Friday, November 28, 2014

That There May Be Equality

Anyone who has spent much time in church has likely been reminded that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly” (2 Cor. 9:6) and “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Unfortunately, these verses are often recited out of context to prompt members to give liberally towards the general budget. While this application is not necessarily illegitimate, when we read these verses in context, we find that Paul’s challenge to believers is far more radical.   

A Church in South Sudan
In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul is urging the believers in Corinth to give generously to their brothers and sisters on the other side of the world. As explained elsewhere, the churches in Judea are evidently experiencing severe poverty, and Paul has made it his mission to collect a relief offering from the Gentile churches.
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: "The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little." (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).
Paul’s vision is a global Church in which all of the members have their basic needs met.
Now we must not imagine that the economic disparity between the Gentile churches and the churches in Judea was analogous to the economic disparity between, for example, churches in Southern California and churches in South Sudan. The extreme wealth of modern churches in the developed world simply has no parallel in the first century. Assuming the demographics of the Corinthian church paralleled the demographics of the surrounding society, 70% to 90% of the believers “survived at or below the subsistence level.”[1] The saints in Judea may have been well on their way to starvation, but the Gentile Christians were not far behind them.
Therefore, if the historical occasion for the collection was truly the financial inequity between the Gentile churches and the churches in Jerusalem, then there is a far greater occasion for such a collection in the modern world, where the need remains as great as it was in the first century, and the financial inequity between churches is now astronomically greater.
Take a moment to consider the infrastructure of the Church in the West. Our cathedrals and chapels are magnificent. Our sanctuaries are equipped with grand pianos and concert quality sound systems. We have playgrounds, fellowship halls, and coffee shops. Our houses are spacious and luxuriant.
Such an infrastructure provides many great benefits. The aesthetics direct our hearts towards God in worship, the technology allows us to attract large crowds, and so on. The fact remains, however, that a vast number of our brothers and sisters around the world are struggling to simply survive in the midst of grinding poverty and violent persecution.
It is painfully obvious that the economic divisions between Christian communities mirror the economic divisions between secular states, with little or no discernible difference. Paul’s vision “that there may be equality” has clearly not been realized. This is a tragedy, but also an enormous opportunity for believers to provide a visible manifestation of the gospel in the new millennium.
[1] Moyer V. Hubbard, Christianity in the Greco-Roman World, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 144.

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