One of the side works of Paul, in his missionary travels, was encouraging the churches to contribute to the needs of the poor, especially in Jerusalem. It is most likely that the primary concern was for those of the church who were in need—the typical social safety net in that era was family, and some families rejected the members who came to Jesus.
2 Corinthians 8 is primarily Paul’s encouragement to the church at Corinth to be generous and give greatly to the offering. He does so by highlighting how other churches had given and then pointing out how he would take good care of the gift, ensuring that it got where it was intended and was used how it was intended.
The first point is made by bringing up the churches in Macedonia, bringing up that they had been very generous despite being poor. Some sources suggest that this was meant to play on the pride of Corinth, a “don’t let those people out do you” type of appeal. However, I wonder if we are reading modern sales tactics back on to Paul with this. Certainly, he makes the point that the Macedonians were not giving from an abundance of wealth, which would have removed an excuse by comparison. But we should be careful attempting to put our motivational principles into Paul’s context. Remember that Biblical Interpretation requires us to bring an understanding of the original context to the text. Our context goes into the application of the text.
Paul then informs the Corinthians that Titus and the “brother whose fame….has spread through the churches” (2 Corinthians 8:18) will be helping deliver the offering. The idea is that there will be proper care for the gift, that it will be used as intended, and that these named (and unnamed) men will be accountable for it.
A good focal point comes right in the middle of the chapter: 2 Corinthians 8:12 makes the case that acceptable giving is based on what one has, not what one does not have.
From this, a reasonable extraction is that the Corinthians were delaying finishing the offering because they felt it was not good enough. Perhaps they had a higher goal, a larger amount they wanted to give, but the money just wasn’t there. It’s hard to make a certain statement from what little is here, but it would have been shameful in that culture to broadcast that you were making a big offering and then make a small one.
There’s something to be said for large amounts, but at many points in life, a little bit of real is better than a lot of intention.
Practically applied, of course, you can see where this is going.
First, it’s true monetarily of your giving: just because your gift is smaller than someone else’s doesn’t mean it is useless. In fact, it takes every type of gift to make a project happen. A person in need of food can be fed by many hands with small gifts as well as by one large one.
Second, it’s also true of any other type of giving to a work of the ministry that comes before you. Do you have only a certain amount of time? Guess what? Giving from what you have is acceptable. Now, that, like with financial giving, comes with a caveat: a person who wastes hours should reconsider how they spend their time, just as one who wastes money should. If you are careless with your time and therefore cannot give to what God commands, are you any less sinful than one who wastes money on sinful pursuits?
And some acts of service require a minimum of time, but let’s stop making excuses based on the exceptions or partial situations. The real question for you and I, dear reader, is this:
Are we giving from what we have, be it time, energy, skill, wealth, commitment, or are we using the excuse that our gifts aren’t large enough, and so we do nothing?
Get going forward, and do that which God has given you to do!
The whole unnamed brother thing bugs me. But it also makes this point: the man was so well-known that he needed no introduction, and now he’s anonymous. What does that make of the celebrity today?
Look at the overall thrust of Paul’s money handling guidelines. If followed, then the offering will be well looked after as well as guaranteed to be spent as intended. While the Macedonians helped support Paul as well (that’s what “gave themselves to me” means), he’s not asking Corinth to support him. Just to give to the mission, and he’ll take nothing.