The Epistles: Part Two
Theme Verses: Deut. 10:14To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Deut. 10:18He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 2 Cor. 9:8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. James 1:27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Study Texts: 2 Corinthians 8:1-24; 9:1-15; Exodus 16:16-18
Questions for Home Study and Class Interaction
1. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, why did the Macedonians want to give? Did Paul expect them to give? What does it mean that they gave “beyond their ability”? Note Paul says they begged to participate in the collection. What does it mean “they gave themselves first to the Lord”? Should we take out loans and go in debt to support missionaries and/or help the poor? If no, why are we justified in taking out loans for church buildings?
The Macedonians (possibly Thessalonica, Philippi and Berea) had heard of the Corinthians desire to contribute to the collection for the poor in Jerusalem (9:2). Knowing of the need, and despite their poverty, they asked Paul if they could participate. The reason for such a desire was found in their dedication not simply as to Paul in recognizing his apostolic position but to the Lord. The Lord and his teachings through His apostles were their priority (v. 5). Paul had not expected for them to give, seeing their “deep poverty” and “affliction” they suffered (v. 2; see also Acts 16:11-17:15; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:1-2; Philippians 1:27-30): they begged Paul to allow them the opportunity to participate in this act of grace. It is important to note how this act was described: grace, fellowship, service. All of these terms rested at the heart of Paul’s theology. The Macedonians understood the significance of the gift. It was an expression of their devotion to the God who exhibited his grace to them. Understanding God’s gracious works for us moves us to perform gracious acts for others. They knew the joy that came from God despite their suffering and found the desire to assist in the contribution from the grace they received from God despite their poverty. No circumstances would stop them from participating in the work of the kingdom. Verse 4 poignantly expressed this. The “favor of participation” is the “grace of fellowship.” Within the activity of sharing goods was found the expression of grace. The Macedonians desired to live lives consistent with the grace they had received from God, by acting graciously toward their fellow believers. The “support of the saints” utilizes the word diakonos, “service”. Giving is a valuable aspect of Christian service. The Macedonians gave from their poverty gifts that were beyond measure.
The Macedonians gave “beyond their ability” not simply “according to their ability” (v. 3). They suffered because of their gift. In ancient papyri, this expression is found. It was used of a husband who brought a complaint against his wife for whom he provided. The complaint was that she would demand more than he could provide: beyond his means. The Macedonians gave from their necessities as well as their abundance. They were willing to suffer because they knew what the cross meant to them: sacrificing themselves for others- no matter what the costs were. How far are willing to go for others? This act was not done under compulsion, but with an understanding of God’s grace and love for the Jerusalem church, a church none of the Macedonians had probably ever visited. That was inconsequential. What was important was this: they were fellow believers.
2. Respond to the following quote: “Normally we think of the fundraisers as begging the would-be donors. Here it is the donors, who could least afford it, who entreat Paul for the favor of having part in this enterprise.” –Ralph P. Martin, Word Biblical Commentary on 2 Corinthians.
3. In 2 Corinthians 8:6-15, what does Paul mean by “that there might be equality”? What is the significance of Paul quoting Exodus 16:18? Why does God give us more than we need?
Titus was to be sent to the Corinthians to help them complete the collection they were asked to collect a year before (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). They had failed to finish the task. Paul exhorted the Corinthians to complete the collection, so as not to embarrass him in front of the Macedonians who were coming to take it (see 9:1-5). He was not insulting them, but encouraging them to do so (v. 7), for they were full of good things. They just had one problem: they had gone a year and the collection was not finished (a year in ancient times could be reckoned as between 13 to 23 months). God had supplied them with “all” they needed to complete the job (v. 14). Paul told them of the Macedonians to help spur them onto collect the money, and if that was not a strong enough impetus, the story of Jesus would be. He reminded them of the poverty Jesus suffered in his incarnation. The poverty here is not specifically Jesus’ material poverty, which he did seem to suffer from during his birth and ministry, but his sacrificing of his divinity and the self-sacrificing life he expressed on the cross (see Philippians 2:3-11). His poverty brought us riches. Both are spiritual in nature but have consequences here and now. Jesus’ act of selflessness was to be a part of the Corinthians lifestyles. This was what guided their actions and thoughts and should guide ours also. Paul’s opinion (v.10) was that they go ahead and restart the collection process without delay. Not under compulsion, but with a “desire to do so” for Jesus’ actions were not under compulsion but a choice. The collection was to be completed for this reason: equality. Some of the Corinthians may have objected or Paul was merely addressing the issue if it were to arise that their money was going to make others wealthier while they became poorer. The believers in Jerusalem, if the situation were to be reversed in the future, would be responsible for benefiting the Corinthians if they found themselves in similar circumstances. The principle of equality was furthered defined by what has been termed by some as “manna economics.” Paul quotes Exodus 16:18 in verse 15, referring to the giving of manna in the wilderness. No one was left with a need among God’s people. The responsibility was not only God’s to provide but fellow members. Since no more bread falls from the sky, it must fall from our cupboards. God had placed a tremendous responsibility into the hands of the church, for Paul’s day and ours. Not one believer is to be in need while others have plenty. There should always be an equality of necessities. In verse 14, Paul pointed out that abundances were given by God to some for a reason, and that reason is not to hoard them, but to reach out and help those in need. We must view our abundance not as God’s gifts to us but as God’s gifts to us so that we may express his graciousness and love to those around us. If I am the first person I seek to spend my money on from my abundance, where are my priorities (see especially Philippians 2:3-4)?
