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A New Testament Relief Fund (2)

H Barnes, Westhoughton

"A certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem" (Rom 15.26)

Approved brethren to be appointed

There was to be local involvement in terms of transporting the gathered funds and seeing that they were safely delivered. Representatives were to be chosen and commended by the individual local assemblies, as Paul wrote: "And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet [suitable, JND] that I go also, they shall go with me" (1 Cor 16.3-4).

The collection at Corinth

When Paul wrote his second letter to the assembly at Corinth, he wrote at length (chs.8-9) about the collection of these relief funds. A careful study of these two chapters throws much light on our subject. First he told them about the exceptional contribution made by the (very poor) saints of Macedonia for the poor saints of Jerusalem. He traced this extreme generosity they had shown to the grace of God – "we make known to you, brethren, the grace of God bestowed in the assemblies of Macedonia" (2 Cor 8.1, JND). Even in the most difficult circumstances, "in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty has abounded to the riches of their free-hearted liberality" (v.2, JND). These saints had every reason to be concerned merely with their own circumstances, but the very opposite became true - such was the grace of God! Of course the Macedonians were individually responsible in allowing the grace of God to work in their lives, and Paul gives them the credit for this, pointing out their exceptional liberality which went beyond their expected ability to give.

Their willingness to give

They gave willingly and voluntarily (v.3), to the extent that Paul seems to have been embarrassed to take so much from those whom he thought could afford so little. They pressed him to accept the collection, "with much intreaty" (v.4), that they might have "fellowship of the ministering to the saints". Paul and his co-workers had had their own idea of how much they might give – "as we expected" (v.5, Young’s Literal Translation), but he soon identified the reason for their unexpected exceptional giving: they "first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God" (v.5). It arose from a deep spiritual exercise and literal self-sacrifice on their part. This then became the reason for encouraging Titus to go back to Corinth to finish the collection – "so that we begged Titus that, according as he had before begun, so he would also complete as to you this grace also" (2 Cor 8.6, JND).

With reference to the collection, the Corinthians were encouraged to "abound", to go beyond any limits, in the same way as they already abounded "in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us" (v.7). Not only was the generosity of the Macedonians to be the stimulus for the Corinthians’ giving, but also "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" (v.9). Even the rich giving of the poor Macedonians paled into insignificance when compared with the "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ".

Encouragement but not a command

Paul did not give a direct command to the Corinthians to give, so that it then depended on their own willingness, rather he just gave his advice (v.10). However, he did encourage them that they, who had begun a year before the Macedonians, should get on with the work of collecting and finish it (v.10). They had stated their good intensions, but they now had to follow them up by actual completion (v.11). He reminded them that "if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (v.12; cp. Mk 12.44; Lk 21.3-4). Like the Macedonians, they were to know the secret of giving – "first a willing mind" (cp. v.5). The truly willing heart would give in such a way that, however much or however little they gave, the Lord would be pleased.

He then reassured them that he did not want to overburden them compared with others (v.13). On the other hand, there was a surprising "equality" and reciprocity when comparing the status of the Corinthians compared with the Jewish saints at Jerusalem. He declared that "your [material] abundance may be a supply for their want, that their [spiritual] abundance also may be a supply for your want" (v.14).

The part of Titus and others

The completion of the collection in Corinth was to be facilitated by Titus, who himself had this same exercise, so Paul was able to say "thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you" (v.16). When Paul had raised the matter with Titus, he had it in his own mind anyway (v.17). Along with Titus, two other [unnamed] brethren were being sent down to Corinth by Paul to help with the collection. Both had abundant commendation. The first was the one "whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches" (v.18). The Macedonian assemblies had chosen them for the purpose of delivering the gift to Jerusalem (vv.19,23). The second brother was he "whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, upon the great confidence which I have in you" (v.22). Then Titus himself, well-known to them, Paul commends as "my partner and fellowhelper concerning you" (v.23).

Although Paul was sure, as far as he was concerned, that the collection was administered by him and others "to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind" (vv.19,23), nevertheless the involvement of these two brethren ensured that they avoided any criticism, i.e. "that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us. Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men" (vv.20-21). (This is a very important principle, to the extent today of having two signatures on cheques and two brethren counting the collection!) Handling funds should be in the hands of individuals and trusts made up of suitable brethren.

In ch.9, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he knew well their stated willingness of mind in this matter. In fact he had already boasted of this to their northern neighbours the Macedonians, and this had already been a stimulus to them in their giving, in the same way that he was then seeking to motivate the Corinthians by the Macedonians’ liberal giving! However, from what he had learned from Titus, he had strong misgivings about the completion of the collection. Paul imagines how it would have been if he had turned up with some Macedonians and found the collection unfinished. How embarrassing for Paul who had said they were ready (vv.3-4)! Instead, he was sending on ahead the three brethren mentioned in ch.8. The arrival of these three brethren, presumably bearing his letter, and their encouraging the Corinthians, should avoid any embarrassment on Paul’s behalf.

To be continued.


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