Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
September 24, 2023
2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5
At the beginning of worship:
“You are a light to the world,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. And if we are the light, we shouldn’t hide it. Instead, Jesus says, “let your lights shine so that others might see your good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.”
What does it mean for us to be a light to the world? Certainly, when we do good or noble deeds, we are being a light. But we are also being a light when we avoid even appearing to do what is wrong. This requires a balancing act for we are also to take risk to reach others. Think of the Samaritan. He didn’t worry about appearance when he helped the wounded man lying by the road. But, when possible, we also need to avoid things that might cause others to question our motives. We’ll explore this concept today.
Before the reading of the scriptures
We’ve watched Paul tack back and forth between topics throughout our exploration of 2nd Corinthians. Last week, we began to explore the two chapters devoted to fund raising for the saints in Jerusalem. Today, in the middle of this section, we discover a lull in the action as Paul takes care of some details. While Paul often wrote about theological issues, he also had a practical mind.
Things need to happen for any organization to run well. Here, Paul makes sure there is a way to receive the collection and get it to those in need. As Bachman Turner Overdrive sang when I was in high school, he’s “taking care of business.”
Furthermore, Paul wants to be totally upfront as to the collection. He doesn’t want the Corinthians to have questions. Instead, he assures them their gifts will be handled properly and used for the purpose they’ve been collected. Finally, Paul wants to avoid embarrassment, to himself and to the Corinthians.
It’s an old joke that being a pastor requires just an hour of work on Sunday. Of course, if I got up here without any preparation and planning, you’d know. Being a pastor involves a lot more work than talking for 20 minutes or so on Sunday morning.
It’s hard for one person to do all the administrative work required. In the Presbyterian system, the pastor who moderates the session (or the church board) is assisted by a clerk, to help with details. Furthermore, the entire session is called on to lead the congregation. When the system works, it makes the calling of a pastor a lot less stressful.
Of course, if a church grows into more of a program-sized congregation, it takes even more help. It’s good to have a competent secretary to make sure all the details are covered.
Marcia was such a person. She was hired first as a part-time church secretary. Over time became my administrative assistant during my pastorate in Cedar City, Utah. She wasn’t the best typist (I could type faster), but she was very capable of taking care of business and helping me during a busy period. While I was there, the church expanded and built a new campus.
Marcia amazed me. She was always pleasant, even to those who could be difficult. She listened, kept me informed on what people were thinking and saying, and identified needs within the church. When it was time for me to move on, I knew I would miss Marica, and I did. But to her credit, she faithfully served another three pastors at Community Presbyterian Church. In all, for years, she was part of the glue that kept the congregation together.
Marcia was at the church for 25 years, stepping down only when cancer got the best of her. But when she did step down, the church was in a better place for others to take over.
Sadly, Marcia died six months after I moved up here on the mountain. But during the many years between my leaving Utah and her death, we kept in touch. Often, when I visited, it was like I had never been gone. We would laugh and joke back and forth. It felt so good to see her again.
Paul needed an administrative assistant
In this lull in the middle of Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians, I find myself wondering if Paul didn’t need a Marcia. Paul takes care of business and in so doing reminds us that even taking care of details are a part of godly work. In a way, by Paul taking care of business, he shows the importance of such work and reminds us we should be thankful for Clerks of Session, treasurers, bulletin preparers, those who clean and who prepare for fellowship opportunities, musicians and sound techs, as well as all others who take care of the little jobs needed for things to run smoothly.
Taking care of business
Paul sends Titus, who had gained the confidence of the Corinthians, back to Corinth to collect their offering. With him is an unnamed brother who is obviously held in high esteem by all the churches. Many scholars have speculated as to who was the unnamed brother, but it doesn’t really matter for our purposes.What matters is the care Paul takes, not just to meet this need, but to do it in a way that will avoid any suspicion that the offering might not go to where it’s intended.
