Put Your Money to Work

 

Week of March 23, 2014

 

Bible Verses:  2 Corinthians 8:10-15; 9:1-5.

 

The Point:  Be ready to give as the need arises.

 

Finish the Work:  2 Corinthians 8:10-11.

 

[10]  And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. [11]  So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.  [ESV]

 

[10-11]  “Paul does not command them on this matter but does give them authoritative counsel. He wants to motivate them through reasoning since genuine benevolence for others is not something that is created by way of a command. He also does not want to seem to criticize them, but he does want to tell them what he thinks is best. Their original intention was good, but if they do not carry it out, it would make them look bad. Paul shows his affirming leadership style by praising what can be praised, namely, their willingness to commit to the ministry in the first place, and by permitting the Corinthians’ self-respect to function as an internal incentive. But he clearly, if subtly, communicates that talk is cheap; now is the time to produce. Therefore Paul thinks it is in their best interest to complete what they were so willing to start because: (1) they have already begun and they should not leave something undone [8:11]; (2) nothing is accomplished if what is started is not finished; (3) they get no credit for initial enthusiasm that disintegrates before the task is finished. The only imperative in chapter 8 appears in verse 11 (finish doing) and strikes the heart of Paul’s concern that they finish what they started. Paul is not trying to recruit them at the last minute; they were the first to get involved. Now, he is trying to get them to reverse their last minute foot dragging. Putting off something not only results in dwindling motivation to complete the task, their delay calls into question their initial willingness. The phrase out of what you have parallels the phrase in 8:3: according to their means. Paul does not ask them to do as the Macedonians did and go beyond their means but only to give according to their means. They are not to go into debt, to become disadvantaged or overburdened. Paul’s goal is not unreasonable; he is not trying to raise record amounts. His instructions in 1 Corinthians 16:2 to set aside a sum of money each week reveals that he knows he is dealing with many who have limited resources, and a significant amount will only be accumulated over time. Whatever they give generously, he assures them, is acceptable to God. What matters to God is only what is in the giver’s heart. In the Corinthians’ case the smallest gift is greater than the grandest intention that goes unfulfilled. In the New Testament the principle ‘in proportion to what you have’ replaces the principle of the tithe found in the Old Testament. The tithe only puts the focus on how much one is required to give and allows one to ignore how much is kept for oneself. Some can give far more than the tithe and have more than enough to provide all the necessities of life. Others barely have two mites for their daily needs.”  [Garland, pp. 379-381].

 

Acceptable Giving:  2 Corinthians 8:12-15.

 

[12]  For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. [13]  For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness [14]  your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. [15]  As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack."  [ESV]

 

[12-15]  “As the thriving capital of Achaia, Corinth was far more wealthy than the Macedonian cities, and the congregation had some members who were relatively well off. Paul does not mention anything about their poverty, so we can assume that they were not in the same financial straits as the Macedonians. Stinginess has a way of expressing itself through suspicion of others and rationalizing its tightfisted ways. Paul is aware that some miserly members of the congregation might gripe, ‘Others will be profiting from our hard earned money’. ‘We have to bear the brunt of the burden while the poor get rich off us’. ‘We have enough financial troubles of our own, why should we have to help others we do not even know?’ Paul is realistic; unless one has the spirit of Christ, one does not want to bear a greater burden so that others might be relieved. He therefore tries to deflect any possible complaint by assuring them that the Jerusalem church is not going to live the high life from these gifts. Paul does not ask the Corinthians to give more than others because they are better off. He asks them only to give what they can. The example of the Macedonians shows that Paul is not placing an unequal burden upon them. He does not want them to become burdened in offering relief to others. The Corinthians’ giving to this fund, even sacrificially, will hardly compare with the severe affliction which the Macedonians endured. In spite of their dire circumstances, these Christians did not believe they were too hard pressed to give what they could and beyond what they could. But Paul is not asking the Corinthians to put themselves into debt by contributing. The principle undergirding the whole project is one of equity. It relates to justice and fairness. Sharing from their surplus to give to this fund accords with a divine principle about equity and material goods. Two principles emerge from Paul’s discussion: giving in proportion to what one has, and giving on the basis of equity so that each has enough. The Corinthians’ current abundance will supply their current lack. This divine principle – no one has a surplus; no one has a shortage – was enforced by God in the time of the wilderness. Now it is voluntary, dependent on the working of God’s grace in the hearts of Christians. The principle governs Paul’s advice on handling money. He told the Corinthians earlier that they should not depend on their money but live independently of it [1 Cor. 7:29-31]. He warns others to beware of greed [Rom. 1:29; 1 Cor. 6:10; 2 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 4:19; 5:3,5; and 1 Tim. 6:10] and to provide for those in need [Rom. 12:13; 2 Cor. 9:8; Gal. 6:6-10; Eph. 4:28; and 2 Thess. 3:13]. The most remarkable statement appears in Ephesians 4:28, that one should work so that one may have something to share with those in need. On the other side, he warns others from trying to take advantage of fellow believers’ generosity [see 2 Thess. 3:8-12]. Paul applies the divine principle of equity to sharing material gifts with the poor in Jerusalem. Paul sees this project as the outworking of an even greater divine principle that is creating a worldwide fellowship of people in Christ. They are interconnected to one another through Christ and have equal access to God’s grace. They trust in God’s daily provision, and no one needs to hoard their material blessings since God provides abundantly. If they lack anything, they need not fret. God has provided other Christians an abundance so they can help. God has also poured out grace to make Christians generous.”  [Garland, pp. 381-390].

