Prayer Day 38: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Espera verano 2015
Espera verano 2015

Gracious God. Thank you for lavishing your love and generosity on us. Grant us generous hearts and helping hands that we might reflect your image. May our security be in You, not our possessions. In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Dios misericordioso, gracias por prodigar Tu amor y generosidad sobre nosotros. Concédenos corazones generosos y las manos que ayuden para que podamos reflejar Tu imagen. Permite que nuestra seguridad esté en ti, no en nuestras posesiones. En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Amén.

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2 Corinthians 9: The Spiritual Gift of Generosity

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

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Prophet Isaiah draws a parallel between the generosity of God in watering the earth and the word of God powerfully accomplishing his purposes.  Because generosity is a tangible expression of love, is Isaiah, in fact, saying that love accomplishes God’s purposes?  Jesus thought so (Matthew 5:44-46).

In chapter 9, Paul continues his discussion of the drought relief fund for Jerusalem that he has been discussing.  Garland [1] noted these parallels between chapters 8 and 9 forming an inclusio (a literary frame around the discussion):

  Chapter

Text

8

9

The grace of God 8:1 9:14
Ministry/Service 8:1 9:12-13
Test 8:2 9:13
Generosity 8:2 9:11,13
Abound 8:2 9:12

This is inclusio is important because other commentaries have argued for a second letter being inserted in chapter 9 because they could not understand Paul’s apparent repetition.  Paul pauses in his letter to explain the relief fund, in part, because his Greek audience does not understand the Jewish concern for helping the poor.

For example, in verse 9 Paul paraphrases:  You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. (Deuteronomy 15:10)  Like the Romans, the Greeks saw only one reason for charity—to receive praise and honor from those receiving it.  Praise and honor from poor people was not interesting to them.  Praise and honor from God for offering charity to the poor, by contrast, was another matter.  In verses 7-12, Paul reminds them of God’s interest in generosity, especially to the poor, 4 times!

Paul drives his point home by reminding the Corinthians that the saints in Jerusalem will be praying for them (v 14) [2].

Generosity.  Do we count both the blessings and the cost when we donate money?  Paul reminds us:  God loves a cheerful giver (v 7)

[1] David E. Garland. 1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H. page 400.

[2] Later, in his letter to the Romans (15:30-31), Paul worries that the Corinthian gift will not be accepted.

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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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