SAINT PAUL'S SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS
Part II: Alms for the Church in Jerusalem
The Generosity of the Corinthian Christians and God's Indescribable Gift
Paul Defends His Relationship with the Corinthian Church
Merciful and Forgiving Father,
We thank You for the ministers of our Church who are sent to build us up and not for tearing us down. Even their admonishments are intended to have an entirely constructive effect upon each of us and the community as a whole when we respond with humility and repentance. We ask Your blessing upon Christ's Kingdom of the Church, and that You will continue to call to Your service shepherds like St. Paul who are committed, loving, and unflinching in the presentation of right doctrine for the continued health and well-being of the Universal Church. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Paul has been comforted by the fact
that those whom he rebuked wished to mend their ways. But on learning from
Titus that they were experiencing pain on account of their error, he was
consoled even more and filled with joy, because their resolve had been
confirmed by their behavior.
Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul's Epistles
St. Paul is both comforted and encouraged by Titus' report that the Corinthian Christians want to submit to the reforms Paul outlined in his previous letter. He is encouraged not only because of their resolve to initiate changes in their practices but also because of the actions by which they were already correcting their former ways and their resolve to restore their relationship with Paul and his missionary team. Having resolved the crisis in Corinth, Paul now moves on to address the collection of alms from the Gentile-Christian communities of Asia and Greece for the Mother Church in Jerusalem. The collection is very important to Paul because if fulfills the prophecy of God's holy prophets that, in homage to the true God, the gifts of the Gentiles will some to Jerusalem (i.e., Is 60:14-18; 66:18-21).
Chapters 8-9: The Collection for the Poor Christians of Jerusalem
When her mother reproached her for
caring for the poor and the sick at home, St. Rose of Lima said to her: "When
we serve the poor and sick, we serve Jesus. We must not fail to help our
neighbors, because in them we serve Jesus."
P. Hansen, Vita mirabilis
2 Corinthians 8:1-6 ~ Generous Giving
1 We want you to know, brothers, of the grace [charis] of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their profound poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For according to their means, I can testify, and beyond their means, spontaneously, 4 they begged us insistently for the favor [charis] of taking part in the service to the holy ones, 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and to us through the will of God, 6 so that we urged Titus that, as he had already begun, he should also complete for you this gracious [charis] act also. 7 Now as you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you, may you excel in this gracious [charis] act also.
Question: Why does Paul praise the Macedonian Christians?
Answer: Paul praises the Macedonian Christians who, as an act of free will, gave generously out of the poverty of their meager reserves, wanting to offer more than their strength allowed.
Paul writes that by giving themselves wholly to God first and then to their fellow Christians with generosity, the Macedonians demonstrated their sincere desire to receive God's spiritual rewards. Paul plans to send Titus back to Corinth to encourage the Christian community there to imitate the generosity of their Christian brothers and sisters in Macedonia in the contribution they have collected over the past year (8:10). They have demonstrated their faith and obedience in other ways, and now Paul asks them to demonstrate their love in action in giving generously to the Jerusalem church.
Question: Paul's praise of the generosity of alms given by the
Macedonian Christians out of their poverty reminds us of what similar act of generosity
that Jesus praised during His ministry? See Mk 12:41-44.
Answer: Jesus observed a poor widow giving alms at the Temple and called His disciples' attention to her act of generosity for contributing from her poverty in giving more than all the other contributors.
Question: During what season in the liturgical calendar does the
Church urge us to be especially mindful of demonstrating our "love in action"
Answer: We are encouraged to demonstrate our "love in action" during Lent in which the faithful devote themselves to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 ~ The Need for Charity
7 Now, as you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you, may you excel in this gracious [charis] act also. 8 I say this not by way of command, but to test the genuineness of your love by your concern for others. 9 For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And I am giving counsel in this matter, for it is appropriate for you who began not only to act but to act willingly last year: 11 complete it now, so that your eager willingness may be matched by your completion of it out of what you have. 12 For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have; 13 not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may 14 also supply your needs, that there may be equity. 15 As it is written: "Whoever had much did not have more, and whoever had little did not have less."
Paul begins by complimenting the Corinthian faith community five ways
in verse 7. They excel in faith, discourse, knowledge, earnestness, and love.
Question: What does Paul say will test the genuineness of their love as Christians? See Jn 15:12.
