As Paul worked to spread the gospel in the gentile world, he also worked to have the gentiles give an offering to poor believers in Jerusalem. We see evidence of this offering in several of his letters; it was a consistent theme of his work.
Paul saw a vital connection between God’s grace and our giving. Just as God has been gracious toward us, we should be gracious toward others, sharing the spiritual and physical blessings God has given us. Although good works can never pay for God’s grace, they are an expected result of God’s grace working in our lives.
Paul told the Corinthian Christians about this offering in person, and in a follow-up letter he wrote some more encouragement for them. We’ll pick up the story in 2 Corinthians 9.
Don’t let us down
“There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people” (9:1). In other words, I’ve already told you about it. You know that this offering is going to help the believers in Jerusalem.
“For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action” (9:2). The Corinthians (in southern Greece) had already told Paul that they were willing to give generously, and Paul had used their zeal to encourage the Macedonians (in northern Greece). In a similar way, he used the generosity of the Macedonians to encourage the Corinthians to be even more generous (8:1-7).
But now came the time for talk to be turned into action: “I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be” (9:3). Paul is putting some gentle pressure on the Corinthians to live up to their word—he does this by saying his own reputation is on the line. The Corinthians had said they would be generous; Paul had said they would be generous, and now the time came to see whether they were right.
“For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we — not to say anything about you — would be ashamed of having been so confident” (9:4). We do not want to be embarrassed, Paul says, and you don’t want to be embarrassed either. So put your money where your mouth is. It’s time to prove yourselves.
Paul expected the Corinthians to follow through on their promises, but he did not take it for granted. He wrote to remind them, to encourage them to do even better. He was not shy about financial matters. He expected total commitment from his converts, and he set high standards for them.
“So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given” (9:5).
Paul was zealous for the gospel. If he took time to coordinate this offering, it was because he thought it was very important. And because it was important, he sent reminders about it, he sent people to check up on it, and he used all his persuasive strategies to make sure that it was a successful offering.
If Paul suddenly showed up and caught the Corinthians unprepared, they would no doubt have given an offering. But the offering would have been given out of obligation, not well thought out, and not as generous as it could have been with some advance preparation.
Author: Michael Morrison