Friday, January 11, 2008

II Corinthians 8

The Collection: On Paul’s final journey through the east – Greece and Asia Minor, Paul “collected a substantial sum of money as an offering from the Gentile churches to aid the Jewish Christian churches in Jerusalem and Judea” (People’s New Testament Commentary). Luke was silent about this offering in the account he gives of Paul’s work in Acts, a rather puzzling omission. Chapters 8 and 9 have this offering as their subject. The Corinthian congregation had previously committed itself to participating in the offering. Then came the break with Paul. Now that harmonious relations have been restored, Paul sets about organizing the arrangements for completing the collection, which was a substantial amount. (People’s New Testament Commentary). The offering was probably needed by the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem as many of Jesus’ followers were from the lower economic classes, and some suffered economically for their faith. At the same time it seems as important to Paul that this offering be taken to symbolize the unity between the Gentile and Jewish Christian communities. Reading Romans 15:25-28 we saw that Paul thinks that the Gentile Christians have reaped a spiritual benefit from the church in Jerusalem

II Corinthians 8:1-15: Some argue that chapters 8 and 9 have been inserted here, and really belong to part of another letter Paul wrote. They argue that Paul would not talk about reconciling with the Corinthians and about the collection in the same letter. However, the conversation does continue about Macedonia, though Paul is changing the main subject significantly. Paul understands the opportunity to give as participation in the gracious work of God. He would also argue that God’s grace precedes all our giving, so that we give in response to God’s grace. “Grace” and “gratitude” are related theologically and linguistically. Giving is a matter of gratitude; it presupposes the grace of God…. Our gifts to others are in response to God’s gift to all. (People’s New Testament Commentary) The Macedonian Christians, who were themselves poor, wanted to participate in this act of grace. They gave joyfully and generously, even in a difficult time. If grace and gratitude go with giving, so, perhaps, should joy and generosity. These people gave of themselves to Christ and to others. Titus, who also had the assignment of dealing with Paul’s difficult letter among the Corinthians, is given the assignment of completing the offering among them as well. Managing conflict and taking up an offering – Titus had a challenging job description! The Corinthians had been proud of their spiritual excellences (faith, speech, knowledge), Paul wants them to excel in love and generosity, too.

Here Paul makes clear that he is not commanding their participation in the Jerusalem offering. He has shared a story about generosity, a theology about generosity (giving as a joyful response to God’s gracious generosity), and now encourages their generosity. He encourages, but does not command. We might all learn something from this approach. Yet his encouragement is strong – encouraging not simply a monetary gift, but genuine love. He reiterates his theology of giving, that it is a joyful response to the generosity of God as demonstrated in Jesus. They had begun the work of collecting the offering, and now Paul is encouraging them to finish it according to their means. They are invited to give as they have the ability to do so. Christian generosity is a joyful response to God’s lavish grace, but it is a proportionate response. One gives as one is able to give.

II Corinthians 8:16-24: The topic now shifts to focus on the person Paul is sending to help the Corinthians get their act together regarding this offering – Titus. Along with Titus will go a person “famous among all the churches for his proclaiming the good news,” and another who is “eager in many matters.” This project is obviously a very important one to Paul and to others in the early Christian community. That makes it even more puzzling that Luke does not include it in Acts. Paul asks the Corinthian Christians to welcome all these persons in love.

II Corinthians 9

II Corinthians 9:1-15: This chapter is again about the collection which Paul has been discussing. The opening verse can sound like Paul is introducing the topic again, and some have argued that the two chapters were written for different letters to the Corinthians. Paul may simply be reiterating in a slightly different way, what he has said, and then building on that.

Paul boasted to the Macedonians about what the Corinthians had begun, and we already know that the Macedonians responded generously, even though they were poorer than the Corinthians. Corinth was the capital of the province of Acachia. While Paul had boasted about the Corinthians, a rift in their relationship with Paul had stalled the collection, and now Paul is sending some “brothers” ahead of his own visit, so that they can complete the collection.

Paul uses a variety of encouragements to get the Corinthians to complete their offering for this collection for the church in Jerusalem. He now emphasizes that those who give of themselves sparingly will reap sparingly. There is certainly something of an obvious truth here. When one engages in a project half-heartedly, the results are often less than if one gives that project one’s all. This is not an axiomatic law in the universe, so that if one gives generously financially, one will reap a financial reward. One’s financial generosity involves self-giving, and one’s spiritual life often benefits through such generosity. But generosity should not be coerced – “God loves a cheerful giver.” “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving” (The Message). Paul then returns to earlier themes - that our giving is a joyful response to the abundant grace of God and that our giving has multiple benefits. People are helped, the person giving is enriched, God is glorified. God is to be thanked for all this.

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