When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he clearly wanted the church in Corinth to give to the collection that would help alleviate the suffering of the Jerusalem church (2 Cor. 8:1–7; see 1 Cor. 16:1–4). In today’s passage, however, the Apostle makes clear that the call to contribute that he issued to the Corinthians was not a direct command of the Lord (2 Cor. 8:8). The collection was not a matter revealed by God and therefore mandatory for salvation; rather, it was a wise plan from Paul to help fellow Christians. Thus, it was possible to be truly Christian and not give to the collection.
However, while giving to the collection was not necessary for salvation, we should also note that failing to give had potential spiritual ramifications. A consistent, impenitent failure to help other believers in need can be a sign that true faith is lacking. If we never show generosity to Christians in dire straits, we have a significant problem and may have never received God’s grace (see James 2:14–26). The point for the church at Corinth, however, was that because there was no direct command from the Lord to give to the church in Jerusalem, any giving would be utterly free from constraint.
Such free giving, in fact, is what the Apostle was looking for. That is why he refers to the collection as an “act of grace” (2 Cor. 8:7). Grace itself is freely given without compulsion. Nothing obligates God to show His grace to sinners (Rom. 9:1–28). Paul wanted the Corinthians to show a similar type of uncompelled giving by donating to the Jerusalem church apart from any command. In fact, he essentially expected that those who really understood the freedom of God’s grace would long to reflect that grace on an earthly level through their generosity. Thus, in 2 Corinthians 8:9, he gives the motivation for helping other Christians. He notes that Christ voluntarily became poor in the incarnation, descending from the riches of heaven to take on our nature and suffer so that we who are in dire straits because of our sin might become rich. Similarly, believers should voluntarily give up some of their wealth to enrich other believers in true need.
What are the riches that Christ gives us? First, they are spiritual (Eph. 1:3). As John Chrysostom comments, our riches in Christ are “the knowledge of godliness, the cleansing away of sins, justification, sanctification, the countless good things which God bestowed upon us and which he intends to bestow.” Yet, our riches will be material as well, for we will finally inherit the entire earth (Matt. 5:5).