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What we work for. 1 Corinthians 8.

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  1. 1. 1 | P a g e March 16, 2014 Session 3 What We Work For1 The Point: Support God‟s kingdom work with your income. The Bible Meets Life: Most of us were taught at a young age about the virtue of saving money. During uncertain economic times, this notion moves from being more than a virtue—it is a necessity. The virtuous nature of saving, though, dissipates when we hold on to our money and assets at the expense of others. We do not earn money just to have money; we earn money to meet our needs and the needs of others. The Passage: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9. The Setting: The churches in Macedonia had been collecting an offering to help the poverty-stricken believers in Jerusalem. The church at Corinth was to participate in this offering, but Paul needed to encourage them to follow through with their gift. He used the example of the Macedonian churches, who gave out of their poverty, to challenge the Corinthians to excel in the grace of giving. Overview: (2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15) Apostolic Fellowship In the context of restored relationships, Paul turned to the topic of the collection for the church in Jerusalem. These two chapters deal exclusively with the subject of the church‟s need for renewed stewardship. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 Paul had appealed for help in the Jerusalem relief fund. Jerusalem had been impoverished through the famines in Judea in the 40s. The collection was both an act of charity as well as a symbol of unity between the Gentiles and Jews in the church (see Acts 11:27-30; Gal 2:10). The Corinthians had promised to give and had failed to participate. Paul now appealed for the Corinthians to complete what they said they would do. Paul taught that believers should give sacrificially (8:1-2) and spontaneously (8:3-4), with spiritual motives (8:5-9). Paul taught that they should give freely, for God values the eagerness to give, not necessarily the amount of the gift (8:10-15). 1 Edited by John R. Wible. No claim is made to originality of content except as indicated. Sources: Spring 2014 Uniform Lesson Series and Advanced Bible Study, Lifeway, Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, TENNESSEE. (2014.)
  2. 2. 2 | P a g e Paul explained that Titus and two men from the Macedonian churches would handle the money. Paul would have nothing to do with money himself. The handling and administration of the money is as important as the giving of the money. It is important for the church and the world to see the honesty with which the church handles its finances (8:16-9:5). Paul then reminded them of the extent of God‟s giving for them. Out of appreciation for God‟s gift, believers should give joyfully (9:6-15). 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia: 2 During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity. KEY WORDS: Deep poverty (v. 2)—Poverty in Macedonia was severe; among believers it was worse, made so by persecution for their faith. They were at rock bottom, destitute. [There were several Reasons for the poverty presently in or coming to the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea. 1. Agabus prophesied a famine. Acts 11:25-30. 2. After their conversion to Christianity many Jews in Jerusalem would have been ostracized socially and economically. 3. The "experiment in community sharing" described in Acts 2:44, 45 and 4:32, 34, 35 undoubtedly would have aggravated, though it did not cause, their poverty. 4. Persistent food shortages in Palestine because of overpopulation culminated in the famine of A.D. 46 in the time of Emperor Claudius (Acts 11:27-30). 5. As the mother-church of Christendom, the Jerusalem church was obliged to support a proportionately large number of teachers and probably to provide hospitality for frequent Christian visitors to the holy city. 6. Jews in Palestine were subject to a crippling twofold taxation--Jewish and Roman.]2 Wealth (v. 2)—Despite their destitution, Macedonian believers gave with a remarkable depth of generosity. Wealth does not refer to the amount they were able to give but the spirit and sacrifice with which they gave. Paul began by imploring the Corinthian churches to fully comprehend the grace of God which was granted to the churches of Macedonia. It was not by accident that Paul highlighted the grace of God as the central facet of this particular passage. Paul began chapter 8 and ended chapter 9 with the idea of God‟s grace being a central theme underlying the collection for the poor. A bedrock principle of Paul‟s writings revolves around God‟s grace being manifested in the lives of believers. 2 Editor’s note.
