Criswell Theological Review 4.1 (1989) 97-117.

          Copyright © 1989 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission. 






                       2 CORINTHIANS 8-9




                                   RICHARD R. MELICK, JR.

                       Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary

                                        Memphis, TN 38104



Christian stewardship occupies a major place in contemporary

Christian thought. Through the various media, including the pulpit,

many Christian spokespersons call for Christians to give of material

resources for the advancement of their ministries. Often 2 Corinthians

8-9 forms the biblical basis for giving.

            The Scriptures speak often of material possessions. They warn

about misuse of what God has provided, about the acquiring of things

as a life goal, and about the necessity of using material things to

produce spiritual blessings and eternal rewards. The foundation for

this occurs in the OT, and Jesus himself taught that we should "lay up

treasures in heaven" (Matt 6:20). The irony of this teaching is that

laying up treasures in heaven involves a wise spending of the treasures

of earth. This passage speaks indirectly to that issue.

            At a deeper level, however, Paul speaks here of Christian brother-

hood. While ostensibly the relief offering occupies the prominent

place, the passage concerns the well-being of Christian brothers and

sisters. It speaks to a Christian's world and life view, the reality of a

spiritual tie that transcends physical dimensions, and the fulfilling of

OT prophetic expectations. The literature on this section of Scripture

is extensive,l and at least one major commentary concerns these two

chapters alone.2


            1 See for example the bibliographic entries in H. D. Betz, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9; A

Commentary on Two Administrative Letters of the Apostle Paul (Hermeneia; Phila-

delphia: Fortress, 1985) xix-xxv and 146-53, and R. Martin, 2 Corinthians (WBC 10;

Waco, TX: Word, 1986) 248, 286-87. These two commentaries are the most significant

recent works on the subject.

            2 H. D. Betz, 2 Corinthians.



                                    I. The Occasion


            These two chapters focus on the grace of giving. Written while

Paul was on his third missionary journey, they reflect one of his major

concerns: a collection for the saints at Jerusalem which Paul hoped to

deliver at the Passover celebration. This special offering helped pro-

vide for the financial needs of Christians from another ethnic and

national background. The monies were neither the tithe nor the gifts

given for the functions of the church. This was a truly benevolent


            The early church took seriously the social and economic condi-

tions of fellow believers. Many different Scriptures urge care for those

who have endured difficulties. These include widows and orphans

(Jas 1:27), natural disasters (famines, Acts 11:27-30), and persecution.

The most likely immediate concern was for the financial loss suffered

in Jerusalem because of a famine which came in the mid-40s of the

first century. It left many, including Christians, in dire straits.

            Before turning to the content of these chapters, two introductory

comments demand attention. The first relates to the purpose of the

collection for the saints. Obviously Paul considered it a significant

part of his ministry, devoting a seemingly inordinate amount of time

and energy to help those in need. Many have suggested reasons for

the offering, most of which expand the significant work of D. Georgi,

Die Geschichte der Kollekte des Paulus fur Jerusalem.3 R. Martin

reduces these to four: (1) Paul was remembering the poor as he

promised the "pillar apostles" of Jerusalem; (2) he was conveying

genuine concern by the Gentile congregations; (3) he was seeking to

unite the two diverse elements in the early Christian community; and

(4) he was cooperating in the eschatological fulfillment of Israel's

conversion.4 No doubt each of these deserves legitimate discussion.

Beyond it all, however, the words of E. Best serve as a good re-

minder. They are based upon the character of the apostle himself.

"Paul probably initially accepted the obligation to raise the money

because he saw the need in Jerusalem and was inspired by the love of

Jesus to respond. Other reasons might have come to his mind as time

went by."5


            3 D. Georgi, Die Geschichte der Kollekte des Paulus fur Jerusalem (TF 38;

Hamburg-Bergstedt: H. Reich, 1965). Other works which detail and expand these

arguments are: K. F. Nickle, The Collection: A Study in Paul’s Strategy (SBT 48;

London: SCM, 1966); B. Holmberg, Paul and Power: The Structure of Authority in the

Primitive Church as Reflected in the Pauline Epistles (ConB. New Testament Series 11;

Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979); and R. Martin, The Worship of God: Some Theological,

Pastoral and Practical Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982).

            4 Martin, 2 Corinthians, 251.

            5 E. Best, Second Corinthians in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching

and Preaching (ed. James Luther Mays; Atlanta: John Knox, 1987) 76.

            Melick: COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS        99


            The second introductory comment relates to the unity of the two

chapters. Many interpreters assume Paul wrote the two chapters at

different times and, perhaps, to different churches (see n. 7 below).

Others have argued for their unity. Recently C. Talbert supported the

unity of the section based on a perceptive literary and thematic

analysis.6 The objections are not insuperable. Concerning the relation-

ship of chaps. 8 and 9, C. K. Barrett concludes that "the transition is

not as sharp as is sometimes supposed. . . . It is therefore best to treat

it as a continuation of chapter viii, and as belonging to the same letter

as chapters i-viii."7


                                    II. Theological Foundations

            Typically, Paul's Christian ethic emerges from theological convic-

tion calling for a life lived reflectively and purposely. There are many

suggested theological underpinnings. Some interpreters see ecclesias-

tical concerns in the forefront of the passage while others see a

broader theological foundation. Talbert sees a threefold theological

significance: "(a) it would be a realization of Christian charity (Gal

2:10; 2 Cor 8:14; 9:12; Rom 15:25); (b) it would be an expression of

Christian unity (2 Cor 9:13-14; Rom 15:27); and (c) it would be an

anticipation of Christian eschatology (Romans 9-11 . . . )."8 The eccle-

siastical argument assumes that the collection is from churches to

church. For them the project demonstrates a strong ecclesiastical tie.

The passage, however, neither asserts nor assumes that. Here at least

two primary theological pillars support Paul's program of giving.


