Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 7, 1957

Let Paul Explain It


It is a truism, long emphasized by competent Bible teachers, that the Bible is its own best commentary. Passages which seem obscure or difficult of interpretation are easily understood if taken in their context and in the light of other passages dealing with the same subject. This has been such a cardinal and fundamental conviction of faithful Christians always that it would seem almost superfluous to mention it. But it has been a failure to understand and act upon this principle that has contributed in no small measure to present confusion over the "equality" argument made by Paul in II Corinthians 8 :13-15.

Surely that passage seems simple enough. Here are the facts:

"For I say not this that others may be eased and ye distressed; but by equality: your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want; that there may be equality: as it is written, He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack."

1. Jerusalem was in "want."

2. Macedonia had given liberally to meet that need.

3. Corinth was being urged also to give to meet the need.

But where does the "equality" come in? This has been the stumbling block. On the face of it the passage seems clear enough: Macedonia and Achaia were to give of what they had in order that Jerusalem (who had nothing) might have "equality" with them. Actually, this is what the passage teaches. But in a wild and futile effort to escape the force of "the equality argument" certain brethren have gone to unprecedented extremes, even claiming that Jerusalem had MORE than Macedonia to start with; and that Paul was taking from a church in "deep poverty" (Macedonia) to give to a church that was relatively wealthy, and actually had no need at all that they could not supply.

They have argued that the "equality" was as between Macedonia and Achaia, and that Jerusalem was not really involved in it at all! They have even tried to say that if Jerusalem were involved, that would mean that all the churches had to try to get financial equality. In writing on the subject, this writer once used the expression "freedom from want" as being the kind of "equality" Paul had in mind. To that statement one of the brethren responded with a solemn, straight-faced declaration that he had searched dictionaries, commentaries, lexicographers, and authorities of every description, but he had never found even one that defined "equality" as meaning "freedom from want."

Well, he just stopped too soon. If he had read Paul's own explanation of his term, he would have seen that "freedom from want" was the very thing Paul was talking about. That is involved in the passage from the Old Testament (Exodus 16:18) which Paul uses to define his meaning of "equality." The man who "had no lack" was a man having "equality" with his brethren. And the congregation which "has no lack" (that is, which is free from want) is a congregation enjoying "equality" with her sister congregations.

But someone is ready to object to this by urging the first part of Paul's quotation, "He that gathered much had nothing over." If having "no lack" means merely "freedom from want," then having "nothing over" would mean that no church could accumulate anything above that "freedom from want level," for the man who gathered a great abundance of manna soon found that he could not keep his accumulation.

We believe the illustration is entirely apropos, and fits on both ends. It is WRONG for a church to "accumulate" wealth. All she has should be used regularly for the work of the Lord. In the accumulation of wealth there is the seed of every evil thing. God has warned against it. The churches of the Lord are not to become institutions of wealth and "vested interests," but their resources are to be expended constantly for the cause of Christ. Within the last six or eight years a number of congregations have gone "money crazy," and are trying to build up huge reserves of capital in the form of farms, apartment houses, rental property, oil wells, and other income producing accumulations. But the Bible teaching is "he that gathered much had nothing over." Paul applies that to congregations. The congregation which has great income from her members must dispose of that as she receives it for the cause of truth; she cannot hold it, invest it, and accumulate a capital reserve of great and growing proportions. We know some of the wealthiest churches in the nation have in recent years been given farms, apartment houses, and other properties. In a few instances these things have been liquidated and the proceeds put to work for the Lord; in other instances, the properties are being held, administered, and the income from the properties is either used for church work, or is re-invested in other properties. Thus the churches are getting into "big business"; one congregation already has such investments going into the hundreds of thousands of dollars!

This is what has happened with Catholicism, Mormonism, and the denominational churches in general. They have become capitalists, owning church property for the purpose of producing income. Well, Paul's "equality" argument is a two-edged sword, cutting both ways here. It is to relieve the congregation which "has lack" and it prohibits a congregation from accumulating "anything over." There is to be both "freedom from want" on the one hand and "freedom from riches" on the other. God's churches are to have "equality"!

— F. Y. T.