“…abound in this grace also.”
I write this after receiving a communication (one of several) from a charismatic in Canada. In his vitriolic email he accused me of teaching witchcraft, because I oppose the Toronto Blessing, its derivatives, and those who introduced it to the world, such as John Arnott.
He told me that we must never argue the truth, but must let scripture speak. (I agree with that!). But, as part of his argument he told me that “‘charismatic’ in the Bible, means ‘gifted one’”. I had to reply that there is no such word in scripture as ‘charismatic’, only the word ‘charisma’ and several others linked to it, or which form its root. But none of them denote the person, e.g. ‘a charismatic’. The word ‘charisma’ refers to the blessings given by God, and not to the person who has them.
I can almost guarantee that this will incense my correspondent, for I have challenged him on this point. Charismatics do not interpret scripture, they merely give their own opinions based on what they perceive to be their ‘gifts’ and the meanings they have given to them.
It is important to interpret properly, as scripture teaches, and not according to our own ideas. Charismatics do the latter and have landed themselves in a dark pit as a result.
In this chapter we come across the word ‘charisma’, which has nothing to do with a supposed ‘gifted one’. In this text it is speaking of the way poverty-stricken Christians give what they have to others, regardless of the cost to themselves. That is, it is about the change in a man’s life when God has saved him. It is not about the man himself, as someone special in his own right. It is about the power of God to change men and their ways.
It is very important to oppose wrong use of scripture, or wrong interpretation, because one small change leads to another. It allows the wrong thinker to add more errors to his list until he ends up with a whole new theology, just as we see it in charismaticism. It is a new theology that detracts from truth, not point to it. It preaches a false Gospel and so hides the light from unsaved people in a dark pit.
Some might think that to argue over one misused word is to be melodramatic or petty. I ask you this – how much error do you think God will put up with? I can tell you straight away that the answer is “None at all”. If God accepted just one tiny error, then He would Himself become tainted by that error. As error is sin, God would accept sin on an equal footing with righteousness. See the problem? See the impossibility of God accepting even one tiny error?
So, in this chapter we will interpret ‘gift’ as it ought to be interpreted, in its context. Only when we know the truth and apply it, is our life able to display the power of God, which is already given to each one of us who is saved. It is not the mythical power claimed by charismatics, which, in cases of actual ‘power’ is from Satan. I am talking about the true power of God, as promised to all who are His children. This power is rarely seen in the churches, because so few Christians know what it is and prefer their own theology.
“Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”
Paul has already stated he was in Macedonia, hoping to travel south to Corinth. In the meantime he sent Titus to visit them. Titus was overjoyed by his reception and the way the Corinthians had repented wholeheartedly.
In this chapter Paul presents the Macedonians to the Corinthians as a church with a big heart, an example to all. Paul wants them “to wit” this… gnorizo – to understand, recognise and accept, the “grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.” We cannot read of any grace given to others without wanting to know if we can have the same grace. Paul is telling the Corinthians of this particular grace, because he wants them to show the same in their own lives.
To have a grace from God is not to do something because we feel like it. It is to do it because God has freely given it to us. He has granted us a benefit. Superficially one may ask how giving our cash to others when we are in poverty can possibly be a ‘benefit’ to us. Evidently, it is a benefit, and one that we are commended to imitate. The benefit is not in our pockets, but in our hearts and spirits, as we see in this text.
In modern days, when there are trials (e.g. war in another country, which does not even touch us personally), people with extra money keep their cash and do not invest it. Even Christians do this. Yet, in the New Testament we find direct reference to those who hide their cash away and do nothing constructive with it. Yes, the allegory has a spiritual meaning, for when we are saved we must use the gift to spread the Gospel. But, it also refers to the way we look at money, which is given by God for a purpose that does NOT include personal wealth for its own sake. Yet, how many Christians avidly save what they can for their own benefit, ignoring the plight of those in real need?
This text tells us the Christians of Macedonia had two major problems – ‘trial of affliction’ and intense poverty. Like any trial, dokime, it was given by God to test the character and resolve of the Macedonians. If they passed the test or trial, their Christian character was proved. Have YOU proved your Christian character by enduring the trials sent by God? How many fail because they want revenge, or some other ‘benefit’ of sin, rather than quietly accept the will of God and display true Christian character?
