There are seven different words used in these two chapters to describe this ministry. (1) The first indicates the spirit which characterized the saints: haplotes, rendered “liberality,” is really 66singleness” (8:2; see R.V. margin, and 9:13); it suggests that Godwardness in the giving that makes His will and glory the one great motive. (2) The gift is called a charis, “a grace” (verses 4, 7, 19); the word also denotes “thanks” (see 9:15), and the suggestion may be that their gift of grace was the outcome of gratitude to God. (3) The same verse speaks of the gift as “fellowship” (koinonia, a having in common, 8:4, and 9:14; the word is rendered “contribution” in Rom. 15:26), indicating that it is not simply a matter of giving to others what we have and what they have not, but of sharing what belongs to us all. (4) Again, it is called a diakonia, a “ministry,” or d6ministration” (8:4; 9:1, 12, 13); the root meaning of this word is “to pursue”; it suggests earnestness in the undertaking. (5) In 8:14 it is spoken of as “an abundance” (perisseuma, lit., that which exceeds, and so, in this respect, that which is more than one’s actual requirements). (6) In 8:20 it is described as a “bounty” (hadrotes, not simply “an abundance,” but that which is full, fat, rich, bountiful). (7) In 9:5 it is called “a blessing” (eulogia, see margin); what is indicated now is the goodwill which finds expression in the gift; the spirit of the giving is thus transferred to the gift itself.
Cumulatively the description is very full. It marks four great aspects of the giving. These are:(a) the Godward view in (1) and (2); (b) the attitude towards the recipients in (3) and (7); (c) the character of the act itself in (4); (d) the nature of the offering in (5) and (6).
Appeal is made, however, to a higher standard than even the liberality of those churches. The great incentive is the grace shown in the poverty of Christ and the enrichment we have derived from it. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye though His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). With this we may put into connection that other word on grace in 9:8, “And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work” (five comprehensive “all’s” and “every’s,” representing various forms of one word in the original). The example of Christ (8:9) and the power of God (9:8)! These are designed to kindle our liberality. That the grace of ministering to need is specially in view is clear from what follows: “As it is written, He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor: his righteousness abideth for ever.”
While there had been a readiness on the part of the church at Corinth to respond to the exhortation given them at the close of the first Epistle regarding their offerings, and their immediate zeal had stirred up the churches of Macedonia, yet the latter had evidently responded still more thoroughly to the appeal made to them; and this notwithstanding that they were in much affliction and were suffering great privations. In addition to their immediate hardships, three civil wars, waged in their territory by rival claimants either to Dictatorship or Imperial power in the Roman world, had devastated the whole district. Yet “their deep poverty” (lit., poverty down to the depth), and with it, indeed, “the abundance of their joy,” had “abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (2 Cor. 8:2). They are accordingly set forth as an example to the church at Corinth.
The injunction given to the churches in Corinth and else. where to have fellowship with the needs of their brethren in another country, was as follows: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches at Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come” (I Cor. 16:1, 2). More closely to the original the command is, “Let each one of you lay by him, storing as he may prosper.” While this conveys the thought of storing at home, yet whatever was laid by was to form part of a united offering, as in verse 1.
However varied the details may be in differing circumstances, the principles are clear. The giving was to be regular (“upon the first day of the week”), universal (“each one of you”), proportionate (“as he may prosper”). As to the first of these, there is clearly an intimation that liabilities were to have been duly met, and that a fresh week was to be begun by an offering to the Lord as each had prospered. There was to be a definite purpose of heart (2 Cor. 9:11), and, as the giving was to be “to the Lord,” there would be a constant exercise of heart to avoid anything like extravagance or carelessness in the matter of spending, so that there might be the more set aside for the Lord instead of less. Thus the gift would be “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well
pleasing to God.”
Turning now to the Epistles, it is well to remind ourselves that Divine grace has not only placed us individually in Christ, He has made us members of churches, or assemblies, giving us local corporate privileges and responsibilities. There is this also to bear in mind, that what is recorded of the circumstances, for example, in the church at Corinth, is not simply an account of what took place there, but, as part of the God-breathed Word, is permanently left for the instruction of the saints throughout the present era. The circumstances may vary, but the principles and commands remain binding. When the Apostle wrote his first Epistle to that church, there was deep poverty among the saints in Judea, and the churches in different lands were called upon to send relief to them. Their very poverty has been the means of giving us permanent instruction on the subject of giving. That the call for assistance was not limited to Corinth, but was given to other churches in Greece, and to the churches in Galatia, marks the universality of the instruction.
The opening of the windows of heaven! How significant a metaphor! Had not the windows of heaven been opened in judgment in such a manner that the waters prevailed greatly upon the earth (Gen. 7:18)? The language that describes that act of judgment becomes used to depict a promise of blessing. “Prove Me now herewith.” The command is an appeal to faith. It holds good today. Shall we not take God at His Word? To say that we are not under the Law but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as if thus to make an excuse for doing less than what was done under the Law is to ignore the words of the Lord Jesus, “Think not that I came to destroy the Law or the prophets: I came not to destroy but to fulfil.” The Lord spoke eighteen parables, and no less than sixteen of these deal with the use of money. Let us remember His remarks at the conclusion of one of them: “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:11, 12).
How intensely solemn is the closing book of the Old Testament, written about one thousand years after the giving of the Law! The people of Israel, instead of charging themselves, in a spirit of repentance towards God, with their own sins as being the cause of the troubles that had come upon them, were adding to their guilt by reproaching God and blaming His prophets. Among the various sins by which they were transgressing the Law, there was the non-payment of tithes. How grievous an offence this was in His sight, is made known in the stirring remonstrance in chapter 3. To His gracious command and promise, “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you,” they asked, “Wherein shall we return?” To this the Lord replied, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye rob Me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse; for ye rob Me, even this whole nation. Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes.” What a gracious attitude! There was God, waiting all the time to pour out upon them a copious blessing. Their selfishness was hindering their own prosperity. In their meanness they were acting against their own real interests. Let them give God His due. Let them bring both their tithes and their offerings, and they would find that what was retained for their own requirements would far more than meet their needs.
It may be asked, Was there not a Divine command for the Israelites? Was it not enjoined upon them to give tithes? And if so, is it not appropriate for the Christian to give tithes? In the first place, the Israelites paid much more than a tithe. In addition to the three tithes specifically mentioned, namely, that given to the Levite (Lev. 27:30, with Num. 18:21-24; Deut. 14:22-27), there was the further tithe at the end of every three years, which was also for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow (verses 28, 29). Some hold, indeed, that the tithes mentioned in the three passages referred to, were disconnected, and this is supported by the Talmud. To these tithes, however, there must be added other offerings; those of the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the firstfruits. Mal. 3:8, for instance, speaks of “tithes and offerings” (lit. heave offerings). It has been computed that an Israelite’s total offerings would amount to about one-sixth of his income. One writer has even put it at a fourth. If such was the case with those who were under moral obligations, what response should there be on the part of those who are under the power of the love that expressed itself at Calvary, and still burns in the heart of Him who gave Himself there, and is ministered by the indwelling Spirit of God!
Again, were giving in the case of the believer simply a matter of tithes, those whose income is very considerable would give far less proportionately to their income than those whose income is very small. The former, of their abundance, would so give that there was little sacrifice. With the latter there might be a danger lest the regulation might militate against the inspiring motive.
Yet, if the Israelites paid tithes, that amount may well be regarded as a minimum of our offerings, and from the willing heart there will be a further response according to the ability that God gives. Whatever set proportion there may be as a firstfruits, the proportion will be increased with increasing facilities and possibilities.
The world forms its estimate according to the getting: Christ’s estimate is measured by the giving. The world reckons what sum is given. Men consider the amount: Christ considers the motive. With the world the great question is: What does a person own ? The Lord takes notice as to the use a person makes of it. How much is suggested by the Lord’s remarks about the widow’s offering! “This poor widow cast in more than they all: for all these did of their superfluity cast in unto the gifts: but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had” (Luke 21:3, 4). There was little, if any, sacrifice in their case. They were as comfortably off afterwards as before. She had nothing left. Theirs was a matter of religion; hers was a matter of love and devotion to God. After all, the great criterion was, not how much she gave, but how much she kept. What a difference between their balance and her nothing!
Love and devotion to God! That imparts the real value to giving. And this perhaps serves to explain why no command as to the amount is laid down for believers. To obey a command stating the amount or proportion would be easy, but what exercise of heart would there be? Where would the motive he? Loyalty would be superseded by mechanical religion. Love would be replaced by formalism. Both individuals and local churches would lose their sense of * the high motive which should inspire in the offering a loving response to the love of the great Giver Himself.
One of the prominent lessons in the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, is that by shaping our conduct in obedience to the Lord’s precepts our character will be conformed to that of our Heavenly Father.
We shall be truly “Sons of our Father which is in heaven” (see, e.g., Matt. 5:45). Not merely children but “sons.” That is to say, those who not only are born of God but share His character, and so represent Him worthily, bearing the impress of the Divine parentage.
As then His grace is such that He is “the giving God,” liberal in His giving, the same spirit of liberality is to characterize us.
When Christ sat over against the treasury and observed “how the people cast money into the treasury,” He was really noticing the kind of giving which corresponded to God’s mode of giving. The poor widow cast in all that she had. Was not that like the gift the Father gave in giving His Son? He was His all. Giving is a test of character.