THE RIGHT SUPPORT
Week of April 25, 2010
Bible Verses:† 2 Corinthians 8:8-15; 9:6-11.
Lesson Focus: This lesson is about financially supporting Christís ministry through His church.
Giving Demonstrates Sincerity: 2 Cor. 8:8-11.
† I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. † 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. † 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. † 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]
[8-9]† It is not Paulís intention to enforce this collection on the Corinthians. They are free to do as they wish, for he is not dictating a course of action which they are bound to follow. That genuine love which demonstrates itself in liberality cannot, in fact, be the product of compulsion from without. And so Paul continues to coax them with affectionate diplomacy. The purpose for which Paul writes at this point is to put the Corinthian Christians to the test (prove). By means of the zeal of the Christians of Macedonia, Paul is making proof of the genuineness of their love. This indeed is a sharp spur to the Corinthians to give concrete evidence of warm-hearted liberality comparable to that of the Macedonian churches. Not that Paul is encouraging a spirit of rivalry between Corinth and Macedonia: he is implying rather that the wonderful liberality of the Macedonians in the face of their own extreme poverty should be an example and an incentive to the Corinthians to show a liberality of comparable quality. Nowhere is the quantity contributed even mentioned, for that is beside the point. One church may without inconvenience be able to give an amount which another can raise only at the cost of great self-sacrifice. It is the spirit of devoted and single-minded generosity that matters and by which alone God measures and assesses the act of giving. What God weighs is not the outward amount, but the inward motive, or, as Paul puts it here, the genuineness of your love. In verse 9, Paul presents the supreme argument for Christian liberality: the self-giving and self-impoverishment of the Son of God on humanityís behalf. For you know indicates that the Corinthians were well aware of what Paul was writing to them. The highest form of human sacrificial giving is infinitely surpassed by what Christ has done: though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is the very perfection of grace and the sum and source of all graces. None other has impoverished himself as He did. He emptied Himself, humbling Himself by His incarnation, assuming the role of a servant, and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. From highest heaven He descended to Calvary and the grave. None was richer than He; none became poorer than He. The significance of Christís self-impoverishment is grasped only in a manner that is intensely personal: for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. The logic implicit in the statement of this great truth is too obvious for anyone to miss it. If He did all this for me, then nothing I give or do for Him can be too much. Redeemed at incalculable cost, I am no longer my own; all that was mine is now His, for Him to make use of in accordance with His holy purposes. The pre-existence of Christ is plainly taught here. Jesus Christ is the Son who was sent, the One who came into the world, the Word who became flesh, the Lord who for our sakes impoverished Himself.
[10-11]† In verse 10, Paul explains further that what he is offering is his own personal judgment concerning this matter. Having reminded the Corinthians of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, all that is necessary is for him to propound his own judgment founded upon the recollection of this crucial action of redemptive history. Thus Godís grace in Christ is central concerning this matter of Christian giving. All giving that is genuinely Christian is the free and spontaneous response to the inescapable logic of the divine goodness. The Christian has no absolute proprietary rights to his goods, be they material or spiritual, as though they were of his own making. All is of grace. In the case of the Corinthians there is, moreover, a further logical consideration. Already, during the previous year, they had made a start with the collection. Judging from the present context, it would seem that their original zeal in this enterprise had flagged and indeed that they had permitted the matter to lapse into inactivity. Paulís appeal to them to abound also in the grace of liberality was therefore not inappropriate for the additional reason that they had already given evidence of generous intentions by initiating a benevolent fund in Corinth. Was it not fitting and reasonable that they should now complete what they had begun? The ready and eager spirit with which they had shown their willingness to undertake this charitable task should now be matched by action in completing it. The doing of a thing is the only proper proof and expression of the willingness to do it.
Giving Meets Needs: 2 Cor. 8:12-15.
† For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. † For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness † your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.
† As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack."† [ESV]
[12-15]† It is not Paulís intention that the collection should be an oppressive burden to them. They are expected to give, like the Macedonians, according to what a person has. Paul is careful to explain to the Corinthians the mechanics of this operation. He does not intend that the relief of the saints at Jerusalem should be at the cost of hardship to those in Corinth, but it is his wish that things should work in accordance with the law of fairness. Under present circumstances the Corinthian Christians are enjoying a degree of material prosperity which is denied to their brethren in Jerusalem, and so the comparative abundance of the former must be extended in brotherly generosity to the want of the latter. The balance will, however, be restored should a time come when the Jerusalem church is comparatively prosperous and the Corinthian church in need; for then the extension of the abundance of the one to the want of the other will be repeated, only this time in the reverse direction. And so, by this spirit of reciprocity, a principle of equality is operative in the universal Christian fraternity. The quotation in verse 15 is from Exodus 16:18 where the context is that of the daily gathering by the Israelites of the manna in the wilderness. It admirably illustrates Paulís point here about the principle of equality. Every day the members of each tent were to gather manna for their needs. Some, such as those who were young and vigorous, gathered more than the prescribed omer; others, perhaps through age or infirmity, gathered less. But all that had been gathered was then put together and equitably measured out to each member. And so there was an equality, which in this case meant also a sufficiency, of daily bread for all. Any who attempted selfishly to hoard the manna found that it went bad and became unserviceable either to themselves or to others. In this way covetousness was condemned and brotherly love and mutual aid encouraged. This principle for the sharing of the manna is applied by Paul as a practical lesson to the Corinthian church. In the distribution of material goods, Christian equality is expressed by the generous giving of their means by those who are better off for the relief of those who are enduring economic hardship.
Giving Benefits the Giver: 2 Cor. 9:6-11.
