“I’m not commanding you to do this . . . but get it done.”
This about sums up Paul’s message beginning in chapter eight of Second Corinthians.
The church in Jerusalem is suffering. Whatever money used to be in this church – and there was some – its growth, the ravages of time and circumstance, have all conspired to impoverish the congregation. Along with that is the fact that Jewish Christians and gentile Christians didn’t get along well – especially in Jerusalem. At this stage of his ministry, Paul has two very specific goals. First, he wants to take up a collection to help the brethren in Jerusalem where the Church was born and from which, by the plan of God, the gospel began to be spread. Second, he wants the contribution to come from gentile Christians and in that way, create unity among the brethren.
Paul very much wants this contribution to be from the heart of the givers – not just obedience to a command. It’s why he mentions the example of Macedonian Christians, acting entirely on their own, pleading for an opportunity to be a part of this ministry. It’s why he talks about a gift not “grudgingly” given (9:5), but generous and cheerful.
Paul wants them to give because they want to give, not because they have to give.
So what if they don’t want to? Does that excuse them from the obligation?
Not in Paul’s book. The whole tenor of chapters eight and nine is that not wanting to is unacceptable behavior. It certainly does not follow the example of Christ – the most important example Paul cites (8:9).
In the Old Testament, no one was supposed to come into the presence of God without a gift, and while this specific command is not mentioned in the New Testament, it is the theology that undergirds Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 16: “On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income . . .” Though the collection was to serve the work of God (and that was always its purpose), the giving is not “for the work,” but rather, a gift to God. God doesn’t need our gifts to do His work. He expects our gifts because He is God, and we are His people. He expects these gifts to be cheerfully given, because that’s how He gave to us.