A. Examples and encouragement.
1. (1-5) The example of the Macedonian Christians.
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.
a. The grace of God: Paul is going to write about other churches and their example in giving. In his first few words on this subject, Paul shows he considers both the opportunity and the willingness to give a gift of the grace of God.
b. The churches of Macedonia: The northern part of Greece was called Macedonia. The southern part was called Achaia, and the city of Corinth was in the region of Achaia. Paul is writing about the example he sees in the churches of Macedonia. The churches of Macedonia were in cities such as Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.
c. That in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality: Paul is reporting to the Corinthian Christians the example of the Macedonian Christians. The Macedonians, though they were in a great trial of affliction, and even though they were in deep poverty, still gave generously (abounded in the riches of their liberality).
i. Why was Paul writing about giving at all? What was he collecting money for? Paul was raising money to help the Christians in Jerusalem, who were very poor. He had previously mentioned this effort in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4.
ii. The poverty of the Macedonians is confirmed by secular history. The Romans took most of their wealth when they conquered this former homeland of Alexander the Great.
d. The Macedonians gave in two ways. First, they gave according to their ability in the sense that in total, their gift wasn’t very much. It was not a “large” gift in a total dollar sense. Secondly, since their heart was freely willing to give, and they gave in proportion to the little they did have, they gave beyond their ability.
i. The account of the widow’s giving in Luke 21:1-4 illustrates the same point. She only gave two mites, which was a very small amount of money. In that sense, she gave according to [her] ability. But since she gave all she had (after all, she might have kept one mite to herself), she gave beyond [her] ability. The same principle of giving was evident in the Macedonian Christians.
ii. “That poor widow’s mite was beyond the rich man’s magnificence, because it came out of a richer mind.” (Trapp)
e. Freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift: Paul didn’t have to beg for money from the Macedonian Christians (which he wouldn’t have done anyway). Instead, they were begging him (imploring us) to receive the gift!
i. Imploring us means that it was the Macedonians who were begging Paul for the privilege of giving, not Paul begging them for money.
ii. So, though the Macedonian Christians didn’t have much to give, they really wanted to give. They saw it as a privilege to give. True Christian generosity can’t be measured by how much one has to give. Often those who have less are more generous with what they have.
iii. “The example of the Macedonians is practical proof that true generosity is not the prerogative of those who enjoy an adequacy of means. The most genuine liberality is frequently displayed by those who have least to give. Christian giving is estimated in terms not of quantity but of sacrifice.” (Hughes)
f. Not as we hoped: The Macedonian Christians gave far beyond what Paul was hoping for. What made their giving so spectacular? It wasn’t the dollar amount. It was that they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. Why were the Macedonians were such good examples of giving? Because they first gave themselves to the Lord; then they gave their trust to Paul and the other apostles.
i. In giving, the real issue isn’t giving money. It is giving ourselves to the Lord. If we have really given ourselves to the Lord, then the right kind of giving will naturally follow.
2. (6-8) Paul’s tender, wise encouragement in giving.
So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. But as you abound in everything; in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us; see that you abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others.
a. So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well: Paul’s associate Titus, as the bearer of this letter, was to encourage the Corinthian Christians to actually give him the collection to give to Paul. He was supposed to make certain that they did in fact follow through on what they had intended to do earlier.
i. We might imagine that the Corinthian Christians were willing to take up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem, and giving that money to Paul to take with him to Jerusalem. But when things became difficult between Paul and the Corinthian Christians, they may have been less willing to take up the collection and put it in Paul’s hands. One reason Titus was sent with this letter was to complete this grace in the Corinthian Christians, and make certain they followed through on their original intent.
ii. Complete this grace: The Corinthian Christians may have intended to give. They may have thought about giving. They may have been favorable to the idea of giving. Yet all of this was useless unless they did in fact complete this grace. Often, intentions, vows, and resolutions are useless without action. It was time for the Corinthian Christians to act, and Titus would help them do this.
