Notes on 2 Corinthians 8:16-24

2 Corinthians 8:16‑24  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 12
In the rest of the chapter the apostle dwells on the care taken that the administration of the bounty should be not only beyond suspicion, but clothed with dignity and godly confidence by the known character of those entrusted with it. For it is not enough that the end should be divine, but that the means also should approve themselves to every true conscience. If lucre be apt to be filthy, if covetousness be idolatry, if the love of money be a root of all evil, the Spirit of God knows how to bring in Christ into every detail, and turn both way and end into blessing to God's glory.
“But thanks to God that giveth the same zeal for you in the heart of Titus, in that he received indeed the exhortation, but being very zealous of his own accord he set out unto you. But we sent together with him the brother whose praise in the gospel [is] through all the assemblies, and not only [so] but also chosen by the assemblies our fellow-traveler with this grace that is being administered by us unto the glory of the Lord [himself]1 and our2 readiness; guarding against this, that none should blame us in this abundance that is being administered by us, for we provide3 things honorable not only before [the] Lord but also before men. And we have sent with them our brother whom we proved to be zealous many times in many things, but now much more zealous by great confidence that [he hath] in you. Whether as regards Titus, [he is] my partner and fellow-laborer toward you; whether our brethren, [they are] messengers of assemblies, Christ's glory. The shewing forth then of your love and of our boasting for you shew forth4 unto them5 in the face of the assemblies.” (Vers. 16-24.)
The apostle thankfully owned the grace of God in giving Titus to feel as he zealously felt himself about the Corinthian saints in the matter, so that while he met the desire, yet too zealous as he was to require it he was ready to set out of his own accord unto them. He speaks as if it were already done; because in the style adopted in letters the facts would be made good when Titus had reached Corinth with this epistle. How eminently suited to comfort as well as rouse to a holy zeal the saints themselves when such a servant of the Lord as Titus so promptly responded to the apostle's heart, confident as both were that, whatever appearances indicated to those who judged superficially, grace had wrought in them, really and would yet flow through them to God's glory abundantly! If Timothy was like-minded with him to care for the state-of the Philippians with genuine feeling at a later day, the Corinthians might now learn no less, as they were already prepared to do, how Titus shared the zeal of the apostle in carrying out the proffered bounty of Corinth, which had been so slow of execution as to compromise them.
Thoughtful too as ever that Christ's glory should be sustained in His servants, He would, not expose Titus to unworthy, however unwarrantable, question; and so he associated with him in this service “the brother whose praise in the gospel is throughout all the assemblies.” So well known was he by this description to the Corinthians that no direct designation was needed, though men of other times have found it so vague as to afford grounds equally plausible for many, equally uncertain for any one in particular. Of one thing we may be assured that, whether or not Luke was intended, “whose praise in the gospel” has nothing to do with him in respect of the inspired account of our Lord which induced many of the ancients to appropriate the description to him, any more than to Mark. Barnabas and Silas have been conjectured; as also Aristarchus, Gains, Trophimus, Ste. But none of these guesses seems less happy than that of some speculative Germans, who have applied τὸν ἀδελφόν to a supposed brother (after the flesh) of Titus, not seeing the incongruity of such an one, if indeed he existed, for the work in hand. The object and character of the association would have been frustrated by selecting one so near to Titus. But we do know the further consideration that, whoever he may have been, he was chosen by the assemblies to travel with the apostle and the rest who were to carry the offering of love from the Gentile saints to their poor brethren in Judea.
Here we see an important principle in exact accordance with the direction of the twelve in Acts 6. As the Christian multitude gave the means, they were left free to choose the administrators. This was as wise as gracious. The apostles kept aloof from all appearance of favoritism, and adhered to their own work with prayer, the condition of power. They might solemnly establish the seven over their business of serving tables; but they called on the disciples in general to look out from among themselves men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom in whom they had confidence. Such were the proceedings in the assembly of Jerusalem; and alike method was adopted among the Gentile assemblies, where many joined their contributions for the need at Jerusalem as we learn in verse 19. Where the saints gave, they chose according to their best judgment for the due application of their gifts, whether in one assembly, or for the special work of many assemblies. But in no case did they meddle with the ministers of the word. These the Lord gave, not the church; and the church, instead of choosing, received those whom the Lord chose and sent, not merely the higher ones, as apostles and prophets, but the more ordinary, as evangelists, pastors and teachers. For they too all rest on the same principle of the Lord's gift, and not man's. And hence it is an utter confusion to mix up two things so different as the Lord's sole title to give and send His servants in the word, and the assembly's title to choose those in whom the saints have confidence to administer their bounty.
