2 Corinthians 8:1–15
2 Corinthians 8:1–15
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. List reasons that Paul cites for why the Corinthians should have felt compelled to give.
2. Explain how a benevolent gift is an appropriate response to God’s grace.
3. Examine his or her personal motives for giving or not giving to those in need.
How to Say It
Philippi. Fih-LIP-pie or FIL-ih-pie.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Aug. 7—The Widow’s Offering (Luke 20:45–21:4)
Tuesday, Aug. 8—Chosen to Serve the Poor (Acts 6:1–6)
Wednesday, Aug. 9—Generosity, a Gift from God (Romans 12:3–8)
Thursday, Aug. 10—The Collection for the Saints (1 Corinthians 15:58–16:4)
Friday, Aug. 11—A Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16–26)
Saturday, Aug. 12—Excel in Generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1–7)
Sunday, Aug. 13—Rules for Giving (2 Corinthians 8:8–15)
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.
—2 Corinthians 8:9
Why Teach This Lesson?
A few years ago an eye-opening book was published with the title, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. The author, Ron Sider, challenged the Christians of the world’s wealthy countries (particularly America) to consider the reality of millions of people who live in abject poverty and hunger every day.
Paul dealt with similar themes in 2 Corinthians. At the time he wrote, the citizens of Jerusalem were suffering from famine conditions. Paul spearheaded a campaign for certain churches to raise funds for the relief of their brothers and sisters in need. Some of the churches had completed their offerings. The Corinthians, however, had not. In his encouragement to them to finish, Paul laid out essential principles of stewardship and giving. These timeless teachings still ring true today. This lesson presents crucial information to guide Christians in a duty that is often avoided or neglected: giving for the Lord’s work. We have an obligation to learn how God expects us to be people of generosity and concern for those in need.
A. Amish Insurance
The Amish are a people known for industry and thrift. Their farms and businesses are models of cleanliness and order. They are regarded widely for their ethical business practices and the quality of their workmanship. As a result many Amish families enjoy financial prosperity.
A real estate agent once visited an Amish man to discuss the acquisition of a neighboring piece of land. As they spoke, the agent realized that the man had accumulated a great deal of wealth, with a large farm and several herds of dairy cows. He asked the farmer who provided his insurance. The man replied, “God.”
The agent, taken aback, pointed out that even very godly people sometimes lose their properties to theft or disasters. What if the man’s barn were struck by fire or a tornado? The farmer explained that God would take care of him, because other members of the community would rebuild the barn for him and help him replace his equipment. That was the kind of insurance he relied on.
This commendable outlook reflects the conditions in Paul’s day. Christians could not depend on the government or insurance companies in times of need. They could depend only on God. In our passage for today, Paul discusses God’s insurance plan: Christians sharing their wealth to help one another get through tough times.
B. Lesson Background
During his second and third missionary journeys, Paul expended much effort organizing a collection for the needs of the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem. Palestine is a dry region, and during New Testament times there were several major droughts in that area (compare Acts 11:27, 28). Further, there were continual rumblings of rebellion against Rome throughout the a.d. 50s and 60s. These frequently disrupted the economy of the region. (Note that 2 Corinthians was written in a.d. 57.)
Paul saw this situation as a prime opportunity for his congregations, composed primarily of Gentile believers, to extend a gesture of goodwill to the parent church in Judea (see Romans 15:25–27). In our passage for today, Paul instructs the Corinthians on preparations for their gift. In the process he offers the most extended discussion of benevolent giving found anywhere in the Bible.
I. Example of Giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
A. Pain (vv. 1-3)
1, 2. And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
Paul begins with a kind of paradox that sets the tone for the rest of the chapter. Normally, we would think of a grace that is bestowed as a gift that someone receives. God, Paul says, gave the churches of Macedonia a gift. But he immediately clarifies that the gift they received was the desire to give something to someone else. What they received from God, then, was a passionate desire to help others.
This fact is especially remarkable in view of their circumstances. Each of the three major churches in Macedonia—namely, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea—was born into persecution (Acts 16:16–17:15). These people had suffered adverse circumstances from the day they accepted Christ. Yet, amazingly, this led them to give even more generously. (Corinth itself is part of Achaia, to the south of Macedonia.)
Paul points out two more apparent paradoxes in their situation. First, in a time of great suffering the Macedonians were filled with overflowing joy. This is certainly not the normal, worldly response to such a situation! Second, their poverty abounded in rich generosity. Through God’s power they actually were thankful to give from their limited resources to help other Christians who were in need, even people they had never met.
3. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,
Technically speaking, it is obvious that no one can give more than he or she is able to give since credit cards don’t exist in Paul’s day. The question is how much we think we can afford to give. That essentially becomes an issue of how much we trust God to provide for us in the future if we give now. The Macedonians not only gave what they could afford, they also gave more than they could afford, to a point where it hurt. In this sense their giving was beyond their ability. This kind of giving takes faith. This kind of giving hurts!
There is an old story of a medieval monk who found a precious jewel and kept it. The monk had taken a vow of poverty, so he had no thought of redeeming the jewel for money. He enjoyed it for its beauty and radiance. It reminded him of the glory of God in creation.
