Early in the history of the church, in the 50’s AD, a famine struck the land of Judea. This famine led to a food crisis and threaten the mother church in Jerusalem. The famine was foretold by the prophet Agabus to the church in Antioch:
During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. Acts 11:27-30
Immediately upon hearing Agabus’s prophetic message, the Christians of Antioch, led by the apostle Paul and his co-worker Barnabas, responded promptly by collecting and compiling monetary funds to send to the church in Jerusalem in anticipation of the coming famine. This collection was a multiyear effort of Christian solidarity and love between Gentile and Jewish believers in the provinces of Achaea, Macedonia and Galatia.
The Apostle Paul in both his letters to the church in Corinth wrote to them about the collection for the Jerusalem church. Corinth was one of the most economically prosperous cities in the eastern Roman Empire, a center of commerce and wealth. He wanted the Corinthian church to be prepared with their funds before his coming and spurred them toward generosity. Paul did this by telling the prosperous Corinthian church about the overflowing and self-sacrificial generosity of the poor Macedonian churches.
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 2 Corinthians 8:1-7
With complements, some healthy competition, and a challenge, Paul tested the church of Corinth to live up to God’s call for love, grace, and generosity by giving abundantly to their brothers and sisters in need at the Jerusalem church.
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:8-9
Paul challenged the Corinthian Christians, if they claimed the name of Christ, then they were to follow the ways of Jesus. Jesus left the riches of his heavenly throne room and was born in a dirty stable, among dung and smelly animals, was raised the son of a lowly carpenter, in a backwater province, in solidarity with the poor and marginalized. Jesus could have been born as the son of a king or high priest, he could have been born in a family of wealth and influence, in the capital city of Jerusalem, but he chose to come to earth in humility, as a simple laborer. When he came to his people, teaching with wisdom and power, it was an offence to them:
“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” Matthew 13:55-57
Paul did not force the Corinthians to give but called them to share out of their abundance by hearts transformed by the love and sacrifice of their savior Jesus, modeling the example of his life. Paul called them not to grow weary or complacent in following the ways of Jesus.
And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. 2 Corinthians 8:10-12
The church of Jesus Christ is to be a living demonstration to the world of what it looks like to live within the Kingdom of God. The church is not to live according to the logic of the world. A Christian is not to just care about their own self-interest and ambitions but are called to live out Jesus’s self-sacrificial love, showing God’s creative intent for the world.
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15
Paul tells the Corinthians that the goal is equality. He points the Corinthians to the lesson of God’s provision of manna during Israel’s 40-year sojourn through the desert. God’s creation was meant for all men. The one who gathers much is not to have too much, and the one who gathers little is not to have too little. The one who has more, has been supplied their abundance by God so they can give to those who lack.
The Good News of Jesus is that the king of creation has come to overthrow the evil reigning over this world, the Devil has been defeated at the cross, and by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit the church is to live out the just will and reign of God. The logic of God’s kingdom is upside down to the logic of Satan’s and man’s kingdoms. In the kingdoms of Satan and men the most important things to strive for are power, wealth, pride, and the unimpeded satiation of all lusts and desires. In Jesus’s kingdom, a Christian follows a different set of values and the logic of their lives doesn’t follow worldly wisdom and pragmatisms.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Christians are to sow seeds of righteousness by freely scattering their gifts from God to the poor. In so doing they will reap a harvest for the Kingdom that will endure for eternity. Amen! - Mike Humphrey