2 Corinthians 11:5-15 – When Patronage Goes Awry

March 19, 2022

Paul is jealous for the purity of the Corinthian church just like a father is for his engaged daughter. He intends to protect the church from those who proclaim another Jesus with a different Spirit and a different gospel.

Paul now turns his specific attention to the group that threatens the purity of the Corinthian church. He calls them “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5) but also “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13). These designations tell us something about their identity and how dangerous the situation has become. They have come to Corinth with a different gospel, preaching another Jesus with a different spirit.

Since the “super-apostles” are also “false apostles,” Paul’s description is sarcastic. They are not really “super-apostles” except in their own eyes as they think they are better than Paul. They are “hyper-apostles” in the sense that they presume they have credentials Paul, who himself is an apostle of Christ, does not have. But Paul does not think of himself as at all inferior to these so-called apostles; indeed, his credentials—about which he will shortly boast—are more shaped by the gospel than theirs. He is not only not inferior, but he is, in fact, authentic whereas these “hyper-apostles” are not.

Paul concedes he is not like them in at least one respect, that is, he is “untrained (idiotes) in speech.” He is not a speech professional, a trained rhetorician or orator. We might surmise that some, if not all, the “super-apostles” were. This is their advantage, it seems. But it is no advantage at all since Paul’s ministry is not rooted in the style and ability of speech-making but in “knowledge.” Paul knows the mystery of Christ; he knows the gospel. He knows it, not simply in a cognitive sense, but through his ministry as an ambassador of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation. He has suffered for the gospel, just as Jesus did, and the Corinthians know this about him. Paul’s ministry is not one of outward show but of continual suffering for the sake of the gospel.

As trained rhetoricians, the “super-apostles” enjoyed and perhaps requested (maybe demanded) patronage. They expected, as was the case in Greco-Roman culture, to be rewarded for their skills and efforts, and Corinthians expected to provide patronage. This involved a sort of patron-client relationship where there were expectations due to an agreed financial exchange. In other words, the “super-apostles” expected to be paid, and the Corinthians expected to pay.

Paul addresses this situation in 2 Corinthians 11:7-11. The Corinthians so valued the patronage relationship that they appear to have been offended by Paul’s lack of interest. “Did I commit a sin by humbling myself?,” Paul asks. As we know from 1 Corinthians 9, Paul made a deliberate decision to live among the Corinthians without patronage and live by his own means. He did this so that he would not “burden” the Corinthians.

What does Paul mean by “burden?” It certainly includes a financial burden as Paul “robbed other churches by accepting” their support, as he did, for example, from Macedonia. But it seems it is more than financial.

The “burden” of patronage involves mutual obligations. Paul is willing to receive help and financial support from other places, both congregations and individuals. We know he received support from Philippi in Macedonia, for example, on at least one occasion (cf. Philippians 4:15-16). So, it is not that Paul opposes financial support per se. Rather, it has something to do with expectations and the obligations connected with patronage.

Patronage was, in fact, a hierarchical relationship, though the obligations were mutual. The patron—the one who provided financial support—was owed a certain honor and respect, including attending to the directives of the patron. Clients, then, served the patron, often lived in their household, and were loyal to the patron.

Perhaps Paul wants to avoid enmeshment in this cultural world of patronage because of the relationship it assumes and expects. Paul does not want the Corinthian support while living in Corinth because he does not want that kind of relationship with the church. He refuses patronage so that he is free to preach the gospel of Christ in loyalty to the kingdom of God rather than out of loyalty to a patron.

This is Paul’s boast. While the “super-apostles” may have boasted in their rhetoric and the patronage they received, Paul will boast in his relationship with the Corinthians that is not conditioned or shaped by patronage. Rather, he wants a relationship of family rather than patronage. He is a father to the Corinthians, and they are his children. He will not burden them with support, and neither will he permit the Corinthians to leverage his gospel by their patronage. In other words, Paul loves the Corinthians. They are not a pawn in his search for financial support but family whom he loves and seeks what is best for them. That love means he will not accept Corinthian patronage.

This is one particular in which Paul is different from the “super-apostles.” They accept patronage, and they have apparently used this as one ploy to say that they are equal, if not superior, to Paul. Indeed, they boast in their patronage, and they use Paul’s lack of it as a weapon against him or at least to exacerbate the tension between Paul and the Corinthians.

Their sly use of patronage illustrates, according to Paul, that they are “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” They are not truly interested in the gospel of Christ. They deceive others and hide their true motives. Like Satan himself, they disguise their selfish ambitions with angelic appearances. They disguise themselves as apostolic “ministers of righteousness” when they themselves are “false apostles.” The “super-apostles” are really “false apostles.”

Such weighty descriptions of the “super-apostles” are not merely a function of patronage and financial support. Rather, the more fundamental problem is they preach “another Jesus” with a “different Spirit” and a “different gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:4). The gospel is at stake.

Patronage is not inherently evil. Paul willingly receives financial support from some. The problem with patronage in Roman Corinth is that it created cultural expectations and obligations. Paul did not want to be bound to these cultural commitments. He wanted to preach the gospel freely.

Perhaps at times full-time, salaried ministers and pastors endanger both themselves and the congregation by living under analogous patronage relationships with relation to congregational leadership. When the financial relationship is such that the free preaching of the gospel is hindered, as Paul feared it might in Corinth, perhaps another path must be chosen. Or, at a minimum, the congregational leadership and its ministers must clarify the relationship so that the gospel might have space to breath freely and fully.

There is nothing inappropriate about salaried ministers; indeed, there is an obligation for the receivers of spiritual blessings to share their material resources (1 Corinthians 9:7-14; Galatians 6:6). But the environment must encourage the preaching of the full gospel in freedom. Otherwise, the gospel becomes a commodity and is hindered by the sort of patronage that Paul wanted to avoid in Corinth.


2 Corinthians 11:1-4 – God’s Jealousy for the Church

March 12, 2022

Paul is about to do something foolish but necessary: boast.

Quoting Jeremiah 9:23-24, Paul has already disclaimed boasting except boasting in the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:17). But soon, in this letter, he will begin to boast in 2 Corinthians 11:21b-12:13. He is forced to play this foolish game because at least some of the Corinthians have welcomed those whom he calls “super-apostles” (11:5; 12:11). The Corinthians, apparently, relish the boasting of the “super-apostles,” and the Corinthians received them as representatives of Jesus. So, Paul must boast, but it is foolishness.

The word “fool” or “foolish” occurs eight times (11:1, 16 [2x], 17, 19, 21; 12:6, 11 in this section of 2 Corinthians (11:1-12:13). Those words only occur seven other times in the whole New Testament. By the time Paul gets to the end of his boasting, he exclaims: “I have been a fool!” (12:11). He spoke as a fool rather than “according to the Lord” (11:17). Yet, he does so because he is anxious for the health of the Corinthians.

However, this is all a bit of irony, even sarcasm. Paul will boast—and play the fool—but his boasting is of a different sort than the “super-apostles.” Paul does not boast for self-commendation but to defend his role among the Corinthians as their father in the Lord. His boasts are not lavish self-praise but his own set of credentials which are different from the “super-apostles.” Paul boasts because he is protective of the church rather than himself. In this way, he boasts in the Lord rather than in his own value.

The first four verses of chapter eleven explain why Paul will engage this foolishness.

  • Bear with me in this foolishness as I am divinely jealous,
    • because I am your father who betrothed you to Christ
  • I fear you have been deceived like Eve,
    • because you bear with any who preach another Jesus.

Paul asks the Corinthians to bear with him in his foolish boasting just as, it seems, they have borne with the preaching about a another Jesus. If the Corinthians have put up with and received the boasting of the “super-apostles,” then Paul expects them to put up with some of his own foolishness. This is especially true since Paul planted the church and is their father in the faith (1 Corinthians 4:15).

Paul compares himself to a father who has promised his daughter in marriage and thereby invokes a well-known cultural practice. First, there is an announcement—an engagement between the daughter and the man. Second, there is a betrothal period (typically a year in Jewish cultural) during which time the father protects the virginity of the daughter. Third, there is a marriage ceremony.

The comparison seems rather obvious. Paul betrothed the Corinthians to Christ when he planted (fathered) the church, giving birth to a daughter (the Corinthian church). As her father, his mission is to protect the chastity of his virgin daughter for the sake of Christ. On the wedding day, which is the day when Christ returns, Paul intends to present Christ with a virgin bride.

This explains Paul’s godly jealousy for the Corinthians in the face of his detractors and the intrusion of the “super-apostles.” He is like a father protecting his daughter from those who would seduce her into an illicit relationship.

But what is so illicit about a relationship with the “super-apostles”?

Paul fears they will lead the Corinthians astray from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ,” just as Eve was deceived by the serpent through “its cunning.” Embedded in this language is a fairly weighty judgment against the “super-apostles.”

  • They use cunning deceptions to lead people astray.
  • They stand opposed to “pure devotion to Christ.”
  • They serve the same role as the serpent who deceived Eve.

Comparing the situation with Eve, who was tricked by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, suggests how seriously he assesses the situation in Corinth. The chastity of his daughter is on the line with these intruders. They play the part of the serpent, which is perhaps why Paul compares them to Satan who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). In fact, one of the reasons for writing this letter is so the Corinthians would not be “outwitted by Satan” (2 Corinthians 2:11). This, then, is a dire situation where the virginal betrothal lies in the balance.

Moreover, the tactics of the “super-apostles” are filled with deception and “cunning.” These are the vices that Paul disavows with regard to his own ministry. Earlier Paul wrote, “we have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning” (2 Corinthians 4:2). Paul comes to the Corinthians with honesty and an open heart, but the “super-apostles,” according to Paul, come with deceit and cunning. They want to deceive the Corinthians just as the serpent deceived Eve.

Why does Paul fear the Corinthians have been led astray from their “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3)? Because the “super-apostles”

  • herald (announce) another Jesus
  • bring a different spirit/Spirit than the one previously received
  • accept a different gospel

Their message entails “another Jesus,” a Jesus other than the one Paul proclaims. Their practices exhibit a different (heteron) spirit/Spirit than the one with which God gifted the Corinthians. Their gospel is different (heteron); it is a different kind of good news, not the one Paul preached and practiced in Corinth.

Something is radically amiss here. What is “different?” I don’t think it is false teaching in the sense that it is a specific Christological heresy or a Judaizing group from Jerusalem. There is no indication in the letter that there was a doctrinal or dogmatic difference between Paul and the “super-apostles.” We know little, if anything, about the theological content of their teaching. On the contrary, the focus of Paul’s engagement with the “super-apostles” is focused on their self-commendation, comparative style of ministry, their disparagement of Paul’s ministry, and their deceitful practices.

If this is the case, then one may proclaim a theologically correct Jesus, a faithful gospel, and receive the Spirit of God (if “spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit), and yet herald another Jesus, embody a different gospel, and exhibit a different Spirit (or spirit). How is it possible to be a faithful teacher of the truth but lead people astray so that they give up their “pure devotion to Christ”?

The answer to that question lies in the rationale for Paul’s extended discussion of the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 2-7. The sort of ministry in which Paul engaged is the opposite of what these “super-apostles” are doing. The heart of this is revealed in the nature of Paul’s boasting which contrasts with the nature of the boasting by the “super-apostles.”

Essentially, Paul pursued the ministry of reconciliation for the sake of the Corinthians and humbled himself among them, even to the point of suffering for the gospel. He endured hardship, suffering, and abuse for their sakes. This is the ministry of gospel. It is not self-commendation and self-promotion in order to enjoy prestige, status, or prosperity. This is where the contrast lies—the way in which each has approached the Corinthians as ministers of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:19-21). One example of this is that while Paul refused money from the Corinthians, the “super-apostles” apparently did not (2 Corinthians 11:7). Paul refused to “take advantage” of the Corinthians, but the “super-apostles” did (2 Corinthians 12:18).

While the content of our ministry—the message we proclaim—is of utmost importance, it can be subverted by the way we minister. Our mouths may say one thing but our practices say something different. In this way, the “super-apostles” promoted another Jesus with a different spirit that embodied a different gospel. And the Corinthians, Paul says, put up with it!

The modern church has the same problem. While some preach a relatively “correct” gospel with their words, their practices say something different. When pastors revel in their credentials, status, power, and wealth rather than taking on the ministry of reconciliation embodied by Paul, they herald another Jesus with a different spirit that embodies a different gospel.

What Paul feared for the Corinthians is still a live problem in the contemporary church and seemingly more so now than ever.


2 Corinthians 10:7-18 – Boasting in Ministry

March 6, 2022

In this third part of the letter, Paul confronts the Corinthians regarding the reception of the “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11) on the part of some in the congregation. In preparation for his third visit to Corinth, Paul lays the groundwork for a potentially tension-filled encounter. He promises that he will deal with his opponents and punish their disobedience (1 Corinthians 10:6).

But, it seems, his letters don’t frighten some people. Perhaps it is a particular person who is the leader of the group. Paul writes, “he says” (though some translations write “they” [NRSV], the text is singular), and what “he says” is this: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” In other words, Paul talks a big game when he is writing a letter, but when speaking in person, he is not a formidable person. One can hear the accusations: he has no rhetorical skills, his bodily appearance is unimpressive, he has no credentials, he has had little success, and his ministry is one moment of suffering after another (and where is God’s blessing in that?).

Greco-Roman culture valued a good rhetorician, impressive physical presence, bonified credentials from important people, successful adventures that win renown, and prosperity with reputation and honor. Perhaps the “super-apostles” fit the bill, and their ringleader pressed the comparison between Paul and themselves. Paul was an unfit leader, and the “super-apostles” were the truly authentic leaders to whom the Corinthians should listen rather than Paul.

The apostle’s initial response appeals to the experience of the Corinthians with Paul. If the Corinthians belong to Christ, they know Paul also belongs because it was Paul who planted (fathered, 1 Corinthians 4:15) the church in Corinth. As their father in the faith, he has treated them with grace and patience, but it is about to run out with those who oppose him. Paul will do in person what he writes in absence; Paul will do what he says and act boldly just as his letters speak boldly.

Moreover, his relationship with the Corinthians entails a kind of “authority” rooted in the measure that God gave Paul with regard to his missionary activity. It was an authority for planting and building rather than destroying and tearing down the church. Paul alludes to the prophetic task Jeremiah was given in Jeremiah 1:10 and essentially locates himself in a prophetic tradition. Paul wants to use this authority for positive purposes rather than overthrowing the Corinthians. Yet, Paul will use his authority to address his opponents and deal with them accordingly because they follow a “different Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).

The authority Paul names is rooted in the reality that God gave Paul a “field” in which to work; literally, God gave a “measure of the canon.” The term “canon” may refer to a rule or standard of measure, or it may refer to something assigned. Either way, this identifies the authority Paul was given with respect to the Corinthians. Paul has been assigned to work this field. Indeed, Paul was the first to preach the “good news of Christ” to the Corinthians.

This is a boast within limits as Paul does not boast in the labor of others who work their fields. The “super-apostles” have apparently entered Paul’s field to turn over the soil, subvert Paul’s work, and undermine what Paul was building in Corinth. These intruders have overstepped their limitations. Paul has worked within the limits of his commission as an apostle to Corinth, but the “super-apostles” boast is not in the work where they have been commissioned but in the work they have done in other people’s fields. Moreover, they boast in the identity they claim.

Their boast is not “in the Lord,” but in comparing themselves with others in order to exalt their own credentials, work, or identity. They “measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with another.”  When they compare themselves with each other, and particularly when they compare themselves with Paul, they claim a higher role or more significance than Paul. They are rhetoricians, have credentials, claim success, and come with prosperity and reputation (in contrast to the persecuted Paul).

Paul refuses to compare himself in this way with others. Rather, he locates his ministry in the authority and assignment that God has given him. He will boast in this assignment as the one who has preached the gospel in Corinth, and he will boast in the opportunities this affords to spread the gospel to other lands (but not in lands where work is already underway). This is, according to Paul, boasting in the Lord, and it is in line with the quotation from Jeremiah 9:23-24. The only authentic boast is a boast in what the Lord has done. Instead of boasting in our credentials, rhetoric, and success (or wealth in Jeremiah), the faithful boast identifies with the Lord who acts with “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.”

In recent years, a well-known minister refused to be mentored by another minister whose church was smaller than his. His sense of mutual respect for spiritual guidance, apparently, was based on success, credentials, and prosperity (his salary was a prosperous one). This is a different gospel, a different Spirit, and a different Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). It is the boast of the “super-apostles” in 2 Corinthians. It compares one minister with another minister, one congregation with another congregation, and locates “authority” in cultural standards (whether Greco-Roman or American). This defines success in terms of credentialed people, large and successful organizations, and popular and charismatic personalities (“celebrity pastors,” for example).

Paul refuses to compare himself with others. Rather, he will boast in the measure that God has given him, the suffering he endures for the sake of the gospel, and prioritize the preaching of the good news of Christ above all else. Rhetorical skills, “successful” churches, prosperity and wealth, and credentials are neither evidence of the embodied gospel nor the signs of gospel preaching. Rather, the task of ministry is telling the good news of the gospel in the fields God assigns—without fanfare, trickery, or intimidation. Nothing else really matters in comparison.


2 Corinthians 10:1-6 – Bold Whether Absent or Present

February 27, 2022

The tone and intensity of 2 Corinthians 10-13 appears remarkably different from the early parts of the letter. The first section of the letter ends with Paul’s joy in his “complete confidence” in the Corinthians (7:16), and chapters 8-9 are filled with Paul’s confident expectation that the Corinthians will respond with generosity to his Jerusalem project. However, chapters 10-13 are rather confrontational as Paul responds to the intrusion of, what he calls, super-apostles into the Corinthian congregation.

Why does this shift in tone and topic occur? What accounts for this radical change in the letter?

Scholars debate the possibilities, and I will not detail them here except to offer a few perspectives. Since the late 18th century, quite a number of scholars have surmised that we are reading an earlier letter to Corinth than what we know as “2 Corinthians.” Some suggest that we are actually reading the “painful letter” (2 Corinthians 7:8) that has been attached to the end of what we call “2 Corinthians” (chapters 1-9). This is the letter that convinced the Corinthians to reconcile with Paul. This is a possible scenario since letters were often combined in publication in order to put them on one scroll.

However, I think it more likely 2 Corinthians, as we have it before us, is a single letter rather than the combination of two (or even three) letters. Clearly, the letter has three movements: (1) Paul explains his ministry of reconciliation (chapters 1-7), (2) Paul persuades the Corinthians to give (chapters 8-9), and (3) Paul confronts his opponents (chapters 10-13). There is a difference in tone within each as well as a significant difference in purpose.

In the first section of the letter Paul wants the Corinthians to understand his ministry of suffering for the sake of the gospel in more profound ways and not misinterpret his suffering as a sign of weakness or divine rejection. This explanation include some rather pointed statements about the Corinthian misunderstanding and mistaken expectations. His language was sometimes corrective as well as defensive (in a good sense).

In the second section of the letter Paul wants the Corinthians to keep their promise to contribute to the poor saints in Jerusalem. He brings on the charm but suggests their integrity is at stake—will they act on the gospel of grace that they claim to believe? His language is filled with grace, but it is pointed as he calls upon them to obey the gospel of Christ.

In this third and last major section of the letter Paul confronts those who oppose him and are stirring up trouble in Corinth. He is focused on how the presence of “super-apostles” (as he calls them) are disrupting the relationship he has with the Corinthians. Paul planted the church and is like a father to the Corinthians, but now these “super-apostles” have arrived to build on the foundation he laid. And their credentials and methods, according to Paul, exhibit a “different Jesus,” a “different spirit,” and a “different gospel” than he modeled and proclaimed (2 Corinthians 11:4). In other words, the health of the Corinthian congregation is at stake.

We don’t know exactly when these “super-apostles” arrived in Corinth. They are not mentioned in 1 Corinthians. They are, then, new arrivals. They may have arrived prior to Paul’s second visit and the “painful letter,” which would explain some of the intensity of that visit and letter. Or, they may have arrived about the same time Titus arrived or after. In any event, 2 Corinthians 10-13 identifies their presence.

It seems to me that Paul’s impending third visit to Corinth (2 Corinthians 13:1) provides the occasion for this confrontation. When Paul previously visited Corinth, he was rather deferential or mild in his response to Corinth, and this was perceived as weakness. The visit grieved Paul, and he wrote the “painful letter” in response to how he was treated on that second visit. However, this time (the third visit) Paul intends to be as bold in person as he was bold in previous letters. Too much is at stake, and Paul decides to prepare the Corinthians for such a bold visit with a bold letter.

The tone of 2 Corinthians 10-13 suits the situation: (1) to confront the “super-apostles” and (2) prepare Corinth for Paul’s bold intentions when he visits. But why don’t these themes appear earlier in the letter? The “super-apostles,” for example, are not named. However, Paul has alluded to these sorts of troubles—the misunderstanding of his ministry, for example—throughout the letter. We see from reading chapters 1-7 that there was trouble in paradise. Though Paul and Corinth was reconciled, everything was not calm or healed. The Corinthians need to more fully understand the nature of Paul’s ministry, which is why he pursued that theme for five chapters in the first half of the letter.

Paul’s boldness in chapters 10-13 is matched by his jealousy for the Corinthians as the bride of Christ. His tone is one of a protector, and his third visit will employ the same kind of boldness, if necessary, as these chapters exhibit.

His opening salvo employs military metaphors while, at the same time, characterizing his approach as rooted in the “meekness and gentleness of Christ.” Paul is going to do battle, even take captives, but he will do so with the character of Christ rather than according to worldly standards (literally, according to the flesh). Paul wants to win this battle—punish disobedience and confirm obedience, but he will do so in a godly way that reflects his commitment to the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah.

It appears that the Corinthians assessed Paul as poor, untrained, and ungifted in rhetoric when he was among them. He was, as Paul put it, “humble” (poor, which is often a derogatory term) when he was present with them. The Corinthians were perplexed by how “humble” Paul was in person but how “bold” he was in letters. This incongruity was probably something the “super-apostles” exploited for their own self-promotion.

