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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

In this chapter, the Apostle exhorts the Corinthians to contribute, after the example of the Churches of Macedonia, with generous liberality towards the fund, that was being collected throughout the Churches for the afflicted poor of Jerusalem. He extols the Macedonians for their spontaneous, cheerful, and liberal offerings, going beyond their means, and devoting themselves and their personal services to God and his ministers (1–5). Influenced by this generous example, lie entreated Titus to return to Corinth and forward this good work of charity, which should be the more abundant with the Corinthians, according as their wealth was greater than that of the Macedonians (5–7). In this matter, he refrains from enjoying anything by way of precept; he merely proposes a counsel, and exhorts them, by the example set them by the Macedonians, by the example of Christ our Lord, and by a reference to their own former good desires and purposes on this subject, to come forward and contribute liberally according to their abilities, as they had resolved on, the year before (7–11). He does not wish that their contribution should exceed their ability, or that they should be carried to the extent of enriching others, and impoverishing themselves, but only that there should be a certain measure of equality between them and their poor brethren, both in temporal and spiritual matters (11–15). He highly commends both Titus and the others who were sent to solicit their charitable contributions (16–20). His motive for sending such tried men to be the receivers of their bounty was, to remove all grounds for sinister suspicions regarding their honesty and integrity (20–21). From a feeling of consideration for the distinguished men whom he sent, he renews his earnest solicitation, that the Corinthians would contribute in a manner worthy of their own distinguished charity, and of the repeated boasting which the Apostle made regarding them.

Paraphrase

1. I wish to make known to you, brethren, the singular grace of God, which has been plenteously bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.

2. In the first place, having been tried by many tribulations, they were not only patient, but their joy was very great and abounding; and although their poverty was excessive in the extreme, still they behaved most generously—with a sincere and cheerful heart, abundantly and liberally contributing towards the wants of the poor.

3. For, from personal knowledge, I can bear testimony to the fact that they, spontaneously and without solicitation, have come forward to contribute according to their ability, nay, beyond it.

4. With great earnestness, entreating us to receive their voluntary donations, thus to enable them to have a share in contributing to the relief of their poor distressed brethren of the faith.

5. And not only did they come up to our expectations in contributing, but they exceeded them, by offering themselves and their personal services to the Lord, in the first place; and in the next place, to us his ministers, to perform the will of the Lord, according as we might make it known to them.

6. So much were we influenced by their generosity, that we entreated Titus, after his return to us, to go back, and bring to a happy close, as he had begun it, this work of generosity also, as well as other good works among you.

7. So that, as you already abound in all other good gifts, as you excel in the gifts of faith, of tongues, of knowledge, of diligence in every duty, or in employing all possible means for the salvation of your brethren and in your charity and affection for us, you would also excel and abound in this gift of liberality towards the afflicted poor.

8. I do not speak thus by way of precept; but I wish, by proposing to you the exemplary diligence of others, to elicit, and exhibit to them, a proof of the real and genuine sincerity of your charity.

9. For, you know the gratuitous and generous charity of our Lord Jesus Christ, who enjoying, as God, boundless riches, became poor for us, in the nature which he assumed, in order that you might be spiritually enriched in his want.

10. And in this matter I give you counsel only, but no command, and I counsel you to do what is useful to you, and what you yourselves not only began in the preceding year, but what you actually wished for (and so, in wish and act, you anticipated the Macedonians, whose example is now proposed for your imitation).

11. Now, therefore, perform in deed, by actually contributing, what you then commenced and wished for, so that as you were prompt in willing it, you may be prompt in executing it, each one according to his ability.

12. For, if there be promptitude of will to contribute, it will be acceptable to God according as one may contribute in proportion to his ability, be it great or small, so that it is not required of any one to contribute beyond what he actually possesses.

13. For, I am far from proposing that your charity should be carried so far, as that the others whom you relieve should live in ease and abundance, and that you yourselves should be reduced to straitened circumstances; but only that there should be a certain equality among you.

14. In the present life your abundance of temporal wealth should so supply and relieve their wants, as that their abundance of spiritual treasures would also supply for your spiritual want in the life to come; and thus there would be a sort of equality among you, inasmuch as neither of you would be in want as regards either temporals or spirituals.

15. Of this equality, which should exist amongst you, that which happened the Jews in the collection of the manna, is a most express figure; of them it is written (Exodus, 16:18): that the man who collected a larger quantity than the measure prescribed (a gomor) had not more, nor had the man who collected a smaller quantity less than a gomor. This equality (charity should cause among you).

16. But I thank God for inspiring Titus with the same solicitude for you which I have felt.

17. For he at once complied with our exhortation to visit you. Nor did he indeed need to be stimulated thereto; for, being greatly concerned for you, he set out cheerfully and of his own accord.

18. With him we have also sent the brother who is celebrated and praised throughout the Church for preaching the gospel.

19. And not only that, but who has also been ordained, in accordance with the public suffrages of the Churches, as the companion of our travels, both for the purpose of preaching and of procuring this eleemosynary aid for the poor, which office of charity is administered by us for the glory of God, and for the purpose of manifesting the promptitude of our anxious concern for the poor.

