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Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:12,
12 For if the readiness [prothumea, “willingness, eagerness, passion”] is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have.
The Corinthians were not only willing and ready but passionate about raising funds for the Jerusalem saints. Paul recognized this and told them that each person’s desire was acceptable to God, regardless of how much he or she was able to give. The value of the gift had more to do with “what a man has” and not “what he does not have.”
This is the principle seen also in the story of the widow who gave two small copper coins, or “two mites” (KJV) in Luke 21:1-4,
1 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. 2 And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. 3 And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; 4 for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.
Just as God measures wealth in terms of one’s spiritual resources, so also does God measure generosity according to what one has.
Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15,
13 For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality— 14 at this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality; 15 as it is written, “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
Paul says that this donation is not like a king who taxes the poor in order to live a life of ease. The purpose of this relief fund was to equalize somewhat the standard of living among the people. The saints in Jerusalem were poor, no doubt because they were known to be followers of Jesus. Perhaps their shops were boycotted by many people. We are not told. But the Greek Christians were more prosperous, so they wanted to create some “equality.”
Keep in mind that these donations were not forced by any command from Paul (vs. 8) but were strictly voluntary gifts that reflected hearts of love for the brethren. In modern times, it seems good to men and their Socialist governments to institute welfare projects by force. Governments tax those who have money in order to support those who are poor.
From a biblical perspective, this is robbery, for it violates the Commandment, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). A biblical tax is set and limited by the law of the tithe. A Kingdom government cannot raise the tithe from ten percent to twenty percent without violating this Commandment. To do so would run contrary to the nature of God Himself, because the law is an expression of who He is. The tithe, along with first fruits and sacrifices, are given to the priests to support Kingdom government and ministries.
Welfare laws are built into the law. God has a system of social concern that provides for the poor. There is something often called “the second tithe,” in the third year of the seven-year Sabbath cycle (Deut. 14:28, 29; 26:12). While some have interpreted this to mean that the people were required to give twenty percent of their increase at that time, it is my belief that this is a misunderstanding.
Deuteronomy 14:28, 29 says,
28 At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year and shall deposit in your town. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied….
There is nothing said about an extra tithe. It only tells us that the tithe of that year was to be shared between the Levites, the aliens, orphans, and widows. Likewise, Deut. 26:12 uses similar wording,
12 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan, and to the widow….
By calling it “the year of tithing,” Moses implies something different from other years. Tithes paid on the increase from the land and from the flocks and herds were given every year, so in that sense, every year was a “year of tithing.” What is different about the third year is that the tithe was to be shared with those who have no earthly covering: aliens, orphans, and widows.
God is their covering. For this reason, He acts as their “avenger of blood,” better translated “kinsman redeemer.” This was the title of the family (bloodline) guardian who was responsible to maintain justice on behalf of the extended family. Aliens, orphans, and widows did not have anyone to take up their cause if they were wronged. If men abused them, God Himself was to take up their cause in the divine court to judge those who would oppress them. So Exodus 22:21-24 says,
21 You shall not wrong a stranger [or alien] or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
God’s social welfare program was largely bound up in this third-year tithe, where those in need were treated as if they were equal to Levites. But the Levites were not expected to give to the poor every year. In other years the poor were given the gleanings and were allowed to harvest the corners of a field (Lev. 19:9, 10). The law of gleanings is illustrated in the story of Ruth, a widow who gleaned barley and wheat from the field owned by Boaz (Ruth 2:23).
It is important to note that the owner of these fields was not required to do the work but to allow the poor to glean for themselves. It was assumed that the poor were capable of labor. The law does not specifically say how to treat one who is incapacitated, other than to function by the law of love for one’s neighbor. Such cases are covered by offerings which are voluntary, not compulsory.
