11. Learning to Be Liberal (2 Cor. 8:1-15)
1 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 Consequently we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. 7 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. 8 I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 10 And I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. 11 But now finish doing it also; that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. 12 For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality— 14 at this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality; 15 as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK.”
I can almost hear the groans as we reach chapter 8 of 2 Corinthians. Someone surely will say, or at least think, “There he goes, just like every other preacher I have heard … speaking about money.” You are right, of course; Paul does speak about money here in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. The Bible has a great deal to say about money. The Old Testament talked about it, Jesus talked about it, and the apostles wrote about it as well. Paul is not raising funds for himself or his ministry here. He is not seeking contributions so the church can build an addition or pay its bills. Paul is not even seeking to raise funds for missions or evangelism. Paul is talking about one of the most important forms of giving in the New Testament, one not nearly as common today—giving to saints who are in dire poverty.
At first glance, one might think Paul’s words on money are introduced abruptly and out of place in the context. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Paul’s teaching on giving is directly related to the problems in the Corinthian church, which he has been addressing in his two recorded Corinthian epistles. These are words every Christian needs first to hear, and then to understand, and finally to put into practice. Let us take heed as Paul teaches us how to be more liberal when it comes to giving to our brethren in need.
The Setting of Our Text
When Paul first arrives in Corinth on his second missionary journey, he preaches the gospel, and a number of the Corinthians come to faith in Jesus Christ as the spiritual “children” of the Apostle Paul. It seems that in their joy and gratitude, like many other churches, they purpose to make a contribution to the poor in Jerusalem. Titus apparently has already been to Corinth to help them commence a plan by which a contribution for the poor in Jerusalem will be raised over a period of time. In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul gives some instructions to the Corinthians about their plan to give to the poor:
1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2 On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. 3 And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; 4 and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).
It appears from Paul’s writing here that the Corinthians have lost heart for this financial project, and fallen back in their regular contributions in preparation for sending this gift on to Jerusalem. It is not difficult to imagine how this could happen. First, Paul has been gone, and at least some of the Corinthians have begun to cool in their relationship with him and the other authentic apostles. This is largely due to the influence of the “false apostles” among them, but it is also due to their own spiritual dullness because of unconfessed sin. For example, it seems the false apostles have been teaching that there is to be no resurrection of the dead. If this is true, one need not fear a day of judgment when we will give account to God. If the dead are not raised, we had better “grab all the gusto we can get,” because there is only this life to live, and it should be lived to the full (see 1 Corinthians 15:32).
Paul has written a painful letter to the Corinthians, which causes both Paul and the Corinthians great sorrow (see 2 Corinthians 7). But now the Corinthians have truly repented. They yearn to see Paul and are zealous in defending him. They want him to come to them, and they look forward to his coming. But the next time Paul comes to Corinth, it is with other men to collect the gift they promised for the poor in Jerusalem. How embarrassing if there should be no generous offering to collect for the Corinthians, for those with Paul, and for Paul himself. It would not be the kind of reunion for which either Paul or the Corinthians hoped. Thus, Paul writes these two chapters so the Corinthians will complete the project they have begun, thereby paving the way for a joyful reunion.
The Marvelous Macedonian Model of Generosity
1 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 Consequently we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. 7 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.
In these first verses of chapter 8, Paul introduces the subject of the Corinthians’ pledge to give a gift to the poor by describing the incredible generosity of the Macedonians, who gave liberally to the need in Jerusalem. The Macedonian churches included the churches at Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica. The Philippian church seems to stand apart from all the rest in its generosity. From the very beginning, this was so. After coming to faith in the Lord Jesus, Lydia virtually insisted that Paul and his companions accept the hospitality of her home while they are in Philippi (Acts 16:15). Shortly after, the Philippian jailer begins to show Paul and Silas hospitality after he and his family come to faith in Christ (Acts 16:32-34). Not only do the Philippian saints participate in making a generous contribution to the poor in Jerusalem, they are also generous to Paul after he departs from them. Even while he is in prison, they send Epaphroditus to minister to Paul, along with a gift of money he carries:
25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need (Philippians 2:25).
