Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

October 5, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

 


III. Appeal of Paul’s Ministry. (8:1–9:15.)                        

               Lesson III.A:Faithfulness Illustrated. (8:1–5)

 

2nd Corinthians 8:1-5 (NKJV)

1 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia:

2 that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality.

3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing,

4 imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

5 And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.

 

 

Introduction

 

  • In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Paul commends the liberal contributions of the Macedonian churches for the relief of the brethren in Judea.
  • In 2 Corinthians 8:6-8 Paul recommends to the Corinthians that they follow the example of the Macedonian Churches, as well as in other graces.
  • In 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul suggests they follow Christ’s example.
  • In 2 Corinthians 8:10-12 Paul challenges the Corinthian believers to contribute to the contribution for the brethren in Judea, since they had expressed the desire to do so in the past.
  • In 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 Paul reminds them that they may need help in the future, therefore, they should give in order to set a precedent which might in time be of use to themselves.
  • In 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 Paul lets them know the willingness of Titus to come and promote this good work among them; and commended him to their love, together with the brethren; godly men, who were sent with him on the same errand.


Commentary

 

1 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia:

 

Moreover

 In addition to what has already been said; or furthermore.

 

Brethren

He addresses them in a kind and tender manner, using the endearing designation of "brethren", seeing that they are so in a spiritual sense; and he takes the liberty to inform them of the goodness of God to some of their sister churches.

 

We make known to you

“We make known to you” is like the modern "I wish to inform you." In this and the next chapter the apostle Paul, having thoroughly spoken of the joy which he had received from their sincere reception of his first letter, and having said as much as he intended to say in answer to the false charges concocted against him, proceeds to give instructions about the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem. He had already spoken of it (1 Corinthians 16:1-4), but now he feared that they were overdue in their contributions, so he sends Titus to stimulate their enthusiasm.

 

The grace of God

The thing “made known” here, is “the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia"; by which is NOT meant, any of the blessings of grace common to all the saints, such as the new birth, justification, adoption, forgiveness of sin, and so forth; but generosity, liberality, or a benevolent disposition to do good to others, called here "the grace of God"; because it sprung from Him, as do all good works when performed for the right reason. The churches of Macedonia” were assisted in giving by “the grace of God”; and it was the love and compassion of God in Christ, which was the motivation that inspired them to do it.

 

It was a great favor which God had done for them by exciting a spirit of liberality, and in enabling them to contribute to the fund for supplying the needs of the poor saints at Jerusalem. The word "grace" is sometimes used in the sense of a gift, and the phrase "gift of God" is supposed by some to mean a very great gift, where the words "of God" may have been meant to denote anything very well-known or excellent, as it does in the phrase "cedars of God," and "mountains of God," denoting very great cedars, and very great mountains. Some Bible scholars have supposed that this means that the churches of Macedonia had been able to contribute generously to the aid of the saints of Judea. But the more obvious and correct interpretation, as I understand it, is that the phrase "grace of God," means that God had bestowed on them grace to give according to their ability. According to this view, it is implied:

  1. That a desire or willingness to contribute to charitable causes can be traced to God. He is its author, and He motivates it.
  2. That it is a favor, even a blessing, bestowed on a church when God creates a spirit of benevolencein it. It is one of the evidences of His love. And without a doubt there cannot be a better proof of the favor of God than when by His grace He persuades and enables us to contribute generously to improve the condition, and to relieve the needs of our fellowmen. Perhaps the apostle meant to delicately hint at this; therefore, He did not say callously that the churches of Macedonia had contributed to this collection, but he speaks of it as a favor shown to them by God—that they were able to do it. And he probably meant to gently suggest to the Corinthians that it would be an evidence that they were enjoying the favor of God, if they would contribute in a similar way.


Bestowed on the churches of Macedonia

Notice that the grace (free grace) of God is “bestowed” on them, not merited by them. God may give to some persons so much of this world's goods, yet if He does not give them a spirit of generosity, a liberal nature, they will make no use of it for the good of others. Paul implies that though given by God, grace is revealed in their conduct.

