2 Corinthians 8:8-15
8 I am not saying this as a command. Rather, by means of the diligence of others, I am testing the genuineness of your love. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich. 10 Now I am giving an opinion on this because it is profitable for you, who a year ago began not only to do something but also to desire it. 11 But now finish the task as well, that just as there was eagerness to desire it, so there may also be a completion from what you have. 12 For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. 13 It is not that there may be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality— 14 at the present time your surplus is available for their need, so their abundance may also become available for our need, so there may be equality. 15 As it has been written: The person who gathered much did not have too much, and the person who gathered little did not have too little.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Having set the stage for grace-giving earlier in the passage, Paul moves very pointedly to the place where, unfortunately, far too many believers live. He moves to the idea of giving as a requirement.
No one was better qualified than Paul to speak about requirements. In his early life, Paul had dedicated himself to living as the strictest of the Pharisees. Dominant among the three sects within Judaism, the Pharisees paid minute attention to every requirement of Jewish law as defined in the Old Testament, which they augmented with a multitude of additional rules and procedures.
Paul earlier stated that the Macedonians did not give because he or anyone else demanded or pleaded with them, but rather they gave beyond anyone’s wildest expectations because the grace of God was at work within them. In verse 8 he plainly declares that now he is “testing the genuineness” of the Corinthians’ love. In effect, would they reflect that same grace at work within them?
Paul’s sensitivity to the frailties of humankind is illustrated in his approach that does not order, but rather chooses to inspire, to encourage and to teach the Corinthians what they must do and why. He does not demand a gift as a requirement—and the fact that he does not do so is a testimony to the changed heart of this former Pharisee!
Here is the test he posed: ”As you have grown in your knowledge and understanding of the generous grace of Jesus, will you imitate His grace in carrying out the enterprise—which you were the first to initiate more than a year ago?”
Jesus set the standard for what can be called “riches” and what is defined as “poverty.” In coming to our rescue, He willingly laid aside His unbelievable riches and exalted position in heaven at God’s right hand, to take on life here as a poor person. On earth He was totally devoid of the marks of wealth, for the purpose of providing an eternal inheritance for each of us as He paid our sin debt and fully satisfied the demands of our Holy God.
That wealth, our inheritance, includes permanent residence in heaven, present and future forgiveness for all our sins, and peace with God! Who could assign value to such riches? They are beyond human calculation. It is the understanding (however imperfect ours might be) of this great gift to us that motivates us to give out of love and sheer gratitude for our changed status.
In verse 12, Paul speaks to eagerness—the willingness of their hearts, the depth of their desire—as a pre-requisite for their giving. This is a point of great intention, not to be overlooked or underestimated. God requires a willing heart for any gift to be acceptable. Going as far back as the Garden of Eden, God consistently lays out the importance of willing hearts for our guidance. Once that question was settled, the Corinthians could then move on to what was to be given, “according to what you have, not what you do not have.” God does not demand of us that which we cannot give.
Paul’s final point is to equality, the idea that among believers we seek to make sure that none does without while others have more than they actually need. Notice the passage is devoid of the mention of wants—so we will say only that the mature believer knows the difference between needs and wants. The Jewish society in which Paul grew up was known for giving—tithes, offerings, benevolence to the poor, the support of spiritual leaders—all for the purpose of seeing than none “went without.” It should be a given today that believers are known for seeing that none go without.
We often hear that Scripture speaks more about money and giving than any other subject except one, and that is love. This is a point of fact, but 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 contain the longest discourse on giving in the New Testament , and don’t you find it compelling that here the focus is unmistakably on motive—and that our love for Christ is the root, the reason behind that motive?
“Though He was rich, for my sake He became poor, so that by His poverty, I might become rich.” If you know Him as Lord and Savior, that statement is true of you. If you don’t, no verse, argument, demand or plea can ever change your heart about giving.
- Can you recall a sermon or Bible study on giving that changed your thinking about the reason believers freely and joyfully share with others? What was it about that experience that changed your thinking?
- As you model grace-giving, are you careful to teach the little ones and young people in your life about what you have learned about your own heart’s motives?
- Consider Paul’s intent in talking about equality. Was he implying that all believers should have exactly the same resources, or was the focus on seeing that others do not “go without?” What is the difference between these views?