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Encouragement to Be Generous


We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 7Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written,

“The one who had much did not have too much,

and the one who had little did not have too little.”

Commendation of Titus

16 But thanks be to God who put in the heart of Titus the same eagerness for you that I myself have. 17For he not only accepted our appeal, but since he is more eager than ever, he is going to you of his own accord. 18With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his proclaiming the good news; 19and not only that, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us while we are administering this generous undertaking for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our goodwill. 20We intend that no one should blame us about this generous gift that we are administering, 21for we intend to do what is right not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of others. 22And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found eager in many matters, but who is now more eager than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker in your service; as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.

As, in the event of the Corinthians retaining any feeling of offense, occasioned by the severity of the preceding Epistle, that might stand in the way of Paul’s authority having influence over them, he has hitherto made it his endeavor to conciliate their affections. Now, after clearing away all occasion of offense, and regaining favor for his ministry, he recommends to them the brethren at Jerusalem, that they may furnish help to their necessities. He could not, with any great advantage, have attempted this in the commencement of the Epistle. Hence, he has prudently deferred it, until he has prepared their minds for it. Accordingly, he takes up the whole of this chapter, and the next, in exhorting the Corinthians to be active and diligent in collecting alms to be taken to Jerusalem for relieving the indigence of the brethren. For they were afflicted with a great famine, so that they could scarcely support life without being aided by other churches. The Apostles had intrusted Paul with this matter, (Galatians 2:10,) and he had promised to concern himself in reference to it, and he had already done so in part, as we have seen in the former Epistle. 659659     “See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 2, pp. 67-70. Now, however, he presses them still farther.

1. I make known to you. He commends the Macedonians, but it is with the design of stimulating the Corinthians by their example, although he does not expressly say so; for the former had no need of commendation, but the latter had need of a stimulus. And that he may stir up the Corinthians the more to emulation, he ascribes it to the grace of God that the Macedonians had been so forward to give help to their brethren. For although it is acknowledged by all, that it is a commendable virtue to give help to the needy, they, nevertheless, do not reckon it to be a gain, nor do they look upon it as the grace of God Nay rather, they reckon, that it is so much of what was theirs taken from them, and lost. Paul, on the other hand, declares, that we ought to ascribe it to the grace of God, when we afford aid to our brethren, and that it ought to be desired by us as a privilege of no ordinary kind.

He makes mention, however, of a twofold favor, that had been conferred upon the Macedonians. The first is, that they had endured afflictions with composure and cheerfulness. The second is, that from their slender means, equally as though they had possessed abundance, 660660     “D’aussi bon coeur qu’ils eussent este bien riches;” — “As heartily as if they had been very rich.” they had taken something — to be laid out upon their brethren. Each of these things, Paul affirms with good reason, is a work of the Lord, for all quickly fail, that are not upheld by the Spirit of God, who is the Author of all consolation, and distrust clings to us, deeply rooted, which keeps us back from all offices of love, until it is subdued by the grace of the same Spirit.

2. In much trial — In other words, while they were tried with adversity, they, nevertheless, did not cease to rejoice in the Lord: nay, this disposition rose so high, as to swallow up sorrow; for the minds of the Macedonians, which must otherwise have been straitened, required to be set free from their restraints, that they might liberally 661661     “Franchement et d’vne affection liberale;” — “Cheerfully, and with a liberal spirit.” furnish aid to the brethren.

By the term joy he means that spiritual consolation by which believers are sustained under their afflictions; for the wicked either delude themselves with empty consolations, by avoiding a perception of the evil, and drawing off the mind to rambling thoughts, or else they wholly give way to grief, and allow themselves to be overwhelmed with it. Believers, on the other hand, seek occasions of joy in the affliction itself, as we see in the 8th chapter of the Romans. 662662     Calvin refers, it is probable, more particularly to Paul’s statement in Romans 8:28, And we know that all things shall work together for good, etc.; in commenting upon which passage, our author observes: “Ex supradictis nunc concludit, tantum abesse, quin salutem nostram remorentur hujus vitae aerumnae, ut sint potius eius adminicula;” — “From what has been said previously, he now draws this conclusion, that the distresses of this life are so far from being hinderances to our salvation, that they are rather helps to it.” — Ed.

And their deep poverty. Here we have a metaphor taken from exhausted vessels, as though he had said, that the Macedonians had been emptied, so that they had now reached the bottom. He says, that even in such straits they had abounded in liberality, and had been rich, so as to have enough — not merely for their own use, but also for giving assistance to others. Mark the way, in which we shall always be liberal even in the most straitened poverty — if by liberality of mind we make up for what is deficient in our coffers.

