In the last post, we saw that equality in 2 Cor 8 is about sufficiency, that is, about everyone having enough. But how ought the wealthy (read: any western) Christian think about their wealth, the surplus of their ‘enough’?
Equality ≠ guilt
Firstly, wealthy Christians need not disdain or feel guilty about their wealth. After all, abundant blessings come from God (2 Cor 9:8). The wealthy Christian need not feel guilty about their ‘plenty’ any more than an excellent preacher need feel guilty about that gift. Rather, they should rejoice in the opportunity such wealth brings. It is the very fact that they are wealthy – ‘your plenty’ – that gives them the opportunity for grace (2 Cor 8:7). Wealth in this case is not a cause for guilt because others have less but a chance for generosity out of God-given abundance. The wealthy Christian has the privilege of filling the need of the poor Christian.
Equality is from God
Second, wealthy Christians ought to recognise this sufficiency as a divinely sanctioned goal. 2 Cor 8:15 recalls the situation in Exodus where God miraculously intervened so that each Israelite ended up with one omer of manna (except on the Sabbath when God preserved the manna to last longer.) In this case, it was God himself who ensured that everyone had enough. When the Corinthians participate in this offering, they are being like God by establishing equality.
Equality = empowerment
Thirdly, wealthy Christians need to develop an attitude of humility as they give. In 2 Cor 8:14, Paul raises the possibility of reciprocation: ‘so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.’ It is theoretically possible that Paul envisions a massive reversal in the fortunes of those in Corinth and Jerusalem, that the western Christian today ought to give because one day Africa might be rich and the west poor. Theoretically possible, but highly improbably, and theologically empty: remember Jesus’ call to love even enemies without expectation of getting anything back (Luke 6:35)? It’s more likely we’re dealing with a hypothetical situation here.
But what’s shocking about this passage is that reciprocity is even on view. In Roman Corinth, reciprocity was only possible between friends. To treat someone else as if reciprocity were on the table was an expression of partnership. To treat another as equal, as if they could respond in reciprocity, should the situation present itself, was therefore an expression of friendship. By even raising the issue of reciprocity, Paul suggests that the Corinthians ought to see those in Jerusalem as their equals. Equality is more than economic here.
Equality and social action
The economic sufficiency the Corinthians are to contribute to should flow out of their sense of friendship and solidarity with those in Jerusalem. This sense of equality is both the motivation for social action and the result of it. Not only do wealthy Christians give to others because of their solidarity with them, but in doing so, they give status and dignity to those receiving the action.
There is no place in social action for condescension. Quite the opposite, social action ought to raise up the other. Those doing the social action are prohibited from feeling superior or as if they have bestowed favour on the recipients. Rather, they are to view their recipients as friends and equal partners and out of that, to contribute to their welfare. Equality here is geared towards raising up the lowly and empowering them.
In the next post, I’ll consider the practical implications of this equality for the western Christian.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.