You will recall that the historical background of this passage is that there was a particular need among the saints in Jerusalem and the larger body of Christ throughout the Roman Empire had been called upon to help. The Corinthian believers had been among those eager to help. In these chapters Paul is writing to spur the Corinthians on to complete this collection.
This morning we are going to take up and consider this larger section of chapters 8 and 9 together as Paul develops an important point over the span of this entire section. So we will be doing something of a flyover to get at that idea and we will come back in the weeks ahead to look more closely at some of the other important truths Paul here lays down.
Read: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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 by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.
Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
A Reoccurring Idea
So I want to try to see if we can’t get a handle on the idea that Paul is developing over the whole span of this entire section of the letter.
Again, you are aware that Paul’s desired goal is to spur the Corinthians on to give generously for the needs of the suffering saints in Jerusalem as they had promised they would. But he is here drawing the Corinthians up, drawing their eyes up, to consider the larger context of their giving to meet this need. There is a larger context that they need to get their eyes up on to.
So let me lead you through what I think forms the backbone and gives shape and context to all that Paul is doing in these verses. As you read through this passage a recurring idea surfaces and at the end it becomes clear that this idea has in fact been the ultimate point Paul has been developing throughout.
So follow as I trace this idea quickly through these verses.
From Him and Through Him
First notice that chapter 8 begins with a focus on what God has done: He has given grace. God is the initiator in the life of His church. It is God’s actions that have resulted in the fruit of joy and generosity among the Macedonian churches. It is all from Him.
But as Paul says in verse 9, this grace, which results in the fruit of joy and generosity, was not free, he says it was purchased at a vast price. And so the foundation and wellspring of this undeserved favor among the Macedonians is Christ’s victory over sin and death. The great grace of our Lord Jesus Christ has resulted in our becoming rich with the favor of God. “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 by his poverty might become rich.” God’s gift of the Person and work of the Son is the source of all the good that has come to the saints and so all the rich yield and fruitfulness that is produced in the church is from Him and through Him (through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ).
So it is not that the work of Christ on earth (His life, death, resurrection, ascension) is the end or sum of God’s grace toward His people. Rather, Christ and His work is the vindication, and forms the foundation, and is the well spring of God’s inexhaustible kindness toward His people, the church.
It is because of Christ that God is acting righteously in His unending, always new mercies toward we who were once His enemies. It is because of Christ that God can, without the slightest hesitation, pour out His good intentions toward us who have sinned. The cross has secured our standing before His presence and secured His all powerful, everlasting, never weakening, never changing good intention toward us.
To Him – Thanks to God
And notice that in verse 16 Paul says, ‘But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.‘ So, notice that God is not sitting by passively, having completed the work of Calvary, waiting for Titus to respond. No, Calvary is the door through which all God’s favor flows toward His people – He is active through the cross in our lives. Here we are told that it is He who put into the heart of Titus an earnest care for the saints in Corinth. The fruitfulness in Titus is owing to God’s grace, God’s action, which is why Paul says, “But thanks be to God…”
For the Glory of the Lord
Take a look now at verse 19 as Paul picks up this point again,
And not only that, but he [the famous preacher] has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord Himself…
The key phrase we need to mark here is that phrase, ‘…for the glory of the Lord Himself…‘ Paul is carrying out this act of grace (collecting and delivering the collection from the able saints abroad for the suffering saints in Jerusalem) with a few other faithful men, for the glory of the Lord Himself. Somehow this horizontal ‘act of grace’ is ‘for the glory of the Lord Himself.’
How is this horizontal act of kindness ‘for the glory of the Lord’?
His Immense Significance
Well, first of all, what is the glory of the Lord? The word glory speaks to the importance and significance of a thing. The hebrew word (Kabod)(the OT background to this idea) carries with it the idea of weight, heaviness and so it is a way of talking about the splendor of that thing or the abundant nature of a thing. When we talk about the glory of God we are talking about the incalculable abounding importance and significants of God.