  3. 3. 3 | P a g e This grace was most-fully seen in the incarnation of God‟s Son—Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15,17). Yet God‟s grace can also come by hearing God‟s Word, through which the Father seeks to reconcile men and women to Himself (see 2 Corinthians 6:1). However, in this case the grace which Paul is referring to specifically is the sacrificial, freely given, spontaneous generosity demonstrated by the Macedonians. This type of grace testifies to the character and nature of God highlighted in and through the Macedonians‟ desire and ability to contribute to the poor. In 8:2 Paul spoke of the deep poverty (bathos ptocheia) of the Macedonian churches. The Greek construction in this verse points to the very depth of the church‟s destitution. Conceptually, ptocheia literally means “poor, miserable, beggarly, or impotent,” or “extreme or profound poverty.”1 It is because of this deep poverty that the churches in Macedonia had a special empathy with the poor in the Jerusalem church (see Romans 15:26). In spite of their deep poverty, the churches in Macedonia gave sacrificially out of their joy in Christ. Contrasting the deep poverty of the Macedonian churches, Paul used riches or wealth (ploutos) to describe the nature of the Macedonians‟ willing generosity. Paul used the noun to describe a generosity that is lavish or abundant in its wealth. It is vitally important to notice that Paul was not speaking of material wealth, for the Macedonian church had none. Rather, the wealth that Paul spoke of in the context was spiritual blessings. It is quite clear throughout Paul‟s letters that a Christian may experience unbounded joy in the midst of great persecution or poverty. Material wealth can and often does mask spiritual poverty (see Revelations 3:14-22). In this case the wealth that Paul alluded to is the depth of the Macedonians‟ walk with Christ, leading to the depth of their generosity toward the Jerusalem believers. The idea of sacrificial generosity is amply illustrated by the second verse, where Paul stated, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity. Paul made it quite clear that through severe testing by affliction, their generosity flowed. It is notable that Paul took pains to point out the persecution of the Macedonian believers. Perhaps the social ostracism coupled with the ensuing economic disparity produced the severe testing by affliction of which Paul wrote. Regardless, the persecution and economic poverty produced in the Macedonians an abundance of joy that brimmed over into the wealth of their generosity. In God‟s kingdom even the very poor may give sacrificially and be blessed for doing so with a full heart! Paul illustrated the nature of their giving by emphasizing the wealth of their generosity. At issue here is the desire on Paul‟s behalf to point out the lavishness and liberality of the Macedonians‟ generosity. Much like the widow and her mite (Luke 21:1-4), the Macedonians gave lavishly out of their poverty. In this manner the Macedonians would have easily been able to relate to the poor of the Jerusalem church. 2 Corinthians 8:3-7 3 I testify that, on their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability, 4 they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, 5 and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God‟s will. 6 So we urged Titus that just as he had begun, so he should also complete this grace to you. 7 Now as you excel in everything—faith, speech, knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love for us—excel also in this grace.
  4. 4. 4 | P a g e KEY WORDS: All diligence (v. 7)—Literally, haste or speed. By implication, that which is done quickly or promptly, as with eagerness, zeal, diligence, or earnest. In verses 3-5, Paul wrote that the Macedonians gave over and above their ability. Notably, the Macedonians begged … insistently to contribute on behalf of the poor. The liberality of the Macedonians is evidenced by four major factors which Paul cited. First, he pointed out in verse 3 that the churches contributed much more generously then their financial means allowed. They gave beyond their ability. Second, it is noted that their giving was from the heart and not compulsory. They considered it a privilege of sharing. The Macedonians gave so freely that Paul did not even have to request of them a collection. Christians in the region of Macedonia gave of their own free choice as though they were giving to Christ Himself. Third, the Macedonians illustrated a magnanimous spirit by their very pleading to be involved with the Jerusalem church. Reading the context of the Corinthian correspondence closely, one notices that it is not the amount that the Macedonian church gave but their attitude and spirit in giving what they were able that Paul commended. Fourth, the Macedonians first gave themselves to Christ, then, in keeping with God‟s will, to Paul and his cohorts. They gave themselves especially to the Lord. The Macedonians gave of their very selves to God‟s service in order that His kingdom might be furthered! To expand God‟s kingdom even further, Paul pressed the example of the Macedonian act of grace in verses 6-7. It appears that the Corinthian church had lessened their zeal in the ministry for the poor in Jerusalem. First, Paul made the point that he was sending Titus to further encourage the Corinthian church—something that Titus had evidently done before. Paul‟s emphasis in verses 1-7 is highlighted in verse 7. This verse begins with a contrastive conjunction, yet it is the verb that paints the clear picture: Now as you excel in everything. The Corinthian church had excelled or overflowed in all kinds of gifts and talents as a church. By using the idea of “excelling” or “overabundance,” Paul was subtly drawing a comparison between the Macedonians (who overflowed with joy and generosity, v. 2) and the Corinthians. Indeed, the Corinthian church overflowed in spiritual giftedness. They possessed faith, speech, knowledge, … diligence, and … love. The Greek word that Paul used to denote diligence is spoude. It may also be translated as eagerness, earnest, zeal, or devotion to a cause. In this particular passage, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be zealous in their contribution for the poor. It must be pointed out that his commendation to the Corinthians is such that he encouraged the church to eagerly pursue with all diligence the grace of giving. Keep in mind that Paul was not calling necessarily for a large monetary gift but rather diligently giving out of their life circumstances. Yes, the Corinthian church was a spiritually gifted church that unfortunately looked only inward and thus was weak toward those on the outside. While Paul commended the church for numerous things they did extremely well, he spurred the church onward with an imperative, though the construction in this case reflects more of a strong desire than a command. Paul urged the Corinthian church to excel also in this grace—the grace which was so prevalent in the Macedonian churches needed to thrive with the Corinthians. At issue here is this: it is not enough to simply build up the local body of believers. To follow Christ is to be a part of the entire body of Christ—and if the church that is New Testament (made up of all born-again believers) is suffering then the whole body suffers. Paul‟s aim was to help the Corinthian church see the need to embrace a genuine generosity, which cannot be called up out of the depths of the human soul unless one has given oneself fully to Christ. Paul repeatedly emphasized that genuine Christian generosity comes first from a relationship with Jesus Christ. If one is truly walking with Christ in a personal relationship, that person will feel what Christ‟s heart feels. When we give ourselves to Christ, we are giving Him permission to direct our thoughts, feelings, and yes, our finances to further His kingdom.