Answer: The demonstration of their love for others is the best evidence of their love for Christ. It fulfills Jesus' command to love as He has loved.
Question: What free will event does Paul use to compare their
willingness to make the sacrifice to offer alms for the Jerusalem church?
Answer: He compares the free will demonstration of their self-sacrificial love in their collection the alms for the Jerusalem Christians with the sacrifice Jesus made in giving up His life on the altar of the Cross.
Paul reminds them that Christ stripped Himself of His divine glory and the privileges that were rightly His as God's divine Son. He did this so that He might share in our frail human lives, our suffering, and death so that through God's plan we might receive the gift of forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life (verse 9). If Christ could make this great sacrifice of His life, can't they make the small sacrifice of some material blessings for the sake of others?
Then in verse 13, Paul introduces the principle of "quality" into the discussion. The goal is not impoverishment or privation but the sharing of resources for the benefit of all. In verse 15, Paul grounds his argument on the experience of the children of Israel when they gathered manna in the desert by quoting from Exodus 16:18. In that passage, God told Moses, "So gather it that everyone has enough to eat, an omer for each person, as many of you as there are, each man providing for those of his own tent." The Israelites did so. Some gathered a large and some a small amount. But when they measured it out by the omer, he who had gathered a large amount did not have too much, and he who had gathered a small amount did not have too little. They so gathered that everyone had enough to eat (Ex 16:16b-18).
Question: Why does Paul quote from Exodus 16:18?
Answer: Equality was achieved independently of personal success in gathering the resource of the manna by God who gave, with an even hand, according to their need: "Whoever had much did not have more, and whoever had little did not have less." Paul wants the Corinthians to apply this same principle in sharing their resources that came from God with others.
Paul's point is that God takes care of those in material need by using the members of the Church so that no one suffers from a lack of material support. The Church gives us the opportunity to carry on Jesus' work on earth by feeding the hungry as He did in the miracle feedings. It is also a way for us to prepare for the Last Judgment when Christ will ask us how we ministered in love to a needy humanity (Mt 25:13-46).
2 Corinthians 8:16-24 ~ Titus' Mission
16 But thanks [charis] be to God who put the same concern for you into the heart of Titus, 17 for he not only welcomed our appeal but, since he is very concerned, he has gone to you of his own accord. 18 With him we have sent the brother who is praised in all the churches for his preaching of the Gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has also been appointed our traveling companion by the churches in this gracious [charis] work administered by us for the glory of the Lord himself and for the expression of our eagerness. 20 This we desire to avoid, that anyone blame us about this lavish gift administered by us, 21 for we are concerned for what is honorable not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of others. 22 And with them we have sent our brother whom we often tested in many ways and found earnest, but who is now much more earnest because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner [angelos = messenger] and co-worker for you; as you our brothers, they are apostles of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to them.
Paul plans to send Titus back to the Corinthian Christians along with another missionary brother he does not name, chosen as a representative by the Macedonian churches (verses 16-18, 22). Paul stresses their apostolic qualities, their good relations with the Corinthians, and their authority as "messengers" (using the Greek word "angelos") of Christ and His Church.(1)
Paul doesn't name the minister who will accompany Titus; we only know that he is already known to the Corinthian community. It has been suggested the gifted orator in verse 18 is Apollos.(2) It is evidently Paul's plan that these men will collect the contributions and carry them to Jerusalem.
2 Corinthians 9:1-5 ~ The Corinthian's Collection
1 Now about the service to the holy ones, it is superfluous for me to write to you, 2 for I know your eagerness about which I boast of you to the Macedonians, that Achaia has been ready since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 Nonetheless, I sent the brothers so that our boast about you might be ready, as I did, 4 for fear that if any Macedonians come with me and find you not ready we might be put to shame to say nothing of you in this conviction. 5 So I thought it necessary to encourage the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for your promised gift, so that in this way it might be ready as a bountiful gift and not as an exaction.
It appears Paul has used the tactic of a little healthy competition between the Corinthian, Acadian (Greece), and Macedonian Christians, boasting to both about the generosity of the other. The contribution of the Corinthian Christians should be ready to be collected when Titus and the others arrive since Paul requested they begin the collection in his earlier letter (1 Cor 16:1-3).
