032314.money.work.commentary. 2.cor.8.9

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Let your money work for you. 2 Corinthians 8.9

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032314.money.work.commentary. 2.cor.8.9

  1. 1. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 1 March 23, 2014 Session 4 Put Your Money to Work The Point. Be ready to give as the need arises. The Bible Meets Life: Some of us are good at setting a budget and even sticking with it. Others of us have good intentions and we keep telling ourselves we need to live within a budget, but fail to do so. The budgets we set speak volumes about who we are. Look at a person’s budget and where his or her monthly expenses go, and you can determine that person’s priorities. Where does giving and meeting the needs of others fall into our spending? The Bible calls us into a wise plan for giving, a course of action that can make us all better stewards of our money. The Passage. 2 Corinthians 8:10-15; 9:1-5 Q: Look at the picture on BOOK page. 44. What’s the toughest part about budgeting? Look at “The Bible Meets Life” (BOOK, p. 45), make a mental note of where meeting needs of others would fall on a scale of 1–10, with 1 being not important and 10 being very important. Read: The Point (BOOK, p. 45): “Be ready to give as the need arises.” Many times we would like to give when we discover a need, but we have failed to make room in our budgets for this kind of giving. As we study today, let’s consider what God may be saying to us about our financial priorities as they relate to being prepared to meet others’ needs. This session continues what was begun in the previous session concerning Paul’s dealings with the Corinthian church and their meeting the needs of believers in Jerusalem. As we learned from the previous session’s study in 1 Corinthians 8, the churches in Macedonia had been collecting an offering to help with the needs of poverty-stricken believers in Jerusalem. As Paul wrote to encourage the Corinthians to follow through with their gift, he called them to give in proportion to the way God had blessed them. Instead of rebuking the church, Paul used the positive example of the churches of Macedonia to spur the Corinthians to give as they had planned. 2 Corinthians 8:10-11 10 Now I am giving an opinion on this because it is profitable for you, who a year ago began not only to do something but also to desire it. 11 But now finish the task as well, that just as there was eagerness to desire it, so there may also be a completion from what you have. Paul knew human nature. When he first presented to the Corinthian believers an opportunity to meet the urgent needs of the Christians in Jerusalem, they eagerly volunteered. They wanted to help and began laying aside funds for the offering. Then, as we say today, life happened; and the offering project lagged. So Paul wrote to rekindle the Corinthians’ initial eagerness they displayed a year earlier.
  2. 2. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 2 This session stresses the process involved in gracious giving. That process in a nutshell is in verse 11: When you say you’re going to give, follow through and complete the task. Just declaring we’ll give is so much hot air unless we follow through and give graciously as God leads us. To make our money work for the Lord involves carrying out our good intentions. To do this many of us must overcome our tendency to focus on ourselves rather than on others. A former pastor said of his father, “He never met an offering he didn’t like.” When genuine needs presented themselves, he was eager to help. He loved the Lord and in turn loved people. Gracious giving is actually an expression of love. Affirming our love for the Lord and the people for whom Christ died shifts our focus to where it belongs. The apostle was not issuing a command to follow through on the decision to give. Instead he offered his opinion as a word of advice. He encouraged the believers to act on their decision to give not only because it would be good for others but also because it would be profitable for them. Thus, carrying out their previous plans for gracious giving would be a good deal. Paul’s promise that giving is good for us may call to mind sales pitches we have heard—“Buy (or invest in) this, for it’s the deal of a lifetime!” We’ve been around long enough to reply mentally if not verbally, “Yeah, a great deal for you, but not for me!” Remember, though, Paul did not speak from a self- serving motive. The gifts were not for him; he simply sought the offering on behalf of those who needed it. His words reflect the principle embodied in Jesus’ words in Acts 20:35—“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Givers truly are blessed. Not only does selfless, generous giving collect for us “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20), but also it enriches our lives in the here and now. When we support our local church and state, national, and world missions, we invest in God’s kingdom. His kingdom is made up of people— people whom He loves and for whom Christ died. I read about a young child whose parents told her the money she put in the church offering plate was a gift to God. Knowing God was in heaven, she reasonably asked how her offering would be delivered to God. The parents gave an excellent answer. They explained the money was used to support the work of the church, which was to help people. The most important help is to tell them the good news that by trusting Jesus, their sins would be forgiven and they would go to heaven. So God receives our gifts when saved people arrive in heaven. We are solicited for funds by numerous charities, not all of which are created equal. We need to be good stewards of our giving. When we give to our church and to trusted mission offerings, we know the funds will be well used to tell lost people how to be saved, to help disciple them, and also to encourage and help people who are having a hard time.
  3. 3. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 3 We see firsthand how our own church giving helps our church to reach out to non-believers and believers alike in making disciples locally and in our state through cooperative efforts with other churches. Again, such giving ultimately is an investment in people. Thus giving graciously is profitable for us. 1 [Now if I may insert some philosophy here, Francis Schaefer in How Should We Then Live? States that our society has lost its Christian base. Even we, who still hold to Christians teachings, are affected. The Non-Christian worldview has two guiding principles, “personal peace” and a desire for affluence, the need to have more and more money. Question: If that is the case, what do we say to the person, when confronted to give says, “But if I give, I might not have enough for myself? Well. Paul gave us specific encouragement when we are tempted to think like that.] 2 Corinthians 8:12-15 12 For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. 13 It is not that there may be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality— 14 at the present time your surplus is available for their need, so their abundance may also become available for our need, so there may be equality. 15 As it has been written: The person who gathered much did not have too much, and the person who gathered little did not have too little. KEY WORD: Equality (v. 13)—Paul encouraged Corinthian believers to share with needy Christians in Jerusalem out of a sense of equality with them, so that they all would have what they needed. 2 [This passage is not about redistribution of wealth, giving in order to get rich, or living a life of poverty because you think this will bring you closer to Jesus. These ideas, though well-thought of by society, are not part of the Biblical teaching but grew up later in the history of the church as more and more, according to Schaefer, we adopted a Platonic ideal that all things material are bad and all things spiritual are good, therefore, we should divest ourselves of all the things material so as to inherit the things spiritual. That is to say we should become ascetics.] After deciding to become a gracious giver, the process of attaining that goal unfolds. Gracious giving is rooted in God’s grace (see previous session), producing an eagerness to give. The process then includes being wise stewards, being careful to give in proportion to what we have, not what we wish we had. This guards against giving to the point of hardship, causing us to need financial help. It also avoids feeling guilty because we can’t give as much as we’d like. One’s gifts are acceptable to the Lord according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. 1 Editor’s note. 2 Editor’s note.