  5. 5. 5 | P a g e Thus, Paul could not compel the Corinthians to give of their resources freely. However, he could point out what it means to truly follow the Master with one‟s heart, mind, and soul, as the Macedonians exemplified. The measuring rod for giving sacrificially, according to Paul, is none other than the giving displayed on the cross by Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 8:8-9 8 I am not saying this as a command. Rather, by means of the diligence of others, I am testing the genuineness of your love. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich. Paul sought to clear up possible misunderstandings at the very outset of his plea. In verses 8-9 he fully explained his reasoning in order that the Corinthian church might fully comprehend his theological rationale. First, Paul made it clear he was not making a command. At issue here is the notion of a “command,” given by Paul to the churches. In other letters (see 1 Corinthians 7:6,25), Paul mentioned commands coming from the Lord. However, in this case he took pains to help the Corinthians understand that it was in their spiritual interest to give freely out of Christ‟s abundant love. In sum, Paul did not give the Corinthians an order (as he could have). Instead he laid out the theological groundwork gathered from the Scriptures and encouraged their participation. In the latter half of verse 8, Paul told the Corinthians, I am testing the genuineness of your love. Three elements deserve a closer examination in this specific verse. First, Paul clearly stated that he was testing (dokimazo) the genuineness of the Corinthians‟ love. The word testing in the Greek can be translated as examine, prove by testing, discern, accept as proved or approved, as well as be found worthy. This particular word is different from other words that might be translated with similar English words in that this word carries with it the expectation that the desired or positive result will be the outcome of the testing. Second, Paul wanted to test the genuineness of the Corinthians‟ love as compared to the diligence of others. Once again he was alluding to the benchmark of the Macedonians‟ faith. If the Corinthian church embraced the example set by Christ (the very next verse in this passage), then they would follow the example set by the Macedonian churches in giving from their hearts. Third, Paul wanted to verify the genuineness of the Corinthians‟ love. Interestingly, Paul did not identify the object of the Corinthians‟ love. Grammatically, the love could be for Paul, Christ, or even fellow Christians. It is probably best to read the love here as the love of/for Christ but shown through their ministry to fellow Christians. It is obvious that the love one has for Christ will empower one to overcome perceived barriers and obstacles. The barriers and obstacles of poverty and harsh circumstances did not hinder the Macedonian churches. Likewise, the barriers and obstacles of riches should not hinder the Corinthian church. Paul mentioned the greatest reversal of status in history as the example that the Corinthian church must follow. In verse 9, Paul began by noting, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Repeatedly in this passage Paul has held up the Macedonian gift; now he appealed to the ultimate incentive for grace giving—the incarnation of Jesus Christ! He centered his plea strategically around the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Corinthians fully understood that Christ gave of Himself voluntarily and sacrificially for the benefit of humanity! Because of this selfless sacrifice, Paul urged the Corinthians to follow this model set for them by the incarnational life of Christ.
  6. 6. 6 | P a g e The very next phrase reveals both a cognitive and experiential element in the life of every believer. Paul noted, Though He [Christ] was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich. This summary is powerful and clear: Christians are to live as Christ lived in light of the grace that was bestowed on sinful humanity. Since Christ showered humanity with such blessings and undeserved grace, how then could the Corinthian believers shut their hearts toward their brothers and sisters in need (1 John 3:16-20)? Three elements rise out of this passage to point out the paradigm of blessing others in need. First, Paul stressed that He [Christ] was rich—a richness that undoubtedly points to the pre-incarnate status of Jesus in the realms of heavenly glory. Philippians 2 makes clear the depths to which Christ emptied Himself in order that He might serve others. As an eternal inhabitant of heaven, Christ willingly stepped down to earth and took on a slave‟s status so that humanity might partake of His eternal riches and righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Second, Paul reminded the Corinthians that Christ became poor for humanity‟s sake. Christ became poor literally (“The Son of Man has no place to lay His head” [Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58]), but this is not necessarily the emphasis that Paul seems to have had in mind. Rather, in keeping with the first half of this verse, Paul was likely expressing that Christ became poor by taking on mortality. As Christ became poor, He emptied Himself and took on the very nature of a servant (see Philippians 2; Romans 15; Hebrews 12). Christ chose this poverty in order to live in solidarity with sinful humanity—an example as a servant. In summary, this passage reminded the Corinthian church how gracious God‟s sacrifice was for humanity. At issue are the glorious riches Christ sacrificed in eternity past and the poverty He took on for humanity. By achieving this sacrificial poverty, Christ made possible a great exchange on the cross for all who repent and believe (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is this picture of riches/poverty that Paul used to illustrate the need for the Corinthian church to contribute to the collection for the poor. Paul was not calling the church to become impoverished nor to embrace abject poverty or asceticism. What Paul was seeking was a living, sacrificial, Spirit-led generosity that finds its impetus in the life of Jesus Christ. Live It Out: In relationship to supporting God‟s kingdom with your income, what does God ask of you? Give yourself to God. God wants you. When He has you, He has everything: your heart, your life, your future, your family, your influence, and your resources. Give yourself to God first. If you have not trusted Christ as Savior and Lord, do so today. Read the article “Lasting Victory” on the front inside cover (see BOOK). Trusting Jesus is your first step toward becoming the generous person God intends for you to be. Give yourself to others. Once God has you, you will give yourself to others willingly. Pray about your attitude toward serving others. Ask God to give you a willing and generous spirit. Ask Him to lay on your heart at least one generous act you could perform this week. Give your resources to God‟s kingdom. God‟s kingdom work through His church is the most important work in the world today. Take a hard look at your checkbook to determine how you are supporting God‟s kingdom. Pray this week about what you could sacrifice in your budget in order to give that money to support God‟s kingdom. Thank God for His strength to be generous. God has given us so much. Get caught up in the joy of spending for God‟s kingdom.
