I. What is being taught in 2 Corinthians 12:14?
A. Context of Paul’s words
- “I have become a fool; you forced it on me. I ought to have been recommended by you, since I am in no way inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. The signs of an apostle were performed among you in all endurance—not only signs but also wonders and miracles. So in what way were you treated worse than the other churches, except that I personally did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong! (2 Corinthians 12:11-13).
- The context is helpful for us to have a proper understanding of this text. Paul declares that he has treated the church at Corinth the same as all the other churches except for one difference: he did not burden them. It seems clear that Paul is speaking about not financially burdening the church at Corinth. Earlier in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul declares that he “preached the gospel of God to you free of charge” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul continues, “I robbed other churches by taking pay from them to minister to you. When I was present with you and in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my needs. I have kept myself, and will keep myself, from burdening you in any way” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
- Therefore, when we read Paul speaking to the Corinthians about being a burden, he is speaking about being a financial burden. When Paul went to other churches to preach the gospel, those churches paid for him to remain there. But, Paul made the decision when he came to Corinth to not ask for any financial assistance from the Corinthians but to receive funds from other churches while preaching in Corinth. This sets the tone for the words Paul is about to say, which is where the question comes from.
B. The declaration
- “Look! I am ready to come to you this third time. I will not burden you, for I am not seeking what is yours, but you. For children are not obligated to save up for them parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for you” (2 Corinthians 12:14-15).
- From what Paul has just said, it seems that Paul is explaining why he did not ask for financial assistance from the church in Corinth. Paul’s explanation is based upon the natural parent/child relationship. Paul declares that parents save up for their children and children do not save up for their parents. I am trying to save money for Paige and Jenna so that they can go to college and so we can afford them when they are teenagers. Parents, upon knowing they are going to have a child, begin to save to be able to provide for the child everything he or she needs. We would find it ghastly if the reverse were true. If we found out that Luke, Sarah, and Jordan Fiser all had jobs and Jeff had quit his job because the children were going to pay the home expenses, we would be mortified. We would talk to Jeff and declare him to be walking disorderly if children were paying for their parents. This is the illustration that is in view that Paul is communicating to the Corinthians.
- Paul tells the Corinthians that he considers himself their spiritual parent. He did not want them to be spending their money to keep him as he worked with them. As his spiritual children, Paul did not want his need for financial payment to be a stumbling block from them obeying and continuing in the gospel. Therefore, Paul is arguing that he was not trying to cheat the Corinthians nor wanted to treat them differently. Rather, Paul saw the Corinthians as his children and did not want to put any burden on them.
- Was Paul giving a command to all children of all ages telling them that they did not have to provide for their parents when they get older? Was Paul saying that parents were to give all their money to their children, but children did not have to return any money to their parents? If this is what Paul meant, then he would be contradicting his other letters.
- Recall Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 5:4: “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they should learn to practice their religion toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God.” Paul further said, “Now if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
- It is evident from Paul’s other teachings that he was not teaching that children do not have a responsibility toward their parents. Paul was very emphatic to ignore parents who are in need to be worse than an infidel and helping our parents is pleasing to God. Paul’s analogy in 2 Corinthians 12:14 refers to younger children as they are in the household under their parents rule. In a normal family unit, the parents save and take care of all the money issues. Children do not have to worry about those things. But as children grow older, they do have a responsibility to take care of their parents as the need arises.