Rev. Miersma is pastor of the Loveland Protestant Reformed Church in Loveland, Colorado.
And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
The occasion for the writing of this passage by the apostle is a severe famine that had swept over Jerusalem. Help was needed at once. Under the preaching of Paul and the other apostles the saints understood that the “administration of this service” belonged to the ministry of Christ and His church.
Therefore, in their dire need, Paul was appointed (Gal. 2:10) to ask and gather alms for the distressed brethren at Jerusalem. The need of the Jerusalem saints had to be supplied by the abundance of the saints elsewhere. That plainly was the rule according to which they went, and it is well for us to mark this rule as one of the principles that change not. Not from anywhere and everywhere might the need of the saints be supplied. It must needs go according to the rule of the priestly offering, in brief: “our abundance must be a supply for their want.”
In light of that, Paul sought that collection. However, before he as much as asked for the collection, the churches of Macedonia came forward with a gift. They in turn “prayed Paul with much beseeching” (v. 4) that he would take the gift to Jerusalem for them. That collection he had before him as he writes to the church at Corinth, for at Corinth it might be a different story. Paul had boasted of their readiness to the church at Macedonia, but it appeared that Corinth needed some special urging.
The collection bag still had to be passed in the Corinthian church. With the Macedonian collection before him, he now urges the Corinthians to observe their duty of offering and to observe the rule that the need of the saints in one place must be supplied by the abundance of the saints at another place. To impress this upon their mind, Paul holds before them what a singularly glorious thing a hearty offering is (II Cor. 9:15). It is a gift that we can and may supply the needs of the poor.
It follows that for proper giving there must, first of all, be a willingness to give. There is this willingness in the hearts of God’s people. There is the desire to give of what is entrusted to our care, being stewards in God’s workshop. This willingness is based on the willingness of Christ to give Himself. “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” (v. 9).
That willingness was and is seen in concrete instances. There was that willingness in Corinth. While Titus was ministering in their midst, they resolved to take a collection for their beleaguered fellow saints. They were filled with holy zeal for this cause of the Lord.
There is our own expressed willingness to obey Scripture’s mandate. We do this when the annual budget for the church is approved at the congregational meeting. Each Sabbath Day a collection for benevolence is taken. Many diaconates even report a surplus, which they are willing to share with churches who may be in need. Often we give sacrificially, giving up things for the sake of the kingdom of God. All recognize the need for school tuition and for the many other kingdom causes.
This willingness must be followed by appropriate action. Corinth needed encouragement to fulfill their promises. For some reason, what they intended to do was not fulfilled. They had to be reminded and encouraged to carry out what they had started. The gifts collected must meet the measure of the zeal that had been shown.
We also must have such encouragement. We too often have good intentions and are filled with zeal to accomplish it. But then Satan steps in and tries to rob us of that zeal, and we find all kinds of excuses as to why we cannot fulfill what we said we would and could. The Lord then comes with His Word, such as we have here, to remind us not only of our calling before Him and unto our fellow saints, but also of the blessing of obedience.
To fulfill this goal, God requires giving “according to that a man hath.” A question could arise in this connection. If a man has nothing, is he deprived of the blessing of giving? No poor man who is eager to give should grieve because he has little, perhaps even nothing, to give. Such a man is not deprived of the 387 grace of God and the enrichment that his giving would be to him. His readiness to give (v. 12) is as fully acceptable to God as though he had much and gave accordingly, instead of not having and not being able to give.
One simply gives as the Lord has prospered him (I Cor. 16:2; II Cor. 9:6, 7). This proper giving reveals a man’s love for God and His kingdom. When Paul looks in the collection bag he sees the answer to this question: “Do they love God and the brethren?” and “Do they love in word only or also in deed?” Actions do speak louder than words. To love in words is easy, but we are exhorted to love in deed. The collection is the “proof of your love.” In the bag Paul sees the evidence that they are saints of the God of love and mercy. By giving their gifts they also made a confession of “their subjection unto the gospel of Christ” (9:13), and their confession was that the law of the love of Christ was in their hearts.
Thus the question is: “Do you love self and the world?” If so, there is where your money will go. You and the world will always be first in your consideration. When the weekly salary comes, you and the world will always be first. In contrast, if the love of God be in your hearts, it is borne out by the gift and offering to them that are indigent. Thus the widow’s mite is as important as the well-to-do’s big check, for “it is accepted according to what a man hath and not according to what he hath not.”
That scriptural mandate also must guide us in giving. One can find many reasons (read excuses) not to give or not to give much. I am retired, or a widow on a fixed income. Or I am a student living at a subsistence level. All I make just covers the rent, utilities, groceries, and other necessities. I should not have to sacrifice; I should be entitled to some extras in life. There are others that could give more. The list goes on.
This Word identifies two guidelines. The first, “according to that a man hath.” One’s giving is not necessarily limited to what was decided at the congregational meeting. If one can give more, he should do so, for there may be others who cannot give as much as was decided (see Lev. 14:30; lev. 27:8; Deut. 16:17; Ezra 2:69; Acts 11:29).
The second guideline is, “not according to that he hath not” (v. 12). A man cannot give more than he has. It is generally conceded that one must reckon with his immediate needs, even though the Macedonians really showed no regard for their own requirements, present or future.
Basically, we are to recognize our financial obligations. By this we mean our financial obligations toward the church. There is the budget, plus the many special causes, such as evangelism, the Standard Bearer, Christian schools, and many more. And, lest we forget, benevolence.
What we look for is acceptable giving. By this we do not mean what is acceptable in our sight, but what is acceptable to God. This is true both now and in the day of judgment. If we are abundant in the work of the Lord, He causes us to taste His blessing. The law of the kingdom is: as we sow, we reap. That is what Israel experienced materially and spiritually in the land of Canaan; and we also while on earth experience the rich blessings of our covenant God.
However, there is also the day of judgment. This work of which we speak is really God’s work in and through us, which He acknowledges on that day. He sees us as renewed creatures in Christ who are doing the works that were before ordained that we should walk in them. We then will hear the sweet words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” We hear these words because this giving is the evidence and proof of our love and God’s grace. God’s work in us produces fruit. It cannot do otherwise, for Christ is the tree of life, of which we are the branches.
Herein is the love of God revealed in us. That is why Paul sees more than money in the bag. We often see no more than that, just dollars and cents. It is too bad when the sacred gift of the priestly offering degenerates into the mere business of money. Money is needed, but the poor need much more. The church must give mercy, love, grace, and peace. This can be had only among the saints. That is also what Paul sees. This is all the gift of God’s grace to us. In 9:14 this grace is spoken of as “the exceeding (flowing out of its bounds) grace of God which is in you.”
Thus, thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift. First of all, Jesus Christ and the salvation merited for us by His death on the cross. And secondly, the gift to give, that we may experience this grace that flows out of its bounds.