1 Brothers and sisters, we want to let you know about the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia. 2 While they were being tested by many problems, their extra amount of happiness and their extreme poverty resulted in a surplus of rich generosity. 3 I assure you that they gave what they could afford and even more than they could afford, and they did it voluntarily. 4 They urgently begged us for the privilege [or grace] of sharing in this service for the saints. 5 They even exceeded our expectations, because they gave themselves to the Lord first and to us, consistent with God’s will. 6 As a result, we challenged Titus to finish this work of grace with you the way he had started it.
7 Be the best in this work of grace in the same way that you are the best in everything, such as faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment, and the love we inspired in you. 8 I’m not giving an order, but by mentioning the commitment of others, I’m trying to prove the authenticity of your love also. 9 You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor for your sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty.
10 I’m giving you my opinion about this. It’s to your advantage to do this, since you not only started to do it last year but you wanted to do it too. 11 Now finish the job as well so that you finish it with as much enthusiasm as you started, given what you can afford. 12 A gift is appreciated because of what a person can afford, not because of what that person can’t afford, if it’s apparent that it’s done willingly. 13 It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality. 14 At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality. 15 As it is written, The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little [Exodus 16:18].
Due to persecution (and probably local conditions like drought), Christians in Jerusalem faced severe poverty. Paul had invited the Christians in the cities of Greece to give to an offering he would deliver to the Jerusalem Christians (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Romans 15:25-26). Clearly the specific “work of grace” Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to “be the best in” was generous giving to the offering for Christians in Jerusalem. “The Greek word translated as ‘grace’ …is used with a variety of meanings in 2 Corinthians 8-9.”* So Paul ultimately focused on Jesus, who gave us a transcendent model of self-giving to bless others. He reported that believers in other places found it a “privilege” to join in giving. He was confident the Corinthians would feel the same way.
Lord Jesus, you gave yourself to change me for the better. I want that change to include counting it a privilege to join in giving for others, echoing your work of grace. Amen.
* David J. Downs, study note on 2 Corinthians 8:1-6 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 345NT.
** David J. Downs, study note on 2 Corinthians 8:2 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 345NT.
*** William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, p. 234.
How do we put into practice the admonitions of the Apostle Paul from this section of his second letter to the Corinthians? In today's reading we see Paul encouraging his Gentile followers to be rich in their generosity towards the Christians back in Jerusalem, largely Jewish Christians. And so began the now 2,000 year struggle of how to apply the wisdom and ethics of Jesus and His Kingdom in the “real world” of the rich and the poor, of the haves and have nots, of the first world and the third world.
In reflecting on this I opened to the pages of the Methodist Principles of Social Justice. There is something here to offend and upset everyone! We read, “As a church, we are called to support the poor and challenge the rich….We urge support for policies that will encourage equitable economic growth in the Global South and around the world, providing a just opportunity for all.”
I would encourage each of us click this link to read the Methodist Principles of Social Justice and seek to understand what they mean for us, and see how in many ways our church is seeking to be shaped by them. Paul held up a model of transcultural generosity among the Corinthians and Macedonians, calling it an evidence of God’s grace. And certainly it takes a massive infusion of divine grace to live with radical generosity and love to the little, the least and the displaced whether they be next door or across the globe. “At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality” (2 Corinthians 8:13).
On a personal note: I want to express my deep gratitude to the Church of the Resurrection and to our Senior Pastor and staff for their love and generosity extended to me in these past 20.5 years allowing to serve as one of your pastors. I will be retiring from ministry here at the end of the year. May God continue to bless each one of you and our generous congregation.
Warmly in Christ,
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