2 Corinthians 9:6-15
THE OFFERING FOR THE JERUSALEM CHURCH:
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).
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). —therefore acknowledging that his appeal to the Corinthian church was successful. 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, originally, the purview of the Jews in the Jerusalem church. Therefore, Gentile churches, having received spiritual blessings from the Jerusalem Christians, “owe it to (the Jerusalem Christians) also to serve them in fleshly things,” such as financial support (Romans 15:27).
If 2 Corinthians 10-13 was originally a separate letter, as some scholars believe, then Paul’s emphasis on the Jerusalem offering in the closing chapters of his letter (chapters 8-9) testifies to the importance that he placed on this offering.
2 CORINTHIANS 9:6-7. SOW BOUNTIFULLY AND REAP BOUNTIFULLY
6 Remember this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly, or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.
“Remember this: he who sows sparingly (Greek: pheidomenos) will also reap sparingly” (v. 6a). This verse alludes to Proverbs 11:24-26, which says:
“There is one who scatters, and increases yet more.
There is one who withholds more than is appropriate, but gains poverty.
The liberal soul shall be made fat.
He who waters shall be watered also himself.
People curse someone who withholds grain,
but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.”
Paul states a principle that would be obvious to any farmer or gardener. The person who measures seed too sparingly will likely go hungry when winter comes. Stingy people, in the end, will pay a penalty for their miserly behavior.
That principle holds in other realms as well. The employee who watches the clock and gives only minimum effort is not likely to be selected for promotion. Parents who have no time for their children when they are young are likely to find that their children have no time for them once they have grown up and left home. The song from the 1970s, “Cats in the Cradle,” captures that wonderfully well. Go to:
The word “sparingly” is a good translation of the Greek word pheidomenos. Both words speak of holding back—using restraint—being careful—measuring by the teaspoon instead of by the liter or gallon—calculating by inches instead of miles.
Restraint can be good or bad, depending on how it is applied. It is a good idea to apply criticism sparingly—and angry words—and violence. It often helps to exercise restraint with money. When the prodigal son spent wastefully, he soon found himself eating pig slop and humble pie (Luke 15:11-24).
But there are times when, finding an especially wonderful pearl, we should go and sell all that we have so that we might buy it (Matthew 13:45-46). There are times when we should throw caution to the winds—when we should really extend ourselves. In the end, it’s a judgment call—a “best guess” decision that could prove right or wrong—but we need to keep in mind that we are not likely to reap bountifully if we sow sparingly.
“He who sows bountifully (Greek: eulogia) will also reap bountifully” (v. 6b). Now Paul states the reverse principle—that the person who gives generously is likely to receive generosity in return. In the verses that follow, Paul will speak of God’s generosity—and God’s inclination to bless those who are generous to others.
The Greek word eulogia combines two words, eu (good) and logos (word). Literally, it means good word, but it came to mean blessing. The idea, then, is that the person who dispenses blessings will receive blessings.
Paul is trying to counter objections from the Corinthian Christians that they can’t afford to contribute generously. He says that, if they give generously, they can expect to receive generous blessings in return.
The question, then, is from whence will those blessings come? Who will reward the generous person? The answer is that those blessings will come from several directions:
• For one thing, as Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)—it just feels better. I can remember my childhood and adolescence, when I had little money to spend on Christmas presents. However, I still remember with pleasure going to a jewelry store and buying silver-plated salt and pepper shakers for my mother—a gift well beyond the means of my paperboy income. I can remember other occasions when I was able to buy an inexpensive present—but one that was exactly right. Those occasions took place long ago, but I still find pleasure in remembering giving those gifts. I can’t claim to be an especially generous person, but the moments that have given me the greatest pleasure are those generous moments.
• For another thing, people love generous people, so generous people will have more friends than stingy people. Some of those friends will find ways to do something nice for the generous person. It is also true, of course, that some will try to take advantage of the generous person, so we need to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In other words, we need to be generous, but not stupid.
• Last, but most important, God blesses generous people. Those blessings take many forms—too many to outline in detail here—but we can be sure that God’s blessings will exceed anything provided by the two categories mentioned above.
“Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly (Greek: ek lupe), or under compulsion” (Greek: ek anagke) (v. 7a; see also Philemon 14; Romans 12:8). Paul earlier mentioned that the Macedonian churches gave generously and “of their own accord” (8:3) in spite of their poverty. Now he asks these more prosperous Corinthian Christians to do likewise.
The phrase Greek ek lupe means “out of grief or sorrow.” The phrase ek anagke means “out of necessity or compulsion.” Paul is telling these Corinthians not to feel sorrowful when they pull out their wallet—not to shed a tear when they part with their money—not to do the right thing only because they feel “under the gun.”
As noted in the comments on verse 6b above, generosity has the potential to bring great and long-lasting joy. How sad it would be if these Corinthian Christians were to feel sorrow instead of joy as a result of their contribution.
Earlier, Jesus commanded people to love their enemies and to bless those who cursed them—in other words, to act with extreme generosity—not so that they might reap a reward, but so that they might become more like their Heavenly Father (Matthew 5:43-48).
“for God loves a cheerful (Greek: hilaros) giver” (v. 7b). Paul quotes this phrase from the Septuagint (Greek translation) of Proverbs 22:8—a phrase that is missing from the original Hebrew of that verse, and is also missing from most English-language translations. We would know nothing of “God loves a cheerful giver,” then, if Paul had not thought to include it in this verse.
While the word hilaros might sound a bit like hilarious, it means cheerful or joyful. It is easy to be a cheerful giver, because giving that comes from the heart and “not grudgingly, or under compulsion” produces great joy in the heart of the giver.
Stop and consider—don’t we all love a cheerful giver! Don’t we love cheerful people, even when they aren’t giving away money! When we encounter people with a smile on their face and a song in their heart, their joy is contagious. Their joy becomes our joy.
And consider this—the joyful person’s gift need not be large to capture our hearts. We are more inclined to love a child who gives his/her last nickel than a wealthy person who gives a larger gift, but one that involves no sacrifice. In 2009, Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, gave a million dollars to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). Thirty years earlier, HIAS had assisted the Brin family when they arrived in the United States after fleeing the Soviet Union. By the time Brin made his million dollar gift, he was worth $16 billion. While I would ordinarily think of a million dollar gift as generous, Brin’s gift to HIAS seemed trifling because of (1) his great wealth and (2) the significance of the help that HIAS rendered to his family when they were vulnerable. Brin’s less-than-generous gift backfired—got him lots of bad press.
2 CORINTHIANS 9:8-9. GOD’S GRACE ABOUND TO YOU
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, may abound to every good work. 9 As it is written,
“He has scattered abroad, he has given to the poor.
His righteousness remains forever.”
Note the global nature of Paul’s language. He speaks of “all grace” and “all sufficiency” and “everything” and “every good work.” Paul is a man of faith, and his faith assures him that the God who “gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater” (Isaiah 55:10) will provide abundantly for these Corinthian Christians.
“And God is able to make all grace (Greek: charis) abound to you to every good work” (v. 8a). Grace (charis) is a significant word in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s epistles. The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed, used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness. That is the sense in which Paul uses charis (grace) here. He is encouraging these Corinthian Christians by presenting them with a picture of God’s overflowing grace.
“that you, always having all sufficiency (Greek: autarkeia) in everything” (v. 8b). The word autarkeia can mean sufficiency in material things such as food and clothing, but it can also mean the kind of contentment that comes from living a Christ-centered life.
“that you… may abound (Greek: perisseuo) to every good work” (v. 8c). Paul isn’t suggesting that these Corinthian Christians should celebrate their autarkeia (sufficiency) by sitting back and saying,“Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). Quite the opposite is true. He is encouraging them to celebrate their sufficiency by abounding “to every good work. In God’s economy, affluence isn’t an invitation to live large, but an opportunity to give large.
The Greek word perisseuo has to do with excess—superabundance —what the Psalmist meant when he said, “My cup runs over” (Psalm 23:5)—what Jesus described when he said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). Paul is calling these Corinthian Christians to that kind of superabundant good work.
