2 Corinthians 9:6 – 15.
Our attitude towards money is indicative of how functional our faith is in God and by implication the growth in the effectiveness of our Christian testimony. This was Paul’s exegetical direction as he commended the Corinthian church in his Second Epistle for their generosity in contributing towards the famine situation in Jerusalem (Acts 24:17; 1Cor 16:1-4; 2Cor 8:1-9). The donated resources went toward not only alleviating the deprivation of members of the mother assembly but also illustrated their spiritual transformation as obedient followers of the gospel of Christ, thereby glorifying God (2Cor 9:10-13). What was so extraordinary, given the background of cultural entrenchment in that era, was to expect a predominantly Gentile church taking a collection for a largely Jewish congregation. Against the extant racial divisiveness between the two groups in the early church period, the Apostle spent an inordinate amount of space addressing repetitively in almost all his epistles to the churches, and here we see the fruit of his labours, which made this contribution effectively more poignant and counter-cultural. Also, contrary to the outlook on the brevity of life in those days, the high view of human life upheld by the gospel of Christ became indelibly implanted within the psyche of believers, as they could not ignore the preciousness of life around them and even in distant lands during the needy days of famine. Through the ages, the Christian Church is renowned for their wide-ranging philanthropic enterprises worldwide, especially in the educational and humanitarian fields, and in particular, boldly standing up for the rights the underprivileged and ethnic minorities in many countries irrespective of their religious persuasions.
What then motivated the Corinthian believers in their generosity? It is pertinent to appreciate that Paul did not imply that God commanded the Corinthians to give generously. There was an ‘inside-out’ operational impetus; viz., through “their obedience to their confession of the gospel of Christ.” The attitude of their unrestrained generosity rested on the basis of God’s largess towards them in all they possessed; hence, everything belonged to God (2Cor 9:10-13; c.f., 1Cor 4:7; Deut 10:14; Ps 24:1). It was out of the simplicity of life lived and their magnanimity, despite their poverty, that others were enriched; so in possessing little, they even delighted in their ability to give up what they had for the needs of others. That was the testimony of the early Christians. In stark contrast to a worldly call to pamper and reward the self for our labours, the sobering thought is not unlike what Job concluded – we came into this world with nothing and will unquestionably leave with nothing! Hence, it would not be too unstinting to conclude that believers ought to express the compassion and love of their God in their behaviour and generosity as the Christ in them ‘modelled’ for them to do so. Whatever appears to ‘belong’ to us, we are, in fact, accountable for everything we do with it as stewards on God’s behalf during our lifetime in this world (Luke 16:1-13). This transformative way of viewing money and possessions is dependent on the grace of God, as we come to realise that we are indeed rich beyond measure in Christ because in Him all the fulness of God rests (Col 2:9-10). Our derived wealth may be material, but in reality, its source is other-worldly, and the benefits we may derive from them are entirely based on our unflagging trust in God, as we become selflessly and radically generous. It is this expressed trust in obeying God that glorifies Him.
What was Paul’s measure of the Corinthian church’s generosity? There was no mention of the Old Testament’s tithing guide of 10% (c.f., Malachi 3:10). But it is nevertheless clear that believers liberally and joyfully gave out of their indebtedness to God because they were touched by the power of the gospel; owing everything to Christ (2Cor 9:13). The Lord knows our propensity in worrying over money matters, particularly when jobs are at risk, but what He desires is for us to move our trust to Himself alone (Prov 3:5-6), despite our constraints. The Christ in us unsurprisingly constrains us to respond to needs and atrocities as we see them through the eyes of God, with deep compassion for all His creation.