And in fact it is right to talk about the glories of God, His many and various glories – those abounding, infinite, eternal, and unchanging excellencies that belong to God’s being and character.
Again, somehow the horizontal care of God’s people for God’s people is ‘for the glory of the Lord’.
But what does it mean to do something that is for His glory (Psalm 79:9; Isaiah 43:7; 48:11; John 11:4; Romans 15:7) or to glorify God (as in Psalm 22:23; 50:15; 86:9,12 and John 17:1) or to give God glory (Joshua 7:19; Psalm 115:1; Isaiah 42:12; Matthew 5:16; Revelation 4:9)?
How can we give glory to God? Let’s be very clear what this does not mean. We do not and cannot add to the importance or weight or significants of God’s being and character. God in all His infinite excellencies is unchanging. He is glorious. We can’t add to nor detract from His inestimable glory.
Instead all that we can do is to see, love, and point out the importance and significants of God’s being and character, His unchanging excellencies. We are to praise Him continually; our souls are to boast in the Lord; we are to magnify the Lord and exalt His name together (Psalm 34:3); we are to taste and see that the Lord is good and take refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8). We cannot add to God’s glory, but there are ways that we can display His glory.
In verse 19, somehow the carrying out of this horizontal act of kindness is for the glory of the Lord Himself. In other words this generous at of brotherly love puts God’s glory on display.
So put this together with what we have seen already at the beginning of chapter 8. Paul starts by describing what God has done among the churches of Macedonia giving them grace to trust Him and so to be generous and He has said that this is through the work of Christ – a door in heaven has been opened by the cross and God’s grace is being poured out. Then in verse 16 another example is given – God is to be thanked for putting care for the Corinthians into the heart of Titus. Now in verse 19 Paul claims that the “carrying out this act of grace… [is] for the glory of the Lord.” In other words it puts His glory on display and calls us to worship Him.
Can you see the theme? There is more going on in this section than people being asked to give money to other people. God is active and God’s glory is being displayed.
The Churches are the glory of Christ
Consider now verse 23,
As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.
Here again Paul is deliberately inserting this qualifying phrase to highlight that all that goes on down here in church life does not terminate here among us. All that the church is and all that the church does transcends us. Paul is not content to say, ‘they are messengers of the churches‘ Period – end of sentence. He says, ‘they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.’
In verse 19 Paul wants to make sure the Corinthians understand that the act of grace being carried out for the saints is for the glory of the Lord and in verse 23 he wants to make sure they understand that the churches are in fact the glory of Christ.
Now, what does Paul mean that the churches are the glory of Christ?
Again, I think it is important to emphasis that it is impossible that God’s glory be added to or changed in its essential nature. God is infinitely and unchangeably glorious. But He has chosen to display that glory in the world through the Person and work Christ, the Eternal Son (2 Corinthians 4:6).
And it is churches, local churches made up of ransomed and redeemed sinners that are His crowning achievement. Think about how incredible that statement is: local churches (like this one) display the splendor, the majesty, the abounding glory of Christ in the world. Local churches scattered throughout the world are where Christ’s glory is on display. This is where the glory of Christ is on display in the world – because as Revelation 5:5 says, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals, so that all of history will be brought to its God-honoring conclusion. God, most holy AND most gracious has been vindicated. God has bee shown to be righteous and holy even in all of His scandalous mercy and grace toward sinners because of what Christ has done.
Christ was slain, and by His blood He ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and He has made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth!
So, the display of the glory of Christ in the world is the people ransomed by His blood and made a kingdom and priests to our God. The assembly of the ransomed on earth is what is called the church and Paul says in Philippians 2:15 that we shine as lights in the world – shining forth not our own glory, but the glory of God’s victory the display of His greatness. The assembly of ransomed sinners made new by Christ, trumpets His glory in the world.
