Tag: 2 Corinthians

Boast in the Lord (2 Cor 10)

by on Oct.16, 2014, under Sermon

I really don’t like job interviews. Is there anything more awkward than trying to present yourself and your experiences to people you don’t know, particularly when it’s for a job you’ve never done before? It’s a fine line to walk between wanting to demonstrate the relevance of your experience and qualifications for the position without coming off as boastful. And it’s not much easier on the other side of the table, interviewing candidates and trying to understand who they are and who they might be when not under the stress of an interview environment; doing your best to understand their experience as they describe it and how that might relate to the position to be filled. And all in the space of an hour or two.

As we work our way through 2 Corinthians 10, there is a very real sense in which Paul is re-applying for his own job. Some people have evidently come to Corinth, people who Paul will sarcastically refer to in the next chapter as ‘super-apostles’ (2 Cor 11:5), and later as ‘false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ’ (2 Cor 11:13). They have made certain claims about themselves, and sought to compare themselves favourably against Paul himself. In this and the following chapters the apostle responds to criticisms made by these outsiders; more than that, though, he seeks to recalibrate the standards by which the Corinthians ought to evaluate the claims of both Paul and the intruders.

Take every thought captive (vv. 1-6)

It seems that one of the criticisms levelled at Paul was that he was ‘timid’ in person, but ‘bold’ when far off (v. 1). Later in the chapter he quotes his opponents as saying, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing’ (v. 10). Corinth was known as the entertainment capital of Greece, and its 14000-seat theatre was the venue for famous speaking contests;1 so to be accused of being an inferior speaker was obviously intended as an insult. But Paul adjusts their perceptions by reminding them of the ‘meekness and gentleness of Christ’ (v. 1). ‘Meekness’ refers to enduring disgrace, denigration and death at the hand of evildoers.2 Isaiah wrote of Jesus long before his birth, saying,

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
– Isaiah 53:73

The Lord himself said,

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
– Matthew 11:29

This is a picture of meekness, though the world might interpret it as timidity. The difference is that the former springs from strength and purpose whilst the latter is born out of fear.

In the same way, Paul endured maltreatment at the hands of the Corinthians on his last visit to them. Yet they should not expect him to always be as meek; for on his next visit he expects to need to be ‘bold’ toward at least some amongst the Corinthians (v. 2). He does not enjoy confrontation but neither will he shy away from it when required; he promises to punish disobedience when he comes. Again we are reminded of Christ, whose next advent we expect to be very different to his last!

How do you respond to opposition, when you are deprived of honour, rank, possession or goods? What about when you are criticised, particularly when you are criticised for your Christian faith? I think most of us adopt a defensive posture, seeking to preserve our reputations, our friendships, our possessions and so on. But is this ‘meekness’ or ‘timidity’?

According to Paul, there are two worlds and world-views in conflict, and each has its own weapons and tactics. But he is not talking about swords and armour or (in modern terms) tanks and bombs.4 The weapons of this world include charisma and rhetoric, knowledge and logic, reputation and influence, credentials and qualifications, money and power. These are what the world uses to get what it wants and achieve its goals.

But, Paul says, though we live in this world these are not the primary weapons that Christians are called to wield. Instead, we must take up weapons that have ‘divine power to demolish strongholds’ (v. 4). What weapons? Well, ‘divine power’ implies divine origin, that is to say they come from God. And in the end it is not the plural gifts of God that are our weapon, but the singular Gift of God: his Son, Jesus Christ. We are reminded of Paul’s words in his earlier letter to the Corinthians:

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
– 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Armed with the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ as Sovereign and Saviour, Christians must ‘demolish strongholds’, that is ‘arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God’ (v. 5). Paul is talking here about patterns of thinking, world-views if you like, that are arranged to either exclude God or diminish his claims on the world. They are the lenses through which people choose to view the world, which distort the way God is perceived. And there are at least as many of these today as there were in Paul’s day. Academics love to identify and classify them, giving them fancy names that end in -ism: pluralism, relativism, modernism, naturalism, scientism, narcissism and so on. All of these obscure the knowledge of God in the world, and so must be opposed by Christians.

