III. The Collection for the Saints and the Importance of Generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1–9:15)
III. The Collection for the Saints and the Importance of Generosity (8:1–9:15)
8:1-2 From Paul’s other letters, we know that he had taken up a collection among the Gentile churches on behalf of the poor believers in Jerusalem (see Rom 15:25-28; Gal 2:9-10). He had previously urged the Corinthians to take up an offering of their own that he could deliver when he traveled to Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-4). In this chapter, he makes an appeal for them to complete their collection.
Paul begins by highlighting the churches of Macedonia (this would have included the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea; see Acts 16:6–17:15) as an example of generosity to motivate the Corinthians’ own giving. Although the Macedonian believers had experienced a severe trial, this did not prevent them from expressing generosity that overflowed from their internal joy in the Lord.
8:3-5 Not only did the Macedonians give, but they even went beyond their ability, begging for the opportunity to contribute to believers in need whom they had never even met. By giving to a legitimate need through legitimate ministers, they had the privilege of sharing in the ministry (8:3-4). Thus, they opened themselves to experiencing the spiritual blessings and benefits that accrue as a result of sacrificially giving to the Lord’s work with the right attitude. Their submission to the Lord Jesus had prompted them to commit their financial resources through these God-ordained leaders (8:5).
Why do you give to gospel ministry? Is it because you feel guilty? Is it because you’re trying to cut a deal with God? Or is it because you know and have experienced the unmerited goodness of God in your life? When you are characterized by spiritual satisfaction and a true understanding and appreciation of grace, giving to the Lord’s work will be something you are excited to do.
8:6-7 In light of the evident grace of God in the response of the Macedonians, how could the Corinthians do less? So just as Titus had begun the collection among the Corinthians, Paul dispatched him again to bring it to completion (8:6). The apostle longs to see them excel in giving to the poor Jewish Christians, just as they have excelled in other ways—in faith, speech, knowledge, and in all diligence (8:7). When we respond to God’s grace in our lives with a willingness to give to others, his grace to us and through us is magnified all the more. The Corinthians had the chance to make God look good.
8:8-9 Paul wants them to be motivated by love, however, not by external pressure. He was not giving them a command but pleading with them to follow in their Lord’s footsteps (8:8). Though Jesus Christ . . . was rich, for [our] sake he became poor, so that by his poverty [we] might become rich (8:9). The eternal Son of God had enjoyed heavenly glory and fellowship with the Father from all eternity. But “he emptied himself” and took “on the likeness of humanity” (Phil 2:7). Then he gave “his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Christ exemplified the spirit and attitude that Paul longs to see from the Corinthian church. It wasn’t asking too much to prompt them to honor what Christ did for them by meeting the needs of fellow saints.
8:10-14 Paul encourages them to fulfill the commitment that they had made a year ago, for this would be spiritually profitable for them (8:10-11). Moreover, as long as the right attitude is present (eagerness), what is given is acceptable in God’s eyes according to what a person has, not what he does not (8:12). God looks at the heart of the giver, not at the size of the gift. Paul does not expect the Corinthians to relieve the Jewish Christians by bringing hardship on themselves (8:13). Rather, he wants the current Corinthian surplus to meet the needs of those in Jerusalem (8:14).
8:15 To provide an illustration, Paul quotes from Exodus 16:18. God provided a sufficient supply of manna to the Israelites in the wilderness so that everyone had enough. In the same way, he wanted the church in Corinth (and churches today) to help other saints when it was in their capacity to do so. The church of Jesus Christ is the means by which God meets needs.
8:16-22 Paul was blessed with a like-minded coworker in Titus, who wished to visit the Corinthians of his own volition to make this appeal (8:16-17). In addition, Paul sent an unnamed brother . . . praised among the churches for his gospel ministry, who would assist in delivering the gift to Jerusalem (8:18-19). Paul also mentions a third brother who also accompanying the group. He had been tested and found diligent (8:22). The apostle was taking every precaution because he wanted to honor the Lord and avoid the appearance of any wrongdoing, given the large sum that was being collected and delivered (8:20-21). Local churches should similarly ensure that financial matters are handled in a manner that is above reproach. Our Christian testimony is at stake, as well as the Lord’s reputation.
8:23-24 Titus and these brothers had come to the Corinthians as the messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ (8:23). As far as Paul was concerned, there was no more trustworthy assembly of ambassadors for this task. Therefore, he implores the Corinthians to validate before all the churches that their love was genuine and that Paul’s boasting in them was not in vain (8:24).
