In The First Century Church
THE COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS
The proper understanding of 2 Cor., 8-9, is found in the context of the collection for the saints, who had been hit hard by the famine that swept through Judea in AD 45. This famine was prophesied by the prophet Agabus [Acts 11:27-30]. Actually, this famine hit in three waves. The first wave hit Judea in AD 44/45.
The second wave hit Greece in AD 49 and Italy in AD 51. According to Josephus, the famine in Judea lasted three to four years, during the governorships of Cuspius Fadus and Tiberius Alexander. These men ruled Judea from AD 44-48. Judea was not a major producer of grain. At least not enough to support all the people of the land. Those who had money would likely be able to purchase grain from Alexandria in Egypt, which was a major port for exporting grain. But the poor had no such option.
It is for this reason that the apostles at Jerusalem admonished Paul and Barnabas to “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10), which Paul said he was already going to do. This collection apparently went on for several years after the famine. The need was great, particularly for the Messianic community, who seemed to take it upon themselves to care for their own [Acts. 6:1].
During the missionary endeavors of Paul and Barnabas, and later with Silas, Paul made this collection one of his top priorities. During Paul’s third missionary endeavor, while in Macedonia, he writes the letter known to us as 2 Corinthians.
Sometime earlier, perhaps a year or more, Paul had written to the Corinthians concerning the collection for the poor of Jerusalem. In I Corinthians 16, he says,
1. Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.
2. Upon the first of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, so that there be no gatherings when I come.
Obviously the Corinthians were somewhat slack in their response to the exhortation, hence Paul’s continued admonition in 2 Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 8
1. Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia.
2. How that in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
3. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves:
4. Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering of the saints.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to be aware of the grace of God that had been given to their Macedonian brothers. That even though they were experiencing great external pressures and were in poverty themselves, they still out of their joy in the grace of God, wanted to participate in this benefit to their Judean brothers. Paul seems reluctant to accept their gift due to the obvious fact that they had need themselves. But they urged upon Paul to take the offering, and allow them the blessing of this participation. Paul desired to send Titus to the Corinthians ahead of him, so that he could complete the Corinthian’s gift, as they had the Macedonians.
8. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness(diligence) of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.
9. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.
Verse nine is a favorite of the prosperity heresy. They say that this proves that Jesus became poor, so that we could be wealthy. Be very quiet and you can hear the screams of the Word being tortured. Paul’s contrasting of rich and poor, is not referring to material wealth, but to station or position in life. The point Paul is making is this; although Jesus was rich in His position as Word of God, rich in glory, power and might, He chose to become a mendicant. That is, one who lives in a low station of life, relying upon alms for living. In other words, Jesus chose to identify himself with the common and lowly instead of the opulent and wealthy.
By so doing, he opened the way for us to become wealthy in the Grace and Spirit of God. One may see a similar expression of thought in Philippians 2. This is where Paul reveals the humility of Jesus. Although He pre-existed in the form of God, as God, he did not consider it something to be retained at all costs. He emptied himself (became poor), by taking the likeness of man, in the form of a slave. God created man like Him, so that He could be made like man. This is the true expression of Jesus being rich, and becoming poor.
10. And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, Who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward(willing) a year ago.
11. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.
Paul tells the Corinthians, that they expressed to him a desire to participate in this offering a year ago, but have yet to perform it. Paul exhorts them to fulfill what they had expressed a willingness to do.
12. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
13. For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened.
This offering for the Jerusalem saints was entirely voluntary. So Paul offers them this guide, that a man should give according to what he has. Not giving to one’s own detriment, while easing others. The Prosperity doctrine teaches the exact opposite.
14. But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their lack, that their abundance also may be a supply for your lack; that there may by equality.
15. As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had not lack.
This is the goal and true expression of the saints ministering to each other. It is an equality, a balance if you will, in the body. The Corinthian Church ministering to the Jerusalem Church in their time of need. Then, if and when the Corinthian Church might have need, the Jerusalem Church could come to assist their needs. This is the true prosperity of Lord. Saints helping saints, not shepherds shearing the sheep for their own profit.
The prophet Ezekiel gives us ample warning concerning this great crime against God’s flock.
2. Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe to the shepherds of Israel, that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
3. You eat the fat, and you clothe yourselves with the wool, you kill them that are fed: but you feed not the flock.
4. The diseased have you not strengthened, neither have you healed that which was sick, neither have you bound up the broken, neither have you brought back that which was driven away, neither have you sought that which was lost; but with vehemence and fracturing, you have subjugated them.
The warning of Ezekiel is clear. The very ones which God had set to care and feed His flock, are the ones ravaging the flocks. Instead of eating the fat and clothing themselves with the wool, these shepherds should be feeding, caring for the sheep. Instead of requiring the poor in their midst to give their monies to support their programs and ministries (prosperity code words for helping the preacher make his payments on his Rolls Royce and summer home on the beach), he should be making sure that the sheep under his care have their needs met (electricity bills, house payments, and food provided). The Church has such potential for good, but this twisted opinion distorts the true godly character of the Church in the perspective of the world.
2 Corinthians 9
1 For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write you. 2. For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many. 3. Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready. 4. Lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting.
Paul says it is quite unnecessary to write to them concerning this ministry to the saints, for they are well aware of it. Paul had boasted to the Macedonian church about the Corinthian’s preparedness in this offering, which had incited the Macedonians to get on the ball with their own participation. Now Paul wants the Corinthians to make good his boast of them, lest when they come to visit with some of the Macedonian brothers, and find the Corinthians unprepared. It is for this reason, that Paul sends some brothers ahead of him, to make sure that the offering is ready when he arrives (2 Cor. 9:5).
6. But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully,
7. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly, or out of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
8. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work;
Paul is laying down a principle for them. The first is that a man give according to what he has and not according to what he doesn’t [2 Cor. 8:12]. Paul is really making a very simple observation, you can only give what you have.
Then he gives them another guide based upon their own willingness. The measure which you sow is the measure you will reap. Now, allow me to submit something here, as to what Paul is not saying. He is not advocating the concept of seed faith money. That is, the measure of seed (money) that one sows (gives) to a particular ministry, is the measure of the return (riches) that he may expect to receive. Actually, Paul is speaking collectively of the Corinthians.
Remember the context, that their abundance may supply the lack of the Jerusalem brethren, so that in their time of need, the Jerusalem Church and others, may supply the Corinthian’s need. Paul is telling them to the measure that they sow into their brethren’s need, may be the measure in which others may sow back into theirs. The concept that every man should give according as he purposes in his heart, is an Old Covenant ideal found in Deuteronomy 16:17.
Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God, which He hath given thee.
The import of this is that every man should do what he can, understanding that there will be those who can do more than others. Jesus gives an example of this when he drew attention to the widow who cast all that she had into the Temple treasury. While there were those who had much more to give, she gave more, even though the amount she gave was less.
11. Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.
12. For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgiving unto God;
13. Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them and unto all men;
14. and by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you.
15. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.
Paul says that this ministry of service to the saints in need, not only supplies their lack, but is the cause of the overflowing of many thanksgivings to God for the churches outside Judea. It is in the proof (experiment, in the text) of this ministry to their need, that shows the reality of these churches’ obedience to the Gospel of Jesus.
The Judean Church had prayed for these churches, that they would receive and be obedient to the Grace of God in Jesus. And now, by their liberality they have given proof of the reality of the gospel, and proof of God’s grace working in them, in answer to the Judean prayers. This is God’s unspeakable gift; the gift of community. The miracle is, churches in Asia Minor, Macedonia and Achaia, made up of Jew and Gentile, caring for the predominately Jewish Churches in Judea.
The whole of the context here in 2 Corinthians, is the need of the saints in distress, helped by their brothers. It is body ministry. The topic here is not a building fund, or any other scheme that preachers may dream up for the saints to finance. Don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with desiring to collect the funds to build a structure for the purpose of the meeting of the saints. Let’s just not use this passage for that purpose. That is perversion. After writing this exhortation concerning the collection, Paul went to Corinth to receive it. While in Corinth, Paul writes the letter to the Church at Rome. He tells them concerning this ministry,
25 But now I go to Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
26. For it has pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
27. It has pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
Paul’s plan was to deliver the collection to Jerusalem, and then to make a trip to Rome, and then on to Spain. He did indeed get to go to Rome, although not in the manner he had expected. He went as a prisoner of Rome, but still a preacher of the Gospel.