But this opposition is not just to reject these patterns of thinking, but to ‘take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ’ (v. 5). What does this mean? It means that we must understand the prevailing world-views and sift what is true and good from those things that are in opposition to God. For example, the Corinthians placed great value on the techniques of rhetoric and oratory; this was the lens through which they viewed every thought that came their way. Does this mean that Paul was precluded from using these skills? No, of course not. In fact the evidence that survives of his letters and the speeches recorded in Acts suggest that Paul was quite a gifted and persuasive orator and rhetorician. But these skills were not what he relied upon to carry his ministry; rather he had taken them captive and made them obedient to Christ.

What about today? We are surrounded by different world-views and cultures. Our job as Christians is to look at these things through the Jesus lens and judge what can be used and what must be rejected. We must take them captive without ourselves being taken captive. Are you a scientist? It’s use your knowledge and skills to understand and explore God’s world, but don’t fall for the lie that science is all there is. Do you enjoy popular culture? You need to be careful not to let entertainment become your driving goal; but why not use your knowledge of film, literature, art and music as a means of building bridges and sharing the gospel? Those with wealth should feel free to use it, so long as they avoid descending into materialism and greed. I even know people who use statistics to the glory of God, if you can believe it!

‘Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (v. 5).

Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord (vv. 7-18)

Clearly the Corinthians were not doing this. They were impressed by the credentials offered by the false apostles, and found a corresponding lack in Paul in these areas. As a result, they were being led away from Paul. Over the remainder of this chapter, Paul demonstrates how their evaluation of the false apostles and of Paul himself is still captive to the thoughts of the world. He does this by showing what each party is ‘boasting’ in.

It is difficult at this distance to reconstruct exactly what the outsiders saying; we are ‘hearing’ only one side of the conversation and must guess what the other side was. Nevertheless it seems clear that they boasted that they ‘belonged to Christ’ in some significant manner, and perhaps that Paul and/or the Corinthians did not. But Paul is emphatic that he, too, belongs to Christ as much as anyone. More than that, he reminds the Corinthians that he had been given authority by Christ to act as his apostle to the Gentiles.5 So far as the Gentile Corinthians were concerned then, Paul ought to have been considered the one who belonged to Christ. ‘Implicit throughout 2 Corinthians is Paul’s assumption that he is their apostle, whose authority is to be acknowledged by them’.6

The apostle also points out that his authority has been granted for the purpose of building them up (v. 8). The implication is that whatever the opponents were doing was having the opposite effect, that is tearing them down. The Corinthians ought to look at the results of the different ‘ministries’ being conducted amongst them. On the one hand, the teaching of the intruders seems to have led to division and strife; on the other hand, Paul’s efforts have been directed towards unity and reconciliation. It is this goal that has shaped both his letters and his conduct whilst visiting the Corinthians in person.

How do you decide if someone or something is good? In recent years there has been a massive growth in internet reviews. It is very common for people to research online before committing to a purchase, whether it be for a television, car, book, computer, vacuum cleaner or whatever. They will read tens, perhaps hundreds of reviews written by people they have never and will never meet. Similarly when we employ someone it is common practice to seek references from previous employers to ensure that the reality matches the resume.

It seems that the newcomers had arrived with letters of commendation. Back in chapter 3, Paul wrote,

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
– 2 Cor 3:1-3

We don’t know who might have written such letters for these false apostles, but it is clear that Paul does not set much store by them. In fact, he says they are effectively letters where the intruders commended themselves. Would you employ someone who wrote their own reference?