  7. 7. 7 | P a g e DIGGING DEEPER: IVP Bible Background Commentary: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9. Models of Giving. Concerned with an active symbol of the unity of Jewish and Gentile churches (Romans 15:25-26) and relieving genuine poverty (Galatians 2:10), Paul is forced to do here the very thing that he has so assiduously avoided in his own ministry (1 Corinthians 9)—asking for funds. Although he had previously told the Corinthians about the need (1 Corinthians 16:1-3), higher-class members of his congregation would be offended at what they would see as inconsistency. They had wanted Paul to accept pay as a regular philosophical teacher rather than maintain himself as a low-status artisan (2 Corinthians 12:13; cf. 1 Corinthians 9); by identifying himself with the poor in the congregation, Paul had risked alienating their well-to-do friends who despised artisans. Paul thus defends the collection in 2 Corinthians 8-9. 8:1. Moral writers frequently offered positive role models. Public speakers used a standard rhetorical technique called “comparison,” which often served to stimulate moral competition. Many speakers, including Paul, were willing to appeal to ancient city and other geographical rivalries to spur their hearers on to greater zeal. Macedonia and Corinth were such rivals. 8:2. Some Greco-Roman aristocrats ridiculed those who lived simply, but other writers praised the simple lifestyle that enabled its followers to give generously. Macedonia was not altogether poor, but persecution and ostracism may have increased the financial hardship of the Christians there. 8:3. One was to give alms according to one‟s ability (Deuteronomy 15:14; cf. Ezra 2:69; Tobit 4:8, 16), but the Macedonians went beyond this rule. 8:4-5. The term translated “participation” (NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE), “sharing” (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, NRSV) or “fellowship” (KING JAMES VERSION) was used technically in business documents of Paul‟s day for a “partnership.” It could also signify an institution of Roman trade known as the societas, by which members contracted to supply whatever they had to fulfill their goal. Whether Paul conceives of this “partnership” officially or unofficially, it is clear that the Macedonians saw support, like hospitality, as a privilege. Judaism used the term here translated “service” (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION) or “support” (NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE) technically for distributing alms for the poor. 8:6. Titus had raised this issue of support as well as the issue of the harsh letter when he was among them. 8:7. They have important spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 1:5-7; 1 Corinthians 12:28) and other expressions of God‟s work among them. Paul uses praise as a basis for exhortation, as moralists often did. 8:8. Because contributors in antiquity were often forced to support public works (occasionally this forced support could bankrupt someone less well-to-do than the tax roll had indicated), speakers and writers calling for funds had to be particularly careful to stress the voluntary nature of the contributions. (Later Jewish teachers even charged charity collectors who pressured the poor for contributions with “oppressing the poor.”) Paul alludes to the rhetorical technique of comparison he has used (2 Corinthians 8:1).
  8. 8. 8 | P a g e 8:9. Moralists often appealed to role models, and Paul here uses the supreme one, insisting that the Corinthian Christians follow Christ‟s example of using their prosperity to enrich the poor. Like both Jewish and non-Jewish writers of his day, Paul can use the language of wealth figuratively as well as literally, but he may mean Christ‟s enrichment of believers literally, as provision through one another (2 Corinthians 8:14). SOURCE: The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Craig S. Keener © 1993 by Craig S. Keener published by InterVarsity Press; P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL. Deep poverty—The two Greek words rendered deep poverty in 2 Corinthians 9:2 literally referred to the deepest form of destitution. These words did not describe someone who had little, but someone who had nothing. It was the deepest form of poverty or “rock-bottom” poverty. SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TENNESSEE. Wealth—The word rendered wealth in verse 2 is derived from a root word meaning “to fill to the top.” It did not have to be material wealth but could include spiritual blessings as well. SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TENNESSEE. Riches: The Greek word translated riches (ploutos, v. 2; KING JAMES VERSION) has a root meaning “to flow” and “to fill.” The basic idea is “fullness” and may be used literally of material wealth but also may be applied figuratively to mean spiritual wealth, as it is in this verse. Paul used the word or a derivative often in his letters to speak of the “fullness” that “flows” or comes through a relationship with Christ. Believers are rich in God‟s kindness and glory, His mercy and grace. SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TENNESSEE. All diligence—Other translations rendered the term pasa spoude in verse 7 as “complete earnest” (ESV). The word occurs twice to Romans (Romans 12:8,11) and five times in 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:11,12; 8:7,9,16). Here Paul intensified the word by adding “all” or “every kind of.” Previously, the Corinthians‟ diligence, or earnest, had been misdirected. Since Titus‟s visit with Paul‟s letter of admonition, the Corinthians‟ diligence had become properly focused (7:11). SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TENNESSEE. All diligence: Obviously all (pasa) in verse 7 is an inclusive collective term. Diligence (spoude) comes from a word that means “to make haste” but took on other meanings such as “zeal,” “desire,” “attentiveness.” It is used in the sense of seeing something as so serious or important that you want to see it come to pass speedily. Thus, you are attentive to the matter, eager for it to happen, and demonstrate zealous concern for it. SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TENNESSEE. TITUS (Ti' tuhs): Gentile companion of Paul (Galatians 2:3) and recipient of the New Testament letter bearing his name. Titus may have been converted by Paul who called him “my true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4 NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION). As one of Paul‟s early associates, Titus accompanied the apostle and Barnabas to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1), probably on the famine relief visit (Acts 11:28-30).
