Online Bible Commentary
Christian Giving and Socialism
2 Corinthians 8:8 I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 10 And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; 11 but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. 12 For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; 14 but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack--that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, "He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack." (NKJV)
In this chapter, Paul is comparing two types of churches. First, he writes of the church in southern Greece, called Achaia. This church is the church in Corinth, to whom he is writing this letter.
He compares this church to the churches in northern Greece, called Macedonia. These are the churches of Thessalonica, Philippi and Berea.
The church in Corinth had previously been mature in their belief. However, over the past year (2 Corinthians 9:2) they have followed false teachers. Now, Titus has returned from Corinth to Macedonia, where Paul is writing this letter in September and October of A.D 56, to report that they have now repented and returned to the teachings of Paul.
In this passage, Paul writes to the Corinthian believers that he is not speaking “by commandment” (v. 8a). He does not mean that this writing is not inspired by God. All Scripture is inspired by God.
He means that he is not commanding the Corinthians to do a certain action. He wishes them to comply according to their own wishes. God loves a cheerful giver.
He is “testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others” (v. 8b). Paul wants to test their love for God. He is comparing their diligence in giving to the diligence of “others”, referring to the Macedonian believers who had been generous in their giving.
As the ultimate example of giving Paul refers to “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 9a). Christ “was rich” with all the riches of Heaven and “yet for your sakes He became poor” (v. 9b).
Christ came from Heaven to become a poor man on earth, in monetary terms. He did this so that “through His poverty” on earth, those who believed in him “might become rich” with the blessings of God (v. 9c). Christ gave all, including His life, so that we may be rich with the blessings of God.
So, Paul’s “advice” is that it is “to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it” (vv. 10-11a). It is to the advantage of the Corinthian believers to complete the task of giving, that they had begun a year ago, a task that was interrupted when they turned away from the teachings of Paul.
“There was a readiness to desire it”, to begin the task of giving (v. 11b). “So there also may be a completion” of the giving “out of what you have for if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have” (vv. 11b-12). If there is a willingness to give it should be completed. A small gift to God is just as acceptable as a large gift. We are to give from our ability to give, whether large or small.
Paul does “not mean that others should be eased and you burdened” (v. 13). You should not give if it makes you lacking and unable to provide for the needs of your family.
Christian giving provides “an equality that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack--that there may be equality” (v. 14b). Christian giving from your abundance is for the purpose of helping others who are lacking. It should create an equality. At a later time, those who have been helped might also be able to return that favor. It is not an obligation but an act of love.
Paul then clarified this teaching with an example of Christian giving from Exodus 16: "He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack" (v. 15). During the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt God provided manna (bread) dropped from the sky. Those who gathered more would voluntarily share from their abundance with those who gathered less. After all, it all came from God.
The Bible does not promote socialism. The rich should not be commanded to give to the poor. Paul began this passage by writing that this is not a commandment. On the other hand, they should give out of their love for God.
Those who love God are called Christians. Christian individuals and organizations have given to the needy of the world from the beginning of Christianity. They have freely given from their abundance to those less fortunate. That is God’s way of giving.