Or perhaps they wrote letters of commendation for one another. When academics publish a paper in a journal, they usually have it reviewed by other people working in the same field to check the plausibility and accuracy of their content. This is generally a pretty good system for ensuring high quality publications. However it is not foolproof. For example, recently a journal retracted some 60 articles because they discovered that a peer-review ‘ring’ had been formed where reviewers exchanged favourable reviews. In one case, a single reviewer had set up multiple aliases and ended up reviewing his own work.7

The point is that commendation and comparison are not definitive. What is required is an objective standard, particularly when choosing church leaders. Some weeks ago we joined together as a church in commissioning several people into roles as elders and deacons. As part of that, Dr. Boyce told us on what basis the elders had chosen to appoint them. He did not read letters of recommendation or affirmation, though doubtless the elders had received many. He did not tell us about his personal experiences with them. He did not list the things they have done and are doing to serve the church. Rather, he read from 1 Timothy 3, where Paul outlines the qualifications required of overseers and deacons. In the judgment of the elders, and with the affirmation of the church, those people meet the required standard and so we commissioned them to their respective roles.

From verse 13 onwards, Paul starts to argue that there must be ‘proper limits’ on boasting. Firstly, one’s personal sphere of work ought to constrain the boundaries of boasting. If Paul is going to boast, it will be in the mission field that is assigned to him rather than in an area where somebody else is working. We know from the book of Acts that Paul was guided by the Holy Spirit on his missionary journeys and did not leave a field of work unless he was led to another place.8

Paul was glad of the help of others in his work, such as Apollos and Titus who had also ministered in Corinth. He had no problem with someone else building on the foundation he had laid.9 And he was not the sort of person to put down those who were preaching the same gospel as he, even if he did not agree with their motivations.10 But in this case the interlopers seem intent on undermining his authority and message by their boasting and this is not acceptable. Certainly this should give us pause before moving in and setting up shop in an area where there is an established and effective gospel ministry.11 Far better to spend our efforts and resources on reaching people who would not otherwise hear about Christ, than be in competition. ‘[R]eal expansion of the church comes, not by poaching or moving van evangelism, but by proclaiming the gospel in areas and among people where the Lord Jesus Christ is not known’.12

Further, we ought to be looking forward rather than back. Boasting is bound up with the past, but the truly effective servants of God keep looking to the future.13 Paul is committed to the church in Corinth, but he also has his mind on Rome (Acts 19:21b; Rom 1:11) and on Spain and the western Mediterranean. By contrast, the false apostles are set on taking over what Paul has already done.

Finally, ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’ (v. 17). Paul has previously quoted this verse from Jeremiah 9:23 in his first surviving letter to Corinth (1 Cor 1:31), arguing there that all the different things the church might want to boast of – worldly wisdom, rhetoric, wealth and power – must first be subjected to the humiliation of the cross. Here his aim is slightly different.

He wants to warn the church against those who ‘commend themselves,’ but are not commended by the Lord; and he wants to prepare the way for one of his own most powerful pieces of writing, the ‘boasting’ in chapter 11 which will show them, once and for all, what it means to have one’s whole life reshaped around the Messiah and his cross. Is it boasting you want? he asks. Then boasting you shall have; but don’t expect it to look like what you imagined. ‘In the Lord’, after all, everything has been turned upside down and inside out. That’s what must happen to boasting as well.14

It seems that the newcomers were legitimating their ‘ministry’ in Corinth by ‘commending’ themselves, by ‘boasting’ of their achievements and ‘classifying’ and ‘contrasting’ their strengths with Paul’s perceived weaknesses. They have letters of commendation that Paul lacks. Their speech is powerful and persuasive, where Paul is ‘unskilled’. They are men of divine power, performing the ‘signs of an apostle’ (2 Cor 12:12) where Paul was unable even to heal himself (2 Cor 12:7-9). He is inferior and they are superior.15 But this is viewing the situation through the eyes of the world. When observed through the Jesus lens the reality is much different. It was Paul’s ministry that had borne fruit in bringing the Corinthian church into existence. It was Paul who was building them up rather than tearing them down. Paul was the one called to minister to them, who was looking forward to productive Christian ministry amongst them and beyond them. If Paul is being forced to apply for his own job, he has made a pretty compelling case!

But ultimately, Paul was not seeking approval or vindication (let alone employment!) from the Corinthians. Rather his goal was that he should be commended by the Lord. I hope we can say the same.

