Paul wanted to encourage the believers in Corinth to give generously to the collection he had organized for the poor believers in Judea. He appealed to the tendency of the Corinthian Christians to think of themselves as better than others. “Since as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving” (8:7). Some of the Corinthians boasted about superior faith, speech and knowledge. Paul says they should also strive to be sincere, loving and generous. They should demonstrate their faith by the way they live.
“I am not commanding you,” Paul says, “but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others” (8:8). Paul did not tell them how much to give, but he would know how much they gave, and their quantity would be a reflection of their quality.
Many people today do not want to be compared to others, especially when it comes to donations, but Paul apparently felt that Corinth would be helped by a comparison. Their contributions showed their sincerity.
Paul then used the supreme example, Jesus: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (8:9). Although Jesus enjoyed equality with God, he willingly gave it up to save us (Phil. 2:5-8). He became a curse for us so that we might escape the curse and be blessed instead (Gal. 3:13).
Through Christ’s willingness to give, we share in his riches. Grace is not an abstract theory — it is practical. It had physical results in the life of Jesus, and it should have physical results in our lives, too.
According to ability
Paul then appealed to the Corinthians’ previous generosity: “And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it” (8:10-11). In other words, keep up the good work.
Paul then added a qualification: “according to your means” (8:11). Give according to your ability, for God looks on the heart, on the willingness, not the amount. “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (8:12).
Paul did not want the Corinthians to impoverish themselves (there was probably little risk of that), but for them to share some of their material blessings. “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality” (8:13). If the wealthy Corinthians aimed for equality and gave according to their ability, their gift would be generous.
At that time, they had plenty and could share. But the time might come when they would be needy, and other Christians would then give to them. “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality” (8:14).
Paul then adds a quote: “As it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little’” (8:15; Ex. 16:18). This quote is from the story of gathering manna in the wilderness; it is not about people sharing with one another. Paul quotes it not as a proof, but as a proverbial saying that illustrates equality.
Author: Michael Morrison, 2001, 2013