2 Corinthians 9:6-9 ~ Paul's Exhortation to be Generous Givers
6 Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 Moreover, God is able to make every grace [charis] abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. 9 As it is written" "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."
Question: Paul urges the Corinthians to follow God's
example in giving, using what example from the practice of sowing seeds in
Answer: The more seed one sows, the greater the yield in the harvest. In the same way, the more generously one gives, the more blessings he will receive from his giving.
In verse 9 Paul quotes Psalm 112:9 in the Greek, slightly changing the words to adapt it to his message. Psalm 112 addresses those who fear the LORD and greatly delight in God's commands (Ps 112). They are the ones who Lavishly give to the poor; their prosperity shall endure forever; their horn shall be exalted in honor (Ps 112:9).(3)
2 Corinthians 9:10-15 ~ The Circle of Blessings
10 The one who supplies the seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving [eucharistia] to God, 12 for the administration of this public service is not only supplying the needs of the holy ones but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving [eucharistia] to God. 13 Through the evidence of this service, you are glorifying God for your obedient confession of the Gospel of Christ and the generosity of your contribution to them and to all others, 14 while in prayer on your behalf they long for you, because of the surpassing grace [charis] of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Paul urges them to follow God's pattern of generosity. The Lord God is capable of great generosity (as attested to in Scripture); therefore, they should not fear that in their generosity they may end up falling short. God will see to their needs both physically and also spiritually by increasing their righteousness. Using the Greek words charis (grace) and eucharistia (thanksgiving), he describes the movement of God's grace that overflows from God to them and which they hand on to others. God's blessings come back to them because they will benefit from the prayers of the grateful "holy ones" who benefit from their generosity.
In 8:1-9:15, in his call to raise money for the Jerusalem church, Paul used the word charis (grace) eight times in five different but interrelated ways that highlight St. Paul's theology of grace that begins with God and returns to Him in thanksgiving and praise:
Part II: Paul's Defense of His Ministry
In the first nine chapters, Paul's tone has been conciliatory as he praised the Corinthian church's positive response to his earlier "severe" letter (2:1-11). His tone and language in chapter 7 are especially positive as he "boasts" about them and writes that he has "great confidence" and "great pride" in them and is "filled with encouragement" (7:4). He rejoices in the news Titus brought of their longing and zeal for him (7:6-7). He even writes that he has "boasted" about them because Titus reported they are obedient to his earlier instructions (7:14-16, compare with 2:9). However, in Chapters 10-13, Paul warns them that he may have to discipline them "for every disobedience" when he comes (10:1-6). He even questions their affection for him, asking, "If I love you more, am I to be loved less?" (see 12:15 and compare with 11:11). He also chastises the Corinthian Christians for their alleged willingness to consider a "different Gospel" (11:4). He even writes that he fears the state in which he will find the community when he visits again (12:20; 13:5). Why is his confidence in their faith, which he expressed earlier, replaced with doubt by the end of the letter (13:5, compared with 1:24)? What explains the change in the tone of the letter?
Some interpreters suggest that the two sections were originally two separate letters. Others suggest that the shift in tone reflects a change in the audience within the Corinthian community receiving Paul's letter. Paul alters his tone and language to communicate with two groups within the community while still addressing the whole community. In the first part of the letter, he addressed those in the community who responded favorable to the corrections he ordered in his previous letter, but the last chapters target those who challenged his apostolic authority and refused to repent.
It may be that Paul addressed both groups in the one letter. It is possible that he wanted all the Corinthian Christians to benefit from the change from praise to criticism, allowing them to grasp the importance of obedience to his directives as necessary to maintain their relationship with him and their good standing in the Universal Church. Those who remained disobedient toward Paul might be encouraged by his praise of the faithfulness of their fellow Corinthian believers in chapters 1-9 of his letter. At the same time, he warns the obedient faithful who followed his instruction of the consequences of any future failure to obey. Perhaps this was Paul's strategy in the hope of restoring all the Corinthian Christians in their relationship to him before his next visit (13:9-10).