15 And you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs (Philippians 4:15-16).
It is noteworthy that the actual amount of the Macedonian contribution is not mentioned. I can recall only one instance where the amount of any gift is specified in the New Testament.51 The size of the Macedonians’ gift did not impress Paul as much as the liberality of that gift, since many other factors could have substantially reduced their giving. First, the Macedonian saints were facing a “great ordeal of affliction” (verse 2). Not only was Paul having a hard time in Macedonia (see 2 Corinthians 7:5), the Macedonians were also (8:2). They were facing a great deal of affliction as seen in Paul’s words to the Thessalonians:
6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7).
3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; 4 therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).
In such times, one may suffer great financial losses due to one’s faith in Jesus Christ:
32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one (Hebrews 10:32-34).
Second, the Macedonian saints were poor, a poverty so great Paul calls it “deep poverty” (verse 2). Paul does not need to warn this church about trusting in riches as he had the Ephesians through Timothy (1 Timothy 6:17-19). The Macedonians’ “great ordeal of affliction” and their “deep poverty” could have served as excuses for not giving to the “poor” in Jerusalem at all. I can hear someone saying in such circumstances, “Charity begins at home.”
Because of these circumstances, Paul does not expect much from the Macedonians in terms of a contribution for the poor in Jerusalem. It is clear that Paul’s expectations are considerably exceeded as he indicates in verse 5. I believe that here Paul provides us with the underlying basis for the Macedonians’ generosity. First, they gave themselves to the Lord. The Macedonian saints have been gloriously and graciously saved through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ gave Himself for their salvation; how could they not give themselves to Him? They are His servants, eager and willing to walk in His footsteps. If “God so loved the world that He gave … ,” how can they refuse to give to those in dire need? Second, the Macedonians have given themselves to the apostles, as our Lord’s earthly spokesmen. The apostles are deeply concerned about the poor, and rightly so (see Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37; 5:1-11; 6:1-7; Romans 12:13; Galatians 2:10; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Hebrews 13:16; James 1:27–2:26). And so when the Macedonians gave themselves to the apostles, they were responsive to the needs of others, as the apostles point them out.
The Macedonians’ giving is exemplary in several regards. First, as we have seen, they gave generously at a time when they were poor themselves. Second, the Macedonians gave voluntarily. The term “voluntarily” fails to adequately express the spirit of the Macedonians. These people who were in “deep poverty” plead with Paul for the privilege of giving generously. One of the ancients observes that the only “begging” which took place here was the “begging” of the poor Macedonians, pleading with Paul for the privilege of sharing what little they had with those who had even less.
Third, the Macedonians gave gratefully. These folks gave generously to people whom they had never seen and likely would never meet. It would be one thing for someone in their situation to give to a relative in deep need, but to give to a stranger is something even more amazing. The gift of the Macedonians evidences their gratitude to God for saving them through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Fourth, these Macedonians gave to those in Jerusalem who were their brothers and sisters in Christ. They gave to fellow-believers as an evidence of their unity in Christ.
Fifth, the Macedonians gave joyfully. Paul did not have to wrench the money from their hands; they readily and joyfully insisted on giving. They found great joy in what they were doing. In their affliction, the Macedonians experienced joy; in their deep poverty, they exhibited great generosity (8:2). This is truly an amazing group. Paul therefore points the Corinthians to the Macedonians as a model and standard for their giving. Let the Corinthians follow in the footsteps of their Macedonian brethren. To facilitate this, Paul will send Titus, who has already helped the Corinthians set up a system for giving to the needy in Jerusalem early in the life of that church (or so it seems). When Titus returns, the Corinthians are urged to finish up what they have purposed and promised to do in this matter of making a contribution to the saints. They have excelled in many ways—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in earnestness and zeal, and in love. Let them now excel in this gracious work of showing charity.
The Master Model: Jesus Christ
8 I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
The “false apostles” at Corinth are able to achieve their goals only by using a heavy hand with the Corinthian saints. They “use their authority” to get the results they want (2 Corinthians 11:20). Paul is not this way. He does not want to resort to his authority as the basis for the Corinthians’ giving. Paul makes it clear that he is not commanding them to give, but rather encouraging them to give as a proof of their love. Paul seems to be saying that the Macedonians have demonstrated the sincerity of their love by the sacrificial generosity of their gift to the needy saints in Jerusalem. That establishes a kind of human benchmark against which the Corinthians’ love can be measured. The earnestness of the Macedonians helps set the standard by which the Corinthians may prove the sincerity of their love.
There is, however, a much higher standard than this. The human benchmark of the Macedonians’ love and generosity is far surpassed by the divine benchmark for love and sacrifice to those in need. The ultimate example of gracious giving is our Lord Jesus Christ, by His sacrificial atoning work on the cross of Calvary. He was infinitely “rich” in the presence of His Father (see John 17:5; Philippians 2:6). He willingly “became poor” in His incarnation (Philippians 2:5-8). He was born in a very humble setting, having a cattle trough as a bed, and being born to parents who were far from rich. He left the “wealth” of heaven and took on the “poverty” of this earth in His incarnation. He who was rich became poor for the sake of those of us who were spiritually “bankrupt” in our sins. Through faith in His sacrificial work on the Cross of Calvary, He has made all those who trust in Him exceedingly rich.
Whatever we might do for those who are poor can never compare with the work of Christ on the cross. Our material wealth can never compare to His heavenly glory; and our sacrificial poverty can never compare to the “poverty” He endured in His incarnation. The person and work of Christ is the basis for our motivation, and it is the standard for our ministry. The cross of Christ, that message which seems foolish to the unbelieving (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), and certainly to the unbelieving “false apostles” (see 2 Corinthians 11:4), is the unending theme of all of Paul’s teaching. As he can never speak enough of the cross, we should never hear enough of the cross of Christ (see Colossians 2).
Finish What You Started
10 And I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. 11 But now finish doing it also; that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. 12 For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have.
Paul’s words in verses 8 and 10 sound remarkably similar to 1 Corinthians 7:25. He clearly indicates that his words are not a commandment directly communicated to the Corinthians from God through Paul. He does not legislate how much the Corinthians should give. Having expressed that the opinion he holds is his personal conviction, Paul goes on to declare his conviction as such. Paul’s opinion is that generous giving is a desirable thing which works to the donor’s advantage. The Corinthians, after all, were the very first of the churches to make a beginning in this matter a year ago. If the Corinthians were the first to begin to give, and they are not yet ready with their contribution (as other churches are), then it is most certainly time to finish this matter. The desire to commence this giving should be accompanied by the same desire to complete it.
In a year’s time, some things surely must have changed. Perhaps some suffered unexpected losses and are no longer able to give as much as they had intended. Unlike the hucksters who urge people to give what they cannot afford, Paul does not lay a guilt trip on the Corinthians. They should simply complete what they started, but only within the means they have to do so.
Over the years, I have seen some who wanted to do something great for God, something big and significant. For whatever reason, this was not possible. But rather than doing what they could do, they do nothing at all, waiting for a time when they can do all they want. Paul urges those Corinthians who have suffered setbacks to do whatever they are able to do now, thus completing their giving so their contributions can be collected and sent to those in dire need.
The Principles of Equality and Reciprocity
13 For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—14 at this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality; 15 as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK.”
Paul has just written an encouragement (not a commandment) to the Corinthians to complete what they have purposed and promised regarding their contribution to the poor. He now concludes his exhortation with the statement, “it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have” (verse 12b). Paul urges the Corinthians to keep their commitment according to their ability to do so. He now further clarifies himself by setting forth two governing principles: (1) the principle of equality and (2) the principle of reciprocity. Let us briefly consider each of these, as Paul seeks to demonstrate from the Old Testament.
