While the New Testament contains two letters from Paul to the Corinthians, the content of today’s second letter suggests that Paul wrote a total of at least four letters to the community. As a result, reading parts of today’s letter is kind of like hearing only one side of a phone conversation. In addition, you may have noticed a sudden change in tone that occurs at the beginning of the tenth chapter. The harsh nature of the final four chapters, in contrast to the encouraging style of the first nine, has led many scholars to believe that these chapters may actually be part of the earlier “letter of tears” to which Paul makes reference in chapter 2. So, what has come to be known as 2 Corinthians may actually be a compilation of two or more letters he wrote to the church that were merged together at some point along the way.
In the closing chapters of the first section of 2 Corinthians, Paul focuses his attention on encouraging the Corinthians to be generous. His desire is that they will join other churches in providing for the needs of the Jerusalem Christians living in desperate conditions. He offers two models for them to follow: first, God’s own example, who has shown them such great generosity in all things; secondly, the example of the Macedonians, a Christian community without significant financial resources themselves, yet one that could not resist giving above and beyond their means to contribute to the needs of others. Speaking to a church that exists in one of the most prosperous cities of its time, Paul urges them to follow the example of others and do their best.
Paul’s advice to the early church is great advice for us as well. If we all are generous in proportion to our own means, we find that the church has more than enough to provide ministries that care for all. Such a witness is reminiscent of the early Christian community we found in Acts, where no one holds onto more than is needed and everyone has enough.