2. Corinthians 9 – Collection for the poor in Jerusalem

Pasi Hujanen
Reija Becks

Read or listen the Second Epistle to the Corinthians - chapter 9 online (ESV, Bible Gateway)

Competing for a good cause – 2 Cor. 9:1-5

It seems that Paul had caused the churches of Macedonia and Achaia to compete with each other over which province would collect a bigger gift for the poor of the Jerusalem church.

However, Paul was concerned about how the problems that had arisen in Corinth had affected the Corinthians’ eagerness in this collection. Had Paul's opponents also made the collection that Paul had started to fail? Paul sent Titus and two brothers, who remain unknown, (verse 3; 2 Cor. 8:16-19) to prepare for the collection – or actually, to complete it – before he himself would leave for Corinth.

The aim of this gift was not only about “saving Paul’s face”, but to strengthen the relationship of the Gentile churches with the Jerusalem church and, through it, with Judeo-Christianity as a whole. Paul knew that maintaining that connection was not self-evident. One indication of the problems existing between the two groups were the opponents of Paul and his missionary work. Those opponents had come to Corinth too. If divided into competing groups, Christianity would be consumed in conflict, and less attention would be given to reaching new people. Even in mission fields, a situation can arise where new members are invited from other churches and not from among non-Christians.

It is also good to remember what Paul wrote:

“If one member suffers,
all suffer together;
if one member is honoured,
all rejoice together."
(1 Cor. 12:26)

The Christian church should be one community. Unfortunately, as a result of sin, it is divided into many groups, even competing groups. In heaven, these boundaries no longer exist and all who belong to Jesus are one body again.

In verse 5, for the word ‘gift’ Paul uses the Greek word ‘eulogia’ that means ‘blessing’ and ‘prayer of thanksgiving’ (e.g., in connection with Communion). The gift from the Corinthians would convey to the poor in Jerusalem the blessing that the Corinthians had received from God. It would also bring forth praise to God.

When God blesses us, we should pass on some of that blessing. But unfortunately, the following is often true: "The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer!" It is particularly unfortunate when the rich get richer by exploiting the poor.

There is only one word in the creed of this world: "More!" It is very difficult for people not living with God to be content with what they have – for them, it is more natural to always try to get more and more. It is an effective way of Satan to keep them apart from God – when your whole life is harnessed to getting more mammon, there will be no time left for God (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13).

Three kinds of assistance

At this point, we can give a small overview of what the New Testament teaches about mutual help between Christians?

1. Helping church leaders

Paul was a "tentmaker missionary" (Acts 18:3), meaning he earned his living by working, just like the Jewish teachers of the Law. Of course, Paul received support from the churches he founded (Phil. 4:14-18), but mainly he earned his own living. However, Paul exhorted the churches to take care of the needs of their own leaders (1 Cor. 9:11-14; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17-18): The preachers of the gospel should get their living by preaching the gospel. 

2. Helping missionaries

When the gospel is preached in areas where it has not been heard before, we obviously cannot think that "the work pays for itself." Paul had solved the problem mainly by working himself. In some countries, "tent-making ministry" is the only possibility because missionaries are not allowed to come in. So, they must come as doctors, engineers, teachers, etc., and preach the gospel in their spare time or when working.

It has always been a more common practice that a church sends someone to do the work of the gospel and pays the costs (cf. 2 Cor. 11:9; Phil. 1:3-).
Of course, it is important that the churches that are born strive to become self-sustaining as soon as possible. There are two significant benefits to this: mission funds can then be channeled to new fields, and a financially independent church is not dependent on outside help and will be able to continue operating even if, for some reason, the external aid ceases.

3. Helping those in need

The history of the church is full of examples of how Christians have helped the needy, including non-Christians. The aim of assistance has often been that at some point the help will become unnecessary. People in need are being helped to start a new life. (cf. Eph. 4:28).

Unfortunately, sometimes help is needed for a long time. Aid organizations have often complained that short-term aid is available, but it is difficult to get funding for long-term aid projects. We want fast results!

Many do not give money because they say that there is always misuse involved in it; not all aid goes where it should. Unfortunately, this is probably often the case. But in these cases, it is not stolen from us, the helpers, but from those who are in real need of help. That is why misuse must always be tackled, as it hinders the needy from getting the help that should be theirs.

God loves a cheerful giver – 2 Cor. 9:6-10

In verse 6, Paul quotes a proverb that is used in agriculture. That proverb is not from the Old Testament’s Book of Proverbs. The following proverb comes close to it:

“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give,
and only suffers want.
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered."
(Prov. 11:24-25)

If we hold fast to our own, we cannot expect other people to help us when we need help.

"Whatever one sows, that will he also reap."
(Gal. 6:7)

Paul does not give instructions on how much to give. There is no set amount, and our giving is only guided by quality: we must give cheerfully, with a free heart. God himself is a cheerful giver – What an abundance of different gifts he has given to both the good and the evil! (Matt. 5:45) That is why God loves a cheerful giver – akin to him.

Verse 9 is a quote from Psalm 112:9, which depicts a righteous man.

"He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor."

The Psalm is entitled, "The righteous will never be moved." Paul seems to adapt the words to God as well.

People of God understand that everything they have is a gift from God. Therefore, they can also give it up. God can give new gifts to replace those that have been given away (cf. the widow's mite, Luke 21:1-4).

It is important to remember that God does not require of us what we do not have. He is interested in what we have (2 Cor. 8:12).

The sower in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23) was a generous sower. He also reaped a harvest, although some of the seed was wasted, but some produced a crop, some even a hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty. Spiritual sowing, however, should not be done for selfish motives: we should not think, “In time I will get my ‘investment’ back with interest.” We give because we ourselves have received so much from God.

Chain reaction – 2 Cor. 9:11-15

We have already talked about the fact that helping the church of Jerusalem was not only to alleviate the suffering of Christians. Paul already mentioned strengthening the Christian fellowship, and now he brings a new perspective on the effects of the gift. It will cause the recipients of the gift to praise God (verse 13) and to pray for those who gave the gift (verse 14). The gift will increase the ability and desire of suffering Christians to praise God. The ultimate purpose of the collection was to glorify the name of God and give Him praise.

It is a good chain reaction: God has blessed me -> I give from what I have -> My neighbour feels God is blessing him -> He also gives from what he has, etc. In addition, there is constant, increasing thanksgiving to God and prayer for the giver.

In verse 15, Paul reminds us that the first giver, the initiator of the chain reaction, is God. He gave his Son to the world to save sinners (John 3:16; Rom.8:32). The help given to the church in Jerusalem was one sign of God's grace and help for his children. Today we face new challenges, but God's mercies never end (Lam. 3:22).

One of God's greatest gifts is time (James 4:13-17). How do we use our time?