Keeping Your Commitments (2 Cor. 8:16-9:15)
I have been thinking about Ananias and Sapphira, the couple whose death we read about in Acts 5. When the church was born in Jerusalem as the result of Peter’s great sermon at Pentecost, there was an almost immediate response to the needs of the poor among the believers. Men like Barnabas sold property which they did not need and gave the money to the apostles so they could minister to the needs of the poor of the congregation. Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of their property as well, and gave a portion of the proceeds to the church. The problem with this couple’s action was not that they kept back a portion of the proceeds of this sale for themselves, but that they lied about the amount they gave to the apostles. Both of them testified that what they gave was the entire amount they had obtained from the sale of their property. And for this, they both died. This was a lesson to the whole church, and it certainly made quite an impression.
I have been rethinking the account of Ananias and Sapphira in relation to our text in 2 Corinthians. I believe the two texts are somewhat related. Let me suggest a purely hypothetical account of the early verses of Acts 5, which make the actions of this couple seem far more natural and reasonable, and shows us how we could do something similar.
Let’s suppose that in Jerusalem there is a great need among the poor saints, and consequently men like Barnabas sell unneeded properties to obtain funds to give to the apostles so they can distribute funds to the poor. Ananias and Sapphira determine that they will sell a piece of property too, and so they call an appraiser to determine the value of this property. Let’s say he gives them a figure of $10,000. As others come to the apostles with their contributions, Ananias and Sapphira come and inform them that as soon as they sell their property, they will be giving $10,000 to the church for the poor. The next week, before the property has been sold, plans for a new shopping mall are announced. The new mall is adjacent to the property of Ananias and Sapphira. A businessman sees the added value to their property and offers them $15,000. It takes a few weeks for the deal to close, and no one but the couple and this businessman know about the price they have been paid.
It is at this same time that Ananias and his wife learn of a great deal on some land some distance away. This land can be acquired for a mere $5,000.00. One or the other thinks of a plan. They could donate $10,000 to the church and keep $5,000 to use in the purchase of the new land. They would still be giving what they promised, and yet they would be able to make money for a nest egg in the future. Somehow, in the course of events, the question is asked of them, “Did you get the $10,000 you were asking for the land?” The couple responds that they have. Soon, almost without knowing it, they are caught in the lie, and this lie is the death of them.
My point in this hypothetical account is that we seldom premeditate such lying and deceit as that seen in Ananias and Sapphira. Sin often “evolves,” if you will pardon my use of this term. We don’t plan for things to go that way, but they do, often because of seemingly insignificant choices along the way. The problem at Corinth seems similar to my fictional version of Ananias and Sapphira. Further, I believe we are guilty of the same kind of sin today, and we too are hardly even conscious of it until Paul’s words in our text begin to come to life.
When Paul comes to Corinth with the gospel, a number respond by trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. Like new converts everywhere, these believers respond to the report of poor saints dwelling in Jerusalem and Judea. They want to help and promise to do so. The need is so great that it will take time to accumulate a gift as large as the Corinthians want to give, and so a plan is agreed upon which will give them time to raise the funds. For some, it might take time for property to be sold. For others whose means are limited and who have nothing to sell, it means saving up funds over time so they can contribute. In any case, it will take time to come up with their intended contribution.
Some, it seems, may have had a bad year farming or in business (fishing is poor this year), and their ability to give may be diminished. Some may have lost heart and decided that since they can only contribute a fraction of what they promised, they might as well do nothing. Others may have been swindled by their Christian brother and thus unable to give much. I can imagine the person who took his fellow-believer to court may have “borrowed” from his personal benevolence fund, salving his conscience by convincing himself that when he gets the money back he deserves, he will give that amount and more. Another family may have been through a very difficult year and determined that “for the family’s sake,” they will use their contribution to take a much needed vacation. Another family may have decide to use their contribution to begin a business, certain that God will prosper them, and they can give much more over a longer period of time. Others were offended by Paul’s failure to come to them as soon as they had expected. They know he will come to collect their contribution, and it looks as though this will be later rather than sooner. They decide to use what they had accumulated and then begin to set money aside for the poor as soon as they can afford it.