  9. 9. 9 | P a g e Though Acts does not mention Titus, he was quite involved in Paul‟s missionary activities as shown in the Pauline letters. He was evidently known to the Galatians (Galatians 2:1, 3), possibly from the first missionary journey to that region. Titus also seems to have been a very capable person, called by Paul “my partner and fellow worker” (2 Corinthians 8:23 NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION). He was entrusted with the delicate task of delivering Paul‟s severe letter (2 Corinthians 2:1-4) to Corinth and correcting problems within the church there (2 Corinthians 7:13-15). Titus‟ genuine concern for and evenhanded dealing with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:16-17; 12:18) no doubt contributed to his success which he reported in person to Paul, anxiously awaiting word in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:5-6, 13-15). Paul responded by writing 2 Corinthians which Titus probably delivered (2 Corinthians 8:6, 16-18, 23). Paul apparently was released after his first Roman imprisonment and made additional journeys, unrecorded in Acts. One of these took him and Titus to Crete, where Titus remained behind to oversee and administer the church (Titus 1:5). It was to Crete that Paul wrote his letter, asking Titus to join him in Nicopolis on the west coast of Greece (Titus 3:12). Following Paul‟s subsequent reimprisonment, Titus was sent to Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10). According to church tradition, Titus was the first bishop of Crete. SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee. POVERTY: 1. Old Testament References: This word, found but once in the Old Testament (Genesis 45:11) outside of the Book of Proverbs in which it occurs 11 times (Proverbs 6:11; Proverbs 10:15; Proverbs 11:24 the King James Version; Proverbs 13:18; Proverbs 20:13; Proverbs 23:21; Proverbs 24:34; Proverbs 28:19, 22 the King James Version; Proverbs 30:8; Proverbs 31:7), is a tra , yiwwārēsh, "to be poor," "to come to poverty" (Genesis 45:11). Four different Hebrew words are used in the 11 references in Proverbs, all bearing the idea of being in need of the necessities of life, although a distinction is made , rūsh, "to be impoverished," "destitute") useth entreaties; but the rich answereth roughly." 2. New Testament References: "Poverty" occurs 3 times in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 8:2, 9; Revelations 2:9) and is the translation of πτωχεί α, ptōcheía, "to be reduced to a state of beggary or pauperism." The teaching of the Bible on this subject would, however, be incomplete unless all the references to the "poor" were considered in this connection. Indeed the word for "poverty" has its root in the word for "poor" (πτωχό ς, ptōchós , ʿānī , dal). 3. Two Degrees of Poverty: At least two degrees of poverty are recognized. The Old Testament does not distinguish between them as clearly as does the New Testament. The New Testament, for example, by its use of two words for "poor" sets forth this distinction. In 2 Corinthians 9:9, "he hath given to the poor," the word used is πέ νης, pénēs, which does not indicate extreme poverty, but simply a condition of living from hand to mouth, a bare and scant livelihood, such as that made by the widow who cast her two mites into the treasury (Luke 21:2); while in such passages as 2 Corinthians 6:10: "As poor, yet making many rich," and Luke 6:20: "Blessed are ye poor" (πτωχοί , ptōchoí, a condition is indicated of abject beggary, pauperism, such as that in which we find Lazarus who was laid at the gate of the rich man's palace, begging even the crumbs which fell from the table of the rich man (Luke 16:20-21).