A. Soteriological Concerns

            Perhaps the most impressive theological underpinning is soterio-

logical, emphasizing the outworkings of salvation. The distinctive


            6 See C. H. Talbert, Reading Corinthians (New York: Crossroad, 1987) 181-82.

            7 C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (ed. Henry Chadwick; New

York: Harper & Row, 1973) 232. The unity of the chapters has often been discussed

since 1776, when J. S. Semler wrote a thesis suggesting that 2 Corinthians is a composite

document consisting of several fragments. The arguments against the unity of these

chapters are as follows: (1) the introduction of chap. 9 is typically used by Paul to start

a new section of thought; (2) the discussion in chap. 9 is redundant; (3) there is an

apparent contradiction between 8:10 and 9:3-5; (4) the content is addressed to two

different groups (Corinth and Achaia); and (5) differing occasions are pictured between

8:20 and 9:3-5 (Talbert, 181-82). Each of these has been answered by various means.

(See the representative list of scholars who hold to unity in P. E. Hughes, Commentary

on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962]

xxi-xxii.). The best history of the interpretation of these chapters from a liberal

perspective is H. D. Betz, 2 Corinthians, which also is the best presentation of the issues.

It takes a literary approach to these chapters. Even R. Martin has been swayed to this

position, stating that the two chapters may not be from the same letter (2 Corin-

thians, 249).

            8 Talbert, Reading Corinthians, 184.



employment of the term "grace," the example of Christ, and the

Pauline concept of Christian community support this interpretation.

            1. The Employment of "Grace." Semantically, the word grace

(xa<rij) predominates in these chapters. Its frequency has led some to

argue for the unity of the two chapters based upon the rather consis-

tent use of the term.9 Indeed, the chapters open with the concept of

grace (8:1) and close in the same manner (9:14-15), forming an

inclusio. The term occurs at least ten times,10 and the root occurs in

compound words twice more (translated "thanksgiving").11

            The most common use of the term "grace" speaks of the act of

giving as a "grace" (8:4, 6, 7, 19). The employment of the term "grace"

so frequently and naturally reflects Paul's theology. First, by using the

term "grace" for the act of giving, Paul changed expressions from the

Jewish concept which no doubt formulated his thinking as a rabbi.

The Jews customarily referred to benevolence as an act of righteous-

ness.12 Jesus also spoke in these terms in the Sermon on the Mount

when he addressed almsgiving as an act of "righteousness" (dikaio-

su<nh, Matt 6:1ff.). His terminology reflected a situation of law and a

preoccupation with legal requirements. Paul, however, used the term

righteousness in this connection only once. In 9:10 he speaks of the

gift as coming from the Corinthians' righteousness, but he generally

refers to giving as an act of grace. By this expression, Paul emphasizes

both the situation of the giver and the motivation for the gift. Those

who have received God's grace engage in benevolent activities as the

fruit of the state of grace. Paul carefully avoids any "works ethic,"

choosing rather a terminology and concept to root these activities in

his characteristic theme, God's grace.13 E. Best correctly states, “If

giving loses its origin and purpose in God and his grace, both it and

our faith will shrivel and die.”14

            As a second factor, the concept of grace applies to a specific

action related to the experience of grace. Consistently Paul refers to


            9 Ibid., 181.

            10 8:1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 16, 19; 9:8, 14, 15.

            11 9:11, 12.

            12 C. K. Barrett says "It is true that in late Hebrew hqAdAc; (cf. the Aramaic hqAd;ci)

came to mean almsgiving" (Second Corinthians, 238).

            13 Some prefer to think that Paul really speaks of grace on the human level here

(Martin, 2 Corinthians, 254), although Martin recognizes the logical underpinnings that

the church acted in response to divine grace. But the term is too prominent here and

the passage too theological for the mere human interpretation. E. Best, among others,

provides a list of theological terms which he says "gives the whole discussion a

theological orientation" (E. Best, Second Corinthians [Atlanta: John Knox, 1987] 88).

These include grace (xa<rij), ministry (diakoni<a), glory (do<ca), fellowship (koinwni<a),

and service (xeitourgi<a).

            14 Best, Second Corinthians, 87.

            Melick: COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS       101


giving as "this grace." Ultimately Paul considers all human re-

sponses to God outworkings of grace. This is especially true of the

gifts which work for the betterment of the Christian community.15

Although a spiritual gift of giving occurs in the lists of spiritual gifts,

here individual gifts come as the result of God's grace ("Let each

person give as he has determined," 9:7). Rather than an act for

attaining righteousness, this giving evidences the grace of God in the

lives of the Corinthians. In this regard Barrett's comment regarding

the Macedonians applies. He notes that Paul may mean "the grace of

God himself" or "that God has given grace to the Macedonians," and

that Paul may not distinguish between these two.16 The term "grace,"

therefore correctly designates the action in its full theological definition.

            Paul also uses grace to refer to the grace of God which initiates a

good deed. Here, again, he expresses his understanding that every-

thing good originates from the grace of God and glorifies his grace

(see Eph 1:3-14, for example). The passage begins with the grace of

God working in the Macedonians (8:1), continues with the grace of

God in Titus (8:16), and ends with an expression of God's grace

(9:14).  Clearly, the grace of God motivates Christians to give. Paul

commends them for their participation (koinwni<a) in the gift, because

it means that God is at work in them.

            2. The Example of Christ. The grace of God is demonstrated in

Jesus.  His action of self-denial is a particular expression of the grace

of giving (8:8). When Christians give of their time/lives/resources (for

financial resources represent them all), they are fulfilling the same

action of Jesus in kind, though not in degree. That is, he gave of

himself for them, and they are giving of themselves for others.17

            The example of Christ, which undergirds this passage, occurs in

8:8-9.18 The illustration calls to mind the basic Christological truth.

Three elements support Paul's argument, and each has particular

relevance to the matter at hand. First, Jesus was rich (8:9). The term

applies to possession of resources sufficient to accomplish a proposed

task. Here it must refer to spiritual riches, since there is no evidence

that Jesus had material possessions on earth.19 On the other hand, it is


            15 For example, Romans 12:6 speaks of various gifts (xari<smata) which come

from the grace (xa<rij) of God.

            16 Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 218.

            17 Strangely, E. Best says, "What, then, the Macedonians have done in sending

money to Jerusalem can be put on the same plane as what Jesus did in living and dying

for us" (Best, Second Corinthians, 78). He overstates the case.