20. And we have sent men of this stamp, avoiding the least grounds for reproach, lest any person should charge us with embezzling, or applying to our private purposes, any part of these abundant charities which pass through our hands.

21. For, we are anxiously careful to do good works not only before God, the searcher of hearts, but also before men, who might otherwise be scandalized.

22. And with these two tried men we have also sent another brother, whom we have found, on many former occasions, careful and attentive, and from whom we expect still greater attention in the present matter, owing to his great confidence in you, and to the regard he entertains for you.

23. Whether, therefore, you consider Titus, who is my colleague and the partner of the toils which I undergo on your account, or whether you consider our two brethren whom we have sent with him, who are also sent by the Churches, and are employed in procuring the glory of Christ.

24. Give them such a proof of your generosity as may be worthy of your great charity, and of the boasting of which we so often made you the subjects, and this proof you will exhibit in the presence of the Churches, by whom they are sent to solicit your alms.

Commentary

1. Having already described the persecutions which he suffered in Macedonia (7:5), the Apostle now wishes to inform them of the grace conferred on these churches which were afflicted with him.

“Grace,” i.e., the holy dispositions, both of patience and liberality, which God conferred on these churches. Every good gift coming from God may, in a general sense, be termed “a grace,” in which general acceptation the word is employed here.

2. “They have had abundance of joy.” In Greek, ἡ περισσεια τῆς χαρᾶς αυτων, και ἡ πτωχεια αυτων επερισσευσεν, the abundance of their joy and their poverty hath abounded &c. Such was the perfection of the grace of patience with which they were favoured that they not only endured affliction without murmuring, but with alacrity and much joy. The persecutions which the Macedonians suffered are referred to (chap. 7 verse 5); for, it is likely that they were sharers in the tribulations which he himself underwent (see also 1 Epistle to Thes. 1:6, 2:14). Such was their liberality, that notwithstanding their extreme poverty and depressed condition, they abundantly and with a sincere and cheerful heart, contributed to the wants of the poor. “Simplicity,” means a cheerful, sincere wish to contribute.

3. He shows how “their poverty abounded unto the riches,” &c., for they went beyond their means in contributing, and that, unsolicited and unasked.

4. “Begging of us the grace.” In Greek, begging of us (to receive) the grace, &c. The word, receive, is, however, rejected by some Protestant Commentators, it is wanting in the chief MSS., and the Vulgate conveys the meaning expressed by the Greek. They besought the Apostle to receive their gratuitous offerings, and to enable them to contribute something for the “saints,” i.e., their afflicted brethren in Judea, for whose relief these collections were originated by the Apostle.

5. “And not as we hoped,” that is, they even exceeded our expectations. Others understand the words thus: And by contributing thus generously, they acted differently from what we might be led to expect. Considering their great poverty, and the plunder to which they were subjected, we should rather expect that they would beg to be excused from contributing at all. The Paraphrase is, however, preferable. They went farther than we expected in the generosity of their contributions, by offering themselves, &c. (see Paraphrase). It is likely, some among the Macedonians offered their services to the Apostle, to be employed in collecting these alms in whatever manner he might judge most pleasing to God.

6. Having thus far, by way of preface, lauded the generosity of the Macedonians, the Apostle now comes to the object which he had in view, of stimulating the Corinthians to follow the laudable example set them, in the liberality of their contributions. Influenced by the generous example set by the Macedonians, he begged of Titus to return to Corinth, to finish what he had commenced, and gives the faithful of that city an opportunity of adding this “grace,” or virtue of liberality, “also,” to their other virtues.

7. From the 1st Epistle, chap. 1, it appears that the Corinthians were specially favoured with the abundant gifts of the Holy Ghost, and the Apostle now, by way of exhortation, expresses a desire, that they would abound in generosity, “also,” as they did in other gifts. “In word,” in the gift of tongues, or the faculty of communicating divine knowledge (as in 1 Ep. 1), “in knowledge” of heavenly things.—(See 1 Ep. 1:5).

8. As their Apostle, he might command them. But, convinced of their good dispositions, he contents himself with a mere counsel, which would effectually stimulate them to the good work. He thought it unnecessary to superadd a precept of his own to the divine precept, which binds, under pain of damnation, to give alms.

9. He stimulates them by the heavenly example of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was “rich.” To him, as GOD, belonged the earth and its fulness, while, as man, he lived in the utmost poverty from his birth to his death, in order that he might enrich us spiritually; and if he, though God, has thus become poor, in his assumed nature, to enrich us, why should not we part with some of our temporal substance to relieve the wants of our afflicted brethren?

10. He gives a counsel which, if followed, shall be useful to them, since the alms now given shall be meritorious of eternal life, and shall increase the treasure of merit in heaven. This is a powerful incentive to generosity. He next stimulates them by reminding them of their own spontaneous promptitude during the previous year, in wishing this contribution to be set on foot, and in actually joining in it.

11. As, then, they were prompt in wishing for this collection of alms, they should be equally prompt in carrying it out, according to their means.

