2 Corinthians 8:7-15
In the late-40s A.D., a famine swept across Judea, and Christians in Jerusalem were in need. The leaders of the Jerusalem church, James, Cephas, and John requested Paul “to remember the poor––which very thing I (Paul) was also zealous to do” (Galatians 2:9-10; see also Acts 11:19-30). Paul responded by encouraging Christians to contribute to an offering to provide relief for Jerusalem Christians.
The book of Acts mentions a contribution by the Antioch church, which that church sent to the Jerusalem elders “by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:25-30).
At the end of his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul introduced the subject of the offering for the Jerusalem church, saying, “On the first day of the week, let each one of you save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, I will send whoever you approve with letters to carry your gracious gift to Jerusalem” (1 Corinthians 16:2-3).
Then, in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentioned the offering again, using the Macedonian church as an example (Macedonia was the Greek province directly north of Achaia, the province where Corinth was located). That church contributed to this offering generously “of their own accord” (8:3) in spite of their poverty. Then Paul raised the challenge to the Corinthian church by talking about Christ, who “for your sakes… became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (8:9).
In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul continues to emphasize the offering for the Jerusalem church, encouraging the Corinthian Christians to “arrange ahead of time the generous gift that you promised before” (9:5).
In the first six verses of chapter 8, Paul told of the Macedonian churches, which had responded generously to the offering for Jerusalem (Macedonia is a Roman province in the northern part of Greece). Intending to use the Macedonian churches as an example for the Corinthian church to follow, Paul laid it on thickly––talking of the deep poverty of the Macedonian churches as contrasted with the riches of their liberality. He presented them as begging for the opportunity to contribute.
Paul had earlier sent Titus to Corinth, where Titus had successfully led the church with regard to church discipline and re-establishing their respect for Paul (see 2 Corinthians 2 & 7). “So we urged Titus, that as he made a beginning before, so he would also complete in you this grace” (8:6). In other words, Paul is sending Titus to encourage the Corinthian church to give generously to the Jerusalem offering.
2 CORINTHIANS 8:7. ABOUND IN THIS GRACE
7 But as you abound in everything, in faith, utterance, knowledge, all earnestness, and in your love to us, see that you also abound in this grace.
“But as you abound in everything, in faith, utterance, knowledge, all earnestness, and in your love to us” (v. 7a). Paul gives the Corinthian believers credit for abounding in these five virtues. While he would not exaggerate their virtue to the point of dishonesty, it seems likely that he is working hard to paint a positive picture. What better way to encourage the Corinthians to give generously to the Jerusalem offering than by praising them. I think of this as a “buttering them up” verse.
“see that you also abound in this grace” (v. 7b). This is the point. Since the Corinthian church has done so many things well (v. 7a), he encourages them to respond generously to this offering as well.
This sounds like the imperative mood (a command), but the mood is subjunctive, which expresses doubt. This might better be translated, “Would you also abound in this grace.” While less forceful than a command, it nevertheless nudges them toward generosity.
2 CORINTHIANS 8:8-9. POOR–THAT WE MIGHT BE RICH
8 I speak not by way of commandment, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity also of your love. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.
“I speak not by way of commandment” (v. 8a). While Paul is not averse to issuing a command when necessary, he understands that doing so can cause people to dig in their heels to resist. In this case, he prefers to persuade rather than to command.
“but as proving (Greek: dokimazo) through the earnestness of others the sincerity also of your love” (v. 8b). The word dokimazo means to test something to determine its quality or authenticity. Rather than commanding the Corinthians to join in the offering, he is challenging them with a test of their sincerity and love by telling them of the earnestness of the Macedonian churches. Surely they won’t allow the poor Macedonian churches to out-give them.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (v. 9). Jesus was certainly poor. Luke tells his birth story––his birth in a stable––Mary’s giving the offering of a poor person (Luke 2:24). Also, God placed Jesus in a country of little worldly consequence (not Rome) in a primitive time (no electricity or running water).
But perhaps the best statement of Christ’s becoming poor for our sake is found in Philippians 2:5-8:
“Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,
being made in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross.”
Paul lets the Corinthians know that they have experienced a direct benefit from Christ’s sacrifice. “Through (Christ’s) poverty, (the Corinthian Christians have) become rich.” He implies that they should respond by being generous to others.
2 CORINTHIANS 8:10-11. THAT THERE MAY BE THE COMPLETION
10 I give a judgment in this: for this is expedient for you, who were the first to start a year ago, not only to do, but also to be willing. 11 But now complete the doing also, that as there was the readiness to be willing, so there may be the completion also out of your ability.
