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Friday, April 21, 2017

2 Corinthians (8:1-24) (Lesson 19)

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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)

Established November 2008                                                       Published Weekly on Friday

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1Timothy 2:3-4)

2 Corinthians (8:1-24)                                                      (Lesson 19)

Welcome to HBS.

Introduction to Chapter 8

In chapters 8 and 9 Paul addresses the Corinthian’s part in the Gentile churches contribution for the poor Jews living in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).  Although this church was the first to begin a year ago  not only to do this but also had expressed the desire to do it, they had not fulfilled their promise (8:10-11). In contrast, the other Gentile Churches in Macedonia and Achaia not only gave liberally and of their own accord, but some gave beyond their means despite being afflicted and persecuted (8:1-5).

Please open your Bible to 2 Corinthians 8:1-2.

Great Generosity

2 Corinthians 8

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their (what) deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of the liberality.

The churches of Macedonia – the northern portion of Greece was called Macedonia.  The southern part was called Achaia.  The churches of Macedonia included Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (See Acts 16-17; Romans 15:26). 

That in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their (what) deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberalityhere Paul gives the Corinthian Church the example of Macedonian Believers, who although in a great ordeal of affliction, meaning they were facing opposition from the Jewish legalizers, suffering persecution, and deep poverty (Acts 16:20, 17:5), and from the look of things it would appear they were in need of assistance themselves, yet they gave generously.   

The Greek word for liberality is Haplotes (pronounced: hap-lot’-ace), Noun, Feminine, Strong’s Greek #572, meaning:  simplicity, sincerity, purity, graciousness.  The sense of this word is, their liberality was much greater than could be expected from people so poor; from Believers enduring affliction and Paul encourages the Corinthian Church to follow their example. 

Verses 3-5:

For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints (in Judea), and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 

Paul’s talking about the Gentile churches in Macedonia giving according to the ability, and beyond their ability and begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the (Judean) saints.  Let it be said, Paul and Titus did not expect such an overwhelming, positive response from these poor churches.  

But they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God - here Paul means to say these folks gave voluntarily, of their own accord.  They didn’t need to be prodded, provoked, or shamed to give.  Having first trusted in the Lord, accepting His free offer of grace by responding to the gospel, for this truly is the will of God,  now they rejoiced, i.e. experienced great happiness in actually doing it (2 Corinthians 9:7). 

It’s one thing to talk about wanting to do the will of God but when the rubber meets the road, as they say, there aren’t that many people following the Lord nowadays. 

I try not to preach while I explain these lessons to y’all because that’s not my role in the Body of Christ.  But I’m also quick to point out there’s a fine line that separates a Bible teacher from a preacher and sometimes I cross that line willingly, if I think it will help the group.  It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that no two churches are alike.   This is the running theme in the first five verses of chapter 8.  There are some similarities, to be sure, but there are marked differences that stand out.  That’s why there are more than 5,000 churches in the USA alone calling themselves Christians but I ask you, are they all the same?  Not so much.

Paul’s sorrowful/stern letter had a positive impact on many of the Believers in Corinth for they repented or had a change of heart (2 Corinthians 7:5-13).  But there was a lot of room for spiritual growth in the Corinthian Church.  They were an arrogant, self-centered group stubbornly holding fast to their worldly ways.  So in verse 5b Paul is urging them to fulfill their pledge, now one-year old (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).  He doesn’t do this by comparing them to the other gentile churches in the region; that’s not Paul’s style, and to be honest I don’t think that tactic would have motivated the Corinthians to surrender one denarius or drachma to the cause.  Instead, he said:  but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.  He wasn’t referring to the Believer’s in Corinth; he was speaking of the saints in Macedonia.  Why were the Macedonians such good examples of giving?  The answer is in the verse.

They gave themselves first to God.  These Believers realized all they possessed belonged to God, including themselves.  They understood something else equally as important:  little is much, if God is it (Matthew 14:13-21; John 6:1-14).  Consequently, if a Believer’s heart belongs to God, the right kind of giving naturally follows. 

But they also gave themselves to us.  Paul’s saying they were willing to take direction from us regarding this collection of funds by the will of God.  Paul means to say God led them to do this:  For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons (and daughters) of God (Romans 8:14).    
Let’s move on to verses 6-9.

