2 Corinthians 8:13-15 ~ 20190915 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
09/15_2 Corinthians 8:13-15; Abundance, Need and Equity; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190915_2cor8_13-15.mp3
Grace. The grace and fellowship of service to the saints.
Paul holds up the joyful eagerness of the Macedonians for the grace and fellowship of service to the saints as an illustration of God's grace in action. He encourages the Corinthians to excel in this act of grace also. He points to the grace of our Lord Jesus, who, being rich became poor so that we might through his poverty become rich. He encourages them that it will be to their advantage to do what they wanted to do, to follow through on their desire and bring to completion what they had started. Not out of what they don't have, not beyond their means, not waiting until they have more, but out of what they do have.
Abundance and Need
In verses 13-14 he continues to clarify what he means in order to eliminate any possibility for misunderstanding, and in verse 15 he quotes a passage from God's provision for his people in the Exodus to support his point. He is giving us more practical instructions for generosity, principles of equity, God's purposes in blessing, what to do with our abundance.
Paul is giving the Corinthians an opportunity to demonstrate the genuineness of their love. He is inviting them to participate in this act of grace, freely serving the saints out of their abundance. In Romans 15 Paul says that he is
This contribution is for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. But Paul wants to make it clear, the goal is not to alleviate their suffering by causing undue hardship for the Corinthians. “I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened.”
The words he uses here, eased and burdened, are words he has used already in this letter. In 2:13 and 7:5 he mentions that neither body nor spirit found rest or was eased, because he could not find his brother Titus. In 1:8 he mentions his affliction in Asia, and in 2:4 he says he wrote the previous letter out of much affliction. He mentions in 8:2 the severe test of affliction that the Macedonians were experiencing. He is not asking them to imitate the Macedonians, who out of their extreme poverty gave beyond their means. This was a special grace that God gave the Macedonians, that he may not have given the Corinthians.
The goal, Paul says, is not to impoverish them to relieve others. Rather the goal is fairness or equality. There was a current imbalance of abundance and lack. Your abundance should supply their lack. The implication is that the Corinthians had an abundance and the poor saints in Jerusalem were experiencing lack. In Mark 8, this word for abundance is used to describe the seven baskets full of left over bread after the four thousand ate and were satisfied. It was abundance, it was left over after they all ate and were satisfied.
Abundance and Contentment
This brings up the question of what abundance is, how much is enough? Our standard of living tends to expand to absorb any increase. Contentment seems to be a foreign word in our culture, even a bad word. Marketing seeks to destroy our contentment and awaken desires for things we never knew we needed. Paul's instructions run contrary to this. He says to Timothy:
If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. What a simple life! When is the last time you said something like that? If I have something to eat and something to wear, that is enough. Abundance is anything beyond meeting your most basic needs. When we think in those terms, we have exceeding abundance, super-abounding abundance! We have been given abundance so that we can supply it to those who lack so that there can be equality.
The Old Testament and the Rule of Love
So that there can be equality, fairness. What is Paul getting at here? Is he teaching some kind of communism? Some Robin Hood socialism that steals from the rich and gives to the poor? Remember, this is voluntary, it is what we want to do. This is not a command. This is the rule of love. Even in the Old Testament this was expected.
Notice the emphasis on the attitude of the heart. Do not harden your heart. Your heart shall not be grudging when you give. Open wide your hand. God cares about our attitude, our heart. And he gives us more than enough so that we can give to those who have less than enough.
Back in 1 Corinthians 4:8 Paul said to the Corinthians “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!”
James tells his readers that their prayers may not be answered “because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3).
We want the better job, to make more, so that we can have more and spend more. That is natural. But Paul is calling us to something higher, something supernatural, something Spirit wrought.
What is the Jerusalem Abundance?
Notice something in these verses. He says that your abundance should supply their need at the present time, so that their abundance may supply your need. This is no one direction transaction. This is not you are rich and you are the givers; they are poor and they are the receivers, and they become indebted to you. No, this goes in both directions. Many who read this assume that he is thinking of a potential future time when the tables turn and the Jerusalem church is materially wealthy and the Gentile churches are struggling and they can pay them back. They assume that 'at the present time' goes with the first side, and that there is an implied 'so that at some hypothetical future date' that is understood with the other side. I don't believe this is what Paul is saying. Could it be that at the present time the Jerusalem church has an abundance and the Corinthian church has a lack? Clearly there is a material prosperity in Corinth that can serve the material struggles of Jerusalem. But is there also a present lack in Corinth that the Jerusalem saints could supply out of their present abundance? Could it be that although the Corinthians were materially prosperous, that they were missing something? Could this be why Jesus said to the rich young ruler
Could it be that the value the Corinthians put on their status and wealth was preventing them from valuing most that which truly matters? Could it be that in the very act of giving to the poor, they would be gaining a treasure that could not be taken away?
Again in Romans, Paul said this about the collection:
The Gentile churches have come to share in the spiritual blessings of Israel, and so they ought to share their material blessings. We see this principle again in Galatians 6
Paul said the same thing to the Corinthians:
There is to be equality, but this does not mean sameness. We don't have the same gifts, and we are not in the same circumstances. In whatever way God has caused us to abound, we are to share with those who lack, and we are also to receive from others in the ways that we lack.
Paul quotes Exodus 16 to support his pursuit of equality through love.
Here's the story from Exodus. The people grumbled because they had nothing to eat, and God promised bread from heaven.
God provided bread to eat. They were to gather an omer, about two quarts for the daily need of each person they were responsible for.
We don't know exactly what happened here. It sounds like a miraculous leveling of what was gathered, that one gathered more and another gathered less, but when they measured it each had exactly the same amount. Or it could be that the ones who gathered more gathered for those in their family who were not able to gather themselves, or they shared their excess with those who had not gathered enough. Whatever the case, there was equality. One thing we learn from reading the Exodus story, this was a test.
God was testing them. This may be another reason Paul chose this passage as an illustration; if you remember back to verse 8 he said
He was proving or testing the genuineness of their love. In Exodus 16, shortly after leaving Egypt, and before arriving at Mt. Sinai, God was testing his people, to see if they would walk in his ways, the ways of love. If we keep reading in Exodus, we see one way this worked.
Leave none of it over until the morning (except in preparation for the Sabbath, they were required to gather double and save half). This was a test, and they failed. If we connect this test with the limit of collecting only what you need, an omer each, then those who tried out of their lack of faith to save some for the next day must have refrained from eating their whole omer and gone hungry. That backfired, as what they tried to save was full of maggots the next day. It may be that the same thing happened in the gathering, that those who worked hard to gather extra to hoard it for themselves found, when they measured it, that they had exactly the same amount as those who only gathered what they were told to gather. God equaled the amounts. God intended any abundance to supply the lack of others. Remember, it is all a gift; it is all grace.
God's gracious provision, when abundant, is meant to supply the needs of others. When we understand this Exodus background, it sheds light on the Lord's prayer.
Jesus meant it quite literally. Give us what we need for today, no more, no less. If we have food and clothing, with that we will be content. If you give us more, loved demands that we share it with those who don't have enough.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org