamieson, Robert, D.D. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8”. “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible”. [v. 8] <http://classic.studylight.org/com/jfb/view.cgi?book=2co&chapter=008>. 1871.
“So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others” (2 Corinthians 8:6-8).
It appears that the members of the Corinthian fellowship had put aside their initial collection activities for the churches in Judea in order to address other concerns that seemed more pressing. But as Paul the Apostle subtly reminded them, it was important for the Corinthians to move forward and share their financial blessings in addition to the other gifts they possessed.
You see, Paul was well aware of the fact that the members of the Corinthian church were endowed with a number of spiritual gifts. For example, the Corinthians possessed the gift of faith and a number of other spiritual gifts as well (see 1 Corinthians 1:4-8 and 12:4-11). Yet many of those gifts represented intangible graces that primarily served to benefit the members of their local congregation.
In light of this, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to match their abundant spiritual gifts with corresponding financial gifts that would help and bless others. One commentator offers some additional insight on this passage…
“The Corinthians were strong in activities that are local to and centered upon them (miracle-working faith, charismatic speech, and theological understanding), but weak on those that are for the benefit of those outside, in this case the ‘saints of Jerusalem.’ (In the words of one commentator,) ‘Paul now called on them to remember the vastness of their spiritual resources, and to make sure liberality (generosity; ‘see that you abound in this gracious work’) marked them as a congregation, as did so many other gifts of God’s Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 1:5, 7; 12:31; 14:37).'” (1)
Nevertheless, Paul was reluctant to issue a directive to the church in regard to this financial offering. While we might have expected Paul to use his apostolic authority to compel the Corinthians to act, he was very clear in this regard: “I am not saying this as a command…” (HCSB). Instead, Paul wanted the Corinthians to do the right thing for the right reason- and his refusal to command the Corinthians to respond in this area was part of a larger strategy: “I am simply testing how real your love is by comparing it with the concern that others have shown” (CEV).
(1) Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, pp. 403-4, quoted in Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition [8:7] Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable. All Rights Reserved. http://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/2corinthians/2corinthians.htm
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
To encourage the members of the Corinthian church to give generously to those in need, Paul the Apostle turned to the supreme example of generosity in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (NLT).
From a post-resurrection perspective, it may be difficult to view Jesus as someone who became poor for our sakes. Yet consider the depths of poverty that Jesus experienced during His earthly life…
- He was born in a shelter for animals, a place that lacked even the most basic accommodations for a newborn infant (Luke 2:4-7).
- He had no place of permanent residence, having said on one occasion, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).
- Others helped support Him from their personal resources (Luke 8:1-3).
- Jesus apparently held no personal assets other than His clothing at the time of His death (John 19:23-24).
So how did a Man who seemed to have so little make so many rich? Well, we can turn to Paul’s Biblical letter to the Philippian church for the answer…
“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!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
It is humbling to consider how Jesus chose to lower Himself to the level of human existence in this manner. Yet as we’re told in the passage quoted above, “…for your sakes he impoverished himself, even though he was rich, so that he might make you rich by means of his poverty” (CJB).
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, he became poor for your sakes, so that you by his poverty could become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NET).
2 Corinthians 8:9 makes reference to the riches Jesus possessed. Yet it also appears that Jesus held few material or financial assets during His life. So in what sense can we say He was rich? Well, a look at Jesus’ pre-incarnate existence (or His existence prior to His human birth) can help reveal many of the answers to that question.
We can begin by considering Jesus’ deity, or His divine nature. You see, the Scriptures tell us that there is One God (Deuteronomy 6:4). The Bible further identifies this one God as a unity subsisting in three Persons- the Father (Ephesians 5:20 and Jude 1:1), the Son (Hebrews 1:8 and Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4 and 2 Corinthians 3:17). As mentioned earlier, we commonly use the word “Trinity” to describe this concept in regard to the nature of God.
As the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus is omnipotent (or all-powerful), omnisciencent (or all-knowing), and omnipresent (a word that defines the ability to be in all places at once). He also possesses all the glory, honor, and majesty that belongs to God. Therefore in the words of one commentator, “The riches of Christ are those riches which pertained to his status with God and equality to God before the world was (John 17:5), the riches of His eternal power and Godhead, the riches of His everlasting divinity and glory.” (1)
Yet Jesus humbled Himself by laying aside these riches to become our atoning substitute. Jesus did not cease to be God at any time in accepting the limitations of humanity but as the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us, “…(Jesus) had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17 CSB).
