Made Rich through Christ’s Poverty – 2 Corinthians 8&9

A passage that is quoted often before the time of giving in our Sunday services, Paul’s challenge to the Corinthian church has been used as a template to inspire and encourage the practice of tithing. However, Paul’s emphasis seems to be on the transformation of the heart and understanding the commitment that the church had made. He wants his audience to walk the talk and give wholeheartedly rather than begrudgingly as an outward sign of their inner transformation.

Anecdotal Evidence

Paul writes this letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus in Asia

Paul shares his recent experience while ministering in the Macedonian congregations, who in spite of their extreme poverty gave beyond their ability.

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.

2 Corinthians 8:3-4 (NIV)

Paul appealed to the Macedonian people so they would take it as a privilege to take part in the service of the Lord. It is a privilege if it is in your heart to serve God. God is not going to lose anything if we don’t do it and neither is He asking anything from us.

Before the act of physically giving to the service of the Lord, the Macedonian churches first gave themselves spiritually to Christ, something that not everyone in the Corinthians church had not yet done. When we commit our lives to Christ, it is not because He asked us to, but because we feel that there is nothing else that we can even give to the creator of the world. We want to be part of His plans and contribute in any little way we can.

The same burden is felt in the hearts of the people who due to various circumstances are not able to give time for the work of God. When they are offered a chance to support another person who has dedicated their life to the extension of the kingdom of God, they jump on the opportunity. They want to share in the privilege of serving the Lord’s people.

There are however few pitfalls that one must watch out for, with the primary one being the middlemen. Like with any business model that started in someone’s garage or a home office with noble intentions, there are always predators in the form of speculative investors waiting to infiltrate the straightforward enterprise and moulding into a money-making juggernaut.

Similarly, middlemen have made a profitable business model out of people’s desire to support the Lord’s people. While the intention of the one who has committed their life to Christ and the one who is supporting them financially, the middlemen have made used their faith in Christ for their own benefit. These organisations quote verses from this very portion of Paul’s letter (out of context) to give false satisfaction to their donors that they are doing something for God.

Our God is great and even works through these organisations as the Gospel is reaching the untouched souls every day. But the people who are donating through their medium end up with a false sense of accomplishment. Due to their messaging, people start believing that even if their hearts are not with God, giving some money to a missionary in a far-off land will make for the sins they have committed in the past and are about to commit in the near future. So let us be like the Macedonian churches and first commit our hearts to Christ and be joined with Him in Spirit. Only then should we ask Him (and Him alone) about the way we can support the extension of His Kingdom.

Generosity Compared

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

2 Corinthians 8:8 (NIV)

When it comes to the Spiritual Growth of their congregation, Pastors don’t usually compare the progress that their parishioners are making as they know that everyone’s journey with Christ is unique. Some hold on to Christ at an early age and some take their time and several detours to get to that stage after taking the scenic route.

However when it comes to monetary support, knowingly or unknowingly we put people at the same level. The desire to give for the ministry of Christ is also correlated with the Spiritual growth of a person. The more the burden in one’s heart for the Kingdom of God the greater the longing to support it in any way possible. However, people think that putting on a facade of generosity will make the world think that they have the burden of God in their hearts. These people are fooling themselves only as God knows the heart and all their investments into securing ‘a plot in heaven’ are futile.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

2 Corinthians 8:13-15 (NIV)

Paul uses the example of the Israelites hoarding Manna and quail in the desert to ward off any inclination of selfishness in the hearts of the people of Corinth. Back then, the Israelites did not have a land of their own and were nomadic travellers in perpetuity. Economic and social equality had been the guiding principles and it was only after the monarchical system, that the class system became the norm in Israel.

Even Christ did not choose to come down as a rich man but as a common Man and preached about giving away wealth to the poor. Christians, both during Paul’s time and the present, have somehow forgotten that principle of sharing. We’ll gladly follow Christ’s teachings but when it comes to giving, we still refer to the Old Testament laws of tithes and offerings.

Paul revealed his plan to send a group of apostles along with Titus to the region of Achaia so that they may collect the donations that were promised by the people of Corinth. He vouched for the men that he was sending and even gave letters of recommendation about them.

For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

2 Corinthians 9:4-5

The reason why he was informing the Corinthians before sending the men was as he put it so that they might not find themselves unprepared to give generously. He told the Corinthians about how he had boasted about them and how they were eager to help the cause and also that he did not want to be embarrassed if they did not live up to the hype.

Sowing and Reaping

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

2 Corinthians 9:6 (NIV)

Paul is reminding the people of Corinth, what the scriptures (Proverbs 11) say about how everyone will receive according to how freely they have given to the poor. People misunderstand this verse to mean that if we give to those in need then we too will receive during the time of our need. That will only happen if have taken a Mediclaim policy from a reputed insurance firm. Even then there will be many clauses that will prevent us from receiving the full amount that is due to us. Crowdfunding platforms operate on this principle but there is no guarantee of anything in their life.

The only guarantee we have is that if we obey and submit ourselves to God’s will, he will not let our name go to shame. Our reward is not of this earth but out of this world. We long for monetary benefit but our reward is that we will be sitting with our father for all eternity. Because we are so engrossed in the everyday bustle of our lives that communion with our Creator does not seem like a reward to us as we start equating verses such as the one Paul quotes in this letter to mean that God operates on tit for tat policy.

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”

2 Corinthians 9:7-9

Paul is partially quoting a Psalm (Psalm 112:6-9) that not only spoke about generosity but other traits of righteousness. By focusing on only one verse, Paul is pushing his agenda and using his vast knowledge of the scriptures, to convince the people that generosity and righteousness are interlinked. Generosity does not lead to righteousness but righteousness inculcates generosity within us.

Rather than weaponising this chapter to drive our own narrative and causes let us understand that above all the transformation of the Heart is why Jesus left His throne to save sinners like us. We are made eternally rich through Christ’s poverty and sufferings and if we truly understand how generous He is to us in spite of our flaws, we will not be anything but generous to the ones around us in need.

Discussion Questions

  • 8:4 – How is it a privilege to share in the service of the Lord’s people?
  • 8:8 – Is Paul right in comparing the generosity of one group of people with another?
  • 9:6 – Is Paul right in saying that sowing and reaping in the kingdom of God have a strong correlation?

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