Monday, September 19, 2011

2 Corinthians 8: Money, The New Covenant's Manna

Paul devotes a lot of space to the issues of money and generosity in 2 Corinthians 8. His main argument in the chapter is that Jesus Christ became poor so that they may become rich (2 Cor 8:9), so have the same heart, go and do likewise (2 Cor 8:10-11). There may be a little surprise in what Paul is saying here, for he says he is not giving them a new command (2 Cor 8:8), but rather promoting the love for their brothers in Christ they ought to have had (John 13:34).

Paul could have stopped there and told them to be generous because Christ has been supremely generous with us and, frankly, he commanded it. But he doesn't end with that exhortation, he uses a reference to manna in the wilderness (from Exodus 16) in verse 15:
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15 ESV)
Care should be taken in extending the analogy, but there is a relationship that Paul is making between the manna God provided wandering Israel with and the money he gives us today. The analogy is anchored to 'supplying need' or 'having no lack.' God ensured that his people had enough to eat while they wandered in the wasteland for 40 years, and Paul exhorts the Corinthian church to supply the needs of other Christians or other churches who were in a position of need.

If it can be extended, the analogy might fit on the other end as well: no one should have an excess. For those who gathered too much manna, they found their stores corrupted by rot and worms. Even though that does not physically happen to an accumulation of money, it can certainly have the same effect on our hearts, for the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. There are certainly Christians who live by this principle: they set a maximum income they'll live by and give the rest away. The point isn't to set a rule, however, it's about having the right heart. It would be easy to set a standard of living cap and have a miserable attitude, and that would be sinful (it does not proceed from faith, and God loves a cheerful giver). However, I believe most people struggle not with this heart so much as the first one: actually giving away in a sacrificial manner. Fear of sin of one extreme is not license to sin in the other extreme.

Aside from trying to zip up the analogy from bottom to top, however, it appears that God's heart for the collection of manna and money are the same. Do not collect too much for yourself; it's purpose is so that everyone has their needs met. Money should be like water in our hands, and we should position ours over those whose hands are dry and blistered. Paul shows us that we should have the heart of Macedonia. This is a sacrificial heart--the heart of Christ in giving:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5 ESV)
I know I need to grow in this heart. And it comes by giving ourselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to others. Macedonia loved the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves, and proved it through their wallets.

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