God’s Formula for Great Giving2 Corinthians 8:1-15Theme: Generosity.This week’s lessons teach us that giving is a matter of the heart.
The key text in this section of 2 Corinthians, chapter 8, is verse 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.”
I suppose thousands of sermons have been preached on what the Lord Jesus Christ gave up in order that we might be saved. And thousands upon thousands more have been preached on our great spiritual blessings in Christ. All of that is right, of course. That is what the text is talking about. But it is most significant that in the context of the passage Paul is not talking about spiritual blessings, but rather very material ones, in particular, the obligation of the Christians at Corinth to give generously of their substance to God’s work and for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem. In other words, this text, which is so often spoken of spiritually, in an illustrative sense, says, “You should be great in your giving because your model is the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave everything he had for you.”
I think this is one of the most remarkable passages in the entire book. If studied in an academic way, scholars divide 2 Corinthians up into parts. Portions of it are, in their judgment, the lost letter that Paul seems to refer to elsewhere. Some have said that because chapters 8 and 9 seem to form a solitary section, perhaps this is the lost letter, and that chapter 10 really picks up where chapter 7 ends. There is no textual reason to believe that, and when you analyze it carefully, there is no logical defense of that opinion either.
Yet it is clear that as Paul has been talking in a general way about other subjects in the first portion of the book, at this point he does stop and talk about this very practical question of giving.
It would seem that Paul, as he traveled around the Roman Empire, spoke to the churches again and again about giving. He quotes Jesus’ teaching that it is more blessed to give than to receive. This was undoubtedly something Paul had heard from the eyewitnesses of the Lord’s ministry. Certainly these lessons on giving were part of Paul’s general teaching to the churches. But, as we read these references to giving and the collection Paul took among the Gentile churches, we sense that he had a bigger picture in mind.
The church in Jerusalem was a poor church. We do not know why this was true, but we can understand it. When Christianity came under the disapproval of Judaism in the early days of the church, Christians were surely ostracized by the Jewish community. Because they would be perceived as repudiating Judaism, new Christians would lose job opportunities and sometimes they would lose the opportunity for employment altogether.
In addition to that, the church was growing dramatically. We have records of large numbers of people responding to the early preaching of the Gospel – five thousand on one occasion, three thousand on another. It does not take a great deal of preaching of that nature to result in a huge Christian congregation in the capital city of Jerusalem. This was a poor region of the world to begin with, and because many of these people would now be suffering with the loss of their jobs, we can understand how this kind of extreme poverty developed.
In my judgment, this is how the practice of communal sharing arose in the early church. Nothing in Scripture says Christians should necessarily live in a communal fashion so that what one possesses becomes the property of all. In such a system the money that has been contributed into the common pot does not last for long; and eventually there were many people in the mother church of Christendom who were poor and in great need.
So in his travels the Apostle Paul preached that Gentile churches had a special burden to relieve the need of the church in Jerusalem. We know from Scripture that he shared this great need, and as he traveled through Asia Minor, he raised money for the poor in Jerusalem.
Why did Paul say the Corinthians should be great in their giving?
Why was the church in Jerusalem a poor church?
What was the problem with communal sharing in the early church?