2 Corinthians 8
Remember, Paul, in the larger context of this letter here, is speaking to believers. This is important, because he is discussing salvation in a way that is largely ignored in Christendom, and seems poorly understood by all except the faithful, and that is sanctification, the act of God imparting His holiness to us through His work and our cooperation.
We should contrast this with justification, the act of God declaring us righteous in the first place. This is why Christ died in our place according to the Gospel. He became human, he lived for between 33 and 34 years as a human, in perfect obedience to God under the Law of Moses, and then deliberately and knowingly gave up that life as a perfect substitutionary sacrifice for us vicariously on the cross. All those big words are chosen and precise in their definition, but the basically mean that Christ died for OUR sins as a substitute (vicariously), atoning for them (propitiation), with God then declaring us righteous in Christ (expiation), which pronounces us as faultless before God (justification). This is a sole work of our triune God, as opposed to sanctification, which God allows His new creations in Christ to learn to CHOOSE to do His will, and instead of simply imputing His righteousness (giving us the righteousness of another, Christ) monergistically (alone by Himself), He imparts His righteousness to our changed natures by teaching us to choose His will and live according to His Word. This is defined as sanctification, the process whereby He makes us holy, and it is said to by synergistic, that is we are allowed by God to participate in the act by our choices, that will move out into our works. However, it is still mostly His work – and none of what we do to become holy is worth two cents if we have not been born again, or saved, or converted, or justified, or redeemed, or regenerated – whatever term you want to choose for justification.
Paul is speaking of sanctification here to believers, and when justification does come up (as it does in 4:15, for example), it is mentioned as happening as a result of Christians that have said yes to sanctification and are choosing to live as God commands. If you read carefully, Paul is using this kind of sanctification as evidence of justification before God and all of His gifts to men, including His own Apostleship. Here is where my review of ground we have already covered begins.
Paul, you will recall, was put out to the extreme, I think to the point where it began to distract him in His service to Christ. After his second visit to Corinth, he was so saddened and deflated that he simply quietly returned to Ephesus. In Ephesus, he wrote the “angry” letter that he sent and then wished he hadn’t. He began to be distracted here, I think – you know, that gnawing thing in your mind and gut that just makes you crazy to know what happened? I wasn’t there, but Paul was one of us – human – and it seems reasonable that he would have human responses.
He was becoming so distracted, he left Ephesus and set out for Troas, where Titus was after his own trip to Corinth. It is entirely reasonable that Paul was after news of what happened with that letter that might have been like a hand grenade in the wrong setting. He didn’t find Titus, so he went looking for him in Macedonia, eventually finding him, and receiving a blessed report that at least a majority of the people there were with Paul and not the false teachers that were calling themselves “super apostles” and attacking Paul’s character.
So what is the first thing Paul chose to confront these “super apostles” with? The idea of suffering, and how that suffering perfects the believer. We talked about how the false teachers were essentially trying to use the gospel as a means of gain, and that’s never good. Paul, on the other hand, would not allow the Corinthians to support him while he was there. We talked about how Paul had gone through real life-threatening trials for the sake of the gospel. Were any of these false apostles ever stoned for preaching his message? Not ever. Paul was. Were any ever beaten with rods for speaking publicly about Christ? No, but Paul was, and he was even given 39 lashes on three different occasions. (One more stoke is a death sentence, if you didn’t know.) Had any of them ever been shipwrecked and lost at sea? Paul was, for a day and a night, for the sake of the work of Jesus on earth. No, beloved, suffering perfects us – if we will cooperate with God and let it.
What we saw was Paul talking about how the Lord had led him in real triumph – but it wasn’t Paul’s triumph, it was Christ’s. He speaks greatly here of his own motives in writing that angry letter, and what that meant to the work, his own state of mind, and the effect it had on the Corinthians. It is a sort of apology in our modern sense, but also an explanation of why he wrote it.
