Generosity Encouraged, 1-15

2 Cor 8:1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.

Paul devotes two chapters to the subject of giving. ‘Paul is writing to thank them for what they have already done, but also to make clear to them that it is not enough! Two chapters is not too much to secure the required balance. For giving is a powerful indicator of spiritual life. Is our giving regular? Is it free and spontaneous? Is it proportionate to the way God has blessed us? Is it a significant proportion of our income? Is it somethat that is prayed over? Or do we view it as a sort of tax, a deplorable necessity, or an unmentionable subject?’ (Green)

Four principles of giving emerge in this chapter:

  1. Your willingness to give cheerfully is more important that the amount you give.
  2. You should strive to fulfill your financial commitments.
  3. If you give to others in need they will in turn help you when you are in need.
  4. You should give as a response to Christ not for anything you can get out of it. How you give reflects on your devotion to Christ. Those who give seem to receive from others as well. (Selected)

2 Cor 8:2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

‘The Macedonian churches that Paul was using as an example had experienced severe difficulties, and yet they had given generously. They had not simply gone through “affliction;” they had experienced a “great trial of affliction.” (2 Cor 8:2) They were in deep poverty, which means “rock-bottom destitution.” The word describes a beggar who has absolutely nothing and has no hope of getting anything. Their difficult situation may have been caused in part by their Christian faith, for they may have lost their jobs or been excluded from the trade guilds because they refused to have anything to do with idolatry. But their circumstances did not hinder them from giving. In fact, they gave joyfully and liberally! No computer could analyze this amazing formula: great affliction and deep poverty plus grace = abundant joy and abounding liberality! It reminds us of the paradox in Paul’s ministry: “as poor, yet making many rich.” (2 Cor 6:10) It also reminds us of the generous offerings that were taken at the building of the tabernacle (Ex 35:5-6) and the temple. (1 Chron 29:6-9) When you have experienced the grace of God in your life, you will not use difficult circumstances as an excuse for not giving…Grace giving means giving in spite of circumstances.’ (Wiersbe)

2 Cor 8:3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,

2 Cor 8:4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.

They urgently pleaded (paraklesis) with us for the privilege of sharing (koinonia) in this service (diakonia) to the saints

2 Cor 8:5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.

2 Cor 8:6 So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.

2 Cor 8:7 But just as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us -see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

2 Cor 8:8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

The following is recorded of David Morgan, the Welsh revivalist: ‘In the middle of his sermon, he startled his audience by suddenly exclaiming, ‘If any of you here tonight deny the deity of the Son, I have nothing better to tell you than what Morgan Howell, Newport, shouted on Lampeter bridge, “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor. He became poor when he came to Bethlehem; tell me, when was he rich?”‘ This remark was utterly irrelevant to the preacher’s subject-matter, and no one could conjecture whence it came, and whither it went. The mystery was solved in the after-meeting, for among the converts were three Unitarians…who presence in the service was quite accidental, and certainly unknown to the preacher.’

Evans, (Revival Comes to Wales)

2 Cor 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

The grace – ‘When Paul speaks of the grace of God, or as here the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, what he means is not an attitude or a gracious disposition but God’s love expressed in concrete saving action on behalf of mankind. (And similarly it is a concrete expression of love that Paul expects from his readers.)’ (Kruse)

He was rich – These were pre-existent riches.  See Jn 17:5.  ‘Jesus was, in his essential being, all that God was. In this way Jesus ‘was rich’, eternally so.’ (Barnett)

He became poor – Jesus was born, and lived, in lowly circumstances, although not in abject poverty.  Paul is thinking here not of economic poverty.  He is thinking, rather, of the way in which he ‘humbled himself’ in his birth, life and death, Phil 2:6.

‘The crucial significance of the cradle at Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary, and we do not understand it till we see it in this context. The key text in the New Testament for interpreting the Incarnation is not, therefore, the bare statement in Jn 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” but rather the more comprehensive statement of 2 Cor 8:9 “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Here is stated not the fact of the Incarnation only, but also its meaning; the taking of manhood by the Son is set before us in a way which shows us how we should ever view it-not simply as a marvel of nature, but rather as a wonder of grace.’ (Packer, Knowing God)

Poor – What did it mean for the Son of God to empty himself and become poor? ‘It meant a laying aside of glory (the real kenosis); a voluntary restraint of power; an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding; finally, a death that involved such agony-spiritual even more than physical-that his mind nearly broke under the prospect of it.’ (Packer, Knowing God). See Phil 2:7n

This voluntary self-impoverishment of Jesus was the theological ground on which the apostle based his appeal to the Christians of Greece to contribute to the relief of the Christians of Judea.

