Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you:IX.
(1) For as touching . . .—The division of chapters in the English version, unfortunately, gives the impression of the introduction of a new subject. In reality there is no new topic, and all flows on with unbroken continuity. This is part of the appeal to their self-respect begun in 2Corinthians 8:23-24. “You will pardon,” he practically says, “my words of counsel as to the necessity of prompt action; as to the general duty of that ministration to the saints you have shown that you need no instruction.”
For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many.(2) For I know the forwardness of your mind.—This was the boast to which he had referred in 2Corinthians 8:24. Achaia (i.e., Corinth, and perhaps Cenchreæ also) had been ready last year. The urgency of his present appeal indicates a latent misgiving whether he had not unconsciously over-stated the fact, and had mistaken the “will” that had shown itself for an actual readiness to send off the money whenever it was called for. (See Note on 2Corinthians 9:3.) The word for “provoke,” used here in a good sense, is found in Colossians 3:21, in a bad sense, as “irritating.” This was another reason for prompt and generous action. It would be a permanent disgrace to them if, after having been held up as a pattern to others, they afterwards fell short of their excellence.
Very many.—Literally, the greater number.
Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready:(3) Yet have I sent the brethren . . .—This, then, was his purpose in the new mission. He wanted the performance not to fall short of the promise. They must be found ready, their money collected. (Comp. 1Corinthians 16:2.)
In this behalf.—Perhaps, in this particular, or, in this respect, would be more in harmony with modern English phraseology.
Lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting.(4) Lest haply if they of Macedonia . . .—The Greek for “Macedonians” has no article, and the word is meant to stir up something like an esprit de corps. “Surely you Achaians won’t allow Macedonians to come and see that you fall short of what I told them about?” It is a probable, but not, as some have thought, a necessary inference, that neither of the two unnamed brethren of 2Corinthians 8:18; 2Corinthians 8:22, were of that province. What he now indicates is, that it is, at all events, probable that when he comes to pay his deferred visit he will be accompanied by Macedonians. If, then, they were still not ready, there would be shame for him; how much more for them!
In this same confident boasting.—Literally, in this confidence of boasting; but the better MSS. give “in this confidence” only. The word so translated (hypostasis), literally, “that which stands under, the base or ground of anything,” has the interest of a long subsequent history in metaphysical and theological controversies, of which we find, perhaps, the first trace in Hebrews 1:3, where it appears as “person,” and Hebrews 11:1, where it is rendered “substance.” (See Notes on those passages.) In Hebrews 3:14, it has the same meaning as in this passage.
Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness.(5) Therefore I thought it necessary . . .—The brethren were to go before St. Paul, so as to get all things ready for his arrival. There were to be no hurried and unsatisfactory collections then.
Your bounty, whereof ye had notice before.—Better, your bounty, announced before. He is not referring to any notice that he had given, whether in 1Corinthians 16:1-2 or elsewhere, but to the announcement that he himself had made to the churches of Macedonia. The word for “bounty” (eulogia) has, like that for “confidence” in the preceding verse, the interest of an ecclesiastical history attaching to it. Literally, it means a “blessing;” then, as in the LXX. of Genesis 23:11, Judges 1:15, it was used for the “gift,” which is the outward token or accompaniment of a blessing. In liturgical language, as connected with the “cup of blessing,” it was applied—(1) to the consecrated bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper generally; (2) specially to those portions which were reserved to be sent to the sick and other absentees; (3) when that practice fell into disuse, to the unconsecrated remains; and (4) to gifts of bread or cake to friends or the poor, as a residuum of the old distributions at the Agapæ, or Feasts of Charity.
As a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness.—The bearing of the last word is not quite obvious. Probably what is meant is this:—“Let your gift be worthy of what you call it, a ‘blessing’ expressed in act, not the grudging gift of one who, as he gives, is intent on gaining some advantage through his seeming generosity.” So understood, it expresses the same thought as Shakespeare’s well-known lines:—
“The quality of mercy is not strained,
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
It is possible, however, that the word “covetousness” had been applied tauntingly to St. Paul himself, as always “asking for more,” always “having his hand” (as is sometimes said of active organising secretaries in our own time) “in people’s pockets,” and that this is his answer to that taunt. The use of the corresponding verb in 2Corinthians 7:2; 2Corinthians 12:17-18, is strongly in favour of this view. “Don’t look on this business,” he seems to say, “as a self-interested work of mine. Think of it as, in every sense of the word, a blessing both to givers and receivers.”
But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.(6) He which, soweth sparingly . . .—It is interesting to note the occurrence of this thought in another Epistle of this period (Galatians 6:7-8).
