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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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2 Corinthians 8


 
Verses 1, 2
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God which hath been given in the churches of Macedonia; how that in much proof of affliction the abundance of their deep joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

Christian paradoxes abound in these verses. What an astounding thing it is that "two of the loveliest flowers of Christian character, JOY and LIBERALITY," F4 should bloom in the Macedonian poverty fields. Their poverty was extreme and unusual in an age when poverty was almost universal. McGarvey pointed out that:

Macedonia had suffered in three civil wars, and had been reduced to such poverty that Tiberius Caesar, hearkening to their petitions, had lightened their taxes. But in addition to this general poverty, the churches had been made poor by persecution (2 Thessalonians 1:4). F5

Macknight saw in Paul's mention of other people's poverty in this letter to Corinth, "A delicate insinuation that the more opulent Corinthians should equal or exceed what had been given by the Macedonians." F6 The afflictions of the Macedonians had been aggravated from the very first declaration of the gospel among them by those unreconciled elements in Judaism who had sent their emissaries throughout Macedonia in order to harass and hinder Paul's preaching; and, as Farrar said, "This had excited the hatred of the Gentiles toward Christianity." F7 In this connection, see Acts 16:20; 17:5,13.

The collection that Paul had in mind here was for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, although the destination of the funds is not stressed.

The joy and liberality demonstrated by the Macedonians sprang from their consciousness of the forgiveness of their sins and the pure happiness of restored fellowship with God. Their liberality was a spontaneous expression of that joy.

Liberality ...
The English Revised Version (1885) margin gives this word as "singleness." Tasker explained this thus:

The word translated "liberality," [Greek: haplotes], means simplicity or single-mindedness; and, as in Rom. 12:8, it refers to giving which was uncalculating and free from ulterior motives. F8


 
Verses 3, 4, 5
For according to their power, I bear witness, yea and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints: and this, not as we had hoped, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God.

"These three verses constitute one continuous sentence in the original ... a long and characteristically Pauline sentence." F9 The verb "gave" governs the whole statement.

Beyond their power ... not as we had hoped ...
Their giving was above what Paul had expected, and even beyond what their extreme poverty indicated as possible.

Beseeching us with much entreaty ...
It is clear from this that Paul "had urged some restraint in their giving, in view of their dire poverty." F10

Fellowship ... ministering ...
The fellowship refers to their participation in the collection, and the ministering to the service which the money would render to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Filson pointed out that "for no other church, or churches, was a collection ever taken, as far as we learn." F11 It is wrong, however, to make this mean that only "the mother church" had a right to be so helped. In fact, "mother church" is not a New Testament concept at all, such remarks as the following from Barclay, having no support from the Scriptures. He said:

The Church of Jerusalem was the Mother Church of all Churches; and it was Paul's desire that all the Gentile Churches should remember and help that Church which was their mother in the faith. F12

As a matter of fact, Antioch, a Gentile congregation, was "the mother church" of all the churches founded by Paul. It was Antioch, not Jerusalem, which sent him forth with the gospel; and it was the "so-called" mother church in Jerusalem which opposed receiving any Gentiles at all, except upon the basis of their prior circumcision; and, added to all this, Paul himself flatly contradicted the notion that the Jerusalem of earth was in any sense a mother church, saying, "The Jerusalem that now is in bondage .... The Jerusalem which is above is free, which is our mother" (Galatians 4:25,26).

They first gave themselves to God ...
If understood as a reference to their "first" becoming Christians, this would have the meaning of "in order of time"; but, as Wesley said, "It is better to understand it of `the order of importance,' i.e., `above all.'" F13 Of course, in point of time, all Christian graces are derived from the first decision to give oneself to the Lord.


 
Verse 6
Insomuch that we exhorted Titus, that as he had made a beginning before, so he would also complete in you this grace also.