But Paul is clear that he will boldly oppose those who act “according to human standards” (literally according to the flesh). There are two ways of battling in view here. One is “according to the flesh” or carnal ways, which probably include false accusations, deceit, pride, and potentially violence. The other is through the gospel which is the knowledge of God and leads to people to obey Christ.

Even though Paul lives “in the flesh” as a human being, he does not employ carnal or fleshly methods. His concern is the knowledge of God and how that knowledge demolishes “strongholds” and takes thoughts of people “captive to obey Christ.”

Paul draws a contrast between himself and the “super-apostles.” They minister according to fleshly standards, erect strongholds and obstacles through pride, and prey on “humble” servants to build their own empires. Paul, however, uses different kinds of weapons to destroy the strongholds and bring every thought captive to Christ. Paul claims he is engaged in a spiritual warfare where the gospel is at stake and the health of the Corinthian congregation lies in the balance.

Consequently, Paul will act with boldness if necessary when he visits Corinth for the third time. He is “ready to punish every disobedience,” though he hopes for and anticipates the obedience of the Corinthians. He will oppose the “super-apostles,” but he will welcome—with the “meekness and gentleness of Christ”—the obedient response of the Corinthians.


2 Corinthians 9:6-15 – Thanks be to God!

February 19, 2022

While the final appeal for generosity Paul makes is the inexpressible gift of Jesus, he also draws on numerous texts from the Scriptures to make his case: Proverbs 11:24; Deuteronomy 15:10; Proverbs 22:8 (LXX); Psalm 112:9; Isaiah 55:10; and Hosea 10:12. He assumes his readers are familiar with their Bible, and through the echoes of these texts he offers an embedded theology of generosity that appears in Hebrew wisdom, Torah, prophets, and poetry. Paul is no innovator, but his capstone is God’s gift in Jesus the Messiah. Thanks be to God.

[The following is copied from my book Searching for the Pattern, pp. 90-104. Due to a recent bout with COVID-19, I have not had the energy or time to do any original writing on 2 Corinthians 8-9. However, I think the following captures the essence of Paul’s theological interests in this section of the letter. One more video will cover the rest of chapter 9 next week.]

2 Corinthians 8-9 – What Paul Doesn’t Do

Here’s how my continued investigation played out, at least in part.

I have heard it said that the Bible is its own best interpreter. There is much truth in that. Since the Bible offers a coherent account of God’s scheme of redemption, one part illuminates another part.

This is particularly true when we are reading the same human author, like Paul. What Paul writes in Colossians will helpfully illuminate what Paul means in Ephesians. This is more pronounced when Paul is writing to the same church about the same thing. Consequently, if we want to understand what lies in the background of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 16, it is helpful to hear how Paul grounds and explains this collection in 2 Corinthians 8-9.

As we read 2 Corinthians 8-9 where Paul encourages the Corinthians to follow through on their commitment to help the saints in Jerusalem, we see the inner workings of Paul’s understanding as he provides a rationale for their giving. We see, in effect, Paul’s own hermeneutic (or step two) at work. We see how Paul gets from (1) there are needy saints in Jerusalem to (3) you Corinthians ought to supply their needs. What is the second step that demands the move from (1) to (3)?

Interestingly, in this text Paul does not seem to inhabit the same patternistic world in which I grew up, at least not the sort of pattern for which I searched. First, he does not command the Corinthians to give. “I am not commanding you,” Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 8:8).

Second, he does not demand they obey the pattern I thought was in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. Paul does not remind them of what he had previously prescribed as if their first day of the week giving was part of their faithfulness to a pattern. He neither details a pattern nor itemizes the blueprint particulars that constitute what a faithful church practices regarding giving. He neither specifies the laws that govern this act of worship nor reminds them of the dire consequences of neglecting it.

Third, he does not draw a line of fellowship concerning the collection. Paul does not make this collection—for which he gave directions in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2—a matter of fellowship or communion with him. Their non-participation would be an embarrassment and a lack of grace on their part, but it would not violate whatever pattern is embedded in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 as a test of fellowship.

In other words, Paul does not do what the method I had learned would have done and what I have heard done over the years practically every Sunday. Paul does not say, “you are commanded to give every first day of the week, and if you don’t, you are unfaithful to the pattern God established.” I often used Paul’s direction for the collection in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 to establish pattern authority for why faithful churches share their financial resources every first day of the week. I regarded it, as many had before me, as part of an exclusive pattern of worship. It was one of the five acts of worship without which the Sunday assembly is incomplete and could not be considered a community who worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

Paul does not use that sort of pattern authority. He does not remind them of what I supposed was a pattern command in 1 Corinthians 16. He does not prescribe giving as a matter of obedience to a pattern of congregational worship.

What does Paul do? How does Paul call a wealthy Gentile congregation in Greece to contribute to a collection for poor Jewish saints in Jerusalem?

There is only one imperative in the text: “finish the work” (2 Corinthians 8:11). The Corinthians had promised to give to the needy in Jerusalem, and Paul expects them to keep their promise. They had expressed a prior willingness, even eagerness, to contribute (2 Corinthians 8:10-12). Though he does not command them, he does offer a rationale to motivate them to act on their prior willingness according to their ability.

Ultimately, Paul does not use a two-step rationale such as: “This is the pattern God demands; therefore, do it.” Neither does he introduce the sort of rationales that establish a pattern for the church based on detailed prescribed practices as might be expected. Rather, he calls the Corinthians to embody and practice a different sort of pattern.

As I understand Paul in these two chapters, I see three (perhaps more) overlapping and mutually enriching organizing emphases. Together, these point to a pattern which grounds Paul’s invitation to the Corinthians to participate in the grace of giving.

A Key Principle in 2 Corinthians 8-9

One of the most significant words in 2 Corinthians 8-9, if not the most significant, is the Greek word charis, which means grace. Its ten occurrences in these two chapters are the highest concentration in the New Testament.

  • the grace (charis) of God given to the churches of Macedonia (8:1)
  • the privilege (charis) of sharing in this ministry to the saints (8:4)
  • complete this generous (charis) undertaking among you (8:6)
  • as you excel in everything…excel also in this generous (charis) undertaking (8:7)
  • for you know the generous (charis) act of our Lord Jesus Christ (8:9)
  • Thanks (charis) be to God (8:16)
  • while administering this generous (charis) undertaking (8:19)
  • God is able to provide you with every blessing (charis) in abundance (9:8)
  • the surpassing grace (charis) God…has given you (9:14).
  • Thanks (charis) be to God for his indescribable gift (9:15).

These statements provide several different angles on the grace of God. God gives grace (2 Corinthians 8:1, 9; 9:8, 14), the Corinthians administer the grace of God in their ministry to others (2 Corinthians 8:4, 6, 7, 17), and all, including those who receive this ministry, give grace (thanks) to God (2 Corinthians 8:16; 9:15).

While the profound depth of these statements is inexhaustible, my purpose is to highlight one point. Fundamentally, Paul roots his invitation to participate in the collection for the Jerusalem saints in God’s grace. He reminds them that (1) God has graced them, (2) they are the instruments of God’s grace to the poor, and (3) their ministry will result in grace (thanksgiving) to God as well as God’s glory (2 Corinthians 9:13). God’s own grace, whether in creation, providence, or redemption, should move the Corinthians to act graciously. They should “finish the task” because they are graced people through whom God graces others with the result that they will grace God.

We might call the function of grace in Paul’s persuasive speech a form of “principlizing,” though it has more substance than a kind of moralizing. As we read Paul’s passionate plea, he uses the principle of grace in its many manifestations to articulate a vision for the heart of God and how the Corinthians might participate in that heart.

Why give to the poor? Whether local or distant, whether Jew or Gentile, whether known or unknown, Paul roots this gift in God’s grace. We give because we are the recipients of God’s grace, empowered by that grace, and moved by the goal of gracing God (thanks and glory).

Paul does not ground his call to share grace in a command or a pattern of church practices. Rather, he grounds it in God’s own gracious giving. We give because God has given to us, and we give because we want to be like God. We respond to God’s grace by doing what God does. Grace is no static command but an internal dynamic at work in the scheme of redemption and in our lives so that we might imitate and glorify God.

Paul, then, uses a principle profoundly grounded in God’s own identity and actions in order to call the Corinthians to fully live out the grace they have received. Let us imitate Paul’s hermeneutical move ourselves. If God’s grace is the ground of giving to the poor, this grace is not limited only to saints. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 cannot mean that church funds are only for church people because God’s grace is for all people and the grace of God has appeared to all people (Titus 2:11).

I remember, and still sometimes hear, the language that sometimes introduces the offering. “We are commanded to give every first day of the week.” But I also have heard the language from 2 Corinthians 9, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Paul did not do the former in 2 Corinthians 8-9 (command every congregation to take up a collection every first day of the week) but the latter. Paul did not command or expect conformity to a blueprint, but called the Corinthians to conform to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we gratefully receive God’s grace, we will then cheerfully share it. This was Paul’s approach in 2 Corinthians 8-9.

2 Corinthians 8-9 – Paul’s Use of Scripture

If Paul does not appeal to a prescribed pattern of church practices as the ground of the collection, does Paul appeal to Scripture at all? When Paul wants to persuade people to give to the poor, what role does Scripture play?

What was Scripture for Paul? In 55-56 A.D. we would not expect him to appeal to any New Testament documents except those he had already written (1 & 2 Thessalonians, for example). Nevertheless, for Paul, all Scripture is “inspired and profitable for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” and it is sufficient to equip believers “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). These were the “sacred writings” Timothy had known from childhood, and they were able to instruct him “for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). This Scripture is what we have called the Old Testament, and it has the capacity to instruct us, correct us, guide us, and equip us for “every good work,” including giving to the poor. Paul identifies the grace of giving as a “good work” in 2 Corinthians 9:8.

In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul appeals to the Hebrew Bible at least three times. First, God’s gift of manna in the wilderness teaches the principle of a fair balance. The needy are supplied out of the abundance of the wealthy so that everyone has what they need. Paul quotes Exodus 16:18 in 2 Corinthians 8:15 as an example that grounds Paul’s call for shared resources so that there is equity within the body of Christ. God supplies manna (resources) for the sake of the community, and the community shares them so that all needs are met. The instruction to gather what one needs arises out of the divine intent that one person not have too much and another person not have too little. The way God supplied the needs of Israel is a model for how we supply each other’s needs. What moves God should move us, that is, a grace that meets the needs of people. God is our model, and we see God’s intent through the practices of Israel.

Second, Paul quotes Psalm 112:9 in 2 Corinthians 9:9. Psalm 112 blesses the righteous person. At the same time, Psalm 111 praises God’s own identity. The righteous person of Psalm 112 is the one who imitates the God who is described in Psalm 111. Psalm 112 mirrors Psalm 111. In this way, the root idea is doing what God does or becoming like God in our lives and practices. Just as God is generous, so the righteous person shares generously with the poor. God, in fact, supplies the seed or wealth which we, in imitation of God, scatter among the poor. Interestingly, 2 Corinthians 9:8 tells us that God supplies us for “every good work,” and then Paul uses Psalm 112 to identify that “good work,” which is scattering God’s gifts to us among the poor. In this way, Paul appeals to Scripture (Psalm 112) to equip them for this good work of sharing with the poor in Jerusalem. Thus, Psalm 112 authorizes his call for the Corinthians to participate in this good work.