  4. 4. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 4 Thus this step in the process of gracious giving is to determine exactly how much we have to give—what one has. This step can be complicated by a couple of factors. One factor is uncertainty. None of us has a functioning crystal ball. We’ve been taught to save for a rainy day, but we know neither when nor how many such days lie before us. Thus when we are challenged to meet a financial need, an avalanche of “what ifs” crash into our minds—What if I: have a prolonged illness? am injured in an accident? see inflation eat away my savings in retirement? Most of us hope to pay our own way throughout our lives; so we have to think about how much we will need when gainful working days end. A second complicating factor is our tendency to compare our financial resources with what we perceive others to have. We all know folk who seem far better off than we do. Shouldn’t they do the heavy giving? Maybe so, but that has nothing to do with what we should give. How do we determine what we have to give? Here’s how my wife and I face that question. When time for an offering aside from the tithe rolls around, we remind ourselves of three facts. (1) All we have is the Lord’s, not ours. (2) He knows what we have now and every need we will have from now on. (3) He is loving and righteous, so we can trust His leadership; following Him will lead to no regrets. So the real question is, “What does He want us to give?” We pray until we are at peace with an amount. What if we give as we believe God leads and eventually find ourselves in need? Should we blame God? Should we lament not having the money we gave away? As I have pondered this, I concluded that in such a situation we should thankfully accept financial help from those who graciously offer it. Isn’t that what Paul meant when he wrote: “At the present time your surplus is available for their need, so their abundance may also become available for our need, so there may be equality”? Pride tells us it’s shameful to receive help from others, but God’s gracious provision flows both from us and to us. If we need to rely on others, being grateful receivers is as important as being gracious givers. To reinforce the idea of equality, of everyone having enough, Paul quoted Exodus 16:18. That verse relates to the Lord’s provision of manna to the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings. No matter how much manna a person gathered each morning, they had only what they needed. Thus, “The person who gathered much did not have too much, and the person who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 1 Now concerning the ministry to the saints, it is unnecessary for me to write to you. 2 For I know your eagerness, and I brag about you to the Macedonians: “Achaia has been prepared since last year,” and your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I sent the brothers so our boasting about you in the matter would not prove empty, and so you would be prepared just as I said. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we, not to mention you, would be embarrassed in that situation.
  5. 5. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 5 5 Therefore I considered it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance the generous gift you promised, so that it will be ready as a gift and not as an extortion. KEY WORDS: Boasting (v. 3)—Boasting or bragging can be good or bad. In 9:3 Paul used the term in commending the Corinthians’ initial readiness to give. Extortion (v. 5)—The word can be translated grudgingly given, exaction, or covetousness. Paul was not pressuring but encouraging them to give willingly (9:7) what they earlier had promised. A happy result of gracious giving is setting an example that can inspire others to follow suit. Setting an example in giving is not the same as tooting one’s own horn about being generous. We certainly are not to boast of what we give. At the same time, we can share our Christian testimony not only about salvation but also about the blessings of gracious giving. Paul knew well the power of a good example. As he visited churches in Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea; Acts 16:9–17:14), he bragged about the enthusiastic, generous response of those in Achaia (Corinth, Cenchrea; Acts 18:1; Rom. 16:1). The Corinthians’ zeal in giving motivated most of the Macedonians to participate gladly. And just as Paul had bragged to the Macedonians about the Corinthians’ giving, in this letter to the Corinthians he bragged about the Macedonians’ giving. In both cases he was citing positive examples to challenge believers to respond generously to a real need. The Corinthians earlier had demonstrated an eagerness to help meet the pressing needs of believers in Jerusalem. Thus Paul knew it was unnecessary for him to write any more to them about the offering’s ministry to the saints. Nevertheless, he wanted to encourage them to follow through on their giving plans so his boasting about them in the matter would not prove empty. Paul had bragged the Corinthian church had been prepared since last year for the offering. Still, he had good reason to wonder whether the offering would be ready when he arrived to collect it. A casual reading of 1 Corinthians shows that the church had suffered much turmoil in that year. Paul became a target for criticism and accusation. Church unity fractured. Immorality in the church reared its ugly head. Selfish indifference manifested itself in fellowship meals. In writing the letter we call 1 Corinthians, Paul had sought to confront and correct those and other wrongs. Toward the end of the letter, though, he reminded them of the collection for their needy brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Evidently, amid the distractions of church strife, he feared little had been done. Paul no doubt could imagine what the Macedonian believers and others traveling with him would think if they arrived in Corinth to discover only a paltry offering had been gathered. He mentioned the embarrassment both he and the Corinthians would experience. He did not mention the real possibility of the Macedonians’ losing confidence in Paul, his charitable effort, or even the gospel he preached. To further encourage the Corinthians to give as they first indicated they would, Paul sent Titus and an unnamed believer (2 Corinthians 12:18) to arrange in advance the generous gift the Corinthians had promised. He wanted all who arrived in Corinth with him to be able to affirm that their offering was freely given, not as an extortion or given grudgingly. One gives a proper gift with a smile and an open hand, not with averted eyes and clinched teeth. Titus’s mission was to remind and encourage the Corinthians, not to browbeat them and to demand that they give.
