Continuing A Life of Good Work
(2 Corinthians 8: 1-12)
This week we will begin chapter 8 of 2nd Corinthians, going through the first 12 verses this week and the remainder the next. Paul begins this chapter on a positive note, commending them for reaching out to God for His grace to overcome adversity, and through this to develop into someone who practices gentleness and compassion, freely giving to others who have need, as best they can. As you will see, it is the quality – not the quantity – that counts with God.
“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge,in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8, verses 1-7, NIV)
When the apostle Paul wrote about the Macedonian churches and the grace God had given them, he could have been writing about any number of things that was happening in that part of the world at that time. Although I have no knowledge regarding the specific things that Paul was writing about so far as the early church is concerned, for now I will instead focus on the apparent generosity of these churches. Paul wrote, “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” I’m sure Paul meant religious persecution when he wrote about “the most severe trial”, but this persecution they were enduring was being inflicted by the Roman Empire, as the Bible and numerous history texts document so well. Paul also notes their generosity and what he describes as “extreme poverty” in the same sentence, which I find rather interesting. We can gather from this interrelation of “severe trial”, “overflowing joy”, “extreme poverty” and “rich generosity”, that being a charitable Christian and one who gives freely without expectation of repayment is the purest form of generosity (and by extension Christianity) known to mankind. Since these Macedonian churches were poverty stricken, we can be reasonably sure that there was no large cash donation or sharing of precious metals. The entire offering was made up of small individual donations in cash and tradeable valuables.
But everyone in the congregation was a craftsman of some kind. They made things because few people had the money to buy goods in those days. Most transactions were done by barter in the form of an exchange of goods or services. So we can infer that this offering was one consisting of items these impoverished churches could use or distribute as they had need. I would imagine that they got things like nonperishable food, clothing, tools, tents, bronze and iron goods of various types, and even weapons. Whatever could not be used or distributed was bartered for things that were more useful, since this was the closest thing to an economic system available at that time. Paul then goes on to share his desire for the Corinthian church to become more like the Macedonian churches, which would imply that Paul was coaching them to do better than they were at the time this was written. Paul then continues this train of thought, starting in verse 8.
“I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8, verses 8-12, NIV)
The two main points Paul makes in this passage of Scripture are the twin necessities of sincerity and willingness, both of which are essential in the Christian faith. Paul wrote that he wanted to “test the sincerity of your love”, but this time instead of comparing them to the Macedonian churches he is comparing their offerings to the ultimate selfless sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Sacrifice, Paul wrote, can be done in far more ways than the mere sharing of material wealth, with the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ being the ultimate example. But Paul then wrote something that I think is very timely concerning the modern Christian church and its myriad of denominations and doctrines. “If the willingness is there”, Paul wrote, “the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” Notice that this is exactly the opposite of what most of the modern evangelical/Christian churches are teaching, especially those with a strong television presence. The “prosperity gospel” says that you must first give in order to receive, with the implication that the greater one’s offering is in terms of monetary value, the greater the expectation of heavenly returns, implying that one’s offering at church is an investment and not a gift. This is, if I may be rather blunt, a bunch of spiritual BS that has no place in church. Give what you can to others first, and to the church second, according to your ability. The size of your offering does not matter. Real Christians will not judge your offering. God won’t either.
This teaching about tithing is cut from the same cloth as the prosperity gospel. Virtually all of the modern churches are teaching the Old Testament concept of tithing, the giving of 10% of the profits, or of one’s income, for the support of the Temple at Jerusalem and all the Levitical priests. The fact of the matter is that Jesus, when He was crucified and died, fulfilled the Old Law, or Law of Moses as it is known. But when Jesus rose from the dead on the morning of the third day, the New Law, or New Testament, went into effect and remains as such to this very day! Today in church, its members are expected to “tithe” 10% of their income because the pastors either haven’t read 2nd Corinthians 8 verse 12, or they are deliberately ignoring it or even suppressing the truth. After all, if anybody in the congregation bothered to read that verse, they might (gasp! OMG!!) not put in 10% anymore. If everybody in the church started doing this, how would the pastors make the payments on their Cadillacs, Lincolns, or Mercedes? Maybe the better question is, if these “evangelists”, “ministers” and “bishops” are profiting from what they are teaching, then are they teaching the true Gospel? And if not, are they true Christians?