We don’t really know the details of why the Corinthians are in danger of failing to keep their initial commitment to give to the poor. What we do know is this: In the first blush of their faith in Christ, the Corinthians genuinely purposed and promised to contribute to the poor in Judea. They have even been setting funds aside. Now, as the time for Paul’s return begins to draw near, Paul has sufficient reason to fear that their contribution will fall considerably short of what they have promised. Paul’s return will prove embarrassing for all. Paul boasted to others of their generosity, and now that boast may prove to be empty. Some Macedonians will be going with Paul to collect the Corinthian contribution, and they will be embarrassed at how small the Corinthian donation is. And the Corinthians will be the most embarrassed of all. They will have failed to do what they promised, with no acceptable excuse. Paul’s words and actions, recorded in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, are intended to prevent embarrassment, by seeing to it that the Corinthians keep their commitments for their own good, for the good of others, and for the glory of God.
Trusted Colleagues Who Will Precede Paul
16 But thanks be to God, who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord. 18 And we have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; 19 and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness, 20 taking precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; 21 for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. 22 And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things, but now even more diligent, because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ. 24 Therefore openly before the churches show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.
Paul is coming to Corinth. There is no doubt about that. But he is not coming immediately. Instead, he is sending this epistle along with several of his most trusted associates. Paul names one of the delegation he is sending to Corinth, a name which they will immediately recognize and rejoice over—Titus. Titus has already been to Corinth on what appears to be more than one occasion.53 Paul speaks very highly of Titus. It is true that Titus is coming to Corinth (probably bearing this epistle) at Paul’s request and others (note “our appeal” in 8:17). But Paul wants them to know that the coming of Titus is his desire as well. He is not coming begrudgingly dragging his feet all the way. Titus is as eager to come personally as Paul and others are to send him.
In a momentary aside, I want to draw your attention to the wonderful picture Titus provides us of the willing service of the Christian. Just as Paul sends Titus on this mission, God instructs us by His Word. He gives us orders, as Paul and his colleagues instructed Titus to go back to Corinth. This “duty” is also a “delight” to Titus, as our “duties” should be a “delight” to us. When “duty” is a “delight,” we find our service not burdensome, but a source of great joy.
Titus is not the only one who is being sent to Corinth. Along with him, there is “the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches” (verse 18). As you might expect, there is a fair bit of speculation as to who this “brother” might be. Luke is one suggestion. I would think Apollos might be another. It is clear that God did not want us to know who this man is, and it does not matter in the least. What we do know is that this man’s qualifications are impeccable. All the churches know of him and regard him highly. By the description Paul gives us, this man seems to be a teacher of the Scriptures. From what we know of Titus (see the Book of Titus as well), it seems this is his role also.
Yet another man is referred to in verse 22, the “brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things …” Most commentators see this as a third member of the delegation. I am at least inclined to wonder if this fellow is not Titus, who is once again named in verses 23 and 24. Titus certainly was “found diligent in many things” (verse 22), and after his return from Corinth was “even more diligent” (verse 22; compare 7:13-15). Regardless of whether there are two or three men in this delegation, it is apparent that all of them are men of the highest caliber and reputation. To use the greeting card company’s expression, Paul “cared enough to send the very best.”
One cannot help but wonder why this delegation was sent ahead of Paul. Why is such an esteemed group necessary? It seems the purpose is at least two-fold. First, these men are sent to facilitate the financial follow-through Paul calls for in chapters 8 and 9. Paul urges the Corinthians to complete what they have purposed and promised to give, which they have actually begun to set aside. These men are sent to help the Corinthians do so. This is likely done by teaching and exhortation, which at least two of the men are gifted to do. Further, if the Corinthians’ failure in following through with their initial commitment is due to the false apostles’ erroneous teaching, these teachers of the truth will correct the errors and thus bring the Corinthians back to the truth, back to the gospel, and back to the grace of God which motivates grace giving.
The second role this delegation plays is to insure the integrity of this financial transaction. It is safe to say that the “false apostles” in Corinth are lining their own pockets. (This is probably where some of the absent funds are going.) Paul and his apostolic colleagues are absolutely scrupulous about money matters. They want to give no opportunity for any questions to be raised, any doubts to be created as far as how the funds are collected, kept, and distributed. How often money is the reason a given ministry or minister becomes discredited. Paul does not leave this matter to chance. These men are of the highest reputation, so that all will know the funds are all being used as promised and purposed.