In Chapter 3, we studied the actual connection between the Old and New Testaments, or Covenants. Paul compared them directly. This is a particularly crucial area of study, because if you get the Covenants confused, or worse ignore the one that has gone before, you end up with some really whacked-out ideas on things like tithing, resisting sin, like that. We saw that we live in a new and spiritual reality (more of the now/coming, present/future kingdom stuff we’ve been talking about on and off since we studied Ephesians), and that it is a reality that needs to be intentionally chosen to live in by act of will on our parts. Walking in the Spirit requires that we chooses to set aside all those old acts of the flesh (sins) that will kill us, and instead choose life, being renewed in our minds, and transformed in our characters into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Chapter 4, we saw a need to let God do the work and for us to submit and either cooperate or get out of His way. In his contrasting of the righteous versus the unrighteous, we saw that we can fit into both categories, and in fact that those category differences, the contradictions in our character, not only perfectly describer humanity, but actually give glory to God as we allow Him to work in our lives. We talked about the cost of following God like this, and we saw that it was in fact everything we have and are. Christ exchanged His life for ours. We are no longer our own, and we must live like that matters, by focusing on the unseen, spiritual reality we now find ourselves in. We have not arrived, and we will not arrive until Jesus comes for us personally.
In Chapter 5, we got a look at what our behaviour as servants of God Most High should be, as we looked at the reasoning of Paul and how he was motivated to behave in his own walk and service of Christ the King. I know that this letter to Corinth was Paul’s justification of his ministry to Christ, but the best way I have found to read it is to make personal application, as if I were called to do what Paul was called to do in terms of the gospel. I know I’m not Paul, I’m not an apostle (Capital or Lowercase A), I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, I’m MAYBE an evangelist, but we are all supposed to be that, and I’m barely a pastor and teacher. I understand that–but did not Paul say we are to be imitators of him as he was an imitator of Christ? He did, back in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Also 4:6).
With that foundation, Chapter 6 shows us (starting in 5:21) the GOSPEL! Paul does make some contrasts and comparisons as to how the servant of God should conduct his life, but the main thrust I saw in this chapter is the gospel, and our specific response to it. Paul explains that WE are sons and daughters of the living God! As such, we should be responding to the gospel, whether we are already believers or not. After all, the answer to all questions and issues is the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and there really is no other. I’m not saying that to be arrogant so I can feel good about myself. Truthfully, it would make me miserable if any of you ended up in eternal suffering and it was my fault. The time, according to Paul, and according to the Holy Spirit in me, is NOW.
In Chapter 7, Paul is going to get what I used to call in high school [unintelligible] years ago, “Under the Hood.” What we saw was what drives the sanctification of God’s people, given that NOW is the time for salvation, be your need justification or sanctification, and everyone needs both if we are to one day see God. We see this best with Corinth because it was the one church from NT days that just had problems with the influence of the world around them leaking into the church. Remember when we studied 1 Corinthians? The world around them had turned the name of the city into a verb: to Corinthianize–to completely debase or debauch a person, place, or occasion. Scripture is clear that WE need to be Holy, just as our Father in Heaven is holy. Hebrews 12:14 tells us that this holiness is something to be pursued actively and why: “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” That holiness is the evidence to the world that Christ actually keeps His Word and that His sacrifice was sufficient for the sins of all those who will ever believe in Him. That holiness is only found via the Holy Spirit in Christ, and that is what drives the whole thing for the believer.
In Chapter 8, we see the gracious giving spirit that is to characterize all who wish to be in the work of God. In fact, Paul encourages all to abound in that work, specifically of sharing what you have within and even beyond your own ability.
We will see as we study the chapter. I broke it down as follows:
KV7: Abound in His Gracious Work
“But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.”
1-6: Giving Beyond Your Ability to Give
7-15: Complete Your Giving in Equality
16-24: Take Precaution So No One Will Discredit
Because it is God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit living inside of the believer that is the engine for all of this, we should not be surprised that it is a spirit of generosity and liberality that is displayed by our gracious God through us no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. Ask James Coates and Tim Stephens what that means, the bit about “whatever circumstances.” James Coates has been imprisoned for being a godly pastor. Tim Stephens is in prison at this moment just because Alberta Health Services and their provincial government want to be able to tell everyone what to wear, where to stand, and what you can and cannot do. And Ontario isn’t much better with one church being fined over $10M! Yes, that’s $10M. You didn’t mishear.
And what are we as those who are unaffected (this time) to do? Beloved, I think this chapter tells us what to do. Let’s look at that.
KV7: Abound in His Gracious Work
“But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.”
