Date: 07 May 2017
Text: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
What do you feel about giving? By that I mean giving money to an organisation or charity of some description? I frequently stand here asking for money and I’m delighted to say that the response is always amazing and everyone is remarkably generous. But what about the constant requests from other organisations? I’m sure I’m not alone in being bombarded to make a donation to some charity or another. We all receive e-mails or telephone calls or letters or leaflets through the door asking us to support an appeal of some description. Then there are those radio and television appeals and adverts asking for financial help. If we gave to all of them we would very soon be seeking financial help ourselves! Just think of the charity appeals of recent times. People such as Oxfam, Christian Aid, Wateraid, Tearfund, Barnados and the NSPCC are just a few examples. Then there are the annual Red Nose Day and Children in Need appeals on BBC television. All of those collect funds to help people but there are also those charities who raise funds to help donkeys, tigers, elephants, cats and dogs. What do we feel about them? The list of people asking for our money seems endless. And this at a time when a great number of people are really feeling the pinch as wages rise more slowly than the rate of inflation and hidden taxes suddenly start to bite.
In these few verses in 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 we see Paul also asking for money. His appeal was for funds to help the poor believers in Jerusalem and he asked every church that he was involved with to help if they possibly could. His difficulty in the case of the Corinthians was that there were those in the church who doubted his integrity; who doubted that the money really was for the Christians in Jerusalem. For many in Corinth this appeal presented a huge stumbling block to them accepting Paul as an Apostle. Paul knew that, which is probably why he enlisted the help of his good friend Titus to go to Corinth and seek financial help from as many people as he possibly could.
In these verses we see Paul earnestly seeking the financial help that the Jerusalem Christians so desperately needed. He begins his appeal by using the churches in Macedonia as an example of giving; then reminds the Corinthians only to give what they can afford before pointing out that they have plenty in comparison to others. Along the way he cites the example of Jesus Who became poor for all our sakes so that we could become rich, albeit in a different way to that generally understood by the world.
There seems little doubt that the Christians in Jerusalem were very poor. This came about as a result of a severe famine which had left them short of food and of money. Consequently Paul felt it incumbent on him and other wealthier Christians to help their fellow believers. He felt that in doing that, believers everywhere were sharing the love of Christ and wherever he went Paul encouraged believers to help with this collection. He said to the Galatians, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10). And he told the Romans, “Share with God's people who are in need.” (Romans 12:13). Because he was concerned not to add to the burdens of believers, he had earlier told the Corinthians, “Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). As we’ve already heard, some of the Corinthians doubted Paul’s integrity and thought that he was basically ripping them off. That’s why he also said to the Corinthians, “when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.” (1 Corinthians 16:3-4). I’ll explain a bit more about why some Corinthians adopted this negative attitude in a few moments.
As a way of encouraging the Corinthians to contribute to this fund, Paul cited the Macedonian churches as an example. During his travels, Paul had spent a lot of time in Macedonia and founded a number of churches there, including in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. The members of these churches were also poor but that didn’t stop them giving generously and Paul commends them for their efforts since he knows that “they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (8:3). Despite being poor themselves the Macedonian Christians were moved by the grace of God to donate willingly and generously. These churches gave willingly and not grudgingly; they gave out of their love for and dedication to Jesus. Perhaps they may be an example for us as well.
Paul obviously hoped that using the Macedonians as an example of generous giving it might inspire the Corinthians to also give generously. We know from what we heard last week that Paul had sent Titus to Corinth with this letter to try and smooth the troubled waters that existed between them. However, he also tasked him with encouraging the believers to follow the Macedonian example and give generously. Paul felt that the collection would be more successful if it was handled by Titus rather than himself.
Having used the Macedonians as a great example of generosity, Paul then tried flattery! It works, sometimes! Remember that the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians was a bit rocky to say the least. It may seem strange therefore to see him to say that they “excel in everything” (8:7a). He expands on that by referring to the way that they excel in faith, speech, knowledge, complete earnestness and love. By telling them that he hopes that they will also “excel in this grace of giving” (8:7b). I may be wrong here but given the level of opposition and hostility that Paul faced during his time in Corinth, there may be just a hint of sarcasm in those comments.
Not a Command
Paul is also anxious to point out that he was not commanding them to give, simply encouraging them. Having given us the Macedonians as an example and then tried flattery, Paul moves on to use Jesus as an example. Jesus was the Son of God and therefore wealthy and powerful in ways beyond anything we can dream of, and yet Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself” (Philippians 2:6-8). In coming to earth as a human being, Jesus set aside His glory and His rights as the Son of God. He became a poor human being like the rest of us in order to help us. In coming to faith in Him we become wealthy beyond our wildest dreams although definitely not in the way that the world understands.
So far Paul has tried using Macedonia and Jesus Himself as examples of sacrificial giving and then flattery. Now he offers good advice as to how the Corinthians should go about giving. The Corinthians had apparently started a collection about a year earlier and here in these verses Paul is urging them to finish what they had started. He was keen that their apparent eagerness to help with this collection “may be matched by your completion of it” (8:11b). Paul felt that if they gave willingly then whatever they gave would be acceptable. He also felt that it was important that they gave according to what they had rather than what they didn’t have. This reminds me of the example of the Widow’s Mite. Luke tells us of the occasion when Jesus sat opposite the temple treasury to observe what happened. Luke writes, “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’ “ (Luke 21:1-4). That truly was an example of sacrificial giving and serves as an example to us all. Here though, Paul seems to acknowledge that the Corinthians themselves may not have been too wealthy and so wants them to give what they can whilst giving willingly.
We hear a lot today about equality although I have yet to hear any politician explain precisely what they mean by that word. Paul also wants to see equality although he means that everyone should have the same. That sounds to me very much like the early church that we can read about in Acts 2 where Luke tells us that “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (Acts 2:44) What Luke is saying is that they shared what they had so that no one was wealthier or poorer than the next person. In seeking their cooperation with this collection Paul points out that “your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need” (8:14). What goes around comes around and we never know when we may need help ourselves! What Paul is saying here is that the Corinthians may well be giving now but there may come the time when they become recipients themselves.
As I’ve hinted throughout these sermons from 2 Corinthians, there were some believers in the church who doubted Paul’s integrity regarding financial matters and so refused to participate in this vital collection.
Throughout his time in Corinth Paul was careful to avoid seeking financial help. When he first arrived he worked as a tentmaker during the week and only preached at the weekends. It was only when Timothy and Silas arrived from Macedonia with a financial gift for Paul that he was able to stop working and focus his entire time on serving Jesus Christ. Meanwhile there were false prophets working in Corinth and they had a habit of seeking money for themselves. Not only that but they had tried to bad mouth Paul by suggesting that the collection he was organising was actually for himself. Paul refuted that suggestion when he told the Corinthians, “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.” (2:17)
Notice that in these few verses it is Titus who is helping to complete the collection and not Paul himself. Notice also that Paul had already said in 1 Corinthians 16:3-4 that, “I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.” I don’t think that that could be any clearer: Paul wouldn’t handle the funds himself but would let the Corinthians take it to Jerusalem. Paul was always at pains to reassure them that everything he did was above board and done with the best of intentions.
It seems that Paul faced two problems at the same time. Firstly, he wanted to complete a collection that he had started for the poor believers in Jerusalem, and secondly, some of the Corinthians didn’t trust him over financial matters.
He dealt with the second problem by sending Titus to actually complete the collection and by offering to provide letters of introduction to Corinthian nominees so that they could deliver the funds themselves.
He dealt with the first problem, and the main reason for what he has to say here, by using the Macedonian churches as an example of generous and sacrificial giving. He had founded a number of churches in Macedonia and at each one he had collected money for the Christians of Jerusalem. Not only did those churches not refuse to participate but they gave very generously indeed even though they were poor themselves. If that example didn’t have the desired effect then he reminded them that Jesus had made Himself poor so as to come to earth and lead them to the kingdom of heaven where they would enjoy the riches of heaven.
Just in case all of that failed then Paul resorted to good old flattery! Whichever of these methods worked didn’t matter; the Corinthians gave and gave willingly.
Maybe what Paul has said in these few verses will prompt us to re-think our pattern of giving even though people in this church already give generously. No matter who we give to, in doing that we are sharing the love of Christ with those who are less fortunate. Just look back at 8:14 where Paul said, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need” and remember that one day you too may be in need of similar help.