A number of Christian organizations have joined organizations like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (EFCA), a group which sets standards for its members to assure the donors to its member organizations that their monies are being used wisely. The Elders of CBC have given thought to joining this organization, but have decided otherwise, simply because we are not a large organization and because the costs and some procedures are prohibitive. We would say to you, however, that we have given very careful thought to our financial procedures and practices to avoid any appearance of sloppiness or misuse of funds. It was pointed out to us that only one person counts the offering each Sunday. We now have the offering counted twice, by two different people. This is not because we distrust anyone. (In fact, this is why we never thought of having two people count the offering.) But by doing this, we protect those who handle our funds from any accusation, and we protect the integrity of our ministry.
Lest anyone think this delegation is only representing Paul and his colleagues, Paul adds that these men were “a glory to God” and “messengers of the churches” (8:23). I wonder if this delegation was not a kind of team which met various needs in the Corinthian church. I am inclined to think that at least one of these men had some accounting skills. We know that one of the men was appointed to accompany the gift collected in Corinth and the other churches to Jerusalem (8:19). Thank God for such people, who are so meticulous in knowing where and how monies are spent. I am tempted to think that as these men “went over the books” of the Corinthian church (if indeed there were such books), they found serious discrepancies. If and when such discrepancies were discovered, the action which Paul calls for in the next chapter would be more than apparent.
But mainly, I believe Paul sent the best men available so the Corinthian saints would have every possible advantage to follow through with their earlier commitment. I do not believe Paul’s only motive was the “great need” which existed in Jerusalem. (Indeed, it is noteworthy that Paul, unlike many fund-raisers today, did not even describe the need in Jerusalem in this epistle.) I believe Paul greatly desired a generous gift from the Corinthians because of the blessing it would be for them. Because it is truly “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), then facilitating a generous gift on the part of the Corinthians is seeking their highest good. How different this attitude is from the religious hucksters, who view the saints as “easy victims” who deserve to be parted from their money.
Paul’s Reason for Sending This Delegation
1 For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints; 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I have sent the brethren, that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, that, as I was saying, you may be prepared; 4 lest if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we (not to speak of you) should be put to shame by this confidence. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, that the same might be ready as a bountiful gift, and not affected by covetousness.
In one sense, it is unnecessary for Paul to write to the Corinthians about making a contribution. After all, he is not trying to sell the idea to them, because the Corinthians have been committed to making a contribution for at least a year. While Paul has written to the Corinthians of the Macedonians’ generosity, it is not as though the Corinthians are so reluctant to give that Paul has to use the generosity of these poor saints to spur the church at Corinth into action. In fact, Paul has spoken to other churches concerning the Corinthians’ generosity, just as he has written to the Corinthians concerning the Macedonians.
That, indeed, is a good part of the problem. Paul has actually boasted to other churches about the generosity of the Corinthians, based upon their initial enthusiasm of making a contribution to the poor. Corinth is a major city of the region of Achaia. When Paul spoke to the other churches of Achaia about the generosity of the Corinthians, they also promised to make a contribution. And their contributions have already been collected, awaiting the arrival of Paul and/or others to transport the monies to Jerusalem. This creates an embarrassing situation for Paul. The churches of Achaia have their offerings ready to collect, but the church he uses as a good example of generosity is not ready with their contribution. The Macedonians who will be coming with Paul to collect the Corinthian contribution will be appalled, Paul’s boasting will prove to be vain, and both he and the Corinthians will be embarrassed.
This is the reason Paul takes the decisive action of sending the delegation to Corinth ahead of him. He does not want the Corinthians to fail in this area. They have already repented of other wrongs; now let them make good on their promise to give to the poor. Time is short, but with the encouragement and facilitating gifts of this delegation, the Corinthians still have time to make good on their promise.
Guiding Principles to Counter Greed
6 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. 7 Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; 9 as it is written, “HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ABIDES FOREVER.” 10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. 13 Because of the proof given by this ministry they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, 14 while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
The last words of verse 5 inform us of one of the principle problems at Corinth (and elsewhere) which adversely impacts grace giving: covetousness. Here, Paul says he has sent the brethren so they can assist the Corinthians in arranging beforehand their previously promised gift, which is not affected by covetousness. Covetousness is the illicit desire to have what belongs to another. Generosity is the godly desire for others in need to have what I possess. One cannot be covetous and generous at the same time. And so Paul turns our attention to those guiding principles concerning generosity which counter covetousness in the closing verses of chapter 9.
