New Testament Giving – 2 Corinthians 8
As we said in the article: “Why tithing is not for the New Testament believer”, tithing is a term almost unknown in the New Testament. I need to clarify here that when I’m speaking of New Testament I mean the New Covenant, the covenant that was instituted with the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Old Testament, the Old Covenant, has indeed a lot to say about tithing (this word is used 36 times there), but not the New. In contrast, the New Testament says a lot about giving. To see what the Word of God says for us - who live under the New Covenant, under this present administration of grace –we will start from 2 Corinthians 8. This together with 2 Corinthians 9 (that we study in a separate article), deal directly with the matter of giving and contain a wealth of information. We will explore this information as follows: we will be reading blocks of Scripture from 2 Corinthians 8 and then we will be exploring to see what they are telling us about giving.
2 Corinthians 8:1-4: What was given, how and for what purpose ?
Starting our study from 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 we read:
“Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”
This passage of 2 Corinthians speaks about the believers, the people that made the churches of Macedonia. Paul describes here how they gave and though there is more to be found in this passage I have noted the following:
1. What they gave was a GIFT. The Greek word that is translated as “gift” in 2 Corinthians 8:4 is the word “charis” that means “grace”. In other words, a more accurate translation here would be: “that we would receive the grace and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints”. What was ministered to the saints in the age of grace is not called “tithe” but “grace”. The giving of the tithe (tithing) belongs to the age of the law. In the age of grace what you have is no longer tithing but “grace giving”.
2. “They were freely willing” (2 Corinthians 8:3). It is again worthy to go to the Greek text here. There, the word used is the word “authairetos”. As the Vine’s dictionary says about this word:
“authairetos is from autos, self, and haireomai, to choose, self-chosen, voluntary, of one’s own accord, occurs in 2 Corinthians 8:3 and 17, of the churches of Macedonia as to their gifts for the poor saints and of Titus in his willingness to go and exhort the church in Corinth concerning this matter”. (Vine’s expository dictionary of New Testament words, Mac Donald Publishing company, p.25. Emphasis is added.)
The believers in Macedonia were NOT forced to give. What they gave was given voluntary. Again there is a huge difference to tithing. The tithe was mandatory in the Old Testament. However, what we have here is not mandatory. What we have here is not tithing but something completely different. It is voluntary contributions to the saints, given out of free will and of the people’s own accord. In contrast to this, today many times we will hear people preaching about the tithe and that the people owe it to God and the church and if they don’t give it they cheat Him. In this way, people are forced, out of guilt, to do whatever the speaker says. This obviously has nothing to do with the free willing, voluntary contributions that Paul is speaking about here.
3. “ministering to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:4). Now what was this gift for? It was for ministering to the saints. Paul tells us more about this “ministering” in Romans 15:25-26:
“But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.”
This was Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem. There he was imprisoned. As he says about the purpose of this trip in Acts 24.17: “Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation”. As we see from the above, the ministering to the saints, the grace that the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (Corinth) contributed freely, the voluntary contributions, were contributions “for the poor among the saints who were in Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26). The money was going to the poor brothers and sisters. These poor church members were the target of the giving. Ministering to the poor saints gets a lot of attention in the Scriptures. James, John and Peter told Paul:
James, Peter and John told one thing to Paul: “remember the poor”! And Paul carried this out. People today give their tithe to the church where they go on Sundays, much of it goes to administration expenses with a small portion (if any) left for the poor. In the New Testament church though, it was the other way around: people were not giving involuntary – out of guilt – but voluntary and though there are also other purposes for giving (as we will see later), giving for the poor saints was probably the most important one.
2 Corinthians 8:5-8: Exhortation to give: How Paul did it?
In 2 Corinthians 8:5-8 Paul exhorts the believers to give. Let’s see how he did it:
2 Corinthians 8:5-8
Paul exhorts the believers to give abundantly. “See that you abound to this grace” (2 Corinthians 8:7), he tells them. But notice how gentle he is. See what he says in the next sentence: “I speak not by commandment”. You will not find anywhere in the New Testament the coercion and the language that you will find in some of the today’s churches when it comes to giving or “tithing”. You will not find Christ, Paul, Peter, John or any other coercing people, reciting Malachi and other Old Testament passages, to give their “tithes” or else they will be … cursed (that’s what is implied by some of the modern sermons on tithing). Paul knows nothing of this. He gently exhorts the Corinthians to abound in this grace making clear that he does not speak by commandment. He does not command them to do so but he exhorts them to do so. He didn’t have a budget to meet for the poor saints. He didn’t get a number down from the headquarters and now was going around pressuring or enticing people in order to meet it. What he was doing was to state the truth. As he said: “I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others” (2 Corinthians 8:8). Not empty words but real support.
2 Corinthians 8:10-15: Giving out of desire and in accordance to what one has.
2 Corinthians 8:10-11
This passage deals with desires about giving and realization of these desires. The first part of the passage shows how important it is not only to give but also TO DESIRE IT. It is desire plus realization of this desire that God wants from His people. None of these two alone works. God does not want you to desire to give but to never act upon it! Always to say: “how great would it be to give this gift for the ministering of those saints” but never to realize it, though you have the means. This is hypocrisy. And vice versa, He does not want you to give without heartfully desiring it, as of commandment, out of coercion by somebody. Keep this in mind always. In giving both the desire and acting upon this desire are important! The motivation for giving is the desire in your heart. And as Philippians 2:13 tells us:
“For it is God who works in you to both will and to do of His good pleasure”.