 

Faithful Giving:  2 Corinthians 9:1-5

 

[1]  Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, [2]  for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. [3]  But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. [4]  Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated--to say nothing of you--for being so confident. [5]  So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.  [ESV]

 

[1-5]  “The word For connects these verses with the end of chapter 8. Verses 1 and 2 form the first point Paul wishes to discuss, namely, his boasting about the Corinthians; verses 3 and 4 deal with the effect this boasting may have on him and the Macedonians. At first sight, the apostle’s unwillingness to write about the ministry for the saints seems to form a break with his earlier discussion. But this is not the case if we understand Paul to say that he is fully confident of the Corinthians’ desire to contribute to the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. It is noteworthy that Paul mentions Jerusalem only once in his Corinthian correspondence [1 Cor. 16:3]. This leaves the distinct impression that no additional references to this city are needed. Paul does not doubt the sincerity of the Corinthians, and therefore he is not interested in writing about their response to his call for giving to the collection. He wants to avoid the prospect of diminishing his readers’ eagerness if he should stress this matter once more. Because the three emissaries (Titus, who is called my brother [2:13], and the two brothers [9:3]) will explain all the details to them, there is no need for Paul to be specific in print. Paul’s admiration for their enthusiastic response to the collection is so great that he boasted about the Corinthians to the Macedonians. He compliments them and says, I know your readiness. His tone of voice is much the same as that of Jesus, who uses similar words when He encouragingly addresses the seven churches in Asia Minor and says, I know your works [Rev. 2:2,9,13,19; 3:1,8,15]. Paul is not interested in exerting force; instead, he stimulates voluntary obedience to his call for action. The apostle is a man of word and deed, and he teaches his followers to imitate him. Thus, he wants not merely words from the Corinthians but also deeds. Paul had used the members of the church in Corinth as an example for the churches in Macedonia: Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. He had been boasting repeatedly about the Corinthians during his stay in Macedonia and had praised them for their willingness to give. The Corinthian enthusiasm for the collection inspired the Macedonians to contribute generously to this cause. Paul attributes this not to his boasting but to the grace of God that worked in the hearts of the people in Macedonia [8:1-2]. These people imitated the eagerness of the Corinthians and went further by translating words into deeds. Now these deeds have become an example to the Corinthians, so that the circle that Paul started is nearly compete. Paul is open and honest with his readers and reports the very words he has spoken to the Macedonians. Achaia was the Roman province that comprised all of southern Greece. The capital of this province was Corinth, which served as the mother church for the congregations in the surrounding area. To be more inclusive, Paul mentions the province instead of the city. The people in the church of Corinth and area congregations had  been ready to give to the collection since the previous year [8:10]. The delay caused by the controversy with the offender [2:5-11; 7:8-9] had repressed the church’s eagerness. The apostle who wrote his letter of love to these Corinthians [1 Cor. 13] was averse to ascribe even a hint of laxity to the recipients. He applies the words of his letter to himself: Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things [1 Cor. 13:6-7]. The positive note in Paul’s words is that the Corinthians induced many people in Macedonia to donate funds to the collection. Verses 3 and 4 appear to contradict everything Paul stated in the first two verses. Why is he sending the brothers if he is boasting about the Corinthians’ readiness? Why does he fear that the Corinthians will fail him? Why is he casting doubts on their readiness? The answers to these questions must be seen in the light of Paul’s integrity and his honesty with the people in Corinth. He is sending the brothers to Corinth not to be administrators or controllers of the gifts that are to be collected, but rather to glorify God. Paul writes that his boasting about the Corinthians might not be in vain. For Paul, the word ‘boast’ implies boasting in the Lord [1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17]. He boasted of the eagerness the Corinthians have shown, just as he rejoiced in the generosity of the Macedonians. His boasting is directed first toward God to express his thankfulness and then toward the churches for their mutual edification. The brothers who are being sent to Corinth have heard Paul boasting about the Corinthians and rejoicing in the Macedonians. They now travel to Corinth to continue this boasting and rejoicing in the Lord. By sending the brothers, Paul wants them to see that the Corinthians are true to the words he has spoken. Therefore, delegates go to Corinth to bolster the eagerness of the Corinthians. Does Paul fear that the Corinthians will fail him? The apostle knows that all the other churches are also involved in the collection. But he does not want to see the Corinthians falling behind the others and failing to give leadership. He wants the Corinthians to take action and demonstrate their love to the church in Jerusalem and to the brothers sent by the Macedonian churches. Paul’s words, then, should be understood positively as words of encouragement. He is not doubting the readiness of the Corinthians but wants their zeal translated into deeds. Paul intimates that if they only show eagerness and nothing more, their words will be hollow sounds. Words and deeds must go together, and the apostle is confident that the recipients of his epistle will demonstrate this sequence to the churches. Verse 4 begins with words of uncertainty. At the moment of his writing, Paul is not certain who will accompany him on his journey from Macedonia to Corinth. If Macedonians escort Paul and find the Corinthians unprepared, blame would attach to that church. Paul is striving to consolidate the unity and harmony of the church, so that the collection made by the Gentile churches for the saints in Jerusalem is a unified effort. He wanted the Corinthian and the Macedonian churches to give leadership in this project. If the church that he fathered [1 Cor. 4:15] should lag behind by being unprepared, he would be greatly embarrassed. He wanted them to have the project completely finished by the time he and the Macedonians planned to arrive. On the basis of verses 3 and 4, Paul writes that he had carefully thought about this matter and concluded that everything pointed to the necessity of sending the brothers. He chooses his words carefully and says that he urges them to visit Corinth. The two unnamed brothers were commissioned not by Paul but the churches and were to accompany Titus. But why does the apostle send the threesome in advance of himself and others? Their task was to help the Corinthians in the joyous task of completing the collection, so that when Paul and the delegation from Macedonia were to arrive, everything would be ready. Paul not only had full confidence in the readers of his epistle, but also reminded them of their earlier enthusiasm and promise. He places the burden on the Corinthians and is fully assured that they will complete what they had promised. He reminds them of a proverbial truth: ‘A promise made is a debt unpaid’. Paul seems to indicate that the people in Corinth were not unwilling to give but needed help in organizing the work of collecting the funds. The purpose for the preliminary work of collecting the funds is that all will be ready when Paul and fellow travelers arrive in Corinth. And the result of this work will be the joyful experience of giving generously. Giving that originates in a heart dedicated to God always results in a blessing, for the gift will bless the recipient and God will grant His favor to the giver. But giving with a heart ensnared by greed can never receive God’s approval, for greed, which is idolatry, has taken God’s rightful place [Col. 3:5]. This is the contrast that Paul places before his readers, and he trusts that their financial gift may come forth from generosity rather than greed. Paul is not implying that the members of the Corinthian church were short on generosity and long on greed. On the contrary, he had commended them for their eagerness to help, and he is confident that the people will respond well.”  [Kistemaker, pp. 304-309]. 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         What is Paul’s concern in these verses with the Corinthians? Describe the way Paul deals with the Corinthians over this concern.

 

2.         What principles of Christian giving do we learn from Paul in these verses?

 

References:

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul Barnett, Eerdmans.

2 Corinthians, David Garland, NAC, B & H Publishing..

II Corinthians, Simon Kistemaker, Baker.