Barnett (BST) suggests that we may see this verse as a Christmas text, with two applications: ‘First, we need gladly to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts, thankful for his sacrificial saving work on our behalf. Secondly, in all matters related to giving and gifts we ought to imitate his generosity.’

‘Christ renounced the divine fullness of power in which he dwelt with the Father, abandoned the heavenly glory which was his as the Son of God. He chose the poverty of human existence so that through his poverty he could impart the eternal riches of redemption to the poverty of all for whose sake he became poor.’ (Shelkle, quoted by Garland, NAC)

So that you through his poverty might become rich – ‘Christ was made poor that we through His poverty might be rich. He took the form of a servant that we might regain liberty. He descended that we might be exalted. He was tempted that we might overcome. He was despised that He might fill us with glory. He died that we might be saved. He ascended, to draw to Himself those lying prostrate on the ground through sin’s stumblingblock.’ (Gregory of Nazianus)

Garland (NAC) draws out the following practical lessons from the examples of the Macedonians and Christ:

1. True giving requires giving of oneself, not just giving money. The gospel is not about what we can get from God but what God has given to us so that we can give of ourselves to others.
2. One can give out of extreme poverty, and one can give out of measureless riches. Those who are disinclined to be generous when they are poor are not likely to become suddenly generous when they are rich.
3. Giving is related to the grace of God experienced in Christ. The recipients are not required to have done anything to merit the gift except to be in need. The givers are made generous because of God’s grace working on them, in them, and through them.

2 Cor 8:10 And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.

2 Cor 8:11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.

2 Cor 8:12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable – ‘If God be our Father, he will take all we do in good part. Those duties which we ourselves censure he will crown. When a child of God looks over his best duties, he sees so much sin cleaving to them that he is confounded. ‘Lord,’ he says, ‘there is more sulphur than incense in my prayers.’ But for your comfort, if God be your Father, he will crown those duties which you yourselves censure. He sees there is sincerity in the hearts of his children, and this gold, though light, shall have grains of allowance. Though there may be many defects in the services of his children, he will not cast away their offering. ‘The Lord healed the people.’ 2 Chron 30:20. The tribes of Israel, being straitened in time, wanted some legal purifications; yet because their hearts were right God healed them and pardoned them. He accepts of the good will. 2 Cor 8:12. A father takes a letter from his son kindly, though there are blots or bad English in it. What blotting are there in our holy things! Yet our Father in heaven accepts them. ‘It is my child,’ God says, ‘and he will do better; I will look upon him, through Christ, with a merciful eye.” (Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer)

The principle of equality

Applying Paul’s teaching about ‘equality’ (fairness; justice) to the world situation today, John Stott summarises:-

  1. God has provided enough for everyone’s need (adequate resources in sun and rain, earth, air and water);
  2. any great disparity between affluence and want, wealth and poverty, is unacceptable to him;
  3. when a situation of serious disparity arises, it ought to be corrected by an adjustment, in order to secure ‘equality’ or ‘justice’;
  4. the Christian motive for desiring such ‘justice’ is ‘grace’, loving generosity, as in the case of Jesus who, though rich, became poor, so that through his poverty we might become rich;
  5. we are to follow his example in this, and so prove the genuineness of our love.

Issues Facing Christians Today (4th ed.) p181f.

2 Cor 8:13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.

2 Cor 8:14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality,

2 Cor 8:15 as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”

Titus Sent to Corinth, 16-24

2 Cor 8:16 I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.

2 Cor 8:17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.

2 Cor 8:18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.

The brother who is praised by all the churches – Luther and Calvin maintained that this was a reference to Barnabas.

2 Cor 8:19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.

2 Cor 8:20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.

2 Cor 8:21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.

2 Cor 8:22 In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you.

2 Cor 8:23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ.

Representatives – Gk. apostolos.

2 Cor 8:24 Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.