c. As you abound in everything: Is Paul being sarcastic here? Probably. If the Corinthian Christians did indeed abound in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in . . . love for Paul, they had just begun to do these things. But the Corinthian Christians probably thought of themselves as abounding in all those things. So it is as if Paul is saying, “Very well, I’ll take your word for it. You do abound in all these things. So now, abound in this grace also.”
i. This grace also: Now, for the fourth time since the beginning of the chapter, Paul refers to giving money as a grace (grace of God . . . receive the gift . . . complete this grace). The fact that Paul would use the Greek word charis to describe financial giving means a few things.
ii. The ability to give and the heart to give is a free gift from God. Giving is a work of God’s grace in us. When you see a believer who is truly generous, a great work of God has been done in their heart. We should never say, “Well, they just want to write the checks and not get involved.” No; giving is getting involved, and it demonstrates a true work of God’s grace in the heart.
iii. Our giving should be like God’s giving of grace to us: giving freely, generously, because we want to give. When God gives to us out of grace, the motive for His giving is in Him, not based in the one receiving. That is how we should give; because the motive of the love and generosity of God is so big in our heart that we simply must give.
iv. Our giving, like God’s grace to us, should be offered without expectation of payment in return. God does not give to us expecting “payback.” We can never repay God. We can just serve Him and love Him in return.
v. “Once you see the matter of giving is centered in this lovely word grace, it lifts the whole act away from mechanics, from pressure and duty, from obligation and mere legalism. It lifts us up into the most lovely atmosphere of an activity which seeks by giving to convey to others all that is lovely, all that is beautiful, all that is good, and all that is glorious. What a lovely word this word is . . . For there is no area in the Christian life in which grace shines out so much, so beautifully, so delightfully, and so happily as when giving comes from the background of poverty.” (Redpath)
d. I speak not by commandment: Paul isn’t commanding the Corinthian Christians to give. Paul knew that giving from commandment isn’t giving at all; we call that kind of giving taxation!
e. I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others: Paul makes two important points here. First, giving can measure the sincerity of your love. Second, Paul openly compared the giving of the Corinthian Christians to the giving of the Macedonian Christians (testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others).
i. Many of us like to think that we can love without giving. But what does 1 John 3:17-18 say? But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. Jesus said much the same in Matthew 6:21: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. What we give, and how we follow through on our commitment to give, are valid tests of our love.
ii. Also, it is not unfair to compare our giving with the giving of others, at least in some sense. Jesus compared the giving of the poor widow with the giving of others (Luke 21:1-4). But we shouldn’t think that Paul is encouraging a fund-raising competition between the churches of Macedonia and Corinth. He is simply using the Macedonians (who gave so much even in their poverty) as an example of giving.
iii. Since the Corinthians had more than the Macedonians did, they should give more. Calvin puts it plainly: “Rich men owe God a large tribute and poor men have no reason to be ashamed if what they give is small.”
3. (9) A second example of giving: our Lord Jesus.
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.
a. You know the grace of our Lord Jesus: From the context, and from how Paul has used the word grace in this passage, we know that Paul is writing, “You know the giving of our Lord Jesus.”
b. Though He was rich: When was Jesus rich? Before He added humanity to His deity and walked this earth. Here, Paul subtly, but definitely, points to the deity of Jesus. There is no way Paul could write though He was rich if Jesus had begun His existence in Mary’s womb.
i. And what riches! Jesus, as the eternal Second Member of the Trinity, as God the Son, living in the riches and splendor of the ivory palaces of heaven, surrounded constantly by the glory and power and majesty of God. The riches Jesus enjoyed before adding humanity to His deity make any amount of wealth on earth seem poor!
ii. Notice that it says that Jesus became poor when He was rich. Just as Jesus added humanity but never lost His deity, so He also “added” poverty but never “lost” His riches. “For He assumed poverty, yet did not lose His riches. Inwardly He was rich, outwardly poor. His deity was hidden in His riches, His manhood apparent in His poverty.” (Hughes)
c. Yet for your sakes He became poor: Jesus lived His earthly life as a poor man. We should not exaggerate the poverty of Jesus; after all, He was not a destitute beggar. Yet, He could say of Himself “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20)
i. When we contrast the simple life of Jesus (He became poor) with His existence before adding humanity to His deity (He was rich), we are even more amazed. Poverty always feels worse when one has been rich.
