Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 9:1-5

The Collection for Christians in Jerusalem

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending[a] the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift[b] you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.[c]

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s commendation of Titus and two other brothers in Christ to the Corinthians.

Today’s verses are quite similar in content and tone to 2 Corinthians 8:1-7, which I wrote about a fortnight ago.

John MacArthur explains why Paul is pressing the subject home the way he is. It is because of the false teachers in Corinth attempting to undermine him, especially with this offering from the church there to Jerusalem (emphases mine):

The false teachers no doubt had taken advantage of that and said he’s collecting money all over everywhere to make himself rich or to give to his friends in Jerusalem whom he likes much better than he does gentiles. Whatever way they could assassinate Paul’s character, they wanted to do it. So in the middle of this self-defense, it is important for him to defend the way he handles money. And that’s precisely what he’s doing here. In chapters 8 and 9, he is urging the Corinthians to get back to their giving toward this project.

Remember now, in the beginning they had pledged a certain amount. They started toward that goal and then stopped. It’s time now because the relationship has been restored. They have responded to the severe letter which Titus took. Titus has come back and said all is well. They reaffirm their love and their trust in you, and Paul now knows that they’re back connected as they should be, so he writes 2 Corinthians, and in this part he says it’s now time to start the giving again.

He had already told them that to reach their goal, they had to lay in store every week, the first day of the week, 1 Corinthians 16:2, and they had started to do that and apparently they had stopped. So he is now telling them to get on track with their giving, to restore this process of giving, so that he comes for his third trip, which will be yet in the future, no offerings will be necessary to make up the lack but the original commitment will be already completed. And as we shall see, it was a very large amount.

So Paul is in the process of doing this collection, of getting it from not only Corinth but other churches, carrying it back to Jerusalem, and giving it to the saints there. And in the midst of that, accusations were flying all over the place about the fact that he was likely going to take a big cut for himself or steal the money or do something dishonorable and dishonest with it. So Paul protects himself and discusses here the characteristics of stewardship with integrity.

Paul begins by saying that it is unnecessary for him to write about the necessity of giving to support the ministry of saints (verse 1). In other words, the Corinthians already understand its importance.

He acknowledges their readiness to give, which spurred on the Macedonians in their own fundraising for Jerusalem (verse 2). Achaia is the province where Corinth was located.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Wherefore he was persuaded, that, as they had begun well, they would go on well; and so, commending them for what they had done, he lays an obligation on them to proceed and persevere.

To ensure that the fundraising in Corinth goes as planned, Paul explains that is why he is sending the three trustworthy and pious men so that everything will be ready when it should be (verse 3).

It is worth noting that the Corinthians were far wealthier than the Macedonians, who were very poor yet managed to raise a goodly sum of money.

Therefore, Paul wants an even better showing from Corinth, because the church there had much more to give.

Paul was considering bringing a few Macedonians with him and said that it would be humiliating for all concerned if the Corinthians had not met their obligation, especially as he had boasted of them to the poorer congregation (verse 4).

MacArthur reminds us that Paul did indeed take Macedonians with him to Corinth:

Paul says, “You know, if when I come on my third visit and I bring some Macedonians with me” – which according to Acts 20 verses 2 to 6 is exactly what he did – “and I bring those Macedonians and you are not prepared with your offering, you will be ashamed and I will be ashamed for my boasting about you.” We can bring shame on the church and shame on the apostle if this thing isn’t cared for appropriately. I want you to be an example right from the beginning to the end so that other churches, other individuals from other churches can come and see the model that you have established.

Paul ends by saying that this is why he is sending the three men to administer the collection of the final funds, which should be a willing gift, not one given grudgingly (verse 5). ‘Blessing’ is used in some translations rather than ‘gift’.

A gift given grudgingly suggests greed, or covetousness, as MacArthur explains:

If the enterprises of God, if it is God’s work, if it is done in God’s way, and if it deserves your gifts, and if you have them to give and you don’t, sin is the issue. It has to get down to that. Verse 5, “So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren” – that’s Titus and the two other brothers – “that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, that the same gift might be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.”

So he says, “To make sure there was no humiliation, to make sure you didn’t fail to give, to make sure you were fulfilling your promise and your pledge, I have urged the brethren that they would go on ahead of me. I can’t come right now” – in fact it would be a while before Paul would go – “but I have to know that things are moving, and I have sent these brothers to get this thing to its completion, to arrange beforehand your” – this is a key phrase – “previously promised bountiful gift,” which indicates that on first hearing about the need, they no doubt had promised a huge amount; bountiful gift, signifying a very, very large sum.

And he’s just pushing them toward the fulfillment of that commitment. They had targeted an amount for the final sum, and he is saying you previously promised this bountiful gift, this large sum, and I want to make sure that the same is ready, that it’s ready and not affected by covetousness. And there Paul identifies the one great sin that affects giving, pleonexia in the Greek, it means covetousness or it could be translated greed. It indicates grasping to hold more, grasping to get more at the expense of others. It’s all built around selfishness and pride.

The rest of the chapter is in the Lectionary. Verse 7 will be familiar:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully[d] will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency[e] in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

I know it’s difficult being a cheerful giver when church isn’t going as well as it should. I stopped annual, although not weekly, giving for a few years at my own church, which, to me, went off piste for a time. Now that things are back on track, I have resumed giving annually as well as on Sunday.

In closing, this is MacArthur’s checklist for giving, which he saw elsewhere. It is a series of useful questions for us to ask ourselves when determining how much to give to our respective churches:

Now by way of a helpful summary, as we close, a gentleman has put together a checklist to evaluate any church fundraising or any parachurch fundraising. Before you entrust your money to it, here are the questions or issues you need to see:

Do they have a definite and personal commitment to Christ?

Do they have an unclouded commitment to the authority of Scripture?

Are they involved in that which is defined as a biblical mission?

Is there prayerful dependence on God more than dependence on current strategies and techniques?

Is there an obvious love and concern for those ministered to?

Is there evidence of maturity, Christlikeness, and integrity?

Is there the spirit of servanthood and humility rather than presumption or arrogance?

Is it a God-centered rather than a man-centered operation – and he puts in parenthesis – (without constant pictures of particular men)?

Are the furnishings and lifestyles in that ministry modest and unpretentious?

Have they demonstrated responsible use of funds for purposes that are given?

Are there nonmanipulative fundraising tactics, no continuous crisis or inducements to give that will result in you losing your eternal reward?

Is there a track record of spiritual fruit? Have you seen it?

Is there responsibility to the leadership of a local church?

Are there good personal relationships among the ministry staff?

And is there a pronounced eternal perspective?

That’s a thought-provoking and useful list. I highlighted the questions that temporarily halted my annual giving.

In next week’s verses, Paul defends his ministry.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 10:1-6