The Seventh in a Series of Sermons on Select Passages in Second Corinthians
We are going to do something we’ve never done before in the fifteen-year history of Christ Reformed Church–we will address Paul’s discussion of giving, specifically his discussion of the cheerful giver. That said, don’t run for the doors, or sneak out when the elders are not watching. I’ve long said that “Stewardship Sundays” and sermon series on tithing will never be conducted in this church as long as I have anything to do with it. Yet, Paul does address the Corinthians in regard to an offering being taken to help the poor in Jerusalem. One of the ways we can respond to the unbiblical whining, guilt-tripping, and personal empire-building which many of us have witnessed in the various churches from which we have come, is to work through what Paul actually says about Christian charity to support the missionary endeavors of the apostolic church. In an age such as ours, when so many seek money to support various worthy causes, it is important to consider what Paul actually says about the topic of Christian charity.
We are continuing our series on 2 Corinthians, and we now jump ahead from chapter six to chapters eight-nine, as we take up Paul’s discussion of the offering being taken in the Gentile churches for the struggling Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. There are two reasons why this offering is such an important item on Paul’s agenda among the newly-planted Gentile churches in Greece and Asia Minor.
The first reason is that a serious famine had hit central Palestine about this time (the mid to late 50's of the first century), causing great hardship throughout the Jerusalem area. This famine was especially tough on those Jews who had become followers of Jesus. Given the tension between the rapidly growing church in Jerusalem, and the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling body), any ethnic Jew who publicly identified themselves as a follower of Jesus Christ would have been immediately removed from the synagogue. And if you were cut off from the synagogue, you were cut off from the charity offered to synagogue members during time of shortages. No alms, no grain, no flour. This created a serious crisis for those struggling to survive a regional famine during a time of religious persecution.
The second reason why this offering was so important to Paul is the message it sends to the those in Jerusalem. There are two different audiences in view here. On the one hand, this offering from the Gentile churches would be a powerful testimony to the Sanhedrin regarding the truth of the gospel, as well as to Herod Agrippa, the token king and Roman puppet. Although some twenty years earlier, Jesus himself had risen from the dead (and had given many convincing proofs that he was alive), the Jews still did not believe the apostolic witness about him. Now found themselves confronted with a thriving church. On the other hand, this offering would also be a powerful demonstration of Christian charity to the persecuted and struggling Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. This offering would have fed many hungry people, and would also serve as a very powerful confirmation to the Jerusalem church about the spread of the gospel, and the transforming power of the risen Christ.
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