Avoiding the appearance of impropriety
Paul shows the importance not only of doing what is right, but also doing it in a manner that will not raise red flags or call into question one’s motive. The early church was constantly under scrutiny within the first few centuries. Jews questioned the church’s relationship within the gentile community. Pagans even went as far as to accuse Christians of being atheist and cannibals because of the words used in the Lord’s Supper. In such an environment, Paul wants to do everything he can to avoid giving his critics more ammo with which they can attack the fledging church.
When you are under suspicion to start with (and anyone in leadership is and probably should be under suspicion), it’s important not to give others more reasons to criticize you. Others will find plenty of reasons to criticize on their own. You don’t need to help them.
A Judge’s standard
I remember approaching a respected judge who was a member of a church I pastored. We asked him to serve on the committee to raise money for building a new church campus. I am sure he would have done an incredible job, but he politely turned us down. In fact, the man refused to be involved in any fundraising activities, not just for the church but also the community. He didn’t want to be in a position where someone who gave through his request would later ask for a favor when in a court of law. I respected his decision and was grateful for his willingness to continue to teach Sunday School.
I wish more of our politicians would take such a high road. As for the judge, I’m sad I wasn’t the pastor when he retired and resumed part-time practice as a lawyer. I would have gone back to him to help on the finance committee.
Even good deeds can be misinterpreted
You know, even our good deeds can be misinterpreted. This is a risk we always take. But if there is a way we can keep from such misinterpretations, we should do so. Strive to take the high road and do what is noble in the eyes of others, always going beyond what is required not just to avoid impropriety, but also the appearance of such. Yet, as in the case of the collection for the saints, we also must take risk for the benefit of others.
The rule of love
John Calvin places our desire to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing within “the rule of love.” We owe this to others, he writes, even strangers, so they might draw them into the faith.In other words, by striving to always be above board, is one way we express our love to others.
Back to the offering
As we move into the ninth chapter, Paul returns to the offering. He again restates what he said earlier, bringing up the Macedonian offering and how he has bragged about Corinth’s zeal. This section could be taken two ways. Is Paul playing the Macedonian Church off against the Corinthian Church? Or is Paul really concerned about the humiliation the Corinthians (and he) will experience if they fail to live up to expectation of others?
Perhaps Paul does a bit of both. After all, avoiding humiliation of others goes with Paul’s desires to remove obstacles from other people accepting the gospel.
Completing the work
As a good administrator, a talent it appears Paul possessed, he wants to see the Corinthian Church complete the work they began. Although the proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” doesn’t appear in Scripture, it might be applied here. Paul has bragged about Corinth, now he wants them to live up to their praise.
While this section of Paul’s writings might not be his most theologically significant, there are several things we can learn. First, when involved in church work, we need to take care of the details. And for those of us who may be more “big picture” types, we need to honor those who watch over and help us make sure things are taken care of. Second, we need to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Let’s not give anyone a reason to avoid associating with us. Paul does what he can to relate to everyone. And finally, when we make a commitment, we should do our best to complete the work. Amen.
 Matthew 5:14, 16.
 Luke 10:25-37.
 For Marci Beck’s obituary: https://www.metcalfmortuary.com/obituary/marcua-edwards-beck
 Acts 20:4 lists names of those from Macedonia who traveled with Paul. Origen, writing in the 2nd Century, suggests it’s Luke. See Paul Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 422-423. Another early church father suggests its Apollos (see 1 Corinthians 16:12). See Theodoret of Cyr, “Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians 332,” as quoted in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VII, 1-2 Corinthians (Dowers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999), 277.
 John Calvin, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, John W. Fraser, translator (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), 225. Calvin is reflecting on 1 Corinthians 10:32, “give no occasion for stumbling.”
 In 9:2, Paul uses the term Achaia here. Corinth was the largest city and probably the largest church in the providence (but not the only church, see Romans 16:1. C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1973, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1987), 233.
 I have always thought this quote came from Billy Sunday, but at least according to this internet source, it was around a century before him, going back to Samuel Johnson or even John Wesley. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_road_to_hell_is_paved_with_good_intentions