2 Corinthians 8: A Faithful and Generous Heart

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

But when they measured it [manna] with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. (Exodus 16:18 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When is enough, enough?

One of the great stories of God’s provision starts with manna:  bread from heaven.  Moses writes:  It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. (Exodus 16:31).  Moses instructed the people to take only what they could eat in a day and to share their excess supply with those who could not gather enough.  The people had to trust that God would provide a fresh supply the next morning.  When the Lord’s Prayer says—Give us this day our daily bread (Matthews 6:11)—the back story is one of manna in the desert.

We know that Moses’ instructions about manna came from God because 6 days a week leftover manna would rot, but the day before Sabbath leftover manna would not rot.  Because the Israelite people were forbidden to work on the Sabbath, God provided manna that would not rot on the sixth day so that they could save enough for the next day and keep the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23-24).  God’s provision meant that the Israelites did not have to fast in order to keep the Sabbath.

Paul (v 15) uses the story of manna in the desert to write to a rich church (Corinth), about the need to share resources (a drought relief fund) with the poor church (Jerusalem; Exodus 16:18).  Paul writes:  For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness (vv 13-14).  Here Paul speaks not out of obligation, but of fairness, applying a kind of insurance principle. This suggests that the relative disparity in wealth between the two churches is not so great that one would always be the more fortunate.  Tying this need of the Jerusalem church to the story of manna suggests also that God’s gracious provision can come in the form of the assistance that we provide to one another.

Paul makes this point implicitly when then turns to discuss Titus—his partner and fellow worker (v 23).  Titus, who is famous for his preaching (v 18), volunteers to assist in conveying the Corinthian gift to Jerusalem (v 17).  Why?  Because he cares for the Corinthian church much like Paul himself and was their appointed representative (vv 16, 19).  Titus therefore is not only a good man, but he embodies the spirit of grace and generosity which the gift itself embodies (v 19).

Why does Paul care so much about this fund for the Jerusalem church?

It is interesting that Paul writes theologically and apologetically about the importance of this financial aid.  Paul argues, for example, that financial assistance is an expression of the faith of the Corinthian church.  He writes:  But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also (v 7).  This is an argument grounded in Christian freedom, not obligation.  He makes no appeal to the Old Testament standard of a title, but rather argues that the Corinthians give out of proportion to what they have (v 12).

Garland sees Paul’s special concern in raising this drought relief as motivated by the need to promote unity in the church between Jewish and Gentile believers [1].  Rather than allowing ethnic cliques to develop within the church, Paul promoted unity.  To the Galatian church, he wrote:  There is neither Jew nor Greek [ethnic division], there is neither slave nor free [class division], there is no male and female [gender division], for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatian 3:28).  I am curious: what would a letter from Paul to the churches in Northern Virginia look like?

When is enough, enough?

[1] David E. Garland.  1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H Publishing Company.

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