Having detailed the generosity of the Macedonian churches toward the collection for the poor believers in Palestine, and having encouraged the Corinthian believers to act in like manner, 8:1-7, Paul now goes on to reinforce his exhortation that the Corinthians excel in the grace of giving.
v8-9. Paul now goes on to remind his readers that he is not commanding them to be generous. You can't command someone to exhibit a quality which is a gift of God. What he is doing is encouraging them toward "this grace" by comparing their self-giving with the self-giving of the Macedonian Christians, and in particular, with the supreme example of Christian self-giving, namely the incarnation of Christ. Christ set aside his divine privilege for us; he became poor so that we might become rich.
v10-12. Paul's advice to the Corinthians is that they take up the stance that they adopted in the previous year, that they "finish the work" they had so well begun. He points to two aspects of their generosity: i] eager willingness, and ii] effective action. Effective action has somewhat dissipated and so Paul hopes that he can still appeal to their eager willingness. He doesn't quantify the "results" side of the argument since self-giving must be "according to your means."
v13-15. Paul now presents the basic principle behind his argument. It is the principal of fair-dealing. My "plenty" should supply the "needs" of my brothers and sisters in the Lord, in such a way as to allow them to use their "plenty" toward my "needs". He is certainly not advocating that his readers are to disadvantage themselves for the advantage of others. His picture of Israel's wilderness wanderings makes the point well. All work to gather in the manna; some end up with little, some with much. All then share what they have gathered and so all are filled. For the Corinthians, this illustration serves to encourage them to share their abundance with the poverty-stricken Palestinian believers. The Jewish believers had shared the gospel with the Gentiles and now it was time for the Gentiles to respond with a similar "grace".
They say that money is the root of all evil. Well, it may not be the root of all evil, but it certainly does cause trouble. Friendships and families have foundered on the issue of money; it can cause unbelievable arguments. For some reason or other, whoever takes it from us ends up wearing horns. Note the love most tenants have for their landlord. Or think for a moment on the warmth we feel for the taxation department. So money, and being parted from it, is an emotive issue indeed.
In our passage for study, the issue before us is not just "the grace of giving" money. The issue is one of self-giving for the sake of the brotherhood; it concerns the possession of a gracious gift of generosity, and the application of that gift for the upbuilding of the body of Christ.
First, the quality of self-giving. Jesus is the perfect example of the one who willingly became poor that others might become rich. He set aside his glorious splendor and joined himself to broken humanity. For us to emulate Christ's self-giving we need to rest on the grace of God. Such a quality of generosity is something given as a gracious gift from God and not something worked up in our own will.
Mind you, we are still bound to cooperate with this spirit of generosity, and for this reason we exhort each other to exhibit this Christ-like quality. Yet, above all, "this grace of giving" is a product of the inworking Spirit of Christ, part of his shaping work within. Generosity is therefore a quality which will develop in our lives only as we look to the Spirit of Christ to change us from within.
Second, the application of self-giving - fair dealing. We all possess resources, some naturally acquired, some given directly through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, combinations of time and talent... Some of us, although not many, have an abundance of that precious commodity which encapsulates human effort in little bits of paper called money. Our natural tendency is to release this resource toward our own personal ends. Certainly, if we are to survive in this present age, much of what we possess will have to be used for our own existence. Yet, once Jesus has touched our life, then the impulse toward self-giving starts to make itself felt. Little by little we find we can redirect some of our resources toward the King's use rather than our own.
There are two prime areas for the redirection of our resources. First, there is the business of upbuilding the Christian fellowship, of perfecting the kingdom of God. Then there is the business of reaching out to the lost, of extending the kingdom of God.
So, let us pray for the gift of generosity, of fair dealing for the kingdom.
1. "This grace of giving." In what sense is generosity a gift of God?
2. How does the example of Christ prompt us toward generosity?
3. Give "according to your means". How do we do that?