We are heartily in agreement with Tasker who said:

This visit would seem to have taken place about a year before (2 Corinthians 9:2); and it may be a legitimate inference that Titus himself was the bearer of 1 Corinthians in which Paul's instructions on this subject were given (1 Corinthians 16:1ff). F14

The grace also ...
That Paul's words here may be touched with a bit of friendly irony may not be ruled out. Certainly, some of the first epistle is loaded with outright sarcasm; and, in a church of so many pretensions to "knowledge," and with Paul's immediate reference to their abounding in "knowledge," there would seem to be here a very delicate suggestion that perhaps the deeds of the Corinthians ought to catch up with their "knowledge."


 
Verse 7
But as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.

In everything ...
Again, Paul's use of hyperbole is in evidence. Not only does this mean a great deal less than "everything, absolutely," but there might even be implied some deficiency in the qualified areas of Paul's explanation of it. See under 2 Cor. 8:6. But Paul here magnanimously extended to them this accolade regarding their excellence in certain graces with the admonition that the grace of giving should also be exemplified in them in a degree proportionate to their excellence in other graces.


 
Verse 8
I speak not by way of commandment, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity also of your love.

The sincerity also of your love ...
A glance at 2 Cor. 8:7 reveals that Paul had just said that they abounded "in their love." How can this be anything else except a gentle reminder that their "abounding love" needed proving by their deeds? It is thus evident that scholarly objections to 2 Cor. 10, founded on the premise that Paul was already perfectly satisfied with everything at Corinth, are founded upon a false premise.

Not by way of commandment ...
It is not giving, as demanded and extorted by inexorable demands of divine law, that can bless the giver, but giving spontaneously and freely done, and springing from motives of love, appreciation, gratitude and thanksgiving. It is that kind of giving, and only that kind, that ever did the giver any good.


 
Verse 9
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.

Though he was rich ...
Adam Clarke's perceptive comment on this should be remembered. He said:

If Jesus Christ was only a man, in what sense could he be rich? Joseph and Mary were poor in Jerusalem, and poor in Nazareth; and, from the stable to the cross, Jesus never possessed any property among men, nor did he have anything at his death to bequeath, except his peace! The question of the riches of Christ, on the Socinian scheme, can never be satisfactorily answered. F15

The riches of Christ are those riches which pertained to his status with God and equality to God before the world was (John 17:5), the riches of His eternal power and Godhead, the riches of His everlasting divinity and glory. Only such an explanation as this can pertain to Paul's words here.

He became poor ...
Christ's becoming poor has a double meaning, (1) referring to the contrast between his eternal state and his incarnation, and (2) also to the extraordinary poverty of his earthly state as compared with the affluence of some of his contemporaries.

For your sakes ...
It should ever be remembered that Christ forsook heaven with its glory to live upon earth with its shame in order to redeem men from the curse of sin. It was not merely for the sake of the Corinthians, but for the sake of every man, that he thus "humbled himself" and took upon him the form of a servant, and was found obedient, even to the death on the cross!

As Hughes said:

Paul felt none of the embarrassment which is displayed by some modern scholars who, because of a preconceived antipathy to "supernaturalism," would prefer to dismiss this doctrine of Christ's pre-existence. F16

The simple, objective truth of Christianity is founded upon the conviction of the supernatural. In the final analysis, if there is no supernatural, there is no Christianity. So-called Christians who do not believe in the supernatural are unbelievers; and there can be no reconciliation of the supernaturalness of Christianity with the existential and speculative denials of it. What is affirmed in the New Testament is either true or false; and this student of the New Testament believes it to be true. Paul here assumed as fact, nor did he even pause to defend it, that Christ existed with God before the earth was created. No one can know the mind of Paul without seeing this fundamental truth.


 
Verse 10
And herein I give my judgment: for this is expedient for you, who were the first to make a beginning a year ago, not only to do, but also to will.

Expedient for you ...
Paul ever had in mind the best interests of his converts; and, regardless of what they may have thought about it, it was to their advantage to acquire and improve the grace of giving.

A year ago ...
As Hughes supposed, "It would seem that their original zeal in this matter had flagged." F17 He further suggested that this slackening zeal might have been due to natural apathy, or to mistrust of Paul induced by false teachers; but the simple fact of Corinth having been a troubled, factious and sinful congregation was more than enough to have diminished their interest in any kind of giving to further the work of the Lord. When trouble strikes a church, the collection is the first thing to suffer.

