Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
2 Corinthians 8:8
An Apostle pleading for Liberality in Giving.
If you will glance at the context, two things appear on the surface of it: first that St. Paul is very anxious to obtain a handsome contribution from the Church at Corinth; and secondly, that he is just a little doubtful about succeeding in his endeavour. When we find him dwelling on the subject for two whole chapters together, placing it in a variety of lights and making his appeal to every conceivable motive, the very accumulation of arguments inclines us to suspect that a great effort was required in order to evoke the generosity of the Corinthian Church. We do not usually waste our strength where there is no obstacle to be overcome. And there is some confirmation of this view in the fact that the Apostle declined to be indebted for his own personal maintenance, or for any part of it, to this particular Church. To some of his converts—to the Philippians, for instance—he was not too proud to be beholden. But from the Church at Corinth he would accept nothing, and the reason probably lay in the difference of temper and character between the two Christian communities.
I. Let us now see how St. Paul sets about accomplishing his object. He begins by informing the Corinthians of what the Churches of Macedonia had done in the matter. He does not hesitate for a moment to stimulate the sluggish benevolence of the wealthier Church by narrating to them what the poorer Churches have done. He proposes an example of liberality worthy of imitation.
II. He points out that there ought to be a proportion maintained among what may be called the component parts of the Christian character. The inner and the outer should keep pace with each other. "See that ye abound in this grace also."
III. He disclaims all intention of exerting anything like compulsory power. There is in Christians a deep, underlying love to their Master, and love to those for whom their Master died; and if you can succeed in touching this spring—in setting this motive free to act—you have more than half accomplished what you are attempting to do.
IV. In the last place, the Apostle speaks of an equalisation in the material condition of Christian people. Inequality in the present condition of being enters into the Divine plan respecting the people of Christ. But it is the object of Christian benevolence to counteract this inequality as far as possible. The Corinthians had fulness, the Hebrew Christians had emptiness. It was the duty of the Corinthians, then, to restore the balance.
G. Calthrop, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 840.
2 Corinthians 8:9Christ's Privations a Meditation for Christians.
I. What is meditating on Christ? it is simply this, thinking habitually and constantly of Him, and of His deeds and sufferings. Christ is gone away; He is not seen; we never saw Him, we only read and hear of Him. We must recall to mind what we read in the Gospels and in holy books about Him; we must bring before us what we have heard in church; we must pray God to enable us to do so, to bless the doing so, and to make us do so in a simple-minded, sincere, and reverential spirit. In a word, we must meditate, for all this is meditation, and this even the most unlearned person can do, and will do, if he has a will to do it.
II. Now of such meditation, or thinking over Christ's sufferings, I will say two things: (1) that such meditation is not at all pleasant at first; (2) it is only by slow degrees that meditation is able to soften our hard hearts, and that the history of Christ's trials and sorrows really moves us. It is not once thinking of Christ or twice thinking of Christ that will do it. It is by going on quietly and steadily, with the thought of Him in our mind's eye, that by little and little we shall gain something of warmth, light, life, and love. We shall not perceive ourselves changing. It will be like the unfolding of the leaves in spring. You do not see them grow; you cannot, by watching, detect it. But every day, as it passes, has done something for them; and you are able, perhaps, every morning to say that they are more advanced than yesterday. So it is with our souls; not indeed every morning, but at certain periods we are able to see that we are more alive and religious than we were, though during the interval we were not conscious that we were advancing.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. vi., p. 39.
Poverty a Holy State.
I. The poverty of Christ is intended as an example to all men. To His earliest followers He gave the precept of poverty; He made it binding on them; He made it even the condition of entering His service and His kingdom. Poverty, toil, and a common life were the daily bonds of their society with Him; and they chose to live on as He had left them, still realising His presence who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor. Out of this common life came the fixed endowments of the Church. First, the bishop and his clergy and the poor of Christ lived of one stock and revenue, as it were at one table, at which the spiritual father presided in Christ's stead. Afterwards, when the Church had peace, and in God's good providence was permitted to make itself fixed homes and certain dwelling-places, the necessity which lay on them by reason of the then present distress ceased. That which was a precept of necessity, became a counsel of perfection. It was a fuller and closer imitation of the life of Christ for those who, by the providence of God, were permitted to forsake all for the love of their heavenly Master. And there have been many, in all ages of the Church, who have willingly made themselves poor for Christ's sake, that through their poverty and labour of love the elect might be made rich in God's kingdom.
