The Collection for the Saints
Paul moves from discussing the past to discussing the present need to aid the brethren in Judea. He had told the Corinthians how much confidence he had in them (II Corinthians 7:4), he mentioned their eagerness to please Paul and do what was right (II Corinthians 7:7, 12), and their good treatment of Titus (II Corinthians 7:15-16). Now there is a matter in which Paul wants them to further demonstrate their love.
The Macedonians’ gift (II Corinthians 8:1-5)
Paul is currently in Macedonia with Titus and he wanted to pass on the news of what the brethren in Macedonia have been doing. God has particularly blessed the churches there because of their generosity. The churches in Macedonia, such as Philippi, are frequently mentioned as being liberal with what they have (Philippians 4:10, 15-16, 18). Here Paul lets us know that this generosity did not stem from great wealth, but from the brethren’s character.
The region suffered much persecution against the church (Acts 16:17-23; 17:5-9; I Thessalonians 2:14; II Thessalonians 1:6-7) and the economy was depressed; yet, they had an abundance of joy that overflowed into their liberality (Philippians 1:9-11, 25-26; I Thessalonians 1:6-8). They could have written the brethren in Judea and said, we certainly understand what you are going through, we’re having a tough time of it too. But they didn’t Paul testified that they willingly gave as they were able and beyond (Mark 12:41-44). They insisted on Paul taking funds that he thought they could not afford. But they were urgent to help and desired to share in helping the saints in Judea (Romans 15:25-26).
Paul had hopes that the churches in Macedonia and Achaia would aid the brethren and thus strengthen the ties between brethren in various parts of the world, but the Macedonians exceeded his expectations. It wasn’t the amount of money that impressed Paul, it was their attitude. Paul said they willingly gave in II Corinthians 8:3. The Greek word is authairetos, which means self-chosen or voluntarily. It wasn’t because passionate speeches stirred them to reach deep in their pockets during a height of emotion. These people wanted to give of their own free will. No one was expecting them to give much, but they gave more because they wanted to do so (Mark 14:3-9).
However, more important to Paul was the fact that they first gave of themselves (Romans 12:1-2; 6:13; Proverbs 3:9). God isn’t looking for people’s money. He doesn’t need anything from us (Psalms 50:8-15), but when God is put first, blessings come (Ephesians 3:20-21; Proverbs 19:17; 10:13). This is what God wants (Philippians 2:13).
The Corinthians’ gift (II Corinthians 8:6-15)
Titus had started the collection in Corinth as Paul has urged in I Corinthians 16:1-2. Paul wants him to see it finished as well. They have succeeded in other matters (I Corinthians 1:5), so Paul urges them to succeed in this matter of giving as well. Yet, Paul isn’t making this a command to them. The gift being sent is to be something freely given.
It is easy to talk about your love for others, but it is a different matter to do something to demonstrate what you claim. Paul is giving them an opportunity to prove the genuineness of their love by showing them what others were doing. Using the church in Macedonia as examples, Paul hopes to push the Corinthians to reach further than they might have. The great example, however, is that of Jesus who left the glories of heaven, becoming poor in order to make us rich (Luke 9:58; Philippians 2:5-8). Anything we do is insufficient in comparison to our Lord. Since Christ did this for us, we ought to do smaller but similar things for others (I John 3:16).
Paul also advises that the collection be made because it benefitted the Corinthians to work toward and complete a noble task. The Greek word Paul uses is sumphero. Sumphero refers to actions that are ultimately for good, though they may not appear to be good at the present time (Matthew 5:29-30; John 16:7). Thus, Paul understands that what he is asking isn’t without a price, but he also knows that the benefits it will bring are greater than the cost. To gain that benefit, there must be a desire, a doing, and a completion (Hebrews 13:16; James 2:15-16).
God looks at the heart of a person (Mark 12:30). The quantity given isn’t the determining factor (Mark 12:42-44). Though David did not build God’s temple, notice what God complimented him concerning (I Kings 8:18). God does not expect a person to do beyond what he is able. Thus, Paul is not expecting Corinth to impoverish itself so that the saints in Judea can have a life of ease. Instead, there can be a balance. At this time Jerusalem was in deep need and the Greek churches can ease that want. In exchange, their abundance in what they do have can be used to supply what the Greek churches need at a later time (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2; Romans 15:27).
Paul proves his point by quoting a statement about the gathering of manna from Exodus 16:16-18. In that gathering, the people were to collect only what they needed for the day, anything extra would not last. So the result was that the able gathers gave their excess to those less fortunate so that no one lacked food. That same principle should be applied to our lives as well.
- The Corinthians are often used as an example of a church with many problems. Why does Paul say they abound in everything in II Corinthians 8:6?
- Is Paul urging Christians to live a life of poverty?
- How long ago had the first letter to Corinth been sent? (See II Corinthians 8:10)
- Why must there be a desire, doing, and completing in order to gain benefits from a task?
