Old Testament Allusions in 2 Corinthians 8-9

Every year since our church’s beginning, I have been in awe of the generosity of God’s people to give their time, talents, and treasures to the advancement of the gospel. As we shared God’s generosity to us as a church at the last member’s meeting, we also shared how the elders don’t personally see how much the individuals and families of the church give. We do this because we don’t want to treat anyone according to their giving. Yet, one thing we do know is that God has made us a generous people.

As many of you know, I love studying and seeing the Old Testament backdrop to New Testament passages. This week I was reading through 2 Corinthians 8-9 and realized there is a pivotal Old Testament moment Paul has in mind when penning this section calling God’s people to be generous in their giving to the advancement of the gospel. What I hope to do by showing these Old Testament allusions is increase your understanding of why we are a generous people as well as spur us all on to keeping generous hearts.

Old Testament Allusions in 2 Corinthians 8-9

In the book of Exodus, God saves His people out of slavery and into His loving care. After making a covenant with them and giving them guidelines on how to live freely within this covenant (Ex. 20-24), the people of God by using the gold, silver, and precious materials that God granted them from the hands of the Egyptians (Ex. 12:35-36) to make a statue to worship in the place of God (Ex. 34). This shows that people themselves cannot even keep this covenant and are already breaking the first and second commandment given at Mount Sinai. Deeper than obedience to the law is an issue of the heart that causes the people to use what God gave them to make an idol to worship.

Later in Exodus 35, God commands his people to start the building of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is where God’s presence will dwell among them. What’s interesting is that God commands them to use the same goods that the Egyptians gave them prior to their exodus. As Exodus 35 tells the process of gathering the materials to build the Tabernacle, there is a phrase Moses repeats so that his readers will notice the hearts behind their giving, and something has changed. That change is seen in the repetition where Moses makes clear that those that gave for the erecting to the Tabernacle were those of “generous hearts” or had a heart that God himself had “stirred” (Ex. 35:5, 21, 26, 29).

The generous giving of the people led to the building of the Tabernacle where God would dwell with his people. Years and years later, Jesus himself became the true and lasting Tabernacle/Temple (John 1:14) who would establish a New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) that would graciously give new and generous hearts to all whom he made new. 

The Generous Hearts of God’s New Covenant People

The generosity of God’s New Covenant people is shown practically and theologically in 2 Corinthians 8-9. To show a few verses, and read these with Exodus 35 in mind, you will see how the newness of New Covenant giving is even greater than the heart-stirred giving we see in Exodus 35. Paul is taking a collection for the relief of the poor and the advancement of the gospel when he shares:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” -2 Cor. 8:1-5

But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.” -2 Cor. 8:7

For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” -2 Cor. 8:12

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” -2 Cor. 9:7

The outworking of God’s grace in our lives is often shown by our own generosity. In the same way that the Old Covenant people gave from a generous and willing heart, the New Covenant people are expected to be even more generous. But the heart often grows selfish or cold in this area. Money and stuff can have an exceptionally strong hold upon our hearts. We need to remember we are not merely giving to the building of a Tabernacle, but when we give generously, we are doing so because we are receiving again and again the grace of Christ Himself who modeled the most generous of giving in all human history. 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 Corinthians 8:9

God doesn’t demand that we give for the sake of giving. No, he sends His own Son, the Supreme King and Ruler of all things. He owns it all! Yet, he came down to earth and became like us. He did not live in a palace but lived without a place to rest His head (Matt. 8:20). Or, to say it more bluntly, Jesus will not ask you to do something He Himself has not already done. We will not out-give him, but He calls us to give in a way that proclaims the gospel. We give sacrificially. We give cheerfully. We give generously as those who are rich in Christ.

To close, R. Kent Hughes says it this way: “Though Christ, in his preexistence with his Father, could hold a white-hot star in the palm of his hand, he emptied himself of his riches and became one of us and then died for us—such was his poverty. That was Heaven’s stewardship program—the genesis of the grace of giving—and it is the pattern for us.” (Preaching the Word, 2 Corinthians, 159).

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