            18 In actuality, this is the second example for the Corinthians. The Macedonians

provided the "near" example (both geographically and temporally near), but Jesus

provided the ultimate example for them.

            19 Indeed, his own comments reveal as much as well as the remarks of the gospel




unlikely that purely spiritual blessings are in mind, since the Scripture

teaches that Jesus entered a state of poverty. Paul may be speaking of

the “spiritual-environmental" riches of the preincarnate state which

Jesus left in the journey to earth for redemption.20 Jesus' kenosis lies

behind Paul's thought here. The example does not suggest divesting

oneself of spiritual riches which sustain us through difficult times, but

speaks of the willingness to change the conditions of life for the sake

of others.

            The second focus in the illustration is Jesus' poverty. He became

poor. Jesus left the environment of heaven to assume the limitations

(thus poverty) imposed by both his humanity and his earthiness. Paul

stresses here the state of poverty by an ingressive aorist.

            Third, the purpose of his change of condition was soteriological,

i.e., that we might become rich. Jesus' riches and poverty were not

primarily spiritual; neither are the Christian's. Paul has in mind the

eschatological reality of the full spiritual life, including heaven, when

he speaks of riches. Jesus left what he had to take us there with him.

            The relevance of this illustration challenged the Corinthians. They

were not to think of their environments or material possessions as of

primary concern. Just as Jesus left his, so we are to realize that this

world and its goods must not enslave us. Although the cross is un-

mentioned, it lies in the background. The point is that to accomplish

what Jesus wanted, material (environmental) blessings of earth must

serve God's kingdom. Now the Corinthians had opportunity to imitate

Jesus’ action by giving of their materials to accomplish a spiritual


            3. The Concept of the Christian Community. Finally, the con-

cept of Christian community permeates the soteriological foundations.

Christians form one brotherhood because of the saving grace of

Christ. The offering demonstrates this unity. Naturally Christians

shared with those in need, but this was more significant because it was

a tangible expression and validation of the Pauline mission to the

Gentiles.  Repeatedly Paul expressed his distinctive theological insights

in symbolic forms. His consistent emphasis on the principle of justifi-

cation by faith alone led him to have Timothy circumcised but not

Titus (Gal 2:3).22 This well-known incident crystallized Paul's theology


            20 This is amply illustrated in Phil 2:5-8 which must underlie Paul's thought.

            21 This interpretation recognizes that, while Paul does not stress Jesus' loss of

spiritual blessings, obviously he considers the environmental blessings of the kingdom

as significant. Ultimately the environmental cannot be distinguished from the spiritual,

for we will enjoy both. Many commentators recognize the close connection between

the spiritual and material dimensions of life here.

            22 He did this no doubt to demonstrate that no one should despise or reject

national heritage. On the other hand, Christianity meant that no one had to accept

           Melick: COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS       103


and exemplified it for the Christian community. In similar fashion the

relief offering symbolized the real unity of the churches and their

theology. The gospel of grace meant that the gospel could go to non-

Jews without the cultural practices inherent in its original (Jewish)

roots. When it spread beyond Jewish culture, would it be anti-Jewish

or apathetic to the Jewish system which had birthed it? There was a

clear soteriological tie between the peoples which took account of the

deeper basis of unity. Later Paul expressed the soteriological tie with

a reference to the removing of the barriers between the two groups,

allowing a new man to emerge (Eph 2:1-11). Thus in the offering, the

Christian community expressed itself as unified beyond racial and

cultural boundaries. Paul carefully avoids the term "church" in this

passage, preferring words like "saints." He emphasizes the Christian

community but not in ecclesiastical terms.


B. Eschatological Concerns

            A second theological foundation relates to the eschatological

framework within which Paul operated. Clearly, his understanding of

the historical outworkings of God's redemptive plans formed the basis

for much of his appeal. Specifically, Paul saw a historical develop-

ment in God's workings. Some interpreters link the offering to Rom

15:27 and the Christian obligation for those who profit spiritually to

share their physical/material blessings with their spiritual benefac-

tors.23 Others prefer to make the situation hypothetical, indicating that

if the Jerusalem saints have the resources in the future they will, of

course, be able to help Gentiles.24 The latter approach, however, fails

to deal with the text at two crucial points: (1) the text says "their

abundance" (to> e]kei<non perisseu<ma) with no hypothetical element

inserted (it is a given for Paul), and (2) the purpose clause moves to

the point of equality (a true equality measures spiritual with spiritual

and physical with physical). Both interpretations overlook the most

obvious parallel earlier in Romans (11:12 specifically, and the argu-

ment of 9-11 generally). In the past, God worked through Israel to

accomplish his purposes. With the rejection of Christ, however, na-

tional Israel lost her Christological blessings (Romans 9-11). Never-

theless, Paul expected a time in the future when God would again

bless Israel. In Rom 11:11ff., Paul makes two points relating to Gentile


another national heritage either. Timothy was technically a Jew, having a Jewish

mother, and identified, therefore, with that culture. Titus was Gentile and was not to

reject that upbringing by circumcision.

            23 F. F. Bruce, for example, suggests this as the best possible interpretation. See

F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians (New Century Bible; ed. R. E. Clements and M. Black;

London: Oliphants, 1971) 223.

            24 Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 226, for example.



and Jewish relations which have significance here. First, the fall of

Israel was not primarily punitive, but it provided for the salvation of

the Gentiles.25 Second, God will restore Israel in the future. That, too,

will have significance for the Gentiles (Rom 11:12) in bringing them

even greater riches.26

            This eschatological framework finds expression in 2 Cor 8:14. The

key to Pauline thought here is the terms for time which he employs.