Third, Deuteronomy 15 lurks in the background as well. Just as God had blessed Israel so that there should be no needy among them, the Corinthians should give generously without a grudging heart (Deuteronomy 15:10; 2 Corinthians 9:7). Paul uses the language of Deuteronomy 15. Just like Israel, God intends the church to be a place where there are no needy, and Paul invites the Corinthians to participate in the practices of Israel by continuing that intent in the present.

Paul also draws on the model of the Macedonian disciples in order to convict the Corinthians and wants the Corinthians to be an example to others (2 Corinthians 8:1-2, 24). The ongoing history of God among the Macedonians teaches the Corinthians too. Redemptive history is filled with good examples and good practices that imitate God’s own grace, and because they are grounded in God’s acts and grace, we imitate God when we share generously with others.

In the light of how the church continues the life of Israel, it is important to note that Israel’s generosity included aliens or foreigners living among them. Israel’s attitude toward aliens was rooted in God’s own love for Israel when they were aliens. Leviticus 19:34 says, “you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” In fact, needy aliens received shares of the third-year tithe (Deuteronomy 26:12-13). Moreover, the God of Israel “executes justice” for and “loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18).

If the God of Israel loved the alien, provided food and clothing for the alien, and required Israel to share with the alien, then the “saints only doctrine” is inconsistent with this trajectory within the scheme of redemption. Should one say, “well, that is in the Old Testament, and we draw our church practices from Acts and the Epistles,” it is important to recognize how Paul models something different. Paul has no problem looking to Israel’s Scripture to ground the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem in both the identity of God and the practices of Israel as God’s people. Since God’s gift (grace) of manna to Israel can teach the church about generosity toward the poor (2 Corinthians 8:13-15), then God’s treatment of the aliens within Israel can teach us about God’s generosity toward aliens today. God loves the alien today, just as God loved the alien in ancient Israel.

2 Corinthians 8-9 – Paul Appeals to Jesus

In order to ground his appeal to the Corinthians to finish the task, Paul employed (1) the theological principle of grace and (2) used Israel’s Scripture as a way to understand God’s own identity and call. In his final sentence, Paul (3) appeals to the foundational act of God in Jesus the Messiah. “Thanks be to God,” Paul writes, for God’s “indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). The gift, of course, is God’s Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God.

Earlier, in 2 Corinthians 8:8-9, Paul noted that the Corinthian response to this collection would test their integrity and the sincerity of their love. In effect, he wants to know if they really believe the Faith they confess. Paul does not command the Corinthians. Since Jesus himself acted out of grace rather than obligation, Paul wants the Corinthians to do the same. He wants them to imitate Jesus.

“You know,” Paul wrote, “the generous act (charis) of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The grace of Jesus is his incarnation, that is, the Word of God became flesh. Or, as Paul described it, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.” The incarnation is Paul’s paradigm, and this is God’s indescribable gift. This is the pattern. God’s self-giving in the incarnation of Jesus is the model or pattern for Christian life and practice.

When we remember that the Word of God became human for the whole world and died for all people, there is no basis for the “saint’s only doctrine” in the scheme of redemption. If the incarnation of the Word of God is Paul’s rationale for sharing with the poor, and the incarnation is an expression of God’s love for the whole world, then the imitation of the incarnation in giving to the poor includes all the poor and not only the saints.

A Theological Hermeneutic?

In summary, as Paul asks the Corinthians to “finish the task,” he grounds his appeal in God’s multi-faceted grace, the practices of Israel that bear witness to God’s own life, and the incarnation of the Word of God. In essence, Paul asks the Corinthians to imitate God. This is the basis of Paul’s mission for the poor saints in Jerusalem. At every point, Paul’s method roots that mission in the identity, grace, and love of God. And, as we know from the scheme of redemption, God loves the whole world and the Messiah died for all people. Therefore, the body of Christ shares with everyone, and this grace is not limited to saints only.

Perhaps another way to say this is to recognize that Paul’s step two does not find its pattern in some detailed and exclusive blueprint for church practices but in the pattern of God’s mighty acts in Israel and Jesus the Messiah. Instead of applying a blueprint for church practices to Corinth as if he were shown an ideal pattern for how churches must conduct their Sunday assembly, Paul resources the workings of God’s grace in providence and salvation, Israel’s history, and the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. The pattern is the activity of God, which finds its fullness in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus the Messiah.

What Paul is doing is what some call a “theological” interpretation. Don’t let that word intimidate you. The Greek word theos means God. Theology is the study of God, and to say something is “theological” means it is a reflection on God or about God. In particular, this approach focuses on the identity of God and how believers might imitate God. In other words, we look to who God is and what God has done in order to know what is required of us or how we might participate in God’s mission.

Another way of saying this is that we do not look for a prescribed, detailed blueprint in what the early church did as much as a theological (God-centered) pattern as to how the early church imitated God, including imitating Jesus. In other words, how did the early church embody the life of God (the theological pattern) in their own community and mission?

Paul fulfilled his commitment to the “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem to “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:9-10). He asked the churches of Galatia and Achaia, but not Macedonia, to set up an arrangement to collect money every first day of week so that when he arrived there would be no need to take up a collection. When Corinth hesitated, Paul employed his apostolic authority by way of a theological appeal rather than by way of a positive command based on a blueprint. Paul did not demand conformity to a prescribed pattern of weekly giving but invited them to imitate God and share the grace with which God had graced them for the sake of gracing God.

This does not mean, of course, that churches should give up weekly giving as part of their assemblies. In the language of the received method, it is at least a good example even though it is not an approved (binding) example. There are good reasons to give every week or to regularly share our resources with the community of faith, and those reasons are rooted in God’s grace, God’s story, and God’s Messiah. The convenient practice of weekly giving within the assembly is a healthy practice that provides the community with an opportunity to participate in the mission of God as a community, to share in this corporate moment of grateful worship, to remember that God has graced them, and to imitate God by gracing others in order that God might be graced by all.

There are many reasons to participate in God’s mission through sharing our resources. We could begin with the story of Abraham’s tithing and continue with Israel’s tithing practices. We could point to the teachings of Jesus on giving as well as the practice of the early Jerusalem church in Acts 2, 4, and 6. If we expanded the conversation to include these factors, that would employ a fuller theological hermeneutic (which enriches our understanding and motivates our sharing). But those larger resources do not entail that there is a prescribed blueprint. Communal sharing on the first day of the week conveniently continues the practice of the people of God seen throughout Scripture, but it is not a requirement mandated by a specifically prescribed pattern for the church.


2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5 – Blessing Rather Than Extortion

February 12, 2022

[This is copied from my book Searching for the Pattern, pp. 90-104. Due to a recent bout with COVID-19, I have not had the energy or time to do any original writing on 2 Corinthians 8-9. However, I think the following captures the essence of Paul’s theological interests in this section of the letter. One more video will cover the rest of chapter 9 next week.]

2 Corinthians 8-9 – What Paul Doesn’t Do

Here’s how my continued investigation played out, at least in part.

I have heard it said that the Bible is its own best interpreter. There is much truth in that. Since the Bible offers a coherent account of God’s scheme of redemption, one part illuminates another part.

This is particularly true when we are reading the same human author, like Paul. What Paul writes in Colossians will helpfully illuminate what Paul means in Ephesians. This is more pronounced when Paul is writing to the same church about the same thing. Consequently, if we want to understand what lies in the background of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 16, it is helpful to hear how Paul grounds and explains this collection in 2 Corinthians 8-9.

As we read 2 Corinthians 8-9 where Paul encourages the Corinthians to follow through on their commitment to help the saints in Jerusalem, we see the inner workings of Paul’s understanding as he provides a rationale for their giving. We see, in effect, Paul’s own hermeneutic (or step two) at work. We see how Paul gets from (1) there are needy saints in Jerusalem to (3) you Corinthians ought to supply their needs. What is the second step that demands the move from (1) to (3)?

Interestingly, in this text Paul does not seem to inhabit the same patternistic world in which I grew up, at least not the sort of pattern for which I searched. First, he does not command the Corinthians to give. “I am not commanding you,” Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 8:8).

Second, he does not demand they obey the pattern I thought was in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. Paul does not remind them of what he had previously prescribed as if their first day of the week giving was part of their faithfulness to a pattern. He neither details a pattern nor itemizes the blueprint particulars that constitute what a faithful church practices regarding giving. He neither specifies the laws that govern this act of worship nor reminds them of the dire consequences of neglecting it.

Third, he does not draw a line of fellowship concerning the collection. Paul does not make this collection—for which he gave directions in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2—a matter of fellowship or communion with him. Their non-participation would be an embarrassment and a lack of grace on their part, but it would not violate whatever pattern is embedded in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 as a test of fellowship.

In other words, Paul does not do what the method I had learned would have done and what I have heard done over the years practically every Sunday. Paul does not say, “you are commanded to give every first day of the week, and if you don’t, you are unfaithful to the pattern God established.” I often used Paul’s direction for the collection in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 to establish pattern authority for why faithful churches share their financial resources every first day of the week. I regarded it, as many had before me, as part of an exclusive pattern of worship. It was one of the five acts of worship without which the Sunday assembly is incomplete and could not be considered a community who worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

Paul does not use that sort of pattern authority. He does not remind them of what I supposed was a pattern command in 1 Corinthians 16. He does not prescribe giving as a matter of obedience to a pattern of congregational worship.

What does Paul do? How does Paul call a wealthy Gentile congregation in Greece to contribute to a collection for poor Jewish saints in Jerusalem?

There is only one imperative in the text: “finish the work” (2 Corinthians 8:11). The Corinthians had promised to give to the needy in Jerusalem, and Paul expects them to keep their promise. They had expressed a prior willingness, even eagerness, to contribute (2 Corinthians 8:10-12). Though he does not command them, he does offer a rationale to motivate them to act on their prior willingness according to their ability.

Ultimately, Paul does not use a two-step rationale such as: “This is the pattern God demands; therefore, do it.” Neither does he introduce the sort of rationales that establish a pattern for the church based on detailed prescribed practices as might be expected. Rather, he calls the Corinthians to embody and practice a different sort of pattern.

As I understand Paul in these two chapters, I see three (perhaps more) overlapping and mutually enriching organizing emphases. Together, these point to a pattern which grounds Paul’s invitation to the Corinthians to participate in the grace of giving.

A Key Principle in 2 Corinthians 8-9

One of the most significant words in 2 Corinthians 8-9, if not the most significant, is the Greek word charis, which means grace. Its ten occurrences in these two chapters are the highest concentration in the New Testament.

  • the grace (charis) of God given to the churches of Macedonia (8:1)
  • the privilege (charis) of sharing in this ministry to the saints (8:4)
  • complete this generous (charis) undertaking among you (8:6)
  • as you excel in everything…excel also in this generous (charis) undertaking (8:7)
  • for you know the generous (charis) act of our Lord Jesus Christ (8:9)
  • Thanks (charis) be to God (8:16)
  • while administering this generous (charis) undertaking (8:19)
  • God is able to provide you with every blessing (charis) in abundance (9:8)
  • the surpassing grace (charis) God…has given you (9:14).
  • Thanks (charis) be to God for his indescribable gift (9:15).

