Care for Others
Many centuries have elapsed since the gospel of God’s grace was first preached. So how do we, in a day of religious freedom and an open Bible, measure against the walk and practice of those first Christians? Do we match them, or do we fall short? Some things have not changed: the apostolic doctrines then taught have come down to our day, and the Holy Spirit abides with us as much as He abode with them. Certainly the time of miracles and tongues has passed, but the Word of God is still preached—the very same Word that acted so powerfully on the hearts of the first converts, drawing Jew and Gentile together by the Spirit into a unique brotherhood in the one body of Christ.
We see a beautiful example of this bond in 2 Cor. 8–9. A time of need in Judea gave occasion for a display of the oneness that exists between saints everywhere. The cause of the distress is not recorded for us, except that the collection was “for the poor of the saints who [are] in Jerusalem” (Rom. 15: 26). Nor are we given the names of those needing help—indeed it is likely that those who assisted them knew no more of their personal history than we do. Similarly, the names of those in Macedonia and Achaia who subscribed to the relief fund have not been preserved either, although we know enough about them for our purpose here. They heard that some of God’s saints were in difficulty. That for them was sufficient. As believers on the same Lord they owned the tie with their brethren in Judea, and claimed the privilege of helping them.
The saints in need were of Jewish origin, the saints who helped them were, for the most part, drawn out of the Gentiles. How completely in their case had the enmity between Jew and Gentile ceased to exist and the two been formed practically “into one new man” (Eph. 2: 15)! Had the apostle asked for help from the philosophers of the Areopagus (see Acts 17: 16–34) would his bowl have been filled? Would those Epicureans and Stoics have been moved to benevolence on behalf of the distressed Jews at Jerusalem? The Greeks would have treated with coldness any appeal to aid Barbarians they had never seen: they would not have impoverished themselves for the sake of hungry people far from their shores. Yet these Macedonian converts liberally contributed aid to the saints in Judea. Such was the Christianity of NT times. So do we measure up, or is our outlook more restricted? Do we think of the one body, or do we, as it were, make a “difference between us and them” (Acts 15: 9)—for whatever reason?
Poor in themselves and under great pressure too, these Macedonians gave what they could, not begrudgingly, but generously: “the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty has abounded to the riches of their [free–hearted] liberality” (2 Cor. 8: 2). That the rich should give was not so surprising, but that the poor should contribute liberally despite their poverty, was unheard of. Paul had not urged this on them as a duty: God’s love had simply acted on their hearts as new creatures in Christ. Indeed, they not only gave up to their measure, but they gave beyond it: “according to [their] power, I bear witness, and beyond [their] power” (v3). To give according to their power was a big thing in itself. It means that having righteously discharged all their proper living expenses, they then gave up to the limit of their ability. They did not stop there, however. They gave beyond their power—that is, they denied themselves their own daily needs to give to the Lord and His people. Is our giving like this? The writer can only speak for himself and in answer hang his head. Perhaps we need reminding that “he that sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that sows in [the spirit of] blessing shall reap also in blessing” (2 Cor. 9: 6). There was reality with these Macedonian saints. If their brethren in Judea were suffering, then they would suffer with them (comp. 1 Cor. 12: 26). So urgent were the Macedonians about the matter that they were “begging” the apostle “with much entreaty [to give effect to] the grace and fellowship of the service which [was to be rendered] to the saints” (2 Cor. 8: 4). They were desperate to participate in this practical expression of God’s grace. Why did they have this extraordinary zeal? Because they “gave themselves first to the Lord” (v5). This is the secret of ready service: The Lord had their hearts first, and then all they possessed was at His disposal. May we not perceive a lack on our part here? We give meanly, even “grievingly, or of necessity” (2 Cor. 9: 7) because the Lord is not properly enthroned in our hearts. It is one thing to sing ‘All to Jesus I surrender’ and quite another to mean it!
What then of the assemblies in Achaia? Those in Macedonia had contributed—would those in Achaia also help? Certainly they had promised, for “Achaia”, Paul writes “is prepared since a year ago, and the zeal [reported] of you has stimulated the mass [of the brethren]” (v2). There had been a commendable declaration of intent, such that it had even served to stimulate others, but the time for words alone was over: “But now also complete the doing of it; so that as [there was] the readiness to be willing, so also to complete out of what ye have” (2 Cor. 8: 11). The time had come for “proving the genuineness of your love” (v8). Ultimately, action is what counts, and this is where you and I are tested. “Hereby we have known love, because he has laid down his life for us; and we ought for the brethren to lay down [our] lives. But whoso may have the world’s substance, and see his brother having need, and shut up his bowels from him, how abides the love of God in him?” (1 John 3: 16, 17). Though the Corinthians abounded “in every way, in faith, in word, and knowledge” this was not enough. The apostle would have them “abound in this grace also” (2 Cor. 8: 7). Let us take this to heart as well, and be practical Christians!
“A year ago”, Paul writes, the Corinthians were not only ready to contribute, but “willing” (v10). It was not forced work with these believers. As a willing offering he desired their help as each was disposed in heart, “for God” he reminds them, “loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9: 7). It was not to be a burden on any, or a regular tithe, but saints were to help saints as each had need: “in the present time your abundance for their lack, that their abundance may be for your lack” (2 Cor. 8: 14). The stream of abundance was to be directed into the channels which were the most empty, “so that there should be equality. According as it is written, He who [gathered] much had no excess, and he who [gathered] little was nothing short” (vs 14, 15). Thus what was true of Israel in the wilderness could now be true of those who belonged to different nations. Israel was as one family in the wilderness—the manna was for them all. Believers everywhere now form one body, so that the needs of those both far and near are to be ministered to as God should prosper their brethren. Christian giving is, of course, of grace and not of law, and so the apostle would not speak “as commanding [it]” but only seek to stimulate giving “through the zeal of others” (v8). The apostle calls the contribution a “blessing” (2 Cor. 9: 5), the Macedonians regarded the permission to join in it as a favour, and each one was asked to help as he was disposed. All is on the ground of according as each individual has “purposed in his heart” (v7).
From where did this readiness to give spring? Was it the natural benevolence of the human heart bubbling up? The apostle traces it all to its right source––God. It was “the grace of God bestowed in the assemblies of Macedonia” (2 Cor. 8: 1) and it was God who put “the same diligent zeal” (v16) in the heart of Titus for the Achaians. The saints at Jerusalem would give thanks “on account of the exceeding grace of God” (2 Cor. 9: 14) upon their brethren in Greece, a grace so vividly expressed in their “free–hearted liberality in communicating towards them” (v13). And the motive which thus moved in concert all hearts in Greece to aid those in want in Judea was simply this, that the Lord had impoverished Himself for them: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sakes he, being rich, became poor, in order that ye by his poverty might be enriched” (2 Cor. 8: 9). That was enough for these NT saints. Is it a sufficiently powerful motive for us in our day? If not, then we must ask ourselves whether we have sufficiently appreciated His giving.