Supply Needs and Overflowing with Thanksgiving
Finally, consider 9:8-13 As Paul again draws our eyes up to the greater reality that our lives here as ransomed people contribute to. Paul says,
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their [the suffering Jerusalem saints’] approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
What a wealth of instruction is here, but for our purposes this morning let’s try to get our minds around the big picture that Paul is calling the Corinthians to consider.
Paul is trying to help the Corinthian church get their eyes up beyond the horizontal to the vertical. He is actually showing them how the horizontal interactions of believers with each other has everything to do with the glory of God. Because it is all from Him and through Him and to Him – to Him be glory forever and ever.
He says this ministry of supplying the needs of the saints in Jerusalem is about far more than merely meeting people’s needs – it is a demonstration of God’s victory over sin and death through Christ Jesus. It is a demonstration that God is at work, that God is able to make all grace abound to His people, and supply them with all sufficiency in all things at all times to abound in every good work. It is a demonstration of God, through Christ, enriching His beloved people in every way to be filled with love for Christ and love for others overflowing in acts of righteousness.
Our horizontal acts of supplying each other’s needs, Paul says is a result of God’s work in us. Christ has opened the way through which God abundantly pours out His blessings into our heart – He is the one who puts it into our hearts to supply each other’s needs. And so the horizontal acts that we do for one another glorify, not ourselves, but God because it is His surpassing grace poured out through the cross to us which is the source of this blessing. God has created a new people with God at work in them. It is all from Him and through Him and to Him.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand the significants of their participation in this gift to the saints. This is not merely about horizontal need-meeting and good deeds for their own sake. The goings on in the local church and the churches’ care for one another is about the glory of God. God’s glory is on display in the fruitfulness of His redeemed people because we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:10).
So our very existence as the children of God is designed to be a living testimony of God’s workmanship in Christ Jesus. The way we care for one another and bear with one another and serve one another and sacrifice for one another and humbly forgive one another is a testimony to the power of God at work in us through Christ Jesus.
Are We Thankful?
The thing I think we need to see from this passage is that every good thing, every bit of fruitfulness in our own lives and in each other should be traced back to its source in God – the God of grace. And it should cause us to praise Him and thank Him. Are we thankful for His gracious work in our hearts and in the hearts of others through Christ Jesus?
But for the grace of God where would we be? Not merely in earthly foolishness and waste but eternal ruin.
Has your heart exalted in God your Savior today? As you look out upon your new life in Christ and as you look out at those new lives created in Christ Jesus even in this room do you see reason to rejoice and thank God for His grace here?
And are we eager to increase that thanksgiving among more and more people as we give Him credit for every good thing and as we trust Him more and more to supply all we need?
So often we get focused on what is lacking in our lives and in our brothers and sisters and we live with our faces in the mud and our lives are heavy laden with care and worry and woe.
Why are you cast down oh my soul?!
And why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again price Him,
my salvation and my God!
Do we know the glory of our God at work through Christ Jesus? Are our eyes up upon God? There is so much that our God has done and is even now doing in this room among us – are we thankful? Are we cheerful? Are we hopeful? Are we confident in our Lord and Savior?
And are we looking for evidences of His grace in one another? Are we rejoicing and thankful to God when we see each other demonstrating love and joy and faith? Do we thank God for His indescribable gift among us!?
Or are we fixated on the faults and failures of others? Are we focused on how much darkness is left in this world, or do we thrill to see that the light has broken in – the dawn has arrived and the sun is rising. Christ has won and God is for us and at work in us! We are meant to see behold His glory; we are meant to exalt in His grace; we are meant to acknowledge His work in our midst and praise Him for it!
Let us endeavor today to see the larger picture – that our horizontal actions are designed to glorify God. Lord give use eyes and hearts to see and be thankful for Your inexpressible gift!
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in NH. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 Andy’s dad was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life as He used this event to shape and mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys and delightful girl.