Authentic Ministry 18/Second Corinthians
We are continuing our series in 2 Corinthians, but we are doing so mindful of this “giving season” that we are in. We are all active participants in this matter of giving and receiving, and so this is wonderful time to practice the spirit of generosity. Like other virtues, this is not something that just happens all by itself. We must pay attention.
“I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:8–9).
Summary of the Text
Paul begins here by saying that he is not issuing “a commandment” (v. 8). This is a stirring up of love, and not an exercise of raw authority. Paul is using the generosity of the Macedonians to stir up the Corinthians, just as he had earlier used the Corinthians to stir up the Macedonians (v. 24). He wants to test the sincerity of their love (v. 8), a point that he repeats again in v. 24. And then he comes to the foundation of all true generosity. Because they knew the gospel, they already knew about this. Paul says “ye know.” What did they know? They knew the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 9). And what did this grace entail? The Eternal Word of God, infinitely wealthy, became bounded and finitely poor, and He did this so that we, through His poverty, might be made rich (v. 9).
Wealth and Poverty
Notice that Paul does not say that through the riches of Christ we are made rich. What makes us rich is the poverty of Christ, which means that before we share His wealth together with Him, we go through a process. We were already poor, and Christ joined us in that condition. We had been wealthy before, but in the Fall we had thrown it all away, squandering it. Now we were destitute, bankrupt, starving. Jesus Christ was born into that world, born of a woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4). Because He shared our poverty, as a consequence we may share in His wealth. But this only works because Christ is a federal or covenant representative, meaning again, that He escorts us through a process. It is not that divine wealth is just dropped on us.
Christ as Head
The human race is fallen because the entire human race rebelled in the Garden of Eden. When our first parents sinned against God there, the entire human race was present. The entire human race acted, and when we acted, the whole race fell—even those individuals who had not yet been born.
When Adam disobeyed, we disobeyed in solidarity with him. When Adam ate the fruit, we ate the fruit in solidarity with him. When Adam fell into death-world, we fell into death-world also. Now all this means that the human race got into sin covenantal solidarity, through our covenant head. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Now the way in is also the way out. If we got into sin by means of covenantal solidarity, we need to get out by means of covenantal solidarity. If the Head of the human race plunged us into sin, then we need a new Head of the human race in order to get us out. And that is precisely what God provided for us in Christ. He is the second Adam (Rom. 5:14), the final and ultimate Adam.
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”
Romans 5:19 (KJV)
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
1 Corinthians 15:22 (KJV)
Friend of Sinners
How did Christ share in our poverty? He was born into a fallen race to begin with. He was of the royal line of Judah, but the perks of that royalty were long since gone. He was not born into an aristocratic family. When He was dedicated at the Temple, His parents offered up two turtle doves, the sacrificial option for poor people (Luke 2:24; cf. Lev. 12:8).
He began His earthly ministry with the baptism of John, which means that He began His ministry by identifying with sinners. Everything that was assumed by Him in the Incarnation was redeemed by Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. In the entire life of Christ (not just in His time on the cross) we see our redemption taking final and complete shape. Remember what we saw in the first chapter— “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
He assumed a complete human life, an impoverished one, and He did so that everything He assumed or took on might be redeemed and glorified.
Get To, Not Got To
So when we come to give a gift, we should make sure that we keep three things in the front of our minds at all times.
The first thing is to remember how Jesus gave, and how much He gave. “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” The second thing is to look at the generosity of other Christians. If we just looked at Christ only, it would be easy to slip off the point and shrug apathetically because “I’m not Jesus.” But the Macedonians . . . they weren’t Jesus either. Nevertheless, they still gave an amazing gift. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24). That is what Paul is doing here. When you are tempted to begrudge a need to give, then look around for some forgiven sinner like you, who has a much better set of excuses that you do, and yet you see that he does not use those excuses. And last, this kind of thing tests the sincerity of your love. Do you love? Then love gives. Do you love? Then love sacrifices. Do you love? Do you really give it away?
And these three actions are the path to a get to, not got to mentality. Giving during this season is not an obligation, but rather a glorious opportunity.
Look to Christ, always to Christ. Second, look to your “Macedonians.” And last, look to your own heart, and if you are tempted to be discouraged by what you see there . . . look to Christ again.