2 Corinthians 8

So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well.  But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.  I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

Most people fail to notice Paul introduced a list in verse 7 which includes:  faith, utterance, knowledge, all earnestness, and love and none of these things have anything to do with material possessions?  The world’s standard of giving is driven on getting something in return.  The best example I can think of is the Christmas holiday season.  People, and I’m including myself in this illustration, feel terrible if they show up at a holiday party, receive a gift but have no gift to give in exchange.  Everyone walks away from that experience feeling like a social misfit.  We’ve all been trained/brain-washed by “Big Business” not to let that happen; we’re to give as good as we receive.  Please name a “Hallmark” holiday where gifts aren’t purchased, gifts exchanged, or money isn’t spent?  However, the Believer in the Dispensation of Grace should be in tune with God’s view of unconditional, charitable giving (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).   We aren’t to give to get something in return because we already abound in everything, in Christ.  Paul’s asking that these Corinthians abound in this gracious work also. 

The word abound is used twice by Paul.  Since they abounded in the blessings of the gospel, and the benefits of the New Covenant; they should abound in the everyday tasks as well; one of these presently is the great need of the poor, unfortunate saints in Jerusalem.  These people sold all their possessions and laid the proceeds at the feet of the twelve, for the all things common program (Acts 4:32-35).  This had been in preparation for the arrival of the King and the promised kingdom, but that didn’t happen, so eventually the common funds dwindled to nothing and the Jews were left without financial means.  The situation grew worse because of the severe crop failure in Egypt in 45-46 AD that caused a mass people migration up and out of Egypt too.  The Judean famine of 46-47 AD predicted by Agabus added to their misery (Acts 11:28). 

I am not speaking this as a command – this doesn’t mean Paul doesn’t have the God-given authority to command (1 Corinthians 14:37) because he does.  What it does mean is in respect to voluntary giving, commands are inappropriate and often ineffective.  Paul didn’t want to tell people what they should give.  Instead, Paul’s looking to inspire the proper motivation in regard to stewardship, not by commands, but by encouraging them.  He does this by showing the Corinthians what the other churches gave, even though they had less to give and they and fewer advantages than they had.  How do we know this, look at the comment that follows - but as proving through the earnestness of others -  Paul’s using the Macedonia churches as an example to encourage these Believers to give liberally. 

The sincerity of your love also – this book does not explain what Paul meant by this comment, so it’s open to discussion as long as you keep that discussion within the confines of the text.  Let’s dig deeper.  Was Paul talking about the churches love toward God, Jesus Christ, himself, the other churches, or the Jews in Jerusalem?  Was he using the word love in a general sense as you and I would to denote any good thing? 

I will, of course, add my two-cents to this discussion and you can do with it as you may, but in my opinion, the key to Paul’s meaning is the word sincerity.   Now we’re looking at the motivation driving the activity love.  Another term for sincere love is “genuine love” (7:6).  Now we’re talking about agape love.  The spirit of agape love is compassion, goodwill; it’s a delight in the act of loving.  This is one of the reasons Paul urges Believers to be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in (what) love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us… Ephesians 5:1-2a.  (See 1 Corinthians 13; Ephesians 2:4-5; Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:1) 

Here’s another truth to consider:  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 

When Paul said the Lord Jesus Christ was rich he means to say by Him all things were created both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible… all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things and in Him all things (do what) hold together (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16-17).

King David wrote:  The earth is the LORD’s and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it (Psalm 24:1).  Paul is showing the churches in Macedonia the LORD gives liberally.  He became poor in order to become a blessing to all:  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.    

God’s love is sincere towards all, especially those who express a desire to do His will, and our love for others is to be genuine.  You can’t mouth the words, “I care” and then stand by and watch people suffer and die from lack of potable water, food and shelter.

Verses 10-11:

I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first (among the churches) to begin (this fundraising) a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it.  But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability.

Even though Paul says, I give my opinion in this matter (of taking up a collection for the Judean saints before I arrive there, so there’s no last minute hustle and bustle, and no one feels obligated to give just because I’m there and feeling pressured to give), he’s God’s apostle folks.  When he speaks, it is as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy (1 Corinthians 7:25, 40); this is to your advantage.

The first to begin a year ago – this comment harkens back to Paul’s statement in 8:6.  They were one of the first churches to express the desire to help the poor Jews in Jerusalem.  This project began with the idea of success (most of them do) but the collection process had been interrupted, i.e. hindered, and it’s not too difficult to ascertain why based on what we already know about the Corinthian church.  Some of the road-blocks hindering its progress probably were:  arrogance, general worldliness, and self-centeredness, or all the above.      

