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2 Corinthians 9 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Paul Employs Some Reverse Psychology

David Seabury once said, "Enthusiasm is the best protection in any situation and wholeheartedness is contagious." This is especially true when it comes to fundraising. A contagious enthusiasm is a very effective way to rouse a congregation to action. This was certainly Paul's experience. While visiting the Macedonian churches, he shared a ministry opportunity, and his enthusiasm carried the day (8:4). In fact, the Macedonians urgently pleaded for the privilege of sharing in "this service to the saints" in Jerusalem (8:4).

Paul also boasted, as proud parents are wont to do, about the Corinthians' eagerness to participate. But now a problem has developed. The Corinthians' initial eagerness has not translated into action. Titus was able to rekindle interest in the relief fund on his last visit (8:6). But after he left Corinth, the collection effort once again came to a halt. And now Paul is planning to travel to Corinth, and the Macedonian delegates who accompany him will see that all his boasting was so much hot air.

To prevent this from happening, Paul engages in a bit of reverse psychology with the Corinthians. To prevent embarrassment for all parties concerned, he does four things. He recalls their initial enthusiasm and how it had stirred the Macedonian churches to action (9:1-2). He refers to the Corinthians' loss of face should any Macedonian delegates come and find them unprepared (9:4). He announces the upcoming visit of the brothers to make sure this does not happen (9:3, 5). And finally he reminds them of the blessings that come from generous giving (9:6-15).

But isn't Paul going over much the same ground that he covered in chapter 8? The seemingly repetitive aspects of 9:1-5, in particular, have led some scholars to conclude that chapters 8--9 could not possibly be part of the same letter (see the introduction). For one, chapter 9 begins with a phrase that normally introduces a new topic ("Now concerning . . . "), and a full description of the collection reappears (this service to the saints, v. 1). How is this possible after Paul's call in chapter 8 to "finish the work"? Also, in chapter 8 the Corinthians' efforts are still in need of completion (vv. 6, 11), while in 9:2 it looks as if they have been ready since last year. Further, the mission of the brothers is presented differently. In chapter 8 they are delegates of the contributing churches, sent to ensure that the monies are handled in a responsible fashion; in chapter 9 they are Paul's representatives, sent to complete the offering before his visit to Corinth.

Three suggestions are commonly proffered to explain this state of affairs. One suggestion is that chapter 9 is a separate letter sent at the same time as 2 Corinthians 8 to communities in Achaia other than Corinth (for example, H. D. Betz 1985; Georgi 1986:17; Martin 1986:281). A second construal is that chapter 9 is a note sent after chapter 8 to firm up the collection effort that Paul had written about in his earlier communication. A third proposal reverses the chapters: chapter 9 is the earlier piece of correspondence, with chapter 8 sent to Corinth at the point that the good intentions Paul had boasted about to the Macedonians had not yet produced the desired results (Bultmann 1985:18; Héring 1967:xiii).

The idea of a separate letter, while attractive in theory, actually introduces as many problems as it solves. For one, the opening gar ("for") would be nonsensical as the start of a letter. Moreover, Paul's references to the brothers in 9:3-5 are quite unintelligible apart from the details of chapter 8. Then too, his mention of the Macedonians in 9:2-4 assumes the more explicit references in the previous chapter.

So what is the solution? In the final analysis, much depends on how the grammar of verse 1 is construed. The opening phrase, in point of fact, is "for concerning" (peri men gar), not "now concerning" (peri de); thus it links this section with what has come before rather than introducing a new topic. In addition, the article with diakonia could be resumptive--"concerning this service" (peri tes diakonias)--a recognition on Paul's part that he has digressed a bit from his primary topic. The digression has in fact been a lengthy one (vv. 16-24), which would further explain why a full description of the collection (the service for the saints) is included at this juncture.

A simple reordering of the clauses in 9:1 actually provides a ready explanation of what Paul is about here. If the main clause is the latter part of verse 1 and the first part of verse 1 is merely resumptive, then verse 1 and the first part of verse 2 can be translated "It is superfluous for me to write you about this service for the saints, for I know your enthusiasm . . ." Paul would then be saying that the advice he has offered them, after all is said and done, is probably not really necessary given the Corinthians' initial track record. Read in this way, 9:1 becomes not a clumsy transition but a pastoral affirmation that lets Paul express confidence in the Corinthians' good intentions and still voice concern that they not let him down by failing to translate their good intentions into action.

Paul's confidence is based on knowledge of the Corinthians' desire to be involved: for I know your eagerness (v. 2). The translation "I know your readiness" in the RSV and NASB is misleading. From 8:6 and 11 it is obvious that the Corinthians are far from ready--although the other Achaian churches may have been closer to the mark (you in Achaia). Eagerness to help (NIV, JB, NEB, NRSV) and "how willing you are" (Phillips, TEV) are right on target.