12. They are called on to contribute only according to their means, or in proportion to their abilities. If there be prompt cheerfulness and readiness of will, this good will is acceptable to God, provided it be accompanied with contributions according to their ability, but it is not required, in contributing, that they should exceed their abilities. God principally looks to the will, but if there be a sincere will, and not a mere inoperative velleity, it must be followed by corresponding acts. “According to that which it hath,” &c. This he probably adds lest they should imagine that he expected them to exceed their means, as had been done by the Macedonians (verse 3). “It hath”; the common Greek has, τις ἔχῇ, “a person, or one, hath,” but, τις is wanting in the chief MSS., and rejected by critics generally.

13. In this verse, he more fully explains why he did not wish them to contribute beyond their ability; he did not wish that the poor, in whose behalf their alms were solicited, should enjoy abundance, while they should feel the pressure of contracted means. He only wished a certain equality to be effected between them. This is explained next verse.

14. “Supply their want.” “Supply” is not in the Greek, which literally runs thus—“let your abundance be for their want.” It is, however, understood. The Vulgate fills up the meaning. The equality which he wishes to see established between the Corinthians and their poorer brethren in Judea, consists in this, that neither should feel want in either temporal or spiritual matters; that the Corinthians should dispense the superfluities of their superabundant temporal riches, to relieve the corporal wants of others, while these latter in turn, by a certain communion of merits, would impart to their benefactors, a share of the spiritual treasures in which they abound. “When they should fail, they would be received into their eternal tabernacles, after having made for themselves friends out of the mammon of iniquity.”—(St. Luke, 16)

15. This equality was prefigured by that which the power of God had established, among the Jews in the collection of the manna. If any person collected more than the measure marked out for him (a gomor), he found himself possessed of no more; and if less, he found still that he had a gomor full.—(Exodus, 16:18). The Apostle wishes the Corinthians to correspond with the lesson intended by God in this ordination of his Providence, and to effect by charity among themselves, what the divine power effected among the Jews, in the instance referred to.

16. He now praises the persons whom he had sent to receive their alms, in order to procure for them the full confidence of the Corinthians, and to render their ministry more efficient.

17. Titus at once complied with the Apostle’s desire, that he would go to the Corinthians (verse 6), nay, such was his concern and affection for them, that he needed no exhortation, as he would have done spontaneously what the Apostle counselled him.

18. “The brother.” It is a matter of dispute who this brother is. Some, among whom is Estius, understand the word to refer to Silas; others, to Barnabas. The latter, however, had left St. Paul before this period.—(Acts, 15:39). It is more probable, that there is reference made to St. Luke, whose gospel, some say, was written at this time. At all events, he might be praised and celebrated throughout the Church for his zeal in preaching the faith. St. Jerome holds this latter opinion, and St. Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, applies this to St. Luke.—Ut testatur Lucas, “cujus laus est in Evangelio.”

19. He was also ordained, by the imposition of hands (as, the Greek word, χειροτονηθεις, has it), in accordance with the suffrages of the Churches, not only to preach, but also to be the companion of St. Paul’s travels, in order to procure this eleemosynary aid, “which is administered by us,” of which aid the Apostles were the ministers, for the purpose of advancing the glory of God, who is fed in his poor members, “and of manifesting their prompt and active solicitude in the cause of the poor.” “And our determined will,” in the common Greek, your determined will, the meaning of which is, in order to have an opportunity of making known to the world the promptitude and generosity of the Corinthians in affording charitable aid to the poor. The Vulgate reading “our,” is sustained by the best authority.

20. How exemplary is the apostolic prudence of St. Paul! He would not be himself the sole depositary of their bounty. He wishes them to entrust it to men of tried integrity, and to no single individual, lest any person should have the remotest grounds for suspecting him of appropriating to himself any portion of the alms received for the benefit of the afflicted poor.

21. He studiously, and with deliberate forethought, performs everything with a view of giving edification, and of avoiding scandal, in order that men, seeing his good works, may glorify the heavenly Father. On no one is the duty of giving edification more imperative than on the preacher of the gospel.—Verba suadent, exempla trahunt.

22. With these two he associates a third, who having been tried on many former occasions, was found diligent and exact, and from whom the Apostle expects more than ordinary solicitude and interest in the present matter, owing to the great esteem in which he holds the Corinthians. Some interpreters join the words, “much confidence,” with the word, “sent,” thus: “I have sent, with much confidence in you,” i.e., on account of the great esteem in which I hold you, another brother also, whom I have, on many occasions, found to be faithful and diligent. The former construction, which is adopted in the Paraphrase, is much preferable.

23. He sums up the claims to good and respectful treatment possessed by those whom he sends. Titus was his “companion and fellow-labourer,” a sharer in the labours he underwent “towards you,” on their account. The “brethren,” who accompanied Titus, were “the Apostles,” sent by the several “churches,” and persons employed in advancing “the glory of Christ.” The grammatical construction in the original is after the Hebrew style. “Titus” and “our brethren,” are in quite different cases. The sense is, however, that given in the Paraphrase.

24. He wishes them to give an example of generosity, such as would be worthy of their charity, and would not cause himself to blush for having so often made them the subject of his boasting—an example worthy to be exhibited for imitation, in all the churches.








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