The "now time" (nu?n kair&?) contrasts with another time, a typical

Jewish and Pauline way of contrasting the present age with a future

age. Therefore, Paul urges involvement in the relief offering because

of its eschatological significance.27

            The eschatological dimension takes us deeper into Paul's under-

standing. Here there are clearly two realms of blessing and responsi-

bility: spiritual and physical. The spiritual situation of Israel past

brought spiritual blessings to the Gentiles. The spiritual blessings

anticipated in connection with Israel's future will bring spiritual

blessings to the Gentiles. The Gentiles, therefore, are to respond in

providing physical blessings for the Jews who are in need. In this

eschatological framework two ideas develop. First, there is a close

unity between the spiritual and physical realms, and Paul moves easily

between them. The blessings of the present time involve primarily the

spiritual aspects of redemption. The future blessings, however, include

the entrance into the environmental (physical) blessings associated

with the Second Coming of Christ. The physical and spiritual unite in

Paul's thought, since ultimately, at the return of Christ, both appear

together for the enjoyment of Jews and Gentiles in Christ.

            Second, the various churches acting consistently with the example

of Christ must conduct themselves in light of the economy that

characterizes the kingdom environment. Like Jesus, the Gentile Chris-

tians must give of their earthly environmental blessings, motivated in

part by the expectation that they will be recipients of the future

spiritual/environmental blessings of Israel. In a way, therefore, the

work of Christ continues on earth through the work of the church.

Christian people must pray and work for "thy kingdom come on

earth as it is in heaven."


            25 Thus Paul stresses the redemptive aspects of God's relationship with the various

peoples. He looks to the positive side of a theologically difficult situation.

            26 The phrase Paul actually uses is "life from the dead," referring to a resurrection

which will occur at that time.

            27 It is worth noting that his argument to this point in Romans has included the

significant phrase "the now time" (t&? nu?n kair&?, Rom 11:5) as a time when Israel is a

"remnant according to grace." "The now time" is the same expression of 2 Cor 8:14

which states Israel's poverty. The expression and argument in Rom 11:5 must be

contrasted with 11:12, their "fullness."

                        Melick: COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS      105


            The eschatological significance of the offering, therefore, goes

beyond the immediately visible. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles,

remembered the poor" as the Jerusalem apostles requested (Gal

2:10). This was especially important to his ministry to the Gentiles

since it symbolized the unity of the churches and his support of the

Jewish Christian community. Paul realized full well that the future

would be a time of unity of all persons in Christ and the complete

satisfaction of every need. It was necessary, therefore, for all Chris-

tians to share in anticipation of that great day.

            One final aspect of the collection requires attention. Paul realized

the OT predictions about the future relationships between Israel and

the Gentiles. Many of them anticipated a time when the Gentiles

would bring gifts to Jerusalem. Passages like Isa 60:5ff. explain that in

the last days Israel will enjoy the wealth of the world.28 Since Paul

expected this fulfillment in the future, perhaps he saw the offering

prophetically as well. It was another step in the fulfillment realized

through Christ. Even more, when Gentiles gave to Jews, the gospel

message reached maturity. Christian unity was effected. Paul could

then go on with his anticipated mission to the West (Rom 15:24-26).29

Now, however, he must delay his trip to Rome (and the western

mission) until he delivered the offering (Rom 15:28-29). The eschato-

logical foundations of the. collection were solid, and Paul's growing

understanding of salvation history no doubt inspired him in his efforts.30


                                    III. Motivations for Giving


            Having seen two of the major theological foundations for giving,

the motivations may be considered. The discussion is suggestive rather

than comprehensive.


A. The Example of Others

            The first motivation found in this section is the example of others.

Paul includes two examples: the churches of Macedonia and the

example of Christ.


            28 Note especially verses like 60:5 which says: "The wealth on the seas will be

brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come" (NIV).

            29 On this see J. Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind (Atlanta: John Knox,

1959) 176, 193.

            30 There is a growing discussion about the authority of Paul as reflected in the

collection. The suggestion that this represented a "roll call" of those who accepted

Paul's apostolic authority seems beyond the text. Paul does not handle the Corinthians

in an excessively high-handed manner. The delegation of the task to Titus and the

"gentle" manner with which he writes here suggest that he really has the Jerusalem

Christians and their need in mind.



            The Macedonian Christians eagerly participated in the offering

for the saints. The Macedonian churches, Philippi, Berea, and Thes-

salonica, were founded by Paul on the second missionary journey.

They occupied the same peninsula as Corinth in what is now Greece

and were the nearest Christian neighbors to the north. Since little is

known about Berea and Thessalonica, Philippi must represent the

situation there. The church had a troubled history, It was founded

amid difficulties which Paul here identifies as tests.31 Their situation

makes the gifts all the more impressive,

            Two seemingly contrary characteristics make them significant.

First, they were poor. The term Paul uses to describe their poverty

may well be translated "dirt poor."32 The reasons for their poverty are

not clear, although their political history no doubt contributed.33 The

church contained some wealthy and influential persons at its founding,

such as Lydia and, possibly, the influential Romans,34 Their poverty,

however, did not diminish their extreme joy, nor did it affect the size

of their gift. Paul identifies the gift as the "riches of single-mindedness"

(plou?toj th?j a[plo<thtoj v 2). The expression suggests that their gift

was (1) generous, and, (2) purposeful. As to the latter, they gave

"single-mindedly." The term often is translated "liberally, gener-

ously,"35 but perhaps it is better translated in this context as "focused."

They simply gave to meet the needs of others.36 That single-minded


            31 The histories of these churches are found primarily in Acts 16:11-17:15 and in

the epistles of Thessalonians and Philippians. Space forbids recounting what may be

read there.

            32 The Greek is actually kata> ba<qouj, a term well translated by Hughes as "rock

bottom," 228. The origins of that translation are uncertain, since others have picked up

the term.

            33 See H. D. Betz' brief discussion in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9,49-53. He accepts the

position that the Macedonians lived in a relatively poor condition. That is challenged

by Barrett who contends that "Macedonia seems on the whole to have been a pros-

perous province, with flourishing agriculture and mining and lumbering industries."

Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 219.

            34 Lydia is described as a "seller of purple." The reason for identifying her by

vocation is not clear. Purple dye was quite expensive since it came from the head of a

fish in the Black Sea and was relatively rare. Purple cloth was expensive and became a

symbol of wealth. No doubt her clientele was of the upper class, and perhaps her own

resources were substantial. The Roman connections are assumed because of Phil 4:22,

which sends greetings from the household of Caesar. The expression would have

particular significanct in a Roman colony such as Philippi.