The case before us falls under the latter. “The brother” un-named was chosen by the assemblies “our fellow-traveler with the grace that is being administered by us unto the glory of the Lord [Himself] and our readiness;” as indeed the apostle had directed in 1 Cor. 16:3, 43And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. 4And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me. (1 Corinthians 16:3‑4). The moral reason of the caution follows: “guarding against this, that none should blame us in this abundance that is being administered by us, for we provide things honorable not only before [the] Lord but before men.” (Vers. 20, 21.) It is not lack of faith, but rather faith working by love which would cut off occasion from men, as well as walk with pure conscience before God. The allusion is to Prov. 3:44So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man. (Proverbs 3:4) in the LXX.
The next verse, as well as that which follows, proves that the apostle added another brother. “And we sent with them [i.e. with Titus and the one already described] our brother whom we proved to be zealous many times in many things, but now much more zealous by great confidence that [he hath] in you.” (Ver. 22.) Still less is it possible for us to determine who is this second brother meant; because we have not even so many marks as attached to the first. But two particulars fitting him for the work are mentioned: the apostle's experience of his proved zeal often and variedly and again the exceeding warmth of his own zeal now by his (hardly Paul's) great confidence in the Corinthian saints. For the margin of the Authorized Version is more correct than the text, at least in my judgment. None could be so unsuitable an associate as a near relation, if the aim were, as it was, to inspire confidence in the donors.
It seems to be clear from verse 23 that Titus stood relatively in the higher position of the three who were to accompany the apostle: “Whether as regards Titus, [he is] my partner and fellow-laborer toward you; whether our brethren, [they are] messengers of assemblies, Christ's glory.” Is it not then incredible that the apostle would have so classified or described men so eminent as Barnabas, Silas, Luke or Mark? Not to say that it was only at a later day that he expresses his re-assurance as to the last. Could he yet write that Mark was serviceable to him for ministry? or that he was among his fellow-workers for the kingdom of God who were such as had been a consolation to him? Renewed confidence may be gravely doubted then, though it came at length; and the apostle was glad to say so as soon as he could to the Lord's praise.
It is well to note how the expression “messengers [ἀπόστολοι] of assemblies” illustrates the difference of a charge from men however delicate and weighty as compared with a gift or charge from the Lord like an apostle. These brethren, while beautifully and graciously styled “Christ's glory” as being active in the display of His excellency, were deputed envoys of certain churches who entrusted them with their contributions for Judea. Not only did he decline the sole administration of the gift himself, but he directed and sanctioned the choice of more than one and gave their task dignity in all eyes by associating the two brethren, not only with Titus who shared the highest confidence of the saints, but with himself. Our Authorized Version, however, is quite right in not rendering the word “apostles” (which is appropriated to the envoys of the Lord in the highest rank of His work) and in preferring “messengers” here and in Phil. 2:25, where it is said of Epaphroditus who was the bearer of what the Philippian saints sent at a later day to the apostle in Rome. To translate the passage in our text or in Phil. 2 “apostles” can only be from inconsiderateness, or still worse-the desire to level down the apostles of Christ by leveling up the messenger or messengers of churches. The source of the commission is the measure of their difference. To confound them is to degrade the Lord or to deify church, the great effort of the enemy by those who know not the truth, however they may look in opposition to each other. For here it is that the highest and the lowest ecclesiastically meet: the one by exalting a merely human caste of church officials to the place which the Lord gave His apostles; the other by reducing the apostles of the Lord to those chosen by the assemblies or delegates of the people. They both agree, one superstitiously, the other rationalistically, in unbelief of Christ's gracious power in providing for the perfecting of the saints.
Having thus summed up what he had to say of his companions, of moment for the Corinthian saints at this time, he calls on the saints to give the proof of their love and of his boasting about them to those brethren in the face of the assemblies.