II. Another reason for Christ's choosing so bare and destitute a condition was, that He by His poverty might set us an example of deadness to the world. The gifts and allurements of the secular state are among the chief dangers of Christ's servants. There are very few that can resist the offers of wealth, ease, elevation, power, and the like. And Christ, foreseeing the trial of His Church, especially in the days when the world was to come into its fold, stamped for ever in His own example the visible tokens of perfect deadness to the secular state, by choosing for Himself a life of poverty. This is another great lesson set us in the poverty of our Lord—so to die to the world that it cannot find the price at which to buy our submission. The man that covets nothing, seeks nothing, looks for nothing, nay, that would refuse and reject the solicitations of the world unless they bore on them some sure and expressive marks of the Master's hand, is above all worldly power. He is truly independent; out of the reach of hope and fear; and next under God, lord of his own spirit.
III. And once more, the example of the Son of God was no doubt designed to show us the relation between poverty and holiness. The very state of poverty is a wholesome corrective of many subtle and stubborn hindrances of our sanctification. Let us embrace it with gladness. Let us, when the choice is before us, choose it rather than to be rich. How much of mercy and meaning does this put into all worldly reverses. The loss of fortune is, as it were, a call to perfection; the appointment of a poor lot in life, or of a precarious livelihood, are tokens of His will to make us share in the likeness of His poverty. Let us bless Him for every degree of approach He permits us to make towards His perfect life. Whether we be in the sacred or the secular state, let us use the narrowing of worldly fortunes as a means of chastening our desires, and in making ourselves independent of all things but His truth, His Spirit, the laws of His Church, and the hope of His heavenly kingdom.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 284.
When a beggar asks alms of me for the love of Christ, can I safely hold back my hand? When I am assured, by persons of wisdom and experience, that I shall do a positive wrong to society if I listen to his prayer, dare I give him anything? These are questions which are troubling a great many of us. They do not concern only the case of the street beggar. They have a very wide application. Some will tell us that almost every time we bestow anything on a fellow-creature we are indulging a fancy or a sentiment and violating a law. Some will say that the most indiscriminating kindness is most like the kindness of God, who giveth liberally to all and upbraideth not, who sendeth His rain upon the just and upon the unjust. These opposite opinions do not only distract us. Too often they drive us to the conclusion that there is no principle at all which can guide us, or to the conclusion, more dangerous still, that there are two principles, one of which is good for earth, the other for heaven. Perhaps there is no time when this conflict is likely to be greater in our minds than at Christmas.
I. It is certain that if we receive the incarnation of Christ as the revelation of God's mind and character to men, any language which has ever been used or can ever be used to denote the fulness and universality of the Divine love and compassion, instead of being exaggerated, instead of requiring to be modified and justified, must be tame and cold. So far then it would seem that the defenders of an expansive indiscriminating charity have much to urge on their behalf. If we are to be followers of God as dear children; if nothing can be wrong in our character which is like His, nothing right which is inconsistent with His,—there can be no fear of our regarding the race of man or any individual of that race with too much affection and sympathy; there must be the greatest fear of stinting of affection and sympathy.
II. Again, if we have not followed a cunningly devised fable in supposing that Christ, who was rich, for our sakes became poor, it cannot be a true maxim that men should generally be left to the consequences of their own acts, that we should turn away on the other side when we see one who has fallen into poverty or into crime, comforting ourselves with the thought that it was his own fault, and that we are not to save him from the results of his folly and recklessness. Our Lord drew no artificial distinctions between cures of the body and of the soul. He claimed to be the Lord of both; He proved Himself to be the Deliverer of both. His example, then, may fairly be pleaded by those who say that they are not bound in dispensing gifts and services to choose the meritorious, who remind us that if we had to prove our title to live, we must all be left to perish.
III. But there is another aspect of the Nativity which requires to be as seriously contemplated as either of those we have considered. Christ did not merely heal the sick and cast out devils. He called forth the true manhood in the poor degraded creatures to whom He came; He found the sheep that He had been seeking. It is clearly not good for any man that he should live as a mere animal, when God has intended him for a man. If by our alms we tempt him to be a miserable creature, sustained by chance bounty, selling his soul for pence, we are guilty of our brother's blood; we are not leading him to feel that he is a child of God; we may be keeping him from that new and high life which Christ took on flesh to vindicate for him.
