Studies in 1 & 2 Corinthians
19. 2 Corinthians 8:1-6 - Poverty and Generosity
When Paul met with the original apostles, they agreed to divide the mission field — Paul would focus on the gentiles, and they would focus on the Jews (Gal. 2:9). But they did make one request of Paul: that he remember that many believers in Jerusalem needed financial help (2:10).
Paul was happy to remember these needs, for it gave gentile believers an opportunity to have some involvement with Jewish believers. Since the gospel began among the Jews, it was appropriate for gentile Christians to acknowledge and be thankful for the Jewish people. They could do this by sharing some of their material blessings.
Therefore, as part of his work with the gentile churches, Paul coordinated an offering for the saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-28; 1 Cor. 16:1etc.). He described the importance of this offering in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.
Poverty and generosity
He began by describing how generous the believers in northern Greece had been: “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (8:1-2). Although they were very poor, they were very generous, and Paul attributes this to the grace of God. God had given them the willingness to give what little they had, and to do it with joy.
“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 Lord’s people” (8:3-4). Since the Macedonians were poor themselves, Paul did not ask them to give anything to the poor in Jerusalem, but they learned about the collection and wanted to help. They gave more than Paul thought they could. (We can read Paul’s thank-you in his letter to the Philippians.)
“And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (8:5). Why did they give? Because they gave themselves to Christ, which would include a willingness to use all that they had to further his work. As they submitted themselves to Christ, they wanted to participate in this offering.
Paul no doubt wanted the Corinthians to follow this example. The Macedonians showed that spiritual maturity leads to material generosity. The Corinthians had more money and should be even more generous.
Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians
“So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part” (8:6). Titus had apparently begun the work of collecting the offering in Corinth, so Paul asked him to finish it. By calling the collection an act of grace, Paul connected it with the gospel and suggested voluntary generosity.
Author: Michael Morrison, PhD