Sunday, October 19, 2008

To whom much is given much is expected

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian’s is a bit of a mish-mash. Some scholars believe it is not one letter but a composite of fragments of several letters. I can believe this is true. One of the main subjects addressed throughout the letter is the collection of funds to be sent to the Church at Jerusalem.

The city of Corinth was quite wealthy, one of the richest cities of that time, and it is understood that the Church at Corinth was likewise. Macedonia to the north was considerably less wealthy but both were rich and living in abundance by comparison to the poor and impoverished of Palestine. One of Paul’s missions was to take up a collection of money from outlying churches and bring it back to Jerusalem which was the center of the faith at that time.

In 2nd Corinthians 8:1-4


We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints


Paul tells of the good example of Macedonia which not only gives according to their means but begged for the privilege of giving beyond their means in order to share in the joy and ministry of giving to those in greater need.

I gather from my reading that the Corinthians, as is often the case with those of great wealth, required a great deal of convincing and even conniving… I read heavy attempts at guilt trips in Paul’s writing to them… to likewise participate in the great ministry of sharing with those in need.

2nd Corinthians 8:5-7


and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.


Paul states how one overcomes self-centered reservations… “They gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God to us….” And thenm goes on to use flattery (that other parts of the letter show are perhaps not deserved)… “Now as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you – so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”

Paul continues in a more serious and straightforward manner to discuss exactly what it is he is asking and expecting as the right thing for a righteous people to do:

2nd Corinthians 8:8-15

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,

‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’


The opening line in this passage is a very honest one. I am not your boss giving you a command. The choice is yours but I am testing you. Are you as good and sincere as your poorer brethren to the north? He then ups the ante. Jesus is the example. As he gave himself for your sake are you willing to do likewise for the sake others less fortunate then you? It is appropriate for you to follow your words with the actual deed. He then sets the standard well known from Luke 12:48:

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.


But note that Paul does not demand. Very specifically does not demand. He said that at the start, “I do not say this as a command,” and the example of the Macedonians shows their extreme eagerness to be able to partake in the gift of giving. Paul says, “so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has….”

Paul makes a very explicit linkage here. It is not enough to give. You have to want to give. Your eagerness to give of yourself even to an extreme, the Macedonians gave beyond their means, Jesus Christ gave his life, is the important part. Giving begrudgingly is of little to no value. “The gift is acceptable….” This gift is the two-way gift of giving from which all benefit beyond the face value or measure of what is given. Likewise, the gift given begrudgingly is rendered of considerably less value to both the giver and receiver as a result of the lack of eager spirit.

Paul then tempers his words in a very realistic and honest fashion once again:

For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,

‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’


“… according to what one has – not according to what one does not have.” He states that “it is a question of a fair balance” between ones abundance and another’s need. Again and again, from old testament through new, the bible talks about taking care of the poor, the widow, the orphan. The responsibility the individual and the community has to take care of the needy. How many of the stories highlight this? And go beyond by discussing the tension of giving beyond ones own tribe or people? Here the example is clear. The Macedonians and Corinthians are giving to the poor of another people and another land altogether. This tension is nowhere greater then in the stories of Christ himself who is constantly shocking everyone by reaching out to the Samaritan, the sinner, the leper, the Roman, the outcast of any and all stripes. His work is with those in need not with those of plenty. They have received their reward he says(He also says they have as much a chance at heaven as a camel has of getting through the eye of a needle but that is another story).

The concluding verse is an interesting one. It is taken from Exodus 16:18. Which is the story of manna from heaven.

Exodus 16:13-21


In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.” ’ The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over until morning.’ But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.


It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. Take as much as you need for your household and no more. And Moses warns them, leave none until tomorrow. Why? What would that mean? If each takes according to their need, no more, no less, then there will be none saved over to the morning. If there is some saved over to the morning then it means more was taken then was needed. And what happens then?

“It bred worms and became foul.”

And further, day after day as each received what they needed what happened to the over abundance?

“It melted.”

And such is the fate of the riches of this world. It is so much dross that melts away at the end of the day. Each according to their need. No more, no less. The self-centered greed that causes us to gather more than we need breeds worms and fouls us. And that which we gather in our greed melts away as the morning dew in the sunlight anyway so what has been gained? And how very much has been lost?

It is an interesting counterpoint to from Luke 12:48:


From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.


I think Paul finds the balance point between these two ideas and brings it all together in:

2nd Corinthians 9:6-15


The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,

‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures for ever.’

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!


God provides. If God provides abundantly it is only for the purpose of you in turn giving to those in need. This is the ministry of each according to their need. No more, no less. And it is not a restricted giving… “sharing with them and with all others….” And with all others.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

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