THE THEOLOGY OF GIVING
Part 01 – Chapter 08: THE POVERTY OF JESUS
Chapters 8 and 9 of 2nd Corinthians constitute a new section with a new topic: THE THEOLOGY OF GIVING.
In this section, Paul followed up and reiterated his teaching about giving. At the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, he reminded them to give for the benefit of the poor Christians in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1-4).
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.” – 1 Cor. 16:1-4
Back then, the reason why Paul reminded them was that they were the only church that failed to give. And now, he reminded them again because it appears that they still fail in this area. So instead of a simple reminder, Paul now gives a full exposition of the theology of giving and teaches them why every Christian needs to have this attitude of giving.
I. THE GENEROSITY OF THE MACEDONIANS (v1-7)
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 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.”
To teach the Corinthians the importance of giving, Paul begins by citing a very good example: the Macedonians.
Macedonia is the northern region of Greece where we can find the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. On the other hand, the southern region is called Achaia where Corinth and Athens are located. If we will remember, Paul prioritized to minister to Macedonia instead of going back to Corinth for he saw an opportunity to share the Gospel there (2 Cor. 2:12-13).
Now, according to Paul, the Macedonians were very inspiring examples of giving. The very first reason is that they still give despite being extremely poor and afflicted. Above all, they did that with joy in their hearts.
“for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” – v2
This proves that giving is not based on one’s financial status. Giving is not only for the rich. On the other end, being poor is also not an excuse to not give. GIVING IS A MATTER OF THE HEART; It reflects one’s heart. Just like the Macedonians showed, even though they are also poor and needy, they still choose to give because they understand what it means to be in need. Paul said that what they gave wasn’t a big amount (v3), and they didn’t even ask them to give; it was them who insisted (v4). So now we ask, why were the Macedonians so generous?
The answer lies in verse 5.
“and this, not as we expected, BUT THEY GAVE THEMSELVES FIRST TO THE LORD and then by the will of God to us.”
The reason why they have such generous hearts is that “they gave themselves first to the Lord.” This means they allowed God to transform their hearts and give them the same generosity that He has. And because they now have a new heart that reflects the same one from God, they are now filled with love, compassion, and the desire to help others. This is the ultimate and the only way to have a generous heart. And now, Paul wants the Corinthians to “excel” in this way too (v7).
[In verse 6, Paul revealed that Titus, his co-ministry worker, was the one he assigned to collect the offerings from the Corinthians (we will discuss this further in verses 16-24).]
II. THE POVERTY OF JESUS CHRIST (v8-15)
“I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 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. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.'”
In this section, Paul provided another example of giving. And this is the best one: JESUS CHRIST.
Paul begins first by reminding them that giving is not a command and it should not be done out of compliance. According to Paul, giving proves the genuineness of their love (v8). And that’s it. That is the core reason for giving: love. Giving is the tangible evidence of one’s love. But to clarify, giving is not the only way to prove one’s love for others but it is one of the best proofs of it. It can be universally agreed that giving is not easy. But as Paul is teaching here, love is one of the forces in this world that can motivate one to sacrifice his hard-earned money and give it to others who are in need. And for us to understand that giving is a form of sacrifice, Paul shared the gospel again and explained it in light of giving.
In verse 9, Paul said:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”
This is the core principle of the theology of giving. Paul reveals that the gospel itself is an act of sacrificial giving. In the example of Jesus, He is God and He is the King and owner of the entire universe. The Bible states that everything belongs to Him:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.” – Colossians 1:15-16
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” – Psalm 24:1
Therefore, Jesus is extremely rich! But despite that, Paul said that “FOR OUR SAKE, HE BECAME POOR…” How, why, and when did this happen?
