So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness. Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver 2 Corinthians 9:5-7
We see those words "sparingly" and "bountifully" and are probably making the same false assumptions the disciples did when Jesus pointed out the old woman with her two small copper coins (Mark 12:41-44). You see, if we're mixed up on what it means to SOW SPARINGLY then we're equally mixed up on what it means to REAP SPARINGLY. Likewise, if we think that "bountiful" can be measured in dollars we might actually be sowing SPARINGLY while thinking we're so generous - or the other way around! I have discovered that the distinction between the stingy and the truly generous gift is so obvious that it surprises me how easily I forget it!!
Consider these phrases:
"a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness."
"as he has purposed in his heart;"
"not grudgingly or under compulsion"
"a cheerful giver"
Look at that first one and ask yourself what might have caused Paul to insert the comment about covetousness. Whatever it was, it would prevent the gift from being "ready AS a bountiful gift". Are you following that? In other words, if their gift was affected by covetousness then it might not be ready and it would not be bountiful, even though it might end up being larger. Yes, I have reasons for suggesting that.
Paul was sending some brothers on ahead to keep this very thing from happening. The question is, how would that have made a difference? Were they being sent to intimidate or maybe to reinforce Paul's law? Well, if that is not the case, then why, and what was it about their situation that caused Paul to find it necessary to urge some of the Macedonians to go on ahead to make preparations? And how does the fact that Paul refused to be there during any money collections add into the equation (see last Shoveletter)?
Isn't it reasonable to consider that something was going on among the Corinthian believers to turn them from following their own heart's desire? Otherwise, why would Paul have brought attention to it adding "not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver"? Paul wasn't just including info to make for good Bible verses, for he knew that only true freedom produced cheerful giving. He was forcing them to stand upon the freedom that had set their hearts free. But there were some among them who were not happy with the results of this freedom because it did not benefit their own purposes. And they worked hard to successfully stifle that purposed desire of those cheerful givers. How? Through covetousness.
Covetousness is not restricted to simply wanting somebody else's stuff, it touches on everything. They wanted riches, they wanted prestige, they wanted power, they wanted respect. They wanted to be thought of as Paul was - as God's special messengers - not just apostles, but super-apostles (2 Corinthians 12:11 NIV). Their jealousy drove them insane and caused the whole group to line up behind them in despising the man through whom freedom was preached. These men were competing with one another in order to boast the greatest and most influential followings (1Corinthians 1:10-13).
And it worked, the Corinthian believers had become full of themselves. Paul asked them,
For who regards you as SUPERIOR? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you BOAST as if you had not received it? You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings WITHOUT US; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. 1 Corinthians 4:7-8
Note: this passage has nothing to do with their true riches in Christ, but with their illusion of having MORE than another, especially considering the fact that this "already filled ... already rich" was something they supposedly had over Paul).
Through the deception of the fleshly mind they had begun basing their identity upon an impressive outward appearance (of which very few had before the miraculous work of the Spirit - 1 Corinthians 1:26). In response to all their delusions of grandeur Paul presents himself - the despised one, the fool, the weak - as the one to be imitated.
For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 1 Corinthians 4:9
How's that for a good role model? Taken together, these two Corinthian letters reveal a man who could have stood upon his previous credentials but would only boast in his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). Why did he do this?
We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, SO THAT YOU WILL HAVE AN ANSWER FOR THOSE WHO TAKE PRIDE IN APPEARANCE AND NOT IN HEART 2 Corinthians 5:12
Do you realize what would have happened if Paul was there when the collection was taken up? These so-called super-apostles would have taken the opportunity to make a grand show of it so they could be seen as superior to Paul, and the rest would have followed suit. It would have been a pathetic display of spiritual competition, and the money would have been rolling in! It wouldn't have been from a cheerful heart, it would have been grudgingly and under compulsion just so they could show themselves to be spiritual. Even without Paul's presence they would have done the same, though probably not as flagrant, because the flesh only does what it considers necessary.
In sending a group of Macedonians ahead, Paul created a dilemma for their fleshly demonstrations because it would prevent the show from taking place, and the gift would be established in freedom as freely given and bountiful.
More to come ...