2 Corinthians 8 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Paul Sets Forth Guidelines and Models of Christian Stewardship
Motivating Christians and congregations not only to give but also to be fiscally responsible in their giving is a difficult enterprise even in the best of circumstances. The needs are seemingly endless, and there are so many competing voices that the average Christian is stymied. Various and sundry organizations put forth their pleas for money constantly, sometimes relentlessly.
Fundraisers are frequently in a serious quandary themselves as they face the consumerism mentality of today's society. Books on how to corner the market are on the increase. Sophisticated marketing strategies abound. Then there are those who make a bad name for fundraisers everywhere by resorting to threats (such as to go without food until a certain dollar figure is met), sensationalism (such as showing pictures of children with severe deformities) and even warnings of impending doom for the organization if funds are not immediately forthcoming.
The collection effort was successfully completed in A.D. 57, and the funds were delivered by Paul and a group of delegates chosen by the contributing Gentile churches. In Romans 15:26 Paul states that the churches of Macedonia and Achaia "were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem," but the actual list of contributing churches is much longer. Luke's list includes delegates from Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe and Asia. The church at Philippi is without a delegate, but Luke himself may have functioned in this capacity (this is a "we" section of Acts). Timothy, who is included in the list, undoubtedly represented Lystra. Corinth was also without a delegate, but they may well, in the end, have asked Paul (or possibly Titus) to represent them.
A fundraising effort of this kind requires enormous investments of time and energy. Why did Paul do it? For one, the need was genuine. The Jerusalem collection was first and foremost an act of charity. Famine on top of persistent food shortages, double taxation and overpopulation crippled an already precarious Palestinian economy. The situation was undoubtedly aggravated by a voluntary pooling of assets in the early years of the church's existence (Acts 2:44-46; 4:32-37) and the constant need for the mother church to support the itinerant activities of its members and extend hospitality to visitors from other churches. Then too it was common, as it is today, for diaspora Jews to settle in and around the "holy city" at retirement; the result was a steady increase of widows and elderly in need of assistance.
Second, the relief fund served as an important, visible expression of the interdependence of believers worldwide. All of life is included in the shared concerns of those in Christ. For safety reasons, mountain climbers rope themselves together when climbing a mountain. That way, if one climber should slip and fall, he would not fall to his death but would be held by the others until he could regain his footing. In a similar way the Corinthians' surplus supplied the needs of the Judean churches so that the Judean churches could, in turn, meet the needs of the Corinthians (2 Cor 8:14).
Finally, the collection was a tangible representation of the heart of the gospel--that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, not male and female (Gal 3:28). In particular, Paul may have had high hopes that the relief fund would allay any lingering fears and concerns Jewish Christians had regarding the Gentile mission. "Their hearts will go out to you," he says, "because of the surpassing grace God has given you" (2 Cor 9:14).
An unprecedented too chapters of 2 Corinthians are devoted to the Jerusalem relief fund. The length attests the seriousness with which the collection effort was viewed. What, then, was Corinth's role in the fundraising effort? According to 2 Corinthians 8:10, it was the first church not only to give but indeed to have the desire to do so. Paul must have made the Corinthians aware of the relief fund on his founding visit or shortly thereafter, for a little over a year later the church asked for his counsel on the best way to go about saving up such monies (1 Cor 16:1). His advice at the time was to do as he had instructed the Galatian churches: each person should set aside a sum of money every week in keeping with his or her income. In this way no collections would have to be made on Paul's next visit (1 Cor 16:2). The assumption that each person could do this shows that most members had surplus income. But it must not have been a very great surplus, since week-by-week savings were necessary for the contribution to be a generous one in the end (1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 8:20; Murphy-O'Connor 1991:77).
Betoeen the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians, the collection effort in Corinth fell by the wayside. In part this was due to intruding missionaries who raised questions about the legitimacy of the collection--perhaps with a view to diverting the funds into their own coffers (see the introduction). One of Titus's tasks after delivering Paul's severe letter was to rekindle interest in the relief fund. This he was able to do (8:6). But after he left Corinth, the collection effort once again came to a halt. Second Corinthians 8--9 is Paul's final attempt to get the Corinthians to finish what they had pledged to do the previous year (8:10-11).
To speak of "Paul's fundraising appeal," though, is to employ a kind of misnomer, for no direct appeal for funds occurs in these chapters. In fact, Paul does not even once use the term "money." His approach is much more subtle. His overall strategy is to provide the Corinthians with a number of powerful incentives for completing their offering. These incentives are for the most part tied to what he knows about the Corinthians rather than to any generic fundraising tactics. So what does Paul know about them? He knows that they are a fiercely independent and competitively minded congregation. This is why he cites the exemplary generosity of another church (8:1-5), compares the Corinthians' sincerity to that of others (v. 8) and puts before them the model of Christ himself (v. 9). He also realizes that they have a strong drive to excel at what they do and consequently pushes them to excel in the area of giving (v. 7). He is further aware of their fear of losing face before others. So he reminds them of the reputation that he has noised abroad about them (9:1-2), appeals to their embarrassment should visitors come and find them unprepared (9:4) and announces the forthcoming visit of one or more colleagues to make sure this does not happen (8:6; 9:3, 5).
Paul's approach is also realistic. He is keenly aware of the practical aspects of a collection effort such as this. This is evident in his concern to provide guarantees that the delivery of the funds will be handled in a responsible manner (8:16-24), to present the church with some practical guidelines for giving (8:11-15; 9:6-7) and to point out the benefits they will reap (9:8-15).
In many ways the cumulative picture is not a particularly comfortable one. Is it legitimate to use comparative strategies in fundraising? Is it wise to appeal to a church's ego to motivate giving? For all of Paul's talk in 6:14--7:1 of the need of Christians to sever their ties with secular society, is he not capitulating at this point to the way the world works? Our Western capitalistic society, in particular, is so competition-oriented--be it in business, education or sports--that it may not be spiritually healthy for the church to engage in such "let's get ahead of the next guy" tactics--or is it?
Several observations can be made. First, the strategy Paul employs is intended to motivate the Corinthians not to new giving but to follow through on a commitment already made. The distinction is important. Paul is not soliciting a pledge. In fact, it was the Corinthians who had expressed interest in the collection in the first place (1 Cor 16:1-2).
Second, Paul aims to motivate by comparing attitudes, not dollar amounts. It is the Macedonians' joyful, willing and earnest attitude that is set before the Corinthians, not the size of their contribution.
Third, the collection will not benefit Paul personally. He is not involved because it will look good on his résumé, enhance his reputation among the Gentile congregations or improve his relationship with the Jerusalem church. Indeed, at the time he gave the Corinthians an initial set of instructions, he was not even sure that it would be appropriate for him to travel to Jerusalem with the funds (1 Cor 16:4).
Fourth, the cause is an eminently worthy one. These are Christians of his own race who are in need of the basic necessities of life--food, shelter, clothing. Moreover, they are churches that Paul had started out persecuting. And even though he had done it out of zeal for God's honor, he never stopped thinking of himself as the worst of sinners because of it (1 Tim 1:15). A collection of this sort was a small step in rectifying the wrong that had been committed.
Finally, Paul is quick to point out that generous giving is an act of divine grace (8:1). It is only as God blesses and enables that we are able to give in the first place.