Christ and Our Giving
2 Corinthians 8:1-15 ESV
1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 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. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
In Second Corinthians the apostle Paul sets forth new covenant life and ministry. God’s people now live in the ministry of surpassing glory (3:10), and so we ought to demonstrating the glory of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ in our way of life. Yet every believer and groups of Christ’s followers must be maturing to live in conformity with what we are in Christ. The body (the church) must conform to the head of the body (Jesus Christ).
Paul wants to establish giving into their way of life. A follower or learner of Jesus Christ is to be a person who gives or does what is good for the benefit of others. Consider our acrostic BLESS, which sets forth some basic ideas about living as God’s people in this present age.
Somehow the Corinthians had failed to complete their original intention to give, and so the apostle Paul sent Titus to facilitate the completion of this project. The best of Christians can need help, and Paul gives them help through Titus and his teaching recorded in chapters 8 & 9 of this letter. So let us continue listening to what the Spirit through the apostle says.
I. Giving occurs through a way of life that is complete (8:7)
Illustration: In the New Testament Scriptures we encounter various pictures of the church: bride, body, branches, and building. Think of the last mentioned. When you build a house, you complete the whole structure. You don’t simply put in part of the foundation, frame up the walls, put a couple windows in here and there, and then invest all your attention into the third bedroom on the second floor, leaving the rest of the house neglected. Yet that is what the Corinthians did, and many Christians still do, with their way of life.
A. The Corinthian believers excelled in many areas, especially in regard to spiritual gifts.
In his first letter Paul had said that they were not lacking in any spiritual gift (1 Cor 1:5-7). This was something to thank God for! Here Paul mentions three kinds of spiritual gifts that they excelled in, and two other areas of life in which they had remarkably improved.
1. In faith gifts – acts demonstrating faith in God, gifts of healing, and miraculous powers (1 Cor 12:9-10a); this type of spiritual gifts show faith that God can and will act in a particular situation.
2. In speech gifts – teaching, prophecy and speaking in tongues (1 Cor 12:10)
3. In knowledge gifts – wisdom, knowledge, and distinguishing between spirits (1 Cor 12:8, 10b)
4. In eagerness – This word means “earnestness” or “enthusiasm”. They had recently demonstrated this to Paul (7:11). This quality is one of the roots found in believers that are maturing spiritually (2 Pt 1:5). This quality ought to be energizing all our worship.
5. In their love for him – Clearly this is right way to read this since he is talking about what the Corinthians excel in. He had taught them much about love in 1 Cor 8, 12-14, and they had recently demonstrated that they really love Paul (7:7-16). Here Paul wisely and kindly commends them for their renewed affection for him. We should be striving to find ways to encourage each other in maturing in Christ-likeness. Well-timed, sincere words are one way.
B. The Corinthian believers needed to develop the grace of giving.
1. All of us can tend to excuse our failings in many areas because we excel in one or two. This can be a trap that causes serious spiritual injury. To use our previous illustration, we can become so enamored with our third bedroom on the second floor that we fail to notice our foundation is incomplete or that we neglected to put sheathing on the rest of the outside walls. The Corinthians were proud about their knowledge and spiritual gifts, but their giving was falling far short of what it should have been.
2. For this reason the apostle urges them to pay attention to this part of the Christian way of life. The Corinthians needed to move from overflowing in spiritual gifts to overflowing in giving. To put this differently, they needed to develop a conscience before God (cf. 1 Pt 2:19) about the matter of giving—a conscience that is sensitive to overflowing giving. Therefore, Paul as their friend and apostle seeks to help them develop sound Biblical ideas in this area.
Apply: We must look clearly at ourselves, too! This is not “beat up the church at Corinth time”, like often happens when people comment upon these two letters. Where do we need to develop? Let me suggest three areas. We need to have a conscience before God in doing good works or doing what is for the benefit of others, in eating with one another and those outside our assembly, and in telling others the good news of Jesus Christ.
II. Giving occurs through a way of life that is tested (8:8)
A. We need to distinguish between testing and tempting.
1. God is not the author of temptation, which tries to lead people into sin. God never sets us up to fail, and neither we should set up others.
2. God does put his people in situations to test them—to develop their faith and Christ-like character. It is part of the process of growing in spiritual maturity.
B. This planned offering was a test of the Corinthian assembly. What would they do together for the benefit of others? This concept of doing good together is important in the ongoing development (cf. Eph 4:15-16) of any gathering of believers in Jesus.
1. Observe the way that Paul seeks this development. Paul wants them to participate cheerfully and from their hearts, so he does not “lay down the law” but takes their freedom in Christ seriously (Gal 5:1). Having said that, he does not stand by passively and merely wish that they do something. Instead, he invests two chapters of this letter in giving them sound gospel reasons why they ought to give cheerfully and generously. So then, he wants them to “take the test” in the right spirit or attitude.
Illustration: Isn’t it easier to take a test if you’re in the right frame of mind? If you study, well-rested, and confident, you usually do better than when you’re not that way.
Apply: So then, we need to approach tests in our walk of faith in the confidence of being sons and daughters of God. As we talk about giving for the benefit of others, we need to see that in the Spirit we are free from greed and enabled to be kind and good (Gal 5:22).
2. Tests are part of normal Christian experience. Up to this point in this letter we can see three. More will follow. Paul had previously tested their obedience (2:9), and the Macedonian churches had come through the most severe test (8:2). Now Paul tests the sincerity of their love. “Paul knows that words expressing love come cheaply and can be faked; genuine love will show up in the checkbook” (Garland).
Apply: We need to grow in doing good together for the benefit of others. If you are in Christ, how can you help us all grow in this area? If you don’t know the Lord, leave your empty way of life and join us in showing God’s glory to people who need mercy and grace.
Pastor Dave Frampton
The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are featured here at CMC. As a Bible teacher he excels. Teachers and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.