Chapter 8 signals the Apostle Paul’s second (of three) major movement of the epistle. Here Paul concerns himself with a fiduciary matter — the monetary collection from the Gentile churches for the poor of the Church back in Jerusalem. He is deeply invested in this undertaking since it originated with him. Of course, there is the mandate to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10) and such an act would be a tangible expression of love from the Gentiles to the largely Jewish convert church.
To be sure, we live in a different age when it comes to money and sex. In past generations money was more publicly discussed and less a clandestine matter. Sex, on the other hand, was strictly private. Today, however, one’s sex life is worn on their sleeve (or bumper sticker) while one’s financial matters are taboo. It should not come to much of a surprise that Paul never actually mentions money. He never uses the word for it either. Instead, and significantly in terms of the way he would have us conceive of such giving or benefaction, he calls it a grace (χαρις), a service (διακονια), a communion or participation in service (κοινωνια), a munificence (αδροτης), a blessing (ευλογια), and a manifestation of love. In other words, this is a spiritual matter, an act of doxology as well as charity.
Note the Apostle is not handwringing about this topic, tepid and apprehensive. Instead, his writing is full of joy and (as one commentator said) satisfaction. The transition, therefore, is not a heavy one for him but one which allows him to share with them both the example of the Lord and that of the Macedonians, then to conclude with some divine maxims concerning liberality.
First, he says, take a look at the generosity of the Macedonians, described as, “The grace of God given in the Churches.” Grace colors every dimension of this topic, indicating the origins of such liberality is the Spirit of God. Generosity is a result of divine grace, yes, the fruit of the Spirit. As for the Macedonians themselves, they were poor but became rich in Spirit in Christ. Their transformation resulted in a renewed disposition concerning possessions and provisions. From their poverty came the joy of giving.
Generosity is a result of divine grace, yes, the fruit of the Spirit.
And they were ridiculously generous despite their circumstances (2 Corinthians 8:5). In fact, they did not need any urging from the Apostle, they were the ones urging him! They were motivated by love, by compassion, and by gospel connection to their Jerusalem brethren. But there should be no mistaking: Such a disposition is of the Lord. It is from the Lord.
Paul then exhorts them to distinguish themselves in every aspect of the faith. So, in love the Corinthians should distinguish themselves in “...this grace also.” There is a sense that Paul says there should be consistency in this aspect of the Christian life as well. One cannot be full of Christian love and devotion, full of prayer and kindness, and yet a miser.
The greatest example of consistency and the Spirit of loving generosity is, of course, Jesus Christ our Lord. “I do not speak by way of commandment,” he says, “in urging you to be generous, I am only taking occasion, through the earnestness of others, to put the sincerity of your love to the proof.” If you truly love the brethren, you will not grudge to help them in their distress. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, although He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” Gloriously, the very same Spirit of Christ has been gifted, has been graced, as it were, to every baptized man, woman, and child. What Christ exemplified in pouring out His infinitely precious blood and offering His perfectly valuable life has an analogy by way of the Spirit within the hearts and actions of all those united to Christ through Holy Baptism (reference Philippians 2:5).
The Apostle goes on to lay down three laws of Christian benefaction (2 Corinthians 8:2-15). First, a willingness or, perhaps better, a readiness. It is a disposition eager and looking for opportunity to present itself. Second, one should exercise himself, “...according as a man has,” as one of the older versions render it. Lastly, there is a principle of reciprocity at play, but not according to Karma or transactional economics. The brethren in Jerusalem lack and it is in this gap the Corinthians can manifest their love and unity. It is the way it works in a family. How much more so in God’s family! By sharing the burden of Christians elsewhere, they (and we) cooperate with the will and ways of God.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. John Nordling of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15.