The Corinthians' eagerness became common knowledge as a result of Paul's proud boasting to the Macedonians. The verb kauchomai is present tense: "I am boasting." Paul has been criticized for being either hopelessly naive or overly optimistic about the Corinthians. In actuality, neither is the case. When talking about one church to another, he merely made a point of presenting the congregation in the best rather than the worst light possible--even if the latter is closer to reality.

What he specifically has been telling the Macedonians is that the Achaian churches have been ready since last year. Ready for what, though? If Paul is saying that their contribution was ready last year, this conflicts with his injunction in the preceding chapter to "finish the work" (8:11). If, however, he is saying that last year they were ready to be involved or prepared to make a commitment, this fits nicely with the broader context (ready to give; NIV, Phillips, TEV, JV, NEB).

Yet it was not their readiness to give that impressed the Macedonians but their enthusiasm (literally, "zeal" [zelos]). "Zeal," used positively, denotes an intense and earnest effort to reach a goal (Hahn 1978b:1166). Paul could well be thinking of how the Corinthians not only were enthusiastic but also took the initiative in asking his advice on the best way to go about saving up for a generous contribution (1 Cor 16:1-4). The net effect was to stir the Macedonians--or at least most of them--to action. The verb erethize usually means "to provoke," "irritate" or "rouse to anger." Here it is used in the positive sense of rousing to action by means of an encouraging example.

But enthusiasm is not easy to sustain over a period of years. So it is now the Corinthians' turn to be roused by the Macedonians' enthusiasm. Moreover, Paul will be accompanied by some Macedonians on his next visit to Corinth (9:4). If they come and find the Corinthians unprepared, this would make for a rather embarrassing situation for all parties concerned. To see that this does not happen, Paul takes the precautionary step of sending a team--consisting of Titus and the too companions--in advance to set matters in order (vv. 3, 5; compare 8:6). The plan is for them to visit first, and Paul plus the Macedonian delegates to follow after. Paul provides no further details about Titus's too companions (the brothers). In all likelihood this is because quite a lengthy recommendation has already been provided (8:16-24).

The task of Titus and his companions is toofold. Their first task is to make certain that the offering is ready by the time Paul comes (finish the arrangements, 9:5). Their second task is to ensure that the generous gift the Corinthians have pledged is freely and not grudgingly given (v. 5). The noun translated generous gift means "a good word" (eu + logia) and is commonly used in the Greek Bible of a favorable word accorded God and others (as in 1 Cor 10:16; Rev 5:12, 13; 7:12). The term also came to denote a benefit or a bountiful gift bestowed on someone by someone else (Rom 15:29; Eph 1:3), which is the sense here. From all appearances, then, Corinth was a church with sufficient funds to make a sizable contribution.

Paul uses the term generous (eulogia) again in verse 5--this time as a point of contrast to a grudging (pleonexia) contribution. The exact contrast is difficult to determine. Since Paul has just reminded the Corinthians that they had promised a generous contribution, it is unlikely that he would hammer away at its size (a large and not a stingy gift [KJV]). The sense of freely as opposed to grudgingly offered is a possibility (NIV), as is voluntarily and not forcibly extracted (TEV, Phillips, JB, RSV, NEB). The last option fits the broader context the best. The TEV's "It will show that you give because you want to, not because you have to" is an apt rendering. The term translated "grudgingly" (pleonexia) derives from a verb meaning "to take advantage of" or "to defraud" and is often used of someone who is greedy and grasping after what others have. Here the term denotes selfish, greedy people who give only because they are forced to do so and not because they want to.

The point is well taken. If Paul waits until he arrives with the Macedonian representatives, then Corinth will feel compelled to give and the arrangements will be hastily made so as not to lose face. The preparatory visit of Titus and his companions buys enough time for the Corinthians' gift to be ready as a voluntary one.

Paul's precautionary measure of sending a team in advance prevents too embarrassing situations from occurring. The first is for Paul's boasting to prove hollow (v. 3). The verb kenow means "to make empty or void"--or as we say today, to be "full of hot air." Paul's rivals have already been voicing criticisms about his credibility. If the Corinthians do not fulfill their pledge by the time he arrives, then his boasting will amount to a lot of fine-sounding words lacking any real substance. Not only this, but the Corinthians themselves stand to lose face. For Paul will be bringing some Macedonians with him when he comes, and how would it look to those who had made their contribution much earlier--and at grave personal cost--if the church's offering is not in order?

Thankfully, neither situation materialized. Titus and his companions fulfilled their mission, Paul made his promised visit, and the Corinthians, along with the other Achaian churches, were "pleased to make a contribution" (Rom 15:26). To Paul's way of thinking, this was only right. For "if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings" (Rom 15:27).

Next commentary:
The Results of Generous Giving

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