 

“Bestowed on the Churches of Macedonia,” more exactly, “which is being bestowed in the Churches.” St. Paul wants to tell the Corinthians how extremely liberal the Macedonians have been, since it was his custom to stir up one Church by the example of another—“For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action” (2 Corinthians 9:2)—but he begins by speaking of their generosity as a proof of the grace which they are receiving from the Holy Spirit. Their generosity was not something that developed naturally over time, but was instead God's grace “bestowed” on them, and enabled them to be the instrument of God's "grace" to others—“So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. . .and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind” (2 Corinthians 8:6, 19). The importance given in this Epistle to the collection, arose as well from Paul's commission as missionary to the Gentiles—They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10),as well as his desire to reconcile the Judaizing Christians at Jerusalem to himself and the Gentile believers, by such an act of love on the part of the latter towards their Jewish brethren.

 

The only Macedonian Churches of which we have any information in the New Testament are those of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. They seem to have been particularly dear to Paul, who was attracted by their cheerfulness in affliction and their generosity in the midst of want. Previously, they had shown their generosity to Paul himself by acts of personal kindness, and now were showing it in an even better way, by acting as he wished them to act; and he sees in this a means of stirring up his friends at Corinth to an honorable imitation of them.The generosity of the Macedonians served as a Pattern for the Corinthians; Christ is the Loftiest Pattern.

 

Liberality shown to the poor saints, as such, flows from that feature of love by which men are taught by God to love one another; for though men, from a natural goodness, or moral virtue, may out of compassion relieve persons in misery from their burdens; yet none, from any such principle, do good to any members of the household of faith, as such; but rather feel from them the effects of their hatred, when they take from them what is rightfully theirs.

 

 

2 that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality.

 

That in a great trial of affliction

We do not know if there is a particular infirmity or hardship which this statement relates to, but a community of Christians in a heathen city was always exposed to trials of one kind or another, and the bad temper shown before by the rulers at Philippi and the Jews of Thessalonica—When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice. The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten” (Acts 16:19-20)—makes it almost certain that they would at least carry on a petty persecution.

 

“In a great trial of affliction”; rather, in much testing of affliction; that is, in an affliction which tested their Christian character. "Affliction" seems to have occurred very seriously and powerfully in the Churches of Macedonia—You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6)chiefly through the jealousy of the Jews, who enflamed the hatred of the Gentiles (Acts 16:20Acts 17:5, 13). 

 

They received the Gospel at a time when they were experiencing a lot of affliction; and afterwards suffered a great deal from their countrymen for professing their Christian faith. They were under taxing hardships, which tried their faith and patience; by reproaches, persecutions, imprisonments, confiscation of goods, etc. Now for persons who are prosperous and everything is going well with them, it is easy to be liberal in giving to help others: but for persons experiencing adversity, who many might suppose were unable to give and that they were the ones needing help; or when it might be thought their minds would be entirely engrossed with their own concerns, to give generously to relive the afflictions of others, is something very remarkable, and worthy of notice and imitation, which was the case of these Churches of Macedonia. For more on the afflictions of the churches in Macedonia, both from the Jews and pagans, it is suggested that you read Acts 16:1-40 and Acts 17:1-34. Afflictions are called trials, because God uses them to test our faith, patience, and consistency; and the devil also uses them to draw out our lusts and corruptions. 

 

The Greek word that is rendered “trial” is always used of that which has been tried and has stood the test—“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).The meaning here is that tribulation has brought out the genuine Christian qualities of the Macedonian Churches.

 

The abundance of their joy

“The abundance of their joy” is another reference to joy in sadness—“I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (2 Corinthians 7:4). “The abundance” and the word “abounded" is definitely redundant, but is not at all unlike the style of Paul’s writing. He means to say that their joy overflowed their affliction, and their liberality overflowed their poverty—They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on." (Mark 12:44). 

 

“The abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality”; so that it appears that they were not only experiencing great afflictions, but also deep poverty; their purses were almost empty, and their resources almost exhausted; they had very little left; and yet freely gave, with joy, even with an “abundance” of it. The indirect reference seems to be to the words of David, in 1 Chronicles 22:14—“I have taken great pains to provide for the temple of the LORD a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver, quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone. And you may add to them.”“The abundance of their joy" does not refer to the joy they felt in the midst of their afflictions, so that they could glory in them, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God, but the cheerfulness of their spirits arising from their contribution to the necessities of their brethren. Their hearts were glad that they had hearts for doing good, and an opportunity to do it; which they gladly took advantage of, observing the divine rule, "he that sheweth mercy", let him do it "with cheerfulness": and this they did very liberally, though they possessed only a small pittance; for though their poverty was deep, and their purses low, their hearts were large and full, and their hands ready to do good to others. If a person knows the joys of the gospel; if he has experienced the comforts of religion, he will somehow or other find the means to contribute to the welfare of others. He will be willing to work to acquire it, or he will find something which he can sacrifice or spare. Even their deep poverty will abound in the fruits of generosity. Their charity will not be in proportion to their ability to give, which might have been expected from men in their circumstances, but they will show themselves rich in their liberality, though poor in what they had of this world’s goods.

