In 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul presents another picture of what it looks like to be a servant of Jesus Christ. The people of God are to be generous people. Perhaps the best summary of these two chapters is found in 2 Corinthians 9:11.
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11 NIV)
One of the difficulties about teaching on generosity and giving is that if you command people to be generous, then they are not being generous when they give. They are giving from the command, under compulsion. Generosity comes from the heart that wants to give. So how will Paul teach these Corinthians about the need to generous, giving people so that it will be a desire that comes from their hearts and not a command to give more? This is what we will look at in these next two lessons from 2 Corinthians and through this study learn the grace of giving.
Introducing The Circumstances
Before we can go forward in our study, we need to understand what is going on in the world at this time so we can better understand what Paul is saying. During the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD), there were many outbreaks of famine. We see one such instance recorded in Acts 11.
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27–30 ESV)
Judea was constantly experiencing famines and the Christians in that area were greatly struggling. When we read about these Christians being in need, let us not think that they are in need of a needing televisions, cars, internet, computers, and other such things that we think we need. This is a severe famine. These Christians are in desperate need of the true necessities of life. It is a famine. Listen to what Paul told the Roman Christians about this effort.
At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. (Romans 15:25–26 ESV)
It is this situation that Paul writes to these Corinthians. In the first letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote to these Christians to prepare a contribution for these Christians (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). With these relief efforts under way for the Christians in Judea, we can listen to what Paul has to say to these Christians.
The Example of the Macedonian Churches (8:1-6)
Paul wants these Corinthian Christians to know what the churches in Macedonia are doing regarding this effort to help these needy Christians. The Macedonian churches would include Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica. The first principle Paul wants them to learn is that these Christians in Macedonia gave even in spite of their difficult circumstances. Listen to the words in verse 2. They were in “a severe test of affliction.” Further, they are also in “extreme poverty.” Paul teaches that these Macedonians did not give because they had a bunch of excess laying around. Rather, they gave in spite of a severe affliction they are going through and in spite of the extreme poverty they have. Generosity never happens if we first evaluate what we have. Giving is not limited by what we have. This sounds counterintuitive but this is exactly the point Paul is making concerning what these Macedonian Christians did. Look at verse 3 to see this point even further. “For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord” (NASB). These Christians did not have anything to give. They are in extreme poverty and a severe test of affliction. But they gave and they gave beyond what they could give. If we look for excess we will never give. We always think we need every dollar we have. But the point is not merely that they gave in spite of their own dire circumstances.
Their giving was done with joy. Look at verse 2. Their giving was done from an abundance of joy. Look at verse 3. These Christians gave of their own accord, meaning they did this voluntarily. Look at verse 4. These Christians were begging earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of these Christians. It was from their own heart and their own will that they gave beyond their means, in spite of their affliction and in spite of their extreme poverty. They begged to be able to do this and their giving was beyond what Paul and Titus expected (8:5).
So where does this heart and joy for generosity come from and how can we have it? Notice that Paul explains this also in these first five verses. In verse 4 you can see that these Christians saw giving as a grace. This is the word Paul is going to use many times in these two chapters. Giving is a grace of God that we are able to enjoy and experience. These Christians begged to participate in this grace and favor. Why? Look at verse 5. “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” Generosity comes from giving ourselves to the Lord. Desiring to give and seeing our ability to give as a grace of God only comes from giving ourselves first to the Lord. Giving overflows from giving yourself first to God.
This is the point that Paul often makes in his letters. We do not want you to give your money. We want you to give your lives to God. When you give your lives to the Lord then generosity will flow. As a church, we are not here for your money. We are here to help you serve God and give your life to God. When you give your life to God then your giving and your generosity will overflow. To put this another way, when we grasp that our lives are not our own, then we will also see that our wealth and our possessions are not our own. When we give ourselves to God first, then we will give everything else that we have also.
Therefore, Paul is encouraging these Corinthian Christians to finish this act of grace that they began when Paul wrote to them in the first letter (8:6). Giving is an act of grace. God gave to us so we give to one another as one has need.
