Notes on 2 Corinthians 8:1-8

2 Corinthians 8:1‑8  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The apostle was now free, so far as the state of the Corinthian saints was concerned, to introduce the great duty of remembering the poor. Even the most honored servants of the Lord were forward in this work, and not least Paul himself. This he would lay on the heart of the Corinthians. As he sought not his own things, he could plead for others; and he would draw out the affections of his children at Corinth toward saints suffering from poverty in Judea, whither he was going.
Yet we may notice how the character of the man comes out. He did not like the task of appealing to others for pecuniary help even though for others. The directness of his language in the first epistle is therefore in the strongest contrast with his circumlocution in the second. The need was deeply on his own heart; and he has no more doubt of the generous feelings of the Corinthians than of their ability, so far as circumstances were concerned, to respond; but the delicacy with which he deals with all is most marked and instructive. Personal influence has no place; faith and love are called out actively; the cheering example of saints where such devotedness could have boon least expected opens the way; and Christ is brought in, carrying it home with irresistible power for those that know Him.
“Now we make known to you, brethren, the grace of God that is given in [or, among] the assemblies of Macedonia; that in much trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches1 of their liberality; because according to power [I bear witness] and beyond2 power [they gave] of their own accord, beseeching of us with much entreaty3 the grace and the fellowship of the ministering unto the saints; and this not as we hoped, but their own selves they gave first to the Lord and to us by the will of God; so that we exhorted Titus, that, even as he before began, so he would also complete as to you this grace also; but as ye abound in everything, faith and word and knowledge and all diligence and love from you4 to us, that ye abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but through5 the diligence of others proving the genuineness of your love also.” (Vers. 1-8.)
How blessedly “the grace of God” changes everything it takes up! And what can it not reach in its comprehensive embrace? Where is the demand too hard for it to entertain? Or the evil too deep for it to fathom? What sin is beyond forgiveness? Whose misery or of what sort can it not tarn into an occasion for the all-overcoming goodness of God? See here how that which is among men but “filthy lucre,” an especial object of the covetousness which is idolatry, becomes the means of exercising faith in love to the glory of God and the exceeding blessing of His children, while it draws out the wisdom of the Holy Ghost through the apostle, who did not deem it beneath the fullest consideration in all its details.
First, the mighty influence of example is brought to bear on the saints in Corinth. (Ver. 1.) Nor is this surprising; for are they not one family with its common interests, yea, one body with its fellowship undivided and immediate? Granted that the wants are in carnal things; granted, that it is no question of pleading rights or claims. But a relationship in the Spirit is no less real and far more momentous than one in the flesh; and, if there be suffering, love feels accordingly. In the next place God took care that the first to respond should be saints not in the wealthy city of Corinth, but in the long desolated and impoverished district of Macedonia, that the work might be of God's grace, and in no way a matter of worldly circumstances. Even in writing to the Corinthians the apostle had reminded them, as all experience shows, that the confessors of Christ are for the most part from the poor and obscure and foolish: and we know that in the Macedonian assemblies at this time the saints were no exception to the generally distressed condition of the country. On the contrary, we are expressly told here of their poverty down into the depths. They gave no gifts of superfluity; it was faith working by love, whilst they were proving themselves a great trial of affliction. The circumstances of Macedonia might have seemed eminently unfavorable; the reality of their liberality was the more evidently from a divine source; for in the face of tribulation their joy abounded, and their deep poverty, instead of appealing for aid to others, abounded unto the riches of their open-hearted generosity. (Ver. 2.) It was unselfish devotedness, loving others better than themselves; and as God gave them the grace that so wrought, so the apostle names it in love to the saints in Corinth, and, indeed we may say, to us all, that our hearts too should go forth in no less love. For love is as energetic and fruitful, as it is holy and free; and God would have not a grain of the good seed lost.
Nor does love calculate what it can spare nor what it can effect. (Ver. 3.) The heart animated by love thinks not of its own trials or deep poverty, but of those it hears to be suffering in any special degree, and acts at once. At least the apostle testifies of the Macedonian saints, that according to means, and beyond means, they gave of their own account. No earthly incentives were here; no pressure of agents, no rivalry of donations, no moving appeals among multitudes, no circulated lists to shame or to stimulate, no personal or party aims of any kind. It is the grace of God given from first to last; and as God treasures it, so His servant testifies of it so much the more because those in whom it wrought thought nothing of it in the love that felt only the need of its objects.
But this is not all: the Macedonian saints, far from being solicited, were themselves the suitors of Paul and his companions, and begged of them with much entreaty the grace and the fellowship of the ministering unto the saints, that is, to be allowed a share in the grace or favor of thus caring for the suffering saints of Judea.
It will be noticed that the Authorized Version, following the common Greek text, contains the words, “that we would receive” (δέξασθαι ἡμᾶς), which again involves the insertion of “take upon us” in verse 4. But as the former is not warranted by the best authorities, so the latter is needless and indeed worse; for both additions enfeeble and falsify the sense, which is, that the Macedonian saints might have the grace and fellowship of the service which was to be done the poor saints, not the mere idea that the apostle would receive their collection and undertake its distribution.6
But the apostle goes farther in his fine sketch of Macedonian devotedness; for it was not only spontaneous, but beyond all expectation of himself, accustomed as he was to live in the walk of faith every day. “And this not as we hoped, but their own selves they gave first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.” Is not this the reflection, yea reproduction, as far as it goes, of Christ's love in giving Himself? Doubtless directly and necessarily there is a perfection in Christ's offering which is altogether unique. He gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor; it was all this and more to God and for us, as nothing else could be. But these humble and loving saints, the grace of God in whom is commended to the Corinthians, did not merely go beyond their means, but beyond the apostle's hope, who did not wish to be burdened with the wants of others those who were themselves in the depth of poverty. And no wonder that they thus exceeded, seeing that, as he adds, “their own selves they gave first to the Lord, and to us by the will of God.” Had they not caught a vivid impression of the Savior's love, where God always had the first place, whatever His infinite compassion for man? When love for the saints follows in their case, it is qualified by that which was the constant motive of Christ, “by the will of God.”
This acted on the heart of the apostle up to the point of beseeching Titus to carry out what he had formerly begun among the Corinthians when he delivered the first epistle. (Ver. 6.) Paul's love for them was holily jealous that their love should not slacken and that an early promise should not wither in the bud. And Titus was the meet instrument, as he before began, so also now to complete as to7 the Corinthians this grace also.
“But, as ye abound in everything, faith and word and knowledge and all diligence and love from you to us, that ye abound in this grace also.” The apostle exhorts the Corinthians too, as he had Titus. They had their part now, and as God had enriched with everything else, were they to fail in this grace? Nay, He looks that they should abound in it also. (Ver. 7.) Yet he is careful that it should not be by injunction but of grace. “I speak not by command, but through the diligence of others proving the genuineness of your love also.” (Ver. 8.) What a blending of tenderness, delicacy, and of faithfulness withal!