 

And their deep poverty

The literal meaning of “deep” is “down to the depth,” or “according to depth.” “Generosity,” is determined not by the measure of what is given, but by the mind of those who give it.”

 

“Their deep poverty”; literally, their great pauperism; their awful destitution. Their very low state of poverty was made to contribute liberally to the needs of others. It is implied here:

(1)  That they were very poor—a fact arising probably from the truth that the poor generally embraced the gospel first, and also because it is probable that they were molested and stripped of their property through persecutions.

(2)That in spite of this they were enabled to make a liberal contribution—a fact demonstrating that a people can do a lot even when poor, if all feel determined to do it, and that afflictions are beneficial to the effort.

(3)That one cause of this was the joy which they had even in their trials.

 

The “poverty” at Philippi may possibly be connected with the great number of women in the Church there, as indicated in Acts 16:13On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.” In the absence of the bread-winners in a household, Christian women in a Greek/Roman city would find limited means of supporting themselves. To some degree, however, the churches shared in a widely-spread distress. Macedonia and Achaia never recovered from the three wars between Caesar and Pompeius, between the Triumvirs and Brutus and Cassius, and between Augustus and Antonius. Under Tiberius, they petitioned for a lessening of their burdens, and were as a result transferred for a while from the jurisdiction of the senate to that of the emperor, where taxation was not as excessive. Though they were poor, they showed themselves to be generous to their brethren in Judea. The gift of the Macedonians was like the widow's mite (Luke 21:3, 4, where similar words occur)—“I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

 

Abounded in the riches of their liberality.

“Abounded,” as used here, means they contributed liberally. Their joy was expressed by a large donation, in spite of their poverty; so Paul says that their poverty "abounded to the riches of their liberality": though their poverty was great, their liberality was rich and large; though they might have given little in quantity, it was much in quality, much in liberality; like the poor widow, who, due to her want and privation, cast in more than all the rich, not in quantity, but in liberality; they only gave some, and a disproportionate part, but she gave all she had—If it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously . . .” (Romans 12:8).

 

The word “liberality,” as used here, means sincerity, candor, goodness; then Christian simplicity, integrity; then liberality—You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else” (2 Corinthians 9:11, 13).

 

The phrase "riches of liberality," is a Hebraism, meaning rich, or abundant liberality. The sense is, their liberality was much greater than could be expected from persons so poor; and the object of the apostle is to motivate the Corinthians to give liberally by their example. Such generosity indicates a singleness of heart (or purpose), and the absence of all selfish motives (see 2 Corinthians 1:12).

 

 

3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing,

 

For I bear witness

They gave according to their ability, and to the limit of it, which is the most that can be desired, or be given; for no man can give more than he has, nor is he required to do more than he is able. Paul had founded those churches and had spent a lot of time with them. He was therefore well qualified to bear testimony in regard to their condition.

 

That according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability

The meaning of “That according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability” is that they were willing to contribute beyond their power to give; not that they could give more than they were able to give; but they were "willing" to do so; their hearts were larger than their purses; they would gladly have done more than they had ability to do; and to this the apostle bears witnessto give credit to their liberality, which otherwise might have been called in question: and it is to be observed, that these churches gave in this cheerful manner and to the utmost of their ability, which was beyond what could have been expected; or beyond what it would have been thought possible, considering their circumstances (great poverty). This shows the anxious desire which they had to relieve the needs of others.

 

They were freely willing,

“They were freely willing” indicates that they were acting from choice, self-motivated, voluntarily, of their own accord. They did not have to be urged and pressured to do it by any human influence, though there was Divine influence applied. They rejoiced in the prospect of doing it. They came forward of their own accord and made the contribution. "God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7); and from all the accounts which we have of these churches in Macedonia it is evident that they were greatly distinguished for their cheerful generosity. There are two things for which the apostle commends the charity of the churches of Macedonia: 

(1)  The quantity of their gift, which, he said, went beyond what they were expected to give, and even what they were able to give, considering their own great poverty.

(2) Their willingness in giving; so that they did not need the apostle’s appeals and arguments, but did it on their own; generously and cheerfully.

