Most of us understand 2 Corinthians 8–9 to be a passage on giving. And it certainly speaks to the need to give. Yet Paul asks the Corinthians to give because they share in the grace of koinonia with the church of Jerusalem through the Gospel. Put into contemporary terms, local churches must cooperate with other local churches because they share in the grace of fellowship. This is Paul’s argument.
Here’s what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:13–14:
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.
The word fairness could also be translated as equality. The apostle desires the Corinthians along with the Macedonians to provide a gift to the Jerusalem church so that these three churches could have a sense of equality.
Elsewhere Paul explains:
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. (Rom 15:26–27)
For Paul, Macedonia and Corinth (Achaia) should give to Jerusalem because Jerusalem has provided spiritual blessings to these churches. Equality or fairness is the name of the game.
What’s the motivation for such equality? The primary motivation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
Yet Paul never leaves the Gospel as a mere statement. The Gospel has implications. It means that we should give like Jesus gave. And it also means that we should be united and have fellowship in the Gospel.
The word for fellowship in Greek is koinonia. Paul uses this word (or a similar variant) at key places within 2 Corinthians 8–9:
For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the grace of fellowship (τὴν χάριν καὶ τὴν κοινωνίαν) in the relief of the saints (8:3–4). (modified the ESV in bold)
As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ (8:23). (unmodified)
By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the simplicity of your fellowship with (ἁπλότητι τῆς κοινωνίας εἰς) them and for all others (9:13). (modified the ESV in bold)
While I normally find translations to communicate the text clearly, the ESV and others provide unhelpful translations of the text here. Paul emphasizes the koinonia of the churches in Corinth, Macedonia, and Jerusalem.
And it’s a gift or a grace (charis) of God to have such a fellowship. Grace abounds through chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians—the word is used ten times (2 Cor 8:1, 4, 6–7, 9, 16, 19; 9:8, 14–15)! And it is this grace, this gift of God that allows local churches to unite together to share resources together so that there might be equality among the saints.
I return to what I said in the introduction. 2 Corinthians 8–9 might be the most underused passage on church unity today. Yes, Paul seeks a financial gift for the poor in Jerusalem. That’s there. And we should feel emboldened to preach on giving from this passage.
Yet Paul’s call comes on the basis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through which grace and fellowship come to all Christians no matter their geographical location.
Hence, Paul from Antioch works with the church in Corinth and Macedonia to give to the church in Jerusalem. Christian ministry requires cooperation with other churches. It shows our fellowship, something that we have in Christ.
And this is a major argument in 2 Corinthians 8–9. So lest we become so localized that we forget to love our neighbouring churches as ourselves, remember the gift of fellowship that we have in Christ.