Liberality is opposed to niggardliness, as in Romans 12:8, where Paul requires this on the part of deacons. For what makes us more close-handed than we ought to be is — when we look too carefully, and too far forward, in contemplating the dangers that may occur — when we are excessively cautious and careful — when we calculate too narrowly what we will require during our whole life, or, in fine, how much we lose when the smallest portion is taken away. The man, that depends upon the blessing of the Lord, has his mind set free from these trammels, and has, at the same time, his hands opened for beneficence. Let us now draw an argument from the less to the greater. “Slender means, nay poverty, did not prevent the Macedonians from doing good to their brethren: What excuse, then, will the Corinthians have, if they keep back, while opulent and affluent in comparison of them?”

3. To their power, and even beyond their power. When he says that they were willing of themselves, he means that they were, of their own accord, so well prepared for the duty, that they needed no exhortation. It was a great thing — to strive up to the measure of their ability; and hence, to exert themselves beyond their ability, showed a rare, and truly admirable excellence. 663663     “To their power, yea, and beyond their power This is a noble hyperbole, like that of Demosthenes, ‘I have performed all, even with an industry beyond my power.’” — Doddridge.Ed. Now he speaks according to the common custom of men, for the common rule of doing good is that which Solomon prescribes, (Proverbs 5:15) —

to drink water out of our own fountains, and let the rivulets go past, that they may flow onwards to others. 664664     Poole, in his Annotations, observes that “the metaphor” made use of in the passage referred to, (Proverbs 5:15,) “is to be understood either 1, of the free and lawful use of a man’s estate, both for his own comfort and for the good of others, or 2, of the honest use of matrimony.” “The latter meaning,” he remarks, “better suits with the whole context, both foregoing and following, and thus it is explained in the end of Proverbs 5:18.” — Ed.

The Macedonians, on the other hand, making no account of themselves, and almost losing sight of themselves, concerned themselves rather as to providing for others. 665665     “Ont employe leur soin a secourir les autres plustost qu’a subuenir a leur propre necessite;” — “Made it their care rather to assist others, than to relieve their own necessities.” In fine, those that are in straitened circumstances are willing beyond their ability, if they lay out any thing upon others from their slender means.

4. Beseeching us with much entreaty. He enlarges upon their promptitude, inasmuch as they did not only not wait for any one to admonish them, but even besought those, by whom they would have been admonished, had they not anticipated the desires of all by their activity. 666666     “Le desir et la solicitation de tous par leur diligence et promptitude;” — “The desire and solicitation of all by their diligence and promptitude.” We must again repeat the comparison formerly made between the less and the greater. “If the Macedonians, without needing to be besought, press forward of their own accord, nay more, anticipate others by using entreaties, how shameful a thing is it for the Corinthians to be inactive, more especially after being admonished! If the Macedonians lead the way before all, how shameful a thing is it for the Corinthians not, at least, to imitate their example! But what are we to think, when, not satisfied with beseeching, they added to their requests earnest entreaty, and much of it too?” Now from this it appears, that they had besought, not as a mere form, but in good earnest.

That the favor and the fellowship. The term favor he has made use of, for the purpose of recommending alms, though at the same time the word may be explained in different ways. This interpretation, however, appears to me to be the more simple one; because, as our heavenly Father freely bestows upon us all things, so we ought to be imitators of his unmerited kindness in doing good, (Matthew 5:45); or at least, because, in laying out our resources, we are simply the dispensers of his favor. The fellowship of this ministry consisted in his being a helper to the Macedonians in this ministry. They contributed of their own, that it might be administered to the saints. They wished, that Paul would take the charge of collecting it.

5. And not as He expected from them an ordinary degree of willingness, such as any Christian should manifest; but they went beyond his expectation, inasmuch as they not only had their worldly substance in readiness, but were prepared to devote even themselves. They gave themselves, says he, first to God, then to us.

It may be asked, whether their giving themselves to God, and to Paul, were two different things. It is quite a common thing, that when God charges or commands through means of any one, he associates the person whom he employs as his minister, both in authority to enjoin, and in the obedience that is rendered.

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us;

say the Apostles, (Acts 15:28,) while at the same time they merely, as instruments, declared what had been revealed and enjoined by the Spirit. Again,

The people believed the Lord and his servant Moses,
(Exodus 14:31,)

while at the same time Moses had nothing apart from God. This, too, is what is meant by the clause that follows — by the will of God For, as they were obedient to God, who had committed themselves to his ministry, to be regulated by his counsel, they were influenced by this consideration in listening to Paul, as speaking from God’s mouth.