9:1-5 Having said all this (8:1-24), Paul did not need to provide any further justification for the need to give to the saints in Jerusalem (9:1). He had boasted about the churches in Achaia (where Corinth was located) to the Macedonians, saying that they had been eager for a year to give and that the example of the Macedonians only made them more exited to contribute (9:2). Therefore, Paul was sending this delegation in advance to receive the generous gift they had promised so that neither Paul nor the Corinthians would be embarrassed because of a failure to follow through on their commitment (9:3-5). Moreover, he wants their giving to be a genuine gift from true motives and not a result of compulsion (9:5).
9:6 Paul finally arrives at his main point in his exhortation on giving: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. In other words, a cheap giver will be a cheap receiver, and a generous giver will be a generous receiver. Paul uses a simple farming illustration. A farmer’s harvest is dependent on what he sows. Unless seeds are planted, there will be no crop. The seed deposited in the ground is an investment made in faithful expectation of reaping something much more significant.
In spite of what some health-and-wealth gospel advocates may say, Paul is not promising that giving generously to gospel ministry will result in earthly, material prosperity and the elimination of all your problems. Anyone who says that doesn’t know what he’s talking about and is claiming biblical support for false teaching.
But clearly there’s a principle of sowing and reaping here that’s not to be ignored. If you give generously to a legitimate need from sincere gospel motives when it is in your capacity to do so, God will give you his blessing. A blessing is the God-given capacity to experience, enjoy, and extend the goodness and favor of God in your life. Regardless of what God provides to you, he will bless you with his presence and the ability to use what he provides.
9:7 All giving should be done willingly and not out of compulsion. Why? Because God loves a cheerful giver. Thus, giving is not only about the gift but also about the attitude behind it. We are to be cheerful in our giving because of an understanding that our capacity to give is determined by God and not by ourselves. When you know that God is your source, you can be cheerful in giving since you understand there would be no possibility of giving if he hadn’t given to you first. “The earth and everything in it . . . belong to the Lord” (Ps 24:1). Thus, one of the ways you know you are growing in your faith is when you give with a glad heart in response to the goodness of God. Giving should be a joy not a job.
9:8-9 Paul’s next statement applies to all cheerful givers: God is able to make every grace overflow to you. God’s super abundant grace includes all that he can do for you that you are unable to do for yourself. He can guide you when you’re lost and provide for you when you’re in need. He can heal a relationship that’s broken and grant peace where there’s conflict.
When we have stingy hearts and are reluctant to give to a legitimate need, though, we restrict the flow of God’s grace. It’s cheerful generosity that causes his grace to comprehensively “overflow” so that in every way you have everything you need to excel in every good work (9:8). As Paul’s quotation from Psalm 112:9 shows, when God gives freely to those in need, his righteous character is magnified (9:9).
When God’s kingdom is given priority in your life, you open yourself to waves of grace that are bigger than your gift. History and eternity have more grace available than we could ever access (see Eph 2:7). As a result, the fruit that comes through your service to his kingdom multiplies into greater benefit to you, greater blessings to others, and greater glory to God.
9:10-12 Paul assures the Corinthians that the one who provides seed will multiply seed, and the one who provides bread will increase the harvest of . . . righteousness (9:10). The emphasis here is that God is both the source of what is planted and also the source of what is harvested. Truly acknowledging this rightly produces thanksgiving to God (9:11)—in other words, it causes internal transformation that is expressed in external praise. Thus, there is a twofold effect from this ministry: supplying the needs of the saints and expressions of thanks to God (9:12). God’s goal is that both giver and receiver obtain his blessing as he himself is exalted.
9:13-14 This ministry to the poor saints in Jerusalem was proof of God’s goodness and provision. As a result, Paul explains that the recipients will glorify God for the generous gift and lovingly pray for the Corinthians for being willing conduits of the grace of God. Cheerful and willing contributions to legitimate needs result in an overabundance of grace and blessing, leading to increased prayer and praise to God, which lead to more giving and grace. Those who refuse to give, or who give from mere compulsion, short-circuit this chain of blessing before it can even begin.
9:15 The only way Paul can respond to this amazing grace of God is to say, Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! The “surpassing grace of God” (9:14) so overwhelms Paul that he doesn’t have a vocabulary capable of describing it. It is, in fact, beyond description. That’s the kind of grace you need. That’s the kind of grace you want operating in your life. Don’t cut yourself off from it.