Bibliography

Barnett, Paul. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1997.

Carson, D. A. From Triumphalism to Maturity : An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1984.

Kistemaker, Simon. Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Accordance electronic ed, Baker New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997.

Witherington, Ben. Conflict and Community in Corinth : A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995.

Wright, N. T. Paul for Everyone : 2 Corinthians. 2nd ed. London: SPCK, 2004.


Endnotes

  1. Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth : A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995), 349.
  2. Simon Kistemaker, Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Accordance electronic ed., Baker New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997), 330.
  3. cf. Acts 8:26ff. where Philip applies this passage to Christ.
  4. D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to Maturity : An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1984), 57.
  5. Acts 9:15; Gal 1:16.
  6. Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1997), 473.
  7. http://retractionwatch.com/2014/07/08/sage-publications-busts-peer-review-and-citation-ring-60-papers-retracted/
  8. e.g. Acts 16:6-7; 20:22. cf. Kistemaker, 2 Corinthians, 349.
  9. 1 Cor 3:10. Ibid., 350.
  10. Carson, From Triumphalism to Maturity, 92.
  11. Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 492.
  12. Carson, From Triumphalism to Maturity, 96.
  13. Ibid.
  14. N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone : 2 Corinthians, 2nd ed. (London: SPCK, 2004), 111.
  15. Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 39.
Leave a Comment more...

God Loves a Cheerful Giver (2 Cor 8-9)

by on Oct.16, 2014, under Sermon

Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians was a bit of a roller-coaster. Paul has had to encourage, cajole, command, rebuke, instruct, defend and reason his way through a number of issues. This put a great strain on his relationship with the church in Corinth, culminating in a disastrous and ‘painful’ visit to Corinth,1 followed by a severe letter of reprimand. However, at the end of chapter 7 he expresses his great joy at the report Titus brought of their repentance and desire for reconciliation and renewed relationship.2 The severe letter did its job: those who had defied Paul and his authority had been disciplined, and the partnership between Paul and the Corinthians could now resume moving forward.

On the strength of this reconciliation, Paul feels able to once again address an issue close to his heart: the collection for the saints in Jerusalem.

Background: The Collection

Very early on in his ministry, the apostle was witness to a prophecy given to the church in Antioch of a famine that would ‘spread over the entire Roman world’ (Acts 11:28). In response, the church decided to send help for fellow Christians living in Judea, and chose Barnabas and Paul as the messengers who would carry this gift on their behalf.3 In his letter to the Galatians, Paul tells of his meeting with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, who asked that he ‘should continue to remember the poor, the very thing,’ he says, ‘I was eager to do’ (Gal 2:10). We also know from the first of his surviving letters to the Corinthian church that he had discussed with them a further gift towards the needs of those in Jerusalem:

Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
– 1 Corinthians 16:1–2

However, it seems that this plan had fallen into disrepair. Perhaps it was the conflict between Paul and the Corinthians. It is also possible that the Corinthians had chosen to allocate their available funds towards other visiting preachers, about whom Paul will have much to say in chapters 11 and 12. Whatever the reason, the apostle seems keen to encourage them to resume their collection.

As so often in his writings, he makes his point by returning to the subject of grace.

Giving is for everyone, so give (2 Cor 8:1-12)

First of all, Paul writes of the grace given to and through the Macedonian church, with whom he is probably staying whilst writing this epistle. While the Corinthians were relatively wealthy as a result of their position on the major trade routes of the Mediterranean, the region of Macedonia had undergone a financial decline over the preceding 2 centuries: the gold mines had been exhausted, and the region had suffered a number of wars and invasions. Both the countryside and the cities were impoverished.4

In spite of their situation – or perhaps because of it – Paul writes that ‘their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity’ (2 Cor 8:2). They did not see their financial lack as an impediment, let alone an excuse. Rather, they were eager, urgently pleading to permitted to share in this collection.
Perhaps they felt compassion on those who were suffering and in need, much as we do today when we hear of droughts, tsunamis, floods, fires or other situations where life and property is imperilled. Australians have an admirable reputation in this regard. For example, in the wake of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the Australian public donated $5 per Australian, compared to $3 per Briton and only 88 cents per American.5 But the truth is that we are more likely to respond to problems that arise in our own neighbourhood than to those on the other side of the world. So, during the first week of the 2009 Victorian bushfire Australians gave almost $53 million, almost five times what was given in the days after the tsunami.6

So what makes a church in the midst of a poverty-stricken region so eager to contribute to support people so far away?