Well, this is part of God’s redemption plan for humanity. Because we cannot save ourselves from our sins, God sent Jesus Christ to die and pay the penalty of our sins (John 3:16). Because Jesus is God, He cannot die. So to be able to die for us, Jesus needed to take on the human form (Phil. 2:6-8). This is the ontological aspect of Jesus becoming poor. But aside from this, it is also literal. When Jesus became human, He wasn’t born into a rich family. He was born on a manger (Luke 2:7) and was raised by a carpenter (Matthew 13:55). The Bible reveals that Jesus also grew to become a carpenter (Mark 6:3). According to Bible Scholars, carpentry is one of the poor man’s jobs during those days. Therefore, it is accepted that Jesus lived a poor life during His earthly stay. To make things worse, His step-father, Joseph, died early, leaving Him to be the breadwinner of His family (Jesus had 4 brothers and at least 2 sisters (Matt. 13:55-56).
So Jesus understands what it means to be poor. But here’s the catch, Paul continues and says that the purpose of Him being poor is “that you by His poverty might become rich.” How did we become rich by Jesus’ poverty?
Again, the purpose of Jesus’ coming here to earth is to save us from our sins. When He died on the cross, Jesus accomplished this mission. And because of that, there is now hope for humanity. The Bible states that the only thing we need to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31). But aside from being saved, God also gives believers a lot of other privileges. One of these is that believers also become “co-heirs” with Christ.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, THEN HEIRS — HEIRS OF GOD AND FELLOW HEIRS WITH CHRIST, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” – Romans 8:16-17
This is what Paul means. God has no obligation at all to save us from our sins much more to make us co-heirs with Christ. But again, this, the gospel, is the proof of God’s endless love and generosity. He gives even when we don’t deserve it. This is the heart that Paul wants us to have.
And because of this, Paul encourages the Corinthians to give. He revealed that the Corinthians already have planned to give, but for some reason, they didn’t pursue it. Now, Paul wants them to put it into action (v10-12). The Bible teaches that it is not enough that one is willing to do good; He must also put it into action (James 2:14-17). And in verse 12, Paul revealed that the amount is not an issue. True giving is measured by one’s heart, not by the amount.
In verses 13 to 15, Paul explains the social reason behind giving. And according to him, it is about “fairness.” To be clear, Paul is not promoting communism or socialism in this passage (the fair distribution of properties and goods among citizens). Rather, Paul’s point is that we give to ease the burden of those who are in need. Life is unfair. In some cultures, life is even described as a circle where a person is not always on top (or receiving too many blessings) or at the bottom (full of problems). Since life is a circle, everyone cyclically experiences both blessings and hardships. So, in the principle of fairness, Paul is teaching that those who are being blessed should help those in need so that when life flips, they will also receive help. Similar wisdom from Proverbs states:
“Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need.” – Proverbs 21:13
Overall, Paul’s message is simple: WE SHOULD HELP EACH OTHER AND TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER. And to support this, he quotes Exodus 16:18 in verse 15 which was God’s reminder that everyone should share the blessings that they receive from Him.
III. THE COMMENDATION OF TITUS (v16-24)
“But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.”
This section reveals that Titus was the one whom Paul appointed to collect the offerings from the Corinthians. Paul commended Titus to encourage the Corinthians to entrust the collections to Him. Overall, Paul simply shows that Titus is a man of God, his fellow worker, a man committed to sharing the Gospel, and a trustworthy fellow. And aside from Titus, there are these so-called “brothers” whom Paul also commended as “messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.” Since these men are known in other churches, Paul challenges the Corinthians to “give proof before the churches of [their] love and of [Paul’s] boasting about [them] to these men.” Paul has such confidence in the Corinthians and he firmly believes that they will listen to him in his exhortation to give.
In conclusion, the gospel again serves as the central point of all Christian values and teachings. Everything that the Bible teaches traces back to this. As Paul teaches in this chapter, WE NEED TO BE TRANSFORMED BY THE GOSPEL FOR US TO LIVE THE GOSPEL. Everything starts here. And once the gospel has transformed us, it will now be possible for us to live out the teachings of the Bible, including the heart to give to others.
God Bless!! 🙂