Formations 09.03.2017: To Share the World

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

In Judson Mitcham’s Oblique Lexicon, the entry, “Gift,” begins with a globe given to two brothers who never asked for it. For most of the entry, Mitcham describes one brother laying on his bed and tossing the globe up and down, hoping that a mountain chain might kiss the ceiling and stop its rotation for the fall back into his hands.

But the poem turns when his brother walks in and the boy from the bed pelts him “with the planet, that gift they have to share.” There is, of course, something playful in the competition between brothers and sisters. It might even be graceful. Still, it can be violent. Here, it leaves a little dent in this world.

I’m reminded of that time when my sister and I had to share the third Harry Potter book. We spent a whole day in July fighting over who could access that fictional world, and we’ve come to learn that it grows when we share it. So I wonder if the two brothers also struggled to share this gift they never even asked for.

This is in many ways Paul’s question too. And he spends much of his time asking the Corinthians to see the world they’ve been given—their own “faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment, and the love,” and also their Macedonian family’s happiness and rich generosity (vv. 2, 7).

For Paul these gifts from God and each other are tied up in the grace of God and our Lord Jesus. So the giving Paul calls them to isn’t about ease or difficulty, but equality. Even more, it is about trust in the abundant gifts of God manifest in the manna that appeared every morning to fill all of Israel. It is a call to share with each other all the many ways grace appears in our lives.

But while Paul asks the Corinthians to see the world’s fullness, he also asks them to see the ways that their world has been dented. In Judah, famine caused suffering. In Macedonia, the fighting that accompanied imperial expansion and defense reaped violence and economic desolation. Even Corinth’s affluence left its inhabitants in a void of competitive anxiety.

When we look at our world around us, it isn’t hard to see dents either.

In recent weeks, we have seen a hurricane hit parts of Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico. In Charlottesville and other places across our nation, we have seen how white supremacy is still among us and how it still affects our common life.

In light of these sources of suffering and many others, what does it mean to share this world? In light of our respective places in these situations of suffering, how will we share the world?

Judson Mitcham, A Little Salvation: Poems Old and New (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), 18.

Discussion

• What sources of grace have you experienced? What gifts have you been given?
• When have you feared that there wouldn’t be enough? When have you experienced too little?
• How can we share our world?
• What can you give and what can you receive as part of this sharing?

Reference Shelf

The Jerusalem Collection

Paul’s involvement in the collection had its roots in the agreement narrated in Gal 2:10. When Paul had worked out his accommodation with James and Peter and John, they had agreed about his mission to the Gentiles, “only they would have us remember the poor, which thing I was very eager to do.” Paul seems to have understood the collection as having a threefold theological significance: It would be the realization of Christian charity (Gal 2;10; 2 Cor 8:14; 9:12; Rom 15:25); it would be an expression of Christian unity (2 Cor 9:13-14); Rom 15:27); and it would be an anticipation of Christian eschatology (Rom 9–11, i.e., the delivery of the collection and the presentation of the representatives of the Gentile churches would serve as irrefutable evidence that God had included the Gentiles and so serve as a prod to unbelieving Jews to profess faith in Christ). Of course, Acts 24:17 depicts it as a delivery by Paul of traditional Jewish contributions from the Diaspora to Jerusalem in order to keep it within the bounds of legality for Romans.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading Corinthians: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 219.

Grace and Service

The Greek word charis appears ten times in these two chapters. The word has a rich range of meaning that Paul uses to great advantage. English translators must necessarily choose a variety of words and phrases (e.g., favor, privilege, generous gift or act, thanks, grace, etc.) to convey Paul’s use of charis in its various contexts. Unfortunately, these different translations hide from English readers Paul’s reliance on a single word that, at its core, indicates an unearned, pure-gift quality. Paul has already written eloquently about God’s gifts and pleaded with the Corinthian believers not to receive God’s grace in vain (6:1). He is about to “harp” on God’s grace in what follows.

Paul wants the Corinthian believers to know the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia, “that in a great ordeal of affliction [thlipsis] the abundance of their joy and the depths of their poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity” (vv. 1-2). Most of us probably would not expect great affliction and poverty to result in generosity, but Paul claims this to be true of the Macedonian believers because of God’s grace. Indeed, Paul goes on to bear witness himself that “according to their ability and beyond” (v. 3), and quite on their own (i.e., Paul did not have to force them), “with great appeal [paraklēsis]” they begged Paul for the “grace [charis] and partnership [koinōnia] of the service [diakonia] which is for the saints” (v. 4). There is much here that needs to be unpacked.

We begin with the last phrase in v. 4, “the diakonia [ministry, service] for the saints.” Paul has already spoken of the diakonia of the Spirit (3:8), of justice (3:9), and of reconciliation (5:18). Now there is the diakonia for the saints that, as we’ve seen, is the collection gathered from Paul’s Gentile churches to be taken to the saints in Jerusalem. As we’ve also seen, Paul hoped the collection would aid reconciliation and just relations between adherents of the gospel of circumcision and those who welcomed Gentiles as Gentiles as he did. No wonder, then, that Paul called the collection a diakonia. Furthermore, in the context of a section focused on grace, we can wonder if Paul considered the gospel of circumcision, with its insistence that believers do certain things in order to be a certain thing (namely Jewish), to be contrary to the outpouring of God’s grace.

Mitzi L. Minor, 2 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA:Smyth & Helwys, 2009), 155.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

*