He which soweth bountifully . . .—Literally, repeating the word before used, he which soweth in blessings. The obvious meaning of the passage is that a man “reaps,” i.e., gains, the reward of God’s favour and inward satisfaction, not according to the quantitative value of the thing given, except so far as that is an indication of character, but according to the spirit and temper in which he has given it.
Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.(7) Every man according as he purposeth.—The verb, which does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, is used in its full ethical significance as indicating, not a passing impulse nor a vague wish, but a deliberate resolve, deciding both on the end and on the means for its attainment (Aristotle, Eth. Nicom. iii., c. 2). Such, St. Paul teaches, should be the purpose of the giver—not the outcome of a spent emotion, or a promise half-regretted, but formed with a clear well-defined perception of all attendant circumstances, and therefore neither “grudgingly,” as regards amount, nor with reluctance, as giving under pressure.
God loveth a cheerful giver.—As in 2Corinthians 8:21, so here, we have a distinct echo from the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 22:8) as it stands in the Greek version. In that version we find the following: “He that soweth wicked things shall reap evils, and shall complete the penalty of his deed. God blesseth a cheerful man and a giver, and shall complete” (in a good sense) “the incompleteness of his works.” It is obvious that this differs much from the Hebrew, which is represented in the English version, and it is interesting as showing that St. Paul used the LXX., and habitually quoted from it, and not from the Hebrew. As coming so soon after the quotation from Proverbs 3:4 in 2Corinthians 8:21, it seems to suggest that the Apostle had recently been studying that book, and that his mind was full of its teaching. As a law of action, it may be noted that the principle has a far wider range of application than that of simple alms-giving. Cheerfulness in visits of sympathy, in the daily offices of kindness, in the life of home, in giving instruction or advice—all come under the head of that which God approves and loves. So the greatest of Greek ethical teachers had refused the title of “liberal” to the man who gave without pleasure in the act of giving. The pain he feels proves that if he could he would rather have the money than do the noble action (Aristotle, Eth. Nicom. iv., c. 1).
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:(8) God is able to make all grace abound toward you.—The word “grace” must be taken with somewhat of the same latitude as in 2Corinthians 8:6-7; 2Corinthians 8:19, including every form of bounty, as well as “grace,” in its restricted theological sense: the means of giving, as well as cheerfulness in the act. He will bless the increase of those who give cheerfully, that they may have, not indeed the superfluity which ministers to selfish luxury, but the sufficiency with which all true disciples ought to be content. In the word “sufficiency,” which occurs only here and in 1Timothy 6:6 (“godliness with contentment”), we have another instance of St. Paul’s accurate use of the terminology of Greek ethical writers. To be independent, self-sufficing, was with them the crown of the perfect life; and Aristotle vindicates that quality for happiness as he defines it, as consisting in the activity of the intellect, and thus distinguished from wealth and pleasure, and the other accidents of life which men constantly mistook for it (Eth. Nicom. x., c. 7). At the time when St. Paul wrote it was constantly on the lips of Stoics. (Comp. the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, iii. c. 11.)
(As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever.(9) As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad.—The words are quoted from the LXX. version of Psalm 112:9. At first it might almost seem as if they were quoted in a different sense from the original, and applied, not to the giver of alms, but to God as the giver of all good, dispersing His bounty and showing His righteousness. There are, however, sufficient grounds for taking them in their true meaning here also. “The good man gives to the poor,” the Psalmist had said; “but he is not impoverished by his gifts. His righteousness” (the word is used as it perhaps is in the better text in Matthew 6:1—but see Note there—in the sense of alms-giving) “continues still and for ever.” He can, i.e., go on giving from a constantly replenished store. That this is the meaning is shown by 2Corinthians 9:3 of the Psalm: “Wealth and riches shall be in his house, and his righteousness endureth for ever:” the latter clause corresponding to the former, according to the laws of parallelism in Hebrew poetry.
Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;)(10) Now he that ministereth seed to the sower.—Better, he that giveth bounteously. The Greek verb (epichorêgein) has a somewhat interesting history. Originally it expressed the act of one who undertook to defray the expenses of the chorus of a Greek theatre. As this was an act of somewhat stately generosity, the verb got a wider range, and was applied to any such act, and was so transferred in like manner by the Apostle, probably, as far as we can trace, for the first time, to the divine bounty. It may be noted that it was not so used by the LXX. translators. The word indeed occurs but once in that version, in Ecclesiasticus 25:22 (“if a woman maintain her husband”). In its higher sense it becomes a somewhat favourite word with St. Paul (Galatians 3:5; Colossians 2:19), and is used by St. Peter (2Peter 1:5; 2Peter 1:11) after he had become acquainted with St. Paul’s Epistles, and possibly enriched his vocabulary through them.
The phrase “seed to the sower” occurs, with a different verb, in Isaiah 55:10. In the words that follow, “the fruits of righteousness,” there is an obvious reminiscence of Hosea 10:12, and Amos 6:12. The phrase occurs again in Philippians 1:11. The construction, according to the better MSS., varies somewhat from that of the Authorised version. He that bounteously giveth seed to the sower and bread for food (the beneficence of God thought of, as shown both in seed-time and harvest) shall give bounteously, and multiply your seed, and increase the produce of your righteousness. “Righteousness” is taken, as before, as specially presented under the aspect of alms-giving.
Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.(11) Being enriched in every thing.—The context points primarily to temporal abundance, but we can scarcely think that the other thought of the spiritual riches that are found in Christ (2Corinthians 8:9) was absent from the Apostle’s mind. On the word for “bountifulness” see Note on 2Corinthians 8:2. The participles are not grammatically connected with the preceding sentence, but the meaning is sufficiently obvious.
Which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.—His thoughts are obviously travelling on to the time of his arrival at Jerusalem, to the announcement of the collected gifts of the Gentile churches at a solemn gathering of the Church there, to the thanksgiving which would then be offered.
For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God;(12) For the administration of this service.—The latter word (leitourgia) has, like that for “ministering” in 2Corinthians 9:10, an interesting history. In classical Greek it stands for any public service rendered to the State. In the LXX. version it, and its cognate verb and adjective, are used almost exclusively of the ritual and sacrificial services of the Tabernacle and the Temple, as, e.g., in Numbers 4:25; 1Chronicles 11:13; 1Chronicles 26:30; and in this sense it appears in Luke 1:23; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:21; and with the same shade of meaning, used figuratively, in Philippians 2:17. That meaning survives in the ecclesiastical term “liturgy,” applied, as it was at first, exclusively to the service of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Here, probably, the thought is implied that a large and liberal gift to Christ’s poor, and for His sake, is the most acceptable of all forms of “service” in the liturgical sense of that word. So understood it implies the same truth as that stated in James 1:27.
Not only supplieth the want of the saints.—Literally, fills up the things that were lacking. The wants of the “saints,” i.e., the disciples of Jerusalem, were, we must remember, very urgent. They had never quite recovered from the pressure of the famine foretold by Agabus (Acts 11:28), and the lavish generosity of the first days of the Church (Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32) had naturally exhausted its resources.
But is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God.—More accurately, overflows, by means of many thanksgivings, to God: the latter noun standing in a closer connection with the verb than the English version suggests. Some of the better MSS. give, to Christ.
Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men;(13) Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God.—The construction of the Greek sentence is again that of a participle which has no direct grammatical connection with what precedes, but the English version sufficiently expresses the meaning. Test would, perhaps, be a better word than “experiment.” The word is the same as that rendered, with a needless variation, “experience” in Romans 5:4, “trial” in 2Corinthians 8:2, “proof” in 2Corinthians 13:3.
Your professed subjection.—The English version makes the not unfrequent mistake of merging the genitive in a somewhat weak adjective. Literally, in your obedience to the confession of faith. The latter noun is used in this sense in 1Timothy 6:12-13; Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 4:14. The word seems to have acquired a half-technical significance, like that which attaches to “faith” and “religion” used objectively.
For your liberal distribution.—The construction is the same as in the previous clause: for the liberality of your contribution.
And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you.(14) And by their prayer for you, which long after you.—The structure of the Greek is again ungrammatical, but the following gives a somewhat more accurate representation: And while they long after you, in supplication for you, on account of the exceeding grace of God that rests on you. He seems half lost in his anticipations of what will follow when he hands over the contributions of the Gentiles to the “saints” at Jerusalem. Their utterance of praise and thanksgiving will, he is sure, be followed by a yearning prayer of intercession for their benefactors.
Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.(15) Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.—So the section on the collection for the saints comes to its close. We are left to conjecture to what gift the Apostle refers: whether to the love of God as manifested in Christ, or to the spirit of love poured into men’s hearts. The use of the word in the Acts (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:20; Acts 10:45; Acts 11:17) is in favour of referring it to the gift of the Holy Ghost; that of Romans 5:15; Romans 5:17, to the gift of pardon or righteousness. Probably it did not enter into his thoughts to subject the jubilant utterance of praise to a minute analysis.
At this stage there was manifestly another pause, of greater or less length, in the act of dictating. Fresh thoughts of a different kind are working in his mind, and rousing feelings of a very different kind from those which had been just expressed. At last he again breaks silence and begins anew.