6. That we should exhort Titus. Now this is an exhortation that is of greater force, when they learn that they are expressly summoned to duty. 667667     “Quand ils oyent qu’on les somme nommeement et presentement de faire leur droit;” — “When they hear that they summon them expressly and presently to do their duty.” Nor was it offensive to the Macedonians, that he was desirous to have the Corinthians as partners in beneficence. In the mean time an apology is made for Titus, that the Corinthians may not think that he pressed too hard upon them, as if he had not confidence in their good disposition. For he did that, from having been entreated, and it was rather in the name of the Macedonians, than in his own.

7. But as He had already been very careful to avoid giving offense, inasmuch as he said, that Titus had entreated them, not so much from his own inclination, as in consideration of the charge given him by the Macedonians. Now, however, he goes a step farther, by admonishing them, that they must not even wait for the message of the Macedonians being communicated to them; and that too, by commending their other virtues. “You ought not merely to associate yourselves as partners with the Macedonians, who require that; but surpass them in this respect, too, as you do in others.”

He makes a distinction between utterance and faith, because it. is impossible that any one should have faith, and that, too, in an eminent degree, without being at the same time much exercised in the word of God. Knowledge I understand to mean, practice and skill, or prudence. He makes mention of their love to himself, that he may encourage them also from regard to himself personally, and in the mean time he gives up, with a view to the public advantage of the brethren, the personal affection with which they regarded him. 668668     “De laquelle les Corinthiens l’aimoyent et ses compagnons;” “With which the Corinthians loved him and his associates.” Now in this way he lays a restraint upon himself in everything, that he may not seem to accuse them when exhorting them.

8. I speak not according to commandment Again he qualifies his exhortation, by declaring that he did not at all intend to compel them, as if he were imposing any necessity upon them, for that is to speak according to commandment, when we enjoin any thing definite, and peremptorily require that it shall be done. Should any one ask — “Was it not lawful for him to prescribe what he had by commandment of the Lord?” The answer is easy — that God, it is true, everywhere charges us to help the necessities of our brethren, but he nowhere specifies the sum; 669669     “Combien nous leur deuons donner;” — “How much we ought to give them.” that, after making a calculation, we might divide between ourselves and the poor. He nowhere binds us to circumstances of times, or persons, but calls us to take the rule of love as our guide.

At the same time, Paul does not here look to what is lawful for him, or unlawful, but says, that he does not command as if he reckoned that they required to be constrained by command and requirement, as though they refused to do their duty, unless shut up to it by necessity. He assigns, on the other hand, two reasons why he, notwithstanding, stirs them up to duty: first, Because the concern felt by him for the saints compels him to do so; and, secondly, Because he is desirous, that the love of the Corinthians should be made known to all. For I do not understand Paul to have been desirous to be assured of their love, (as to which he had already declared himself to be perfectly persuaded,) 670670     “Bien persuade et asseure;” — “Well persuaded and assured.” but he rather wished that all should have evidence of it. At the same time, the first clause in reference to the anxiety of others, admits of two meanings — either that he felt an anxiety as to the individuals, which did not allow him to be inactive, or that, yielding to the entreaties of others, who had the matter at heart, he spoke not so much from his own feeling, as at the suggestion of others.

9. For ye know the grace. Having made mention of love, he adduces Christ as an all perfect and singular pattern of it. “Though he was rich,” says he, “he resigned the possession of all blessings, that he might enrich us by his poverty.” He does not afterwards state for what purpose he makes mention of this, but leaves it to be considered by them; for no one can but perceive, that we are by this example stirred up to beneficence, that we may not spare ourselves, when help is to be afforded to our brethren.

Christ was rich, because he was God, under whose power and authority all things are; and farther, even in our human nature, which he put on, as the Apostle bears witness, (Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 2:8,) he was the heir of all things, inasmuch as he was placed by his Father over all creatures, and all things were placed under his feet. He nevertheless became poor, because he refrained from possessing, and thus he gave up his right for a time. We see, what destitution and penury as to all things awaited him immediately on his coming from his mother’s womb. We hear what he says himself, (Luke 9:58,)

The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests: the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

Hence he has consecrated poverty in his own person, that believers may no longer regard it with horror. By his poverty he has enriched us all for this purpose — that we may not feel it hard to take from our abundance what we may lay out upon our brethren.

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