2 Corinthians 8:7-15
7Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.
12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little."
All Who Love and Serve Your City
1. All who love and serve your city,
all who bear its daily stress,
all who cry for peace and justice,
all who curse and all who bless,
2. In your day of loss and sorrow,
in your day of helpless strife,
honor, peace, and love retreating,
seek the Lord, who is your life.
5. Risen Lord! shall yet the city
be the city of despair?
Come today, our Judge, our Glory;
be its name, "The Lord is there!"
Tune: Charlestown, from The Southern Harmony. Words: Erik Routley © 1969 by Stainer & Bell Ltd., administered by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188
Epistles / Corinth
An epistle is written communication – basically a letter – addressed to a person or group, although these days some blogs probably qualify as epistolary. Examples? Dispatches from the Front Lines online or in print. Lead article in the church's or organization's newsletter in print and/or on social media.
In addition to seven letters the Apostle Paul wrote to various churches, the New Testament contains other epistles attributed to him, as well as letters that cite Peter, John, and James as author. Back then when they didn't have elaborate and necessary copyright laws, attributing your writing to a well-known person was commonplace and not considered dishonest. Besides, a famous name probably would get more readers. New Testament epistles received editings and annotations as they circulated to different churches, so every word and phrase might not be from the original writer. Paul's letters were earlier than any of the gospels, predating even Mark's Gospel that scholars consider the first one written down. Over the centuries, the church has derived a whole lot of its more formal theology from Paul.
Today's second reading from 2 Corinthians addresses the Church at Corinth that famously was full of vanity, competition, and divisions that reflected the opulent, worldly style of the city of Corinth. Particularly as it relates to money and finances, this passage is a default go-to for stewardship campaigns. However, Paul doesn't focus on balancing the budget of the Corinthian Church; instead, he's concerned about connections and relationships between local churches. In this section of the letter he wants the mostly gentile Corinthian congregation to provide financial assistance to the mostly Jewish Jerusalem church. Twenty-plus centuries later, different denominations have different polities or governance structures, but whether highly centralized like today's Church at Rome or almost autonomous local churches like some free-standing Baptists, we're all inter-related and interdependent in Jesus Christ.
Grace and Economics
All of 2 Corinthians 8 says a great deal about grace; for today, Greek for "generous undertaking" in verse 7 is gracious endeavor and charges the Corinthians to excel or abound in grace because of Jesus Christ's "generous act" that's simply grace in verse 9 – "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor" – and echoes Paul's earlier Philippians 2:6-7:
[Christ Jesus] had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!
The Message (MSG) © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
In Greek, economics literally is the law of the household. Although verse 14 reads, "…so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance…" Christian economics is both material and spiritual and it's never zero-sum with one party depleted if they give to another. For Paul of Tarsus, the gospel is death and resurrection, so not surprisingly he relates the meaning and impact of gifts of cash in the light (and in the shadow) of Jesus' death and resurrection.
This reading easily expands to spiritual and material gifts of service, prayer, compassion, food, presence, clothing, facilities maintenance, knowledge, and other specialties as COVID-19 hopefully wanes and the world opens up. Stewardship and giving need to encompass (1) cash ("legal tender") to exchange for stuff we need but can't produce ourselves; (2) time we need to get things done; (3) talents we apply (spend – you may remember a talent was a chunk of money in Jesus' day) toward ongoing or one-time only ministries. And, of course, stewardship of God's gracious gifts incorporates intelligence, prayer, scripture study, and – to all outward appearances – doing nothing as we wait to discern and learn what's next for us.
I love how we see this scripture in action as G7 democracies pledge to gift COVID vaccines to less developed countries that can't produce or afford to buy their own.