Chapters eight and nine contain some of the most well-known passages on giving in the New Testament. When churches hold giving campaigns and pastors preach on tithing, these chapters are likely to come up. “They gave according to their means and beyond their means” (2 Corinthians 8:3). “Make sure you excel in this act of kindness, too” (2 Corinthians 8:7). “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). These and others seem to teach that giving to the church is important, and it is. The problem, however, is that was not Paul’s point when he wrote.
In reality, one of Paul’s missions, while he preached the gospel and planted churches, was to raise support for other struggling believers, especially those in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Romans 15:25-29). Thus, the giving that Paul asked the Corinthians to do was not for their own church; he was encouraging them to give generously for the benefit of others. He noted that the Macedonian churches (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea) continued to give, even sacrificially, during a difficult period (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). When Titus went to Corinth, Paul instructed him to make sure they did the same (2 Corinthians 8:6-9). It was especially important to Paul that they gave toward this mission because they had already promised that they would and had begun putting money aside for it (2 Corinthians 8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3). As he would explain further in chapter nine, Paul was less concerned with the amount they gave as he was that they gave. However, he did want them to consider their better financial situation as an opportunity to serve, since it may not always be that way. One day they might find themselves on the receiving side, subject to someone else’s generosity or lack thereof (2 Corinthians 8:12-15).
Titus and another brother were going back to Corinth again, carrying this letter with them and planning to accept the financial gift from the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:16-19). Paul noted that, especially with the accusations still swirling about him, he would not accept the gift personally, so as to not add fuel for his accusers (2 Corinthians 8:20-24). As if that were not enough, Paul sent yet another brother with them – for a total of three trustworthy men – to accept the money and return with it, so they could distribute it as necessary. Not only was there great wisdom in having multiple men traveling together for protection, but Paul was also right to “recuse” himself from showing up at Corinth for what could be construed just for money.