“Aww, do I have to?” Parents (and some dog owners!) know the forlorn look, the whiny tone. We want our kids to do something. But we want them to want to do it, not just do it because we said so. If we push too hard, we may get compliance but not a willing attitude. And if we don’t push hard enough, we may get neither.
What’s a parent to do? For that matter, what’s a pastor to do, when a congregation may resist doing something that’s for their own good?
As we’ve seen in previous posts, Paul wants the Corinthians to give generously to the collection he’s taking up for the Jerusalem church. It’s a controversial subject in a somewhat uncertain relationship. They had begun setting aside contributions before the relationship went sour, and the collection was put on hold.
But now that things have improved, Paul wants them to demonstrate their change of heart by following through and finishing what they started. He writes:
I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. … And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. (2 Cor 8:8,10-11, CEB)
“This isn’t a command,” Paul says — but three verses later, he issues an imperative: “Now finish it!” Sounds like a command to me.
Some scholars have noted that the language he uses here (in the Greek) is identical to 1 Corinthians 7:6 and following, where the sense is, “I’m telling you my opinion, but I don’t have a direct commandment from God about this.”
That seems to be the sense here. Paul’s not refusing to tell them what to do; quite the contrary, he’s clearly asserting his authority as an apostle — which includes testing the sincerity of their repentance. But he’s also being honest with them. In commanding them to complete the collection, he’s speaking more as a pastor than a prophet.
They need to do it — but they also need to want to do it, as was true of the Macedonian churches who gave so generously (2 Cor 8:1-5). There’s a risk, though, that holding up the Macedonians as an example will foster more resentment and competitiveness than generosity in the Corinthians.
The alternative is clear. If Paul wants the Corinthians to have the generosity of the Macedonians, he needs to foster the right mindset as well. And that means holding up Jesus himself as the example to follow, and as a reminder of the incredible grace they have already received. More on that in the next post.