"It was about a year before this that Paul in his first epistle had suggested the contribution; ... and they had begun to obey." F18 This obvious reference to 1 Corinthians shows how little need there is to suppose that there was a "severe letter" in the interim. The blame which Paul tactfully imputed to the Corinthians here is inherent in the fact of their having been the first to act, apparently with enthusiasm; but they had suddenly grown cold. Paul's mention of his not "commanding" them carried the implication that it was then merely a matter of their doing what they had already promised and committed themselves to do.


 
Verse 11
But now complete the doing also; that as there was the readiness to will, so there may be the completion also out of your ability.

Given its bluntest interpretation, this means, "Get with it, and do what you have already promised to do. It is not enough to promise!"


 
Verse 12
For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man hath, not according as he hath not.

This was written to relieve the Corinthians of any thought that a certain amount of money was required of them. It was not some given amount that Paul was insisting upon, but the doing of whatever they could do. The intention and willingness to give were far more important than any merely quantitative consideration. The case of the widow's two mites (Mark 12:43,44) was used by the Saviour himself to prove that one with very small means could actually give even more than those with abundance. See my Commentary on Mark, pp. 264-267.

Christians must give, there being no such thing as a penurious, ungenerous, stingy Christian. Regarding the AMOUNT that should be given, David Lipscomb wrote: "It is clearly a self-deception for an individual to think he pleases God under the perfect dispensation of Christ while doing less than the Israelites did under the typical dispensation." F19 For further discussion of this, see my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 144-146.

Many who profess to be giving "the widow's mite" are doing no such thing. That AMOUNT they indeed give; but it is not "all their living" as was the case with her. Lipscomb said, "Her sacrificial example has been profaned many times" F20 in order to hide the meanest selfishness.


 
Verses 13, 14
For I say not this that others may be eased and ye distressed; but by equality: your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want; that there may be equality.

The thought here is not that the gifts of the Corinthians would ease the burden of the Macedonians in raising the collection, but that those now able to give might, in time, be themselves the ones in need, and that giving should be done as a recognition of the uncertainties and vicissitudes of life. The fact that certain people NOW are not in need is no guarantee that their lack of need will be permanent.

Another thought in this was pointed out by Tasker:

In 2 Cor. 8:13, Paul points out the absurdity of almsgiving if giving to others means plunging the donors into "distress." Charity must not be used for the encouragement either of laziness or luxury. F21

That there may be equality ...
Deplorable indeed are the remarks of some who would make Paul by these words a champion of the savage "leveling" of all people, as advocated in the political philosophy which would enable some to live by the sweat of other people's faces. Paul's object here was the relief of want, not an artificial equalization of property. In Paul's philosophy, a man who would not work was to be denied the privilege of eating (2 Thessalonians 3:10). As Hughes said:

There is no justification for the presumption that a wealthier Christian, simply because he is a brother in Christ, should support an idle member of the church. Religious parasitism has no place in the New Testament .... The poor are commanded "with quietness to work, and to eat their own bread," inculcating on the poor the duty of self-support to the extent of their ability. F22

At the same time, possessions may not be held by any Christian without regard to legitimate claims of those in want or distress. The great principles of Christ recognized the rights of property, but at the same time imposed upon its possessors the obligations of genuine liberality and sincere regards for the needs of others.


 
Verse 15
As it is written, He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack.

This is a quotation from Exo. 16:18, where is described the gathering of the manna; and, in the typical things which happened in that miraculous situation, one may read the prophecy of all subsequent history of mankind. Those who tried to hoard the manna found that "it bred worms and stank" (Exodus 16:20); and this is precisely what is true of hoarded wealth in all ages.

He that gathered much had nothing over ...
The richest people who ever lived "have nothing over" when death comes. In the final analysis, all that any man has is what he truly needs and uses.

He that gathered little had no lack ...
Even people with the most meager incomes may often diminish their requirements and find a little to be sufficient. The great lesson is that the man with much should ever hold his stewardship of abundance as subject to the just claims of the man whose necessities are impossible for himself unaided to meet. This is especially true of "the household of faith."


