Join for our live streamed Service at 10:30 a.m. You can view the service HERE.

Paul's Collection

2Corinthians: Paul's Most Underappreciated Epistle

Jan 12, 2020

by: Jack Lash Series: 2Corinthians: Paul's Most Underappreciated Epistle | Category: NT books | Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:7–8:7, 2 Corinthians 9:1–9:5, Romans 15:25–15:27, Acts 11:27–11:30
  1. Introduction
    A. Expository preaching 
      1. A number of you expressed your gratitude to me for last week’s sermon. And I am very grateful for that. That passage really hit me a few months ago in my personal time with the Lord.
      2. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with preaching like that sometimes. 
      3. However, it still doesn’t make me want to abandon expository preaching. 
      4. You have probably now been through the only preaching journey of your life through this part of the Bible, at least 2Corinthians 5-7. 
      5. Always choosing your own passages to preach on each week leads to a certain pattern of picking the low-lying fruit in God’s word among His people. It trains the people to find the parts they like or they get and ignore the parts they don’t.
      6. Even though this is inevitable to some extent, it breeds an understanding of God whereby we focus on aspects of His being and behavior that makes us feel good and ignore aspects of God which are perplexing or uncomfortable, a trend which is very common today. 
      7. If you were trapped on a deserted tropical island, you would never think of eating coconuts — unless there was nothing else to eat. Coconuts are hard to open. They have a thick green outer crust and then a very hard brown inner crust. And even when you get to the meat inside, it’s not very tasty by itself. But if you put it in combination with the right other foods, like chocolate and sugar, like curry, like ice cream, ooh la la! 
       a. And that’s the way it is with many parts of Scripture. We don’t want to be limited to the food that’s easy to find and eat.  
     B. 2Cor.8-9 are the giving chapters of the Bible. There is no other place in Scripture where the subject of Christian generosity gets such a thorough treatment. 
     C. I wish we had time to read the whole passage today. But, read these chapters over at home this week. I have placed a copy in each of your mailboxes to remind you. 
    II. Preaching 2Corinthians 8-9
     A. Originally I was planning to take a longer break from 2Corinthians and return back in the fall. 
      1. But then came GPC’s generous offering for the believers in west Africa who were flood victims.
      2. $7000 from about 35 giving units — that’s an average of $200 per unit! It touched many people.
      3. I was touched to the point of tears by your generosity! And I was so proud of this congregation! 
      4. This made me decide to preach this section now. I preach this section in light of this recent gift.
     B. After these, we will take a break until fall and do a series on Jonah the rest of the spring.
     C. So we are going to take eight weeks to go through this section, doing it at a much faster pace than in the past: 4.5 verses per week instead of 1.5. 
     D. After working through the passage awhile, it seemed more natural to preach this section of 2Corinthians by themes, not by sections, while still covering all the verses.
      1. You have two chapters which are all on one subject, making one main point. 
      2. This will avoid a lot of repetition. 
     E. Today we are going to take a bird’s eye view of the whole passage and of the collection Paul is discussing in it. Then we will talk about why this was such a big deal to the apostle Paul. 
    III. 2Cor.8-9 are about Paul’s collection for the believers in Jerusalem. 
     A. While Paul was on his missionary journeys in the Gentile world, he was also collecting money for the poor in the church of Jerusalem. 
     B. Acts 11:27-30 tells us how this collection began when Paul was in Antioch: Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas&Saul.
     C. Many Christians know nothing about this collection, but it is mentioned in Acts 24:17; Rom.1:13; 15:25-31; 1Cor.16:1-4, as well as the two chapters we’re looking at (2Cor.8-9).
      1. Remembering the Poor, by Dieter Georgi
    IV. But let’s talk about what why Paul addresses this collection in 2Cor.8-9. 
     A. Remember’s Paul’s surprise visit to the Corinthian church — the one which turned out to be a disaster? Apparently the Corinthian believers had displayed a bad attitude of some kind toward Paul, and were tolerant of someone who was shamelessly denouncing him. 
     B. As a result of this response, Paul and Titus departed from the city, and Paul penned a letter to Corinth severely rebuking the Corinthians, sending it by the hand of Titus (which letter we do not have). As a result of Paul’s severe letter, the Corinthians were convicted of their wrongdoing.
