14 June 2011

"For 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." (v. 9)


If it had been the twenty-first century, we would have seen Paul organising an aid operation. There had been a drought in Palestine, and the Christian communities were struggling. They were not wealthy people, and they were short of food. So Paul sets out to gather practical and spiritual support for them from the churches of Asia Minor and Greece. In this passage we find him turning up the pressure on the Corinthian congregation.

Corinth was a wealthy city, and there were wealthy people in its church. Titus had already been to Corinth (see 2 Corinthians 7:14), and worked to persuade them to give. Apparently they had promised they would. Yet for some reason, Paul is not sure that they will make that promise good.

Now he uses every persuasive argument he can muster. He uses the example of a much poorer congregation in Macedonia as an example for the Corinthians. Out of their poverty, they have been so generous; surely the Corinthians can do the same? Titus is going to come back and hold them to their word. And in verse 7 he praises the Corinthians, for they "excel in everything" and should "excel also in this generous undertaking".

Today's passage concludes with an argument from the example of Jesus Christ. The Corinthians should give because it is a Christ-like thing to do. Jesus was himself generous. He was rich. It seems this refers to the existence of Christ before he came to earth. He left all the riches of heaven, becoming poor by becoming human. And through that movement from riches to poverty, the Corinthians, and all Christians, can make the reverse journey: from poverty to riches.

Paul deliberately muddies the distinction between spiritual and material wealth here. He swings backwards and forwards between the two. Yet it is as though spiritual wealth were the real thing, and material wealth the metaphor, rather than the other way around.

To Ponder

How far do Paul's arguments persuade you to live a generous life?

What kind of generous action does the example of Jesus call out from you?

Bible notes author: The Revd Andrew Lunn

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