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Economics of Christ's Body

2Corinthians: Paul's Most Underappreciated Epistle

Feb 9, 2020

by: Jack Lash Series: 2Corinthians: Paul's Most Underappreciated Epistle | Category: Giving | Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:13–8:15

The Economics of the Body of Christ 

  1. Introduction
     A. 2Corinthians 8:13–15 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” 
     B. The Corinthians abounded in many graces. It is clear from 1Corinthians that the congregation was rich in spiritual gifts. In 2Cor.8:7 Paul says they have abounded in the graces of faith, speech, knowledge, and earnestness. 
      1. But the one grace the Corinthians struggled with was the grace of love. Much of 1Corinthians is about their need to add love to all the other graces they had. (That’s the purpose for the inclusion of the famous love chapter 1Cor.13). 
      2. And now in 2Corinthians 8&9, Paul is, in essence, doing the same thing. In exhorting them to give generously to the collection for the Judean believers, Paul is urging them to love others. 
      3. You see, according to Paul, giving is a proof of love. In 2Corinthians 8:8, Paul urges them to prove that their love is genuine by excelling in their generosity in donating to the collection. 
      4. When we truly love someone, we’re willing to invest in them, to give them what they need. 
      5. In v.9 he goes on to say that this is the way God proved His love for us — by giving us His Son.
      6. But since the Corinthians aren’t good at loving, they’re not necessarily good at giving. 
    II. And that helps us understand what’s going on here in 2Corinthians 8:13–15?
     A. 13-14 Paul is working to help the Corinthians to be eager to give, but he’s also realistic.
      1. He knows his readers. And he knows that stinginess often manifests itself in a suspicious attitude toward those who are giving or those who are collecting. 
      2. So, he answers the objections he anticipates from them. 
      3. He anticipates that some members of the church might hear his pleas about giving to the collection and make the kind of complaint we often hear today:
       a. Why should I give someone else my hard-earned money? They should work hard for themselves.
       b. We have enough financial troubles ourselves, why should we help others we don’t even know?
      4. And so, in anticipation of this kind of question, Paul says, “I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.”
     B. 15 And then in v.15 Paul shrewdly quotes Exodus 16:18: As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” And this is so cool. 
      1. In Exod.16:12-18 Israel is starving in the wilderness, and lo and behold God sends them manna.  
      2. “What is it?” the Israelites ask. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. And this is what the LORD commands: ‘Each of you can gather one omer {about 3 liters} for each person in your household.’” And so the people gathered. 
      3. But you know human nature. Have you ever done a pinata? When the pinata finally breaks, some kids leap upon the stash like their lives depend on it and others are more timid. And so it was.
      4. Some of them gathered more and others gathered less. But when they brought it back to be measured, amazingly, the people who gathered more had exactly an omer per person, and the ones who gathered less also had just the right amount. 
      5. And Paul cites this story to subtly make a point to the Corinthians about the collection.
       a. It illustrates how we never feel like we have enough. We’re not satisfied with our one omer; we want to squirrel away more. And because we’re worried about whether we have enough for ourselves, it’s very hard for us to be generous. 
       b. It reminds the Corinthians of the futility of greed. It communicates to the miserly in Corinth that no matter how hard they work to accumulate, God will diminish their holdings so they will always have just the amount God wants them to have. 
       c. (This reminds us of Jesus’ parable of the rich man in Lk.12:16-21 “The land of a rich man yielded a plentiful harvest, so he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, I have nowhere to store my crops?... I know what I’ll do: I’ll build bigger ones able to hold it all. And then I’ll be able to say to myself, “You have plenty stored up to last many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”) 
       d. The key to having enough is not to build bigger barns. The key is to trust and obey the Lord.
    III. One of the lessons we clearly see in 2Cor.8-9 is that the people of God have some responsibility for one another, and that God calls us to love one another in material ways. The body of Christ is called to provide for one another. 
     A. This is taught throughout Scripture. 
      1. Jesus taught this in Matthew 25:31–46:
       a. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. For as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
      2. The early church demonstrated it: 
       a. Acts 2:44–45 All who believed had all things in common. They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
       b. Acts 4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
       c. In Acts 6, the church is seen caring for its widows, and then setting up deacons for that purpose.
      3. Paul reinforced it elsewhere:
       a. Romans 12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 
       b. Ephesians 4:28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
     B. You see, God has a purpose for plenty and want. 
      1. God could just supply everyone’s needs directly. But He goes in a different direction. 
      2. He chooses to make some poor, and others well off. 
      3. And this is not static. He raises up one and puts another down 1Sam.2:6-7; Ps.75:6-7). 
       a. One person might be down and then be raised up, while another who is up is brought down. 
      4. Why does God do this? Well, at least partly it is in order that the body might serve one another and help one another and in the process be bonded together in love.
      5. If we all had all we need, we wouldn’t have to love one another. Need is a good thing. 
      6. So, if God has provided me with plenty, it is not just for me. It is for others.
      7. He gives strength that it might be used to help the one who is weak. 
      8. 1Timothy 6:17–19 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
    IV. But, like all truths, this principle of sharing must be understood in light of some other truths: 
     A. This principle of sharing does have limitations.