“As it is written, ‘He has scattered abroad, he has given to the poor. His righteousness remains forever'” (v. 9). This is an almost exact quotation of Psalm 112:9—the Septuagint (Greek) version. In Psalm 111:3, “His righteousness endures forever” referred to Yahweh, but in Psalm 112:3, that same phrase refers to “the man who fears Yahweh, who delights greatly in his commandments” (Psalm 112:1). In other words, when Paul quotes Psalm 112:9, he is alluding to the generosity and righteousness of a Godly human rather than Yahweh.
In verse 8, Paul established that God has equipped these Corinthian Christians to do abundant good works. In verse 9, he is holding up the image of the Godly person of the Psalm as an example to these Corinthian Christians—and he strongly implies that the good words of the Psalm could apply to them as well as to the earlier Godly person about whom the Psalmist wrote so many years ago. They, too, have the potential to “scatter abroad” and to give generously to the poor.
2 CORINTHIANS 9:10-15. THANKSGIVING TO GOD
10 Now may he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness; 11 you being enriched in everything to all liberality, which works through us thanksgiving to God. 12 For this service of giving that you perform not only makes up for lack among the saints, but abounds also through many givings of thanks to God; 13seeing that through the proof given by this service, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the Good News of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all; 14while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, yearn for you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you. 15 Now thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!
“Now may he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food” (v. 10a). This is an almost exact quotation of Isaiah 55:10.
God, of course, is the one who supplies seed and bread. This is the same God who feeds the birds of the sky, who don’t sow or reap or gather into barns (Matthew 6:26). It is the same God who gives “rains from the sky and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). It is the same God who so loved the world “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Paul’s intent in this verse, of course, is to remind these Corinthian Christians of God’s generosity in the past. Why shouldn’t they trust God to be generous in the future!
“supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness” (v. 10bWEB). Paul prays that God might bless these Corinthian Christians with seed—not for eating but for sowing. They can be sure that, if they sow the seed generously, God will provide a generous harvest for the needy Christians in Jerusalem.
Paul also prays that God might “increase the fruits of your righteousness.” If these Corinthians will act righteously by giving generously, then they can anticipate that God will bless their generosity by multiplying its effect.
“you being enriched in everything to all liberality” (v. 11a). Earlier, Paul spoke of the Macedonian churches, which had given generously in spite of their poverty. Paul spoke of “their joy and their deep poverty (that) abounded to the riches of their liberality” (8:2). Now he holds out the vision of Corinthian Christians receiving the same kind of blessings if they contribute generously.
“which works through us” (v. 11b). Paul is a partner in this offering—he is the one who is encouraging people to contribute. Other partners include Titus and another Christian, sent to Corinth to assist with the offering (8:16-18)—as well as those who will carry the offering to Jerusalem (16:3).
“thanksgiving to God” (v. 11c). The recipients of the offerings—Jerusalem Christians—will give thanks to God for the generosity of those who contributed to the offerings.
“For this service (Greek: diakonia) of giving (Greek: leitourgia) that you perform” (v. 12). Both the word diakonia (service) and leitourgia (giving) have to do with service. The word diakonia is related to the Greek word for deacon—and deacons are Christians who minister or serve. The word leitourgia has to do with public service, such as that rendered by a public officeholder. In this context, both words have to do with Christian ministry.
“not only makes up for lack among the saints, (Greek: hagios) but abounds also through many givings of thanks to God” (v. 12). Paul refers to Jerusalem Christians as saints (hagios)—a word that means holy ones. Hagios has its roots in the Hebrew word qadosh (holy) that is used in the Old Testament. There holiness has to do with being set apart for a Godly purpose. The sabbath was holy, because it is set apart for rest and worship. Israel was holy, because God chose Israel to be God’s covenant people. Priests and Levites were holy, because God set them apart for his service. The New Testament uses the word hagios for Christians—the new covenant people of God—set apart to do God’s work.
The word “saints” comes from the Latin sanctus, which means “sacred.” The concept of canonized saints as a separate category of especially virtuous Christians is not found in the New Testament, but was established nearly a thousand years later when Pope John XV canonized the first Roman Catholic saint in January 993 A.D.