These statements provide several different angles on the grace of God. God gives grace (2 Corinthians 8:1, 9; 9:8, 14), the Corinthians administer the grace of God in their ministry to others (2 Corinthians 8:4, 6, 7, 17), and all, including those who receive this ministry, give grace (thanks) to God (2 Corinthians 8:16; 9:15).

While the profound depth of these statements is inexhaustible, my purpose is to highlight one point. Fundamentally, Paul roots his invitation to participate in the collection for the Jerusalem saints in God’s grace. He reminds them that (1) God has graced them, (2) they are the instruments of God’s grace to the poor, and (3) their ministry will result in grace (thanksgiving) to God as well as God’s glory (2 Corinthians 9:13). God’s own grace, whether in creation, providence, or redemption, should move the Corinthians to act graciously. They should “finish the task” because they are graced people through whom God graces others with the result that they will grace God.

We might call the function of grace in Paul’s persuasive speech a form of “principlizing,” though it has more substance than a kind of moralizing. As we read Paul’s passionate plea, he uses the principle of grace in its many manifestations to articulate a vision for the heart of God and how the Corinthians might participate in that heart.

Why give to the poor? Whether local or distant, whether Jew or Gentile, whether known or unknown, Paul roots this gift in God’s grace. We give because we are the recipients of God’s grace, empowered by that grace, and moved by the goal of gracing God (thanks and glory).

Paul does not ground his call to share grace in a command or a pattern of church practices. Rather, he grounds it in God’s own gracious giving. We give because God has given to us, and we give because we want to be like God. We respond to God’s grace by doing what God does. Grace is no static command but an internal dynamic at work in the scheme of redemption and in our lives so that we might imitate and glorify God.

Paul, then, uses a principle profoundly grounded in God’s own identity and actions in order to call the Corinthians to fully live out the grace they have received. Let us imitate Paul’s hermeneutical move ourselves. If God’s grace is the ground of giving to the poor, this grace is not limited only to saints. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 cannot mean that church funds are only for church people because God’s grace is for all people and the grace of God has appeared to all people (Titus 2:11).

I remember, and still sometimes hear, the language that sometimes introduces the offering. “We are commanded to give every first day of the week.” But I also have heard the language from 2 Corinthians 9, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Paul did not do the former in 2 Corinthians 8-9 (command every congregation to take up a collection every first day of the week) but the latter. Paul did not command or expect conformity to a blueprint, but called the Corinthians to conform to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we gratefully receive God’s grace, we will then cheerfully share it. This was Paul’s approach in 2 Corinthians 8-9.

2 Corinthians 8-9 – Paul’s Use of Scripture

If Paul does not appeal to a prescribed pattern of church practices as the ground of the collection, does Paul appeal to Scripture at all? When Paul wants to persuade people to give to the poor, what role does Scripture play?

What was Scripture for Paul? In 55-56 A.D. we would not expect him to appeal to any New Testament documents except those he had already written (1 & 2 Thessalonians, for example). Nevertheless, for Paul, all Scripture is “inspired and profitable for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” and it is sufficient to equip believers “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). These were the “sacred writings” Timothy had known from childhood, and they were able to instruct him “for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). This Scripture is what we have called the Old Testament, and it has the capacity to instruct us, correct us, guide us, and equip us for “every good work,” including giving to the poor. Paul identifies the grace of giving as a “good work” in 2 Corinthians 9:8.

In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul appeals to the Hebrew Bible at least three times. First, God’s gift of manna in the wilderness teaches the principle of a fair balance. The needy are supplied out of the abundance of the wealthy so that everyone has what they need. Paul quotes Exodus 16:18 in 2 Corinthians 8:15 as an example that grounds Paul’s call for shared resources so that there is equity within the body of Christ. God supplies manna (resources) for the sake of the community, and the community shares them so that all needs are met. The instruction to gather what one needs arises out of the divine intent that one person not have too much and another person not have too little. The way God supplied the needs of Israel is a model for how we supply each other’s needs. What moves God should move us, that is, a grace that meets the needs of people. God is our model, and we see God’s intent through the practices of Israel.

Second, Paul quotes Psalm 112:9 in 2 Corinthians 9:9. Psalm 112 blesses the righteous person. At the same time, Psalm 111 praises God’s own identity. The righteous person of Psalm 112 is the one who imitates the God who is described in Psalm 111. Psalm 112 mirrors Psalm 111. In this way, the root idea is doing what God does or becoming like God in our lives and practices. Just as God is generous, so the righteous person shares generously with the poor. God, in fact, supplies the seed or wealth which we, in imitation of God, scatter among the poor. Interestingly, 2 Corinthians 9:8 tells us that God supplies us for “every good work,” and then Paul uses Psalm 112 to identify that “good work,” which is scattering God’s gifts to us among the poor. In this way, Paul appeals to Scripture (Psalm 112) to equip them for this good work of sharing with the poor in Jerusalem. Thus, Psalm 112 authorizes his call for the Corinthians to participate in this good work.

Third, Deuteronomy 15 lurks in the background as well. Just as God had blessed Israel so that there should be no needy among them, the Corinthians should give generously without a grudging heart (Deuteronomy 15:10; 2 Corinthians 9:7). Paul uses the language of Deuteronomy 15. Just like Israel, God intends the church to be a place where there are no needy, and Paul invites the Corinthians to participate in the practices of Israel by continuing that intent in the present.

Paul also draws on the model of the Macedonian disciples in order to convict the Corinthians and wants the Corinthians to be an example to others (2 Corinthians 8:1-2, 24). The ongoing history of God among the Macedonians teaches the Corinthians too. Redemptive history is filled with good examples and good practices that imitate God’s own grace, and because they are grounded in God’s acts and grace, we imitate God when we share generously with others.

In the light of how the church continues the life of Israel, it is important to note that Israel’s generosity included aliens or foreigners living among them. Israel’s attitude toward aliens was rooted in God’s own love for Israel when they were aliens. Leviticus 19:34 says, “you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” In fact, needy aliens received shares of the third-year tithe (Deuteronomy 26:12-13). Moreover, the God of Israel “executes justice” for and “loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18).

If the God of Israel loved the alien, provided food and clothing for the alien, and required Israel to share with the alien, then the “saints only doctrine” is inconsistent with this trajectory within the scheme of redemption. Should one say, “well, that is in the Old Testament, and we draw our church practices from Acts and the Epistles,” it is important to recognize how Paul models something different. Paul has no problem looking to Israel’s Scripture to ground the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem in both the identity of God and the practices of Israel as God’s people. Since God’s gift (grace) of manna to Israel can teach the church about generosity toward the poor (2 Corinthians 8:13-15), then God’s treatment of the aliens within Israel can teach us about God’s generosity toward aliens today. God loves the alien today, just as God loved the alien in ancient Israel.

2 Corinthians 8-9 – Paul Appeals to Jesus

In order to ground his appeal to the Corinthians to finish the task, Paul employed (1) the theological principle of grace and (2) used Israel’s Scripture as a way to understand God’s own identity and call. In his final sentence, Paul (3) appeals to the foundational act of God in Jesus the Messiah. “Thanks be to God,” Paul writes, for God’s “indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). The gift, of course, is God’s Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God.

Earlier, in 2 Corinthians 8:8-9, Paul noted that the Corinthian response to this collection would test their integrity and the sincerity of their love. In effect, he wants to know if they really believe the Faith they confess. Paul does not command the Corinthians. Since Jesus himself acted out of grace rather than obligation, Paul wants the Corinthians to do the same. He wants them to imitate Jesus.

“You know,” Paul wrote, “the generous act (charis) of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The grace of Jesus is his incarnation, that is, the Word of God became flesh. Or, as Paul described it, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.” The incarnation is Paul’s paradigm, and this is God’s indescribable gift. This is the pattern. God’s self-giving in the incarnation of Jesus is the model or pattern for Christian life and practice.

When we remember that the Word of God became human for the whole world and died for all people, there is no basis for the “saint’s only doctrine” in the scheme of redemption. If the incarnation of the Word of God is Paul’s rationale for sharing with the poor, and the incarnation is an expression of God’s love for the whole world, then the imitation of the incarnation in giving to the poor includes all the poor and not only the saints.

A Theological Hermeneutic?

In summary, as Paul asks the Corinthians to “finish the task,” he grounds his appeal in God’s multi-faceted grace, the practices of Israel that bear witness to God’s own life, and the incarnation of the Word of God. In essence, Paul asks the Corinthians to imitate God. This is the basis of Paul’s mission for the poor saints in Jerusalem. At every point, Paul’s method roots that mission in the identity, grace, and love of God. And, as we know from the scheme of redemption, God loves the whole world and the Messiah died for all people. Therefore, the body of Christ shares with everyone, and this grace is not limited to saints only.

Perhaps another way to say this is to recognize that Paul’s step two does not find its pattern in some detailed and exclusive blueprint for church practices but in the pattern of God’s mighty acts in Israel and Jesus the Messiah. Instead of applying a blueprint for church practices to Corinth as if he were shown an ideal pattern for how churches must conduct their Sunday assembly, Paul resources the workings of God’s grace in providence and salvation, Israel’s history, and the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. The pattern is the activity of God, which finds its fullness in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus the Messiah.

What Paul is doing is what some call a “theological” interpretation. Don’t let that word intimidate you. The Greek word theos means God. Theology is the study of God, and to say something is “theological” means it is a reflection on God or about God. In particular, this approach focuses on the identity of God and how believers might imitate God. In other words, we look to who God is and what God has done in order to know what is required of us or how we might participate in God’s mission.

Another way of saying this is that we do not look for a prescribed, detailed blueprint in what the early church did as much as a theological (God-centered) pattern as to how the early church imitated God, including imitating Jesus. In other words, how did the early church embody the life of God (the theological pattern) in their own community and mission?

Paul fulfilled his commitment to the “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem to “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:9-10). He asked the churches of Galatia and Achaia, but not Macedonia, to set up an arrangement to collect money every first day of week so that when he arrived there would be no need to take up a collection. When Corinth hesitated, Paul employed his apostolic authority by way of a theological appeal rather than by way of a positive command based on a blueprint. Paul did not demand conformity to a prescribed pattern of weekly giving but invited them to imitate God and share the grace with which God had graced them for the sake of gracing God.

This does not mean, of course, that churches should give up weekly giving as part of their assemblies. In the language of the received method, it is at least a good example even though it is not an approved (binding) example. There are good reasons to give every week or to regularly share our resources with the community of faith, and those reasons are rooted in God’s grace, God’s story, and God’s Messiah. The convenient practice of weekly giving within the assembly is a healthy practice that provides the community with an opportunity to participate in the mission of God as a community, to share in this corporate moment of grateful worship, to remember that God has graced them, and to imitate God by gracing others in order that God might be graced by all.

There are many reasons to participate in God’s mission through sharing our resources. We could begin with the story of Abraham’s tithing and continue with Israel’s tithing practices. We could point to the teachings of Jesus on giving as well as the practice of the early Jerusalem church in Acts 2, 4, and 6. If we expanded the conversation to include these factors, that would employ a fuller theological hermeneutic (which enriches our understanding and motivates our sharing). But those larger resources do not entail that there is a prescribed blueprint. Communal sharing on the first day of the week conveniently continues the practice of the people of God seen throughout Scripture, but it is not a requirement mandated by a specifically prescribed pattern for the church.


2 Corinthians 8:1-15 – Grace, Generosity, and Gospel

February 5, 2022

[This is copied from my book Searching for the Pattern, pp. 90-104. Due to a recent bout with COVID-19, I have not had the energy or time to do any original writing on 2 Corinthians 8-9. However, I think the following captures the essence of Paul’s theological interests in this section of the letter. Two more videos will cover the rest of chapters 8-9 in the coming weeks.]

2 Corinthians 8-9 – What Paul Doesn’t Do

Here’s how my continued investigation played out, at least in part.

I have heard it said that the Bible is its own best interpreter. There is much truth in that. Since the Bible offers a coherent account of God’s scheme of redemption, one part illuminates another part.

This is particularly true when we are reading the same human author, like Paul. What Paul writes in Colossians will helpfully illuminate what Paul means in Ephesians. This is more pronounced when Paul is writing to the same church about the same thing. Consequently, if we want to understand what lies in the background of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 16, it is helpful to hear how Paul grounds and explains this collection in 2 Corinthians 8-9.

As we read 2 Corinthians 8-9 where Paul encourages the Corinthians to follow through on their commitment to help the saints in Jerusalem, we see the inner workings of Paul’s understanding as he provides a rationale for their giving. We see, in effect, Paul’s own hermeneutic (or step two) at work. We see how Paul gets from (1) there are needy saints in Jerusalem to (3) you Corinthians ought to supply their needs. What is the second step that demands the move from (1) to (3)?

Interestingly, in this text Paul does not seem to inhabit the same patternistic world in which I grew up, at least not the sort of pattern for which I searched. First, he does not command the Corinthians to give. “I am not commanding you,” Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 8:8).

Second, he does not demand they obey the pattern I thought was in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. Paul does not remind them of what he had previously prescribed as if their first day of the week giving was part of their faithfulness to a pattern. He neither details a pattern nor itemizes the blueprint particulars that constitute what a faithful church practices regarding giving. He neither specifies the laws that govern this act of worship nor reminds them of the dire consequences of neglecting it.

Third, he does not draw a line of fellowship concerning the collection. Paul does not make this collection—for which he gave directions in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2—a matter of fellowship or communion with him. Their non-participation would be an embarrassment and a lack of grace on their part, but it would not violate whatever pattern is embedded in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 as a test of fellowship.

In other words, Paul does not do what the method I had learned would have done and what I have heard done over the years practically every Sunday. Paul does not say, “you are commanded to give every first day of the week, and if you don’t, you are unfaithful to the pattern God established.” I often used Paul’s direction for the collection in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 to establish pattern authority for why faithful churches share their financial resources every first day of the week. I regarded it, as many had before me, as part of an exclusive pattern of worship. It was one of the five acts of worship without which the Sunday assembly is incomplete and could not be considered a community who worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

Paul does not use that sort of pattern authority. He does not remind them of what I supposed was a pattern command in 1 Corinthians 16. He does not prescribe giving as a matter of obedience to a pattern of congregational worship.

What does Paul do? How does Paul call a wealthy Gentile congregation in Greece to contribute to a collection for poor Jewish saints in Jerusalem?

There is only one imperative in the text: “finish the work” (2 Corinthians 8:11). The Corinthians had promised to give to the needy in Jerusalem, and Paul expects them to keep their promise. They had expressed a prior willingness, even eagerness, to contribute (2 Corinthians 8:10-12). Though he does not command them, he does offer a rationale to motivate them to act on their prior willingness according to their ability.

Ultimately, Paul does not use a two-step rationale such as: “This is the pattern God demands; therefore, do it.” Neither does he introduce the sort of rationales that establish a pattern for the church based on detailed prescribed practices as might be expected. Rather, he calls the Corinthians to embody and practice a different sort of pattern.

As I understand Paul in these two chapters, I see three (perhaps more) overlapping and mutually enriching organizing emphases. Together, these point to a pattern which grounds Paul’s invitation to the Corinthians to participate in the grace of giving.

A Key Principle in 2 Corinthians 8-9

One of the most significant words in 2 Corinthians 8-9, if not the most significant, is the Greek word charis, which means grace. Its ten occurrences in these two chapters are the highest concentration in the New Testament.

  • the grace (charis) of God given to the churches of Macedonia (8:1)
  • the privilege (charis) of sharing in this ministry to the saints (8:4)
  • complete this generous (charis) undertaking among you (8:6)
  • as you excel in everything…excel also in this generous (charis) undertaking (8:7)
  • for you know the generous (charis) act of our Lord Jesus Christ (8:9)
  • Thanks (charis) be to God (8:16)
  • while administering this generous (charis) undertaking (8:19)
  • God is able to provide you with every blessing (charis) in abundance (9:8)
  • the surpassing grace (charis) God…has given you (9:14).
  • Thanks (charis) be to God for his indescribable gift (9:15).

These statements provide several different angles on the grace of God. God gives grace (2 Corinthians 8:1, 9; 9:8, 14), the Corinthians administer the grace of God in their ministry to others (2 Corinthians 8:4, 6, 7, 17), and all, including those who receive this ministry, give grace (thanks) to God (2 Corinthians 8:16; 9:15).

While the profound depth of these statements is inexhaustible, my purpose is to highlight one point. Fundamentally, Paul roots his invitation to participate in the collection for the Jerusalem saints in God’s grace. He reminds them that (1) God has graced them, (2) they are the instruments of God’s grace to the poor, and (3) their ministry will result in grace (thanksgiving) to God as well as God’s glory (2 Corinthians 9:13). God’s own grace, whether in creation, providence, or redemption, should move the Corinthians to act graciously. They should “finish the task” because they are graced people through whom God graces others with the result that they will grace God.

We might call the function of grace in Paul’s persuasive speech a form of “principlizing,” though it has more substance than a kind of moralizing. As we read Paul’s passionate plea, he uses the principle of grace in its many manifestations to articulate a vision for the heart of God and how the Corinthians might participate in that heart.

Why give to the poor? Whether local or distant, whether Jew or Gentile, whether known or unknown, Paul roots this gift in God’s grace. We give because we are the recipients of God’s grace, empowered by that grace, and moved by the goal of gracing God (thanks and glory).

Paul does not ground his call to share grace in a command or a pattern of church practices. Rather, he grounds it in God’s own gracious giving. We give because God has given to us, and we give because we want to be like God. We respond to God’s grace by doing what God does. Grace is no static command but an internal dynamic at work in the scheme of redemption and in our lives so that we might imitate and glorify God.

Paul, then, uses a principle profoundly grounded in God’s own identity and actions in order to call the Corinthians to fully live out the grace they have received. Let us imitate Paul’s hermeneutical move ourselves. If God’s grace is the ground of giving to the poor, this grace is not limited only to saints. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 cannot mean that church funds are only for church people because God’s grace is for all people and the grace of God has appeared to all people (Titus 2:11).

I remember, and still sometimes hear, the language that sometimes introduces the offering. “We are commanded to give every first day of the week.” But I also have heard the language from 2 Corinthians 9, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Paul did not do the former in 2 Corinthians 8-9 (command every congregation to take up a collection every first day of the week) but the latter. Paul did not command or expect conformity to a blueprint, but called the Corinthians to conform to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we gratefully receive God’s grace, we will then cheerfully share it. This was Paul’s approach in 2 Corinthians 8-9.

2 Corinthians 8-9 – Paul’s Use of Scripture

If Paul does not appeal to a prescribed pattern of church practices as the ground of the collection, does Paul appeal to Scripture at all? When Paul wants to persuade people to give to the poor, what role does Scripture play?

What was Scripture for Paul? In 55-56 A.D. we would not expect him to appeal to any New Testament documents except those he had already written (1 & 2 Thessalonians, for example). Nevertheless, for Paul, all Scripture is “inspired and profitable for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” and it is sufficient to equip believers “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). These were the “sacred writings” Timothy had known from childhood, and they were able to instruct him “for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). This Scripture is what we have called the Old Testament, and it has the capacity to instruct us, correct us, guide us, and equip us for “every good work,” including giving to the poor. Paul identifies the grace of giving as a “good work” in 2 Corinthians 9:8.

In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul appeals to the Hebrew Bible at least three times. First, God’s gift of manna in the wilderness teaches the principle of a fair balance. The needy are supplied out of the abundance of the wealthy so that everyone has what they need. Paul quotes Exodus 16:18 in 2 Corinthians 8:15 as an example that grounds Paul’s call for shared resources so that there is equity within the body of Christ. God supplies manna (resources) for the sake of the community, and the community shares them so that all needs are met. The instruction to gather what one needs arises out of the divine intent that one person not have too much and another person not have too little. The way God supplied the needs of Israel is a model for how we supply each other’s needs. What moves God should move us, that is, a grace that meets the needs of people. God is our model, and we see God’s intent through the practices of Israel.

Second, Paul quotes Psalm 112:9 in 2 Corinthians 9:9. Psalm 112 blesses the righteous person. At the same time, Psalm 111 praises God’s own identity. The righteous person of Psalm 112 is the one who imitates the God who is described in Psalm 111. Psalm 112 mirrors Psalm 111. In this way, the root idea is doing what God does or becoming like God in our lives and practices. Just as God is generous, so the righteous person shares generously with the poor. God, in fact, supplies the seed or wealth which we, in imitation of God, scatter among the poor. Interestingly, 2 Corinthians 9:8 tells us that God supplies us for “every good work,” and then Paul uses Psalm 112 to identify that “good work,” which is scattering God’s gifts to us among the poor. In this way, Paul appeals to Scripture (Psalm 112) to equip them for this good work of sharing with the poor in Jerusalem. Thus, Psalm 112 authorizes his call for the Corinthians to participate in this good work.

Third, Deuteronomy 15 lurks in the background as well. Just as God had blessed Israel so that there should be no needy among them, the Corinthians should give generously without a grudging heart (Deuteronomy 15:10; 2 Corinthians 9:7). Paul uses the language of Deuteronomy 15. Just like Israel, God intends the church to be a place where there are no needy, and Paul invites the Corinthians to participate in the practices of Israel by continuing that intent in the present.

Paul also draws on the model of the Macedonian disciples in order to convict the Corinthians and wants the Corinthians to be an example to others (2 Corinthians 8:1-2, 24). The ongoing history of God among the Macedonians teaches the Corinthians too. Redemptive history is filled with good examples and good practices that imitate God’s own grace, and because they are grounded in God’s acts and grace, we imitate God when we share generously with others.

In the light of how the church continues the life of Israel, it is important to note that Israel’s generosity included aliens or foreigners living among them. Israel’s attitude toward aliens was rooted in God’s own love for Israel when they were aliens. Leviticus 19:34 says, “you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” In fact, needy aliens received shares of the third-year tithe (Deuteronomy 26:12-13). Moreover, the God of Israel “executes justice” for and “loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18).

If the God of Israel loved the alien, provided food and clothing for the alien, and required Israel to share with the alien, then the “saints only doctrine” is inconsistent with this trajectory within the scheme of redemption. Should one say, “well, that is in the Old Testament, and we draw our church practices from Acts and the Epistles,” it is important to recognize how Paul models something different. Paul has no problem looking to Israel’s Scripture to ground the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem in both the identity of God and the practices of Israel as God’s people. Since God’s gift (grace) of manna to Israel can teach the church about generosity toward the poor (2 Corinthians 8:13-15), then God’s treatment of the aliens within Israel can teach us about God’s generosity toward aliens today. God loves the alien today, just as God loved the alien in ancient Israel.

2 Corinthians 8-9 – Paul Appeals to Jesus

In order to ground his appeal to the Corinthians to finish the task, Paul employed (1) the theological principle of grace and (2) used Israel’s Scripture as a way to understand God’s own identity and call. In his final sentence, Paul (3) appeals to the foundational act of God in Jesus the Messiah. “Thanks be to God,” Paul writes, for God’s “indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). The gift, of course, is God’s Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God.

Earlier, in 2 Corinthians 8:8-9, Paul noted that the Corinthian response to this collection would test their integrity and the sincerity of their love. In effect, he wants to know if they really believe the Faith they confess. Paul does not command the Corinthians. Since Jesus himself acted out of grace rather than obligation, Paul wants the Corinthians to do the same. He wants them to imitate Jesus.

“You know,” Paul wrote, “the generous act (charis) of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The grace of Jesus is his incarnation, that is, the Word of God became flesh. Or, as Paul described it, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.” The incarnation is Paul’s paradigm, and this is God’s indescribable gift. This is the pattern. God’s self-giving in the incarnation of Jesus is the model or pattern for Christian life and practice.

When we remember that the Word of God became human for the whole world and died for all people, there is no basis for the “saint’s only doctrine” in the scheme of redemption. If the incarnation of the Word of God is Paul’s rationale for sharing with the poor, and the incarnation is an expression of God’s love for the whole world, then the imitation of the incarnation in giving to the poor includes all the poor and not only the saints.

A Theological Hermeneutic?

In summary, as Paul asks the Corinthians to “finish the task,” he grounds his appeal in God’s multi-faceted grace, the practices of Israel that bear witness to God’s own life, and the incarnation of the Word of God. In essence, Paul asks the Corinthians to imitate God. This is the basis of Paul’s mission for the poor saints in Jerusalem. At every point, Paul’s method roots that mission in the identity, grace, and love of God. And, as we know from the scheme of redemption, God loves the whole world and the Messiah died for all people. Therefore, the body of Christ shares with everyone, and this grace is not limited to saints only.

Perhaps another way to say this is to recognize that Paul’s step two does not find its pattern in some detailed and exclusive blueprint for church practices but in the pattern of God’s mighty acts in Israel and Jesus the Messiah. Instead of applying a blueprint for church practices to Corinth as if he were shown an ideal pattern for how churches must conduct their Sunday assembly, Paul resources the workings of God’s grace in providence and salvation, Israel’s history, and the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. The pattern is the activity of God, which finds its fullness in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus the Messiah.

What Paul is doing is what some call a “theological” interpretation. Don’t let that word intimidate you. The Greek word theos means God. Theology is the study of God, and to say something is “theological” means it is a reflection on God or about God. In particular, this approach focuses on the identity of God and how believers might imitate God. In other words, we look to who God is and what God has done in order to know what is required of us or how we might participate in God’s mission.

Another way of saying this is that we do not look for a prescribed, detailed blueprint in what the early church did as much as a theological (God-centered) pattern as to how the early church imitated God, including imitating Jesus. In other words, how did the early church embody the life of God (the theological pattern) in their own community and mission?

Paul fulfilled his commitment to the “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem to “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:9-10). He asked the churches of Galatia and Achaia, but not Macedonia, to set up an arrangement to collect money every first day of week so that when he arrived there would be no need to take up a collection. When Corinth hesitated, Paul employed his apostolic authority by way of a theological appeal rather than by way of a positive command based on a blueprint. Paul did not demand conformity to a prescribed pattern of weekly giving but invited them to imitate God and share the grace with which God had graced them for the sake of gracing God.

This does not mean, of course, that churches should give up weekly giving as part of their assemblies. In the language of the received method, it is at least a good example even though it is not an approved (binding) example. There are good reasons to give every week or to regularly share our resources with the community of faith, and those reasons are rooted in God’s grace, God’s story, and God’s Messiah. The convenient practice of weekly giving within the assembly is a healthy practice that provides the community with an opportunity to participate in the mission of God as a community, to share in this corporate moment of grateful worship, to remember that God has graced them, and to imitate God by gracing others in order that God might be graced by all.

There are many reasons to participate in God’s mission through sharing our resources. We could begin with the story of Abraham’s tithing and continue with Israel’s tithing practices. We could point to the teachings of Jesus on giving as well as the practice of the early Jerusalem church in Acts 2, 4, and 6. If we expanded the conversation to include these factors, that would employ a fuller theological hermeneutic (which enriches our understanding and motivates our sharing). But those larger resources do not entail that there is a prescribed blueprint. Communal sharing on the first day of the week conveniently continues the practice of the people of God seen throughout Scripture, but it is not a requirement mandated by a specifically prescribed pattern for the church.


2 Corinthians 7:5-15 – Reconciled

January 25, 2022


2 Corinthians 6:11-7:4 – Open Your Hearts

January 21, 2022

Paul has pursued a renewed relationship with the Corinthians through this letter. He wanted to increase their understanding of his own ministry and the nature of the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 1:13), and he appeals for reconciliation on multiple occasions (e.g., 2 Corinthians 6:1).

He began the process of working out this reconciliation at the beginning of the letter with a travelogue: why he did not visit but sent a letter and how he left Troas to look for Titus in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:23-2:13). Instead of completing the travelogue, which he will resume momentarily (2 Corinthians 7:5-16), he dove into an extended discussion of the ministry of reconciliation of which his ministry to the Corinthians was a part. This lengthy “digression” (if that is what it is) served to provide the Corinthians with a deeper understanding of gospel ministry, the ministry of the new covenant and to help them appreciate how gospel ministry entails suffering rather than triumphal processions—Paul’s ministry resume, as we saw previously (2 Corinthians 6:1-10).

2 Corinthians 6:11-7:4 is the final section of this “digression.” It is the climax of his appeal for reconciliation, which is explicit and repetitive in these verses. The structure emphazies this point.

A. Open Your Hearts (6:11-13)

B. Moral Exhortation (6:14-7:1)

A. Make Room in Your Hearts (7:2-4)

This final appeal functions in an A-B-A pattern.  Paul appeals for open affection and reconciliation in 6:11-13 and 7:2-4. It is, essentially, repetitive, but the second part extends the affection of the second part. Sandwiched in the middle is a moral exhortation. Some suggest this appears rather abrupt, and some have suggested it is an interpolation or Paul (or an editor) has injected a selection from one of Paul’s earlier letters (perhaps his first, the harsh letter, or even an unknown letter). I think these conjectures are unnecessary as I think there is a good reason for this moral exhortation to appear at this moment in the letter. But more on that in a moment; first, the appeal for reconciliation.

The Appeal (2 Corinthians 6:11; 7:2-4)

Paul has laid his heart before them. He has been affectionate, transparent, and parental towards the Corinthians. He has not limited his affections (any more than a parent would), but they have restricted their affections (like stubborn children). He appeals to the Corinthians to open their hearts to him just as he has opened his heart to them. Paul seeks mutual affection like should exist between parents and their children. Paul, remember, thinks of himself as a father to the Corinthian congregation since he planted the church (1 Corinthians 4:14-15).

In 6:13 Paul asks the Corinthians to enlarge their hearts and continues the metaphor in 7:2 with the idea of making room for Paul in their hearts. Though the word “heart” is not in the Greek text of 7:2, it is drawn from 6:13. Paul is resuming his appeal in 7:2 that was begun in 6:11-13. It appears as a natural flow, but it may also be resumptive following the moral exhortation of 6:14-7:1. It repeats the idea of enlargement or making space in their hearts for Paul as a means of reconciliation.

The appeal for reconciliation is shaped by how Paul ministered among them: he did not treat anyone unfairly, he did not corrupt anyone’s morals, and he did not take financial advantage of them. They are well aware of his ministry, and the Corinthians are aware of accusations against Paul. He did not come into Corinth like an imperial ambassador with power, pomp, and plenty but came among them as a sufferer, without rhetorical skills, and impoverished. He did not look like the ambassador of anyone important. Paul reminds them that he did not take advantage of his circumstance or press his ambassadorship for his own power and position. Rather, he ministered the grace of God among them.

This ministry meant that Paul intended “to die together and to live together” with them. Given Paul’s rehearsal of the meaning of the gospel in 2 Corinthians 3-5, this dying and living together is dying and living in Christ. Believers in Christ do not live for themselves, but they die with Christ and live through Christ. This is Paul’s desire, and it is his boast—the Corinthians and Paul are dying and living together.

This is the consolation for which Paul prays. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul began his letter reminding the Corinthians that it is God who consoles or comforts. And Paul experienced this in Ephesus when he faced a deadly situation but God delivered him and consoled him. In the same way, now God is comforting Paul through reconciliation with the Corinthians. “I am filled with consolation”!

Moreover, “I am overjoyed in all our affliction.” The affliction was real; it is not dismissed as unimportant. Their relationship was troubled, and many factors contributed to that struggle—both externally and internally. Nevertheless, Paul finds joy in the midst or aftermath of this struggle, which is far from over as we will see in 2 Corinthians 10-13.

Joy is a profound emotion but not a transient one in the gospel. We may think of happiness as something that comes and goes, but deep joy settles in the heart through the gospel. Though we walk through afflictions and troubles, though we endure suffering for the sake of the gospel, our joy is rooted in reconciliation—how God has reconciled the world to God’s own self in Jesus through the ministry of the new covenant. This is the ground of profound joy, even when we are surrounded by anxious moments and troublesome times.

Moral Exhortation (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

The exhortation is: “do not be mismatched with unbelievers” (6:14a). This exhortation is embellished with another exhortation: “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit” (7:1b). Lying between the exhortations is Paul’s ground or basis, which is rooted in (1) a theological contrast and (2) texts from the Hebrew Bible.

A. Exhortation: Do not be mismatched with unbelievers (6:14a).

B. Ground (Theological): A Contrast between Christ and Beliar (6:14b-16a)

B. Ground (Textual): We are the Temple of the Living God (6:16b-18)

A. Exhortation: Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit (7:1b)

What does it mean to be “mismatched” (or, unequally yoked) with unbelievers? This exhortation has been used to exclude people from social clubs, dinners, and—more typically—marriages with unbelievers. The wide range of application is sometimes astonishing. But what is Paul’s point?  I think his ground—both theological and biblical—offers an answer.

The theological ground is pictured in the below chart. I call it “theological” because, though grounded in the biblical story, it accentuates a theological idea in order provide a basis for the moral exhortation. That idea is something like: there is no common ground between worshipping the living God and serving idols.

VerseRelationPositive ContrastNegative Contrast
14bPartnership/ParticipationRighteousnessLawlessness
14cFellowship/CommunionLightDarkness
15aJoint Decision/AccordChristBeliar
15bShared PortionBelieverUnbeliever
16aMutual ArrangementTemple of GodIdols

Each of the contrasts reflect polar opposites. There is no lawlessness in righteousness. There is no darkness in light. “Beliar” is a common name for the leader of the forces of evil in the intertestamental period (e.g., Qumran sect but only used here in the New Testament) derived from a Hebrew word which means “wicked” but is never personified in the Hebrew Bible. The contrast, then, is between Christ and the Devil (or, Satan). They have no common ground, just as there is none between those committed to Christ through faith and those committed to Beliar through unbelief. And, lastly and perhaps climactically, there is no common ground between the temple of God and idols (including their temples).

It seems to me that the final line illuminates the context for this series of contrasts and explains the content of the moral exhortation. Paul, following a major theme of the Hebrew Bible and a major topic of 1 Corinthians 5, 8-10, forbids associations with idolatrous temples, banquet tables, and immorality (lawlessness). Believers in Christ may only worship in one temple; they cannot participate in the idolatry of temple banquets and rituals.

This was, apparently, a sore point among the Corinthians who came to faith out their previous religious commitments. The temples of Greco-Roman religion were not only religious but social, political, and economic. To divorce oneself rom the city temples was to potentially cut oneself off from social, political, and economic institutions associated with the temples. Indeed, Greco-Roman Associations (similar to labor unions or chambers of commerce) were thoroughly idolatrous.

Paul does not oppose business relationships with unbelievers, eating with unbelievers (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11) or even marriages with unbelievers (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:12-15). Rather, it is a prohibition about associations with idolatry, particularly engaging in temple rituals and banquets (which he opposed, for example, in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22).

In this way, this moral exhortation fits the context of Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians. He seeks reconciliation, but this does not mean Paul has waved his insistence on separation from idolatry and immorality. The exhortation, then, reinforces the necessity of Corinth’s moral commitment to the gospel and the way of Jesus. Rather than out of place, this section brings the larger picture into view that reconciliation is only possible if the Corinthians separate themselves from idolatry (and some had not, cf. 2 Corinthians 12:21).

Paul then locates this theological idea in the biblical text itself with a profound affirmation (which he also made in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:19): We are the temple of the living God.  Notice the important addition of “living” in contrast to the previous sentence.  The “living” God stands in contrast to the “idols.” Christians serve the living God rather than mute and deaf idols, dead pieces of wood, stone, or gold (and that is a common theme in the prophets). This is grounded in Scripture as a place where God speaks (“God says”–this is how Paul thinks about Scripture).

Remarkably, Paul assembles a collection of texts in order to tell this story of temple, separation from idols, and God’s gracious welcome to us as children of God. The texts are:

  • Leviticus 26:11-12 – I will live and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
  • Isaiah 52:11b – [Therefore] come out from them, and be separate from them.
  • Isaiah 52:11a – [And] touch nothing unclean
  • Ezekiel 20:34 – [then] I will welcome you
  • 2 Samuel 7:14 – I will be your father, and you will be
  • Isaiah 43:6 – my sons and daughters

The quotations begin with God’s promise to Israel in the wilderness that God would dwell among them in the Tabernacle (and later Temple) in a covenant relationship between God and the people of God. Then the citation of Isaiah (even reversing the Hebrew for rhetorical effect) calls for separation from idolatry and a refusal to be involved in anything idolatrous. This separation from idolatry means God will welcome them from that exile and gather them as a people. This will then constitute a relationship where God will be a parent to the sons and daughters.

In other words, Paul draws from various resources in the Hebrew Bible to tell the story of the Hebrew Bible itself: covenantal promise, separation from sin (exile), gathering the people in a return to God, and the establishment of a parent-child relationship. Paul tells that story fully aware of the contexts of each of these texts and how those contexts shape the identify of believers in the Messiah, including Gentile believers.

The Corinthians have been called out of idolatry to enter into covenant relationship with the God of Israel. The Hebrew Bible speaks to these Corinthians as much as it speaks to ethnic Israel. God invites both to come out of exile, enter into covenant, and become the people of God, the children of God.

Paul calls this biblical story a set of “promises” (7:1), and because we have these promises made in the Hebrew Bible, therefore believers are called to remove all defilements from their person (both body and spirit) and seek a holiness perfected in the fear of God.

This is the journey of sanctification and transformation. Believers, standing on the promises of God, seek to conform to the will of God and to more fully become the image of God as part of the family of God. That is the essence of the moral exhortation.


2 Corinthians 6:1-10 – Paul’s Ministry Resume

January 8, 2022

The message of new covenant ministry is, “Be reconciled to God.” This ministry of reconciliation proclaims the work of God in Christ and appeals to hearers (including the Corinthians) to accept God’s grace.

This ministry is a cooperative effort between God and Paul (and other ministers of reconciliation). God and Paul are co-workers, though Paul only plants while God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-9). Nevertheless, it is a partnership as God appeals to the world through ministers of reconciliation and, in this instance, Paul’s own ministry.

Indeed, this ministry has eschatological meaning, that is, it is the time anticipated by the prophet Isaiah (49:8) and is the arrival of the future in the present. The announcement of the day of salvation has arrived, and now is the time. There is no more wait; the future has already come and new creation has begun.

Nevertheless, Paul’s ministry among the Corinthians has been criticized by detractors who have created suspicions about his integrity and credentials. His ministry did not look like the “super apostles” or follow the patterns of other travelling teachers within the Greco-Roman world. This rendered his ministry suspect in the eyes of those steeped in that culture.

Consequently, Paul stresses that his ministry intends to put no obstacle in the way of others accepting the reconciling grace of God. In fact, Paul bends over backwards to facilitate that acceptance by his own willingness to serve (“servants of God”) in difficult circumstances and at great personal cost. This is Paul’s ministry resume, and this I how he commends himself “in every way” to both his supporters and his detractors.

His resume, however, is not a list of institutional credentials, powerful connections with people, or success rate. His resume is, in a word, “endurance.” Paul commends himself to others through his “great endurance.” His life basically stands up under the pressure (basic meaning of “endurance”) of his travels, ministry, and interactions with people. He endures—he keeps going and executing the ministry of reconciliation.

What follows identifies the context and content of this endurance. Paul employs a beautiful rhetorical structure by the use of three prepositions:  “in” (en), “through” (dia), and “as” (hos). 

The first series, “in” (en, 18 times), identifies the circumstances and means of this endurance, and Paul arranges the first set of particulars in groups of three.

  • in great  endurance
    • in afflictions
    • in hardships
    • in calamities
      • in beatings
      • in imprisonments
      • in riots
        • in labors
        • in sleepless nights
        • in hunger

The first group generalizes Paul’s circumstances; his ministry is characterized by all sorts of troubles from sicknesses to difficult situations to tragic moments. It lacks specification but provides a horizon for thinking about the troubles Paul endured. The second category names external attacks and hostile pressures as part of his ministry experience. The third category is more personal from his incessant hard work to fatigue and hunger. In other words, Paul’s ministry circumstances were not triumphant but troublesome. His ministry was not always received warmly but often aggressively rejected. He often found himself overworked, fatigued, and physically deprived for the sake of the ministry of reconciliation.

His resume did not look like a successful and honored ambassador that Greco-Roman standards expected. It looked like rejection, failure, and inauthenticity. But this is Paul’s boast (or commendation): this is what it looks like to participate in the ministry of Jesus the crucified but risen Messiah.

The second set of particulars in the “in” (en) series are communicated in groups of four. Both groups are still headed by “in great endurance” but are different in intent. While the first nine in the first set of particulars focused on the circumstances of his ministry, the second set focuses on the means of that ministry. In other words, the second set raises the question, “how did Paul endure?” or “by what means did Paul live out his calling in those circumstances?”

  • in great endurance,
    • in purity
    • In knowledge
    • in patience
    • in kindness
  • in great endurance
    • in the Holy Spirit,
    • in genuine love
    • in truthful speech
    • in the power of God

The first grouping points to Paul’s integrity in terms of how he endured his troubles. Purity and knowledge probably refer to the authenticity of his ministry; he was faithful to his own commitment and his own knowledge or understanding of the message of reconciliation. Patience and kindness probably refer to his sanctified demeanor as he responded to hardships and hostility.

The second grouping probably points to the means that enabled Paul to maintain his integrity and his kind demeanor. The Holy Spirit, the love of Christ, the truth of the message, and the power of God have shaped his vocation. He depends upon divine empowerment to endure hardships.

Together, Paul’s ministry endures through authentic and gentle responses filled with the sanctified presence of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Paul demonstrates this sort of integrity and commitment in this letter itself as he appeals to them, as a minister of reconciliation, to continue in the grace of God.

The second series, “through” (dia), seems to characterize how Paul proceeds in his ministry. He utilizes weapons of righteousness even as he is subjected to slander and dishonor as well as glory and praise.

  • through weapons of righteousness
    • for the right hand and for the left
    • through glory and dishonor
    • through slander and praise

While there are several ways to understand “weapons of righteousness,” it probably means that Paul uses weapons (ministry skills, strategies, etc.) that are righteous. He does not use evil, deceit, or hatred in his ministry. Paul pursues his ministry with integrity—he uses righteous weapons.

The meaning of right and left hand is subject to varied understandings. Some suggest it is an allusion to Roman armor: sword in one hand (offense) and a shield in the other (defense). However, it seems more probable that it is part of the contrast that follows in the other two lines. In other words, right and left hand may symbolize adversity (hostility?) and prosperity (success?).  In this case, we have the three contrasts as pictured above.

These contrasts reflect Paul’s commitment to stay the course and continue his ministry whatever the response may be to it. Some will welcome, honor, and praise him while others will oppose, disrespect, and slander him. Whatever the case, Paul does not give up! He endures.

The third series, “as” (hos—a comparative particle), offers Paul’s perspective on his hardships. He knows the real story; he knows himself.  While he may experience the first in his hardships, he knows the latter is the real story

  • as imposters and true
  • as unknown and known
  • as dying and, behold, we live
  • as punished and not killed
  • as sorrowful but always rejoicing
  • as poor, but making many rich
  • as having nothing and possessing everything

While some regard him as an imposter, consider his ministry a path of death and suffering, or they don’t know him, Paul knows the truth about himself, lives in Christ, and is known by God (if not by anybody else!).

While Paul experienced punishment, sorrow, poverty, and paucity, Paul knows the real story is that he is not killed but lives to proclaim the message, he has a deep sense of joy in the midst of hardship, his poverty is for the sake of making others rich, and his paucity is only apparent as he possesses everything through his co-inheritance with Christ.

Instead of listing his credentials—which he could have done as Philippians 3 illustrates—Paul locates the authenticity of his ministry in his endurance.

This is how Paul understands new covenant ministry. Essentially, as co-workers with God in the ministry, servants of God endure suffering with integrity by the power of God whatever the circumstance because we know who we are in Christ. And this is how Paul sees himself; it is his ministry resume.