      1. This principle stops where it becomes unloving to provide support to someone. When someone is lazy and refuses to work, then they should not be provided for.
      2. This is what Paul says in 2Thes.3:10-12: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”
     B. This principle of sharing goes beyond financial support.
      1. Even though it might sound like it, Paul does not really anticipate that someday the Corinthians may need the financial help of the Christians in Jerusalem who are now poor. Paul has a deeper principle in mind.
      2. He certainly is presenting a principle of give-and-take, back-and-forth, I-help-you/you-help-me. 
      3. But he has more than just the sharing of financial support in mind. We see this in Romans 15:27, where a year and a half later, Paul talks about this same collection. “For [the Gentile churches] were pleased to [contribute to the collection], and indeed they owe it to [the Jewish church]. For if the Gentiles have come to share in [the Jews’] spiritual blessings, [the Gentile churches] ought also to be of service to [the Jewish church] in material blessings.”
      4. So, the sharing isn’t exclusively financial. Here it is spiritual as well.
      5. This is a common theme in Paul. 
       a. He uses it to make a point about paying preachers:
        (1) 1Cor.9:11 “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?”
        (2) Gal.6:6 “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” 
       b. It’s the same principle of serving one another based on the gifts God gives us which he discussed at length in 1Cor.12-14 when he talks about spiritual gifts. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” – 1Cor.12:7
      6. God calls us to serve one another according to whatever resources He’s given us to do so. It’s not just material, and it’s not just spiritual. 
     C. This principle of sharing goes beyond the circle of people we know.
      1. We live in an era when people think of each church as independent from other churches.
      2. But we see here that it is assumed that the Christians of Corinth and Macedonia have some responsibility toward the other churches. 
      3. We are part of the body of Christ, and because we are connected to Christ, we are connected to each other as well.
    V. There are two systems modeled after Christian sharing which must not be confused with it.
     A. Insurance
      1. The principle of helping one another when we’re in need has been turned into a business in the insurance industry. People pay the company and then when they have a crisis, the company pays for all or part of the expenses. 
      2. Two years after we built our house, after paying probably around $2K on house insurance, we had a house fire which cost our insurance company around $150K. Ever since then, we have not put in another claim, so we’ve been paying for other people’s claims, just like others paid for us in 1990.
      3. Some people pay into the system their whole lives and never submit a claim themselves. 
      4. I’m thankful for insurance. There is a certain genius in it. Honestly, in one sense it works better than the system of Christian generosity. 
      5. HOWEVER, the practice of Christian sharing Paul is encouraging here in 2Cor.8-9 and practiced in Christian communities down through the years, is far more beautiful, far more heavenly. 
      6. Insurance is security-based and business-based. But Christian sharing is love-based and gives glory to God. 
     B. Welfare = the system whereby the government provides help for people who are needy.
      1. You know that I hardly ever talk about politics. My job is to teach the Bible. And I’m going to try  to make some carefully worded Biblical statements which may relate to our political views.
      2. The Bible’s call to help the poor goes beyond the Christian community. 
       a. When the Bible exhorts us to give to the poor, it doesn’t limit it: e.g. Isa.58:7; Prov.19:17; 22:9. 
       b. Rom.12:20 says if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he’s thirsty, give him to drink. (Pr.25:21)
       c. Galatians 6:10 “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
      3. The kind of charity the Bible talks about is voluntary, not coerced. 
       a. Now there are warnings given to those who refuse to be generous. 
       b. But, the Bible makes it clear that if giving is coerced, it is of no value to God (1Cor.13:3). 
      4. The Bible clearly recognizes the validity of taxation, but the Bible clearly isn’t written to tell governments what to spend money on and not spend money on. It leaves that to our wisdom. 
      5. The Bible urges us to give to the poor, but nowhere does it object to income inequality.
       a. Of course, inequality can be the result of injustice. If I am rich because I stole all your money, obviously there is a justice problem which needs to be addressed. 
       b. But not all income inequality comes by oppression or thievery. 
       c. It can also be a result of hard work, wiser investments, greater talent, etc. 
       d. And in that case, I don’t believe that those who advocate forced redistribution of wealth can faithfully do so on the basis of the Bible. 
       e. In 1Tim.6:17-19 the Bible instructs the rich to not put their trust in their money, and to be generous to the less fortunate, but it never says it’s a sin to be rich. 
      6. Until Christ returns, there will be poverty on earth. 
       a. Matthew 26:11 “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have Me.”
       b. I don’t mean that we should just accept poverty, and not struggle to help the poor. But no matter how hard we try, we will not eliminate it. 
       c. You see, mankind needs poverty, because it’s a reflection of our true poverty, spiritual poverty.
       d. We don’t give to the poor just to alleviate their poverty, we give to the poor because we need it.
       e. Why did Jesus tell the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give to the poor? Because the poor in that area were especially needy? No, it was because he needed to let go of his riches. 
    VI. A final thought
     A. There are two sides to this concept of sharing.
      1. We have a responsibility toward others.
      2. We have access to the resources of the body of Christ. 
     B. What a privilege to be a part of the system of Christian community sharing!
      1. Mark 10:29–30 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” 
       a. How rich we are!! You don’t just have your house, you have my house & everybody else’s house!
      2. And it’s not just that you’re greatly loved and cared for by your community. Some in the world have that. We have something much more. We are greatly loved and cared for by God through our Christian community.