II Corinthians 8–9. The Offering For the Jerusalem Church. Part 1.
Key Notes: Does God coerce? Church coercion. Grace in conclusion.
In the second half of II Corinthians, Paul takes up two issues: the Corinthians’ incomplete offering, (8–9) and his competition with fake apostles. (10–12)
The outline of chapters 8–9
8:1–7 Macedonians have set the pace of giving.
8:8–15 Jesus is our chief example of giving.
8:16–23 The gift from the churches will be by carried by Titus and escorted by other well-known and responsible Christian leaders.
9:1–5 Paul pushes the Corinthians to give.
9:6–15 Rewards are offered for the cheerful giver.
In this section (which should be read through more than once) Paul puts pressure on the Corinthians to give. The offering coming from the Gentile churches is a gift to the Mother Church in Jerusalem. It was partly to relieve the poverty of the Jerusalem church, but also as a good-will gesture from Gentiles to Jewish believers.
Paul had asked them a year before to make a money gift through systematic weekly giving. (ICor.15:1–40). He reminds them that they began (IICor.8:10) at that time but stopped. We do not know why they stopped, but we may speculate.
1. They were involved in the turmoil of church discipline, summarized in II Cor. 1–7. Apparently, the discipline of sexual misconduct (ICor.5) had led to a revolt against Paul which had been put down by Titus carrying a hot letter from Paul. Probably the conduct of ordinary church life had been stalled for some time. They got stuck and Paul must get them going again.
2. It is well known that rich people give less than poor people.
*Corinth was probably the wealthiest city of the Empire. It was situated on an isthmus with ports on either side, facing Europe and Asia. It was the capitol of Achaia, with its political traffic. It was a center of banking and finance and was famous for art work in bronze. It had surpassed Athens, which was fading.
Paul says they excel in faith, communication, knowledge, earnestness and love for Paul. They need to excel in grace as well. In contrast to the Corinthians,
Paul presents the Macedonians: citizens of Thessalonica and Philippi.. They were not expected to participate initially. They were extremely poor ( 8:2) in part due to persecution.
*Thessalonians: Acts 17:1- describes the riot at Thessalonica. Paul spoke of “…much affliction….” (I Thes. 1:6) ; “…you suffered the same things from your countrymen”. (I Thes. 2:14)
*Philippians: Acts.16:19- describes Paul and Silas being beaten and imprisoned in Philippi.
In Phil.1:27 he encouraged them to be “…not frightened in anything by your opponents”.
The Macedonians volunteered, “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (8:4). Their joy and poverty overflowed in "a wealth of liberality" . Unexpectedly, their giving was preceded by their dedication to the Lord, devotion to Paul and the Apostles and then to the saints in Jerusalem. (8:5). It was a spiritual revival for them, not just a fund-raiser.
Paul was sending Titus to Corinth as a volunteer (8:17) with a delegation of Macedonians! They would go ahead of him so that he would not be humiliated if they responded poorly. He wanted to be able to boast of them as he boasted of the Macedonians. (9:1–4). Paul would come to Corinth later. (9:5). Paul says he is not commanding them (8:8) but giving advice. (8:10). It is not taxation or extortion. (9:5). He offers other motives for their giving, such as Christ’s self-giving, the rewards and mutual benefits to the giver and the receiver, and service to God. But he is cajoling, pushing, shaming them into action. They have to prove their love. (8:24). The heat is on them.
Let us first let us look at Paul’s pressure on the Corinthians. Paul is using persuasion that goes well beyond simple exhortation. Where is the line between moral persuasion and coercion? What about Christian freedom? We love God and do as we please!? Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light. He does not hammer people. God does not coerce people. Or does He? God is not above overcoming our wills to accomplish His purposes.
*Moses gave God five excuses for not going to Egypt to liberate Israel. (Ex.4:10–17). He had to go anyway and worked for forty years.
*Gideon did not want to fight the Midianites. (Judg.6:15). God said He would be with him. He won a victory with only 300 men. We still talk about it.
*Jonah is the model case of coercion. God put him through a frightening near-death experience to induce him to do his missionary work.
*Jeremiah was only a youth and did not want to be a prophet— to the nations--not just Israel. (Jer.1:4–10). God said He would put His words in his mouth. But it was not enjoyable work. (Jer.20:7–12). He is called ”the weeping prophet”.
*The Church did not intend to leave Jerusalem to spread the Gospel to all the world. Persecution forced them out. Then they went everywhere preaching the Word. Acts 8:1–4
*Peter would not darken the door of a pagan’s house. (Acts 10). God told him Gentiles were clean, too. Peter got the message and went to the house of Cornelius, leading the first Italians to faith. Acts 10:28
Coercion is the use of force to compel submission. We are uneasy, and should be, with the idea of coercion. It has been abused throughout Church history. It is ironic that the early Church, which overcame Roman persecution by peaceful witness, itself became the persecutor when it came into power. Augustine had been persecuted as a youth when he was part of the heresy called Manichaeism. At the end of his life, he was persecuting the Manichaes.
Augustine also used coercion against the Donatists, who were divisive but not heretics, including ridicule, exile and killing. He was in favor of forced unity, invoking Jesus’ parable of the householder: “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel people to come in that my house may be full.” (Lk.14:23) Initially a peaceful person, Augustine ran his ideas to their logical conclusion—and got himself and the Church into trouble for centuries to come. The Inquisition used Augustine’s teaching as an argument for its tortures and executions.
Augustine forgot Jesus’ word that His kingdom was not of this world, otherwise His disciples would fight. (Jn.18:36). He also neglected Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds; the opposing forces must be allowed to grow up together. (Matt.13:29). We believe that only the work of the Holy Spirit can really convert people and change them into saints. However, the tension between the concept of a pure, small, fortress-like church where only believers are welcomed, and a large mixed-multitude, hotel-like church that cultivates seekers persists.
Periodically, there have been outbreaks of cruelty of Christians against pagans as well as other Christians. The Inquisition in Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, for example, forced conversion on Jews (then called Maranos) and Moslems (then called Moriscos). A more recent example is the attack of Catholic Polish against the Jews in the Holocaust. We also note the political pressure of the Orthodox Church of Russia against evangelicals. We must be warned that if Christians become more powerful in this Country, that we may also become coercive.
But how can you make cheerful givers when you have to pressure them? The section begins with grace “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God…..” (8:1). The section also ends with grace. “…they pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God to you.” (9:14). Grace encloses the argument of these two chapters, and the word occurs ten times in the passage. We see the grace of God operating in each of the examples given above.
It is the grace of God which gives the Christian life, and gets the impossible done in surprising and powerful ways. It is the grace of God that makes a person cheerful and beneficent. Then giving comes easily.