  10. 10. 10 | P a g e It was into this latter condition that Christ voluntarily entered for our sakes: "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor (a mendicant, a beggar), that ye through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Between 30 and 40 times in the New Testament this latter word is used. 4. Causes of Poverty: The causes of poverty are failure of harvest and poor crops (Neh. 5:1-3); devastation caused by enemies sweeping through the land; the oppression of the people by their own rulers (Isaiah 5:8); excessive interest, usury (Neh. 5:1-5); persecution because of the faith (2 Corinthians 6; 2 Corinthians 8). Widows and orphans by reason of their desolate condition were in a special sense subject to poverty. Gluttony brings poverty (Proverbs 23:21), as does indolence (Proverbs 28:19). God commanded His people to care for the poor. The exhortations to relieve poverty are numerous, especially in the Pentateuch. Those in poverty must be treated with kindness (Deuteronomy 15:7-11); must be allowed to glean in the vineyards (Leviticus 19:10); to reap the harvest (Leviticus 23:22; compare Ruth 2:14-16); must not be neglected (Proverbs 28:27); nor dealt with harshly (Amos 8:4-6); must be treated as equal before God (Proverbs 22:2); are to share in our hospitality (Luke 14:13, 21). Indeed, the truth or falsity of a man's religion is to be tested, in some sense at least, by his relation to those in need (James 1:27). The year of Jubilee was intended to be of great benefit to the poor by restoring to them any possessions which they, by reason of their poverty, had been compelled to deed over to their creditors (Leviticus 25:25-54; Deuteronomy 15:12-15). God required certain tithes from His people which were to be devoted to the helping of the poor and needy (Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12-13). So in the New Testament the apostles lay special emphasis upon remembering the poor in the matter of offerings. Paul, especially, inculcated this duty upon the churches which he had rounded (Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10). The attitude of the early Christian church toward its poor is amply illustrated in that first attempt at communism in Acts 2; Acts 4. James, in his Epistle, stingingly reminds his readers of the fact that they had grossly neglected the important matter of caring for the poor (chapter 2). Indeed, so strong is he in his plea for the care of the poor that he claims that the man who willfully neglects the needy thereby proves that the love of God has no place in his heart, and that he has consequently no real faith in God (Acts 2:14-26). Christians are exhorted to abound in the grace of hospitality, which, of course, is nothing less than kindness to those in need (Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 6:18; 1 John 3:17). The happiest mother and the noblest and holiest son that ever lived were among the poor. Jesus was born of poor parents, and had not where to lay His head (Matthew 8:20), no money with which to pay tribute (Matthew 17:27), no home to call His own (John 7:53; compare 8:1), and was buried in a borrowed grave (Matthew 27:57-61). Figurative: Of course there is also a spiritual poverty indicated by the use of this word—poverty in spiritual things: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." By this is meant, Blessed are they who feel that they have no self-righteousness, no worth of their own to present to Christ as a ground of their salvation, who feel their utter bankruptcy of spirit, who say "Nothing in my hand I bring." It is to this state of spirit that Christ refers in Revelations 3:17: "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked." SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  11. 11. 11 | P a g e ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING: The Churches of Macedonia By D. Larry Gregg, Sr., 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. 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.
  12. 12. 12 | P a g e 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). A Thyatiran 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 brings 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” (Philippians 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 (Romans 15:26) and the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 11-9). 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.
  13. 13. 13 | P a g e 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 Corinthians 8:5, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION). 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. SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TENNESSEE 37234; Summer 2005. Poverty and Wealthy In the Early Church By Billy E. Simmons, retired professor of New Testament, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary 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 that 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. 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” (Matthew 6:24, KING JAMES VERSION). 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.
  14. 14. 14 | P a g e 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” (Matthew 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. 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 church. The practice of sharing thus continued for some time, though we cannot say for sure how long. Paul‟s letters emphasize 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 Corinthians 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.
  15. 15. 15 | P a g e 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 (Revelations 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. 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 classes (Matthew 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, TENNESSEE 37234. Fall, 2003. The First Century Church and Poverty By Timothy N. Boyd, pastor of First Baptist Church, Mulvane, Kansas. COMPARED TO MODERN AMERICAN STANDARDS, most of the people living in the Roman Empire during the first century would be classified as living in poverty. However, even for that day, there was a distinctive part of first-century society that was considered to be poor. Jesus often ministered to this impoverished element. He even told His followers that the poor would always be with them (Matt. 26:11). The attitude of the first-century church toward poverty was shaped by several factors. One factor was the teaching of the Old Testament Scripture regarding poverty. Another factor was Christ‟s teaching about the poor, which was reinforced by His personal example. A final factor was the large segment of believers who came from that part of society.
  16. 16. 16 | P a g e The first-century church inherited the Scriptures of Judaism and the attitude reflected there about poverty. There was something of a mixed attitude toward poverty in Judaism. The Old Testament encouraged the protection of the poor (Ex. 23:2-3; Deuteronomy 16:19; Ps. 82:3). It also called for those who had wealth to work on behalf of the poor (Ps. 41:1; Prov. 14:21; Prov. 14:31). The prophets were quick to condemn the ruling classes during those times when the poor were oppressed (Amos 5:11-12; Jer. 34:8-11; Isa. 10:1-2). The Old Testament recognized that poverty was unavoidable for many. On the other hand, the Old Testament condemned those who fell into poverty because of laziness or neglect (Prov. 6:9-11; 13:18; 21:17). While it acknowledged that some were poor through no fault of their own, it had no sympathy for those who could co something to improve their lot and refused to do so. When Christ began His ministry, the Jews‟ attitude toward poverty was still mixed. There is evidence that the Qumran sect practiced a form of voluntary poverty and viewed poverty as promoting spirituality.1 On the other hand, the Pharisees had an attitude of spiritual superiority toward the poor and believed that wealth was a sign of God‟s blessing. Poverty was sometimes seen as a curse from God. The poor were still an oppressed class in many respects. Jesus, however, identified His ministry with the poor. He and His disciples even maintained a treasury from which they aided the poor (John 13:29). He used the poor as illustrations of virtue over against the self-proclaimed virtue of the Pharisees and others who were well- off. For example, He praised the widow who gave her two coins as a sacrificial act as opposed to those who gave much but not sacrificially (Mark 12:41-44). In His encounter with the rich young ruler, Christ encouraged this man to give his wealth to the poor. In this same account, He warned His disciples of the dangers of wealth to spiritual life (Matthew 19: 16-24). In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ further warned that one could not serve both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). Considering the ministry and teaching of Christ, it is not surprising that many from the poor class were attracted to the church and the message of the gospel. From what is known about the demographics of the early church, a sizeable portion of the first-century church came from the poor. This, combined with the teachings of Christ concerning love and brotherhood in the church, gave the church an unusual perspective on poverty and sympathy for the poor. The teachings of the Old Testament and those of Christ obviously carried over to the new church. The early church in Jerusalem practiced a form of voluntary poverty, giving up wealth so that the needs of the poor in the church could be met (Acts 2:44-45). The first deacons were chosen so that the needs of the poor Hellenistic widows in the church could be met (Acts 6:1-3). As the church developed and spread throughout the Mediterranean world, it continued to show concern for the poor and reflected a much different attitude toward the poor than was common for the times. The apostle Paul, in Galatians 2:10, commented on a conference held in Jerusalem to evaluate his ministry to the Gentiles. According to Paul, the conference did not change his message but asked that he remember the poor. Paul told the Galatians that remembering the poor was one of his concerns as well. Paul demonstrated this concern in his ministry by encouraging an offering for Jerusalem among the various churches in Greece and Asia Minor where he ministered. In Romans 15:26 Paul referred to this offering and told the Roman church that the Greek churches were pleased to participate in this offering. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, Paul commended the Macedonian believers because of their generosity in this effort to meet the needs of the poor in the Jerusalem church. In this same chapter, Paul told the Corinthians that his goal was to promote a type of equality among the churches.
  17. 17. 17 | P a g e By this Paul meant that no church should be so poor that it was unable to minister to the poor while another church had a surplus (2 Corinthians 8:14-14). Paul‟s motivation for this offering was the example of Christ who became poor for our sakes (2 Corinthians 8:9). As seen in these passages, the early church‟s concern for the poor was demonstrated primarily with fellow believers. This did not mean that the early church was unconcerned about nonbelievers who were caught in poverty. Rather, it likely reflected the limited resources of a church that was poor itself and was considered illegal by the Romans. The apostle Paul‟s concern for the poor did not excuse laziness on the part of those in need. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul reminded these believers of the rule that he had left them that those who did not work would not eat. He went on in that passage to condemn idleness. Paul and the church were especially concerned about those who were helpless such as the widows who were too old to marry (implied in 1 Timothy 5:9) and orphans (Jas. 1:27). Not only was the first-century church committed to ministering to the poor, but it also treated the poor with absolute equality in the fellowship of the church. In James 2:1-7, James criticized his readers for the preference that they had shown to the rich in their services. He went on to remind them that the poor were ordained to be rich in faith and to remind them that much persecution had come to the church through the rich. In fact, this passage implied that the poor were better off from a spiritual perspective than those of other classes. The non-biblical material dating from the latter portions of the first century into the early decades of the second century echoes most of the same attitudes toward poverty as detailed above. Although the scope of this study is the first century, second-century practices doubtlessly reflected the life and teachings of the first-century church. Clement, pastor at Rome, writing at the end of the first century to the Corinthian church, told his fellow believers that the wealthy should provide for the poor and that the poor should bless God because of what they were receiving.2 Clement also told the Corinthians of believers that he knew who had sold themselves into slavery in order to provide food for the poor.3 Ignatius, writing early in the second century to the church at Smyrna, accused those opposed to Christ of having no concern for those who were poor or oppressed in some way while believers in Christ had that concern. Ignatius further reminded the believers at Smyrna that the rich had no reason to be proud and those who were impoverished had no reason to be ashamed. Rather, those who believed in Christ stood on equal ground.4 Aristides, another early second-century writer, wrote of the early Christians as caring for the widows and orphans. He also wrote of their eagerness to provide for those who did not have the necessities of life. He described believers fasting for two or three days in order to provide food for those in need.5 The Shepherd of Hermas encouraged the rich to provide for the poor. The poor were described as having the spiritual ability to intercede for the rich and thus both were benefited. Hermas understood the ministry of intercession to be greater in the hands of the poor man who was not as distracted by the things of this world and thus whose intercession had great power with God.6 Hermas also instructed his readers that some were harming their bodies by eating too much and some were being harmed by not having enough to eat. Therefore, he said sharing was the wisest thing to do.7 Hermas further told his readers that giving should be done freely and to all in need. They were not to try to decide who needed the help more.8
  18. 18. 18 | P a g e Irenaeus, a writer of the later second century, remarked that Christians had been instructed by Christ to share their wealth with the poor, both Christian and non-Christian.9 Dionysius of Corinth, roughly a contemporary of Irenaeus, wrote that if had been the practice of the church from the beginning to take up collections to care for the needs of the poor.10 In summary, the first-century church had great sympathy toward those who were impoverished. It treated the poor with equality and a sense of respect that was highly unusual for the times. The church also actively worked to help the poor and meet their needs. This provision for the poor was often done in a sacrificial manner by those who were providing the aid. Besides caring for the poor in their midst and treating them equally, the early Christians were encouraged to view the poor as spiritually blessed. The Layman’s Bible Commentary. “First and Second Corinthians,” by William Barclay. Chapter 8 AN APPEAL FOR GENEROSITY (2 Corinthians 8:1-15) 8:1-15 Brothers, we want you to know about the grace of God which was given in the Churches of Macedonia. We want you to know that even when they were going through a severe test of their faith when things were pressing sorely on them, their overflowing happiness and their poverty which reached the very depths of destitution combined to overflow into the wealth of their generosity. For, I bear witness, they gave according to their ability, yes, beyond their ability, quite spontaneously, begging us and strongly urging us to give them the privilege of sharing in this service designed for the help of God's dedicated people. It was not only as we hoped that they gave, but, first, by God's will, they gave themselves to the Lord and to us. We were so impressed by this that we have invited Titus, as in your case he began it, so to bring to its completion this act of generosity. But, just as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all earnestness and in the love which went out from you to come to rest in us--I urge you to excel also in this act of generosity. This is not an order that I am giving you, but I am using the example of the earnestness of others to prove the genuineness of your love. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. You know that it was for your sakes that, though he was rich, he became poor, that you, by his poverty, might become rich. It is my opinion that I give you in this matter. This is to your good, you, who as long ago as last year, were the first not only to do this but to desire to do it. Now complete the action, so that your readiness to set this scheme in hand may be matched by your completing it according to your means. For if readiness to give already exists, to make it fully acceptable a man is called upon to give in proportion to what he has and not in proportion to what he has not. You are not called on to give so that others may have relief while you yourselves are hard pressed. But things will even themselves up. At the present time your abundance must be used to relieve their lack, so that some day their abundance may be used to relieve your lack, so that things may be evened up, just as it stands written, "He who gathered his much had not too much, and he who gathered his little had not too little." One of the schemes that lay nearest to Paul's heart was the collection that he was organizing for the Church of Jerusalem. This was the Mother Church but she was poor, and it was Paul's desire that all the Gentiles' Churches should remember and help that Church which was their mother in the faith. So here he reminds the Corinthians of their duty and urges them to generosity.
  19. 19. 19 | P a g e He uses five arguments to appeal to them to give worthily. (i) He cites the example of others. He tells them how generous the Macedonian Churches had been. They were poor and in trouble but they gave all they had, far more than anyone could have expected. At the Jewish Feast of Purim there is a regulation which says that, however poor a man is, he must find someone poorer than himself and give him a gift. It is not always those who are most wealthy who are most generous; often those who have least to give are the most ready to give. As the common saying has it, "It is the poor who help the poor," because they know what poverty is like. (ii) He cites the example of Jesus Christ. For Paul the sacrifice of Jesus did not begin on the Cross. It did not even begin with his birth. It began in heaven, when he laid his glory by and consented to come to earth. Paul's challenge to the Christian is, "With that tremendous example of generosity before you, how can you hold back?" (iii) He cites their own past record. They have been foremost in everything. Can they then lag behind in this? If men were only true to their own highest standards, if we all lived always at our best, what a difference it would make! (iv) He stresses the necessity of putting fine feeling into fine action. The Corinthians had been the first to feel the appeal of this scheme. But a feeling which remains only a feeling, a pity which remains a pity only of the heart, a fine desire that never turns into a fine deed, is a sadly truncated and frustrated thing. The tragedy of life so often is, not that we have no high impulses, but that we fail to turn them into actions. (v) He reminds them that life has a strange way of evening things up. Far more often than not we find that it is measured to us with the same measure as we measure to others. Life has a way of repaying bounty with bounty, and the sparing spirit with the sparing spirit. Paul says a very fine thing about the Macedonians. He says that first of all they gave themselves--and so indeed they did. Two of them stand out above all the others. There was Aristarchus of Thessalonica. He was with Paul on the last journey to Rome (Acts 28:2). Like Luke, he must have come to a great decision. Paul was under arrest and on his way to trial before the Emperor. There was only one way in which Aristarchus could have accompanied him, and that was by enrolling himself as Paul's slave. Aristarchus in the fullest sense gave himself. There was Epaphroditus. When Paul was in prison in the later days, he came to him with a gift from Philippi, and there in prison he fell grievously ill. As Paul said of him, "he nearly died for the work of Christ" (Philippians 2:26-30). No gift can be in any real sense a gift unless the giver gives with it a bit of himself. That is why personal giving is always the highest kind, and that is the kind of giving of which Jesus Christ is the supreme example. The OT Quotation with which Paul concludes this passage is from Exodus 16:18, which tells how when the Israelites gathered the manna in the wilderness, whether a man gathered little or much, it was enough.