Chapter 10: The Authority to Build Up and Not to Tear Down
I will look
after them for their good, and bring them back to this land, to build them up,
not to tear them down; to plant them, not to pluck them out. I will give them
a heart with which to understand that I am the LORD. They shall be my people
and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
Titus's report has encouraged Paul that the misunderstanding between himself and the Corinthians (1:12-7:16) has been resolved. He also announced the impending visit of his representatives to collect the community's contribution for the church in Jerusalem (8:10-9:15). Now he turns the focus of this part of his letter to the troublesome and self-commending missionaries to whom he has already alluded several times (2:17; 3:1; 4:2; 5:12). He will be making the point in the next three chapters that rejection him and his ministerial team borders on rejecting the Gospel Jesus gave him the authority to preach.
Chapter 10 can be divided into three parts in which Paul contrasts himself with the trouble-making missionaries:
2 Corinthians 10:1-6 ~ We do not Battle According to the Flesh
1 Now I myself, Paul, urge you through the gentleness and clemency of Christ, I who am humble when face to face with you, but brave toward you when absent, 2 I beg you that, when present, I may not have to be brave with that confidence with which I intend to act boldly against some who consider us as acting according to the flesh. 3 For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments 5 and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ, 6 and we are ready to punish every disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
Paul uses a series of contrasts in verses 1-6:
Using the image of Jesus' gentleness and clemency, Paul presents himself as a humble warrior in God's army, engaged in a battle to bring about obedience within the Corinthian church. Paul and his ministers do not battle "according to the flesh" but according to the Spirit of God. Christ is the source of their authority.
Question: What does Paul mean by referring to
behavior that images the "gentleness" and "clemency" of Christ? See Mt 11:29,
Mt 23:1-36; 1 Cor 4:21.
Answer: Jesus was kind, gentle, and forgiving in His behavior towards others, even those who opposed Him and His ministry. Jesus urged people to learn from Him because He is "gentle and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29). Paul aspires to the same ideal. However, Jesus was not at all timid in condemning wrong behavior within the Old Covenant Church.
Paul brings up the subject of Jesus' character in 10:1a for three reasons:
Question: In verses 1-2, Paul alludes to what two accusations
the disrupters in the community have made against him?
Paul acknowledges that he is "in the flesh" in that he shares in the human condition. However, he does not "battle according to the flesh," meaning in the struggles he faces to spread the Gospel of salvation, he has the power of the Almighty behind him, and therefore, his "weapons" are enormously powerful! It may seem contradictory that Paul goes from emulating the gentleness of Christ to the imagery of battles and weapons. However, with this contrast, Paul captures the paradox of how God's power is made known in the gentle "Lamb of God" and His death on the Cross. However, in Jesus ultimate act of self-giving love, He achieved a victory in the battle over the powers of sin and death (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 1:18-25).
In verses 4-6, Paul continues the battle metaphor in a three-part progression of siege warfare:
The accusation of "fleshly behavior" was answered in 1:12 when Paul defended himself and his team as having conducted themselves with "the simplicity and sincerity of God and not by human wisdom but by the grace of God." As far as his timid behavior when present with the community is concerned, Paul warns that he intends to act "boldly" against those who have challenged his conduct and authority when he next visits them.
Paul urges the Corinthians to adopt Christ-like behavior in their relationship with God by submitting to correction within the community delivered by God's ordained representatives like Paul and his team. He also wants the community to forgive them for their necessary corrections. Paul and his team have received the power to judge (Jn 20:22-23), and they will use that power for the good of God's Church in their fight against evil forces that seek to destroy their good work within the community.
2 Corinthians 10:7-11 ~ Authority from the Lord for Building Up the Church
7 Look at what confronts you. Whoever is confident of belonging to Christ should consider that as he belongs to Christ, so do we. 8 And even if I should boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I shall not be put to shame. 9 May I not seem as one frightening you through letters. 10 For someone will say, "His letters are severe and forceful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." 11 Such a person must understand that what we are in word through letters when absent, that we also are in action when present.
Question: In urging the Christians of Corinth to Look
at what confronts you, what does he want them to consider?
Answer: He wants them to look and see that Paul and his team belong to Christ and carry His power and authority. Those in the community who believe they belong to Christ should realize that they are in unity with Paul and his team. Their very existence attests to the authority given to Paul and his team by Jesus Christ.
8 And even
if I should boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for
building you up and not for tearing you down, I shall not be put to shame.