God is at work in us to will, to desire, to want and then to do what is of His goods pleasure. Again, as we observe, the way that God works is through putting a desire in our heart. This is the primary way He uses to motivate us. Coercion and guilt are wrong and invalid motivators.
Now speaking about desire, and as we will also see more extensively in our study of 2 Corinthians 9, a real Christian that has the love of God in him does have a desire to help his poor brothers. John makes it clear that if somebody sees a brother in need and he has the means to help him, yet he chooses to “shut up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:16-18).
Continuing in 2 Corinthians 8:
2 Corinthians 8:10-15
There are so many truths in this passage that ought to be preached much, much more than Old Testament tithing. Paul speaking to Corinthians about giving tells them that they should give “out of what they have”! Now if tithing was valid in the New Testament – which it isn’t – I would expect Paul to make a blanket statement: “you give 10% of your income. Period.” Is he saying anything like this ? You may have heard it preached (explicitly or implicitly) from a pulpit but you will not hear it from the Word of God! And guess whose words count at the end ?! “Out of what you have” means “according to what you have” and so that there are no misunderstandings, Paul makes it clear: “not according to what you don’t have” (2 Corinthians 8:12)! Today some churches press (gently or otherwise) their members to give their tithe (i.e. 10 % of their income) to the church funds. Apart from the fact that such a call is wrong there are also no qualifications added to it. The poor family that can barely makes ends meet is expected to take 10% of their pay and give it to the church. They are told that God is going to bless them much more if they do so. The thing is that the New Covenant does not know such giving. According to the Word, whatever is given should be out of what one has. You cannot take from the needs of your family to cover the needs of another family, let alone the needs of the church organization (bills, staff salaries etc.). This is what the Word of God says. You can only give what you have. You don’t have it, you can’t give it! As Paul told Timothy:
I Timothy 5:7-8
First you are expected to provide for your own household and your own people i.e. those that are dependant on you. Whoever does not do this, says the Word of God, is worse than an unbeliever. After these needs are covered you can then think of needs that are outside your own household. It is out of what you have, after the needs of your family have been met. As Paul also makes clear in the above passage of 2 Corinthians 8:13-14:
“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack––that there may be equality.”
Paul had no intention to help the poor in Jerusalem by making the Corinthians poor! He had no thought at all of burdening the one to ease the other! They would help, out of their abundance. It was this abundance that would supply the lack of the poor saints in Jerusalem at this time, so that the abundance of these, now poor, saints could supply the Corinthians’ lack in another time.
Moving on, we have mentioned it before that the gift itself is not enough. There has to be a desire for it. It cannot be as by command! And in 2 Corinthians 8:12 Paul repeats it again: “For if the readiness is there, it is accepted according to what one has” Readiness, a willing heart, is a prerequisite for a gift. If (first) this readiness is there, then (second) is the gift accepted “according to what one has and not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
To summarize what we see 2 Corinthians 8:10-15 telling us: for a gift to be acceptable, a willing heart is a prerequisite. There must be a readiness, a willingness, a desire to give. And out of this desire one should give. He should give not according to what he does not have, but according to what he has. The equality is not done by giving out of your lack, but by giving out of your abundance, out of your surplus, to cover somebody else’s lack. Your surplus will be reduced and may be eliminated but his lack will be reduced and it may be eliminated too! That’s New Testament giving. That’s grace giving!
2 Corinthians 8:16-21: Transparency in the administration of the gift.
Continuing in 2 Corinthians 8 and moving to verses 16-21:
“But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord. And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind, avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us – providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.”
I want to focus on the part of the above passage that I have emphasized. Paul was not only collecting contributions for the poor saints but he also cared that nobody should blame him and his team “in this lavish gift which was administered by them” (2 Corinthians 8:20). What could they blame them for? That they used the gift inappropriately. That they used it for themselves. That they said one thing but did another. To avoid any of these, Paul had with him a brother that was chosen by the churches to travel with them with this gift. If you are administering the gifts of God’s people, do what Paul did: take measures so that nobody can blame you in the administration of these gifts. Be transparent! As transparent as possible! Give frequent updates of what you did with the gift. What was received, where was it spent, what is left ? Get witnesses trusted by the people. Nothing should be hidden. We must be open and transparent with gifts. Paul took care providing honorable things not only in the sight of God but also in the sight of men. So must we too.
2 Corinthians 8: Conclusion.
2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are two chapters with wealth of information about giving and how it is to be applied in the New Testament era. In this article we dealt with 2 Corinthians 8; we will deal with 2 Corinthians 9 in the next article. Summarizing what we have learned up to now from 2 Corinthians 8:
i) What 2 Corinthians 8 speaks about is gifts, grace gifts. It does not speak about tithes and tithers but about gifts and givers.
ii) The purpose of the gift was to support the poor saints in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:4). Supporting the poor saints is not the only purpose to which gifts can go. We will see more purposes. However, giving to the poor is one of the most important ones. I believe, based on the Scripture, supporting the poor saints should have very high priority in people’s giving and congregational giving.
iii) People were to give freely and not to be forced to give (2 Corinthians 8:5-8).
iv) On the same matter: desire was a prerequisite to give. It was the prime motivator. There is no place in 2 Corinthians 8 for gifts given out of guilt, or because “it is mandatory” (2 Corinthians 8:10-15).
v) The people were to give according to what they had and not according to what they didn’t have. There was no fixed percentage of how much somebody should give. All was a combination of a) desire and b) ability i.e. “according to what they had” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
vi) Finally, Paul was taking measures not to allow any chance for somebody to blame him about the administration of this gift. He was fully transparent concerning this gift and its use (2 Corinthians 8:20).