4. In 2 Corinthians 8:16-24, how did the Corinthian church show the Jerusalem church the proof of their love? Why does Paul go to such a pains-taking effort to verify the integrity of this collection?
Three brothers (two unnamed and Titus) were to be sent from Macedonia to pick up the collection, so Paul is making certain that the Corinthians had finished it prior to their arrival to avoid embarrassment for both himself and the Corinthians. He had boasted a lot about the Corinthians. The collection was to be their “proof of their love”. Helping fellow Christians was to Paul not merely an act of obedience to a law or an act brought about by compulsion, but an act of love (see 1 John 3:13-17). Love had to be at the center of the collection or it never would accomplish what it needed to accomplish: a manifestation of God’s grace among His people bringing them closer in unity and fellowship. Giving because we are commanded to has no real value.
Paul made certain that the integrity of the collection would be maintained at all costs. He wanted no one to be able to make the claim that the money was going into his pocket or that there was an ulterior motive behind this collection other than an expression of God’s grace and love between believers.
5. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, what kind of giver does God expect us to be? What is the purpose of God giving us everything we have? What does our giving produce?
Following Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians not to shame him and be found without the collection gathered, Paul used the agricultural metaphor of the harvest to encourage them to be generous in their giving. The size of a farmer’s harvest is proportional to the amount he sowed (v.6). This is not a “health and wealth gospel” principle. The idea Paul expressed in verses 8-15 qualify this statement. Verse 6 indicates the nature of giving: from the heart. Paul could not stress this enough. Giving without the desire to give is not true giving. If anyone feels like departing from his hard earned cash or property is too hard, perhaps the hardness rests in his heart. Paul insisted that giving be from a “cheerful giver.” This is one who desires to give up his possession or money for the sake of others. Giving is a delightful expression of the love found in a believer’s heart. And God supplies the giver with enough to give. In verse 8 “all” things are supplied to the believer for purpose of “good works”, once again, not hoarding or keeping it for one self. Those who are given material prosperity (only one of the many things God can give to His children) are given the abundance for the sake of the needy and work within the kingdom. Verse 10 indicates that God provides so that His people can provide for others and reap “a harvest of righteousness.” It is important to note the use of Psalms 112 here. The context of that Psalm is the man who fears the Lord. He is blessed by God abundantly and gives freely. He is generous and lends to the poor. This was how Paul viewed righteous living in his teachings. Such a way of life also produced thanksgiving to God (v. 11, 12, 15) and glory to God (v. 13), the ultimate reason for the act. God provided and gave the Corinthians the supreme example and reason for giving: Jesus Christ. He created the community of believers and gave them the impetus to love and be merciful. He gave them the abilities, gifts and talents to work and labor in the kingdom of God. He supplied them with all that they had. He brought the community together from various backgrounds, binding them together in unity that came from the cross. They were to give because of this. How could anyone not praise God for their ability and desire to give and help their fellow Christian?
6. What is the connection between the Gospel story and giving?
The gospel story stands at the heart of our lives within the kingdom of God. It drives us to live different from the world and it binds us together in a unity that no force could break. Paul used it within the context of giving as the driving factor to help others in need. Christ’s self-sacrificing act defines our existence. He did not come to this earth under compulsion, but because he loved us. He gave up more than we can imagine. He redefined love for us in his selfless life. We give to emulate his giving. We give to each other to experience the bond and unity we have in him and his gift of the Spirit. We give because we know what it is to be a child of God the Father, who loves and cares for his children. We give to those outside of the fellowship to show the enduring love for those Jesus Christ seeks to bring back to the Father. Giving our goods to help our brothers and sisters in need is expression of God’s grace and kindness toward us. To do any less would be blasphemous.
7. Respond to this statement: “If we claim wealth is relative, we make materialism relative.”
“Wealth is relative”. This is a statement I have heard said by many Christians who wished to classify themselves as poor in comparison to others who had far more than they did. I wonder sometimes if we really appreciate what God has given us when we make these claims. If we want to live lives of comparison, let’s do it right. By the world’s standards, I seriously doubt that anyone at Brentwood Hills could classify themselves as poor. If we begin to undervalue the amount of things God has given to us, we may miss not only the wonderful blessings he has given to us materially, but also miss the intentions he had. If it is true that our abundance is given to us for the sake of helping others, but we redefine terms so that we are “poor”, we may not be using our goods the way God intended for us to use them. We may seek to gain more for ourselves because we do not live up to the standards of the world. The world teaches to accumulate more and more and to build or buy bigger things for oneself. Hoarding and greed are not evil terms in the world. But they are not in Scripture. One thing that has always bothered me about money issues in the church comes when we ask for classes on money and finances. The majority of times we, as Christians, ask for these classes, we are more interested in how to make and save more. The focus on money in scripture is just the opposite. When scripture speaks on how Christians should use their money, it discusses how to use it for the needy, poor, widows, missionaries, foreigners, etc.
8. According to Scripture, how “rich” do we have to be to give? How rich do we have to be to give with “rich generosity”?
The Macedonians gave despite their poverty. Giving is not to be assessed in terms of amount given, but the sacrifice involved and, more importantly, the love expressed within the gift. We value the gift based on the quality not the quantity. Just as Jesus taught his disciples by the example of the poor widow (Mark12:41-44).
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