The first governing principle of sowing and reaping can be stated very simply: The way you sow is the way you reap.
There is a sense in which we should “give away” our excess material possessions to the poor and expect nothing from them in return. It is also true that when we do so, we know we will be rewarded by our Lord for our generosity in heaven:
17 He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed (Proverbs 19:17).
12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. 13 But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).
In introducing the principle of sowing and reaping here in our text, Paul informs us that giving away some of what we have is the means by which God provides more for us to give. The one who sows sparingly, reaps sparingly. The one who sows bountifully, reaps bountifully. According to the principle of sowing and reaping, to give generously is the way to have an abundant return. The key to sowing bountifully is to delight in doing so. The reason we sow sparingly is because we sow begrudgingly. What we enjoy doing (giving generously), we do more abundantly. What we dislike intensely, we avoid. And so Paul urges the Corinthians to give generously, out of a heart filled with gratitude and joy.
Some people simply do not enjoy being generous. It causes them great pain to give up more of what they possess in order to bestow it upon someone who needs it more than they do. Once I suggested to a friend who was dying that she give away some of her possessions while she was alive, so that she could enjoy the act of giving while she was still alive. I had seriously misjudged the situation. This woman did not want to give anything away before she died, because she found no pleasure in giving. Only after her death, when she could keep her possessions no longer, would she reluctantly will them to someone else. How sad.
Giving generously is not only to be an act of joy, it must also be an act of faith. Let’s face it, when we give generously to the poor, it would seem there is no way we will ever see anything in return. But Paul introduces a second principle of giving: When we sow generously, God allows us to reap bountifully, so that we may be able to give even more.
Giving generously is giving graciously. When we show grace to others by giving generously, God replenishes our grace, so that we have yet more to give (verse 8). God graciously provides for us to be gracious, as we exercise grace toward others in generosity. It is He who “supplies and multiplies our seed for sowing” (verse 10).
Like most spiritual principles, this principle is just the opposite of what we would naturally think and practice with regard to generosity. We believe we can show generosity to others only after we have obtained all that we think we need for ourselves. I am willing to give to others, once I am assured that I have enough for myself. But I never quite reach the point where I think I have enough for myself, and so I keep postponing my generosity to others. Paul tells me that I must first be generous to others, and then after I have sown generously, God will cause me to reap in abundance, so that I may give even more. I must give joyfully and in faith, looking to God to provide for my own needs, as well as for my continuing generosity to others.
As I consider this principle of sowing and reaping, I am reminded of the story of Elijah and the Gentile widow of Zarephath, as recorded in 1 Kings 17. This woman was not given an abundance of food and then instructed to feed Elijah. She was virtually out of food and was instructed to give first to the prophet, and then to trust God to provide for her and her son. This woman’s provisions were always running out. She seemed to be taking food from the mouth of her child in order to first feed Elijah. But in generously giving to Elijah, she found that God provided for her needs and those of her son. We must not wait until we have plenty and then give to those in need, but we must give what we have to give, trusting God to provide for our own needs.
In verse 9, Paul cites Psalm 112:9: “He scattered abroad, He gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever.” This psalm describes the righteous man’s generosity as sowing or scattering seed abroad. It is the basis for the imagery Paul employs in 1 Corinthians 9:6. This Psalm speaks not only of the righteous man, but of The Righteous Man, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah. This psalm, like so many others, moves from the godly man to The Godly Man. Only our Lord Jesus Christ is righteous. And so in the midst of describing what a righteous man looks like, the psalmist turns to the Lord Jesus Christ, showing Him to be the standard-bearer for generosity to the poor. Whatever Paul has called upon us to do with regard to the poor, it is in the final analysis only imitating our Lord.
The imagery of sowing and reaping is further refined by this third principle: When we sow generously, what we reap is far more than monetary.
Frankly, the religious hucksters are not entirely wrong in what they say or imply. When we give generously to God, God is generous to us in return. But the hucksters are wrong when they imply that God prospers us so that we may indulge ourselves. Paul indicates that God is generous to us so that we may be able to give generously to others. Paul also differs from the “good life gospeleers” in that he does not speak only of material benefits and blessings. Paul teaches us that we reap God’s blessings in a number of forms.
We reap God’s blessings as a harvest of righteousness (verse 10). Giving to the poor is not only what God does (Psalm 112:9, cited above in verse 9), it is what God requires and desires of us (see Romans 12:13; Galatians 2:10; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Hebrews 13:16; James 1:27). When we give to those in need, it is regarded by God as a spiritual sacrifice, pleasing in His sight (Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16). And thus, gracious giving not only demonstrates the grace of God, it is regarded by God as an act of righteousness, inspired and enabled by His grace.
Furthermore, generous giving to the needs of the saints produces the fruit of praise and thanksgiving to God. When needy saints receive a generous gift from fellow-believers, whom they do not even know by name, they recognize that God is the ultimate source of the gift. And so they respond with thanksgiving and praise to God for His grace in their lives (verse 11). Gracious giving does far more than just meet a physical need; it is the source of many thanksgivings to God. Now that, my friend, is reaping abundantly!
Generous giving did something else for the recipients which was very important. Those in need were not just “the poor”; they were the poor in Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 24:17; see Acts 11:27-30; Romans 15:24-27). These were the Jewish saints who had great difficulty accepting the fact that Jesus Christ came to save both Jews and Gentiles to make them one in Him (see Luke 4:16-30; Acts 10-11; 22:22). The generous contribution of Gentile saints is proof that their profession of faith is genuine, and that their unity in Christ is real. Because of this, these Jewish saints glorified God.
Giving to the needs of others produces spiritual blessings for the giver as well (verse 14). This financial gift bonded the Jewish saints in Jerusalem and Judea with the Gentile saints abroad. Because of this, the prayers of the poor Jewish saints not only expressed praise and thanksgivings to God, but also petitions for the well-being of the Gentile saints who had given to them.
I would have to say from experience, both as a giver and as a recipient, that giving to those in need creates a very special bond. I graduated from seminary a good number of years ago now, and I think it is safe to say that those relationships which continue are often those which involved the exchange of money. It is no wonder that the Greek term koinonia is used for the sharing of funds in the New Testament (see, for example, Romans 12:13; 15:27; Galatians 6:6; Philippians 4:15). What a way to demonstrate our unity—by sharing with the saints.
The final and fourth principle regarding generosity is recorded in verse 15 and may be summed up this way: No matter how generous our giving to others might be, it pales in insignificance when compared to the ultimate generosity of God, who saved us through the sacrifice of His Son. Paul is never far from the cross of Christ, even in a matter which seems as mundane as money. The gift of the Corinthians is but a drop in the bucket when compared to the gracious gift of salvation. The gift of salvation should never cease to produce awe, wonder, and gratitude. Our gifts to others should be a kind of commemoration of the gift of God in Christ. Our generosity is rooted in the generosity of our God in the person of our Savior, Jesus Christ:
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 (2 Corinthians 8:9).
I am amazed at the lengths to which Paul is willing to go to promote godliness in the Corinthian church. How easy it would have been to write this bunch off as a bad investment. Instead, Paul has written them on a number of occasions, he has sent others to minister to them, and now he is sending a delegation of men to help the Corinthians do what they should do. Giving to the poor is not only good for the poor, it is good for those who give to them. Paul wants what is best for these saints, and he is willing to sacrifice personally in order to facilitate their good. You may remember that these were very difficult days for Paul in Macedonia, and the presence of those with Paul is a source of great comfort and encouragement (see 2 Corinthians 7:5-7). Rather than keep these men by his side to comfort and encourage him, he sends them on to Corinth to promote their godliness.