 
Verse 16
But thanks be to God, who putteth the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus.

Paul here emphasized the fact that Titus, who probably delivered the 1 Corinthian letter, and who would shortly deliver the epistle then being written, was of one mind and heart with Paul, not merely in regard to the collection, but also in regard to the earnest care and love of the Corinthians themselves. Considerations of tact are surely in view here.


 
Verse 17
For he accepted indeed our exhortation; but being himself very earnest, he went forth unto you of his own accord.

He accepted ... went forth ...
These words do not express past tense at all; but, as Kelcy said, "Paul here used what grammarians call an EPISTOLARY AORIST, speaking of the event as already completed, because it would be completed when the Corinthians read this epistle." F23 The deduction that Titus bore this second epistle to Corinth is also derived from this verse.


 
Verse 18
And we have sent together with him the brother whose praise in the gospel is spread through all the churches.

Adam Clarke capitalized the word "Gospel" in this verse, making it bear the meaning that the brother Paul sent with Titus was the author of one of the canonical Gospels. Scholars, of course, generally dispute such a meaning; but it positively must be allowed as possible. If this brother was Luke (as some of the oldest traditions affirm), it would mean that Luke had been concerned with compiling a gospel long before the date usually assigned to the third Gospel (which is by no means an impossibility). However, whether or not this was Luke (and no one really knows), one thing is positively evident: there was a written gospel even at this early date, a fact confirmed by Luke's introduction (2 Corinthians 1:1-5).

Through all the churches ...
The brother mentioned was known "through all" the churches. It is amazing that the same scholars who pin so much faith in the absolute superlatives of 2 Cor. 7:13-15 are here very quick to affirm that "Here, ALL may refer only to the churches sharing in the collection"! F24 This, however, is arbitrary. Certainly, some "gospel" was read by every church on earth at that time; and it must be allowed that the author of whatever gospel that was is the man Paul referred to here. The personal view of this writer is that this is a reference to the evangelist Luke and to the gospel that bears his name. None of the objections to this view is convincing. For full discussion of the subject, see the Commentary of Philip E. Hughes on this epistle, pp. 312-316.


 
Verse 19
And not only so, but who was also appointed by the churches to travel with us in the matter of this grace, which is ministered by us to the glory of the Lord, and to show our readiness.

These are further remarks about the "brother" whose fame through all the churches was in the gospel. Luke was Paul's constant traveling companion; and in the word here that the churches had appointed someone to travel with Paul, there is strong inferential support for the view that he was none other than Luke. The good sense of the churches in appointing a physician to this task is evident, and this would also explain who paid Luke's charges for those long years of his abandonment of his medical practice for the purpose of traveling with Paul. The real objections that some scholars have to this view is that it blows their late dating of the Gospel of Luke right out of the water. If one is not married to the theory of a late date for Luke, the supposition that Luke is probably the one Paul mentioned here is quite reasonable.


 
Verse 20
Avoiding this, that any man should blame us in the matter of this bounty which is administered by us.

Avoiding this ...
This word "avoiding" is a nautical term. "It means FURLING SAIL, i.e., taking precautions in anticipation of danger." F25

There is no area of human behavior more likely to give occasion of slander than that of handling public funds; and Paul's precautions were not merely wise; they are also an apostolic precedent that should be observed by the churches of all times and places. The wise, prudent and business-like handling of a congregation's financial affairs is without exception prerequisite to any general confidence of a congregation in its leadership.


 
Verse 21
For we take thought for things honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.

The thought of this verse is surely contained in Prov. 3:4, which reads: "So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man." It is not enough for God to know that a man's conscience is clear; he should order his affairs in such a manner that people will also be aware of it. Paul surely did this; and therefore the notion is rejected that Paul was always trying to respond to slanders of his enemies. He did not wait until slander was alleged but took steps to refute lies before they were spoken. Plumptre thought it remarkable that Paul evidently found help for his daily guidance from the book of Proverbs, showing that even one who was taught by the Spirit "could find daily guidance in a book which seems to many almost below the level of the spiritual life." F26


 
Verse 22
And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have many times proved earnest in many things, but now much more earnest, by reason of the great confidence which he hath in you.