To put this quite simply, we will see that WE who stand on the sidelines are to help our fellow believers in any way we can. I don’t think this means we have to pay the unjust fines, that’s something that the Lord will do on behalf of His people and for His own name’s sake. But do our brothers have food to eat? Do they have a place where they can get out of the elements? Do they have clothes for them and their families? For the most part, at least for the present here in Canada, they do, but there may come a day when we are not able to walk out there in public because of persecution. Beloved, it isn’t coming in the future. It is already here, in Canada, from sea to sea to sea. Pastors are being jailed for obeying God and not men. Churches are being closed because they claim Christ as their authority instead of the government at any level. Believers are being called “grandma killers” if they don’t want to take an experimental gene therapy administered by inoculation. And others are calling them hypocrites if they do, which is wrong also. Like any other health crisis, there are people that need the gene therapy and people that do not. Anyone that has had COVID-19 and survived (which was 99.7% likely to begin with) should NOT receive the gene therapy, because they have something called acquired immunity. Those that are healthy and do not have what are called co-morbidity factors like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, like that, should also NOT get the vaccine, because it will mess with what has been termed “herd immunity.” We used to call that group immunity, but I guess we are sheep, so herd applies. Those that have co-morbidity factors that I mentioned ABSOLUTELY SHOULD get this gene therapy, because these are the people we are trying to protect. We need to be understanding with people though…because we may not know their health information, and according to PIPEDA, the act that governs the protection of your personal information in Canada, you don’t actually have a right to know anyone’s info but your own. And you’re not supposed to ask. If you have comments, please hold them. I have comments too, and this isn’t the time or place.
No, instead of nitpicking our brothers and sisters in Christ, or mocking them for uncertainty, we are supposed to be led by the Spirit, and we are to have a heart of compassion and mercy and understanding in the spirit of God’s unfailing, unyielding love. And we are to ABOUND in it.
What was actually happening at the time of Paul and Timothy’s writing of this letter is the persecution of believers in Jerusalem. These were largely former Jews that had come to know that Jesus is actually the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God, and were seeking to follow Him. The culture around them…made that difficult in the extreme. Because the Pharisees would have sought out these individual believers to put them out of the synagogues, these believers had to be extremely careful. And when they were found out, at a minimum, they were put out of the synagogue. This meant that all other Jews were to ostracise them, shun them, not speak to them, not offer them any kind of help including employment or housing, and that would make life a little difficult. A man could not support himself, never mind his family. They wouldn’t be able to buy food in the market, because the people who sold it knew who they were and didn’t want to be put out of the synagogue themselves. As a result of this persecution by the Jews, the Gentile believers outside of Jerusalem organized efforts to get them some money that would go a long way to helping out the people. There were other things going on too, but that persecution by their society at large was the main thing.
Why are we talking about this? Because, Beloved, this is not so different from today’s post-COVID-19 world. There are people that have been out of work for going on 16 months. Government “assistance” is running out. And God is speaking to US very clearly to be the same way that the Gentile believers were for the believers in Jerusalem then. We are to abound in the gracious work of God toward His people, regardless of what kind of apparent consequences that might mean for us, at least on the surface.
With that, let’s look at our first paragraph.
1-6: Giving Beyond Your Ability to Give
As we begin the chapter here, we see Paul here referring to an idea that had apparently come from Corinth in the first place – sending monetary relief to the believers in Jerusalem. But let’s not take my word for any of this, let’s get into the text.
1: Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia,
- Paul is not saying that the Corinthians didn’t know what was going on, incidentally. What Paul is telling them is that God has given them incredible grace to carry out the deeds that they were carrying out in Macedonia. We will see this as we continue, so we will do just that.
2: that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.
- The believers in Macedonia according to Paul here, really didn’t have a lot. But what they did have they gave to others with gladness. Sometimes my wife tells me I have to stop, I kind of get this. It just is so joyful to make sure others have enough. Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t give because you have to, you should give because you WANT to, and even then, you have to be able to afford to do without what you’re giving. The first thing here that comes to most people’s minds is money. If you cannot afford it, you should not give money. But Beloved, there ARE other things you can give, and some of us are a testament to that. You all know that I don’t have a lot of money. But here we are at an online bible study, and I am teaching it. In fact, I have given some of my resources including money to fund the equipment I am using. I own it. Well, the Lord does, but you get the idea. I see this as a service I am privileged to do for Him! And some of you know the same thing. Some of you give your time and talents to the church we fellowship with at present. Some people donate server space for our website, BereanNation.com. It isn’t always money. But whatever you do, do it joyfully. It says in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that God loves a cheerful giver. We’ll say more about this then.
