There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. (verses 1-3)
Enthusiasm and follow-through don’t always go together. Especially when follow-through involves sacrifice.
Paul says that ever since the previous year the Corinthian believers had enthusiastically pledged to provide financial support for the church in Jerusalem, a church which was experiencing great need and poverty. Indeed, ever since the early days following Pentecost, when huge numbers of people had been converted, the Jerusalem church had struggled to meet the needs of its growing community. The establishment of “the Seven” in Acts 6, chosen to look after the daily distribution of food, had been prompted by the reality of need within the church community, since some of its widows were receiving adequate care and others not.
In the years that followed, poverty and need continued. Paul saw it as an opportunity for the newly established Gentile churches throughout Greece and Asia Minor to provide tangible care for the mother-church in Jerusalem, a church comprised primarily of Jews. These new converts had the opportunity to express love and unity and thankfulness for the gospel-gift they themselves had received.
The Corinthians responded. Indeed, they were the first to express a desire to participate, and the first to actually begin to do so (2 Cor 8:10). “Eagerness” and “enthusiasm” are the words Paul uses to describe their involvement. It warmed the apostle’s heart and prompted other churches, like the one in Macedonia, to jump right in with their own eager generosity.
But desire and first steps are one thing; follow-through is another. The time for completion had now come. Paul sent Titus, together with two other faithful brothers, to remind the Corinthians of their pledge and to prepare the way for them to make their enthusiasm tangible. Would they follow through?
Two things come to mind from this “slice of life” within the early church.
The first is that sacrificial giving is a necessary part of the church’s life. It was needed then. It’s needed now. For the Corinthians, it stretched them to step into real discipleship, literally “putting their money where their mouth is,” expressing devotion to Christ by giving away what they might have relied upon otherwise. Such giving would deepen the Corinthians’ own life in Christ. Meanwhile, for the Jerusalem church, the gifts received would allow them to know the solid reality of brotherly love in tangible form. Their need, uncomfortable as it was, provided the occasion for them to be drawn closer with the broader church. Christ’s command was being fulfilled.
The second is that enthusiastic intention isn’t enough. It needs to be completed by action. It’s true, whether the currency is money or spiritual gifts or time or compassion or whatever. The Corinthians’ initial enthusiasm needed to spill over into fulfilment. I think of Jesus’ story of the two sons, one who eagerly said “yes” to his father’s command, but failed to follow-through, while the other initially balked, but then came through to completion. It was the latter son who pleased the father. But what about the Corinthians? We’re left on the edge of our seats, uncertain whether they will do likewise.
And how about you? How about me? For us, will enthusiasm and follow-through go together?
Lord Jesus, thank you for resources of money, time and gifting that you have entrusted to me for your purposes. Strengthen me, in eagerness and action, to use it all for your glory. Amen.
Reflect: What opportunity have you enthusiastically embraced, but not yet brought to completion? Talk with the Lord about it. What steps do you need to take now to bring it to fulfilment?