     C. However, it seems there was also a troubling discovery made at some point along the way. 
      1. Paul had been collecting money from all the Gentile churches for the impoverished believers in Judea. As he visited the churches, he urged them to give generously to this cause. Well, when Paul sent Titus to provide leadership in the Corinthian church during his third missionary journey, Titus obtained a promise from the church there that they would participate in the collection. Paul even gave them instructions about how to go about it in 1Cor.16:1-3. 
      2. Well, apparently when the infiltrators in Corinth had turned the hearts of the Corinthian church people against Paul, they were also turned against Paul’s collection. 
     D. So, when Paul penned 2Corinthians, it seems that one of his purposes was to hold the newly  repentant Corinthians to the promise they’d originally made to participate in his offering, urging them to give generously for the Jerusalem Christians. That is the subject of chapters 8 and 9. 
    V. But there’s something strange going on here. There are a number of aspects of how Paul treats this collection which seem compulsive and over-the-top. 
     A. When astronomers observe heavenly bodies acting in a way not explainable by the known principles of astrophysics, they begin to wonder if there’s something they’re missing, if there’s some factor or some power at play which they are unaware of. 
     B. That is very much the case here. And it just begs us to ask “Why?” Why was this such a big deal to Paul? 
     C. Let me give some examples of this, beginning with strange things in the way Paul communicates to his Corinthian friends in Christ about the offering. 
      1. We could imagine Paul giving a brief reminder or exhortation concerning the collection. But instead there are two full chapters, totally 39 verses on this, far longer than anything else he’s addressed or will address in this letter. Does it seem like this is the Corinthians biggest problem? 
      2. No! And not only does he exhort them with many words, but he does so with a lot of force. 
       a. The Corinthians lived on the Greek peninsula far removed in culture and distance from Judea. A lot of poor Christians lived in between. And yet Paul lays it on so thick and pushes them so hard. 
       b. Paul presses the issue with them so far that he starts to sound like a teleevangelist.
       c. 2Corinthians 8:7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. 
       d. He’s pulling out all the stops of love and boldness here. 
      3. We see this laying it on thick even more in 2Corinthians 9:1–5 (after already urging them for 24 verses) “Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.”
      4. Remember that Paul is already walking on thin ice with the Corinthians – and yet he lays it on so thick when it comes to the collection. Why is he willing to risk his relationship with the Corinthians, which he has been fighting so hard to strengthen, in order to get this collection done?
     D. Then there are some similarly strange things in other parts of the story. 
      1. We read in Acts 11 about how the whole collection thing began with a prophecy of Agabus about coming famine in Judea. Paul took that prophecy so seriously and began his collection. 
      2. But, when Paul heads to Jerusalem with the actual gift in Acts 21:10-14, he is warned by that same prophet Agabus that if he goes through with this he will be imprisoned (and that’s exactly what happened). Not only this, but all the believers there unite to beg Paul to call off his trip to Jerusalem. But this time, Agabus’ words don’t sway him; it’s as if Paul sloughs off the threat and will not relent, saying that he’s ready to die for the sake of Christ. 
     E. Why was Paul so determined to go to Jerusalem with this collection, even to the point of endangering his very life? 
      1. Why was Paul so serious about this collection and so determined to carry it to Jerusalem? 
      2. What is the hidden factor here behind Paul’s passion for this collection for the poor Jewish Christians of Jerusalem? 
      3. Having concern for provision for some poor people just isn’t adequate to explain Paul’s obsession. He doesn’t obsess over other poor people in his journeys. And he certainly could have gotten the money to the needy in Jerusalem without going himself with his team of Gentile reps.
      4. Something else had to be going on, something we’re not told explicitly, though we are given hints.
    VI. I think we have an indicator in 2Cor.9:14, where Paul talks about the desired result of his offering, that the Jewish believers will “long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.” The gift will have a bonding effect. It will win the Jewish believers to the Gentile.
    VII. And I think Rom.15 gives us a hint. Another place where Paul talks about his collection for the poor in Jerusalem is Romans 15:25–28, “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.” 