            35 W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, "a[plo<thj," BAG (Chicago: The University of

Chicago Precss, 1957) 85. Although these meanings are sometimes disputed (see the

second of their entries), there are obviously these overtones at times.

            36 The same term is found in the gospels when Jesus advocated giving "liberally."

The point was that the gift was to be a true gift, that is, with "no strings attached."

There were to be no ulterior motives, and no personal benefits or rewards were to be


            Melick: COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS               107


focus produced a generous gift. Although the size of the gift is

unknown, four elements in the text suggest it was substantial. First,

Paul calls it "riches" (plou?toj), a rare term to use in such a context.

Second, it is described as "to their ability and beyond" (8:3-4), indi-

cating the sacrificial nature of the gift. Their giving began with ability

and moved to their inability ("beyond themselves"). Third, they begged

Paul to allow them to give (8:4). This statement reflects both their

insistence on giving and their situation. Perhaps Paul thought the gift

was more than they could really give, but they begged for the privi-

lege of giving. Here again Paul uses the word "grace" to describe the

gift. If Paul were troubled by the size of the gift, he accepted it

because it came from the grace of God. Fourth, Paul took great care

in the administration of the gift. With justification, some see a major

transfer of funds because of the size of the envoy selected to accom-

pany the gift to Jerusalem.37

            Each of these factors suggests that generosity is not dependent on

the possession of significant resources, but is a matter of the purposes

of the heart. Paul says as much in his commendation of the Mace-

donians (8:5). They "gave themselves first to the Lord, and unto us by

the will of God." Their giving was twofold: to the Lord and to us.

Although many suggest a temporal argument here (that they gave

themselves first in time to the Lord), the logical expression is more

likely. The financial gift represented a higher giving than was ex-

pressed. The real issue was their relationship to the Lord and the

personal implications it brought. The material gift was "natural" be-

cause they had already cared for the greater matter of presenting

themselves to the Lord.38 That prior commitment led them to commit

themselves to Paul and the concerns he brought to their attention.

Thus the gift was truly Christian. It was an outworking of their

relationship with Christ; it was a participation in the lives of other

Christians, and it was sacrificial. The Macedonians were indeed ex-

emplary in their giving.39


            37 This, of course, is not a necessary conclusion and may not be warranted. It

would be perfectly natural for each church to be represented in light of the theological

significance of the gift (see above discussion). Further, it is doubtful that the size of the

Christian communities of this area as well as their general socio-economic situation

would allow for a gift of unusual proportions. On the other hand, it is likely that the

envoy would carry cash and that many dangers awaited travelers with such resources.

            38 Paul's concern at this point parallels his well-known commands in Rom 12:1-2.

H. D. Betz says the expression "first" means "before I asked them." or "before they

made their contribution" (2 Corinthians, 48).

            39 Many times the competitive element is emphasized here. Some suggest that

Paul stirs the Corinthian church to action by appealing to a competitive spirit. If this

occurs, it is certainly in mild form. It seems, rather, that Paul presents two examples

of giving to provide models. These are the incarnational principles which Paul saw in



B. The Continued Development of Christian Graces

            A second motivation is the completion of the work of Christ in

them. Here Paul builds on the desire of all mature Christians to grow

in grace. In 8:7-9 Paul lists six virtues in two triads. The first triad

includes faith (pi<stij), utterance (lo<goj), and knowledge (gnw?sij).

Even a cursory reading of the Corinthian correspondence reveals the

importance of utterance and knowledge. First Corinthians 1:5 states    

that they were present in the church. These two became the subjects

of contention in the church as well as the vehicles by which Paul

answers the problems of divisiveness.40 The Corinthian correspon-

dence, however, does not reveal a church particularly known for its

faith, yet Paul commends the church for these qualities which were

obviously prominent. The second triad commends the church for

qualities which are more directly related to the offering. First, they

possess great zeal (spoudh<). The term frequents these chapters. Gener-

ally it stands for a zeal to do properly what is correct. If that meaning

obtains here, Paul commends them for the desire and ability to

implement the plans for the offering.41 Second, they are commended

for their love (a]ga<ph). Third, they are to cultivate the gift (grace) of

giving. The argument is simple, yet demands responsible action. Since

the church was spiritually rich and prided itself in the manifestations

of spiritual gifts, they should bring that spiritual heritage to bear on

the material and financial needs of other Christians. If they would

devote themselves to the offering, it would provide an occasion for

them to develop another Christian grace in their lives individually and

corporately. If the argument of 1 Corinthians 12-14 applies here as

well, the offering takes on more significance. In 1 Corinthians the

evidence of the reality of these other gifts is the exercise of love. So

here, the proof of their claim to these spiritual qualities depended

upon the exercise of love shown in the offering. The motivation is


Jesus first and employed in his own discipleship. He sometimes urged others to follow

him. The two models complement each other. The example of Jesus was now some-

what removed from the Corinthians, and none of them had seen him in the flesh. The

Macedonians, however, were near and well known. Their example could not be set


            40 This becomes a major problem in the first epistle in the group spirit which

manifests itself. There is a continual discussion of the theme of Christian knowledge

with the responsibilities and the freedoms it brings. Indeed, that was a source of mis-

understanding and distinctive in the various groups. The question of utterance also ties

the books together, whether utterance of the "wisdom" of the church (sofi<a) or of the

matter of tongues utterance. In the second epistle these issues revolve more around the

ministry of Paul. Even here wisdom and utterance are foundational to the arguments.

            41 The term in its various forms occurs frequently in an administrative sense. That

usage predominates here, cf. 2 Cor 8:7, 8, 16, 17, 22.

            Melick: COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS            109


twofold: (1) the development of the complete person so every area of

life falls under the lordship of Christ and the process of sanctification;

and (2) the complete exercise of their spirituality calls for a tangible

act of love.