F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. Hi., p. 83.
The Riches and Poverty of Christ.
I. The native riches of Christ. "He was rich." The first display of the riches of the Eternal Word was not in our nature, but in the things which He made. Creation presupposes Him as its origin, underlying ground, and sustaining presence. The history of the universe is but the record of the progressive display of His unsearchable riches. But whilst He is the presupposition of all things, without whom the universe were an unsolved and insoluble problem, He is also the prophecy of all things. All things look to, move towards, and only rest in Him. All that has hitherto been done forms, as it were, but the initial revelation of His wealth, its first opening up, the early prophecy of the great future to which the growing heavens of His fulness point and cry, "Respice finem!" The riches of our Lord will only be seen in the end.
II. The poverty He chose. "He was rich; He became poor." (1) The poverty of His nature. He who had life in Himself became dependent for life and breath and all things. His nature was subject to all the limitations of time and space, of human weakness and wants. (2) The poverty of His circumstances. He was born in poverty, in poverty He was brought up, and in poverty He lived and died. (3) His experience presents to us an inner life of poverty in keeping with the poverty of His nature and circumstances. He was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. In His mighty work He made the experience of all poverty.
III. The wealth of His poverty. This is seen (1) in its voluntariness, (2) in its vicariousness, (3) in its beneficence of purpose, and (4) in its fittingness for the communication of His riches. He who was rich became poor, was compassed with our infirmity, touched with our feeling, tempted in all points as we are, that we might find grace to help in every time of need, and that He might become our eternal salvation.
W. Pulsford, Trinity Church Sermons, p. 1.
References: 2 Corinthians 8:9.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 151; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 359; W. Cunningham, Sermons, p. 103; Homilist, vol. v., p. 346; F. Ferguson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 48; H. P. Liddon, Ibid., vol. xxvii., p. 252; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 11; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 173; A. M. Fairbairn, The City of God, p. 288; J. Oswald Dykes, Sermons, p. 151; Hewlett, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 309.
2 Corinthians 8:11Performance.
I. Promises in relation to the kingdom of heaven. Men do not like to lose sight of the beautiful city of God. They like to feel some sort of connection with Christ; they mean to return to an earnest Divine life. Yes, there is a kind of purpose in their hearts to be as true to Christ as in their first days of consecration to His service, and they live, in a way, on the flattering tale. But let them come to the point of reality. Oh, the tragedy written in the lives of well-meaning persons! The promiser is still a slave, and still dwells in the enchanted palace of evil. Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.
II. Promises in relation to the responsibilities of gifts and service. God is always saying to us, Begin; begin. Performance, once honestly commenced, tempts out more and more of loyal effort.
III. Promises in relation to the example of Christ. You vowed yourself in seasons of sickness and bereavement to Christ. Have you fulfilled that vow? It has been said that sometimes drowning men, who have been rescued at great peril to others, have thinned down their promised gratuity when time has been allowed to elapse. Miserable selfists! Yes, we can all say, Amen, to that. But how many might hear God's voice, "Now, therefore, perform the doing of it."
IV. Promises in relation to the bountifulness of God. What shall we render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards us? The Saviour's life was a life of deeds, and we ought to be living epistles of Him.
V. Promises in relation to the influence of example. Actions, as of old, speak louder than words. A kind, stimulating word is of immense service when it is accompanied by courageous endeavour. We are afraid, some of us, to begin; but, although at first we tremble, the whispered words of Jesus will restore our courage, for He hath said, "I will never leave thee; I will never forsake thee."
W. M. Statham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 312.
References: 2 Corinthians 8:12.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 544. 2 Corinthians 8:15.—F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 395. 2 Corinthians 8:21.—J. Taylor, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiv., p. 186; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 250; H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 351. 2 Corinthians 8:24.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1522; Church of England Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 191. 2 Corinthians 9:7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv., No. 835; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 77.
How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;
Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.
Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also.
Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.
I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.
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.
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.
For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened:
But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality:
As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.
But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you.
For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you.
And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches;
And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind:
Avoiding this, 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.
And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, upon the great confidence which I have in you.
Whether any do inquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you: or our brethren be inquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ.
Wherefore shew ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf.