Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 29, 1955
NUMBER 21, PAGE 1,12b-14a

Deficiency, Abundance And Equality

W. Curtis Porter, Monette, Arkansas

Relative to the contribution sent to relieve the poor saints in the church at Jerusalem, Paul said to the Corinthian church: "For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality." 2 Cor. 8:13, 14. This statement reveals to us the pattern of New Testament cooperation engaged in by the churches of the first century when a number of congregations sent funds to another congregation. In every case, as in this one, the receiving church was in a condition of want or need. There is no example in the New Testament of churches sending funds to another church that was not in need.

In the Gospel Advocate of May 19, 1955, Bro. Luther Martin had an article in which he showed this pattern of New Testament cooperation. The matter was sustained by such passages as Acts 11:27-30; Rom. 15:25-28; I Cor. 16:1-3; 2 Cor. 8:13-15. These reveal to us the fact that churches with "ability" to give sent to churches who were in a condition of "want" that a condition of "equality" might be produced. Bro. J. W. Roberts, in an article published in the Gospel Advocate of June 23, 1955, endeavors to set aside this fact in an effort to sustain the "brotherhood projects" among us today in which many churches, some of which are in "want", send to another church, which is not in "need," that all may do a work through a single agency — a work to which all contributing churches were equally responsible with the receiving church.

Bro. Roberts admits that "all of these passages speak of the want or need of those who received the money and of the ability of the senders to minister to such need." But he denies that this is a pattern and appeals to the Macedonian churches who gave out of "their deep poverty" to have fellowship in the work of "ministering to the saints" at Jerusalem. 2 Cor. 8:2. Since the churches of Macedonia were in "deep poverty" but gave to the church in Jerusalem, then such giving was not from churches with abundance, or with ability to give, to churches in need, it is insisted. It is the same type of argument that Bro. E. R. Harper made in the Lufkin debate. He claimed that there were some "poor saints at Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem church was not in deep poverty — theirs was but a moderate condition. However, the Macedonian churches were in "deep poverty" — a condition much worse than was Jerusalem's — but they sent their funds to the Jerusalem church. If this is a true representation of the matter, then the contribution was being sent to the wrong place. Jerusalem should have been sending funds to the churches of Macedonia as they were the ones who were in desperate need. Now, the fact is, of course, that "poverty" is a relative matter. The record tells of the "poor saints" at Jerusalem, but It does not tell how poor they were. There is nothing to indicate that it was less than the poverty of Macedonia. The churches of Macedonia were in "deep poverty" when compared to the other sending churches — the church of Corinth, the churches of Galatia, and so on. Yet out of that comparative "deep poverty" they were able to send a liberal contribution to those who were in more desperate need in Jerusalem. This, therefore, is not an exception to the New Testament pattern that has been given. It does not destroy the argument made but actually lends support to it.

But Bro. Roberts says: "This destroys the contention that the cooperation must be between a large, wealthy congregation and a poor one." In this matter Bro. Roberts appears to be confused. It is not a matter of a "large, wealthy congregation" giving to a "small, poor one," but it is a matter of a congregation, though it may not be large and wealthy, which has the ability to give, sending relief to a congregation that may be twice as large but for some reason is reduced to a condition of need. To illustrate, there may be a congregation of 300 members. They may not be wealthy, but they have the ability to carry on their normal work — they are not in a condition of financial distress. Another congregation may have 600 members — just twice as many — and their amount of wealth may be twice as much as the other congregation. But a catastrophe of some nature occurs — a flood or a tornado or an earthquake — and this church is faced with a condition of distress that is beyond its ability to relieve. The other church, with half as many members and not as much wealth, is abundantly able, because it is not faced with any such emergency, to send relief to the larger church. But it is still a matter of a church "in need" receiving assistance from one that is able to give. In such a case, the "abundance" of one makes up for the "deficiency" of the other, and "equality" is the result. This does not mean, of course, that both churches are brought to "equality" in a matter of dollars and cents, but the condition of "want is removed, and neither of them is in distress. In that sense "equality" is produced. Certainly this is what Paul is telling the Corinthian church. The Jerusalem church was in need; the Corinthian church was able to send to Jerusalem. "At this time" the "abundance" of Corinth would become a supply for the "want" of Jerusalem. At some other time matters might be reversed — Corinth might be in need and Jerusalem might be able to assist. Then the "abundance" of Jerusalem might be a supply for the "want" of Corinth. And in both cases "equality" would be produced. This is the obvious meaning of the statement of Paul.

Bro. Roberts seeks to prove that the want of the saints — or that there may be equality — was not the only design or motive of giving. Following is his statement:

"If it was not out of their abundance that Macedonia gave, what was their motive? Paul says that they gave (1) out of their "good pleasure," that is, they simply wanted to have fellowship in the matter, and (2) "their debtors they are." (Rom. 15:27). That is, they had been "made partakers of their spiritual things" and felt that they owed it "also to minister unto them in carnal things." In another place Paul said that their gift "not only filleth up the measure of the wants of the saints, but aboundeth also through many thanksgivings unto God; seeing that through the proving of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession unto the gospel of Christ." (2 Cor. 9:12). Thus Paul himself says that the wants of the saints was not the only thing involved."

It has often been said that "remission of sins" is the only design or motive of baptism. But some one might come up with the idea that baptism has other designs, for it "(10) puts into Christ (Gal. 3:27), and (2) it puts into the death of Christ (Rom. 6:3,4), and (3) it saves (1 Pet. 3:21), and (4) it is done that sins may be washed away. (Acts 22:16). But, of course, it is evident that these are different ways of saying the same thing. All these matters are involved in the "remission of sins." This is about the way Bro. Roberts went about to prove other motives of giving besides to relieve the want of the saints. Let us take a look at his "motives" of giving. 1. They gave because they wanted to. Certainly so. But they "wanted" to give to relieve the distress of those who were in need. Certainly, any giving, or any other service rendered to God, that is not done willingly is of no value to the person performing the service. To give grudgingly is entirely ruled out. But this motive is enveloped in the larger design of relieving those in a condition of want. 2. They gave because they were "debtors" to the Jerusalem church. Having received spiritual things from them they now feel obligated to minister carnal things to them. This, too, is enveloped in the larger design of relieving the distressed. Why did they now feel the obligation of that debt? Why did they not feel the need of paying the obligation before? Because the Jerusalem church was now in need and had not been in this condition before. They felt they owed Jerusalem some carnal things because they were in need of them. They wished to help relieve their condition of want. And the statement of Paul "in another place" referred to by Bro. Roberts gives some results of the contribution, but all these results were not motives. Notice them. 1. The wants of the saints were cared for. 2. Caused thanksgivings to God. 3. They glorified God for Corinth's "professed subjection to the gospel of Christ." 4. They glorified God for Corinth's liberal distribution. 2. Cor. 9:12, 13. If these were all motives, as Bro. Roberts says, what do we have? Corinth is giving to Jerusalem to relieve the wants of these saints. They are giving to cause thanksgiving. They are giving to get Jerusalem to glorify God for Corinth. In other words, Corinth is sending a contribution to Jerusalem in order to get Jerusalem to praise them for it. Who can believe that such was. the motive of Corinth? Let us not confuse "results" with "motives."

That the receiving church, being relieved of its want, may have an equality with the giving churches, is an idea that Bro. Roberts denies as being the meaning of the passage. Let us hear him:

"It does not strike me that this is the meaning of what Paul said in 2 Cor. 8:13, 14. Paul does not say that the contribution is for the receiving church that it may make them equal to the sending church. The Greek words mean just the opposite of this. What Paul literally says is, "For not in order that there may be relief (or benefit) to others and distress to you, but out of equality (eks isotetos)." The 'but' is the particle alla which expresses the adversitive or opposite idea to the first expressed. The meaning then is `for giving is not that benefit may be to others and distress to you, but it is to provide benefit equally to others (who receive) and you (who give).' The idea that the receiving church is to get all the benefit is the very idea Paul is refuting."

The appeal made to the Greek to uphold the idea that Paul was not teaching that the contribution was for the purpose of producing equality between the giving and receiving church, is of no avail. To declare that the "but" is the particle alla which expresses the adversitive or opposite idea to the first expressed does not prove what Bro. Roberts seeks to prove by it. The Greek word de from which "but" is also translated is also an "adversitive particle" used by way of "opposition" to "a preceding statement." But you don't need to go to the Greek for any of this. The English word "but" always functions as an adversitive and declares that which follows it is opposite to a preceding statement. But what is the significance of the statement that follows, or the one that precedes, cannot be determined by the "adversitive" itself. Bro. Roberts' literal translation, "for not in order that there may be relief," does not deny that the receiving church is to receive the benefit, for this does not tell all of the story. It was not, Paul taught, to relieve the receiving church by burdening the sending church. This would not produce equality but would maintain the same condition of inequality as before, only the ones formerly burdened would now be relieved, and the ones formerly relieved would now be burdened. Paul did not wish to put Corinth into distress in order to relieve Jerusalem. The opposite of this, as introduced by the adversitive, would be that neither of them be in distress but that a condition of equality should result. If Paul had intended to teach that the benefit was not for the receiving church alone but also for those who sent, he could have very well said that, but such is not what he said. The obvious meaning of the passage is well illustrated in various translations of the passage. Let us look at just a few of them.

William's Translation:

"For I do not want it to be a relief for others and a burden on you, but through an equalizing of matters in the present crisis I do want your abundance to relieve their need, that some day their abundance may relieve your need, so that equality may exist."

Goodspeed's Translation:

"I do not mean to be easy upon others and hard upon you, but to equalize the burden, and in the present situation to have your plenty make up for what they need, so that some day their plenty may make up for what you need, and so things may be made equal."

Moffatt's Translation:

"This does not mean that other people are to be relieved and you to suffer: it is a matter of give and take; at the present moment your surplus goes to make up what they lack, in order that their surplus may go to make up what you lack. Thus it is to give and take."

Revised Catholic Translation:

"For I do not mean that the relief of others should become your burden, but that there should be equality; that at the present time your abundance may supply their want, and that their abundance may in its turn, make up what you lack, thus establishing equality."

Rotherham's Translation:

"For not that unto others should be relief, and unto you distress (do I speak), but by equality. In the present season your surplus for their deficiency, in order that their surplus may come to be for your deficiency: that there may come about an equality."

Twentieth Century Translation:

"For our object is not to give relief to others and bring distress on you, but, by equalizing matters, to secure that, on the present occasion, what you can spare may supply their need, so that at another time what they can spare may supply your need, and thus matters may be equalized."

Such is sufficient to show the obvious meaning of the passage.

As absurd as Bro. Roberts' interpretation of the passage is, it reaches its extreme when he endeavors to show what the "deficiency" and "abundance" are. Inasmuch as the Lord declared "it' is more blessed to give than to receive," there is certainly to be found a blessing in giving. And from that idea Bro. Roberts seeks to interpret the "deficiency" and the "abundance" mentioned by Paul in the passage before us. But listen to him in his own words:

"But what does Paul mean by there being a deficiency and an abundance at both places? We must judge by the context. Corinth has material prosperity, but has a deficiency of spiritual blessing due to their lagging in the contribution. They are missing out on the favor of God and the joy of giving, such as Achaia had recently enjoyed. Jerusalem has an abundance of spiritual strength, but lacks necessities of life. Their abundance is of the same type which would accrue to Corinth, if they carried out their pledge. Thus the deficiency of each would be met by the completion of the willingness (verse 11) of the Corinthians to give. Both of them would be blessed equally."

It is almost unbelievable that a gospel preacher would come up with such an interpretation. From this we see, according to Bro. Roberts, that Corinth had an "abundance" of material wealth but a "deficiency" of spiritual joy because they had not given as they should. On the other hand, Jerusalem had an "abundance" of spiritual joy but a "deficiency" of material wealth. If Corinth, therefore, would complete their pledge and give liberally to Jerusalem, it would remove the "deficiency" from which Jerusalem suffered. And, at the same time, as blessing and joy are found in giving, the "deficiency" at Corinth would also be removed — a deficiency of spiritual joy. Then with an "abundance" of material wealth at both places and an "abundance" of spiritual joy at both places, a condition of equality would be reached. It is a very beautiful interpretation, but it is an absolute denial of what the apostle Paul said. Paul declared that "Corinth's abundance" would "be a supply" for "Jerusalem's deficiency," and that "Jerusalem's abundance" would "be a supply" for "Corinth's deficiency." Now, when Corinth sent material wealth to Jerusalem to relieve the need of the saints there, her "abundance" supplied the "deficiency" of Jerusalem. But was the "deficiency" of Corinth supplied by the "abundance" of Jerusalem? Was her "lack of spiritual joy" supplied by the "abundance of spiritual joy" of Jerusalem? Absolutely not. But, according to Bro. Roberts, Corinth supplied the deficiency of both places. When she sent funds to Jerusalem, she sent funds to Jerusalem, she supplied the deficiency at Jerusalem. But that act on the part of Corinth — giving to those in need — brought joy to the givers, and their "deficiency" was supplied. The "abundance" of Jerusalem, therefore, did not become a supply for the "deficiency" of Corinth. The "deficiency" at both places was supplied by the Corinthian church. Either Paul was wrong when he said that the abundance of Corinth would become a supply for the want of Jerusalem, that the abundance of Jerusalem might be a supply for the want of Corinth or Bro. Roberts is wrong in his interpretation. Why introduce an interpretation that definitely denies the very thing that Paul said would be true? It is because brethren are seeking some means of Scriptural justification for "brotherhood projects" that lack Scriptural authority. Had it not been for a "deficiency" of Scriptural support for such projects, Bro. Roberts would never have offered this interpretation.