Paul quotes from the book of the prophet Jeremiah in which God described the purpose of the prophetic power He gave Jeremiah as His agent for the sake of the covenant people. In Jeremiah 24:6-7 God tells His prophet, "I will look after them for their good, and bring them back to this land, to build them up, not to tear them down; to plant them, not to pluck them out. I will give them a heart with which to understand that I am the LORD. They shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart." While the power of Paul's apostolic authority may have destructive power against some (verses 2-6), it is intended to build up and improve the community as a whole. In addition, they should be aware that God also gave Jeremiah the authority when necessary "to root up and tear down" as well as to "build and plant" (Jer 1:10), and Paul has that same authority to judge and punish bad behavior. Paul will refer to his authority to build up and not to tear down again at the end of his letter in 13:10.
I shall not be put to shame refers to Paul's confidence that, at his judgment, he will be found innocent of any wrongdoing in association with his ministry on behalf of the Corinthians. His assertions will not be refuted but will be revealed as true at the judgment throne of Christ (2 Cor 5:10).
9 May I
not seem as one frightening you through letters. 10 For someone will say, "His letters are
severe and forceful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech
Paul acknowledges that some may disparage his physical appearance that does not carry the force or weight of his letters. However, he warns not to be deceived by his appearance because in person he is quite capable of delivering in action the forceful words in his letters.
2 Corinthians 10:12-18 ~ Only Boasting in the Lord
12 Not that we dare to class or compare ourselves with some of those who recommend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. 13 But we will not boast beyond measure but will keep to the limits God has apportioned us, namely, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overreaching ourselves, as though we did not reach you; we indeed first came to you with the Gospel of Christ. 15 We are not boasting beyond measure, in other people's labors; yet our hope is that, as your faith increases, our influence among you may be greatly enlarged, within our proper limits, 16 so that we may preach the Gospel even beyond you, not boasting of work already done in another's sphere. 17 "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord." 18 For it is not the one who recommends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord recommends.
In verses 12-18, Paul qualifies his reason for boasting. He distinguishes his boasting from that of others. The "others" are the self-recommending, immoderately boastful, and those who encroach on the successes of others by claiming credit to what they did not earn.
13 But we
will not boast beyond measure but will keep to the limits [to metron tou
knaonos] God has apportioned us, namely, to reach even to you.
In verses 13-17, Paul writes about boasting within "the limits God has apportioned," using two terms with overlapping meanings, metron (measure) and kanon (standard or limit). The Greek phrase to metron tou knaonos literally means "the measure of the standard." The "you" are the rebellious Corinthian Christians who have listened to the boasting, troublemaking visiting ministers and have separated themselves from Paul.
Question: What is the reason Paul and his team
will not boast of their successes in their ministry beyond measure?
Answer: He and his team are committed to keeping to the limits or standard that God has assigned them. Paul's "boasting" is in giving witness to the success God has given him and his team in spreading the Gospel of salvation by founding faith communities.
Paul does not take credit for other people's labors, and
they should not take credit for his.
In verse 17 when writing, "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord" Paul defines legitimate boasting and may be alluding to Psalm 44:9/8, In God we have boasted all the day long ... He might also be alluding to God's word to Jeremiah when He defined man's true glory: Thus says the LORD: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, nor the strong man glory in his strength, nor the rich man glory in his riches; but rather, let him who glories, glory in this, that in his prudence he knows me, knows that I, the LORD, bring about kindness, justice and uprightness on the earth; for with such am I pleases, says the LORD (Jer 9:22-23).
18 For it
is not the one who recommends himself who is approved, but the one whom the
The visiting, self-recommending ministers have completely misunderstood the mission to spread the Gospel message. The person God commends is the one who takes on the character and attributes of the Christ. Those who take on the gentleness and loving nature of God the Son can legitimately boast because their "labors" and "work" (verses 15-16) are directed and empowered by God the Holy Spirit. Any other kind of "boasting" is contrary to what Jesus embodied in His ministry that all Christian ministers are commanded to carry on until He returns.
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Paul's criticisms of the other ministers are not motivated by jealousy that they have claimed authority over a community he and his team founded. Paul, in fact, valued the successes of other missionaries like Apollos (1 Cor 3:5-9). Why does Paul condemn the influence of the other ministers over the Corinthian community? Have you experienced clashes between persons or groups with agendas in your community? What is the best way to address such divisions?
1. The Greek word "angelos" can refer human or heavenly messengers.
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Catechism references for this lesson (*indicates Scripture quoted in the citation):