Summary of the Text
Experiencing God’s Goodness through Giving: I’ve seen God provide for my family and me in some remarkable ways throughout the past year. I know that many of us lost a lot during Covid, and I don’t make light of those losses, but in the midst of loss, God has been so generous to my family over the past year. There were times when our finances have been tight, very tight.
Despite the tight finances, God has encouraged us to give generously. We have friends who are in ministry who operate on a smaller budget than our family does, and we felt God’s call to support them. Each time we write a check, it can be a struggle, but, by the grace of God, we have continued to support our friends in ministry. It’s been a blessing to see our friends thrive in ministry through our household. What’s just as remarkable is seeing how God returns to us those same gifts.
We have had check after check, meal after meal, blessing after blessing come to our household. It seems as though God has His own economy—we give, and He gives back. It’s amazing. I’ve shared with my wife, “People say that you can’t out give God, and I think He’s showing us that it’s true.” In this 2 Corinthians 8 passage, Paul is teaching the church in Corinth more about God’s economy.
Background of Giving: In order to understand the thrust of this passage, reading 2 Corinthians 8:1-6 is essential and very illuminating. In those verses, Paul discusses the generous giving which the Macedonian churches provided the church in Jerusalem (see also 2 Corinthians 7:2-16). He notes that those churches exercised great faith in God by generously giving to the church in Jerusalem despite their “extreme poverty.” In fact, they were “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (v. 4). In verse 7, Paul encourages the Corinthian church to also trust God by giving generously.
In verse 8, Paul gives a reason for encouraging the Corinthians to give in this way: “to prove…that your love also is genuine.” This love likely is a love for both God and a love for the church in Jerusalem.
A Theology of Giving: Before Paul gives the church several reasons why they should give, Paul gives the most important reason why the church should consider giving: Jesus gave himself to us. Paul encourages the Corinthians to look to Jesus who, “for [their] sake he became poor” (v. 9). In other words, if Jesus, the Immortal Son of God, humbled himself to give to poor sinners like us all things (Romans 8:32), and if we have all we need in Him, then we can trust him to take care of our lives (Matt 6:25-34).
Having grounded the Corinthians’ understanding of giving in the Gospel itself, Paul further articulates why the Corinthians should give to the church in Jerusalem. First, they’ve already started collecting resources to give to the Jerusalem church (v. 10), and following through with their desire to give is needed in order to support the church in Jerusalem (v. 11).
God’s Economy, Very Different from the World’s: In verses 12-15, Paul helps the Corinthians understand God’s economy. In verse 15, Paul reminds them of how God provided manna for the Hebrews as they exited Egypt. No one had too much, and no one had too little. This is not the case in the world, but in God’s economy for His people, this principle should guide how we give and receive resources. Paul clarifies that he doesn’t want the Corinthians to give so much that they then become poor. That would be a waste of time and energy, for then the other churches would have to raise funds to support the Corinthian church. Rather, Paul encourages the Corinthians to support their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem out of their abundance.
Discerning Your Call to Give: This passage is very important to keep in mind when reading a passage like Matthew 19:16-30, where Jesus tells the rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Many today who read this passage ask themselves, “Is this what God is wanting me to do as well?” This is an important question to ask oneself, because God might be leading one of His children to give in this radical way, but it is not God’s only direction on the matter of financial giving. Paul clearly instructs the Corinthian church not to take so great a collection that it would impoverish them (2 Corinthians 8:13). Discerning God’s leading and using godly wisdom (i.e., Paul’s principle of fairness in this verse) is essential when preparing to give to God’s mission.
Also worth consideration for preaching is one of Paul’s reasons for giving: great joy. God gave the Macedonian churches great joy in supporting the Jerusalem church. They begged Paul to direct their supporting the Jerusalem church, calling it a “favor” or “grace” (charis). In other words, the Macedonian churches understood the opportunity to support the Jerusalem church as God’s grace given to them! When has anyone ever begged you to take up a collection from them? Sure, maybe someone has asked you to take up a collection for them. But have you ever had someone beg you to them for money? Surely this is God’s grace operating within our midst.
Give all your money to God. You have no pretense for laying up treasure upon earth. While you “gain all you can,” and “save all you can,” “give all you can,” that is, all you have”
John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley: Thoughts, Addresses, Prayers, Letters, p. 463.
In many cases, we may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves; as if our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities be much greater than our own, and we see that he is not like to be otherwise relieved, we should be willing to suffer with him, and to take part of his burden on ourselves; else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we be never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all?
Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2, p. 171.
When poverty-stricken Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving money to other poor saints, we may assume that this is not just what they ought to do or have to do, but what they really long to do. It is their joy—an extension of their joy in God. To be sure, they are “denying themselves” whatever pleasures or comforts they could have from the money they give away, but the joy of extending God’s grace to others is a far better reward than anything money could buy.”
I saw this sort of thing happen in real time. The other day, I got an email from our Presbytery asking for financial help for a sister church in a distant Presbytery. That church was facing financial burden as a result of some unforeseeable and unfortunate circumstances. That church had the humility and courage to ask for help from its sister churches throughout the country.
In turn, many churches have financially supported their sister church in need, and they gave for two primary reasons. First, they had similar experiences of financial hardship, so they knew the feeling of uncertainty. Secondly, and more fundamentally, these supporting churches gave because God had provided for them through thick and thin, and they wanted to share their own resources because God had given them a great abundance.
The King and the Beggar
There is an old story of a king who went into the village streets to greet his subjects. A beggar sitting by the roadside eagerly held up his alms bowl, sure that the king would give handsomely. Instead the king asked the beggar to give him something. Taken aback, the beggar fished three grains of rice from his bowl and dropped them into the king’s outstretched hand. When at the end of the day the beggar poured out what he had received, he found to his astonishment three grains of pure gold in the bottom of his bowl. O, that I had given him all!
Elisabeth Elliot, The Path of Loneliness, Fleming H. Revell and Baker Books.