- But Paul is using the churches I Macedonia as an example of generosity of spirit, and that is something to which we should aspire.
3: For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord,
- Paul tells the Corinthians that each of the saints in the churches of Macedonia did what they could. “according to their ability. The word “ability” here is a form of the Greek dunamis, dunamin, and is used here to express the power, the ability that they had in themselves. They did what they could…and they went over the top with generosity. The word for “beyond” is the Greek para, and it means beside or along with. It isn’t saying, for all of our Charismaniac friends, that they did miracles and produced things out of nothing, like Jesus did when he fed about 25,000 people all totaled with five loaves and two fish. Paul is saying they went above and beyond the call of duty, and he informs us that this was a willing service they felt privileged to offer God. Kind of like this bible study, to make an association. I don’t have to do this. But I want to, and I want to do it well.
4: begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints,
- The idea Paul is expressing is that they heard that the saints in Jerusalem were going through the persecution they were experiencing, and that relief efforts were being organized–and they wanted to be a part of it, seeing it as a way to serve the Lord by serving His people, from where the Gospel of Jesus Christ had come! This isn’t complicated to understand, though it is very deep.
- The word ‘urging” is the Greek parakleseos, a form of parakaleo, meaning a coming alongside. This is a urgent need to help, expressed as begging for the opportunity to participate here. The word “favor” is a form of the word charis, or grace. It is expressed as “favour” on the part of the giver, and “thankfulness” on the part of the receiver in English. Here, we are speaking of the giver, so “favour.” And the word for “participation?” Oh, I think many of you will recognize this Greek word–koinonia. Most commonly we translate that as “fellowship,” but here we can see it means a lot more than just hanging out with the guys. To FELLOWSHIP with the saints is to participate in their lives, to share in their lives, and sometimes, their means. And what were they participating in? The “support” of the saints. That word is diakonias, the service of a diakon! A DEACON in English. They wanted to help serve the saints, beloved! That’s what a deacon is supposed to do! And clearly we see that DEACON is not supposed to be an OFFICE but an exercise! Or I’m no expositor.
5: and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
- Paul is telling us here that he did not expect this. And what he did not expect was that these Macedonian brethren actually sought the will of God in prayer before asking him if they could give of themselves in service like this.
- You know, brothers, there is nothing a servant likes better than when you start a sentence with “Brother, I’ve been praying about this and I think God is leading me to…” It means you also want to join in serving the Lord with your talents.
- These Macedonians did it prayerfully, too! They gave themselves to the Lord, and then to God’s servants according to God’s will. Believers in Iran right now are doing the same thing. They know how to share Christ with people that won’t rat them out, but if that happens, they count the sufferings, the beatings, the rapes, the plunderings of their persons, possessions, and even families, as part of the cost of serving Christ. We should be no different, especially at this time in history.
6: So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well.
- Paul here is explaining that what we like to call a “burden,” nothing else really than a strong desire to see something accomplished, that burden that had begun in Macedonia had spread by word of God’s servants, in this case Titus, to other churches, in this case to those in Corinth. Titus was probably the main servant involved in this case, because Paul tells us that the work actually began with Titus.
- Let me make absolutely clear, this was NOT about asking for MONEY. Don’t you get annoyed with those guys? I know I do. This was about asking for support for the saints in Jerusalem. That may have taken the convenient form of money because it is the most transportable of commodities, but that money would be used to by food and shelter for believers in Jerusalem, not jets or fuel for men (and women) that think more of themselves than they ought.
Here we are, in the middle of a chapter of a letter by the Apostle Paul no less, and we’re talking about how we should have a spirit of giving. Paul is no slouch. This is a basic level of godliness, Beloved. It is part of that fruit of the Spirit Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22-23. Or at least is the result of it. There is no law against wanting to be good to people. Neither though, is there anything exceptional about it by itself. However, given that it is for fellow believers, it takes on more significance. Sometimes we sing that song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” The sentiment is okay, I suppose, but it is a basic misunderstanding of Christianity. That song would be more appropriate if it were more closely related to John 13, the chapter where it comes from. If people would actually read it, they would see that Jesus is talking about love for other believers. Nevertheless, we should be overcome to put the others’ interests ahead of our own. And when we do so, there is a strong desire to make sure they have everything they need to survive.
