Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. – 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 ESV
By now, it should be clear that the collection of funds for the saints in Judea was near and dear to Paul’s heart. It is a high priority for him, and not just because he is the one who came up with the idea. Paul truly believed in the reality of the body of Christ and the necessity of its corporate unity that extended beyond geographic and ethnic boundaries. Of all people, he had been privileged to experience the true nature of the family of God as he traveled around the world, witnessing the gospel transform the lives of people from every walk of life and every tribe, tongue and nation. He saw the wealthy and the wise come to faith in Christ, as well as the impoverished and uneducated. He had witnessed born-again slaves attending worship with their saved masters. He had seen the love of God displayed among those who at one time would have never associated with one another. The transformative power of the gospel was not speculative for Paul. He had seen it first-hand. And he longed to see every believer experience the full extent of its power by encouraging them to willingly submit to God’s will in every area of their lives. This included the area of giving.
So Paul continues to bring up the subject of the collection for the believers in Judea. Why? So he could brag to Peter and the other apostles in Jerusalem about how much money he was able to raise? No, so he could watch the Corinthians discover the joy of giving and the thrill of God’s blessing that comes through a life of obedience. Paul tells the Corinthians that he is sending Titus and his companions in order to ensure that they follow through with their commitment to give. It is not that he doubts them. He has already been bragging about them to the Madedonians. It is just that he knew human nature. And he was well aware that the enemy would be attacking them from within and without in an attempt to distract them from this God-given mission. It is one thing to say you will give. It is another thing to make it happen. They had committed, now Paul wanted to make sure they followed through on that commitment. To not do so would bring shame to them and do damage to the name of Christ.
For Paul, the motivation behind their giving was as important as the gift itself. He didn’t want them to give under compulsion or with any sense of regret. He also didn’t want them to give expecting something in return. That is what he means by “not as an exaction.” The Greek word he uses is pleonexia and it means “greedy to have more” (“G4124 – pleonexia – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 11 Oct, 2016). Just a few verses later, Paul states, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV). But the motivation for our giving should not be to get something back from God. We do not give to get. We give because God has so graciously given to us. Our motivation is to be out of love for others and gratitude to God. Even to give expecting the gratitude and praise of the recipient is an improper motivation. Jesus taught us, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV).
Giving is a privilege. But it is also a responsibility. God could meet the needs of others in a variety of ways, but He has chosen to use us as the means by which He distributes His resources among His people. He blesses one so that they might be a blessing to another. He provides one with abundance so that they might share with those in need. Paul refers to this as “the ministry for the saints.” In his eyes, it was a ministry. It was a God-ordained mission of displaying the His love in tangible, practical ways. It was His plan for the body of Christ to minister to itself through selfless acts of sacrificial giving and the use of their Spirit-empowered giftedness.