Paul “boasted” about the Corinthian church. He lived there for a year and a half, “teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11, ESV). He was confident in their agape (dedicated) love for the Lord’s work.
A large cooperative effort was underway. Paul encouraged support for impoverished Christians in Jerusalem. The Corinthians’ interest was known by Paul, but a year had passed with no action.
Should Paul have left them alone? Had they exercised their church autonomy in the matter? Apparently, the Holy Spirit knew that some teaching through the apostle was needed. So Paul wrote about this issue in 2 Corinthians 8-9. He knew that coercion — an apostolic head-knocking — would not effect a spiritual softening in this case (cf. 2 Cor. 8:8). But he did believe that spiritual principles could move them to greater Christian service.
Although the Corinthian church excelled “in faith, in speech, in knowledge, [and] in all earnestness,” these folks needed to “excel in this act of grace also” (2 Cor. 8:7). Paul laid before them the reasons. Would they listen? Would they meditate and pray on these truths? Or would they simply consider Paul as a meddler in another congregation’s business? Here is what the apostle taught.
Giving is practical assistance. The gift would supply “the needs of the saints.” Up to this point, the Corinthians had merely said, “Go and be filled”; yet such talk was equivalent to dead faith (cf. Jas. 2:14-26). The need was not in question. Their faith was.
Giving is an occasion for the personal growth of the giver. Paul gives them an example —the churches of Macedonia. These congregations (i.e., churches in the province of Macedonia) had some things in common. They were in extreme poverty (2 Cor. 8:2, ESV). But these churches gave “beyond their means, of their own free will” (v. 3). They were not coerced; they “begged us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (v. 4).
Paul identifies the reason for their agape spirit — “they gave themselves first to the Lord” (v. 5). Was Paul suggesting something about the spiritual depth of the Macedonian Christians, the lack of such in the Corinthian Christians, or perhaps both?
Spiritual development and giving are inseparable. Christianity is love in action. The apostle John wrote:
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth” (1 Jn. 3:16-18).
Paul reasoned with the church:
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully...And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6,8).
The apostle admonished the Corinthians to keep their focus on the gospel. God is able. God is behind this work. Don’t think you are going to do more by doing less. Paul quoted the testimony of Scripture (Ps. 112:9). It is God who gives; we are merely stewards (cf. 1 Cor. 4:2).
Giving is a sign of congregational growth. Giving was not simply a matter of what they did individually on Sunday. It was also how they gave as a congregation. The Corinthians had developed in other areas, but Paul considered them an undeveloped church because of their lack of giving (2 Cor. 8:7). In fact, many other brethren had contributed to their spiritual good in the past (2 Cor. 12:13). They had been anxious receivers; it was time to be givers. Their spiritual action would multiply in spiritual good. In making this contribution, they would actually be submitting to the will of God, not the projects of Paul (2 Cor. 9:13).
Giving has evangelistic potential. Paul noted that giving for physical needs can promote the Lord’s plan of salvation (cf. Acts 24:17; Gal. 6:10; Mt. 5:13-16).
Giving is an encouragement to others. Others would offer many thanks to God, the source who motivates Christians to sacrifice and give (2 Cor. 9:11-12). The receivers will glorify God (v. 13), and others would be moved by the proof of their genuine love (8:8; 9:2). Like the Lord said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Would you rather be a sacrificial giver, or a bountiful receiver? If you follow the Scriptures, you can be both.