7-15: Complete Your Giving in Equality
Another thing that people get wrong thanks to Tim Keller and his ilk is that we should only give things to the poor. Don’t get me wrong, that IS good, but its also partiality, in that you place a group at the top of a list based on an earthly qualification. The poor don’t have, so we need to redistribute our wealth. And when I say “our wealth,” I really mean “YOUR wealth.” You didn’t think I wanted to give up mine, did you? That’s how that argument goes. I am in a unique place to talk about this, because I and my family have no wealth. We can barely keep everybody fed and sheltered. That’s not a plea for help, it’s just stating a qualification here.
If you are going to give, you have to make sure you give what is need, where it is needed, and for whom it is needed. These are just basic things to which we need to pay attention so we are NOT engaged in what has become known as the “poverty industry.” It is in the business of keeping poor people poor so that it can perpetuate itself. How does that saying go? Give a man a fish, feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime? Reality is kind of like that. Our giving needs to be needs-based, but it also needs to be appropriate to the individual. Rarely have I ever seen financial problems ever fixed with money, but I digress. Giving needs to be with equality.
7: But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.
- The sense that Paul is giving here is that the Corinthians are over-abounding in everything. The Greek perisseuo means to be over and above, or literally abound. They were over the top, I suppose you could say, in that they had more than enough. But look at what they had more than enough of.
- Faith: Pistis is the firm persuasion or opinion held, in this case about the saving power of the grace of Christ. Faith is NOT a substance that coats things that we want so that we can demand that God give them to us. It is a firmly held persuasion that no matter what we are asked to face, His grace will be enough to face it. That can be frightening, but I have to believe it is true based on the history of the church.
- Utterance: This is the word logos, the WORD, in this case, the word spoken about Christ. I connect THAT with the gospel, the good news that Jesus atoning sacrifice was enough to provide cleansing and purification for my sins, as well as the ongoing sanctification through trials and tribulations.
- Knowledge: The word here is gnosis, used here in the sense of absolute objective knowledge of spiritual truth. Again, I connect that to the gospel, that is that the atoning sacrifice of Christ was enough, and remains enough no matter what we may have to face. That’s critical, because we may at some point need to face some very hard realities. The Lord knows.
- Earnestness: I don’t know about this one, but the Greek word is spoudee, and it means haste or diligence. To me, this is like doing it right the first time, and doing it with speed and accuracy. This means in this sense that the activity (and we are talking about giving here) is PRACTICED, and taken seriously, and given high priority. That’s how you can be earnest at something. Earnest is one of those words that has a number of connotations, so I want to be accurate here. Haste as in speedily, diligence as in faithful performance of the activity of giving.
- Love: As you may guess, this word is agape, and means God’s divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love that should characterize all of us and doesn’t always. Something to work on.
- Gracious work: This is (to me) an unusual form of charis, chariti. We get our word “charity” directly from this form of the word, I suspect. It is used here, according to Vine, in an objective sense, but is speaking of the gracious bounty of the giver of the gifts, the Corinthians, and through them, Christ.
- These are the things that they had more than enough of–and they employed them prayerfully (v.5) and faithfully.
8: I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.
- Just in case anyone things this is a militant Paul giving orders, he clarifies his statement. “I am not speaking this as a command.” What he is really saying is that by involving you in something that started elsewhere, it brings the Corinthians occasion to rise to an occasion of service to Christ. They can give sacrificially to another group of believers and demonstrate the SINCERITY (lawfully begotten, or genuine if you like) of their agape. There was an occasion presented, they rose to the occasion. Test passed.
9: 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 through His poverty might become rich.
- And now Paul, having said what he has about all those over-abounding gifts God has given to us, and calling for us to use them in sincerity and love as we serve the Lord Jesus Christ, introduces the topic of the hour, the gospel. In fact, he doesn’t just reference the gospel, he gives the whole message in a phrase. The grace, that is the unmerited, unearned favour of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though He Himself was rich, it was for OUR SAKES that HE became poor–and in His impoverishment WE become rich.