  6. 6. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 6 Many of us have to confess that not every gift of ours has come from a willing heart. To give willingly, especially when we are barely making ends meet, can be tough. We may at times have given with resentment for having been asked. We may have given so as not to look bad in the eyes of those asking or watching. We may have given out of a sense of duty or obligation. Some people perhaps have sought to manipulate us to give by playing on our emotions. Such giving can leave us with a sense of having been victimized. The example of such badly motivated giving often is negative, not positive. It is tainted by our tone of voice, facial expression, and body language. Although we have opportunities to give to numerous worthy causes, our most significant gifts are those that advance the kingdom of God. Jesus came to seek and to save lost people. He commissioned us to make disciples throughout our community, state, nation, and world. Giving to the Lord’s work through His church and to missions causes has eternal significance. Let’s set a positive example for others with grace- inspired giving. I grew up in a small town and became a believer in my teens. Shortly after my profession of faith, my home church of around 200 members entered into a building program. This was badly needed, for the existing building was in disrepair and the Sunday School had outgrown its space. Church leaders used a method of raising money I’ve never seen anywhere else, though it evidently was not uncommon then. (This was around 53 years ago.) At the close of a worship service, members were challenged to declare publicly what they would give to the project. A man stood and stated, “I’ll give $100.” One at a time others stood to announce the amount he or she would give. Our pastor was relatively young and had two small children. Even though our church provided a house for him, his salary barely was adequate for meeting his family’s needs. All of us were stunned when he stood to say he and his wife had managed to save $1,000 since they married, and they were giving it all for the building project. Needless to say, that example of generous giving to the Lord’s work has had a lifelong impact on my attitude and practice of giving. Live it Out What will it take for you to be ready to give as the need arises? Consider at least one of the following applications: Examine your heart. This week, pray about your attitude toward giving as you become aware of a need. Ask yourself: Do I tend to think more about how much I can give or how much I will give up? Ask God to guide you to what He wants you to do next. Evaluate your giving. Remember that you are nothing more than a temporary manager of what God has entrusted to you. Draw a cross next to each line item in your budget or each purchase in your checkbook. Use this as a reminder that all you have God has given to you. Ask the Lord to help you be wise in the use of His resources. Give as the need arises. Look for specific ways to support ministries and the needs of others. Consider making a line item in your budget for spontaneous giving. Pray about how much to place in this category each month. Then experience the joy of giving as the need arises. Pray regularly about how God would have you manage this account. Whatever resources you have, God wants you to put it to work for Him. He did not give it to you to hoard and admire, but to use for His glory. Give God first place in your heart … and also in your bank statement.
  7. 7. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 7 DIGGING DEEPER: Equality—The Greek word rendered equality in 2 Corinthians 8:13 literally means “fair shares” or “fair dealings” and was usually connected to justice or righteousness. SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN. Equality: Equality in 8:13 comes from a word that also can mean “likeness in proportion.” “fairness,” or “what is equitable.” Paul was not suggesting that everyone ought to be on the same level economically. He was more concerned with the idea that everyone’s needs were met than he was that everyone would have the same level of income. SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN. Boasting—The Greek word for boasting refers to a display of pride that can either be in a negative sense, or, as in 9:3, in a positive sense. SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN. Boasting: To boast is “to glory on account of something” or “to rejoice over something.” The boasting of which Paul spoke in 9:3 was his sharing with the Macedonians the joy he felt over the eagerness of the Corinthians to participate generously in the collection of an offering for relief of the poor saints in Jerusalem. SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN. Boast (bōst (‫ָה‬‫ה‬ַ‫ל‬, hālal, “to praise”; καυχάομαι, kaucháomai, “to vaunt oneself,” used both in a good and a bad sense): To praise God: “In God have we made our boast all the day long” (Ps 44:8); to praise oneself, to vaunt (Ps 10:3). In the New Testament the Revised Version (British and American) frequently translates “glory,” where the King James Version has “boast,” in a good sense (2 Cor. 7:14). In the sense of self- righteousness (Eph 2:9; Rom 2:17, 23). Boaster (ἀλαζών, alazō̇n, “a braggart”) occurs in the King James Version (Rom 1:30; 2 Tim 3:2); the Revised Version (British and American) has “boastful.” SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Extortion—The Greek word rendered extortion in 9:5 is translated “grudgingly” in the New International version, “exaction” in the English Standard Version, and “covetousness” in the King James Version. The term referred to money that was taken by force or by exploitation. Paul desired that the Corinthians give their offering freely and not be forced into it. SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
  8. 8. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 8 Extortion (eks-tor´shun): This particular word occurs twice in King James Version: Ezek 22:12 (‫ע‬ֹ‫ֶש‬ ‫,ק‬ ʽōsheḳ), and Mt 23:25 (ἁρπαγή, harpagḗ), and indicates that one who is an extortioner is guilty of snatching away from another by strife, greed and oppression that which does not lawfully belong to him. The element of covetousness and usury is involved in the meaning of this word; for it is greedily gotten gain. The publicans were considered as being specially guilty of this sin; this is clear from the Pharisee’s deprecatory remark: “I am not … an extortioner .…. as this publican” (Lk. 18:11). Paul classes extortion (pleonexı́a, literally, “over-reaching”) among a category of the grossest crimes known to humanity (1 Cor. 5:10, 11); indeed, so grievous is it that it closes the door of heaven in the face of the one guilty of it (1 Cor. 6:10). SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Covetousness: The Greek word translated covetousness in 9:5 means “greedy” and comes from a verb that means “to take advantage of” or “to defraud.” The term denoted a selfish, greedy person who gave only because he was compelled to, not because he wanted to. SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN. Covetousness (kuv´et-us-nes): Has a variety of shades of meaning determined largely by the nature of the particular word used, or the context, or both. Following are some of the uses: (1) To gain dishonestly (‫ָק‬‫צ‬ַ‫ע‬, bācaʽ), e.g. the King James Version Ex 18:21; Ezek 33:31. (2) The wish to have more than one possesses, inordinately, of course (πλεονεξία, pleonexı́a), e.g. Lk. 12:15; 1 Thess. 2:5. (3) An inordinate love of money φιλάργυρος, philárguros, the King James Version Lk. 16:14; 2 Tim 3:2; philargurı́a, 1 Tim 6:10); negative in Heb 13:5, the King James Version. Covetousness is a very grave sin; indeed, so heinous is it that the Scriptures class it among the very gravest and grossest crimes (Eph 5:3). In Col 3:5 it is “idolatry,” while in 1 Cor. 6:10 it is set forth as excluding a man from heaven. Its heinousness, doubtless, is accounted for by its being in a very real sense the root of so many other forms of sin, e.g. departure from the faith (1 Tim 6:9, 10); lying (2 Ki. 5:22-25); theft (Josh 7:21); domestic trouble (Prov. 15:27); murder (Ezek 22:12); indeed, it leads to “many foolish and hurtful lusts” (1 Tim 6:9). Covetousness has always been a very serious menace to mankind, whether in the Old Testament or New Testament period. It was one of the first sins that broke out after Israel had entered into the promised land (Achan, Josh 7); and also in the early Christian church immediately after its founding (Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5); hence, so many warnings against it. A careful reading of the Old Testament will reveal the fact that a very great part of the Jewish law—such as its enactments and regulations regarding duties toward the poor, toward servants; concerning gleaning, usury, pledges, gold and silver taken during war—was introduced and intended to counteract the spirit of covetousness. Eerdmans maintains (Expos, July, 1909) that the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house” (Ex 20:17), meant to the Israelite that he should not take anything of his neighbor’s possessions that were momentarily unprotected by their owner. Compare Ex 34:23ff.
  9. 9. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 9 Thus, it refers to a category of acts that is not covered by the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” It is an oriental habit of mind from of old that when anyone sees abandoned goods which he thinks desirable, there is not the least objection to taking them, and Ex 20:17b is probably an explanation of what is to be understood by “house” in 20:17a. Examples of covetousness: Achan (Josh 7); Saul (1 Sam 15:9, 19); Judas (Mt 26:14, 15); Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11); Balaam (2 Pet 2:15 with Jude 1:11). SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Grudge gruj (‫ָנ‬‫ט‬ַ‫ר‬, nāṭar; στενάζω, stenázō, γογγυσμός, goggusmós): “Grudge” (perhaps a mimetic word, compare Greek grū) is “to grumble” or “murmur” at any person or thing, to entertain an envious or covetous feeling, to do or give anything unwillingly, etc. It occurs in the King James Version as the translation of nāṭar, “to keep (anger)” (Lev 19:18, “Thou shalt not … bear any grudge against the children of thy people”); in Ps 59:15, as the translation, in text, of Hebrew lūn or lın, “to pass the night,” “to tarry,” Niphal, “to show oneself obstinate,” “to murmur or complain” (of the enemies who were hunting David like dogs), “Let them wander up and down for meat, and grudge if they be not satisfied,” margin “If they be not satisfied then will they stay all night,” the Revised Version (British and American) “And tarry all night if they be not satisfied”; but see Ex 15:24; 16:2; Nu 14:2; Josh 9:18, etc., where the translation is “murmur”; may not the meaning be “and growl (or howl) if they be not satisfied”? “Grudge” formerly implied open expression of discontent, etc., e.g. Wyclif has in Lk 15:2, “The farisies and scribis grucchiden seiynge,” etc. In Jas 5:9, stenazō, “to groan,” “to complain” (from affliction or from impatience or ill-humor), is translated “grudge,” “Grudge not one against another, brethren,” the Revised Version (British and American) “murmur not”; goggusmos, “a murmuring” (compare Jn 7:12 f; Acts 6:1), is rendered “grudging” (1 Pet 4:9), “Use hospitality one to another without grudging,” the Revised Version (British and American) “murmuring”; compare Phil 2:14; mḗ ek lúpēs, “not out of grief,” is “without grudging” (2 Cor 9:7, the Revised Version (British and American) “not grudging” margin, Greek “of sorrow”); in Ecclesiasticus 10:25 we have “will not grudge” (goggúzō), the Revised Version (British and American) “murmur.” “Grudge” was frequent in the earlier VSS, but is changed in the King James Version for the most part into “murmur”; the Revised Version (British and American) completes the change, except Lev 19:18, and text of 2 Cor 9:7. SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  10. 10. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 10 ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING: The Churches of Macedonia By D. Larry Gregg, Sr. D. Larry Gregg, Sr. is pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Rutherfordton, North Carolina and adjunct professor of biblical studies, philosophy, and world religions at Isothermal Community College in Spendale, North Carolina. BY THE TIME PAULAND HIS COMPANIONS (Luke, Timothy, and Silas) crossed the narrow body of water separating the continent of Asia from that of Europe and made their way to Neapolis (modern Kavalla), Macedonia already had a long and storied history. In this mountainous region the Argead dynasty came to power about seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth. The dynasty endured until the time of Alexander the Great.1 Overshadowed by the towering peaks of the Olympus Range, traditional home of the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology, Macedonia was destined to become a fertile field for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. From the pages of the New Testament, the names of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea have become synonyms for Christian diversity and inclusiveness, unflagging devotion under stress, gracious hospitality, and the eager desire to learn and grow. Outposts Along the Egnatian Way In the aftermath of the Roman conquest of Macedonia in 168 B.C., the conquerors sought to bind the vast regions of the empire together with a system of roads across which legions could be dispersed quickly to quell any hint of rebellion. A by-product of this military and political policy was that travel, commerce, and the exchange of ideas were enhanced beyond what Rome’s rulers could hardly have imagined. The Egnatian Way (Via Egnatia) meandered through the mount passes and verdant valley of Macedonia, connecting the Adriatic and the Aegean Seas. By the time of Paul, this monument to Roman engineering had become the main overland route connecting Italy with Neapolis. Taking advantage of the opportunities the highway afforded, a small group of courageous evangelists made their way from Neapolis to Philippi, a major center of Roman military power (ca. 49-50 A.D.). With the aid of Lydia of Thyatira and others, they founded the church that was arguably the dearest to Paul’s heart. Leaving Philippi, they made their way through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica, the center of the region’s civil government. There believers founded a congregation, and to the church Paul later addressed two of his earliest New Testament Epistles (1 and 2 Thessalonians). Under persecution, Paul and his companions slipped away from Thessalonica in the night and made their way to Berea, where the Jewish community received them with great hospitality and eagerly responded to the message about Jesus. Five Distinguishing Characteristics A careful study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Acts 16-17, and allusions to the church of Macedonia found in 2 Corinthians 8 and 11 and Romans 15 suggests five distinguishing characteristics of these important early Christian congregations. Reflection on these characteristics is instructive for contemporary Christians seeking to live and express their faith today.
  11. 11. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 11 First, the Macedonian Christians were known widely for the authenticity and sincerity of their faith. In 1 Thessalonians 1:7, Paul commended the Thessalonian believers for being role models for other believers across Macedonia and Achaia. In the next verse he assured them that their good reputation had spread beyond their homeland to the extent that he no longer had to speak to others about the Macedonian example. Their positive reputation for Christian faithfulness had “spread abroad” on the tongues of those who shared the gospel from one end of the Roman Empire to the other. In Philippians 1:6, the Apostle to the Gentiles declared his confidence that God would continue the work He had begun in the Macedonian Christians until Christ returned. Second, the Macedonian congregations had a reputation for the diversity of their membership and leadership. They were mixed congregations of both Jewish and Gentile believers (Acts 16-17). AThyatiran business woman named Lydia played a major role in founding the Philippian church, which had a membership that included a young slave woman who had been delivered from demon possession and the keeper of the Roman jail at Philippi. A simple examination of the names in Philippians reflects the broad diversity of this congregation. Epaphroditus is a name associated with the worship of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. One wonders if the name suggests that he was once one of the cult prostitutes associate with Aphrodisian fertility rites. Names like Euodia (Prosperous Journey) and Syntyche (Good Luck) may be reflective of a Macedonian preoccupation with fortune telling and predicting the future.2 If so, perhaps in these names we also find the roots of Paul’s concern that Satan would undermine Paul’s earlier work with these new believers (1 Thess. 3:1-5). Perhaps Paul’s later evaluation of those new to the faith can serve as a reminder that God can and does reach those from strong anti-Christian backgrounds, helps them to stand firm in their faith, and uses them to build His church (vv. 6-9). This bring us to a third characteristic of the Macedonian churches. The biblical evidence suggests that, out of their eagerness to understand, they were still susceptible to false teachings that could lead them astray. So Paul cautioned the Macedonian Christians against those who made use of deceit, guile, and flattery for the purposes of personal economic enrichment and ego gratification (2:4-6). In the gentlest, warmest letter in the New Testament, Paul felt it necessary to use exceedingly strong language likewise to warn the Philippians to “watch out for ‘dogs’, watch out for evil workers, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Phil. 3:2, HCSB)—those who insisted that Gentiles must convert to Judaism and obey the ritual law before they could become Christians. Fervency without a solid foundation of faith is often counterproductive because it tends to cause believers to become preoccupied with the novel and esoteric. Today’s believers need to know both what they believe, and why they believe it. Otherwise, like the Macedonians, we may also forget that we are to have consistency between our doctrinal assertions and our daily ethics (1 Thess. 4). Fourth, and on a more positive note, repeatedly Paul commended the Macedonian Christians for their generous response to the needs of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Macedonia’s predominately Gentile congregations held back nothing in their willingness to provide material support for their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. Differences in ethnicity, cultural heritage, and theological affirmations were meaningless when it came to relieving suffering, saving lives, and engendering hope. Thus Paul could freely and honestly commend the generosity of Macedonian believers to both the Romans (Rom. 15:26) and the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:1-5; 11-9).
  12. 12. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 12 Finally, the Letter to the Philippians stands as an enduring document that shows the gratitude Macedonian Christians had for Paul, their founding pastor and most faithful friend. In this joy-filled letter, the aged apostle reflected on how often the Philippians had prayed for him in his times of need. He thanked them for sending material resources to relieve this economic distress. He commended them for sending Epaphroditus to aid him during his imprisonment. The Macedonian Christians appear to have been graced with the gift of expressing tangible gratitude toward those whom God had used to bring the gospel to them. In an age prone to disposing of the elderly, forgetting the absent, abandoning the weak and wounded, and neglecting those who nurtured us when we were young in the faith, contemporary Christians, as did our Macedonian forbearers, need to seek out opportunities to care for those who, in an earlier day, cared so much for us. A Continuing Example Paul paid the churches of Macedonia the highest of compliments when, in reference to their economic generosity, he observed, “but they gave themselves first to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8:5, NIV). In this they were not only examples to all who believed in their day but they continue to serve as role models for the churches of today. 1. F.F. Bruce, “Macedonia” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. in chief, David Noel Freedman, vol. 4 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 454. 2. “Greeks and Romans put great stock on augury and divination. No commander would set out on a major military campaign nor would an emperor make an important decree without first consulting an oracle to see how things might turn out.” John Polhill, “Acts” in The New American Commentary, vol. 26 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 351. SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 2005. Poverty and Wealthy In the Early Church By Billy E. Simmons Billy Simmons is retired professor of New Testament, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD of the first Christian century had no middle class as we know it. Two economic strata existed; the few who were incredibly rich and the many who were indescribably poor. This economic situation was both in the land of Israel and throughout the vast Roman empire’s general population. In first-century Israel, the richest persons were either members of the Herodian family, were attached to this family politically, or were associated with them in some way. Additionally, a few large landholders became wealthy through various pursuits. Finally, some publicans or tax collectors accumulated significant wealth. However, the vast majority of people were so poor that many of them had no assurance of a next meal or a place to sleep at night. Jesus established His base of operations among this segment of the population, and He had the majority of His earthly ministry among them.
  13. 13. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 13 Although Jesus did have wealthy friends and had contact with government and religious leaders who were, for the most, part, among society’s wealthiest members. He primarily directed His ministry toward the people of the land who were in deep poverty and spiritual distress. He also lived among this poorest segment of society. The usual Greek word translated “wealth” in the New Testament is ploutos, though sometimes the word chrema (wealth, money, or property) is used. On several occasions Jesus used the word translated “mammon” to refer to wealth. This term of uncertain origin evidently was familiar to those who heard Jesus use it. He almost gave it personality when He said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24, KJV). Jesus evidently recognized the potential for His hearers to make a false god out of wealth. This certainly seems to be the concern couched in this statement. Jesus’ teachings and the New Testament emphasis in general were on the inherent dangers of wealth. The New Testament does not suggest that wealth in and of itself is evil, but it does warn that the misuse or abuse of money certainly can lead to evil. The New Testament indicates that the majority of the earliest Christians were from the poorest class. Perhaps, this is nowhere more evident than in the Epistle of James, which may be the New Testament’s earliest document. In chapter 2, James engaged in a discourse against showing partiality based on wealth and poverty. In this letter James addressed Jewish Christians outside of Judea. In his particular homily James reminded his readers that the wealthy (plousioi) persecuted and killed the poor Christians and blasphemed the name of Jesus (2:6-7). He stated that God called the poor who were rich in faith and who loved Him to be heirs of His kingdom (2:5). James’ words leave open the option that this formula also includes the wealthy who love God and have faith. Jesus delivered some hard sayings regarding the misuse and abuse of wealth. He was generally pessimistic about the ability of the wealthy to escape being devoted to their possessions. The story of the rich fool is a prime example (Luke 12:13-21). Jesus did not say the man was a fool because he was rich. Rather He declared that the man in question was a fool because he was wrongly related to his wealth, which led to his ruin. Once a rich young man came to Jesus seeking eternal life (Mark 10:17-23). Jesus’ words quenched that desire by making the absolute demand on the young to sell all he had and to give the proceeds to the poor. Since he could not bear to part with his wealth, he went away in sorrow, much to the consternation of the twelve. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus congratulated those who were “poor in “spirit” (Matt. 5:3) and yet drew a sharp line of distinction between service to God and devotion to riches (6:24). The two are incompatible. This does not mean that the rich cannot be humble servants of God. A person simply cannot give his first allegiance to his wealth and still be God’s true servant.
  14. 14. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 14 On the other hand, Jesus did not commend poverty as the preferred state for a Christian. In the case of the poor widow who gave all she had, Jesus did not praise her for her poverty but for the freedom with which she gave her entire living to God. The amount she gave is incidental to her giving all she had in devotion to God. Therefore, Jesus was not neutral, nor was He hostile, in His attitude about wealth. Concerning wealth and its effects on a person, Jesus generally was pessimistic about the spiritual development of the person who is devoted to wealth. Most of His sayings in this regard paint a rather bleak picture for that person who is wrongly related to wealth. The early Christian community certainly reflected Jesus’ attitude toward wealth. In the Book of Acts, the earliest Christians shared their possessions with each other (see 4:32-37). This was not an experiment in modern communism, but it was an experiment in the communal sharing of their worldly goods. Those who had an abundance shared with the church, which distributed the largess to the needy. This was a sincere display of their love and devotion to God and to each other as they awaited their risen Lord’s imminent return. When it became evident that the Lord’s return was not immediate, this experiment was abandoned. However, this spirit of sharing with others as needs arose continued. The Book of Acts introduced Barnabas, one of the leaders in the world mission movement. Because of his generosity in caring for the needs of others, he sold land and gave the proceeds to the church for distribution (4:36-37). In Acts 6, seven men were chosen to assist the apostles in distributing the food among the poor widows in the continued for some time, though we cannot say for sure how long. Paul’s letters emphasize church. The practice of sharing thus the temporal nature of material possessions as compared to the hope the believer has in heaven. Believers are to share with those who have less. This was Paul’s admonition to the Gentile Christians in the churches he founded. He called on them to share with the poorer Jewish Christians in Judea (2 Cor. 8:13-15). Paul warned, though, in his pastoral letters that those who wish to be rich will fall into various temptations and will ultimately face a disastrous end. To refer again to James’ letter, in chapter 5, James had some harsh words for the rich who hoard their wealth and abuse the poor by withholding their wages. He warned the rich that their day of judgment was coming (v. 1-6). The living Christ warned the wealthy church at Laodicea that their riches had brought them to a lukewarm state, which caused Him to be sick to His stomach (Rev. 3:14-17). They were materially wealthy but spiritually poverty stricken. After the apostolic period ended, some in the church believed and taught that wealth was evil in and of itself. The monastic movement arose because of such an understanding. Certain men thought they could become holy by separating themselves from all worldly influences including material wealth. So they withdrew from society and lived an austere life, generally in remote mountainous area.1 Of course this attitude was a misunderstanding and a misappropriation of the New Testament teaching concerning wealth.
  15. 15. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 15 What, then, can one conclude from this brief review of Jesus’ attitude toward wealth? Jesus and the early church leaders certainly were not neutral about worldly possessions. Nor were they hostile toward worldly wealth as such, for there were, even among the earliest followers of Jesus, rather wealthy people. For instance, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the Sanhedrin, was one of the wealthy class (Matt. 27:57). Barnabas was also evidently a man of means as he was able to make a significant contribution to the needs of the early church (Acts 4:36-37). Finally, the mother of John Mark, Mary, who probably owned the house where the upper room was located, also likely had considerable wealth. These people were devoted followers of Jesus, and undoubtedly others followed Christ who were like them financially. In spite of having some relatively affluent followers, Jesus maintained His warning that a wealthy person was always in danger of having his wealth ensnare him. Throughout His ministry Jesus seemingly was pessimistic that wealth would prove to be a positive influence in a person’s life. 1. Many such ancient monasteries began in the Middle East as well as in Greece. In recent years, however, the monastic movement has fallen on hard times, and many of the monasteries are struggling with very few members even though once they numbered in the thousands. SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234. Fall, 2003. First-Century World Hunger By Mike Fuhrman Mike Fuhrman is pastor, Northgate Baptist Church, Kansas City, MO. IN THE ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN world that provided the geographical and climactic cradle for the birth of Christianity, famine never was farther away than the next year’s crop failure. Ancient people never could have imagined crops so bountiful that much of a year’s harvest would have to be stored as surplus in grain bins, or of a government’s agricultural programs designed to encourage farmers not to plant. Hunger was as near as the next natural disaster in a world lacking the buffer that crop surpluses provided. To understand the perennial threat of hunger in first-century life, one must understand the nature of ancient diets and their relationship to the Mediterranean climate. Graeco-Roman society ate a diet based on corn, oil, and wine. Cereal crops provided the primary source of carbohydrates, and comprised the staple of the typical diet. Olive oil provided the primary source of fat. Fish, either fresh, dried, or pickled, often supplemented Graeco-Roman diets. Roman kitchens also used poultry, game, and eggs extensively, but cooked comparatively little red meat. For the masses, vegetables provided the most important supplement to the basic diet of grain, oil, and wine. Despite the various foods used to supplement the diet, it nevertheless depended heavily on grain, and hence on the grain harvest.1
  16. 16. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 16 The situation was somewhat similar in Palestine itself. Red meat, especially beef, which was scarce, comprised a luxury eaten only on special occasions, and was not a regular part of the diet for the common people. Fowl provided some meat for Jewish tables, and, although fish were consumed infrequently in Old Testament days, they had become a common food by the New Testament era. Olives and fruits were the two most important fruits, but usually were made into oil and wine, respectively. Figs were the most popular fruit eaten in their natural state. Beans and lentils were the most important vegetables in a land where the climate was unsuited for growing a wide variety of vegetables. In light of the relative scarcity of meat, fruit, and vegetables in Palestine, it is not surprising that cereal foods comprised the most important part of ancient Jewish diets. Bread comprised a staple of the menu at every meal.2 The Palestinian climate made for a rather unfriendly atmosphere for the cultivation of cereal crops. Palestine lies roughly in the same latitude as the states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina; on the northern margin of the subtropical zone. The area knows of only two annual seasons: a warm, sunny, and almost completely dry summer, and a cooler winter that brings with it intermittent storms. Astonishing climactic differences are found even in Palestine itself, although the “Holy Land” proper consists of a strip of land roughly only 40 miles wide east to west and 90 miles long from north to south. The annual rainfall at Jerusalem averages just over 26 inches. Fifteen miles east, near the Dead Sea, less than four inches of precipitation fall annually, and the mean average temperature there is 14o F. higher than in the highland in which Jerusalem is located.3 The “early rain” of autumn inaugurated the rainy season, and softened the ground for plowing and the planting of crops.4 The “latter rain” of the spring normally fell in April and May and provided needed moisture for the maturing crops that would be ready to harvest near the first of June. With the average rainfall in Palestine being what it is, crops receive barely enough precipitation in a normal year. A dry year in which only half the normal precipitation is received quickly could bring starvation, and, at the minimum, sharply higher food prices that could begin to place dietary staples out of the reach of the poor. The annual rainfall for Jerusalem during the years 1922-1935 averaged only 74 per cent of the average annual amount for the previous century, and several years fell to roughly 50 per cent of normal.5 Such raw data help to explain frequent biblical references to drought and resulting famine (see Gen. 41:54; 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 8:1; Luke 15:14). Natural disasters, such as the hurricane-force storm that struck Palestine just after Passover in 64 BC, pestilence and blight (Amos 4:9), and invasion by foreign armies exacerbated an already tenuous situation. If for whatever reason the crops failed either just prior to or immediately following a sabbatical year when cropland was allowed to lie fallow, the harsh effects of famine were intensified further. The famine during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius, which prompted Paul to organize an offering for the suffering Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 9:3-15), apparently inflicted great hardship in part because a sabbatical year fell in AD 47/48. The best guess is that the harvest failed in the summer of AD 47, after which the sabbatical year made the famine seem worse and prolonged it until the harvest late in the spring of AD 49.6 Famines in antiquity tended to be localized. Famine in one corner of the Mediterranean world did not necessarily imply famine elsewhere. Ancient sources allow us to compose lists of the years of famine in various parts of that world during or near the New Testament era, and demonstrate the local nature of most ancient famines.
  17. 17. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 17 We know, for example, that according to ancient Roman authors famines struck Rome itself in AD 23 (Suetonius, Tiberius, VIII), AD 41 (Seneca, On the Brevity of Life, XVIII.5), AD 51 (Tacitus, Annuals, XII:43; and Suetonius, Claudius, XVIII:2), AD 62, and AD 92 (Suetonius, Domitian, VII). According to Tacitus, an ancient Roman historian, during the famine of AD 51 Emperor Claudius was assaulted by an angry mob in the middle of the Roman Forum and escaped the mob only by the help of a detachment of troops. Suetonius tells us that the mob pelted the emperor with scraps of bread. After this harrowing experience he resorted to every possible means to guarantee the provision of cereal grains for Rome, even to the point of offering bounties to those who constructed ships to carry grain and of guaranteeing the profits of those merchants who risked sailing in the winter season to bring grain to Rome. Likewise, a series of crop disasters struck Palestine about the time of the New Testament era. Antiochus V’s siege of Jerusalem in 163 BC created a bread famine, which was aggravated by the fact that the sabbatical year has fallen the year before. Sometime prior to 65 BC a drought struck Palestine, which according to Jewish tradition, the prayers of a celebrated rabbi brought to an end with a cloudburst. Rabbi Onias drew a circle in the dust and resolved to remain in it praying until God sent rain. The resulting downpour was said to have forced people both to take refuge on the temple mount and to implore Onias to pray that God would stop the rain. Thereafter, he was known as “Onias the Circle-maker” (Taanith 3.8). A violent, hurricane-like storm devastated crops throughout Palestine in 64 BC. Herod the Great’s siege of Jerusalem in 37 BC fell in the sabbatical year of 38/37 BC, which created famine conditions in the city. A particularly severe famine struck in 25/24 BC, during the thirteenth year of the reign of Herod the Great. A prolonged drought created shortages of food and changes in diet that rendered the populace susceptible to epidemics, which in turn were followed be a second crop failure. The famine immediately preceded the sabbatical year of 24/23 BC. According to Josephus (Antiquities, XV.305-309), the famine’s effects were so severe that, although neighboring countries in the eastern Mediterranean suffered just as much as did Palestine and had little grain to sell. Herod the Great melted all of the gold and silver ornaments in his palace into coinage to spare no length in providing for his kingdom. At last, through an “inside” political contact with a friend who served as a Roman official in Egypt, Herod received priority treatment in the export of shiploads of grain from Egypt, almost all of which came at his own expense. In addition to this, the most important famine of all in terms of interpreting the New Testament struck Palestine during the reign of Emperor Claudius in AD 47/48. Another drought occurred in Palestine in AD 69, which coincided with the sabbatical year of AD 68/69.7 First-century famines worked the greatest hardship of all on the poor. Scarce supplies inevitably drove up the price of food, and the profiteers that do business in every age stood only too ready to exploit a tragic situation.8 The mere anticipation of a famine could drive greedy traders or persons of means to buy up and hoard available grain stocks, and thus create a famine where none should have existed. As a result of the hurricane that destroyed the crops of Palestine in 64 BC, the price of wheat was multiplied 16 times on the “Wheat Futures” market.9 The famous “Four Horsemen” passage in Revelation 6 envisions another famine situation in which a quart of wheat is sold for a denarius, the going rate of pay for a day’s work for a day laborer, which according to the ancient Roman author Cicero (Against Verres III.81), was at least 11 times more expensive than the normal price of wheat on the island of Sicily at the time.
  18. 18. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 18 Revelation 6:5-6 envisions a situation in which a man may feed his family only if he buys inferior barley, and even at that three quarts of barley per day represents a starvation diet for an entire family, and that at an exorbitant price. Hence, first-century famine always was essentially a class famine,10 even as famine is essentially a Third World and lower socio-economic phenomenon today. Persons of means could protect themselves from the ravages of famine because they could afford inflationary food prices. The more severe the famine, the higher up the socio-economic ladder its deprivations were felt. The famine that struck Palestine during the reign of Emperor Claudius in AD 47/48 was more universal in scope than other famines of the New Testament era.11 Immediately prior to this famine in Palestine, the Nile River in Egypt, which in some respects was the “breadbasket” for the ancient world, had crested at its highest level in more than a century.12 This unusual flooding produced a later and much smaller harvest than usual, with the result that a famine struck Egypt itself in AD 45. The price of wheat doubled, and reached a price higher than any other recorded before the reign of Caesar Vespasian (AD 69-79). The effects of the Egyptian famine well may have lingered for two years. Before the ancient world’s grain markets could recover fully from the effects of this supply shortage, a famine struck Palestine. Josephus (Antiquities XX.51) tells us that Helena, Queen of Adiabene, a district east of the Tigris River, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the midst of this famine. When she saw the suffering there, she dispatched officials to Alexandria, the Egyptian port city, to buy grain, and sent others to Cyprus to buy cargo of dried figs to distribute to the needy in Judea. The famine in Judea in the time of Claudius provides the historical context for Paul’s organizing a collection taken from largely Gentile churches for the relief of the suffering Christians in Jerusalem. Several New Testament passages, most notable Acts 11:27-30 and 2 Corinthians 8:1—9:15 (see also Rom. 15:25-33; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; and Gal. 2:1) mention this first mission offering of the church. While we lack the precise census data to verify it, all available evidence points to the conclusion that, beginning at the time of Christ and continuing through the early centuries of the Christian era, Christians were found far more often among the ranks of the poor and disinherited than in the upper socio-economic classes. Assuming this, we logically could conclude that the hardships of famine fell heavily on them. Why did Paul make time on his busy agenda as a church planter and missionary to the Gentiles to engage in what some today might despise as the “social gospel?” First, the first-century Judaism that had nurtured Paul knew of a well-developed system of alms-giving and poor relief, which the Jewish-Christians in Acts 6:1-6 apparently already had emulated in the church. The Old Testament repeatedly documents this characteristic Jewish concern for the disadvantaged in such laws as those requiring that grain be left for gleaners. In addition, Jews all across the ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world customarily sent donations to Jerusalem for poor relief.13 Paul ministered as a Jewish-Christian himself, and as an heir to the Jewish tradition of charity. By the time of the famine under Claudius, Jewish authorities may have turned their hostility on their kinsmen by race who had been converted to Jesus the Messiah. If this hostility took the form of cutting Jewish-Christians off from receiving any charitable assistance from Jewish sources, the plight of poor Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem would have proved particularly difficult.
  19. 19. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 19 The specifically Christian motivation for the collecting and receiving of this offering is that of Christian love (see 2 Cor. 8:8), particularly that loving gratitude that wells up in the believer in response to experiencing the love of Christ, who, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). The Jerusalem offering would have given Paul an excellent and providential opportunity to demonstrate that Jew and Gentile are united as brothers and sisters in one family of faith in Jesus Christ.

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