First, the principle of equality should govern our giving to those in need. In the secular world, there is a principle which directly opposes the principle of equality: “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” When a person has wealth and prosperity, he has power over those with limited means. The “borrower,” the Proverb tells us, “is the lender’s slave.”
7 The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave (Proverbs 22:7).
The rich have the ability to gain even greater wealth at the expense of the poor because they have the power to do so. The ungodly seek to increase the gap between their wealth and the poverty of those around them. They have the advantage, and they use it to their own ends. The Bible presents an opposite picture. In the Old Testament and in the New, political or economic power (to mention just two forms of power) should be employed for the good of those who are weak and powerless. Power must not be used to oppress the helpless, but to help the helpless. When I have more than my neighbor, I need to consider how to best use the resources of which I am a steward to enhance the life of the one who is poorer. It is not a matter of how much wealth I possess as much as the fact that I have more than my needy brother.
I want to be very clear about what I am saying here. I am not saying that the Bible teaches us to practice some form of communism. With communism, the state owns property, not the people. With Christianity, people own property, but they do not selfishly claim it as their own: “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them” (Acts 4:32). While every believer possesses private property, they must not selfishly claim its ownership and use it for only themselves, but for those in need. We say, “What’s mine is yours.” By saying this, we mean that we are willing to give up our possessions for the benefit of another.
In teaching the principle of equality, Paul does not suggest that people give up their right to own private property; neither does he indicate that everyone must live on exactly the same standard. All Christians do not need to drive the same year and model of car, nor own precisely the same home as everyone else. But when one believer has more than the one who is in dire need, he or she should seek to narrow the economic distance between them, rather than to seek to widen it.
The Old Testament is full of indications that God does not want the rich to get richer while the poor become poorer. That is why the Israelites were not to make loans to their fellow-Israelites at interest. This is why all properties must revert to their owners at the Year of Jubilee. In the New Testament as well as the Old, the desire to accumulate and hoard great wealth was condemned, while charity was praised. The bottom line is this: when we realize that a brother is in dire need, and we have the resources to alleviate that need, we should generously and joyfully do so. Equality, not inequality, should be our desire.
The second principle is that of reciprocity.52 In more contemporary terms, this principle may be summed up by the expression, “What goes around, comes around.” Paul says that while we may have more today so that we can help our brethren in need, there may very well come a day when “the tables are turned” and the “shoe is on the other foot.” Generosity we show now toward a brother in need may become generosity from that same brother to us when we have a time of need.
Paul illustrates what he has said by turning us back to an event described in chapter 16 of the Book of Exodus (citing verse 18). The Israelites had come out of Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and were now in the wilderness where there was almost no food. God provided for Israel’s nutritional needs by giving them manna to eat. When God first gave manna to the Israelites, He tested them by instructing that only enough manna should be saved as was needed for that day—an omer per day, per person (Exodus 16:16). Paul reminds us that when the time came to measure out what each had collected, it always came out right. Those who gathered little had enough, and those who gathered much did not have too much. Everyone ended up with just what they needed.
How could this happen? Was this some kind of miracle that God performed? That is possible, but I don’t think Paul understood it that way. I believe the people went out to gather manna and then returned to measure it out to see how much they had collected. Measuring the manna with a one omer container showed that some had more than they needed, and others less. Those with more manna than needed gave to those with less, and so everyone had just what they needed. This is the kind of equality for which Paul wants the Corinthians to strive. Some earn more money than others. Those who have “more than they need” should share with those who have less than they need.
God does not prosper His people so that they may indulge themselves; He prospers some so that they may share with those in need. In so doing, they demonstrate their brotherhood as those who trust in God. In effect, this is what Paul writes to Timothy.
17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Is this not what our Lord teaches as well?