People today usually hear the word “saints” quite differently than Paul intends in this verse. We usually hear the word “saints” used in one of two ways. A saint is either a person who has been canonized by the church or is an exceedingly virtuous person. In either case, we cannot imagine that sainthood has anything to do with us. We aren’t likely to be canonized and probably aren’t exceedingly virtuous, so we assume that we will never be candidates for sainthood. However, in the New Testament, the word hagios (saints) is a word that applies to ordinary Christians—every Christian—us.
The offering that Paul is encouraging will have two effects. First, it will serve the physical needs of Jerusalem Christians, for whom it is intended. Their situation is dire, because of the Judean famine. The offering will help them to import food.
But second, and perhaps even more important, the recipients will give thanks to God. That means that the Corinthian gift to the Jerusalem Christians is also a gift to God.
“seeing that through the proof given by this service” (v. 13a). Jerusalem Christians will see the generosity of the Corinthian Christians as proof of something. Proof of what? Proof of the faith of the Corinthian Christians! Proof of the agape love of the Corinthian Christians! Proof of the brotherhood that exists between the Corinthian Christians, primarily Gentiles, and the Jerusalem Church, who are primarily Jewish!
“they glorify God for the obedience of your confession (Greek: homologia) to the Good News of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all” (v. 13b). As noted above, one of the results of this offering will be the thanksgiving that the recipients will give to God. The Corinthian Christians should regard this offering as an opportunity to inspire that thanksgiving. Their offering will be a gift, not only to the church at Jerusalem, but also to God.
The word homologia (confession) is a combination of homou (together with) and lego (to say), so it has the sense of a shared belief or profession—in this case, a profession of faith in “the Good News of Christ.” These two churches—in Corinth and Jerusalem—share this profession of faith.
“while they themselves also, with supplication (Greek: deesis) on your behalf” (v. 14a). The Greek word deesis has to do with making one’s needs or desires known. Supplication is a good translation. Prayers of supplication can ask in behalf of oneself or in behalf of someone else. In this verse, Paul says that the recipients of the offering (Jerusalem Christians) will offer prayers on behalf of the donors (Corinthian Christians).
“yearn (Greek: epipotheo) for you” (v. 14b). The Greek word epipotheo means to desire earnestly or to long for. Paul is saying that the recipients of the offering (Jerusalem Christians) will long for a relationship with the donors (Corinthian Christians).
“by reason of the exceeding (Greek: hyperballo) grace of God in you” (v. 14c). The word hyperballo (exceeding or surpassing) is composed of two Greek words: hyper (over or above) and ballo (to throw)—and is therefore an “over the top” kind of word. When Paul talks about “the exceeding grace of God in you,” he intends for us to imagine grace beyond our imagining.
Interestingly, Paul says that the yearning of Jerusalem Christians won’t be so much in response to the financial assistance that they have received, but will rather be in response to “the exceeding grace of God” among the donor Christians. That shouldn’t surprise us. We occasionally find someone who manifests “the exceeding grace of God” in character and behavior. Typically, such people are rooted—neither swayed by popular thought nor emotionally volatile. When faced with a difficult situation or decision, they prove to be more thoughtful than most—and often find a good solution. We naturally feel drawn to such people, because we know we can trust their judgment—and that we can depend on them not to hurt us. In situations where we must face difficult problems alone, we yearn for the help of such people.
“Now thanks be to God for his unspeakable (Greek: anekdiegetos) gift!” (v. 15). The word anekdiegetos is found only here in the New Testament—and nowhere in classical Greek literature. Paul apparently coined this word by adding the letter “a” (which means “not”) to the word ekdiegomai, which means “to recount or declare.” The result is a word that means “that which cannot be expressed in mere words.”
What is God’s “unspeakable gift”? While the offering for Jerusalem Christians will be a wonderful, perhaps even lifesaving, gift, surely God’s “unspeakable gift” must be something far greater.
• It is, in fact, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
• It is that the Son, “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. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
• It is that, being “justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”—that we “will be saved from God’s wrath through him”—and that we have been “reconciled to God through the death of his Son… (and therefore) saved by his life” (Romans 5:1, 9-10).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan