The Signs of the Times, vol. 10
The Signs of the Times, Vol. 10
January 3, 1884
“The Sabbath-School. 2 Corinthians 7-11:3” The Signs of the Times, 10, 1.
E. J. Waggoner
LESSON FOR THE PACIFIC COAST-JAN. 12.
2 Corinthians 7-113.
THE GRACE OF GIVING.
The eighth and ninth chapters of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, contain instruction in regard to the necessity and blessedness of contributing to the support of the cause of God, and especially of ministering to the necessity of the saints. The apostle had been requested by the elders at Jerusalem to remember the poor “which,” he says, “I also was forward to do.” Galatians 2:10. In his first epistle he gave the Corinthians the same directions for making a collection for the poor that he had previously given to the churches in Galatia, and now he writes to stir them up to activity in this respect. In the seventh chapter he had admirably paved the way for the introduction of this subject. Having commended them for the readiness with which they had accepted his reproof, he closed with the words, “I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things.” Paul never descended to flattery, but he knew that by an honest expression of his confidence he could deepen his influence with the church. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.1
The subject so near to the heart of the apostle is introduced thus: “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of [i.e., we make known to you] the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” Paul does not mean that the Macedonians gave large sums for their deep poverty would make that an impossibility. He means that God had enabled them to give according to their means, and even beyond it, as is stated in verse 3. This was the grace which God bestowed upon them. Selfishness is natural to the human heart, and has two opposite effects,-it finds its possessor, and also enlarges his vision. It makes him blind as to his ability to do good, causing him to think that his means are not sufficient to allow of his giving more than a trifle; and it magnifies his little offerings, so that he imagines that he has given far beyond his means, and is exceedingly generous. The work of the Spirit of God is to remove this selfishness by helping us to see things just as they are,-to realize what a priceless gift has been bestowed upon us, and how undeserving we are. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.2
The ability to give, then, is a special gift of God. Paul says: “Therefore as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and it all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.” We often hear people wish that they had wealth, so that they could give liberally to the poor, or to the cause of God. Now while it is true that prosperity comes from God, and it is he that has power to get wealth, this is not the gift of which the apostle speaks. What the class just referred to ought to earnestly long for, is not means, but the grace to give according to that which they already possess. The Macedonians were exceedingly poor, yet God gave them grace to give. In their case Paul did not have to do any urging; on the contrary, they urged him with much entreaty to accept the gift. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.3
The fifth first gives the key to their liberality; they had first given themselves to the Lord. When a person realizes that he is not his own, and freely acknowledges the fact, giving will be an easy matter. In fact, giving freely will be the natural result of consecrating ourselves wholly to the Lord, so that the readiness with which we give to the cause of God indicates in a great degree the measure of our consecration to him. It may help us to understand this matter if we consider how the apostles regarded themselves. When they speak of themselves as servants of the Lord, they use the Greek word doulos, whose primary meaning is, a bondman, a slave. Literally, Philippians 1:1 reads, “Paul and Timotheus, the slaves of Jesus Christ.” Now a slave is not able to hold property in his own right; everything belongs to his master, and he himself cannot acquire a title to anything. It is in just this way that we should consider ourselves related to God. The only difference between earthly servants and masters is, that although we do belong to God, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are not compelled to serve him. All our service must be voluntary. To be sure, in the end there will be a punishment for those to defraud the Master of his just dues; but on the other hand, there will be a glorious reward for those who simply restore that to which they have no right at all. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.4
“For if there first be a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” No doubt many persons take great comfort from this text, for they repeatedly wish they could give, and therefore imagine that they are very acceptable to God. And as if to atone for their not giving anything, they usually wish to give very large sums. But this verse was written with the understanding that the individual had acquired the grace of giving according to his means. If all had this grace, all would give something, for very few are poorer than the widow who had only two mites for her support. When men give in this way, willingly, the gift is valued by the Lord, according to the proportion which it bears to the means of the giver. The poor widow’s gift was considered as greater than all the gifts of the rich men, because she gave more in proportion to her means. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.5
This idea is carried out in the following verses. “For I mean not that other men should be eased and ye burden.” He did not design that a few should do all the giving, but that all should share in it. He meant that there should be an equality. This equality would be gained if each gave according to what he had. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.6
“As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.” This quotation is from Exodus 16:18, and has reference to the gathering of the manna. The Israelites were allowed an omer for each individual. This was all that could possibly be used in one day. If one on account of superior activity gathered more, he was to divide it with one whose circumstances did not allow him to gather a sufficient quantity for his daily support. This begot a feeling of mutual sympathy among them,-such a feeling as should exist among those who are members of the family of Christ. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.7
The parallel that the apostle draws should be well considered. In their case the tendency to hoard up that which they had gathered more than their actual present need, would be checked by the knowledge that on the morrow another ample supply would be given. So in our cases, the same God who supplied them with manna is our Father, and knows that we have need of food and clothing. See Matthew 6:30-34. We are commanded to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and that command implies the fact that the prayer will be answered. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.8
Again, those of the Jews who gathered more than they could use, and saved it for future need, had a mortifying check put upon their greed when they found their hoarded provision a mass of corruption. In our case the parallel still holds good, for however much property a man may acquire, he himself can use only a small part. As a certain millionaire said, when envied by a poor man, “You are as well off as I am, for all I get is my board and clothes.” In other words, with all his wealth, he could no more than live. Then, too, riches often vanish in a moment. Nothing can be devised that will ensure a man’s property from going as quickly as did the Israelites’ hoarded manna. And whether this misfortune should come or not, the end will certainly come soon, and then that which is treasured up will, in many cases at least, be worse than nothing. See James 5:1-3. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.9
That this mutual distribution of means is what Paul designed is shown by verse 14: “But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that there abundance also may be a supply for your want; that there may be equality.” We can readily see that in the case of the Jews, such a course was the best one for them to pursue, since if they did lay up provision it would be to no profit, and by their accommodation to a needy friend, they would secure to themselves a like favor, should they be in similar circumstances. If we cannot as readily see that it is the best thing for Christians to do now, it is because we have not the faith in God that we should have, and are blind as to the future. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.10
As we have already stated, Paul did not feel at liberty to make any commands in the matter of giving, but to appeal to their sense of obligation, that what they gave might be a “as a matter of bounty,” and not something forced from covetous dispositions. One of his strong points is that he has boasted of the forwardness of the churches in Achaia, and had used their readiness in pledging as an incentive for others. Now, said he, if some persons should come with me from Macedonia, and find that you have done little or nothing, we would both be put to shame. The Macedonians will think that I have deceived them, and they will think slightingly of you. We have here an instance of the remarkable tact which Paul exercised in dealing with the churches. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.11
“But this I say, he which soweth sparingly shall reap all so sparingly, and he which soweth bountifully shall read also bountifully.” 2 Corinthians 9:6. From this text nothing more or less can be made than that our present welfare, at least, depends largely upon the cheerfulness with which we give. A study of Luke 16:1-12 will convince us that our liberality is not an unimportant factor in determining our fitness for our future inheritance. Not that we can buy Heaven; but one who has not so vivid a sense of the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice for him, that it will lead him to feel like following the same example, certainly has not much of the love of Christ in his heart. SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.12
The apostle continues: “And God is able to make all grace abound for you; that he always having all suffering in all things, may abound to every good work.” This is a plain statement that God is able to make that which they sow yield a bountiful harvest. How that will be accomplished is in part stated in verses 12-14: “For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; 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; and by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you.” The idea is, that their service of love would produce abundant thanks to God, on the part of those who were benefited. It would also produce another result. It would move the saints to pray for their benefactors, and this would be of incalculable value to them. James says that the prayer of the righteous man avails much. The amount of money given, if retained for their own use, would be of far less value to them than would the prayers of the saints whose wants they might relieve. Barnes truly says that “he who has secured the pleadings of a child of God, however humble, in his behalf, has made a good use of his money.” SITI January 3, 1884, page 6.13
“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” This is an appropriate closing to this sermon on giving. The idea in the mind of the apostle was doubtless that expressed in the beginning; that a liberal spirit is due to the grace of God. But the grace of God is manifested in its fullness in giving his Son to die for man; and as Paul was speaking of gifts, his mind would naturally turn to the first and greatest of all of gifts. It is an “unspeakable gift;” no tongue can tell its value; even the angels are unable to comprehend it. And it is the only real gift that was ever made; for whereas our fellow mortals have a claim on our charity, men had no claim on God. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. “Herein is love, not that we love God, but that he loved us.” 1 John 4:10. Compared with God’s gift to man, the most that we can do is nothing; and as the contemplation of a gift tends to reduce gratitude, we should stimulate our liberality by constant meditation on this unspeakable gift, and an earnest desire to have as clear a sense of its value as it is possible for the human mind to possess. E. J. W. SITI January 3, 1884, page 7.1