- That’s THE gospel, Beloved. He made Him who knew no sin to be made sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him! (2 Cor. 5:21) In that great exchange where He took upon Himself all of our sin, He granted that WE could be clothed in His own righteousness. For I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live–yet not I, but Christ lives in Me! And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me! (Gal. 2:20) Through His own willing impoverishment, He will give us access to His heavenly riches. (Not the earthly ones that the wolves that nip around the edges of the flock and sometimes work into positions as their pastors and leaders always talk about. The Kingdom of God is not based on earthly currency.)
- But why does Paul say this HERE? Beloved, the greatest act of charity was to provide for our spiritual needs when we were lost, and that is what Christ did. Paul is holding the Lord Jesus up as an example.
10: I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it.
- I want to point out to you the words in italics. That is a convention of the translators to tell you that these words were added to make the text more understandable in English. I think it fits here, by the way. It doesn’t always, and I have done my best to highlight that when we come across it. Another way one could say this is something like, “In this matter, I give opinion, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago, not only the doing, but the desiring.” What are we talking about? From the surrounding context, we are talking about giving to the saints in Jerusalem to relieve their suffering.
- I like how that Paul did not actually realize that he was writing holy writ. He may have been giving his own opinion on the matter, but Paul’s opinion made it into the inspired and inerrant Word of God, so I would say he had the right opinion! What is his opinion? Well, the previous verse tells us that Paul was referring once again to the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection! What else can you name easily in context that is to the Corinthian believers’ advantage?
11: But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability.
- Okay, you started it, now finish it, says Paul. You did well–you wanted it–finish it! Paul is referring to the relief of the saints in Jerusalem directly here. It is important to recognize this, or we can get carried into all kinds of wicked proof-texting about how the initiate must finish the job he started and we can get all rah-rah-Joel-Osteen about things, and that just isn’t biblical. We will see this material again in the very next verse.
12: For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
- Correct me if I’m wrong here friends, but in the context of what we know Paul has repeatedly addressed with the Corinthians in both letters we have from him to them here in holy writ, is not Paul saying that if you have a godly desire and you want to do something, and you go out and attempt it, that it is acceptable? Regardless of the apparent success of the venture? Does that not contradict these formulaic false teachers that tell you that you can make God give you money, or fame, or respect, or any other thing at all?
- The way I read this is simple. If you’re ready to do something for the Lord, and you have prayed about it, and you think that this is the thing the Lord is leading you to do, to go with what you have, and not let what you do not have stop you. This could include these days government permission to gather as the church to meet for worship of the King.
- From the previous verse, that readiness and desire you have will drive your ability to complete what you’re doing for the Lord. And YOU getting RICH (or famous, or gaining influence or power) is NOT what this says. Am I wrong? I don’t think I’m wrong.
13: For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—
- Paul is starting a statement here. Please note the m-dash at the end of the verse. That means this verse cannot stand on its own, you cannot build complete theology on an incomplete statement. That would be dumb. The best you could build is incomplete theology, and we all know that leads to things like grave sucking and trying to raise a dead baby back to life, and other such tragic nonsense.
- What Paul IS starting to say is that this is NOT what we would call in today’s vocabulary a “redistribution of wealth,” or suffering, or whatever. This isn’t to ease their suffering necessarily, or even to increase your suffering for supposed purification (that’s a gnostic thing by the way, it is asceticism). It is for what Paul is calling “equality.” What does Paul mean by equality?
- We here at BereanNation.com believe that God inspired specific words for specific meanings in the original texts. Here, the Holy Spirit has Paul choose the word isotes, meaning what is equal, or fair, or equitable. We actually get our concept of the Isosceles Triangle from this word. Equal angles. Everyone is the same in God’s sight. All believers are blessed. All the sons of destruction are cursed, like that. The blessing is ours. We are called to share it with those around us any way we can. We are not to be respecters of persons, and that is what I think Paul is hitting at here. Again, I don’t think I’m wrong, but I could stand correction by learned men.
14: at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality;
- Paul is NOT finished the statement with this phrase. What he is saying here is not a grand scheme for the redistribution of wealth as I have heard guys like Russell Moore teach from this passage. This is simply Paul saying that God is sending the help where it is needed.
- Wait, Gerry, are you saying that God doesn’t always miraculously intervene on behalf of His people? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. God still works. He simply works through means, and those means are his people who are in a better position to help the saints who are in need. Eventually, that gift will repay itself. And remember, this phrase ends with a semi-colon, and that means there is a connect phrase coming.