Delivery of the gift (II Corinthians 8:16-24)
Paul is thankful that Titus has the same concern for the Corinthians as Paul himself has. He wanted to see the Corinthians finish what they began (II Corinthians 8:8). Implied in this passage is the fact that Titus is carrying this second letter to the Corinthians. He went because Paul strongly asked him to go, but Titus didn’t need any extra encouragement to return to Corinth. He wanted to go and was eager to do so.
With Titus, Paul sent another man who was well-known among the churches for his teaching of the Gospel and who was chosen by these churches to carry their contributions to the relief of the needy saints in Judea. Who this well-known brother was, we have no idea and has caused a lot of speculation. He is mentioned again in II Corinthians 12:18. However, his identity is not important.
What is important is that even though Paul is coordinating the collection for the saints, he has asked churches to select someone else to carry their gifts (I Corinthians 16:3-4). Paul’s reasoning is simple. Though he is completely trustworthy, he wanted no occasion for someone to claim mischief was done with the money. He wanted everything done to be seen as honestly handled, not just by God but by men as well (Proverbs 3:4; Romans 12:17; I Peter 2:12).
The purpose of the collection was two-fold: its kindness would bring glory to God (II Corinthians 4:15) and it demonstrated the willingness of the Gentile brethren to help others (II Corinthians 8:4).
A third person was also sent with Titus, also unnamed. He had a reputation for diligent effort and he now has an opportunity to demonstrate it further with the confidence Paul is placing in the Corinthians.
If any question why Titus is there, he is Paul’s representative, and if any question the other two men, they are representatives (literally “apostles”) of the churches. This seems to indicate that among the Corinthians are some who do not want “outsiders” telling them what ought to be done, or Paul might be anticipating some reluctance in men coming to collect funds from the church, so Paul is stating clearly the authority under which they work. Because of who these men represent, the Corinthians should take care to show them and the churches they represent evidence of their love and prove that Paul rightly talked well of them (II Corinthians 9:2).
Impact of the gift (II Corinthians 9:1-15)
This gift was a service to Christians (II Corinthians 9:1). It was not being collected as a fund to broadly aid all the poor in Judea, even though in a famine (Acts 11:28-29) more than just Christians would have been affected by the lack of food.
Though Paul is spending a good bit of time discussing the collection, he knows in reality that he didn’t have to say so much because he knows they were ready a year ago. It was a year ago that Paul wrote the first letter to Corinth, but in that letter, he answered a question they had concerning the collection (I Corinthians 16:1-2). Therefore, the gathering of funds has been going on for more than a year. Paul used the eager start of the Corinthians to encourage the brethren in Macedonia to also give. Now that the news of their zeal has produced such an overwhelming response, Paul doesn’t want the Corinthians to slip at the last moment and embarrass themselves and him. One reason for sending Titus and the other two brethren on ahead of himself was to make sure they were prepared. Paul did not want the Macedonians who might be traveling with him to find them unprepared while they themselves carried Macedonia’s gift.
Thus the men were sent on ahead with this letter to make sure the gift was ready so it could be sent as a generous gift, and not as if it was wrung out of them. The amount is what each person chooses to give because he wants to give that amount. This something God has always desired (Exodus 25:2; I Chronicles 29:14, 17; Isaiah 32:8). Paul refers to giving as sowing. What is given isn’t lost, it comes back to the person at a later time, perhaps in a different form but often in greater amounts than given (Acts 20:35; Luke 6:38; Proverbs 19:17, 22:9; Ecclesiastes 11:1-2).
Nor should this gift be looked at as an impoverishment of themselves. God is able to give back to them all things so they will have enough for themselves and extra to help others (Proverbs 11:24-25; 28:27; Romans 8:32; Ephesians 4:28; Philippians 4:19). God supplies both the seed and the results, so He is able to abundantly supply to the generous giver (Isaiah 55:10). The reason God blesses us is not for our own personal gain but so that we might liberally share with others. When we do so, we become messengers from God and the thankfulness flows back through our actions to God (II Corinthians 4:15). Therefore, it should not be looked at as just helping fellow Christians, but as a way to bring glory to God.
The gift being sent by the Gentile brethren will prove to the Jewish brethren that the Gentiles really had been converted by the gospel because it changed their behavior. The Gentiles, instead of being separated from the Jews, are sharing their bounty with them and with all. Their confession of belief then is placed into action – actions that speak more than mere words. The Jews, in turn, will express their thankfulness for their fellowship with the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-18).
Many translations have “all men” at the end of II Corinthians 9:13. “Men” is not in the text and the supplied “men” is misleading. “All” refers to all others of the same type. Since it is a gift to saints that is under discussion (II Corinthians 9:12), it is a gift to the Jewish brethren and all other brethren. This is further seen by II Corinthians 9:14 when those receiving the gift express their gratitude in prayer to God. That is something the brethren would do, but not the world in general.
Finally, Paul expresses his own thankfulness for God’s greatest gift, which would be our salvation through God’s Son (John 3:16; Galatians 2:20; Titus 2:14). It is a powerful reminder that whatever we give in pittance when compared to what God gave to us.
- Paul quotes Psalms 112:9 to prove his point in II Corinthians 9:8. How does it support his point? (Hint: Sometimes a quote is given in part, to remind the reader; thus, the context of the quote needs to be consulted.)