C. The Completion of a Promise Made

            The third motivating factor is the completion of a commitment

made to the offering. This first appears in 1 Cor 16:1-4, where Paul

opens his remarks in a way typical of the first Corinthian correspon-

dence. The phrase "now concerning" indicates that he was responding

to questions from the church. Thus there was a prior knowledge of

the offering. Perhaps it was Titus who informed them of the offering

and secured their initial participation (2 Cor 8:6).42 Following that,

Paul wrote specific instructions in 1 Cor 16:1-4. They included (1) lay-

ing aside an offering on the first day of the week, (2) giving as God

had prospered them, and (3) selecting some trusted persons to carry

the offering to Jerusalem.43 The same instructions had been given to

the churches of Galatia (1 Cor 16:1) at the beginning of Paul's third

missionary journey. Obviously the project constituted a major concern

during this time of Paul's life.

            The church at Corinth was the first of the churches to give, but a

year had passed since Titus went to Corinth for Paul. Now Paul felt

the need to address them again regarding the offering. Probably, they

had given immediately upon hearing of the need (2 Cor 8:10) and left

Titus with the promise of more to come. Such zealous and spon-

taneous giving may easily subside into forgotten promises.

            Paul's approach contains several elements. He first showed genu-

ine concern for their well-being in this undertaking (8:10). He stated

what all should remember: it is in our best interests to keep our

promises. He also called them to realize that the desire to perform

will not replace the actual performance, and he continued by remind-

ing them of the pressing need. They must complete the task. Second,

he sought for Christian equality. The equality was in the supply of

needs and sacrifice. Each person measured his giving in light of what


            42 This must be the meaning of Titus' having made an "earlier beginning" (NIV)

rather than thinking of it as earlier than Paul. We also know that Paul had sent Titus to

Corinth and was somewhat concerned about his delay. That prompted Paul to leave a

successful ministry in Troas and look for Titus (2 Cor 2:13), who had been sent as an

envoy to solve a problem between the Corinthians and Paul (2 Cor 7:6).

            43 Paul's plans for the offering changed after the 1 Corinthian correspondence.

According to Rom 15:25-27, Paul determined that the offering was of such significance

that he should postpone his trip to Rome in order to accompany the group to Jerusalem

with the offering from the Gentiles.



he had, not what he did not have (8:12). Again, the goal was not that

others prosper at someone's expense, but that there would be equal

sacrifice and equal supply of needs (8:13). The OT supports these

ideas. Paul quotes the LXX of Exod 16:18 (8:15) to remind the people

that when God supplied in the wilderness, he did it in a way that all

would receive adequately and equitably. The situation applied to the

Corinthians. If God were supervising the distribution of resources, as

he was in the desert when he supernaturally supplied their needs,

there would be adequate supply for all and equitable distribution.

The Corinthians had the responsibility of acting God-like in their

stewardship of resources.


D. The Principle of the Harvest

            The final major motivation is the principle of the harvest. The

principle occurs in both natural and special revelation, coming from a

knowledge of agriculture and Scripture. Paul states it: "Whoever sows

sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will

also reap generously" (9:6, NIV). Statements like this had become

proverbial by the first century, occurring in both biblical and extra-

biblical contexts. Perhaps Paul crystallizes such proverbs as Prov

11:24-25 and 22:9, which extol generosity in sharing with others.44 The

form of the proverb, however, resembles that of Cicero who said, "As

you sow, so shall you reap."45 Here Paul applies it to one's relation-

ship to material things and makes it a normative Christian principle;

Interestingly, the phrase translated "generously" is literally "upon bless-

ings"(e]p ] eu]logi<aij), stressing the principle of proportionate giving.

The Corinthians were to give according to how God blessed.

            Paul provides a commentary on the last two portions of the

proverb, "He that soweth bountifully shall reap bountifully" (9:6).

Rather than warn of the repercussions of stinginess, which Paul assumes

are self-evident, he urges them positively toward the rewards of

giving. The commentary provided expands "soweth bountifully" and

"reapeth bountifully."


            44 Prov 11:24-25 says:

                        One man gives freely, yet gains even more;

                                    another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

                        A generous man will prosper;

                                    he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

                Prov 22:9 says:

                        A generous man will himself be blessed,

                                    for he shares his food with the poor.

            45 Cicero De Oratore 2.65.261. Paul's precise statement seems to be his own rather

than a copy of some other formulation.

            Melick: COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS            111


            Regarding the matter of sowing bountifully, God loves a cheerful

giver. Two guidelines explain cheerfulness. First, the gift must be

according to conviction (“every man according as he purposeth in his

heart”). Rather than external motivation or standards, perhaps im-

posed by the collector of the gifts, each one is to respond to the

promptings of the Holy Spirit in light of his own personal situation. A

special joy and satisfaction comes from following through on what

God has placed in the mind and heart. Since it is always easier to

purpose than to do, and the distance between the commitment and

the follow-through constitutes the amount of frustration one will

experience, Paul urges them to comply with the Holy Spirit and

joyfully follow God's promptings. Second, the gift is not to be given

grudgingly. The parallel words “not out of regret” and “not out of

necessity” suggest that one should not succumb to the external pressures

imposed on him. “Regret” means literally “out of sorrow” (lu<phj).

Perhaps Paul has in mind the sorrow that comes from mishandling

material possessions and learning this important principle of steward-

ship after many difficulties. The term “necessity” (e]c a]na<gkhj) speaks

to the possibility of being pushed (by God) into a situation of giving.46

To avoid these wrong motives for giving, the giver should give out of

a free enactment of a predetermined commitment. Not only does this

provide the best situation for the conscience, the burden of this

section, but it places one in an environment of God's special love

since God loves a cheerful giver.47 Thus, sowing generously means

responding consistently to the promptings of the Lord to give accord-

ing to what God has laid on the heart.

            The second portion of the commentary addresses the matter of

reaping generously (9:9-11). Those who sow will-receive. This passage

has given rise to the idea of “seed faith,” i.e., that God will provide

more to those who give.48 The context, however, speaks against this

idea. First, Paul states that God can make all grace abound. Again he

prefers to use the term “grace” for this type of giving (typical of this


            46 The use of the term in 1 Cor 9:16 parallels this one in a helpful way. There Paul

explains he is under compulsion to preach the gospel. There is such strong internal

witness to that calling that there was no real alternative.

