2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (full Bible text below)
I write the following with the understanding that I do not do this from a position of standing on the one side and pointing fingers at others. I am fully aware of how many the blind spots are that I suffer from that keep me from doing justice to God’s wishes. I rather do this from the position of Matthew 5:4, where Jesus says: “Blessed are those who mourn . . .”
I also do not support a view of an ascetic existence; I do not view Christians as having to live sour lives, not living to full, not enjoying God’s gifts, without any joy and excitement. I believe the words of Jesus in John 10:10 that He came so that we might have ‘life to the full’. However, I write this as a reminder that we as God’s children have a responsibility to live in terms of the Kingdom life that Jesus came to model for us, and which the Holy Spirit works in us.
It worries me when I think it is my right to have more than others. It worries me when I think I have to have the bigger slice of the cake than others. It worries me when Christians take and ask from others when they already have more than enough. It worries me when Christians conduct their business dealings in such a way that they get away with more that is justified, and leave others (including their Christian brothers and sisters) feeling being exploited. It worries me when Christians judge each other by what they think they have, and then condemn them for not living up to their expectations about meeting their needs. It worries me that the pool of Christians giving is so small, causing the load on the others being overwhelming, while the need for the support of the poor and of Christian work always falls short. It worries me when Christians fail to find joy in giving, thereby betraying their creed of sacrifice. It worries me when we justify our quest to provide for ourselves and our loved ones by focussing on money, rather than to realise that I am not God, that I can do only what I can, and that God is to be trusted with looking after my family better than I can. It worries me too when missionaries who sacrifice everything have to live off the scraps of the land, totally forgotten by their Christian brothers and sisters. In the end, it worries me that we as Christians are not more concerned about the inequalities which exist among us, as well as those between us and the non-believing others. In South Africa where I live, we, as the “haves”, sometimes live in total oblivion of the struggles of the “have-nots” on the other side of the railway. Even if we do not care about the above on the basis of what we believe and what God tells us over and over again, we are simply blind in terms of the ticking time bomb that exists at our peril.
Chris van Wyk writes in his brilliant study on Leviticus (22 May 2017, Lev. 25, translated from Afrikaans) that the underlying principle of God’s laws on property and support among the people of God is the fact that the land belongs to God, which implies that God’s people are merely stewards of the land (and of their property). Prescriptions such as the Sabbath year (every 7th year, during which the land had to lie fallow) and the Year of the Jubilee (every 50 years, when all debt had to be written off and all land had to be returned to its original owners) were justified based on God’s provision. If the people of God kept to his prescriptions and obeyed his laws, they would be allowed to live in their country without having to be concerned, without worrying (my emphasis). God will see to it that the land produces good harvests, and that they have more than enough to eat.
Paul pleads with the Corinthians (5:7) that, in addition to the other wonderful characteristics of their lives as Christians, they “also excel in this grace of giving”. And then he adds his motivation (5:13): “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality (my emphasis). He then explains what this equality implies: The “givers” become blessed with what the “takers” have, and vice versa. Observing the joy, appreciation and love of the poor person when his or her need is being addressed, brings an unanticipated exhilaration to the giver that dwarfs the possible joy that he/she could have experienced from spending the gift on him/herself. The equality that we have to pursue is for the poor, to have more physical resources, and the rich to have more of life’s joy, understanding and meaning that is are the natural consequences of identifying with, and giving towards the needs of others.
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 6 So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you[a]—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 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.
10 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. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 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, 15 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.”[b]