Paul gives us a clue: ‘they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will’ (2 Cor 8:5). It was more than sympathy that compelled them; it was that they identified with the Lord and with Paul in their mission. They were partners in Paul’s work, and that work included this collection for the saints in Jerusalem. We find confirmation in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, a church in the region of Macedonia, where he commends them for sending him aid ‘again and again when [he] was in need’ (Phil 4:16-18).7 It is clear that they were committed not only to the mission, but also to the missionary.

I think we can learn a lot from the example of the Philippian church in particular. They used their scant resources to aid Paul in the mission that the Lord Jesus had called him to. At the time of this letter to the Corinthians, that mission included providing aid to the church in Jerusalem and Judea; at a later time it meant providing personal support to Paul as he ministered in Thessalonica (another church in Macedonia) and still later as he languished under house arrest in Rome. We, too, ought to consider how our gifts might be employed to further the mission to which God calls all Christians. There are many worthwhile ‘causes’ upon which we might expend our resources, but there is only one mission and it must take priority. More than just the mission, though, it is important for all of us to continually support the missionaries who are in the trenches conducting the mission, as the Philippians supported Paul over many years.

I encourage you to take some time this week – today even! – to sit down with your family and work out what you can be doing to serve those who serve others.

The Macedonians gave out of their poverty; but at completely the other end of the spectrum is our Lord Jesus. Paul writes that, ‘though he was rich, yet for [our] sakes he became poor so that [we] through his poverty might become rich’ (2 Cor 8:9). Earlier he wrote that, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor 5:21). Can there be any greater contrast? We honour and proclaim that mighty gift by offering our own smaller gifts.

The Macedonians had little and gave much; but Jesus had everything and gave it all for us! You and I, we probably fit somewhere in between these extremes. We are not as poor as the Macedonians, nor as rich as Christ. But God has given the same gift of grace to Macedonians, Corinthians and ‘West Pennians’; all of us, then, ought to respond as the Macedonians did and ‘excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in… love – [and] also excel in this grace of giving’ (2 Cor 8:7).

Giving is for everyone, so give!

Be careful, but not cynical, about your giving (2 Cor 8:13-9:5)

Money was somewhat of a sensitive topic between Paul and the Corinthians. Remarkably, in the whole of these two chapters Paul never once uses any of the Greek words for ‘money’ itself.8 This is probably because he had consistently refused payment for his work as an apostle, and this had become something of a sore point between them.9 So we sense that the apostle is being very careful to address potential misunderstandings and false impressions.

First, he anticipates an objection that the Jerusalemites are to be made rich at the Corinthians’ expense (2 Cor 8:13-15). This is not the case; rather, he says, the goal is for equality. To illustrate the kind of equality he has in mind, he quotes from Exodus 16, where the Israelites were sustained in the desert by God’s miraculous provision of manna, ‘bread from heaven’.

> The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.
– Exodus 16:17–18

Only twice in Scripture do we find a complete absence of poverty amongst God’s people.10 The first time is when the Israelites were brought up out of Egypt, and God sustained them by providing food, clothes and other necessities. There were neither rich nor poor, for though some tried to gather much, and some only gathered a little, each one found that they had as much as they needed and no more. Under the Old Covenant, it seems, equality was enforced by God.

We find something similar in the early days of the church in Jerusalem. Luke writes the rather startling statement that, ‘There were no needy persons among them’ (Acts 4:34). This was because from time to time the rich would sell their property and present the proceeds to the apostles for distribution amongst the poor.11 Under the New Covenant equality is voluntary, joyous and generous.12 It is this kind of giving that Paul exhorts the Corinthians to emulate.