            47 Since God obviously loves a stingy giver or even a non-giver, this statement

must mean that God's blessings are somehow uniquely poured out on a giver. When

giving freely and out of love, we are more like God than when engaging in any other


            48 Some who teach "seed faith" suggest that God expects a gift out of faith and

that he will provide for the giver in greater measure. There will thus be a greater

harvest for their own use. As will be demonstrated, this passage counters that argument

both contextually (with the argument of this passage) and conceptually (that God is 

required to give to those who give to him).



context), and thus the grace God will supply must refer to some gift

received in return. As the Corinthians are to be the vehicle of God's

grace to the Jews, so God is able to work so his grace comes to them

through some appropriate vehicle in their time of need. Note that

Paul does not guarantee a great influx of financial provision, but

reminds them that God can remember them. Since God placed the

Jewish situation on Paul's heart, resulting in a generous gift for them,

so God can place anyone on another's heart with the same result.

            Second, Paul indicates that this grace accomplishes "good work."

Two statements crystallize this teaching. In v 9:8 the goal of God's

provision is that they "might abound to every good work" (note the

i!na clause which introduces this aspect of the text). This statement is

further explained by 9:10, where Paul states that God may "increase

the fruits of your righteousness." Some have interpreted these state-

ments to mean that God will provide financial blessing because of the

righteousness (or good work). Taken in this sense, the gift becomes a

means of securing greater financial blessings.

            The problems with this interpretation are: (1) this represents a

non-Pauline use of the term "righteousness," and (2) this makes giving

a way of receiving rather than the single-minded giving that Paul has

advocated earlier. Christian giving is never to be a means of receiving

material things. Rather, Paul states that God is able to enlarge the gift

given so that the giver may be able to engage in greater benevolence

("every good work," v 8), and that the gifts given will produce fruit.

The latter phrase, found in verse 10, teaches that the real benefits of

giving are the spiritual blessings that accrue because of the righteous

state of the giver (i.e., that he is saved), and because he has invested

in the work of God as a result of that state of grace.

            The ultimate goal is "thanksgiving to God," expressed here in

vv.11 and 12.49 Far from being a promise that one who gives will al-

ways receive more financially, this suggests that the giver will receive,

in that (1) he will understand the workings of God better and be in a

better position to trust his own needs to God who can supply grace to

those in need even as he did through the giver to another's needs, and

(2) the results of a gift prompted by the Spirit and given for the work


            49 This is best understood as a corporate idea. Verse 12 is taken as the thanks from

Jewish Christians who receive the gift (C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the

Corinthians, 240), from both Jewish Christians and Corinthians (Bruce, 1 and 2 Corin-

thians, 228), or even many beyond these two groups (Martin, 2 Corinthians, 294). The

general broad perspective fits best with Paul's thought. Therefore the thanksgiving

comes from many sources, encouraged by this gift. Obviously in this context the

Corinthians and Jewish Christians are in the forefront of thought, but the idea should

not even be limited to them.

            Melick: COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS         113


of God will be that God is glorified in new ways by broader circles of


            The motivation from the principle of the harvest, therefore, is

that God will do more with a gift given (sown) than the obvious. The

act of giving cheerfully will place the giver in a special environment

of God's love, and the gift will ultimately bring praise to God. There

is no guarantee that God is bound to increase the resources of the

giver, nor is there here a promise that God "must" meet the needs of

one who gives. The matter is a matter of God's grace, not of law.50


                        IV. Administrative Responsibilities


            Sensitive to the charges of abuse in this area, Paul clearly sets

forth responsibilities in the physical matters. The responsibilities are

two-dimensional, encompassing both the giver and the collector of


            The primary focus of these chapters is on the giver and his

responsibility before God. A summary statement will suffice to review

to this point. The giver is (1) to be sensitive to the promptings of God

in his life; (2) to recognize that giving is an expression of the grace of

God and brings with it a responsibility of stewardship; (3) to deter-

mine for himself what amount is appropriate; (4) to follow through on

his commitments, giving cheerfully; (5) to give single-mindedly, with

a focus simply on being faithful to God's prompting to give; and

(6) to give expecting that God will use the gift beyond what can be

imagined to bring praise to himself. Clearly, Paul conceived of stew-

ardship as essential in the lives of believers and as a unique evidence

that the grace of God was operative in their lives.

            Paul also defined responsibilities for the collectors of the monies,

sometimes by command and sometimes by example. Although the

offering was of extreme importance to Paul as a vindication and

completion of his own ministry, he recognized the higher importance

of his calling to spread the gospel to the world. His primary task was

the ministry of the Word, and not even the offering could deter him.

He chose to utilize Titus as the intermediary. Perhaps he learned from


            50 One should, of course, guard against going to extremes. The one extreme has

addressed because it is most pressing in our society (that of wrong expectations

supported by misunderstanding of Scripture). The other extreme is that one should not

expect God to meet his own needs since that is not directly promised here. Such is not

the case. The general principle is that God will supply to those who give (cf. Phil 4:19).

The supply, however, is what is necessary to do the will of God in our lives. Giving to

God should never be perceived as a way of investment, binding God to bless us

financially. That is not giving in the character of this chapter.



the early church that while "waiting on tables" is important, there is a

higher calling of "giving oneself to teaching" (Acts 6). Paul under-

stood himself as clearly in the line of the apostles both by spreading

the gospel and by his involvement in the Gentile mission, which was a

ministry and insight distinctive to Paul (Eph 3:1-10). Whether or not

this was his motivation, Paul chose not to engage in the "hands-on"

aspect of the offering. Originally, he did not even intend to accom-

pany it to Jerusalem, but later realized the significance of this gift and

changed his mind.

            The procedures for the collection are, therefore, instructive. Paul

entrusted the work to qualified brethren. He addressed their character

and their concern in 8:16-9:5.