15: as it is written, “HE who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
- And what else? Paul is going to quote Scripture. Anyone want to take a shot at what he is quoting? He is quoting Exodus 16:18 about those who gathered manna in the wilderness. There were guys that gathered more than others. Interestingly, it was enough for them. And there were guys that didn’t gather much. It was still enough for them. And who determined that? God did, of course. Here’s the verse: “When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat.”
- The principle here is not redistribution of wealth. It is that everyone should have enough. If you have more and see a need, you should fill it. If you have a lack and need help, you should humbly tell church leadership about it and ask for help! There are believers that can and will help in the way you NEED the help. That isn’t always filling your pockets with money, either. If you need diapers and formula, the Lord can, THROUGH HIS PEOPLE, provide for that need. I’ve had that happen personally. My wife can tell you. To this day, we don’t know who the anonymous donor was I don’t think.
In my years, I have heard men who wanted to gain stature teach that this is a scriptural basis for the redistribution of wealth, but I disagree. That distribution of wealth isn’t so everyone has the same. It is so that everyone has enough, and people have different requirements. I can tell you that I probably don’t need the sugar, you can have that…but get me a good steak and we can talk. Giving everyone the same is communism, the very antithesis of Christianity. In fact the thing that seems to be missing is the willingness and joy at serving others out of a position of need. Communism only serves itself, despite claims to the contrary. However, this is not intended to be a lecture on the evils of Marxism. Moving on.
16-24: Take Precaution So No One Will Discredit
One of the issues that this kind of ministry will always face is that of the motive. To be fair, no one really actually believes that someone will offer them help just because they need it. Because no one believes that people will help out of love for Christ, not really, they will make up their own motives for your actions. Those of you that have been there know what I mean. Try not to take that personally, just take precautions so that the work of God is at least not discredited. See what I mean.
16: But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus.
- Titus it seems was a part of the family! He had the same “burden,” as we say around here, that the Corinthians did, and he had that same haste, or diligence, however you want to define that, on behalf of the believers in Corinth! See, I knew we liked this guy!
17: For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord.
- Paul is saying this about Titus: We asked him to come and see you. But He also wanted to see you himself, not just because we asked him. Titus, as a pastor, had a burden for the souls he encountered. That included the Corinthians. I play games, and yesterday, I had the opportunity to preach Christ to a lady in Brazil. She listened. She told me some of her story, venting I suppose, and I listened, and then I preached the gospel. Beloved, that’s how it’s supposed to work. I hear it in your prayers. Praise the Lord.
18: We have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches;
- We do not know who this is! Paul NEVER mentions his name in connection with this, at least. My thinking is that this was a form of identity protection, because he may have been a Roman official or otherwise well known. The bottom line reasoning here is that nobody knows, and no one wants to guess, so we won’t either. But we know that the gospel was his work, and he gained a certain amount of celebrity (or infamy (notoriety?) depending on who you ask) in that work.
19: and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness,
- Whoever it was also had to be known to the other Apostles and the churches as a whole, so it literally could have been anyone. I have heard a suggestion of Polycarp, but it seems logically too early, because I think John discipled him when he was very young and then he became well known in the second century after John’s death.
- It should be pointed out that this work of relief for the saints in Jerusalem was being administered by the Apostles. “by us.” And it wasn’t being done as a “fundraiser” like we know them today. It was being done for the glory of God to help those less fortunate. It also showed that they were ready to help the needy wherever and whenever the need arose. What better thing is befitting a Christian?
20: taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift;
- “Taking precaution” means exactly that, in that they are “taking care to avoid” anyone discrediting them for this work of charity. It more than makes sense to me, it’s just prudent management. Regardless of what you think of Billy Graham, he was the first of the 1980s televangelists to open his books to public scrutiny, and he maintained a rule for himself that has become known as the “Billy Graham rule” that he would not be alone with a woman that was not his spouse. Beloved, those are precautions against shame and against the possibility of sin. That is what we must do in our charity work, and indeed in all our labours for the Master.
21: for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.
- This is kind of the reason why we do things. As believers in the true and living, and GOOD God, we should love everything that is good and right and honourable, and we should practice it at every opportunity we get! It actually makes logical sense, imagine that.