     A. Romans, 1Cor and 2Cor were all written during Paul’s third missionary journey. Romans was probably written about a year and a half later than 2Corinthians.
     B. Like he does in 2Cor.8:1-5, Paul refers in Rom.15 to the donation from the church in Macedonia. 
     C. But he actually also refers to the donation which came from Corinth by referring to the contribution from Achaia, Corinth being the main church in Achaia. So, it seems that Paul’s plea here in 2Cor.8-9 proved to yield the desired results. 
     D. So where is the hint about why was Paul so determined to complete this collection?
      1. Romans 15:27b “For if the Gentiles have come to share in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.” 
      2. What does he mean by the Gentiles sharing in the Jews’ spiritual blessings? Rom.9:5 “from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.”
     E. You see, the church in the OT was Jewish. And it remained Jewish until Pentecost. 
      1. But it was hard for many Jewish Christians to accept Gentiles into the NT church. 
      2. This was actually the biggest problem of the apostolic church: Were the Gentiles going to be welcomed into what had been an exclusively Jewish church? 
      3. And there was no greater champion for Gentile acceptance in the church than Paul. 
       a. He condemned any notion that acceptance with God was only for those who kept the Jewish law.
       b. He repeatedly repudiated the Judaizers, who were opposing Gentile acceptance.
       c. He even publically rebuked Peter in Antioch for leaving the Gentile believers to associate with the Jewish visitors who refused to break bread with the Gentile believers. 
       d. He actively participated in the Council of Jerusalem, which was called to address this issue.
       e. He, along with Silas, took the council’s message of Gentile inclusion out to the Gentile churches.
     F. I think this was Paul’s hidden motive in his collection for the church in Jerusalem. I think he saw in the poverty of the Jerusalem church the perfect opportunity to win Jewish church over in their attitude toward the Gentile believers. I think he believed the Lord had humbled the Jewish church by putting them in the position of needing the financial assistance of the Gentile churches.
      1. I think Paul was driven by his passion to help address the Jew/Gentile problem in the early church.
      2. I think Paul knew the power of a gift, especially a gift in a time of need. 
      3. I think Paul knew Prov.18:16 “A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before the great.”
      4. I think Paul was hoping that this gift would win the heart of the Jewish church toward their new brothers and sisters who happened to be Gentile. That’s why he wanted Gentile representatives to go with him to present the gift to the church in Jerusalem. 
      5. I think Paul saw this as the perfect opportunity to show the Jewish church that the Gentile Christians weren’t repudiating them or the Jewishness of their salvation. 
     G. That’s my opinion as to why this collection was such a big deal to Paul. And I am not alone: The highest rated commentary on 2Corinthians agrees: “This concern to show the solidarity between Jew and Greek in Christ is the primary motivation behind the collection.” – Garland
    VIII. But this raises another question. Why was the acceptance of the Gentiles by the Jews so important? 
     A. Paul was jealous for the gospel of grace. He was unwilling for the gospel to be twisted into something whereby people were accepted into Christ’s kingdom or rejected from it on the basis of what people group they belonged to. 
     B. You see, people are saved by Christ purely on the basis of His grace. That’s why it couldn’t be only for Jews. If it’s only for Jews, that implies that God saves people by who they are, not by grace. 
     C. It was Paul’s dedication to Christ’s gospel that made him intolerant towards distortions of it. 
     D. This is why he is unwilling for those who belong to Christ to be excluded from His favor because of the ethnic group they belonged to. 
     E. And Paul is not willing to just talk about it. He is not willing to just debate the theological issue. 
     F. He is determined to act to promote the true gospel. He is willing to work hard. He is willing to go out of his way. He is willing to put his relationships at risk. He is willing to endanger his life and that of his friends. 
     G. He doesn’t just condemn those who twist the gospel. He also works with determination – even endangering his own life – to win the Christian church to it.
     H. We need to take these chapters personally. This is God speaking to us! 
      1. It’s filled with lessons about generosity. 
      2. It’s filled with lessons about unity.
      3. It’s filled with lessons about ministry. It’s filled with lessons about love.
      4. It’s filled with lessons about the gospel. It’s filled with lessons about Christ.