 

For persons to give when they are asked, especially when they do it willingly, at once, without objecting, and with cheerfulness, is a good thing; but for a person to do such a good deed for his fellowman, without being asked (spontaneously), pressured, and urged to do it, is truly remarkable. This is considered by the Jews to be one of the highpoints of giving alms; and it was the point which he wished to make to the Corinthians. The churches of Macedonia needed no appeal or counsel such as he had given to the Corinthians and to others.

 

 

4 imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

 

Imploring us with much urgency

 “Imploring us with much urgency,” more correctly, earnestly imploring me to accept the contribution and deliver it to the poor and afflicted saints in Judea. They not only gave liberally, even though they were not asked to do so by the apostle; but they went to them, and earnestly pleaded with them.

 

That we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

They went to Paul and Barnabas, and earnestly pleaded with them—That we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints,” that is, they asked us to take part in taking the contribution to Jerusalem and distributing it to the poor saints there. The cause of the hardship which made the collection for the saints of Judea necessary, was probably the famine which was predicted by Agabus, and which occurred during the time of Claudius Caesar—One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)” (Acts 11:28). Barnabas joined with Paul in conveying the contribution to Jerusalem (Acts 6:30). Paul was unwilling to do it unless they especially desired it, and he seems to have insisted that someone would accompany him—What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help” (2 Corinthians 8:20).

 

 

5 And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.

 

And not only as we had hoped

“And not only as we had hoped”; rather, not as was expected by the apostle. This means, of course, that they had done what was far beyond his hopes. They were so poor that it was impossible to expect much from them, but they surpassed Paul’s expectations in every way; nor did they expect that they would have desired the apostle to distribute it for them.

 

The Church of Philippi, perhaps under the influence of Lydia, was well-known for its generosity, and was the only Church from which Paul would accept any personal help (Philippians 4:15-18). 

 

But they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us

The point of this clause lies in the fact that they gave, not only their money, but themselves, their time, thought, energy, primarily to Christ as their Lord, and then to the Apostle as His minister. And this they had done because they allowed the will of God to work upon their will.

 

“But they first gave themselves to the Lord”—first they consecrated themselves and all they had to the Lord, devoting themselves to His service and glory. They kept nothing back. They felt that all they had was His. God inclined their minds, so that they were willing to do or give anything that was consistent with God’s will; they were very willing that some of their number should leave their homes and families to accompany them, in taking this good work elsewhere. And where a people honestly and truly devote themselves to God, they will find no difficulty in having the means to contribute to the cause of charity. They committed themselves to the care of Providence in all their afflictions and poverty, trusting in God that he would provide for them now and for all time, and therefore even in their poverty stricken circumstances gave liberally.

 

"First," as used here does not indicate priority of time, but “first of all, above all in importance.” The giving of themselves takes precedence over their other gifts, as being the motive which led them to give themselves to the apostles—I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:15, 16).

 

First, they gave themselves to the Lord, “And then to us,” God’s ministers and representatives, as “the will of God” directed them to do; that is, they did not only bring us their gift, but they also gave up themselves to us, to be used for the good of the church, and according to the will of God: they might have hoped for something from them, though they were afflicted with poverty; but what they brought was much beyond what we could hope for, or expect from them.

 

Giving themselves up to the apostles, does not imply a surrender of themselves to them as lords over God's possessions, to be governed and ruled over in a tyrannical and arbitrary way; but a submitting of themselves to them, as Christ's servants set over them in the Lord, while they minister the word and administer the ordinances, according to the will of Christ; accepting them as their fathers, or instructors, and guides, and as overseers placed in and over the churches, for their spiritual welfare.

 

By the will of God

The phrase "by the will of God," evidently means that God persuaded them to do this, or that it could be traced to His direction and providence. It is one of the instances in which Paul ascribes everything that is right and good to the activity and direction of God—“for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). It is “the will of God” that poor, but reasonable sinners should give themselves to Christ, to be saved by Him, and serve Him; and that they should join a church, and be subject to the care, teachings, and direction of His servants in His house. And furthermore, they gave themselves to us to be directed in regard to the contribution to be made. They complied with our wishes and followed our directions. “The will of God” is called, "the grace of God,"in 2Corinthians 8:1. The phrase, "by the will of God," implies thanksgiving to God for the grace which enabled them to give themselves to Him, and their goods to His saints. Being "a peculiar people," they naturally showed themselves "zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). 

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