22: We have sent with them our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things, but now even more diligent because of his great confidence in you.
- And this is the reason for transparency. Sometimes, the brothers will put YOU to the test. Not a test like you must pass, but just to see how you do, and if you’re faithful. And if you are, guess what? They’ll test you again because the know you can be depended on to get the job done! This will build confidence in you by all the others. Tell me I’m wrong and it doesn’t work this way. Oh there will be those as per v.20 that will try to discredit you…but they won’t succeed. Because you have taken precautions to be transparent and put the possibility of sin aside.
23: As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ.
- …so they can say this about YOU. Titus was Paul’s disciple, and his true son in the faith, like Timothy (who was with Paul co-writing this letter). The other nameless brother that they have sent with? They are messengers of the churches. That’s right, they were apostolos. That’s what the word means. Commissioned messengers on a mission. That’s what Paul was–only he had a capital A on his assignment. He had personally met Jesus as did all the other capital-A Apostles. All the other apostles were STILL messengers, and they were still Christ’s apostles. They are still men we should try to emulate in our behaviour.
24: Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.
- Ah, there is our favorite word “therefore.” As always, we will see for what reason it is there! [chuckle] Paul is drawing a conclusion with that word, as all the other times he uses the word, and the conclusion he is drawing is a direct charge to a course of action for the believers in Corinth. It is to do well and show them why he and Timothy were bragging about the believers in Corinth!
- Beloved, it is an extreme honour to be involved in the work of Christ on earth in whatever capacity that God has called you to it. If someone has seen fit to say something good about you to others about your service, it is a BIG DEAL! Don’t let it inflate your ego, but if you’re getting it right and this happens, rejoice! More often than not, you will draw the scorn of the world or religious hypocrites like Paul did, and like our Lord Jesus did. You can then consider yourself blessed that you were able to partake in suffering for His name’s sake.
We took a bit of time to develop the idea of the servant of God being a transparent vessel for the sake of testimony so that when (not if) they say bad things about you, everyone that is looking will see it isn’t true. Think about it. You guys know that I’ve been maligned (sometimes deliberately) in the last few years by more liberal-oriented people that wouldn’t be happy with whatever I said or did. But you all know that it isn’t true, and so do I. This isn’t grade school anymore. It’s for serious adults that want to arrive at the Holy City at the end of their pilgrimage, and be where the King of Glory is. I trust that’s all of you.
There is a part of me that is still hurt and discouraged by the backbiting of others for a bit, but then I remember – the LORD knowns, and HE certainly doesn’t look upon His servant in such a way. There is a way to do things that is right, and we are really only all doing for an audience of one anyway. We should be this way in everything we do. Money is an obvious reference here, but with our time, with our gifts, with our talents, with everything we are and have.
It is THAT audience of one that I work for. Recently, I was privileged to preach a sermon from the sacred desk, and I am aware that there are some that didn’t like it. It was too long, they said. I know it was about 1 had, to be sure. But the only ones that complained about it seem to think I was there to entertain them for an hour. I WAS NOT. I was there to preach the Word of God in all of its glory and to give life-giving words to believers to help them adjust their course where necessary by accurately handling the word of truth. It is clear that some did not have that capacity, wanting only to be spoon-fed baby food and not eat the strong meat of scripture.
Though that is sad, it is fact. However, I have this to say. I am not the one that needs to change. I am a servant of the King. I am doulos Ieesou Christou. I preach, or give help, or charity, or service for Him and Him alone, and by His will. I take seriously the charge Paul gave to Timothy (and thus all pastors) in 2 Tim. 4:2 to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Out of all the things I am supposed to do, two-thirds of those things are negative. There is a REASON for it, and in the interests of personal transparency to the people that deserve it, I will say why. 2 Tim. 4:3 and 4 say, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” Beloved, that’s a serious wave of apostacy that Paul is talking about, and we don’t want to be caught up in it. Rather, we want to take the next verse for ourselves: “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (v.5)
Beloved, as I said, that applies to everything we do, and that includes our use of money, or time, or talent, or whatever we do for Christ, not that we can do a lot anyway without Him. But when we do, we need to be above reproach to the point of transparency so that there is no mistake about who we do this for, and that is in EVERYTHING we do.
That’s what I saw in the chapter.