Giving Proves Love (8:7-8)
Further, points out that our giving proves our love for God. These Corinthians excel in faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, and love. We would see our need to excel in these areas as very important and rightly so. But do not neglect an important virtue. Paul says at the end of verse 7, “See that you also excel in this act of grace also.” Generosity is an important virtue that we are to excel in just as we excel in faith, knowledge, love, speech, and diligence. Generosity is an expression of the gospel. We see this in verse 8. This is not a command because that nullifies the act if done under compulsion. Rather, Paul points out that our love for God is proven to be genuine by the earnestness we have for others in generosity. I want us to consider this truth for a moment. We cannot merely say that we love. Love is shown through our actions. Our generosity proves our love for God. It shows that we understand the grace of God for us. True love is kind, generous, gives, sacrifices, acts, and even gives from lack. We understand this relationships but often do not think about this in terms of generosity. Generosity is an expression of the gospel. If we are not generous people, then it shows that we do not love God and the love of God for us has not changed us into his image.
The Example of Jesus (8:9)
To prove that love is shown through action, Paul takes our attention to Jesus in verse 9.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV)
The first word of verse 9 shows the connection, “For.” Generosity proves love. Though Jesus was rich, for our sake he became poor so that we would be rich. He gave himself so that we would have what we did not have. Paul uses how Jesus gave himself so that we would be blessed so that we would be generous and give, in spite of our circumstances, in a sacrificial manner for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The love and sacrifice of Jesus is always our motivation.
Your Abundance Is So You Can Give (8:10-15)
Now Paul calls for these Corinthians to finish the work that they began earlier in saving money up to help the needy Christians in Jerusalem. As he calls for them to finish the work they began since the first letter Paul wrote them when he called for them to take up a collection (1 Corinthians 16:1-4), he lays out a few principles for giving.
First, the point of the giving is not to give to such an extent that you will not truly be in need yourself. We see this in verse 13. We do not give to our brother or sister in Christ so that tomorrow you have to ask for someone to help you. That is not the goal. However, we can probably admit that this is not our problem. What we think we need is not what we need. But Paul recognizes that there are limitations to what we can give. The point is not make the other person at ease so that you are burdened and need someone to help you.
Second, there is reciprocity that is to occur. We see this in verse 14. Our abundance today is to help those in their present need. When they have an abundance they will help your need. We need to help our brethren when they have a need and they need to help us when we are truly in need. This is a picture that comes from Ecclesiastes. There will be days when we are well off and there can be days when we are need. It is the cycle that happens in life. Rather than being nervous about the future, we recognize that we are here to help each other when there is truly a need. Paul says that the goal is equality or fairness (8:14). Here is what this means. How bad it would be if one of us had plenty of food and another Christian was hungry and lacking food! That is not supposed to happen. Rather there is to be an equality in our needs.
Paul validates his point by referring to Exodus 16:13-36 when all the needs of the people were met in the wilderness after coming out of Egyptian slavery. Whether one gather little or gather much, each person had all they needed. We recognize that are needs change as the seasons of our lives change. When April and I were married and in the training program we lived on $2000. We could not do that now with three girls, two being teenagers and one with a disability. We understand that seasons of life change from single, to married, to kids, changes in health, etc. The point is that we are here to help each other to meet our true needs. God provides for his people and we are to see ourselves as instruments in accomplishing this. This is not done out of compulsion but because we see generosity and giving as a grace.
A Work Not Discredited (8:16-24)
Paul ends this paragraph by noting how he is taking great care to make sure that he and his companions are not discredited by transporting the money from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia to the needy Christians in Jerusalem. Titus is going on this trip along with a famous brother known among all the church for his preaching of the gospel. Paul is not saying, “Trust me with handling the money.” He has other trusted people who are handling the money so that there is no cause for accusation. They are going to show that they are honorable in the sight of the Lord as well as in the sight of humans (8:21). Notice that Paul does not set up an organization or convention to collect money and redistribute it among the various churches in need. Each church took up a collection and sent those fund to the church in need in Judea. Paul and his companions were simply couriers of this money.
The gospel changes how we look at money and possessions. The earth and all that is in it belongs to the Lord (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalm 24:1). We see generosity as a grace of God and a virtue that we are to excel. Therefore we will give in spite of our circumstances, give with joy, proving our love for the Lord. Generosity does not come from how much you have. Generosity comes from having a sacrificial heart for your brothers and sisters in Christ because Christ has sacrificed for you.