2 Corinthians 8-9
Acts 18:1-22 serves as the context for Paul’s relationship with the church at Corinth. He established the church there with the help of Priscilla and Aquila, Jewish refugees from Rome. These three formed a bond both in Christ and in work since they were believers who plied the same trade. While Paul was in Corinth, Silas and Timothy arrived with a generous gift from the church at Philippi (Acts 18:5; Philippians 4:14-17).
Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth (Acts 18:11). This church was important to him. After leaving Corinth, Paul made his way to Jerusalem and then home to Antioch. He then embarked on his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23). While traveling on his journey, he heard of disturbances in Corinth and he was grieved by what he heard. He wrote several letters to the church to address his concerns (two of which are in our Bible). 2 Corinthians is probably the fourth letter he wrote to the church in Corinth. He defends his apostleship and encourages the believers to fully embrace the demands of discipleship.
In the midst of this letter, he pauses to address the topic of generosity. It is this section that serves as our focal passage for our lesson.
Appeal for the church in Jerusalem – Paul has asked both the churches in Macedonia (Philippi) and in Greece (Corinth) to give assistance to the Mother church in Jerusalem. In these two chapters, Paul makes reference to this appeal (8:4; 9:1). When he mentions “the Lord’s people” or “saints” – he is referring to the church in Jerusalem. The appeal seems to have a two-pronged attraction to Paul.
First, Paul knows the need is real in Jerusalem. He feels justified in asking the Corinthian Christians to give financially to assist the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. In other words, there is an authentic need to be addressed. Second, Paul is hoping to bridge the gap between the Jewish church and the Gentile church. This is a tangible expression of love and devotion extended from the Gentile churches toward their Jewish brethren.
Generosity is contagious – In chapter 8, Paul is encouraging the Corinthian Christians to follow the example of the Macedonian Christians. In chapter 9, he is encouraging the Corinthian Christians by informing them that their example in generosity had motivated the Macedonians! The point is that our willingness to be generous in responding to human need often prompts other to do the same.
You may be familiar with the “pay it forward” concept that often is exhibited by customers in fast-food car lanes. On Christmas Eve of 2012, customers in the drive-thru service at Tim Horton’s Coffee Shop in Winnipeg responded to the original Good Samaritan’s purchase of his order and the one in line behind him. This one act of kindness lasted for 228 customers! (Check it out at http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/good-news/chain-reaction-tim-hortons-goodwill-183517438.html)
Generosity is not dictated by wealth – The Macedonian Christians gave our ot severe trial and extreme poverty (8:1-5). Notice in 8:10-15 – Paul points out the truth that all of us can be generous. We are not held accountable for what we don’t have! Paul is challenging the Corinthians to give as they are able.
Our example in giving is Jesus Himself – Paul reminds the readers that Jesus is our example in giving (8:8-9). He abandoned the position of wealth and became poor on our behalf. He has richly given to us so that we might enjoy the riches of His grace.
Earning money allows us the privilege of giving joyfully to others – Because of our ability to work for a living, we have the privilege of earning an income to meet our own needs. This satisfies a basic, human desire. God has created us to be productive and creative. This impulse for productivity can result in a strong work ethic that leads to gainful employment. One of the benefits of this endeavor is the ability to earn enough money to provide for ourselves.
Additionally, we can also become generous people who share our abundance with others. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be willing to share their blessings with others with cheerful hearts (9:6-9). We receive the blessings associated with generosity! We can give joyfully and know that God is using us to meet the real needs of others.
God provides for those who are generous – Working for a living is a blessing. God is allowing us to engage in meaningful activity and our needs are met accordingly. However, we are not to live in unhealthy isolation from others. He has given graciously to us so that we might share with others. In 9:10-11, Paul points out the truth that God will provide seed for the sower. In other words, when we give some of what we have away, we don’t lose anything! We are actually sowing seeds in other’s lives. And God responds to that by providing His blessings to the sower.
We have to be careful at this point because some folks teach that God “reimburses” us financially when we give to others. It is almost as if God is operating a huge, heavenly “purchase order” system and He honors our giving by returning financial favors to us. That is not the case! The return on our generosity is spiritual in nature. Notice in 9:11, the text reveals we will be “enriched in every way” – this implies a much deeper blessing than merely a financial one. God want to bless our generosity and encourage us to continue in our generosity.
Spiritual Maturity is connected to our generosity – When you read 9:12-15, you notice that Paul uses spiritual language to express the blessings of generosity. On the one hand, there is a practical component to our willingness to give to those in need. That is – the poor have their needs met (9:12). Also, there are numerous spiritual benefits. Paul points these out in these few verses. There will be rejoicing by those whose needs have been met. When we give, we are acting in obedience and God is praised by our obedience. In fact, the Gospel is on display in us when we choose to live generously and not hoard everything we have (9:13). Further, we are joined to our brothers and sisters in need in deep and abiding ways because of the connection we now share through their need and our generosity (9:14).