A. The Character of the Men

            The most prominent of the men selected was Titus, Paul's trusted

companion. Significantly, he is the only one named in this passage, a

fact which suggests that Paul wanted Titus to be prominent because of

his relationship to both Paul and the Corinthians. Having been sent to

Corinth as Paul's envoy, he had made the initial arrangements for the

offering. Obviously he also bore the primary responsibility for it. Three

statements reveal Titus' suitability for the task he undertook. First, he

enthusiastically cooperated with the promptings of God in this service

(8:16). Again, Paul thanked God for so moving in Titus' life. His

"natural" concern for them and the collection qualified him for this

important position. Perhaps Titus bore this burden from the beginning,

since he heard the apostles urge Paul to "remember the poor" (Gal

2:1-10). Second, Titus was responsive. He "accepted the exhortation"

from Paul. Third, he was anxious to go. Paul indicates that he was

desirous of going to the church to see them again, a fact which

evidences the special relationship God had given to Titus and Corinth

(8:17). Paul's primary representative, therefore, had an enthusiastic

commitment to the project, knew the theological significance of the

offering, and enjoyed the trust and respect of the church at Corinth.

            Another Christian brother accompanied Titus. Unnamed by Paul,

this man also had the respect of the Gentile Christian community. His

reputation in the work of the gospel was legendary (8:18). The churches

chose him for this task (8:19).51 Paul seemed anxious to have this man

because he wanted to do things properly in the sight of the Lord and

in the sight of men (8:21). The concern for propriety before the Lord

suggests that Paul lived with the realization that God watches each


            51 The term "chosen" may actually indicate a vote. It literally means a "hand vote"


            Melick: COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS            115


person and activity. In actuality, Paul did not need a delegation to

guard his character, as 1 Thessalonians 1-2 reveals. Nevertheless, the

group would produce an added accountability which would be com-

mendable to the Lord as well as satisfy human expectations. Paul had

settled financial matters at the outset of the ministry, preferring not to

be supported by others. Nevertheless, this procedure would ease the

minds of those who gave, as well as provide an objective protection

for the administration of funds.

            A third brother, also unknown, accompanied the two (8:22).

Characterized by a proven earnestness which now was at its height,52

and no doubt equally well known to the churches, this brother would

lend his credibility to the offering. If Acts 20:4 speaks of the same

delegation, it was significantly larger than these three. It included

local representatives consisting of Asians, Europeans (Macedonians),

and Romans. The offering encompassed many nationalities and was

delivered by a composite group.53


B. The Concern of These Men

            The size of the group and its manner of selection further stress the

importance of the offering to Paul. Nothing was to interfere with their

expression of love, and the three men were to guarantee it. The group

had another function, however, that of properly overseeing the matters

so there would be no reproach brought to the name of the Lord or to

Paul and his ministry. If there would be opposition to Paul, it would be

on spiritual/theological grounds, not on financial.

            The group functioned also in other ways. First, it was to assist in

the collection of the offering. Paul scheduled an arrival at Jerusalem at

Passover. The feast was not only the appropriate time for all Jewish

men to appear at Jerusalem, but was also the time of the celebration

of redemption, sacred to the Jews because of Egyptian bondage, and

sacred to Christians because it pictured the redemption accomplished

in Christ. The gifts from the Gentiles received at the feast of redemp-

tion were, in a sense, the final fruit of redemption. Therefore the

timing was of great significance. The group of three was to guarantee

that the collection would be ready on schedule.

            They were also to make sure that the gift was not of “covetous-

ness” (9:5). The term is difficult to interpret here. In 1 Thess 2:5 Paul

uses the term in defending himself against the charge of “extortion or


            52 The terms are polu> spoudaio<teron, the superlative degree indicating an inten-

sive desire for involvement in this.

            53 Perhaps two reasons for this appear: (1) to communicate personally the good

will of the churches they represented, and (2) to protect the local "Christian invest-

ment" from their churches.



avarice." Perhaps, therefore, Paul wanted them to know that the gift

did not come from his own covetousness, but it is difficult to see how

their prior arrival would solve that problem. First, Paul could still

have used the gift for his own ends even after the arrival of the group;

and second, the term contrasts with "thanksgiving" (eu]logi<a). The

covetousness to avoid, therefore, must be an attitude on their part.

Perhaps it is best to understand it as Martin does. He suggests that the

gift was not to be from the "'love of money' which in turn leads to a

niggardly gift."54 The arrival of these three prior to Paul would help

the Corinthians to offer a genuine thank offering to God. They could

fulfill their promises, give as God had prompted, and no ulterior

motives would either produce the gift or control its amount.

            There are, therefore, several concerns relative to the matter of the

collecting of the offering. First, Paul must be the motivator for the

giving since God laid it on his heart. Second, others who share the vi-

sion and the burden must be involved in the actual handling of the

monies.55 Third, the group who deals with the money should repre-

sent trusted men from Paul and the churches. This provides account-

ability before the Lord and men. Fourth, the involvement of the

group encouraged the churches to give more generously by reducing

the likelihood of misconduct. The early arrival of the group gently

reminded them of past pledges. Significantly, Paul deals in great

detail in this chapter with responsibilities for both the giver of funds

and the collectors.




            In these two chapters Paul presents his most comprehensive in-

struction for giving to needy Christians. His theological motivations

included the common salvation and an awareness of the historical

outworkings of God's redemptive program. He selflessly motivated

the Corinthian church to follow the example of the Macedonian

Christians, to remain true to their prior commitments, and to co-

operate with the work of God in their lives. They were to remember

the example of Christ who gave himself for them. Finally, his adminis-

trative procedures revealed his concern that all things be done above

reproach. Paul's concerns help the contemporary church. In a day of

increasing demand for financial support of ambitious ministries, there

is danger that the end will justify the means of fund raising. Some-

times both Christians and non-Christians take offense at high-pressure


            54 Martin, 2 Corinthians, 286.

            55 Significantly, the term for money does not occur in these chapters.

            Melick: COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS        117


tactics and the continuous emphasis on finances. A study of this

passage however, reveals that Paul would have none of these. As

important as this offering was--and as necessary for the Corinthian

Christians as an expression of their spiritual lives--Paul remembered

his priorities. In a masterful way he promoted the cause while dis-

associating himself from the process of collection and the destination

of the funds. Above all, he saw this as a necessary outworking of

salvation. It would unite Christians of many ethnic and national back-

grounds in a tangible fellowship and, ultimately, contribute to the

praise of the glory of God's grace.





This material is cited with gracious permission from:

The Criswell College

4010 Gaston Ave. 

Dallas, TX   75246


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: