2 Corinthians 8:1-9; 13-14


Chapters 8 and 9 are devoted entirely to the topic of generous giving. The word "grace" occurs with higher frequency in 2 Corinthians 8 than anywhere else in the New Testament, see verses 1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 16 and 19. Its basic thought is that of generous giving, be that of God or of the Christian. In verses 1 and 9 we have the grace of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. In verses 4, 6 and 7 we find this grace as it works in converted man. But all grace in man can be traced back to the grace of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christians give generously because God has been gracious to them.

Next to his ministry of preaching to the Gentiles, Paul's most important activity during his ministry was to collect money for the poor in Jerusalem, Galatians 2:10. Jewish Christians were ostracized and persecuted in Jerusalem. They helped each other as much as possible, Acts 2:44-45, but evidently that was not enough. And so wherever Paul went he asked for contributions for the Christians in Jerusalem. Our text speaks about this collection in two places: Macedonia and Corinth. Paul is using the enthusiasm of the Macedonian Christians to spur on the Corinthians to complete the task of the collection which was lagging in Corinth.

2 Corinthians 8:1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.

"We want to you know" means "to draw attention to." Paul calls them "brothers." This word introduces a plea.

The churches of Macedonia are at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. The grace of God had been bestowed on these churches. That simply means that the Gospel had caused them to give very generously for the Christians in Jerusalem.

2 Corinthians 8:2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

This verse is truly paradoxical. Verse 2 explains verse 1.

"Most severe trial" means "in the terrible trial of their affliction." It is not certain what caused this affliction. The Romans had made a province of northern Greece in 146 B.C., calling it Macedonia. They discovered gold and silver there and took it from the natives. Furthermore, the civil wars which decided who was emperor were fought there. Their country had been devastated.

The subject of the sentence is "the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty." What a contrast! These two things abounded to the wealth of their generosity. Despite their deep affliction and utter poverty they displayed great joy and generosity. Why? Because of the grace of God which had been bestowed on them.

"Has been given" in verse 1 denotes lasting results.

2 Corinthians 8:3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,

In the Greek text verses 3, 4, 5 and 6 are one sentence. The main thought is found in verse 5: "they gave themselves." What precedes in verses 3 and 4 leads up to this thought. And what follows in verse 6 is a result of that thought.

Verses 3-5 explain the paradox of verse 2.

"Entirely on their own" means "of their own accord."

2 Corinthians 8:4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.

"With much pleading, begging from us." "Privilege" is "grace." The grace of God had caused these poor, afflicted people to beg of Paul. Paul did not beg. They begged Paul. The privilege amounted to sharing in the service toward the saints in Jerusalem.

2 Corinthians 8:5 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.

" And not as we had expected, but quite to the contrary." These words imply that Paul and his associates had anticipated that they would have a prod the Christians at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. But they were wrong in this expectation. What did they do? "They gave themselves first to the Lord and to us through the will of God."

"First" denotes both time and order of importance. It does not mean that they gave themselves first to the Lord and secondly to the missionaries. Perhaps it means something like: "They gave themselves entirely to the Lord..." By giving themselves to the Lord they gave themselves to His pastors. The evidence of their utter dedication found itself in their attitude to Paul and his associates.

The final phrase proves that there was no coercion applied by Paul. It was a case of the grace of God becoming evident in suffering, poverty-stricken Christians.

2 Corinthians 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.

And so the result. "Which resulted in our urging Titus." Titus had originally gotten the collection in Corinth started. But, for some reason or other, it had been interrupted.

"That he should complete also this grace with reference to you." Which grace? The grace which had become evident in Macedonia. It is called "grace" because it is a gracious work of God in man, a spontaneous work. That becomes quite clear in verses 7-9.

If ever a man was pastoral and diplomatic it was Paul. He could be quite severe when it came to people living in sin. But he could be most gracious when urging people to Christian living.

2 Corinthians 8:7 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 has left the topic of the Macedonian churches. He is directing his attention now only to the Corinthians. "But there is another and a stronger consideration." Paul is about to compare the Corinthians with themselves, not with the Macedonian Christians, with reference to two areas of "grace" which has been bestowed on them.

The first five words of verse 7 mean: "But just as you are rich in everything." Then Paul mentions five gifts of God's grace: faith, speech, knowledge, zeal and love. The last two are Christian virtues: enthusiasm and love. Are faith, speech and knowledge ordinary gifts such as all Christians have, or are they extraordinary charismatic gifts such as are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12? Commentators differ in their view of this. But we don't know nor need we. The ordinary gifts of saving faith, the saving Word and saving knowledge are surely enough to make the point which Paul is making.

"Every kind of zeal." All zeal for Christ is a gift of God's grace.

Does "in your love for us" mean that, or "in our love for you?" Most of the version read: "Your love for us." In any case, Christian love is a gift of God's grace.

