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Our general idea of fellowship is usually the socializing we participate in while at church. These are common types of fellowship but not the only kinds described in the Bible.

In our last section we saw Paul reviewing different facets of his ministry in order to compare his work with the work of those teachers who were challenging his legitimacy as an Apostle and creating dissension among the Corinthians. His purpose was to convince the Corinthians to judge him, not on what the false teachers were saying about him, but to judge him based on the work he did among them.

Paul also wants to retain the fellowship that they used to share, and it is this that he appeals to in the final verses of the passage. This will also serve as a bridge for the discussion about fellowship that he will begin in the next section.

Meaning of Fellowship

This passage deals with fellowship, but not with the kind of fellowship that we are normally accustomed to. Our general idea of fellowship is usually the socializing we participate in while at church, or getting together to share a meal with our Christian friends. These are common types of fellowship but not the only kinds described in the Bible.

The word fellowship comes from a Greek word which means to share, to participate or to associate with. Under these various meanings the word fellowship could refer to:

In II Corinthians, Paul discusses the kind of fellowship that involves sharing in order to help others. In this particular chapter he will review some of the events connected to a special collection he is organizing, and teach them about the Christian attitude regarding this type of fellowship (or sharing).

Background

In the middle of all this letter writing, in order to deal with the ones causing trouble at Corinth, there was also the matter of a special collection for the poor that Paul was pursuing (Acts 11:27-30; Romans 15:26; I Corinthians 16:1-3). Part of Paul's overall mission work was to collect money for the poor brethren in Judea, and we see him mentioning this benevolent effort in several of his letters. This was an ongoing ministry that he was directing in all of the churches. The collection of funds had been started at Corinth some time before the writing of Paul's first letter to them.

When the first letter was written, Paul included instructions as to the manner the money was to be collected and the spirit with which the people should give. The Corinthians had corrected many things based on that letter but it seemed that Paul's rebuke had slowed down the preparations for that collection (harsh preaching is often met with resistance in the pocketbook).

In the second letter Paul talks about the opportunity to reawaken their "fellowship" or participation in this special project. He will do this by comparing their giving with the giving of other churches, and then compare both of these with what he will describe as the ideal in Christian giving.

Macedonian Fellowship — II Corinthians 8:1-6

In I Corinthians 16:5 Paul mentions that he would be going through Macedonia on his way to Corinth. In Romans 15:26 he writes that these churches shared with him, and he boasts of their generosity in his letter to the Philippian church (Philippians 4:15). In II Corinthians he mentions the generosity of these churches as an example to the Corinthians, who have had a false start in their "fellowship" or sharing regarding the special collection.

1Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia,

He introduces the idea.

2that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.

He describes their situation and attitude in this matter of giving. Their generosity was amazing in light of their suffering. Usually, when people are suffering, it is not a good time to remind them or ask them to help others, but these brethren, even though they were suffering various trials:

  • Gave generously (more than expected).
  • Gave more than they could afford (gave sacrificially).
  • Gave enthusiastically (asked to participate).
  • Gave sincerely, first in obedience and holiness to the Lord, then gave their means to the brethren (their giving was the outgrowth of a holy life).

These Macedonians had mastered the virtue of Christian giving (fellowship/sharing) so well that Paul held them up as an example of what giving should be like.

Corinthian Fellowship — II Corinthians 8:7-9:5

Paul reminds the Corinthians of their own original commitment and possibly the reasoning that motivated them to begin with.

7But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.

He acknowledges the gifts and talents they already posses and encourages them to raise their giving to the standards they already have in other areas.

8I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.

Paul says that he does not command that this collection be made, he does not want their giving to be out of compliance but rather as a proof of their love, like it was for the Macedonians (talk is cheap, money talks loudest; and when it comes to proving love and sincerity, the area of giving is an unmistakable indication of one's love and genuiness). The Apostle is giving the Corinthians a chance to demonstrate, in a concrete way, what they have claimed verbally.

9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

The prime example, of course, is Jesus who endured the humiliation of the cross in order to save us. His wealth was His divine position, His poverty was His suffering and death as a human. Our wealth is that, because of Him, we will enjoy eternal life with God in heaven.

10I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. 11But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability.

Paul makes a direct reference to the fact that they were the ones who originally offered to help. It was a good thing that they desired to do (this is a key ingredient in Christian fellowship/sharing) however, it will not advantage them if they do not complete what they started.

12For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.

He explains an important principle in Christian giving. If a person wants to give, God accepts his gift in relationship to what he has, not to how poor he is. Not having a lot to give is balanced and made acceptable by a willing heart. This is what makes a poor man's gift equal to a rich man's gift, his willingness.

13For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality— 14at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; 15as it is written, "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack."

Paul does not want to make the Jerusalem brethren rich at their expense. He wants them to share what they have so all can have a portion. He also suggests that the tables may be turned one day (this can also refer to the fact that they needed the gospel that once came from Jerusalem, and now Jerusalem needs food that comes from them). In any case, the idea is that sharing from a willing heart is a sign of sincere love, and will produce balance and equality among the brethren.

He quotes Exodus 16:18 to demonstrate this equality in action. When God fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna, He arranged it so that no matter how much was gathered, no one had more than a day's supply. The rich and poor, large families and small, the young and strong along with the elderly and sick had enough to eat each day, for only that day. All were equally provided for.

Details About the Collection — II Corinthians 8:16-9:5

Now that he has encouraged them regarding their original commitment, Paul will explain the procedure being used to collect the money and who had been given charge over it.

16But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus. 17For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord.

Titus, one of Paul's helpers in ministry, has recently come from Corinth and Paul is sending him back there to organize the collecting of this money. He is going of his own accord, anxious to carry out this new assignment.

18We have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; 19and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness, 20taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; 21for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.

In addition to Titus, Paul is sending another brother of good reputation selected by other churches (known to them but not us), who will vouch for the work and serve as one who guarantees that all will be done in an honorable way. Paul is careful not to give his accusers any reason to cause any more trouble.

22We have sent with them our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things, but now even more diligent because of his great confidence in you.

He mentions yet another brother who will be traveling with them as well.

23As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ. 24Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.

He encourages the Corinthians to receive and work with these men, reminding them that the other churches (who appointed the brethren) will be observing the events taking place in Corinth.

1For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints; 2for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, so that, as I was saying, you may be prepared; 4otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to speak of you—will be put to shame by this confidence. 5So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.

Paul now explains why he is making these arrangements for the collection. He has motivated the other churches in this matter by boasting of the Corinthians' willingness to give. The other churches have given. He is now sending this delegation ahead of time to prepare the offering so that when he comes, there will be no embarrassments (especially if he brings with him some Macedonian brothers who have themselves given based on Corinth's enthusiasm). He also wants their attitude to be right, that no one think that he is forcing them (out of greed) for money, but that it be a free will and generous offering.

Christian Fellowship — II Corinthians 9:6-15

Paul now summarizes the essence of Christian fellowship or giving, as it is done to please God.

6Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

Some media "evangelists," eager to get rich, have interpreted this section to mean that, "The more money you give to me, the more God will bless you with health and business success, etc."

7Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; 9as it is written,"He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness endures forever."
10Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.

Here, Paul explains the actual way that God blesses the abundant giver. First, he repeats the idea that attitude is so important. Being a willing and a cheerful giver is the first priority. The giving must not be motivated by guilt, compulsion, fear, doubt or manipulation. The acceptable way to give is to first consider carefully what to give, then decide freely to give it and finally, offer it as a "gift" because we are usually happy when offering a gift.

The more a Christian gives in this manner, the more God will provide in order to give again. God has many good works reserved for us to do and He will honor those people who understand that their blessings are not for hoarding or wasting, but for investing in the kingdom. God will provide everything a Christian needs in order to live, and even supply extra to do good works.

12For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. 13Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, 14while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you.

The bonus was that the doing of good through giving by these Christians was not only providing for the poor in Jerusalem, this giving also provoked an outpouring of thanksgiving to God because of the generosity of these brethren. A win-win-win-win situation:

  1. The poor were fed.
  2. The contributors were blessing the poor and storing up blessings for themselves.
  3. The church was being built up by the witness of the Corinthians who were proving that their faith was sincere.
  4. God was being thanked and praised by all.
15Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Paul sees this entire situation as an opportunity to rejoice and does so in the final verse.

Reading Assignment:  II Corinthians 10:1-13:14

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Gerry Bell, Elder,
Saskatoon, Canada - Gravelbourg Church of Christ