Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. As the Scriptures say, “Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough.” (2 Corinthians 8:11-15, NLT)
Handling our financial resources well and giving to those in need have been the foundational concepts of stewardship since Paul penned this letter to the Corinthian congregation. Today there are those who make high pressure, emotional appeals for funding, but this was not Paul’s method. His exhortation called for giving that is voluntary and proportionate to one’s capacity. Stewarding well may produce a surplus of resources that remains after the basic needs of life are met, which in turn becomes the pool from which we can meet the needs of others.
Having written about the examples of the Macedonians and Jesus, Paul makes his challenge to the congregation to complete what they started. Notice the guidelines he offers in the text.
First, their giving should be voluntary. There are four times in chapters 8-9 that he references their eagerness (cf. 8:11, 12, 19; 9:2). In other words, he is not trying to manipulate them into willingness. He is acknowledging that willingness already exists.
Second, their giving should be proportionate. There is no call for them to give beyond what they can afford. The amount given need not to exceed one’s ability. It is the condition of one’s heart and the circumstances of one’s life that should determine the amount of the gift and not the attempt to measure up to the practices of others. Even though the Macedonians sacrificial giving was commendable, it did not constitute a standard of expectation. Unfortunately, many church leaders today will point to sacrificial examples and make them the basis of emotional appeals. God measures our expression of willingness, not the amount given.
Third, the ultimate goal is reciprocity. The first century church did not have government programs to come to the aid of those who needed financial relief. Paul’s model insists that the body of Christ should care for itself. Those who have surplus should willingly meet the needs of others from their surplus. And should the tables be turned, others should willingly meet your needs from their surplus. In that way, everyone can have their basic needs met.
Paul concludes this section with a reference to the Exodus of Israel from Egypt where God provided them manna each day. His point is that those who attempted to hoard the manna found that it did not last. It perished. When we attempt to store up earthly treasures or build bigger barns, we miss the opportunity to enjoy the blessing of sharing. What are you doing with your surplus?