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
This text is amazing. It is also one which should sound quite foreign to many Christians. This poverty of the Christians in Judea and the believers in Macedonia is something of which Western Christians know little. There are exceptions, but as a rule, Western Christians are rich and can hardly identify with the poverty Paul describes. In spite of our great wealth as a nation and as individuals (comparatively speaking), this kind of generosity is also foreign to us. A number of Christians give trivial amounts out of their wealth, and many give nothing at all. Of all the things to which Christians give today, an incredibly small portion of our giving is to the poor saints in other parts of the world. I suggest to you that this text is foreign to us not because it doesn’t address conditions in the world and the church today; it is foreign because Christians are oblivious to the needs of their poorer brethren around the world.
Then, as now, often those whose resources are limited are the most generous. Those Christians who joyfully and generously give out of their poverty will most certainly not lose their reward. Those who have done without are often the most sensitive to the needs of others who are doing without. Giving to the poor is not about being rich or having much; rather it is about having more, more than our brother or sister in dire need.
One reason the teaching of this text is difficult for us to apply is that as wealthy as we are—as a nation and as individuals—we are often “broke” when it comes to available cash. We are so deeply in debt with our credit cards that we have little or nothing to give, unless we do so by the use of our credit cards. It is thus little wonder that some Christian organizations take donations by credit card. To be free to minister to the needs of others, we would be well advised to stay debt free to do so.
Notice that Paul assesses the “measure of a church” not by its size, but by its sacrifices. The church growth movement all too often seems to operate on the assumption that churches which are growing numerically are the churches most blessed of God, churches who are “doing it right.” Thus, churches which are growing the fastest are analyzed to determine what they are doing which makes them successful and growing. Paul never measures the spirituality or success of a church by its numbers, whether that be the number of attendees or the numbers pertaining to their offerings. Paul holds forth the Macedonian church, which is hardly prosperous or successful by some standards. If we wish to assess the success or spirituality of a church (something I’m not sure we should try to do—see 1 Corinthians 4:1-5), then let us look for its sacrifices. Let us not seek to encourage self-indulgence, but self-sacrifice.
Notice in our text the emphasis Paul places on grace. The root term for grace is employed eight times in this chapter and six times in our text. Paul does not seek to employ guilt as the motive for giving, but gratitude in response to the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us now consider the principle thrust of our text, as I understand it. The meaning and application of our text comes in the answer to this question: “Why does Paul bring up the subject of giving now in this context?” At first glance, it appears that Paul’s teaching on giving here comes as a bolt out of the blue. But further consideration indicates that Paul’s words here are right on target. There are several answers to the question which we will briefly address.
First, Paul speaks of money here because it is a very little thing. Our Lord taught this in the Gospel of Luke:
9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 “If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 “And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:9-12).
The Corinthians need to take “baby steps” because of their spiritual immaturity (see 1 Corinthians 3). They need to deal first with the “little things,” and money is one such thing. When they have dealt rightly with money, they can take on bigger matters. Money is the first step, a starting point. No wonder we see new Christians and new churches immediately responding to needs in generosity.
Second, money is one way of becoming partners with other believers. Paul has just warned the Corinthians about being unequally yoked with unbelievers in chapter 6 (verses 14-18). The Corinthians had been unequally yoked with unbelievers in many ways, some of which we have discussed earlier. But while we are not to establish an unequal yoke with unbelievers, we are to be equally yoked with fellow-believers. Chapters 8 and 9 describe one of the ways Christians in one place can be linked with their brothers and sisters far away—by giving to their financial needs. Here is a “yoke” we may need to seriously consider.
Third, this matter of the Corinthians’ gift to the poor is directly linked to problems Paul has been addressing at Corinth. In many ways, it is the first step in dealing with many of the wrongs Paul has pointed out in the Corinthian church. Are small, competitive cliques and factions in the church? Let the saints all join together in giving to the larger body of Christ. Here is a great step in the direction of maintaining Christian unity. Are the saints taking one another to secular law courts? It is probably due to greed. Let the Corinthian saints practice sacrificial giving and begin to experience the joy of generosity. Are some selfishly indulging themselves at the Lord’s Supper, leaving nothing to eat for those who need it most? Let these Corinthians begin to show concern for the brethren in Judea and for their hunger. Are there those who teach that there is no resurrection from the dead? Let them begin to lay up treasure in heaven by investing in the material needs of fellow-believers. Let them make sacrifices in time, looking for their ultimate reward in eternity. Are there Corinthians who look down upon Paul because of his poverty and humble circumstances, as though piety and prosperity always go together? Let them recognize that the saints in Jerusalem and Judea are suffering because of their piety, and so too the Macedonians. Let them gladly give to the needs of the brethren in Jerusalem, and they will begin to view material prosperity differently.
