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.

Continue Reading

1 Corinthians 8: Jedi Mind-Tricks

Art By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art By Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1 ESV).

In Luke 10, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in response to a lawyer’s question:  who is my neighbor? (v 29)  The punchline in the story comes when Jesus asks the lawyer:  who was neighbor to the man who fell among robbers? (v 36) Jesus flips the word, neighbor—so-to-speak—from being object to being subject.  Not—who is my neighbor?—but: how do I become a good neighbor?

In 1 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul takes Jesus’ Jedi mind-trick (flipping subject and object) and uses it to reframe the perspective on eating food dedicated to idols.

The early church was dogged with questions about food sacrificed to idols.  For example, in the Council of Jerusalem decision, the Council required four things of gentile believers:  abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:29 ESV).  Likewise, in his prophecy pertaining to the city of Pergamum, the Apostle John writes:  But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2:20 ESV).  We are accordingly a bit surprised to hear Paul state:  Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do (v 8)[1].

The importance of this conversation about food can be easily dismissed as unimportant, but Paul returns to it over and over in his letters.  In his commentary, Richard Hays makes this point by listing 4 topics touched on by the food issue which even today remain hot-button issues:

  1. Boundaries between church and culture;
  2. Class divisions in the church;
  3. Love trumps knowledge; and
  4. The danger of destruction through idolatry[2].

What is Paul’s argument?  Paul basically says 4 things:

  1. Idols do not exist (vv 4-6);
  2. The dedication of food to non-existing idols is meaningless (v 8);
  3. Knowledge about this subject is helpful (vv 4-7); but
  4. Knowledge is less important than demonstrating love for fellow believers (vv 7-13).

Later, Paul combines his principles of Christian freedom and Jesus’ Jedi mind-trick:  “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 ESV).

Paul’s reiteration of Jesus’ reframing of focus in dealing with neighbors speaks to the heart of the food controversy.  If we abandon our rights as Christians in favor of our fellow believers or potential believers, then our priority is to be a good example—even when it hurts.  Perhaps, especially when it hurts.


[1] We might hear another echo of Jesus here:   The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27 ESV).  This is another Jedi mind-trick by Jesus because he again radically reframes the entire discussion by flipping subject and object.

[2] Richard B. Hays.  2011.  Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.  Pages 143-45.


  1. How was your week? Did anything special happen?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 7?
  3. What contrast does Paul offer in verse 1? According to Paul, what is an idol? What is knowledge?  What is love?  Why the contrast?
  4. What knowledge does Paul view as important? (vv 2-3)
  5. What is important to know about idols? (vv 4-6) How does the contemporary problem of idolatry differ from the idols that Paul is describing?
  6. Two groups are impacted by the discussion of idolatry in verses 7 and 8? Who are they?  How do their views differ?
  7. What right is Paul referring to in verse 9?
  8. What is Paul’s admonition about knowledge about idolatry and the issue of food dedicated to idols? (vv 9-13)  How are we to use to the knowledge that we possess?
  9. What does the New Testament teach about food and idols outside of this chapter? (for examples, see Acts 15:29 and Revelation 2:20).
  10. Why does Paul spend so much time on this issue? (see reflection)

1 Corinthians 8: Jedi Mind-Tricks

First Corinthians 7

First Corinthians 9

Continue Reading