ii. Most amazing of all is why Jesus accepted this simple life of poverty: yet for your sakes. This was Jesus’ “giving.” He gave financially in the sense that He accepted a humble life of poverty (when He had all power to live as the wealthiest man in all history), and He did it for [our] sakes.
iii. Why would Jesus need to become poor for your sakes? How does His poverty benefit us? Because it shows us the giving heart of God. Because it shows us the relative importance of material things. Because it makes Jesus open and accessible to all. Because it rebukes the pride that might refuse to come to a poor Savior. Because it gave others the privilege of giving to Jesus. Because it fulfilled the heart and will and plan of God, making our salvation possible.
d. That you through His poverty might become rich: Because of Jesus’ poverty (in all that was related to it), we can become rich. We have a share in Jesus’ eternal, heavenly wealth, because He came and had a share in our poverty.
B. Practical words of advice regarding giving.
1. (10-12) Follow through on your previous willingness.
And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.
a. Now you also must complete the doing of it: The Corinthian Christians had previously expressed a desiring and a readiness to give. Now, they actually had to do it!
i. The Devil will let you resolve as much as you like; the more the better, just as long as you never carry it out. “The tragedy of life so often is, not that we have no high impulses, but that we fail to turn them into actions.” (Barclay)
ii. John Trapp wrote more than 300 years ago, “This age aboundeth with mouth-mercy, which is good cheap, and therefore like refuse fruit is found growing in every hedge. But a little handful were worth a great many such mouthfuls.” How much truer is this today!
b. A completion out of what you have: We can’t give what we don’t have. God judges our giving against what resources we have. But the issue of what and how we spend is relevant to what you have. If you overspend and therefore never have any to give, you can’t excuse it before God by saying, “Well, I don’t have anything.”
c. If there is first a willing mind: When we give, God looks for readiness and a willing mind. These are the true marks of a generous heart before God, and are no more likely among the rich than the poor.
d. It is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have: Again, God does not expect us to give what we do not have. True Christian giving can not be measured by the amount. One might give a million dollars, and yet not give enough; another may give one dollar and be giving with tremendous sacrifice and generosity. True giving is measured by obedience, proportion and need, not by amount.
i. When the issue of giving is brought up, many ask “How much am I supposed to give?” Paul’s principles throughout this letter, and other letters, remind us that there is no one answer to that question for every believer.
ii. In giving, many go back to the Old Testament law of the tithe, the giving of ten percent unto the Lord. This is a good principle for giving, and perhaps a broad benchmark, yet the New Testament nowhere specifically commands tithing. But it certainly does speak of it in a positive light, if it is done with a right heart (Luke 11:42).
iii. But the New Testament speaks with great clarity on the principles of giving. It teaches us that giving should be regular, planned, proportional, and private (1 Corinthians 16:1-4); that it must be generous, freely given, and cheerful (2 Corinthians 9).
iv. Since the New Testament doesn’t emphasize tithing, one might not be strict on it for Christians (though some Christians do argue against tithing on the basis of self-interest). But since giving is to be proportional, we should be giving some percentage - and ten percent is a good benchmark - a starting place! For some to give ten percent is nowhere near enough; for others, at their present time, five percent may be a massive step of faith.
v. If our question is, “How little can I give and still be pleasing to God?” our heart isn’t in the right place at all. We should have the attitude of some early Christians, who essentially said: “We’re not under the tithe - we can give more!” Giving and financial management are spiritual issues, not only financial issues (Luke 16:11).
2. (13-15) Understand the cause you are giving to.