Having addressed the suspicion that he might be playing favourites, siphoning off money from the Corinthians to support the favoured parent church in Jerusalem, Paul must also contend with the accusation that he will use the money to line his own pocket. We can imagine the cynical sneers offered up by troublemakers in Corinth: ‘He claims not to want our money, but now he asks for it supposedly for someone else.’

To address this concern, Paul emphasises how careful he is being that he not only do the right thing but be seen to do the right thing with this money. ‘We want to avoid any criticism,’ he says, ‘ of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men’ (2 Cor 8:20-21). Elsewhere he warns his readers to avoid even the appearance of evil,13 and he follows his own advice here.14

This is an important lesson for us as a church. We as a church are entrusted with significant resources to be used for gospel ministry. Part of that responsibility is to ensure that we are both careful and transparent about the way those resources are employed. Perhaps second only to sexual sin, financial mismanagement is one of the biggest ministry killers out there today. And it need not be actual fraudulent activity; just the appearance of mishandling of resources can be extremely damaging to a church. So we keep accounts; we have money handling procedures; we budget and we track our spending. All these things help us to show that we are doing the right thing ‘not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men’. In this way we disarm much of the suspicion that surrounds us. In the end, however, if it comes to a choice between doing what is right in the eyes of men and in the eyes of the Lord, we must choose to do what is right before God.

From another perspective, however, perhaps we ourselves are cynical. Doubtless we have all engaged at some time in similar distrust. For instance, I’m sure many of us have wondered who profits out of this televangelist, that healing ministry or the other megachurch. And perhaps such doubts are warranted at times. We should certainly be careful in the way we allocate our resources, taking time to find out how they will be used and so on. This is part of our responsibility as stewards of what God has given us.

The problem arises when we allow our cynicism to undermine our desire to give as the Corinthians apparently did. When I first came to Sydney for uni, I used to occasionally travel home for weekends. As I waited for the bus at Eddy Avenue, I would often be approached by people looking for a handout, some loose change to help them catch a bus home, or get something to eat or whatever. Worldly-wise and street smart as only a 17 year old country boy can be, I ‘knew’ that their story was really a mask for some other objective such as alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. And so I developed an acute ability to spot them at a distance, keep my head down to avoid making eye contact and keep on walking. Doubtless my suspicions were correct about some, and perhaps many of those who approached me; but what about those in genuine need? My skepticism became a mask, a wall, an excuse to avoid having to give of my time, let alone my money. In the same way, the Corinthians had given in to their suspicions and allowed distrust to kill off their initial enthusiasm for this project. Let us avoid making the same mistake.

Be careful, but not cynical, about the way you give.

We are in the service of the great giver, so give generously (2 Cor 9:6-15)

In the final section of this morning’s text, Paul outlines the many blessings that flow from giving, and exhorts the Corinthians to give cheerfully and generously. He does this by developing the image of a farmer sowing seed.

It is axiomatic that the size of the harvest is proportional to the amount of seed sown. So, if the farmer sows only a little seed, he should only expect a small crop; if he sows a large amount of seed he should expect a large crop. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to be liberal in their gift to the Judean church.

But the word used, ‘generously’, is not only about the quantity sown, but also the attitude of the sower. We know this because in verse 5, it is translated ‘generous gift’ (NIV) and is contrasted with a gift ‘grudgingly given,’ which is clearly about the heart of the givers. Paul also elaborates this point by saying that each should give what they have decided to give, rather than what they feel compelled to give (2 Cor 9:7). In other words, it is possible to give a large gift and yet not be ‘generous’ if it is given grudgingly. And even a small gift given cheerfully should be considered ‘generous.’ Remember the words Paul wrote back in chapter 8: ‘For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have’ (2 Cor 8:12).

Paul also points out that the Corinthians ought to have confidence to give generously: ‘God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work’ (2 Cor 9:8). In a sense, the farmer loses what he has scattered, taking the risk of adverse weather, disease and insects; but as he sows he trusts that the one ‘who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase [their] store of seed and enlarge the harvest of [their] righteousness’ (2 Cor 9:10). If we find ourselves unwilling to give, we must ask whether we have the same trust in the one who provides us with all that we need.

We serve a God who has given generously. He has given us life and breath; sun and rain; family and friends. As the apostle James wrote,

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
– James 1:17-18

We honour this giving God by giving in turn to others.

In crop farming the farmer keeps back a portion of each harvest to replant for the next year’s crop. If they don’t, if they instead sell or consume the entire crop, the next year there will be neither planting nor harvesting. I believe this is what Paul has in mind when he writes, ‘You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion’ (2 Cor 9:11). He does not say, ‘Sow generously and you will be made rich,’ but ‘Sow generously and you will be made rich so that you can sow generously again.’ We must remember this as we consider how to deploy the riches that God has given us to steward, neither consuming all for our own immediate gratification nor planting all. Instead, we must find a wise balance of the two.

Doing this results in two things. Firstly, it is a practical way in which we can ‘supply the needs of God’s people’ (2 Cor 9:12). But just as importantly it results in ‘many expressions of thanks to God’ (2 Cor 9:12). As people witness Christians giving generously they see in miniature the God who gives generously. As one commentator writes:

When Jesus, for the sake of us all, became poor, we became rich; now, when people who follow him are ready to put their resources at his disposal, the world and the church may benefit, not only from the actual money but from the fact that when the Jesus-pattern of dying and rising, of riches-to-poverty-to-riches, is acted out, the power of the gospel is let loose afresh in the world, and the results will be incalculable.15

We are in the service of a great giver, so let us give generously.

Conclusion

In summary, then, the Apostle Paul teaches the Corinthians (and, by extension, us):

  • Giving is for everyone, from the poorest of the poor, to the Lord of all creation, so give;
  • Be careful but not cynical about your giving;
  • Give generously for we serve the one who gives us all things.

The Corinthians had shown a promising start: Paul writes that they were ‘the first not only to give but to have the desire to do so’ (2 Cor 8:10). But something went wrong. Paul urges them to renew their enthusiasm and complete the collection.

There is a saying: ‘Hard work often pays off over time; but procrastination always pays off now!’ What is it that makes us want to put off work until the last possible moment? Why do we leave things half done? And why are we so easily deflected and distracted from our intentions and commitments? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but it is clear that there comes a time when we must make good on our promises.

For the Corinthians it was a financial commitment, and it may be for you as well; but it could be something else entirely. Have you promised to pray for someone or something? Pray. Has the Lord convicted you of sin that you need to repent of? Repent. Perhaps the temple that is your body is in need of repair? Fix it. Is there broken relationship? Reconcile. Is God calling you to walk with him into some new service, adventure or mission field? Go.

Do you have unfinished business with the Lord this morning?

Bibliography

Barnett, Paul. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1997.

Kistemaker, Simon. Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Accordance electronic ed, Baker New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997.

Wright, N. T. Paul for Everyone : 2 Corinthians. 2nd ed. London: SPCK, 2004.


Endnotes

  1. 2 Cor 2:1.
  2. 2 Cor 7:8-9.
  3. Acts 11:29.
  4. Simon Kistemaker, Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Accordance electronic ed., Baker New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997), 272-3.
  5. http://mccrindle.com.au/ResearchSummaries/PoG-MR-RS.pdf
  6. http://www.smh.com.au/national/donations-exceed-tsunami-collection-20090211-84r3.html
  7. Ibid., 271.
  8. N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone : 2 Corinthians, 2nd ed. (London: SPCK, 2004), 85.
  9. 1 Cor 9:1-18; 2 Cor 11:7-11.
  10. Kistemaker, 2 Corinthians, 318.
  11. Acts 4:32-35.
  12. Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1997), 415.
  13. 1 Thess 5:22.
  14. Kistemaker, 2 Corinthians, 295.
  15. Wright, Paul for Everyone : 2 Corinthians, 91.
Leave a Comment more...