The Macedonians were not just hearing about a war in another country; their ‘affliction’, thlipsis, was very real and personal. They were being persecuted and oppressed by everyone around them. They lived in a state of severe anguish and distress. And, on top of all that, they were in ‘deep poverty’, That is extreme ptocheia, destitute. Yet, these same people, by reason of their salvation and love for the brethren, gave what they had to help the poor in another country, where riches were more commonplace! Compare with Christians today who live in relative comfort, who hardly ever give generously to other Christians. In my experience, I find that it is the poorer Christians who give generously, not those with more money. It is those who cannot afford it, who give the most. I pity those with more, who keep it to themselves.
I have also noted that Christians in the West are willing to give to people who are unsaved (e.g. buy a well in Africa) but will not give to those who are poor living in their own town! The folk they give to in Africa might indeed be starving – but they are also, probably, Muslim, or of some other demonic cult. We must always support the brethren before we ever give to others. The Macedonians did not give of their poverty to support the unsaved. They sent what they had to the brethren in need.
In the midst of their intense troubles and poverty, the Macedonians expressed the “abundance of their joy” in Christ which overflowed as “riches of their liberality”. That is, they gave of the ploutos or spiritual riches of their haplotes – their state of purity without hypocrisy, an open heart that gave generously of everything they had. It also means to have singleness of mind, which comes to a Christian who gives his whole being to God. In such a state he will do whatever is commanded, without stint or holding back. Do you think God allowed the Macedonians to suffer because they gave even from their poverty? Of course not! When a Christian gives even if he himself has nothing, God will provide a reward greater than the loss of cash he has experienced by giving freely from a heart filled with love.
“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.”
Now Paul testifies to what happened. He saw and heard what was done, and so could give the truth of the situation. The Macedonians, he says, did not just express the power, dunamis, in their lives – they exceeded it beyond all measure (huper)! It is one thing to give generously, but another to exceed generosity to the point of giving everything. The case of the widow’s mite is an example of this kind of excess of generosity, when the woman did not just give of extra income (which she did not have), but she gave everything she had, not thinking of how she would feed herself in the future. This the Macedonians did because they were “willing of themselves”, authairetos – of their own free will as a voluntary act, after prayer and thought.
They did not just give – they begged Paul to take what they had. They were “praying us with much intreaty”. In context ‘praying’ here is deomai, to desire or to beg. This is used not as a man speaking to God, but a man speaking to another man. They had to beg Paul to take the money, and, as the words tell us, they had to continually make him listen to their plea which, to them, was of comfort not poverty. Their words were so strong and heartfelt, they were inwardly stirring, and Paul could not resist the power of their argument. Thus, they did not give reluctantly – they begged Paul to take what they had! Does this describe you, or me?
The fact that Paul was reluctant to take money from those who were in poverty and dire straits, shows us that even Paul did not know everything. He did not have the monopoly on purity and holiness. He saw their troubles and poverty and did not wish to reduce them further. In itself a noble thought. But, the Macedonians were given strength by God to give and so they had to convince Paul of the power they had to act as they did. I can testify that our ministry is supported not by the richer Christians, but mainly by those who are poor, and those who are retired. They give out of love for God and His ministry. Does this tell us anything? (2017 note: This has drastically changed since the study was written. Today, we receive almost nothing by way of gifts. So, expenses are met by the two co-founders).
How many Christians do you know who talk of ‘sacrificial giving’? If they see giving as sacrificial, then they will take some pride in it. The Macedonians saw their giving as a privilege and an honour, and so they pleaded with Paul to take what they had. What a difference in attitude! The first concentrates on himself and what he is losing, the second concentrates on God and on what God wants.
Paul calls the money given a ‘gift’, meaning that this charis was a grace from God, a joy to do, an act of sheer loveliness of soul, a kindness that came from hearts influenced by the Lord. It was an act of koinonia – fellowship or communion, a distribution of wealth founded on love for the brethren. This was enabled by the sense of koinonos; being in a spiritual partnership with fellow believers, which had been shown several years before, when the Christians of Jerusalem sold what they had in order to share everything. This discourse indicates the idea of sharing to the point of being of equal financial status (poor), everything being held in common, koinos, as if they were in one group or colony, kolonia.
From this we may deduce that the earliest Christians lived in one community (though not necessarily in one place), not to distance themselves from the unsaved, but simply to support each other financially and spiritually. In scripture we do not find evidence of special Christian communities who cut themselves off from the rest of society, even though they lived as a separate community. I would tentatively suggest that those who live that way would not survive spiritually in the society of the day, so they are trying to escape responsibility by living with those of like mind. No doubt there could be times when Christians can legitimately join together in isolation from others, but mostly there appears to be no case for such an action.
An important fact is mentioned by Paul. He says (verse 5) that the generosity of the Macedonians was based firstly on their obedience to God. They “gave their own selves (heautou) to the Lord”. They had submitted totally to the Lord’s will, thelema, and so were subject only to His desires and purposes. For them, giving everything they had was an act of obedience to God’s will. Their financial generosity was a ‘natural’ outworking of that will. If we see everything we have as belonging to God, then we will not become obsessed by possessions, job, status, or money, but will see everything as being fluid, to be distributed as God sees fit.
With such a mind, we will not be too dismayed by loss or made greedy by gain. Everything we have is owned by God and as a reward for recognising this and acting it out, we have the whole of Heaven’s riches at our feet. Obviously, having money is of no value in Heaven, where we will have no lack of anything, so the ‘riches’ are all spiritual and of benefit to our spirits. When on this earth we have to use money, but we need not value it in earthly terms for its own sake. It is simply a tool used by God for His own purposes.
The main thought in this section, then, is that before we can do anything for God, we must firstly give our lives to Him. Once we have done so, He can direct us as He wishes and we will obey without qualm or fear. In such a spiritual state, loss of our finances will be an interesting development rather than a fearful disaster.
“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.”
Paul was so impressed by this selflessness and total obedience of the Macedonians, he sent Titus to the Corinthians, so they could hear what was done, and then do the same. It seems Titus was instrumental in this act of the Macedonians, so Paul wanted him to encourage the Corinthians to live the same way. They lived in a rich city and no doubt had much wealth.
He did not want their riches for himself, because he received what he needed en-route on his journeys. But, he wanted them to give to others in need. Not so as to reduce their personal wealth, but as part of an inner and ongoing subjection to God. He wanted to see them give their whole lives over to God’s will, with generosity as a ‘natural’ side-effect. Giving their money would only be a sign of their inward state. This is an echo of the account of the rich young man who promised his obedience to Christ, until Christ told him to give his money away!
Titus was asked to ‘finish’, epiteleo – accomplish and complete – in the Corinthians what he had already accomplished with the Macedonians. Titus did not set out to take money from the Macedonians, but to cause them to give their lives over to God totally. The subsequent giving of cash was just an effect arising from hearts overflowing with love and obedience to God. The main thing to note is that Paul is not seeking the Corinthians to give their cash in particular, but only that they follow the righteousness of the Macedonians by giving their lives over to God. When we do this, we are showing God that everything is His, and so He can do with them whatever He wishes. From such a basis anything is possible.
By asking Titus to accomplish in the Corinthians what he had accomplished in the Macedonians, Paul is NOT saying that we can do these things of our own accord. Implied in the instruction is the fact that God gives us the ability and command to give our lives to Him totally, when we are saved. Therefore, when we obey and give our whole lives to Him, this is not a ‘second blessing’ when the Holy Spirit suddenly ‘comes down’ to ‘fill us’. It is a recognition that the Spirit is already in us but is constrained by our own sin and selfish desires. Once we see this and repent, we can give our lives to Him and the Spirit within can operate as He originally wanted to do in the first place. Thus, we become what we were supposed to be anyway.
This incident also shows us that certain gifts or graces are universal to all Christians and must be enacted regardless of any other gifts that we may be given individually. So, generosity is one such universal command. Others are also mentioned elsewhere, such as being a good host, and caring for all who are saved. Note that the ‘grace’ required of the Corinthians is the ‘gift’ shown by the Macedonians, for both words are ‘charis’.
So, Paul tells them, they already exceed in their trust in God, in their preaching of the Gospel and word of God (utterance - logos), their knowledge, gnosis – an advanced understanding of God’s word, their diligence, spoude – causing them to busy themselves in Christian matters, and their love for the Apostles. Now, he wants them to exceed in this other gift also – generosity of giving to the brethren. Basically, when we give to others, they must then give to other brethren, and so the circle continues. If all Christians did that, no Christian would do without. Good principle? Yes, so long as Christians do not hold back or remain secretly greedy or desire personal greatness. Of course, the same principle covers everything we have, from homes to money to power to time.
“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.”
Interestingly, Paul says he is not telling them to do this as a direct command from God, but because others had provided the example to follow (their ‘forwardness’, again spoude). Yet, though not a direct command, it is given the same authority, for, Paul says, to enact such generosity would be a proof of their love.
It would be, he tells them, similar to the love shown by Christ. Christ is God, King of kings, owner of all things including boundless wealth, yet He came to this earth in poverty ‘for your sakes’. He became destitute of all riches and earthly power, to make them rich spiritually, through salvation (verse 9).
This is why Paul says he is giving his ‘advice’, gnome, or judgement and reasoning, which would be ‘expedient’ for them – sumphero, profitable and good. His teaching was not meant to take away their earthly riches, but only to enrich them spiritually and morally. After all, he reminds them, they started thinking of doing these things a year before. All he is asking is that they continue and put their thoughts into practice. Most of us have good intentions that are often not put into practice! That is why we do not come to experience the power of God in our lives and know the thrill of acting out His will.
“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 be 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:
So, Paul says, do what you were thinking of doing a year ago! There was a readiness of will, now there must be a performance of what was determined. Many Christians have a ‘readiness of will’, but how many act out what is determined?
We all say we must be holy and pure, but do we carry out what is necessary in order to put it into practice? First there must be an internal willingness to do something. Otherwise, we will do things unwillingly and sinfully.
We must know in our hearts and wills a ‘readiness’, prothumia, an inclination and zeal for what we propose to do. This can only arise from hearts and minds given over totally to God. Most of us have done things in our churches that we did not really wish to do, whether it is giving to a particular cause, or handing out leaflets door-to-door. This is partly because God did not call us to those tasks, and partly because we have not given our whole beings to God.
Once we give ourselves totally to His will, there is an instant difference in our attitudes, because we are then attuned to whatever He wishes us to do, and we do it with unbounded zeal. We then see ‘results’.
Once the Corinthians have given their whole beings to God, they will exceed anything they had experienced thus far, says Paul. From this willingness to give everything to God will come the impetus to give their money to those in need. In their case, they will give out of what they have and will not be placed into poverty as a result.
Indeed, Paul is telling them it is not his intention to make them poor so that others might know a better time (verses12-13). He wants them to give from their excess and not to divest themselves of all wealth. Personally, I do not think it wise for rich men to give away everything, because then their wealth would just disappear quickly. If, rather, they retained the core of their wealth, then it will generate even more wealth to distribute. Paul is more-or-less saying this.
At one time, for a period of about six years, I was sustained quarterly by kind gifts sent by the Ministers’ Aid Society. These were well received and used properly. But, there came a time when I had to stop the gifts. It was not because I no longer need help, but because I knew their funds were short and other ministers might benefit even more. I felt that God would provide in other ways, and this He has done thus far. So, I did not wish to be eased, anesis, whilst my benefactors became poorer. This was not ‘noble’, but a listening to God’s will.
Another principle arises from this section of the epistle: that in giving we should not cause ourselves to be poverty stricken or put into a position of strife. I was roundly rebuked some years ago by respected ministers, because I was being given financial help and then passing on that help to someone else, leaving myself in the same position I was in before I had been given the help!
I thought I was doing the right thing, but, as I was reminded, I was given help from God that I might gather in strength as a minister. By having such strength I could go on to give even greater help than was available through mere cash. Thoroughly admonished, I took this to heart, though I admit that at first I suffered pangs of conscience by not sharing what I was given. Only then did I see the overall benefit of retaining gifts for my own use.
Paul said his desire was that there should be an ‘equality’ at the present time. He wanted isotes, fairness and equity. Not always, but “at this time”, so there were people who needed immediate help. This position may not last forever, so the Corinthians were not just to give away their cash all the time. The emphasis is on being ready to do so out of a willing heart.
Right now, says Paul, they had an abundance of riches that would be a supply to the want of others. In return those they helped could give them spiritual benefits that would enrich them spiritually. So, both received something from each other, and there was ‘equality’. As Paul puts it (verse 15) the rich man gave away what was extra and the poor were not in need.
Where is this mutual care in our churches? Where is the love that should underline the care? Where is the action that arises from true care and love? If it is given, is the care generous and without restraint, given willingly? Or, is it given reluctantly because others are watching? God said He was sick of sacrifices… surely that includes ‘sacrifices’ we think we make, which are nothing more than offerings of pride and sin.
On several occasions (once a year) when I was unemployed, my family received a small cardboard box with a few fruit and vegetables from Harvest Thanksgiving services. I was grateful for all help, but was also strangely embarrassed. Why? Because our poverty was known (evidenced by the box of food) and yet help was given only once a year, sufficient for one meal. Also, the food only came to us because it would otherwise be thrown out, not specifically because we were known to be in need. I say this after such periods have been over for many years, so I have no axe to grind. It is how Paul might have responded to the ‘sacrifices’ of modern day Christians, as he rebuked them for giving out of the spare change in their pocket, rather than out of their bank balances, sufficient to make a real difference.
It is true to say that some are in poverty for life, not because of the need for huge amounts of cash, but because of the need for an amount that others could easily have spared if their hearts were open to God. In my own case, at the time, that amount was below £2000 (it is now much greater!). But, because of lack of help from any source, this amount grew exponentially, and so the suffering and anxiety continued non-stop. At the time I heard of one Christian paying more than £2000 on ‘extras’ for himself after my family had endured poverty for over 17 years! This is my observation, not an accusation or even a grumble! It is just very sad.
I watch as so many Christians with extra income buy unecessarily expensive goods and put it away in savings, whilst some of their fellow brethren suffer daily. With lack of cash comes bad health and more poverty. Where are the Christians with extra cash? They are there all the time, but have no conscience, for their hearts and minds are not given totally to God. This is what Paul is talking about, and the same conditions apply today.
“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.”
As we have seen, the richer Christian gave from his excess, and the poorer Christian had no want, because they all gave to each other. Titus saw the need and decided by his own initiative to help, by distributing wealth. If the poor of Macedonia could do this, then, says Paul, surely the far richer Corinthians can do likewise? God caused Titus to come to them with the message of generosity, so that they could add to the benefits and gifts given to them by God.
“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.”
No-one knows who the ‘brother’ is in this text. It might be one of the great apostles already known to us, such as Barnabas or Timothy. It might be one we have not heard of. All we know is that he was a minister known throughout the churches for his godly teaching and work. Such was the man’s spiritual status all the churches chose him to travel with Paul and the others, on his preaching journeys.
He went with Paul, too, to help ‘administer… this grace’ (verse 19) as deacons in the Church. In this case, to give the churches what was needed by them; not just money, but mainly spiritual food. This ‘grace’ or gift was God’s gift to all the churches, through the apostles and their helpers. In doing this, Paul did not wish to be blamed or found at fault, momaomai, or to have wrongly misused funds, being a disgrace, momos.
He wished to ‘avoid’, stello, (not be a part of) such slurs. The man spoken of was there to see that everything was above board and open, and Paul was only too happy for this to be done, so the Gospel did not suffer from complaints of mismanagement of funds (verse 20, 21). It was important, as it still is, that those within the churches should have confidence in those who were their ministers. It was also important that the world should see them act properly, with open hands, guilty of no impropriety.
“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.”
Not only did Paul send Titus and ‘the brother’ to Corinth, but he also sent another ‘brother’, again without giving us a name. All we know is that this second brother was also well chosen and trusted, being diligent, or zealous and earnest in his faith. This second brother was now even more zealous in his task on behalf of Paul to the Corinthians.
Paul tells the elders of Corinth (who would have received this Epistle) to tell anyone who asks, that Titus is his trusted fellow-labourer. The others he sent, including the two un-named brothers, were messengers or apostolos, apostles of the churches, acting on their behalf, and on the behalf of Christ. Their credentials, then, were the highest.
Because of this, says Paul, they were to be shown the love of God, as proof not only of the true spiritual state of the Corinthian, but also of the trust placed in the position of the Corinthians talked of by Paul. Do not let me down, he urges! Show them I am right! Do you let your pastor down by acting out sin he says is not present in you? Do you secretly do things he knows nothing about and which undermines his teaching to you? Beware, for God does not sleep and will sometime expose your sin. Be true. Be worthy. And be full of grace.
© May 2003 (Revised January 2017)