We have seen that Paul has some detractors in Corinth. In an effort to win over these disaffected believers at Corinth, Paul appeals to them to listen to him and Timothy as God’s servants and messengers. And he refers to them as God’s partners. Paul is literally saying as we work together. This could be the apostleship team working together or it may mean as they do the Lord’s bidding. Paul quotes Isaiah 49:8 here and it serves to clinch the point that God’s offer of salvation could secure reconciliation between Paul and the Corinthians. Their reconciliation with Paul would follow naturally from their true acceptance of the Good News. What follows from Paul is a description of the hardships of his ministry. He lists nine trials, many of which have been recorded in the Book of Acts. Through their steadfast suffering for the Good News, Paul and Timothy showed that they were true ministers of God. He faced suffering with strength that could only come from the Holy Spirit within him. His character as an apostle was often attacked and he and his colleagues were even called imposters. But Paul was honest in spite of people’s attitudes. They must have thought that Paul was a nobody who could be safely ignored, a foolhardy person who ran unnecessary risks that made him as good as dead already. Paul rebuts each of their allegations with insight into spiritual reality.
Paul pleaded with the Corinthians to restore their relationships, and that Paul and company had great love for the Corinthians but this was not being reciprocated. Paul’s heart was open. Would the Corinthians open theirs. And then Paul changes directions! This discussion picks up, again at the beginning of chapter 7. But first there is the issue of the temple of the Living God. Some see this as a diversion while others see a progression and challenge to the Corinthians to forsake their opposition to Paul and his message. Paul was anxious to see relationships restored and he draws a picture of believers in Christ forming a holy temple. Believers’ identity as the temple of God motivates the need for harmony among them as well as separation from the impurity of unbelieving attitudes and behaviors. Paul draws the contrast between Christian and pagan morality with quotations from the Old Testament. Paul’s first warning here is that believers not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. This alludes to the Jewish prohibition of certain mixtures, like two different types of fabric, but Paul is really referring to how the Corinthians had been involving themselves in the idolatrous practices of the pagans. Today we speak of being unequally yoked if a believer marries a a non believer. His next warning is about the evil one whom he refers to as belial. This name means one who is evil, wicked and causes destruction. This is the only place in scripture this is used of the evil one. The word can also mean worthless, or good for nothing. Paul tells all of us that believers together are the temple of the living God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is a reminder of the believers relationship to the Lord and since the Holy Spirit was living in them, they were God’s new dwelling place. Make no mistake, Paul is not encouraging isolation or separation from unbelievers. What he is doing is discouraging any sort of compromise with unbelievers. He was encouraging them to maintain integrity.
Paul wanted the church to be a holy people, filled with God’s presence. And because we fear the Lord we should be reverent in the presence of a holy God. He asks again that their relationship be restored, maintaining that he and his traveling companions have done nothing wrong nor have they taken advantage of anyone. Paul had a deep concern for all of the churches which was expressed by a close bond of fellowship. When he was misunderstood, he explained his actions just like he did here with the Corinthians. Even amid the struggles, Paul has confidence in the people, along with great pride. All of his troubles could refer to problems with just the Corinthians or it might refer to his many hardships in general. Either way, Paul is greatly encouraged and filled with joy because of the churches response. This joy leads Paul into a discussion about his recent meeting with Titus, whose presence was a joy when he and Paul met up in Macedonia. Initially Paul had no rest; also translated peace of mind; but only conflicts, battles, and fear. Paul was deeply discouraged, but he received encouragement from God, who encourages those who are discouraged. Titus arrived from Corinth with the News that Paul’s letter had done its work. This was the chief cause of Paul’s joy. Paul admitted that he was sorry at first for sending the letter but that had changed. Now he was not sorry, realizing that the pain had been worthwhile because the severe letter had brought the church in Corinth to repentance. They had rebuked the offending person, maybe even too strongly. Two kinds of sorrow are mentioned here. The first is worldly sorrow that lacks repentance which leads to spiritual death. The second is sorrow that leads us away from sin which leads to salvation as it did in the church in Corinth when they responded positively to Paul’s rebuke. The way the Corinthians had welcomed and obeyed Titus as Paul’s agent endeared the Corinthians to Titus and delighted Paul. The crisis at Corinth was over and Paul had complete confidence that all was well. All along Paul had been optimistic, despite his fears, about the outcome of Titus’s trip to Corinth.
Chapters 8-9 revolve around the collection for the Jerusalem church. This relief fund was intended for the poverty stricken Saints in the holy city. Paul had earlier given instructions about this matter and now it was time to collect the funds. He hoped this gift from Gentile congregations to the Jewish church would cement relations between the two groups in the early Christian community. The churches in Macedonia included the church in Philippi, which we know from the Book of Acts and Philippians, was being tested by many troubles and was very poor. Yet they were generous in sending gifts to Paul and in supporting the collection. Titus would start taking up the collection when he returned to Corinth carrying this letter from Paul in Macedonia. Chapter 8:7 is the key verse in Paul’s exposition on Christian giving. The Corinthians had a reputation for spiritual gifts. Now they must be leaders in this gracious act of giving, which is a hallmark of true spirituality. God had been lavish in His goodness to the Corinthians, so they should also be generous to the Jewish believers in their need. This would be recognized as a sign of unity in Christ. The model for generous giving is Christ Himself, who was rich in the Father’s presence yet became poor by accepting a human existence and death on the cross. By that self giving sacrifice, He could make people rich with the blessings of salvation.
Paul does not command the Corinthians to give but he is testing their generosity and whether or not they will keep their word. His letter is to be dated at least one year after 1 Corinthians since Paul is speaking about finishing what they had begun the year prior. He reminded then that had plenty and there were those brothers and sisters who had little or nothing. The quote in 8:15 comes from Exodus 16:18. Paul uses this quote to say that there is a mutual responsibility among Christians. Affluent believers like the Corinthians should help poor believers so that all might have enough. Paul was sending two other men back with Titus so that there would be no reason or cause for criticism over the handling of the relief funds they collected. Titus himself was a man of sterling character and one that all the churches praised. He and his companions would ensure that the money was properly handled. The identity of the two men is unknown. Chapter eight ends with Paul saying Titus and the other two bring honor to Christ. The Greek literally says they are the glory of Christ. They are examples of Christians who reflect the Lord’s splendor.
There are two motives that reinforce the spirit of giving. Paul wanted them to emulate the Macedonians, who in their poverty had gone over and above what they could give. And, Paul didn’t want to be put to shame after bragging about the Corinthians generosity to the Macedonians. For us today, we are also called to give generously, perhaps even some sacrificially. The best part of all is that God has CHOSEN you and I to give. We get to give out of our thanksgiving for what God had done for us and given to us. We get to be a part of something that is way bigger than ourselves. And what we give is really just us returning to the Lord a portion of what is His anyway. To ensure they timely gathering of the collection at Corinth, Paul would send the delegates in advance to make sure the fight you promised is ready. Paul is holding them accountable for the pledge they had already made. He used the law of the harvest to illustrate his point. If you sow sparingly you will reap sparingly. If you sow bountifully then you will also reap bountifully. Giving is like sowing seed. The amount of the harvest is determined by the amount of seed sown. A farmer who expects a rich harvest must sow many seeds. If we want to effect the kingdom by what we give then we must give accordingly. And remember, EVERYBODY can give something. Otherwise we are telling the Lord we do not trust Him to provide for us in our needs. It is the spirit of giving that counts. Paul says God loves a cheerful giver, but He will take money from a grouch. Cheerfulness in giving is contrasted with giving reluctantly (out of sorrow) or in response to pressure. The quote from Psalm 112:9 reminds us that God, who provides for all human needs, will reward generosity.
The Corinthians generosity would be matched by God’s generosity. It would also meet the needs of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. It would honor God, show the believers in Jerusalem that their Gentile brothers and sisters were genuine believers, and result in the Jewish believers intercessory prayer and affection for the Gentile believers. Paul envisioned a united, worldwide Christian church, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles who are all one in Christ Jesus. This would become a powerful witness to the Lord’s work of reconciliation.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W