But now finish doing itthe word it here refers to finishing what they started one year ago.  I find it remarkable human nature hasn’t changed over the centuries.  Some people are quick to express the willingness to give but when it comes to writing the check or opening their purse or wallet, their reaction time slows down to a crawl.  Paul has been talking about getting this collection ready for a year (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).  Some of the churches have fulfilled their responsibility and did more than was asked of them.  But the Corinthian’s response has been sluggish.  Paul’s saying; finish doing it so there may be also the completion of it by your ability; to manage this not by compulsion or a sense of being pressured.
I pray it hasn’t escaped your notice Paul has not used the word “tithe” here once and you won’t find the word in any of his letters.   The other thing, while we’re on this subject, is Paul never brings up taking up collections and/or giving except in relation to this gift to the church in Jerusalem.  He does say that workers laboring for the Lord are worthy of his hire and that churches should help traveling missionaries but try as you might you’ll not find any further guidelines on giving.  What you will encounter is proof-texting O.T. teachings into the New Covenant Believer’s setting such as Malachi 3:10a: 

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts… 

When was the last time you put a loaf of bread or a quart of milk in the collection basket?  That’s what this verse is saying?  Under the Mosaic Law Israelites who owned land were commanded to give a tenth of their crops, flocks, herds, and the fruit of their orchards to support the Levites, who had no inheritance of their own.  God was their inheritance (Leviticus 27:30-32; Numbers 18:21-24).  The Levites, in turn, gave a tenth of their receipts to the priests working in the LORD’s temple (Numbers 18: 25-29).  

The first thing every Bible student needs to do is to check and see who is writing the letter or book in the Bible they are reading/studying, and then look to see who the writer is writing to.  That being the case, let’s go to Malachi 1:1:  The oracle of the word of the LORD to (who) Israel through Malachi.  The book of Malachi was written to the nation of Israel and not to the gentile nations (Ephesians 2:11-13).  To proof-text this verse, or any other O.T. verse on the subject of tithing, putting it into the Grace Age, gives it a meaning that is entirely different than what the original writer intended.  This leads to wrong conclusions regarding what the truth of God actually is.   

But before y’all get the idea you have extra money to put into your vacation fund, even though Paul does not mention giving a specific amount (the tithe), he does offer Believers guidelines on giving.  Let’s begin by reviewing verses 12-15 first:

For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.  For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality – at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK.”  (Exodus 16:18)

Your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality. 

Paul’s not planting the seed of socialism with this statement, he’s saying at this present time your abundance, i.e. the Corinthian church had more than they needed, whereas the other churches did not.  The idea is simple, on paper anyway.  The Corinthians could give liberally, but the other churches in the region were struggling financially, and they were afflicted and suffering persecution.  But one day, the situation might be reversed.  Corinth could find itself it great need and dependent on the benevolence of others; stranger things have happened in this world. 

Paul never mentions fund raising in support of the apostles or those who labor for the Lord.  He doesn’t say churches should put aside money for missionary work, or for church building.  However, here it can be said he is making a statement for contributing liberally when churches have the means to support those in need because you never know when you or your neighbor will have a great need. 

As Paul said, that there may be equality that’s the key word and the key concept we draw from this is reciprocity, i.e. relationships involving mutual exchange.  God’s family should pitch-in and help one another when there’s a need for we are one, church; one body in Christ Jesus (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:27).

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for he (or she) who loves his (or her) neighbor has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8).

He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he (or she) must labor, performing with his (or her) own hands what is good, so that he (or she) will have something to share with one who has a need (Ephesians 4:28).

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

The Guidelines for Giving in the Grace Age

According to the rule of first mention, the guidelines for giving in the Age of Grace were established at Antioch.  If you turn in your Bible to Acts 11:29-30, we’ll take a look at that now:  And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.  And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.  (See also 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, 12-14). 

Paul instructs Believers to give everyone as God has prospered them, according to their ability. 

God doesn’t expect us to take out a bank loan in order to give, in other words.  It’s according to what we have; it’s proportionate giving.  So, if a wealthy individual is making thousands of dollars per week and drops a twenty dollar bill in the basket when it circles around, is that proportionate giving?  That’s not for me or you to say, but God knows the answer to that question and will deal with the individual at the Bema Seat Judgment.  All I’m saying is God knows all about our finances and He accepts our “gifts” in light of what they really cost us (Luke 21:1-4).  Remember, God gave the world His best, when He gave His one and only Son as a sacrifice for the sins of all.  Suddenly, that $20 gift looks small, considering the amount of money they’re pulling in weekly. 

As I said last week, the people with less money have a better understanding of this teaching, like the Macedonians, not only do they see the need more quickly than the wealthier people, they respond to that need much faster despite their own circumstances.

2 Corinthians 8

But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness (sincerely zealous) on your behalf in the heart of Titus.  For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord.  We have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness -

Where to begin?  I may as well start with the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches because that’s a thrilling introduction.  But the Bible does not say who this individual is.  Commentators have a few opinions.  Some say it’s Apollos or Luke.  Others believe its Barnabas, Silas, or Timothy and there are other candidates as well, but no one can name this brother for certain and that is the thing.  What we can say is it doesn’t really matter, if God wanted us to know the identity of this individual his name would have appeared in the text. 

What we do know is this brother (whoever he was) accepted our appeal, but went to them of his own accord (v17).  This consecrated brother, along with Titus, had been appointed by all the churches to travel in this gracious work with all the other chosen church delegates to watch over and deliver this substantial gift to Jerusalem. 

That wasn’t the only reason for all these delegates.  Paul was aware of the rumors and accusations from both the Corinthian Believers and Jewish legalizers who were saying he mishandled money (2 Corinthians 8:20, 11:9, 12).  Therefore these delegates from the different gentile churches added credibility to this fund raising service while protecting Paul’s integrity simultaneously.   We pick up on this truth in the next verse.

Verses 20-24:

Taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.  We have sent with them our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things, but now even more diligent because of his great confidence in you.  As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ.  Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.

Paul wasn’t only a masterful teacher and preacher of God’s truths he proved to be a judicious accountant too.  He couldn’t stop the false accusations and rumors that were being leveled against him and his ministry, but he certainly did all he could to prevent blame from being cast upon him regarding the management of these funds.   He insisted on having someone associated with him on this project who had the confidence of all the gentile churches, and who would be appointed by them, almost certainly guaranteeing him to be free from any blame. 

For we have regard for what is honorablethis may be a quote taken from Proverbs 3:4:  So you will find favor and good repute In the sight of God and man.  But if would, please turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:22 where Paul writes:  abstain from every form of evil.  Paul’s talking about doing the right thing always and not just when people are watching.  The word honorable in the Greek is Kalos (pronounced:  kal-os’), Adjective, Strong’s Greek# 2570, meaning: beautiful, good, useful, excellent, just, honorable, distinguished, moral excellence, worthy, virtuous, propriety.  Paul’s goal was to live his life in this manner, in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men (Romans 14:18; Philippians 2:15, 4:8; 1 Timothy 3:7). 

We have sent with them our brotherthe Bible does not identify this person either.  He appears to be a second unknown companion of Paul’s, which means this text is referring to three people:  Titus, the brother (2 Corinthians 8:18), and our brother (2 Corinthians 8:22). 

We have often tested and found diligent in many things – this comment speaks of their faithfulness in many things which probably means whoever it was they worked with Paul.   But now even more diligent because of his great confidence in you – meaning, in the doing of this gracious work he will undoubtedly prove even more diligent because of his great confidence in the Corinthians desire to give liberally, fulfilling their original pledge and desire to help the needy in Jerusalem. 

Verse 23:

As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you – If you’re using the KJV Bible, please note the words any do inquire are in italics which means they are not in the original manuscript, which means these may not be the proper words to introduce here.  Considering the Greek language, it may mean either, “if any do inquire about Titus,” or it may mean, “if anything is said about Titus.”  The sense of the passage is some of the Corinthian factions might stand in opposition to the authority of Titus engaging in this charitable work.  This is why Paul found it necessary to say something favorable about Titus, i.e. he is my partner and fellow worker among you - he shares with me in preaching the gospel and in establishing and organizing churches. 

Please turn to Titus 1:5 and I’ll show you that Titus was more than a “go-for” as Paul’s co-worker in the ministry of righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:7-10).  For this cause I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you

As for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ – should any inquiry be made of the church delegates, by the suspicious, Paul said they are a glory to God.  The word messengers is derived from the Greek word apostolos which means agent or official church representative.  These men have the complete confidence of the churches that sent them, having been selected and appointed by them. 

Verse 24:

Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you – the proper way for the Corinthians to show them the proof of their love was through a liberal contribution to the cause at hand.  Love is a verb.  A generous contribution would demonstrate the sincerity of their love also towards God, the apostles, and the gentile churches (2 Corinthians 8:8). 

(To be continued)

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