Finally, one source offers another important insight regarding this passage by observing, “…(That you) might become rich refers to the spiritual riches that Jesus gives to all who place their trust in Him: He offers forgiveness, justification, regeneration, eternal life, and glorification. Jesus purchases us from slavery to sin and makes us children of God. He gives us the right and privilege to approach God with requests and praise.” (2)
(1) James Burton Coffman, Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible, 2 Corinthians 8 [Verse 9] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/2-corinthians-8.html
(2) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1505). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
“And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have” (2 Corinthians 8:10-11).
“When the Lord gets ready, you got to move.” (1)
Tucked away within the pages of the Old Testament is an obscure little book known as Ecclesiastes. In chapter seven of that book we can find a brief observation that relates to the passage quoted above: “Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).
You see, the ability to finish a task often depends on number of important attributes. Included among those qualities are things like perseverance, dedication, hard work, discipline, and the ability to plan ahead. Of course, the ability to successfully complete any undertaking may also depend upon another important quality: patience, or the capacity to endure through a difficult situation.
These were some of the qualities that may have been lacking in the Corinthian’s efforts to help those who needed assistance. While the members of the church may have started that effort with the best of intentions, it seems that other priorities intervened to the point where an entire year had passed with no apparent timetable for completion. So much like those who plan to finish a long postponed project “someday,” Paul the Apostle was apparently concerned that “someday” might never arrive in regard to this important task.
Thus, this portion of Scripture offers some practical insight for those (like the members of the Corinthian church) who are putting off something that ought to be done. While there may be good and legitimate reasons for failing to follow through on a commitment, it might be beneficial to prayerfully self-examine those commitments to determine if we are falling short in the areas of dedication, planning, discipline, responsibility, patience, or other such qualities.
Finally, one commentator leaves us with a challenging observation in this regard…
“It is a serious reflection on the integrity and stability of Christ and Christianity for congregations to be ‘alive’ with grandiose projects and plans, but ‘dead’ to the completion or fulfillment of their promises. Thus Paul urges them to ‘match’ their passionate willingness and their beginning actions with a completion of the project.” (2)
(1) You Got To Move (unknown) from the album Trimmed And Burnin’ Glenn Kaiser, Darrell Mansfield
(2) Paul T. Butler, The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In Second Corinthians (College Press) [p. 284] Copyright © 1985 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesSecondCorinthians/132Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
It is hurtful and disappointing to hear the periodic reports of those who have been caught in an attempt to manipulate, exploit, or take advantage of others under the guise of religion. Such reports often involve the questionable fundraising tactics that are sometimes employed by media ministries and other types of religious organizations in soliciting financial support.
Just as Paul the Apostle mentioned earlier in this letter to the Corinthian church, there is no shortage of those who seek to “…market God’s message for profit” (2 Corinthians 2:17 HCSB), even today. With these things in mind, how can we recognize and protect against such excesses? Well, the single most effective way to identify and guard against these and other types of spiritual improprieties involves two commitments:
- A prayerful commitment to read the Scriptures on a daily basis. (1)
- A prayerful commitment to put its teachings into practice in the circumstances we encounter.
For instance, let’s consider the example of a person who is acquainted with 2 Corinthians chapter eight and the example of the Macedonian Christians who first “…gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:5). Ideally, that person would follow the same good example in considering whether to support (or decline to support) a particular ministry.
Furthermore, he or she would also be familiar with the teaching found in the passage quoted above: “God will accept your gift on the basis of what you have to give, not on what you don’t have” (GNB). Therefore, anyone who might be encouraged to “step out in faith” with a sacrificial financial offering on the spur of the moment would know to step back first in order to prayerfully seek God’s direction before committing to a hasty (and potentially unwise) financial gift.
Of course, those who first give themselves to the Lord in this manner might be motivated to give “beyond their ability” just as the Christians in Macedonia did (2 Corinthians 8:3). However, that kind of decision should not be made without prayerful forethought. In the absence of such motivation, the counsel found in 2 Corinthians 8:12 should apply: “If you are really eager to give, then it isn’t important how much you have to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you haven’t” (TLB).
(1) This means prayerfully reading a portion of the Bible every day without the use of interpretative aids. While commentaries (including this one), devotionals, and study aids have their place, there is no substitute for getting into God’s Word on a daily basis and prayerfully reading it for yourself. In the words of one Biblical scholar, “…you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.” (Dr. Bob Utley, Free Bible Commentary, Matthew 1 Copyright ©2016 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL01/VOL01_01.html)
“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12 NIV).