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack; that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
a. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened: The Corinthian Christians were not giving so that the Jerusalem Christians would get rich and lazy at their expense. Paul was taking the collection so the Jerusalem Christians could merely survive. The goal was not to burden the Corinthian Christians, nor was it to make it all easy for the Jerusalem Christians.
i. Some like to say, “Give till it hurts. Then keep giving until it feels better again.” But God’s goal for us isn’t to “Give till it hurts.” The goal is not to afflict those who are doing the giving; it is to display the giving heart and love of Jesus Christ.
ii. “This teaching is needed to refute fanatics who think that you have done nothing unless you strip yourself completely and put everything into a common fund.” (Calvin)
b. But by an equality: Paul sees that the spiritual abundance of the Jerusalem Christians has blessed the Corinthian Christians. So, it should be a small thing for the Corinthian Christians to share with them their material abundance.
i. The equality Paul mentions here isn’t meant to imply socialism or communism, where all are said to live at the same economic level, and none are supposed to be richer than others are. Of course, communism and socialism themselves are evil, being noble ideas in theory, but absolute tyrannies when sharing is commanded at the end of a gun. But this is not the kind of equality Paul means anyway. “I acknowledge indeed that we are not bound to such an equality as would make it wrong for the rich to live more elegantly than the poor; but there must be an equality that nobody starves and nobody hordes his abundance at another’s expense.” (Calvin)
ii. “Thus do the Scriptures avoid, on the one hand, the injustice and destructive evils of agrarian communism, by recognizing the right of property and making all almsgiving optional; and on the other, the heartless disregard of the poor by inculcating the universal brotherhood of believers, and the consequent duty of each to contribute of his abundance to relieve the necessities of the poor. At the same time they inculcate on the poor the duty of self-support to the extent of their ability.” (Hodge)
c. Now at this time reminds the Corinthian Christians that this is just the way it is right now. There may be a time later when the spiritual abundance of the Corinthian Christians may minister to the saints in Jerusalem, and the material abundance of the saints in Jerusalem could minister to the Corinthian Christians.
i. But there is no idea of Jerusalem giving “spiritual” riches in exchange for material help. The saints in Jerusalem were not “selling” spiritual things. “Such an idea as that of the transference of the merits of the saints is, of course, quite foreign to the context.” (Bernard)
d. He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack: Paul’s quotation from Exodus 16:18 illustrates his principle. Everyone gathered what they could, some more and some less; but they all shared what they had gathered.
i. Hodge makes the point well: “Property is like manna, it will not bear hoarding.”
ii. “All that we have is manna . . . And just as manna, which was hoarded to excess out of greed or lack of faith, immediately putrefied, so we should have no doubt that riches which are heaped up at the expense of our brethren are accursed and will soon perish and their owner will be ruined with them.” (Calvin)
3. (16-24) How to receive Titus when he and his companions come for the collection.
But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord. And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind, avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us; providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. And we have sent with them our brother whom we have often proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, because of the great confidence which we have in you. If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. Therefore show to them, and before the churches the proof of your love and of our boasting on your behalf.
a. But thanks be to God who pus the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus: Paul’s intention is to recommend Titus to them as a trustworthy bearer of their money.
b. And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches: Commentators have had a field day trying to identify the brother mentioned here. Who is he?
i. This brother accompanied Titus when he went to Corinth on Paul’s behalf.
ii. This brother was well known and praised in the gospel in all the churches.
iii. This brother was also chosen by the churches to travel with Paul, carrying the gift. Beyond these things we know nothing.
iv. As you might expect, Bible commentators have been ready to say whom they believe the brother to be. Some of the candidates have been Luke, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and a variety of others. But no one really knows. And it doesn’t really matter, or else God would have made it clear!
c. Avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift: Paul wisely avoided any gossip about his role in the collection by sending Titus and his companion to collect it, and accompany Paul in carrying it to Jerusalem.
i. Also in the sight of men is a reminder that all things financial in the church should be conducted above board and properly. Paul took whatever steps were necessary so no one could blame him with financial impropriety. Paul could write like a poet, and think like a theologian; but he could also act with the meticulous accuracy and integrity of the best accountant.
d. Therefore show to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love and of our boasting on your behalf: This is a strong encouragement from Paul to give! He is saying that when Titus and the unnamed brother come, the Corinthian Christians should show them a good offering. He is saying that the churches will also know of it. He is saying that the offering given will be proof of your love. And finally, he is saying that he has been boasting to others about what givers the Corinthian Christians had been, so he asks them now to come through and give like the givers he has been claiming they are!
© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission