Click here for a print-friendly version
Global Economic Justice
Summer Quarter: Justice in the New Testament
Unit 3: Paul Teaches About New Life in Christ
Sunday school lesson for the week of August 12, 2018
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell
Scripture Lesson: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (CEB)
Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8; 9
Purpose: To identify the reason and ways of living generous lives in Christ.
7Be the best in this work of grace in the same way that you are the best in everything, such as faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment, and the love we inspired in you. 8 I’m not giving an order, but by mentioning the commitment of others, I’m trying to prove the authenticity of your love also. 9 You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty. 10 I’m giving you my opinion about this. It’s to your advantage to do this, since you not only started to do it last year but you wanted to do it too. 11 Now finish the job as well so that you finish it with as much enthusiasm as you started, given what you can afford. 12 A gift is appreciated because of what a person can afford, not because of what that person can’t afford, if it’s apparent that it’s done willingly. 13 It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality. 14 At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality. 15As it is written, The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little.
“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
The Adult Bible Studies Summer 2018 Series
’ author asks the teacher to begin the lesson by reflecting on how acts of generous living have been demonstrated throughout the centuries as a part of Christianity. The author tells us that Paul used Jesus’ lead, which sets high expectations for modern-day people who want to follow Jesus. For this lesson, consider the guiding question: “How do generosity and faith dovetail?”
The text in context
According to the author, many scholars believe that our lesson text, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, is Paul’s appeal to the church in Corinth to finish their offering for the Christian church in Jerusalem, which was suffering from a severe famine. However, Chapter 8 begins with praise to those churches in Macedonia such as Thessalonica, Philippi, and possibly Berea. The author says Paul’s expression of praise for those churches was probably used to encourage the work of offering that the Corinthian church had already started but needed to finish. To teach this lesson in a way that promotes great understanding, the author suggests dividing 2 Corinthians 8 into three interconnecting segments:
- The first segment highlights the generosity of the Macedonia churches. “We want to let you know about the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1). Paul’s use of the word “grace” was to encourage them to continue to follow Christ’s example of giving.
- The second segment, Chapter 8, verses 7-15 (lesson text) is communicated as the “request,” or appeal, to those persons of faiths and their sense of generosity to give in the Corinthian church.
- The third segment, verses 16-24, is conveyed as the “recommendation,” “a letter of introduction” for Titus, a Gentile convert. He sent Titus to collect offerings from the Corinthian church for the starving poor in Jerusalem.
The writer says that “The Collection” is known by the Gentiles as their offering and was intended for the saints in Jerusalem and uses Paul’s writing as examples: “Macedonia and Achaia have been happy to make a contribution for the poor among God’s people in Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26), and his writing in Galatians 2:10 references the issues of suffering, especially the famine, in the church at Jerusalem. The writer conveys that in Judaism, those in need would primarily obtain “alms” from a specific person. However, Paul’s at-large vision was for the community to collectively give and care for the marginalized.
The thread of Paul’s argument
2 Corinthians 8:7
The writer conveys that Paul used words that would “curry” (“to secure the approval of another person … by bloated politeness … flattery in speech) favor from the Corinthians in prodding them to give and also used this style of speech in sermons in the New Testament. In this case, it was done in this letter in which Paul used words like “faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment,” and the “love we inspired in you.” To illustrate this point, the writer refers to Paul’s writing in Acts 17 in which he tried to secure the favor of the unfamiliar audience in Athens, the intellectual elite. He said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God’” (Acts17:22-23). However, the writer conveys that Paul “was deeply distressed to find that the city was flooded with idols” (verse 16). The author uses this as an example to express how Paul was not pleased with the sculptures of idols, but he used his observations to his speaking advantage to “curry” favor by praising the Athenians.
The heart of the argument
The author conveys that the main issue was about money, and it was likely a sensitive matter as it is so often today. This is why Paul first addressed them by saying that he was not writing an order to them but suggested the example of other believers’ giving to the poor in Jerusalem. In verse 8, he offers them the chance to prove their authentic love. He also phrased the offering as “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” to help them understand that their offering was for the larger mission, the spreading of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. To this point, Paul followed up in Verse 9 with Jesus as an example, “Although he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty.” The writer says that often this phrase is understood about Jesus’ fiscal poverty (born in a stable, nowhere to lay his head), but makes the point that it more so pertains to Jesus’ poverty to the Incarnation.
The writer communicates that “As the Son of God, Jesus gave up his divinity by taking the form of human being,” and that Paul occasionally pointed to Jesus’ incarnation to express theological views; such as “Jesus Christ and … him as crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Also, Paul used Philippians 2:7 as Jesus’ incarnate reminder to the church, noting that Jesus “emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.” The point is that Jesus was selfless in his sacrifice to the point that he would give up wealth and privilege to relate to those who were poor and marginalized in his time. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
In today’s society, where do we see acts of selfless sacrifice beyond those who are immediate family members?
Paul continues his claim
Again, we see in verse 10 that Paul is careful to define his statement about their giving as an opinion and not a command: “I’m giving you my opinion.” The author surmises that some in the church had questions about the collection of the offering, and Paul was addressing their questions because it was apparent that their desire to give had faded. Paul reminded them, “It’s to your advantage to do this, since you not only started to do it last year but you wanted to do it too. Now finish the job as well so that you finish it with as much enthusiasm as you started, given what you can afford” (verses 10-11). The text shows us that Paul continued in his “currying” for them to give and finished with what they had started using praise about how they initially shined with enthusiasm. He continues his argument with more practical statements that would appeal to them. Paul tells them in verses 13-14, “It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality. At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality.” Paul is guiding the people in the Corinthian church to be open in their giving to the poor in Jerusalem, which could eventually be reciprocated to the Corinthian church.
How has the church given to other churches, organizations, and entities, locally, nationally, and globally? In what ways do we see the blessings of those acts of giving?
In conclusion, the author states that Paul had a “worldwide” vision for the church of Jesus Christ by having the Macedonian and Corinthian Gentile Christians helping the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, part of Ephesians is accomplished: Jesus “broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us” (Ephesians 2:14).
In what ways have we as a society allowed “hatred” to divide us in caring and giving to the least of these? How can we meet their needs and help them to sustain?
Abba, we pray that we are open and remain open to giving to those that are in need as your Son Jesus Christ has modeled for us. Let us receive the teachings of the Apostle Paul that have demonstrated to us how to be a blessing to others as well. Amen.
Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “Adult Bible Studies, Series Summer 2018, Justice in the New Testament” is used for the content of this lesson.