While any discussion on the subject of financial giving is likely to generate a difference of opinion, the following commentators offer several Biblical insights that should guide our decision-making process in this area…
“How do you decide how much to give? What about differences in the financial resources Christians have? Paul gives the Corinthian church several principles to follow:
(1) Each person should follow through on previous promises (2Co_8:10-11; 2Co_9:3);
(2) each person should give as much as he or she is able (2Co_8:12; 2Co_9:6);
(3) each person must make up his or her own mind how much to give (2Co_9:7)and,
(4) each person should give in proportion to what God has given him or her (2Co_9:10).
God gives to us so that we can give to others. Paul says that we should give of what we have, not what we don’t have. Sacrificial giving must be responsible. Paul wants believers to give generously, but not to the extent that those who depend on the givers (their families, for example) must go without having their basic needs met.” (1)
“There are principles in the N.T. which should offer guidelines for Christian giving. Christians are not to be covetous. They are not to be greedy. They are not to be anxious (double-minded) worrying over food, clothing and shelter (Matt. 6:25-34). They are to remember they brought nothing into the world neither can they carry anything out and so be content with food and clothing (I Tim. 6:6-10).
They are not to set their hopes on uncertain riches, but to do good, be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous (I Tim. 6:17-18). Christians are to provide necessities for their own families (I Tim. 5:8). The Lord expects Christians to maintain their personal lives financially and materially in such sufficiency as permits them to minister to Christ’s kingdom and the needy to the best of their capabilities (I1 Cor. 9: 8-1 3).” (2)
“(2 Corinthians 8:12) is a warning against giving or promising to give an amount that you really do not have, hoping that God will repay it. Doing this forces a test on God (Luke 4:12). People should give as God causes them to prosper (1 Cor. 16:2). Even so, the more common offense is failing to give immediately and generously when God provides us with the resources to do so.” (3)
(1) Life Application Study Bible NKJV [2 Corinthians 8:12] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
(2) Paul T. Butler. The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In Second Corinthians (College Press) [p. 285] Copyright ® 1988 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesSecondCorinthians/132Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
(3) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2061). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack'” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15).
As the people of Old Testament Israel traveled through the wilderness on their way to the land of their inheritance, God miraculously sustained them by way of a frost-like substance called “manna.” Manna literally means “what is it” and the Biblical book of Exodus provides us with a description of this supernatural food source…
“…in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor… when the sun grew hot, it melted away… The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:13-14, 21, 31 NIV).
This portion of Scripture serves as the basis for the analogy given to us here in 2 Corinthians 8:15. The specific reference is found in Exodus 16:16-18…
“These are the Lord’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs. Pick up two quarts for each person in your tent. So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little. But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed” (NLT).
Although God provided for the needs of both Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church, we should note that the method of distribution was not identical. You see, the Israelites had direct access to God’s provision in the book of Exodus while His provision for the Christians of first-century Judea came through other members of the church. Nevertheless, the objective remained the same in both instances: every person in need would receive what he or she required.
Unlike the economic redistribution efforts that have characterized various social and political movements over the years, this passage highlights the simple, voluntary, non-coercive nature of New Testament financial giving: “You have more than you need now. When you have need, then they can help you. You should share alike” (NLV).
“But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord” (2 Corinthians 8:16-17).
2 Corinthians 8:16 features the sixth appearance of Titus, a friend and colleague of Paul the Apostle. But Paul and Titus were no mere acquaintances; they so close that Paul actually referred to him as “my true son” in Titus 1:4. In fact, many commentators believe that Titus delivered this very letter to the Corinthian church on his follow-up journey back to Corinth.
However, we’re about to find that Titus was not alone in that endeavor…
“And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind” (2 Corinthians 8:18-19).
A look at how Paul introduced this unnamed associate provides us with some clues regarding his selection. First, we can say that he was someone with a a good reputation, someone whose “…work for the Good News is praised in all the congregations” (CJB). We should also notice that Paul said, “we have sent him.” This indicates that his selection was a joint decision and not one mandated by Paul.
We’re next told who was involved in making that choice: “…he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering” (NIV). The wisdom behind this approach becomes clear when we consider how this arrangement offered protection for everyone involved. For example, this decision placed an unbiased and independent representative within the group and established a layer of accountability to guard against the mishandling of this gift.
We should also note that the churches who appointed this representative invested their reputations in making this decision. This helped ensure that a person of good character would accompany Titus. It also demonstrated their mutual support for Paul and Titus in this ministry effort.
Finally, it seems ironic that Paul would mention someone was “…famous in all the churches” (CEB) yet neglect to mention that person’s name. Much like a prominent celebrity or athlete who is known by a single name, perhaps this individual was so well known among the first-century churches that Paul didn’t feel the need to mention his identity.
“avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us—providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:20-21).
It seems that Paul the Apostle recognized the need to act with discretion in administrating this financial offering for the churches of Judea. His response should direct our attention to one of the most important requests we can make of God: the ability to exercise discernment. This valuable gift provides us with the capacity to see things as God sees them and not necessarily the way they appear.
You see, discernment enables us to exercise perception, understanding, and good judgment in various situations. However, this is more than just a helpful characteristic; it is something that is essential in many respects. For instance, one of the most important elements of good character involves the ability to perceive the potential consequences of our actions- and the unfortunate truth is that untold numbers of people have been deeply hurt by those who failed to discern the potential effects of their decisions.
In this instance, Paul realized that others might question the appropriateness of a large financial offering in the hands of one of his close friends. Therefore, he took steps to eliminate any potential avenues of criticism. While Paul certainly recognized the need to act with integrity before God (or “in the sight of the Lord” as he said in the passage quoted above), he also worked to ensure that others could see that as well (“but also in the sight of men”).
So this capacity for discernment enabled Paul to see how others might perceive him and helped ensure that he acted as a good representative of Christ. In a similar manner, discernment can also help us determine if we are acting faithfully in many small (and seemingly inconsequential) areas of life. As Jesus reminded us…
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?” (Luke 16: 10-12 NLT).
In the words of one commentator, “It is the business of the Christian community to do its business in such a way that men of the world will have no cause to suspect anything contrary to righteousness in its affairs.” (1)
(1) G. Campbell Morgan, Searchlights from the Word (p. 385). Quoted in William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (2 Corinthians 8:21).
“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
Its interesting to consider the motivational forces that drive others. For instance, some are compelled by anger or a quest for vindication. Others are motivated by a desire for recognition, validation, or popularity. Then there are those who are driven by the pursuit of financial wealth. But here in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul the Apostle identifies the greatest motivational cause for action: “Christ’s love compels us” (HCSB),
This tells us that the defining qualities of Christ’s self-sacrificial love should govern the choices and decisions we make. Some of those qualities are expressed by the definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7…
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT).
Nevertheless, a closer inspection of Jesus’ life and ministry reveals several instances where He engaged in responses, characterizations, and behaviors that others may have perceived to be unloving. Perhaps the most famous example is found in John 2:13-17…
“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me'” (NIV).
With these things in mind, we can say that “Christ’s love” is not simply limited to an emotional sentiment or the outward display of affection. Instead, it can be characterized by a mindset that seeks what is best from a Biblical perspective. If we are truly motivated by the kind of love that Jesus demonstrates for us, (1) then our actions should follow accordingly.
“And we have sent with them our brother whom we have often proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, because of the great confidence which we have in you.
If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. Therefore show to them, and before the churches the proof of your love and of our boasting on your behalf” (2 Corinthians 8:22-24).
The act of receiving a recommendation, commendation, or endorsement from another person is something that is often satisfying and validating for the person who receives it. In advising the members of the Corinthian church regarding the delegation that had been sent to meet with them, the Apostle Paul offered one such a recommendation on behalf of Titus: “As for Titus, he is our colleague and partner in your affairs” (Phillips). Coming from someone like Paul the Apostle (a man who was personally commissioned to the work of the ministry by Jesus Himself), that was certainly a lofty commendation.
In addition to the previously mentioned (but unidentified) person who was “…famous in all the churches” Paul mentions another well-respected individual, one who had shown himself to be “diligent in many things.” Much like Titus and his unnamed associate who was chosen by the churches of that area, this anonymous individual was someone who possessed similar leadership qualities. Together, they formed a team who could be trusted with this sizable financial gift.
So this brings us to the end of 2 Corinthians chapter eight. Although this chapter ends here at verse twenty-four, we’ll soon find that this is not the end of Paul’s discourse on the subject of financial giving. As we’ll see in the opening verses of the following chapter, Paul was not above using the motivational tools at his disposal to encourage the Corinthians to move forward in fulfilling their commitments. He will also continue with an agricultural analogy that will help illustrate the importance of investing the resources that God has entrusted to us.
We can close our look at this portion of Scripture by summing up a few of the principles of financial giving contained within this chapter…
- Difficult economic circumstances should not automatically prevent us from assisting others (8:1-4).
- We should seek God’s direction first in regard to financial giving (8:5).
- We must follow through on our financial commitments (8:6-11).
- God wants us to give what we have, not what we don’t (8:12).