This text says much to those who are would-be donors, but it also speaks to those who may be the recipients of financial gifts from fellow-believers. First, it should remove any feelings of guilt or embarrassment for receiving from others. Giving is certainly intended to be a blessing to the recipient, but it is also to be a blessing for the donor. Have you benefited from the generosity of the saints? Be grateful for it. Praise God for it. Pray for those who have given to you. And don’t feel guilty for being a source of blessing to those who have given to you.54
Our text says a great deal about the way we should raise funds and the way funds should be handled by the church. Paul’s appeal for funds is done in a way which does not appeal to the flesh, but rather in a way that depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. He does not employ guilt or greed as motives for giving, but rather the grace of God. The way funds are raised, handled, and distributed should mark the Christian apart from others and must avoid any questions concerning propriety. It is my opinion that much of the fund-raising done by religious organizations today falls far short of the standard set in our text.
I am impressed, once again, by Paul’s “team” approach in ministry to the Corinthians. There is a saying that goes like this: “If you want the job done right, you have to do it yourself.” Paul does not believe this at all. I sincerely believe Paul sent the delegation described in our text because he was certain they, as a team, could do a better job than he could have done alone. Paul had done what he could. He had written them a letter, he continued to pray for them, and he sent the team of men best suited to do the job which was needed in the Corinthian church. Paul was not a “one man army,” as were the “false apostles” at Corinth, who wanted to “own” their own group of devotees.
We should also learn a lesson from our text concerning the currently popular concept of “accountability.” Paul is very careful to hold the Corinthians accountable for the things they have purposed and promised. Paul holds their feet to the fire to complete the collection for the poor. He does all he can to encourage and facilitate their completion of this ministry. He also sees himself and the other apostles as accountable to the churches regarding the raising, collecting, and distribution of funds for the poor. The interesting thing to me is that the church at Corinth, as a church, is accountable not only to Paul and to the other true apostles, but to the delegation Paul sends. Paul sends a delegation of outsiders to Corinth to expose problems, to teach the Scriptures, to complete a collection, and to supervise the transfer of funds. In our day, when individual local churches pride themselves for being “autonomous,” we may need to step back and re-think our position. Here is a local church, accountable to the apostles and to a delegation which is sent to help them deal with their problems. There may be things wrong in our church which are obvious to an outsider, but to which we are blind. Let us give serious thought to how we practice our accountability to the larger body of Christ.
This text has something to say to those who excuse their failure to give because they think they do not have enough funds to give to others. First, giving to the poor is not just for those who have much to give, but for all those who have more. To use an analogy our Lord employs, when we see a brother who has no coat, we don’t have to own a coat factory; all we need is two coats (see Luke 3:11). The reason we may not have the means to give to the poor is because we have not sown from that which we have in order to reap more to give. We, like the widow who cared for Elijah, may need to give first to those in need, and then look to God to supply our needs. There is a difference here between faith and folly, but to the unbelieving, all faith is folly.
Finally, our text has some remarkable parallels to the second coming of our Lord. Paul has been to Corinth, where he has proclaimed the gospel and many have come to faith. In his absence, he has written several letters and sent others to minister to them. He has promised to return to them, and his return appears to have been delayed. Now, he is soon to come, and he does not want the Corinthians caught by surprise, not really ready for his return, and thus embarrassed by his coming. This is the reason Paul writes to them and sends this delegation to prepare the way for his return. He wants his return to be a joyful reunion.
Our Lord has come to this earth and proclaimed the gospel. He has departed by His resurrection and ascension, but He assures us that He is coming again. He does not want us to be caught unaware and unprepared. He wants us to be ready for His return so that our reunion will be a joyful one, rather than an occasion for embarrassment. And so He has left us with His Word and with other gifted saints, all of whom are to encourage and equip us to live godly lives, so that when He returns we will be found ready. What a joyful time that will be if we are ready and waiting. Are there things which need to be done beforehand? Then let us tend to them now, quickly, before He returns, so that our reunion may be a joyful one.
If you have not yet trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life, you are not ready for our Lord’s return. The time for repentance is now. Now is the time God has allowed for you to turn in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in His death, burial, and resurrection on your behalf, so that your sins might be forgiven and you may receive God’s gift of eternal life. Do not delay! Time is short! Trust in Him for salvation, and then live in a way that you will not be ashamed at His return.
53 Titus was there a year before to help the Corinthians “make a beginning” in their gift to the poor (8:6). He was also just there and had recently returned to Paul with a good report about them (7:6-7). These seem to be two different visits, and it is possible there were others. The return of Titus to Corinth would therefore appear to be his third visit to this city.