As it is written: "He who gathered much had no excess, and he who gathered little had no shortfall."
I. THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE HERE PROPOUNDED. It is that the requirements of God correspond to the possessions of man.
1. What men have, they have received from the undeserved bounty of their Creator. This holds good with regard to property and to talents and opportunities.
2. An account is expected from every man by him who is the Judge and sovereign Lord of all. We are to some extent and in some matters accountable to our fellow men, but foreverything to him in whom "we live, and move, and have our being."
3. The rule according to which the supreme Governor will judge mankind is one of absolute rectitude - "according to that a man hath." The feeble man will not be expected to have done the work of the strong; the dull man the work of the genius; the peasant the work of the prince; nor the beggar to have given with the generosity of the millionaire. But each must answer for that which has been entrusted to himself. In all things the disposition, the spirit, the endeavour, will be taken into account; "if there be first the ready mind" - "if the forward zeal be at hand." Such is the universal condition of Divine acceptance and approval.
II. THE SPECIAL APPLICATION OF THE PRINCIPLE HERE DEDUCED.
1. In the matter of gifts there is scope for moral culture and watchfulness. Unless liberality be shown upon definite principle, it will most likely not be shown at all. There is need of watching against selfishness and avarice.
2. It is well for every Christian to anticipate and apply beforehand the Divine principle - to judge himself, that he may not be judged by God; to put to himself the question, "How much owest thou unto thy Lord?"
3. Especially should the inspired rule of liberality be observed by those who are prospering in the world. As means increase, let gifts be enlarged. The Judge cannot accept from the wealthy the gifts which were approved when offered by the poor. - T.
For I mean not that other men should be eased and ye burdened.I. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH PAUL URGED IT. The apostle spoke strongly: not in the way of coercion, but of counsel and persuasion (vers. 8, 10). Note the difference between the dictatorial authority of the priest and the gentle helpfulness of the minister (2 Corinthians 1:24). There is not a minister or priest who is not exposed to the temptation which allures men to try to be a confessor and director to his people, to guide their conscience, to rule their wills, and to direct their charities. But observe how entirely alien this was from St. Paul's spirit. According to the apostle, a Christian was one who, perceiving principles, in the free spirit of Jesus Christ, applied these principles for himself. As examples of this, remember the spirit in which he excommunicated (1 Corinthians 5:12, 13) and absolved (2 Corinthians 2:10), and remark, in both these cases — where the priestly power would have been put forward, if anywhere — the entire absence of all aim at personal influence or authority. St. Paul would not even command Philemon to receive his slave (Philemon 1:8, 9, 13, 14). And in the case before us he would not order the Corinthians to give even to a charity which he reckoned an important one. He wanted them to be men, and not dumb, driven cattle.
II. THE MOTIVES HE BROUGHT TO BEAR.
1. The example of Christ (ver. 9). To a Christian mind Christ is all; the measure of all things: the standard and the reference.
2. The desire of reciprocity (vers. 13-15). This is the watchword of Socialists, who cry out for equality in circumstances. But think, Paul's principle is that the abundance of the rich is intended for the supply of the poor; and the illustration of the principle is drawn from the manna (ver. 15). If any one through greediness gathered more than enough, it bred worms, and became offensive; and if through weakness, or deep sorrow, or pain, any were prevented from collecting enough, still what they had collected was sufficient. In this miracle St. Paul perceives a great universal principle of human life. God has given to every man a certain capacity and a certain power of enjoyment. Beyond that he cannot find delight. Whatsoever he heaps or hoards beyond that is not enjoyment but disquiet. E.g., if a man monopolises to himself rest which should be shared by others, the result is unrest — the weariness of one on whom time hangs heavily. Again, if a man piles up wealth, all beyond a certain point becomes disquiet. How well life teaches us that whatever is beyond enough breeds worms, and becomes offensive! We can now understand why the apostle desired equality, and what that equality was which he desired. Equality with him meant reciprocation — the feeling of a true and loving brotherhood; which makes each man feel, "My superabundance is not mine: it is another's: not to be taken by force, or wrung from me by law, but to be given freely by the law of love." Observe, then, how Christianity would soon solve the problems of the rights of the poor and the duties of the rich. After how much does possession become superabundance? When has a man gathered too much? You cannot answer these questions by any science. Socialism cannot do it. Revolutions will try to do it, but they will only take from the rich and give to the poor; so that the poor become rich, and the rich poor, and we have inequality back again. But give us the spirit of Christ. Let us love as Christ loved. Give us the spirit of sacrifice which the early Church had, when no man said that aught of the things he possessed was his own; then each man's own heart will decide what is meant by gathering too much, and what is meant by Christian equality.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
But by an equality.ἰσότης means here neither reciprocity nor equity, but equality, as the illustration in ver. 15 shows. The ἐκ, as in ver. 11, expresses the rule or standard in giving. The rule is equality; we must give so as to produce, or that there may be, equality. This is not agrarianism, nor community of goods. The New Testament teaches on this subject —
I. THAT ALL GIVING IS VOLUNTARY. A man's property is his own. It is in his own power to retain or to give away; and if he gives, it is his prerogative to decide whether it shall be much or little (Acts 5:4). Giving is the fruit of love. It is of course obligatory as a moral duty, and the indisposition to give is proof of the absence of the love of God (1 John 3:17). Still it is one of those duties the performance of which others cannot enforce as a right belonging to them. It must remain at our own discretion.
II. THAT THE END TO BE ACCOMPLISHED BY GIVING IS RELIEVING THE NECESSITIES OF THE POOR. The equality therefore aimed at is not an equality as to the amount of property, but equal relief from the burden of want.
III. THAT WHILST ALL MEN ARE BRETHREN, and the poor as poor, whether Christians or not, are the proper objects of charity, yet THERE IS A SPECIAL OBLIGATION RESTING ON THE MEMBERS OF CHRIST TO RELIEVE THE WANTS OF THEIR FELLOW-BELIEVERS (Galatians 6:10). All the directions in this and the following chapter have reference to the duty of Christians to their fellow-believers. There are two reasons for this.
1. The common relation of believers to Christ as members of His body, so that what is done to them is done to Him, and their consequent intimate relation to each other as being one body in Christ Jesus.
2. The assurance that the good done to them is pure good. There is no apprehension that the alms bestowed will encourage idleness or vice.
IV. THE POOR HAVE NO RIGHT TO DEPEND ON THE BENEFACTIONS OF THE RICH BECAUSE THEY ARE BRETHREN (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Thus do the Scriptures avoid, on the one hand, the injustice and destructive evils of agrarian communism, by recognising the right of property and making all almsgiving optional; and on the other, the heartless disregard of the poor by inculcating the universal brotherhood of believers, and the consequent duty of each to contribute of his abundance to relieve the necessities of the poor. At the same time they inculcate on the poor the duty of self-support to the extent of their ability. They are commanded "with quietness to work, and to eat their own bread." Could these principles be carried out, there would be among Christians neither idleness nor want.
(C. Hodge, D. D.)
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