In 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 Paul encourages the church in Corinth to give financially to relieve the saints in Jerusalem. The body of Christ in Jerusalem was suffering from severe poverty due to persecution and a famine. Paul had been encouraging the Gentiles to help their brothers in Jerusalem and apparently the Corinthian church committed to helping but had not followed through (vs. 6, 10). He does not command them to give, but appeals to the example of the Macedonian church and to Christ himself to stimulate them to action.
The churches in Macedonia were themselves enduring affliction and “extreme poverty” (vs. 2), yet they had an abundance of joy. Their joy flowed from an understanding of the value of the Kingdom of Heaven. They were like the man Jesus described who upon finding a treasure hidden in a field joyfully sold everything and bought the field (Matt 13:44). By grace (vs. 1) the Macedonian Christians understood the unsurpassed value of the kingdom and thus freely gave out of their poverty in order to meet the needs of their brethren. Apparently, Paul had discouraged their giving due to the harshness of their own conditions, but the Macedonians begged for the opportunity to participate in the relief of the saints. The opportunity to participate, or share is fellowship (koinonia). The use of this term illustrates the depth of what Biblical fellowship really is. Far more than having a meal together, fellowship involves the bearing of burdens which is part of being members of the same body.
Further exceeding Paul’s expectations the Macedonians not only gave sacrificially of their financial resources they gave of themselves. They committed themselves to God and as a result they committed themselves to Paul in order that they might care for their neighbor. After all, to love God with all of our heart is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:36-40). The Macedonians were not only willing to give money, but they surrendered their time and talent to the will of God as well. Maybe their compassion for the church in Jerusalem was the result of a firsthand understanding of the horrors of poverty; regardless the reason ultimately was the fruit of the grace of God (vs. 6). Paul does not command the Corinthians to copy the Macedonians, but he points out that their support for the church in Jerusalem will demonstrate that their love is genuine (vs. 8). As the Apostle John said if the love of God abides in us we cannot see our brothers in need and not be moved to respond (1 John 3:16-18).
Next, Paul appeals to the supreme example of Jesus Christ to motivate them to action (vs. 9). Certainly, we are the receivers of great spiritual blessings from Christ. He left the glories of heaven and willingly set aside his right as ruler of all creation in order that he could become a man. In his humanity, for a time, he gave up the glory and riches of his deity. This verse absolutely has immense spiritual significance; however we must not overlook its immediate context. The reality is that Christ not only left the glory of heaven, but was born into physical earthly poverty. He described his own circumstances as without worldly possessions (Luke 9:58). Also vs. 9 is found in the middle of a passage on generous giving to meet real physical needs. Thus in his commentary on 2 Corinthians Calvin says “Hence he (Jesus) has consecrated poverty in his own person, that believers may no longer regard it with horror. By his poverty he has enriched us all for this purpose – that we may not feel it hard to take from our abundance what we may lay out upon our brethren.” If believers are not moved by the example of the Macedonian church certainly the example of the Lord should motivate us to help the hurting among our brothers and sisters.
Paul proceeds to urge the Corinthians to follow through with their commitment (vs. 11). It is not his desire that they would impoverish themselves in order to assist the Jerusalem church, but that they should give according to what they have (vs. 11-12). He elaborates that the Corinthian’s abundance at the present time should be used to supply the Jerusalem church’s need, and their abundance would supply the Corinthian’s need. This was, as Paul said, a matter of fairness (vs. 13-14). Here is a beautiful picture of the interdependence of the body of Christ. The idea is not that everyone would be on the exact same level, but that as members of the same body we would care for one another in the same manner we desire to be cared for. The Corinthian believers, in Paul’s view, could willingly deny themselves some of the amenities of life in order that that weaker member of the body, in this case the Jerusalem church, could have an opportunity to live. Could we not say the same about the American church? No one would argue that we must bring our majority world brethren up to middle class American standards, but could we not simplify our lives in order that they might have clean water, food, modest housing, and an opportunity to provide for their families and their churches? This is what Paul is essentially arguing for.
Several verses below this passage Paul makes a very good point that I will close with. He says “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Cor. 9:6). In fact I would encourage you to read 2 Cor. 9:6-15 in light of what we have just discussed above. All that we have is the Lord’s. He has freely given it to us and when we freely invest it in his kingdom he can and will multiply our seed and increase the harvest of our righteousness (vs. 2 Cor. 9:10).