† The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. † Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. † And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. † As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." † 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. † You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.† [ESV]
† The important lesson which Paul is urging upon the Corinthians at this point is that to give is to sow. What is given is not lost, but, like the seed sown by the farmer, contrary to all appearances it possesses the potency of life and increase. At the same time it is important to remember that, as the whole context shows, Paul is speaking of the quality, not the quantity, of giving. The source of giving is not the purse, but the heart, as verse 7 makes clear. The poor widow who gave two common mites, because she gave her whole living, gave more than all the others together who, out of their surplus, gave silver and gold at no cost to themselves [Mark 12:41ff.]. It was she who gave and sowed bountifully, not they. The sphere of giving, then, presents no exception to the inexorable rule, valid in the moral no less than in the agricultural realm, that a man reaps according to the manner of his sowing, which Paul explains further in Galatians 6:7-10. The teaching of Christ concerning the blessedness of giving amply confirms what Paul says here. Even so slight a deed as the giving of a cup of cold water to one in need will not remain unrewarded [Matthew 10:42]. To feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the stranger, clothe the naked, tend the sick, or befriend the captive is a mark of those who inherit the kingdom [Matthew 25:34-40]. This principle of reaping in accordance with what has been sown is thus seen to belong to the moral no less than to the physical structure of Godís universe. Goodness brings its own reward and indeed leads to an increase of goodness. Nowhere, however, does Scripture propose the gaining of rewards as a motive for goodness. Giving for the sake of gain ceases to be goodness flowing from a simple and unselfish heart. But the person who gives ungrudgingly for the blessing of others may rejoice in the knowledge that in doing so he is sowing seed which will produce a harvest of blessing for himself.
[7-8]† The true measure of a gift is not its external magnitude but the internal state of the giverís heart. There must be real freedom in Christian giving, each individual making the decision in his own heart how much he ought to give. To part with money in a charitable cause and then to grieve over its loss is not to give but to grudge. To contribute under compulsion, whether of superior authority or of public opinion, is likewise no act of Christian giving. Grudging or sorrowful giving manifests itself in a variety of ways. One particular instance had occurred in the Jerusalem church itself, when Ananias and Sapphira resorted to a lie, keeping back for themselves a portion of the money they had received through the sale of their land, while seeking to deceive others into believing that they were contributing the whole amount. They were under no compulsion whatever to give the whole, the money was entirely within their power. But their hearts were intent not on bringing blessing to others but on fabricating a reputation for themselves, and so they acted a lie, with disastrous results. Their object was getting rather than giving. Genuine, free, unremorseful giving is, however, distinguished by the mark of cheerfulness. In it the giver finds real pleasure. The power of God is operative in the sphere of Christian giving, for this too is a sphere of His grace. Thus the exceptional liberality of the Macedonian churches was attributed by Paul to the grace of God which they had received [8:1]. It afforded incontrovertible evidence of Godís ability triumphing over and through human inability, of His power being made perfect in their weakness. And what God did for the Macedonians He is able to do for the Corinthians. His grace is always abundant and enriching; it always leads to increase, not decrease, even when it involves parting with oneís possessions. Godís giving of His grace is the complete opposite of grudging and forced giving. In responding to it by generous and cheerful giving the Christian finds not only that he yet has a sufficiency for his own needs, but, far more, that he is so enriched by divine grace as to be able constantly to abound in every kind of good work.
[9-11]† The quotation is from Psalm 112:9, a psalm which describes the blessedness of the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments. Christian generosity may involve denying oneself certain things which the world regards as necessities of life. But such denial of self for the benefit of others enlarges the heart to receive a rich blessing of contentedness and launches one into the limitless sea of divine grace where we learn experimentally that God does indeed supply every need of those who trust in Him [Phil. 4:19]. Paul continues to magnify the grace of God. Not only is liberality a sign of Godís grace given and also a sowing of seed which, by Godís grace, will produce a harvest, but the seed itself is also supplied by God. Thus all is of God and His grace [5:18]. The Christian, in fact, has nothing which he has not received Ė a truth of which the Corinthians had been reminded before [1 Cor. 4:7]. The seed which God supplies must be scattered, it must be sown beneath the ground, that is, it must become to all appearances lost, before its potential can be realized and the manifold blessing of a harvest enjoyed. The Macedonians had given out of deep poverty, and no doubt the amount they had collected was quantitatively small, especially when compared with the needs of the Christians at Jerusalem. But such seed as God had supplied they had sown in liberality, knowing that He who is the Lord of the annual miracle of the harvest will take what is in manís eyes an inadequate quantity and multiply and increase it until it becomes a full blessing to great multitudes. Generosity, in accordance with the simile of sowing and harvesting, is an enriching activity for the giver as well as for the recipient. Christian giving is the outward expression of a heart already rich in generosity. And not the least of the fruits of the harvest which Christian generosity yields is the rendering of thanksgiving to God by those who have benefited from the generosity of their fellow believers. While there is of course gratitude to their human benefactors, the proper completion of the process is above all gratitude to God who graciously bestows not only the harvest but also the original seed of generosity.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† What is the logic of Paulís argument for Christian liberality in verses 8:8-11? What is the only true motivation for genuine Christian giving? How does your motivation in the giving of your money measure up to this standard?
2.†††††††† Why doesnít Paul command the Corinthians to give a fixed amount? Why is he more concerned with the right motive than the amount of the offering?
3.†††††††† What principals of Christian giving can you derive from these verses? How can you apply these principals to your stewardship?
The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul Barnett, Eerdmans.
Paulís Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans.