Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 30, 2024

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Commentary

It’s probably a good thing that the Revised Common Lectionary offers preachers the opportunity to preach on this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson once every three years. Otherwise some of us might never feel emboldened to preach on what the apostles call “the grace of giving” (7).

Yet this is another text about which preaching on it easily devolves into “shouldy” preaching. Preaching on 2 Corinthians 8 easily devolves into a kind of Ann Landers advice column with a spiritual flavor. That’s in some ways understandable. The apostles spend much of 2 Corinthians 8 summoning their readers to “excel in” the “grace of giving.”

Yet the Bible is first of all a testimony to the character and activity of the Triune God. So preachers might begin a sermon on this text not with verse 7, but verse 9. There, after all, Paul and Timothy ground their calls to Christians’ generosity in the startling generosity of God in Jesus Christ.

“You know,” write the apostles in verse 9, “the grace [charin]* of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In doing so, they don’t claim Corinth’s Christians simply know about the Lord Jesus Christ’s grace. Paul and Timothy remind them that they know that grace, implying that the Christians in the Corinthian church have not just heard about God’s grace, but have also experienced it.

That grace, the apostles continue, manifested itself in the way “for your sake … though [Christ] was rich [plousios] he became poor [eptocheusen].” This is, of course, an allusion to the Second Person of the Trinity’s voluntary “impoverishment.”

Jesus’ impoverishment wasn’t, however, primarily material. Our Lord Jesus Christ “traded” all of the glory that he enjoyed in the heavenly realm for the reality of the life of an itinerant rabbi and the death of a common criminal. In fact, the New Testament scholar Jane Lancaster Patterson sees this impoverishment as especially manifest in Jesus’ crucifixion. “The cross,” she writes, “represents a total emptying out of the ‘riches’ of Jesus’ position as God’s beloved.”

Jesus did all that and more, Paul and Timothy celebrate, “so that you through his poverty [plocheia] might become rich [ploutesete].” While it may be tempting to think of Christians’ wealth as material, that’s almost certainly not what the apostles have in mind here.

Christians’ wealth to which the apostles refer almost certainly includes God’s grace that we’ve received with our faith.  But it also includes Jesus’ friends possession of eternal life, status as God’s adopted children and even the opportunity to share our material resources with those who have fewer of them.

Those who preach this text do well to look for a way to note how Paul and Timothy insist that Christ gave up everything for the Corinthians sake. This is extraordinary in light of the contentious nature of Corinth’s Christians to whom the apostles feel compelled to send a second letter. Paul and Timothy insist that Christ gave up everything so that even Jesus’ flawed friends might have everything.

So even Corinth’s less-than-holy Christians can, with the Spirit’s help, excel in the grace of giving. After all, God first excelled in the grace of giving to us. Christians’ willingness (11) to give generously is fueled by God’s willingness to give so generously to us. Christians’ “plenty” (12) that frees us to supply what our fellow Christians need is modeled on God’s plenty that God uses to meet all of our needs, and so often even what we want.

That helps the apostles’ readers to understand why Paul refers to giving as a “grace.” Jesus’ followers give generously not because those to whom we give deserve it. We, instead, give generously because God so generously first gave to us. Generosity is also a grace because without the Spirit’s help, none of us would give generously.

With that in mind, preachers can explore the specifics of the giving that the apostles address in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson. In verse 10 they note, “Last year you were the first not only to give [polesai] but also to have the desire [thelein] to do so.”

This at least implies that just a year earlier Corinthian Christians were model givers. Paul and Timothy, in fact, report that they weren’t just the first people to give generously. The Christians in Corinth were also the first to wish to give in that way.

“Now finish [epitelesate] the work [poiesai],” the apostles plead in verse 11, “so that your eager willingness to do it [prothymia tou thelein] may be matched by your completion of it [epitelesai].” “The best thing you can do right now,” The Message paraphrases them as telling Corinth’s Christians, “is to finish what you started and not let those good intentions grow stale.”

With verse 11’s reference to giving “according to your means [ek tou echein],” the apostles introduce a concept that’s central to their plea for generous giving. They don’t expect Corinth’s Christians’ generosity to impoverish them. Other Christians’ poverty doesn’t require that Corinth’s Christians give more than they can afford.

That’s, in fact, the gist of what Paul and Timothy add in verse 12: “If the willingness [prothymia] is there, the gift is acceptable [eusprodectos] according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” In other words, the Christians in Corinth’s generosity is literally “approved” if their willingness to share generously is present – no matter the size of their gift.

Paul and Timothy don’t expect them to give what they don’t have. In verse 13 the apostles write, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved [anesis] while you are hard pressed [thlipsis], but that there might be equality [isotetos].” After all, Jesus was “hard pressed” (9) in order that his friends don’t necessarily have to be.

In writing that, the apostles note that Corinth’s Christians aren’t free to be generous just because Jesus’ self-giving is their model. They can also be generous because they’re part of the mutually supportive body of Christ. “At the present time [nyn kairo] your plenty [hymon periseuma] will supply what they need [hysterema],” write the apostles in verse 14, “so that in turn their plenty [ekeinon periseuma] will supply what you need [hymon hysterema]. Then there will be equality [isotes].”

Some people to whom we preach have worked hard and saved carefully to get where they are materially. Any talk of self-sacrifice so that others can have enough seems to some like an economic theory some Christians distrust. That’s a reason why it’s so critical that preachers firmly anchor reflections on 2 Corinthians’ message about generosity in the self-giving of our Lord Jesus Christ. Focusing on Jesus’ impoverishment isn’t just a good way to begin a message or sermon on giving. It may also be the best way to end a message on generosity. Jesus, after all, gave everything without any expectation of return.

*I have here and elsewhere added in brackets the Greek words for the English words the NIV translation uses.


Few books deal more poignantly with themes of giving, generosity and hoarding than John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. One scene particularly shows how generosity can, in fact, be contagious.

In it Mae is working at a diner’s counter where two truckers sit when a migrant dad and two barefoot boys walk in. The dad approaches Mae. “Could you see your way to sell us a loaf of bread, ma’am? ?” Mae balks. “This ain’t a grocery store.  We got bread to make san’widges.” “I know ma’am,” says the man.  But we’re hungry and “there ain’t nothing for quite a piece they say.”

Mae is still balking. “If I sell you bread we’re going to run out.  Why’nt you buy a san’widge.  We got nice san’widges.  Hamburgs.” “We can’t afford san’widges,” says the man. “We got to make a dime do all of us.” Mae resists. “You can’t get no loaf of bread for a dime,” she says. “We only got fifteen-cent loafs.”

From behind her Al who’s working the diner’s grill growls, “God Almighty, Mae, give ’em bread.” She protests: “We’ll run out ‘fore the bread truck comes.” “Run out then … ” says Al. Mae opens a drawer, pulls out a loaf of bread, and says, “This here is a fifteen-cent loaf.” The man answered with what Steinbeck calls “inflexible humility, ‘Won’t you — can’t you see your way to cut off ten cents worth’?”  Al said snarlingly, “******* it, Mae, give ’em the loaf.”

When the man reaches into his pocket for a dime, a penny comes out with it. He then notices the two boys staring into the diner’s candy case not with what Steinbeck calls “craving, but just with a kind of wonder that such things could be.” The dad turns back to Mae. “How much is them sticks of peppermint candy?” he asks. “Is them penny candy, ma’am?”

The boys had stopped breathing as Mae answers.  “No,” she says.  “Them’s not penny candy.  Them’s two for a penny.”

The dad says OK, and he and the boys walk out of the diner and to their car, the boys “holding their candy down rigidly at their sides, not even daring to look at them.”

In the diner, one of the truckers wheels around toward Mae. “Them wasn’t two-for-a-cent candy,” he says. “What’s that to you,” says Mae. The truckers each place a coin on the counter and turn to leave. Mae calls at them, “Hey!  Wait a minute! You got change comin’.”  “You go to ****,” says Bill, and slams the screen door.

Mae goes to where the truckers had been sitting. She had expected their usual tip. But each man had left her a half-dollar. “Truck drivers,” says Mae reverently, as she fingers the coins. “Truck drivers,” and right “after them ****heels” took all my bread.


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