I don’t want to drag out this “money-talk.” So let’s finish off 2 Corinthians 8 in one gulp, but with serious thought about the two topics here. The second is rather basic, though too often ignored. The first is a bit challenging for us today, unlike Paul’s 1st century.
“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. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little’” (8:13-15).
Paul is explaining further that “the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (8:12). That is, having given the Macedonian churches as a model of an overflowing wealth of generosity, he doesn’t want them to think their gift won’t count if they don’t match it. Rather, his desire is that the currently better-off Corinthian church share with the worse-off Jerusalem church. In one word, he wants “equality”.
The Greek word is isotays—“equality as a matter of fairness.” Raise some eyebrows. no? Is this Barack Obama’s “distribute the wealth”? Maybe even socialism? Not really, but only in the sense that Obama and socialism are permanent policies, while Paul’s was occasional generosity. He envisions a time when circumstances may be reversed. He’s not advocating a new economic policy; he’s solving a “momentary” problem.
Paul illustrates by quoting Exodus 16:18 (from the Septuagint–the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament). There a miraculous equalization of manna occurred; here Paul means giving should result in an equal supply.
Does the equality-principle apply to us? In a loose sense when we give our Sunday offering it does. Sure the money mostly goes to pay salaries and building expenses. But we hope more people will hear the gospel through our church, and so more of “equality of the gospel” will result. That certainly holds true in our missionary giving and when we give an offering to help a member in financial need.
But the media show us the world. We see homeless, hungry and nearly naked people in Africa, for example. Some are our brothers and sisters in Christ. How does the “equality principle” work here? Given the magnitude of the problem, should we even try to give offerings toward “the equality of fairness”? Those are questions we shouldn’t lightly dismiss.
Paul’s credibility has already suffered. because he’s refused financial support from the Corinthians. We’d think that noble. But, since itinerant preachers and skilled orators always asked for money, the Corinthians thought Paul “unprofessional” or even unscrupulous–especially now that he’s organizing a collection. Those suspicions, of course, are fueled by the “super apostles” intent on discrediting Paul and his gospel. So Paul is “taking pains to do what is right” and “avoid any criticism” . . .
“I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it” (8:16-24).
Even though this is “money-handling 101”, a few comments are in order. One, Paul is assembling a team of known, respected men to carry the collection. Titus we know, but not “the brother who is praised by all the churches.” Maybe Barnabas or Silas or Timothy or Luke or Apollos? With those two are “representatives of the churches” who give toward the collection.
Clearly, Paul is “taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.”
So must we. Fraud or simply poor money-management have ruined many ministries and dishonored the name of the Lord.
Here are a few “duh, yeah” thoughts. Local churches must be transparent about finances. Elders should present a budget, which members vote to approve. Members should meet at least annually to receive a report about how their offerings are actually being used. Basic stuff–though I’ve read of churches that don’t do even that, and I’m shocked.
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I’ll finish today with Jesus’ words to his disciples (us). They nicely tie together Paul’s words and call for our prayerful thinking . . .
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out,
a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted,
where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”