The final grace mentioned in this verse is the grace of generous giving. Paul is implying that they have the resources and the ability. All they and their resources. Whether we read "our love to you" or "your love to us" makes little difference when we remember that in 1 Corinthians 13 love for one's fellow man is the greatest of all gifts. Even if "faith, speech, knowledge" denote charismatic gifts, love is greater. That great gift the Corinthians have already received. And so Paul can forthrightly say: "excel also in this grace," which reminds us again that generous giving is a gift of God already granted to Christians. All they need do is to use it.

2 Corinthians 8:8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

In verses 1-6 Paul spoke about the zeal of the Macedonians. In verse 7 he told them that they should be consistent in the use of the gifts which God had given them. And in verse 8 he politely compares the Macedonians and the Corinthians.

The main clause comprises the first four words: "Not by command do I speak." "Quite to the contrary." The meaning is: "But by comparing the zeal of others (the Macedonians) I am testing also the genuineness of your love."

If the previous verse spoke about "your love toward us" perhaps Paul means here that he is testing the love of the Corinthians toward Paul and his helpers. But since there is doubt as to the correct reading we shall not suggest this as the meaning. But we do recall that in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul said that love is the greatest of all gifts. Evidently at the moment the zeal of the Corinthians had dampened and Paul is trying to revive it.

2 Corinthians 8:9 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.

This is an explanation. Here we have motivation par excellence. Kretzmann, Tasker and Hughes find both the atonement and example of Jesus in this verse. Lenski insists that here Christ is not portrayed as example. We agree with the former, that here we have Jesus as both Savior and example.

This verse is comparable to Matthew 20:28 and Philippians 2:5-11 where we find Jesus both as Savior and example. 2 Corinthians 8:9 is telling us that just as Jesus gave Himself completely for the salvation of mankind so we should give ourselves completely to the Lord and His Church in service.

"You know" means "you realize, you are already acquainted with." Here "grace" is used in its full soteriological sense of saving grace.

Note "of our Lord, Jesus Christ." He is now Lord because of what He did for us as Jesus and Christ.

How did He become poor? Paul is speaking of the state of humiliation, not merely of incarnation. In the state of humiliation He laid aside the full use of His attributes, not the possession of them. On the cross He lost His last possession, His clothing.

"Although He was rich," although He was Lord of heaven and earth.

His poverty here denotes what He suffered and fulfilled in my stead. This caused me to become rich in justification and sanctification. He now owns me. I can claim nothing that He has loaned or given to me. It is all His.

(Verses 10-12 omitted)

In verses 10-12 Paul gives his opinion which follows naturally from what he has said up to this point.

2 Corinthians 8:13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 2 Corinthians 8:14 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,

Now we come to verses 13-14. The very fact that Paul says what he says in these verses causes one to ponder. We agree with Kretzmann who comments: "This sentence is added principally for the sake of the unwilling, grumbling contributor, whose complaint usually is that he is becoming poor in giving for others, whom he presumes to be rolling in wealth on account of his contributions . . . He was simply advocating the principle of equality, or reciprocity."

Paul was anticipating a complaint. He knew the Corinthian congregation. And, let's face it -- don't we today easily complain that generous giving might lead to our own "poverty?"

Lenski is of the opinion that Paul is giving a double meaning to both "plenty" and "need" in verse 14. It is not easy to understand what Lenski means. We do not think that Paul was as subtle as Lenski is making him.

Tasker: The rich of today often become the poor of tomorrow, and vice versa. When the apostle was writing, 'now is the time,' the Jerusalem Christians happened to need the assistance of the Corinthians; but one day the position might be reversed.
Kretzmann: The time might come when matters would be reversed, and then he would expect the Christians of Jerusalem and Judea to make a return in kind.

Paul is simply talking about mutual Christian love. That's all. And, in doing so, he is reasoning with the Corinthians. In verse 13 "relief" and "hardship" are antonyms.

"You see, I do not mean that there should be relief for others but hardship for you."

The verse ends with "But there should be equality."

There is much food for thought in verses 13-14. We have already mentioned that the basic thought is Christian love, especially remembering the needy. Furthermore, implicit in these verses is the thought that Christians should remember the good works of fellow Christians. They remember by returning the favor. The word "grace" can also mean "thankfulness." Returning a favor is a sign of gratitude. Because of the sinful flesh we are better receivers than givers.

All the commentators cite Luke 21:1-4 and Mark 12:41-44 as a parallel to our text. There we read about the widow who, despite her lack, gave her whole living. She is a good example of the person who gives self to the Lord.

This text evokes memories of at least two hymn stanzas:

a) Let us all with Gladsome Voice,
 Lutheran Worship #42 verse 3:

We are rich, for he was poor;
is not this a wonder?
Therefore praise God evermore
Here on earth and yonder.

b) Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,
 Lutheran Worship #97, verse 5:

But tears of grief cannot repay
the debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away:
It's all that I can do.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays after Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 26-29

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