“I give a judgment (Greek: gnome) in this” (v. 10a). The word judgment is probably too harsh here, given that we often associate condemning with judging. Opinion or advice might better convey the meaning of gnome here.
“for this is expedient (Greek: symphero) for you” (v. 10b). Symphero (expedient) has been variously translated—expedient, profitable, good, beneficial. I prefer good or beneficial here. Expedience too often smacks of compromised principles, as in the phrase “politically expedient.”
Paul is advising the Corinthians that what he is encouraging them to do will work to their benefit in the long run.
“who were the first to start a year ago (Greek: perysi––”a year ago” or “this past year”), not only to do, but also to be willing” (v. 10b). In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he mentioned this offering for the Jerusalem church. He asked the Corinthians to give regularly to a fund for that purpose rather than awaiting Paul’s visit to begin the collection (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Now this verse suggests that while the Corinthian church had expressed an interest in this offering, they did nothing.
“But now complete the doing also, that as there was the readiness to be willing (Greek: thelo––to be willing, to wish, or to desire), so there may be the completion also out of your ability” (v. 11). Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians to do that in which they earlier expressed an interest. He wants them to quit talking and start doing. There is quite a gulf between expressing an interest in something and actually doing it.
This verse has much in common with the following passage from James 2:14-18:
“What good is it, my brothers,
if a man says he has faith, but has no works?
Can faith save him?
And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food,
and one of you tells them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled;’
and yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it?
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.
Yes, a man will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’
Show me your faith without works,
and I by my works will show you my faith.”
2 CORINTHIANS 8:12-15. ABUNDANCE, POVERTY, EQUALITY
12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what you have, not according to what you don’t have. 13 For this is not that others may be eased and you distressed, 14 but for equality. Your abundance at this present time supplies their lack, that their abundance also may become a supply for your lack; that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what you have, not according to what you don’t have” (v. 12). It sounds as if the Corinthian Christians doubted their resources to make the kind of offering that they wanted to make. Therefore, they failed even to start the collection.
Paul wants to assure them that no one will hold them accountable for what they don’t have. They need to be concerned only with what they do have, and tailor their efforts to that.
It is all too tempting to let the modesty of our talents, time, or resources intimidate us so that we never do anything.
Some people are so determined to make grand gestures that anything less seems unworthy. There are two ways to go wrong with such a mindset. First, they might never start. Second, trying to make a grand gesture, they might extend themselves too far and go bankrupt. It is better to assess resources realistically and to act accordingly.
“For this is not that others may be eased and you distressed, but for equality” (vv. 13-14a). Paul points out that his intent is not to impoverish the Corinthians, but is rather to level the playing ground––to help the Jerusalem Christians out of poverty without driving the Corinthians into poverty.
“Your abundance (Greek: perisseuma––abundance or surplus) at this present time supplies their lack” (v. 14b). The word perisseuma (abundance) has to do with that which goes beyond one’s needs. At present, the Corinthians have more than they need. If they will give from their overflow, they will lift the Jerusalemites out of their poverty.
“that their abundance also may become a supply for your lack; that there may be equality” (v. 14c). The time might come when the Corinthians need help. At that point, Jerusalem (or other) Christians can be expected to help. The church is a community in which brothers and sisters (even in distant places) can be expected to help each other. That requires a certain amount of faith, but faith is the centerpiece of Christian discipleship.
“As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack'” (v. 15). This quotation is from Exodus 16:18. God had just begun to provide manna to sustain the Israelites in the wilderness. God told them to gather one omer (one-tenth of an ephah) per person per day. Some gathered more and others less. However, “he who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
Paul is quoting this Exodus verse, then, to encourage the Corinthians to generosity––not to measure everything with a teaspoon. Just as God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness, so will God provide for the Corinthians who give generously.
Later, in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul will mention this offering again, acknowledging that the churches in Macedonia and Achaia have contributed to the offering (Romans 15:25-29). Corinth (the city) is in Achaia (the province), so apparently Paul’s appeal to the Corinthian church was successful.
Also in his letter to the Romans, Paul acknowledges that the Jerusalem church is primarily Jewish, while the other churches that he mentions are primarily Gentile. He notes that Gentiles are debtors to the Jerusalem church, having “been made partakers of their spiritual things”––those spiritual things having been the purview of the Jews in the Jerusalem church. Therefore, Gentile churches, having received spiritual blessings from the Jerusalem Christians, “owe it to (Jerusalem Christians) also to serve them in fleshly things,” such as financial support (Romans 15:27).
Copyright 2017, Richard Niell Donovan