This was the third member of the group Paul sent to Corinth with 2 Corinthians. Nothing is known of who this brother was, other than what is written here.


 
Verse 23
Whether any inquire about Titus, he is my partner and my fellow-worker to you-ward; or our brethren, they are the messengers of the churches, they are the glory of Christ.

From this it is clear that there were three in the group, Titus and the other brethren being mentioned separately.

Messengers of the churches ...
This is the same word translated "apostles" in a number of New Testament passages, but these were apostles only in a secondary sense. Hillyer declared, "This does not put them into the same category as Paul and Peter who are `apostles by the will of God.'" F27 Furthermore, these were in no sense plenary delegates, commissioned by the churches to decide either doctrine or policy. They were messengers of information only, not messengers of plenary power.

Lipscomb has some weighty words in this connection. He said:

Those messengers could not change or modify any decision, nor legislate for God, nor determine what was best for the churches, nor meet other messengers and organize a body, nor confer with one another on how the Lord should act, nor sit in judgment, nor otherwise change or direct the work of the churches. F28

Thus, it is clear that some modern "church messengers" are in no sense justified by what these men did.


 
Verse 24
Show ye therefore unto them in the face of the churches the proof of your love, and of our glorying on your behalf.

This line is as stern as anything in 2 Cor. 10 through the end. When a person has professed love, and the object of such alleged love hurls the challenge to "prove it" in the face of a competent witness just cited, and "before the face of all the churches," there is absolutely nothing "mild" in such a response. It is absolutely incredible that the scholarly efforts to disturb the unity of this epistle should be grounded in such a colossal misunderstanding of plain words as must be their view that "a change of tone" comes in 2 Cor. 10. It simply is not so. The same tone of stern apostolic reprimand pervades every line of this remarkable letter.

The chapter division which ends here comes right in the middle of Paul's argument which was continued in what is labeled the next chapter. He will continue his instructions on Christian giving in 2 Cor. 9.


Footnotes for 2 Corinthians 8
1: Henry H. Halley, Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1927), p. 555.
2: Ibid.
3: Wick Broomall, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 675.
4: R. V. G. Tasker, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958), p. 111.
5: J. W. McGarvey, Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Cincinnati, Ohio: The Standard Publishing Company, 1916), p. 210.
6: James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles and Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), Vol. II, p. 396.
7: J. W. Farrar, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), Vol. 19, 2 Cor., p. 195.
8: R. V. G. Tasker, op. cit., p. 112.
9: Philip E. Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), p. 289.
10: Raymond C. Kelcy, Second Corinthians (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1967), p. 49.
11: Floyd V. Filson, The Interpreter's Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1953), Vol. X, p. 365.
12: William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), p. 254.
13: John Wesley, One Volume New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972), in loco.
14: R. V. G. Tasker, op. cit., p. 113.
15: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1829), Vol. VI, p. 349.
16: Philip E. Hughes, op. cit., p. 301.
17: Philip E. Hughes, op. cit., p. 303.
18: Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 349.
19: David Lipscomb, Second Corinthians (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company), p. 113.
20: Ibid. p. 114.
21: R. V. G. Tasker, op. cit., p. 117.
22: Philip E. Hughes, op. cit., p. 307.
23: Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 51.
24: Floyd V. Filson, op. cit., p. 372.
25: F. W. Farrar, op. cit., p. 197.
26: E. H. Plumptre, Ellicott's Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), Vol. VII, p. 393.
27: Norman Hillyer, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1082.
28: David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 118.
29: John McKay, God's Order (New York: Macmillan Company, 1953), p. 67.
30: Philip E. Hughes, op. cit., p. 208.
31: John Wesley, op. cit., in loco.
32: David J. A. Clines, op. cit., p. 427.
33: David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 83.
34: Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 36.
35: Philip E. Hughes, op. cit., p. 210.
36: Floyd V. Filson, op. cit, p. 322.
37: G. Campbell Morgan, The Corinthian Letters of Paul (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1946), p. 239.
38: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 359.
39: E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 378.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=2co&chapter=008>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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