One day the monk met a traveler. As the monk opened his bag to share his provisions, the stranger saw the jewel. Knowing that the monk had taken a vow always to help those in need, he asked the monk to give him the jewel.
The monk asked, “Do you really need the gem, my son?” The stranger replied, “Yes, I do.” To the man’s astonishment, the monk readily gave him the jewel.
The traveler departed, overjoyed with his unexpected stroke of luck. A few days later, though, he came back in search of the monk. Finding him, he gave him back the precious jewel and made a request: “I want to ask you for something even more precious than this jewel. Please give to me that which enabled you to give me the jewel.”
The traveler had discerned a great truth: the ability to give is one of the greatest blessings in life. May God grant to us the joyous ability to be gracious in our giving.
Visual for Lesson 11.
Point to this visual as you ask, “In what ways can we give in non-monetary ways?”
B. Privilege (v. 4)
4.… they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.
The key concept in this verse, and in this entire chapter, is fellowship. This refers to a complete sharing of life with another. Similar terminology is used to describe the earliest life of the church in Acts 2:42–47. There we see the believers constantly worshiping together, sharing meals, and providing for one another’s financial needs.
As Jesus said, God has promised to provide for every person who seeks his kingdom (Matthew 6:33). But that provision can come in many different forms. It may come in the form of a new job, an unexpected bonus, or a financial gift. Sometimes God provides for someone else’s needs through your prosperity, as you share with them what God has given you. Later on you may be on the receiving end when you are in need.
This sense of communion with other believers allows the Macedonians not only to give money but actually to plead with Paul to be able to share the gift. They are confident that their Judean brothers and sisters will also help them if the need ever arises.
C. Priorities (v. 5)
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.
Godly stewardship is not just a matter of money but rather is a matter of our very lives. The Macedonians first gave their own selves to God in the sense that they placed complete trust in his provision. That was their top priority. This, in turn, enabled them to share their financial resources to the maximum extent. When we give to help God’s people, we are only sharing what belongs to God anyway; literally, we are spending someone else’s money—God’s.
What We Leave Behind
Funerals are a time of reflection in which we remember the most redeeming qualities of those who have departed this life. But what if we heard the following at a funeral?
“This fellow had the finest set of golf clubs that money could buy.”
“I will really miss seeing his beautiful, weed-free yard.”
“The thing that I will always remember about ol’ Bob is the way he could get that extra 10 horsepower out of his car’s engine.”
“I will always appreciate the fact that he made well over $100,000 a year and that his stocks always performed well.”
If we did hear those statements at a funeral, we would pity the shallow lives of the people who made them (not to mention the empty life of the deceased). U.S. President Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933) once said, “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”
Coolidge was giving us a formula for successful living. Yet God is the original source and example of this formula. Giving is inseparably connected to the gracious character of God. We live because God is generous. He gave us his Son. One of the greatest traits of those redeemed by Christ is the ability to become like our heavenly Father in generosity.
II. Grace of Sharing (2 Corinthians 8:6-15)
A. Corinthians’ Start (vv. 6-8)
6. So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.
Paul now turns from the example of the Macedonian churches to urge the Corinthians to prepare a generous gift for the needy in Jerusalem. He begins with a discussion of the ministry of Titus.
After delivering a progress report that brought Paul great joy and relief (see 2 Corinthians 7:5–15), Titus is to go to Corinth ahead of Paul. The reason for the return trip possibly is to deliver the letter of 2 Corinthians. Thus Titus will prepare the Corinthians for Paul’s arrival. Primary among his list of things to do, Titus is to encourage the Corinthians to have their offering for Jerusalem ready to go. That way Paul can take it along with him (2 Corinthians 9:3–5).
The act of grace refers specifically to the financial gifts of the Corinthians. But it also continues the theme of the previous verses and flows into verse 7. God graciously has given many things to his people, including salvation and spiritual gifts; the Corinthians are to exhibit godly graciousness in turn by giving to their needy brethren. God showed favor to us even before we knew him by sending Christ. The Corinthians should show favor to their brothers and sisters in Judea, even though they have never met them.
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.
Paul reminds the Corinthians of the spiritual gifts that God had given for their edification and in which they sometimes take too much pride (1 Corinthians 12:14–31). Faith as used here is not “saving faith” but rather has the sense of a gift of especially effective faith, perhaps relating to prayer (see 1 Corinthians 12:9; 13:2). Speech refers to spiritual gifts that involve the proclamation of God’s will, such as prophecy and tongues. Knowledge is the gift of insight into God’s nature and plans. The Corinthians, having received such marvelous spiritual gifts, should be motivated in turn to share their material possessions with others.
But their diligence in the offering will not show only their appreciation for God’s benevolence, it will also demonstrate their love for Paul. The Corinthians already have shown their loyalty by heeding at least some of Paul’s warnings (example: 2 Corinthians 7:9). Can he count on them once again? Since they have already received so much, Paul is confident that God will now bestow upon them, like the Macedonians, yet another gracious gift: the willingness to share with those in need.
8. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
Giving is the right thing to do. But giving ultimately is a personal expression of faith, a private matter between the giver and God. Paul therefore stresses that he is not ordering them to give. Indeed, such a command could lead to suspicions and accusations about his motives, similar to the skepticism many of us feel toward TV evangelists today.
At the same time, however, Paul makes clear that the Corinthians should feel very ashamed if they fail to give. In the first place they haven’t suffered nearly as much as the Macedonians, the others who have been so generous. In the second place Paul will have to wonder about the Corinthians’ love if they don’t contribute. It is not clear whether Paul is referring to love for the needy saints in Jerusalem, love for himself as an apostle, or love for Christ who has given them such grace. Perhaps all three are in mind, since a generous gift will help the poor, will validate Paul’s confidence in them, and will show trust in God’s future provision all at once.
B. Christ’s Example (v. 9)
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.
Here as elsewhere, Paul appeals to Christ as the ultimate example. Christ, as God, was more than rich in human terms. He owns everything in the universe! Yet his love for us led him to give up this privileged position and come to earth in the form of a servant to die for our sins (Philippians 2:5–8). Jesus’ suffering led to our blessing—through his poverty we have come to possess all the spiritual riches of salvation. The Corinthians can imitate Christ by sharing.
C. Paul’s Advice (vv. 10, 11)
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.
Having set the example of Christ before them, Paul now challenges the Corinthians to reflect on their own reputations. They apparently had begun to organize a collection for Jerusalem last year. As such, they seem to have been one of the first churches to answer Paul’s call for aid. But their benevolence program had been sidetracked for some reason.
In the meantime the churches of Macedonia, which probably had fewer resources, had started and completed their giving campaign. Since the Jerusalem offering is a cooperative effort involving many churches in several regions, the Corinthians are in danger of becoming an international spectacle. When someone is absent from a family photo, people will ask why!
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.
Talk is cheap. It is easy to say that we want to help others but quite another thing actually to do something for them. Christ did not save us from our sins by saying that he felt sorry for us; he saved us by dying on the cross. The Corinthians need to finish what they started and actually come up with the money they pledged, lest it become obvious to everyone that their mouths are bigger than their hearts (compare James 2:14–17).
D. Paul’s Desire (vv. 12-15)
12. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
On one occasion Jesus and his disciples were watching people drop money into an offering urn in the temple. As people gave their gifts, he noticed one elderly woman who could offer only two small copper coins worth a few pennies. This woman’s contribution was greater than all the others because, he said, she had given all that she had. The others had simply shared a small portion of their wealth (Mark 12:41–44).
Paul appeals to this principle to assure the Corinthians that what he has been saying is not intended to make them feel guilty. Perhaps they feel ashamed of the amount they can provide, especially when compared with the Macedonians. So Paul clarifies: What is important is not the size of the gift but rather the fulfillment of the pledge to give. God is more concerned with our motives than with the amount of money in our wallets. (See also Proverbs 3:27, 28.)
13, 14. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 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,
Some could look at Paul’s efforts to raise money for Jerusalem and conclude that he cared more for that church than for the Corinthians. Paul therefore assures them that he does not wish to seem unfair. The issue is one of equality. Even so, these verses should not be taken as an endorsement of a socialist economic program. Paul never states a plan for a government redistribution of wealth so that everyone has the same amount of money.
The real point is that the Corinthians have been blessed with plenty while those in the Jerusalem church are suffering. Next year the reverse may be true. In that case Paul will expect the Jerusalem believers to be generous in turn. This mutual support in times of need will thus create a sort of godly insurance policy. By this all Christians everywhere can be confident that their needs will be met through the generosity of others.
15.… as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”
Paul now quotes Exodus 16:18, a passage that is particularly relevant to the topic at hand. It refers to the days when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years under Moses. During that period, the Jews did not have a stable source of food from the land about them, so God sent them bread from Heaven miraculously. Each person was to take a certain amount of manna for the household. God provided enough for everyone to be satisfied, whether they gathered much or little.
People often claim that they cannot believe in God because of the problem of evil. When asked to explain this argument, they often reply that a good God could not let children in Haiti die of starvation. Since there are, in fact, children in Haiti who are dying of starvation, then God must not exist; if he did exist, so the argument goes, then he surely would do something about this problem.
Notably, however, many people who would cite this argument are doing nothing to help these starving children themselves. Does the fact that they are not helping such children also mean that they do not exist?
God most certainly exists, and he has provided sufficient material resources to sustain every person who lives on this planet. Even today, with a world population of over six billion, there are more than enough resources for the human race to survive—people simply are not willing to share their wealth. And whether we want to admit it or not, God has provided his people with plenty of money to support one another, his church, and the proclamation of the gospel.
If needs are not being met, it is not because God has not provided; it is because we have not provided. If people judged our existence by whether or not we help with the needs of others, could we prove that we exist? To the person in need, we may as well not exist if we are unwilling to share.
Underwood, J., Nickelson, R. L., & Underwood, J. 2005. New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2005-2006 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati