Paul was collecting money to support the Christians in Jerusalem.
As a community of Jesus-followers, they had initial rapid growth, but then faced brutal opposition. Ironically, Paul had been complicit and then active in that opposition. Though Paul’s life changed, and he was now trying to help, the lives of the followers were still difficult.
Other parts of the church saw the need and gathered funds to send with Paul when he stopped by. Some, though they had difficulties of their own, were sacrificially generous. Other places, though they had greater resources and greater freedoms, struggled to follow through.
Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
This feels like a story that could have been written today:
“Last year, you were concerned about helping the church in China or in Nigeria, the families of the believers killed in this place or that. You liked posts, you shared emails, you said, ‘praying.’ Now, finish the work.”
But the letter could dig deeper:
“Last year, you started a hundred good things, you made a dozen absolute commitments, you pledged to never forget more things than you have the capacity to remember. Now, finish the work.”
The challenge, of course, is to start by finishing what doesn’t need to be completed. Finish reading the book that isn’t worth completing. Finish reciting the list of reasons for distraction. Write the resignation from the blog series or book draft or consecutive days of social media.
And then we can devote our attention and energy to the work that actually does matter, the love of the one person all the way to the end. We can write the check and address the envelope and put the stamp on it and send it to the people who are, literally, starving.
I understand the Corinthians well. I love the excitement of the beginning. But I think my word for this year needs to be simple.
Finish. As in, “finish the work.”