The law establishes rights. The poor have a right to glean and to share in the third-year tithe, but beyond that, they do not have a right to claim the fruits of another man’s labor. Neither does a government have the (biblical) right to “take from the rich in order to give to the poor.” When a government legalizes theft by the laws of men, their actions are no longer considered to be theft by men’s laws, but such actions are considered theft by the laws of God. Men’s laws often violate the rights of men as defined in God’s law.
The law only commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This includes the aliens, by the way. Lev. 19:34 says,
34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
Deut. 10:19 also tells us,
19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
Jesus proved this principle of law by His parable of the Good Samaritan, where He answered the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus shows that a neighbor is one who is neighborly, such as the Samaritan in the parable.
Nowadays, of course, one of the big questions is how to treat illegal aliens. This is outside the scope of our topic, but it should be noted that in biblical times there was no such thing as an illegal alien—unless, of course, they were an invading army.
If aliens have rights under God’s law, what about illegal aliens? There are many underlying causes of illegal immigration that must be addressed in order to deal with this current problem. But that is a question for another day.
The main point of our sidetrack is to show the difference between giving to the poor voluntarily and being commanded (forced) to give by government decree. The Greek churches were giving voluntarily. Paul did not compel them to give. They gave from the heart. The saints in Jerusalem had not demanded money from the Greek churches, nor did they have such a right. In taking up a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem, however, the Greek believers were loving their neighbors as themselves. At the same time they were showing their love for God Himself.
Paul says that they were creating greater “equality” among the saints. Most governments of men today try to make everyone “equal” by stealing from those who have money and giving to those who have less. Their method discourages work by rewarding people for not working. In the end, such a system fails, because human nature tends to say, “Why should I work when I can get money for not working?” Socialist governments eventually go bankrupt, because it is more profitable not to work than to give most of their earnings to others.
The Kingdom of God, on the other hand, treats labor as a property right. The law of God gives every man the right to own the fruits of his own labor. It is only when he makes money by using God’s labor that he must pay a tithe, for God too owns what He has labored to create. Hence, when a lumberman cuts down ten trees to make furniture, he owes God one tree, because God owns all of the trees by right of creation. When a fisherman catches ten fish that were created by God, he owes God one fish to pay for His labor.
The law of the tithe is based upon fundamental labor laws and the right to own or utilize the fruit of one’s labor (Lev. 27:30, 32). Hence, if I derive income without directly using God’s labor, I owe no tithe. If I exchange my labor for money or goods, I owe no tithe on my wages. When governments or churches demand tithes in violation of the biblical right to own one’s labor, they are guilty of theft, whether they know it or not. We must study the law in order to know the rights of God and men. Then we can distinguish properly what is a lawful tithe and what is a voluntary gift.
It is obvious that Paul knew the difference, for he did not force a Socialist system upon the churches. The donations were voluntary gifts, not mandatory taxes. Paul did not browbeat them into giving more, nor did he turn it into a heavenly investment plan by promising everyone great wealth if only they would give more to his ministry.
It is very easy to abuse the principle of giving, because “the love of money [philaguria, “greed”] is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10, KJV). But Paul conducted himself in a lawful manner, encouraging people to be generous, praising them for their manifestation of love, but not intimidating them into giving more than what God had put in their hearts to give.
In 2 Cor. 8:15 Paul quotes from the Septuagint Greek translation of Exodus 16:18, saying,
15 as it is written, “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
This speaks of the manna that Israel gathered six days a week. The Hebrew text tells us (NASB),
18 When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat.
It would seem that it did not matter how much a person gathered, as long as he gathered an omer (small measure, one-tenth of an ephah). Since the manna represented Jesus Himself (John 6:51), this shows prophetically that the act of “eating His flesh” (i.e., hearing and assimilating His words) transforms the heart, regardless of the quantity of revelation one receives.
Some have more revelation than others, but all ought to share what they have been given, so that there is no lack of understanding in the church.
Paul used this verse to support the “equality” brought about by giving to the poor. Perhaps he was thinking that those who gathered manna might share any excess with others so that no one would lack food for the day.