Fourth, fulfilling their promise to give to the poor in Jerusalem paves the way for a happy reunion with Paul and his fellow-apostles. Paul had hoped to visit the Corinthians sooner than possible. In chapters 1 and 2 of this epistle, Paul has explained the reasons for his delay in coming to Corinth. The sins which required Paul to write his painful letter were a barrier between Paul and the Corinthians. But now that these saints have responded positively to Paul’s letter and the coming of Titus, Paul is eager to come to them. There is a potential problem, however. The Corinthians promised a gift to the poor a year earlier, but Paul knows their giving toward this project has ceased, or at least been greatly reduced. How embarrassing for Paul, for the Corinthians, and for those who came to collect this offering if the gift is small. Chapters 8 and 9 are intended to exhort the Corinthians to fulfill their promise in a way that will facilitate a grand reunion with Paul and his companions.
Fifth, following through with their promise to give toward the needs of the saints in Jerusalem is an opportunity for the Corinthian saints to demonstrate their repentance. Repentance is evidenced by the “fruits of repentance” (see Matthew 3:8). Every evidence is that the Corinthians have repented. Repentance, as I understand it, is not like a “mulligan” in golf. (By the way, I am a lousy golfer, who uses many mulligans.) A “mulligan” is just a euphemism for cheating. When I hit the ball way out into the brush, if I can find it, I pick it up and throw it back onto the fairway. If I were playing by the rules, it would be very different. I would have to play the ball as it lies.
I think some Christians wrongly believe that you can sin, then “repent” as if you were taking a mulligan, and then forget your past sins, rather than make them right. Let me illustrate what real repentance looks like by calling your attention to Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-10. When he came to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, he repented of his sins. After he believed, he told the Lord Jesus that he intended to give half of his possessions to the poor and that he would pay back anyone he defrauded four-fold. He did not go his merry way, claiming forgiveness while keeping money that had been fraudulently obtained. Zaccheus went back to the sins he had committed and sought to make them right.
I believe this is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians about their promise to give to the needy in Jerusalem in chapters 8 and 9. The Corinthians had made a commitment to give to the poor in the early days of their faith. For various reasons, they began to renege on their commitment. Paul now urges the Corinthians to go back to the point of their failure, to go back to their sin, and to make matters right. The Corinthians promised to help their poor brethren, and then sinned by not following through with this promise. If they repented of their sin, they would go back to their promise and fulfill it. Paul’s exhortation facilitates complete repentance. It points the way back to the place where they departed.
I must ask you before we close, is there something you have done which you know is wrong, of which you have not repented? Confess it as sin, as the Corinthians did. Then go back to the place where you departed from obedience to the truth, and make whatever wrong you committed right. It may be that you have never repented of your sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Repentance requires the acknowledgment of your sin against God, and your trusting in Jesus Christ as the One God sent to bear the punishment for your sins, to provide the righteousness which God requires for you to enter into His kingdom. This repentance unto salvation is accompanied by a changed heart, a changed mind, and the kind of generosity we see new believers exercising in the New Testament. Once you have tasted of the grace of God in salvation, you will find grace and generosity to be not a pain, but a privilege.
51 There is the case of the widow’s two copper coins in Luke 21:1-5. The amount is mentioned not because of its great size, but because it shows the depth of this widow’s poverty and reveals God’s pleasure in this woman’s sacrifice in contrast to the large amounts given by others which were not sacrificial.
52 We might call the principle of reciprocity the principle of long-term equality. When we help a brother in need today, and then he helps us in our need tomorrow, over the long haul there is an equality. It all balances out in the end.