2 Corinthians 8:16-24

2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Beyond Pineapple Hospitality

Did you know that the pineapple is the symbol of hospitality? You probably did. I didn’t. I tend to be behind on such things. I didn’t know this culturally-immersed truth until I came to the South and saw pineapples everywhere (signs, bedposts, gates, doors, patios, inns or hotels). Naturally, I thought, “Now why would someone have a pineapple on the front door of his home? ‘Tis odd indeed!” The home we rent even has a doorknocker in the shape of a pineapple. I thought it was cute but culturally insignificant. I was wrong.

Reader beware, the story behind how the pineapple became the symbol of hospitality differs from raconteur to raconteur. Good ol’ Columbus brought the pineapple to Europe from the Caribbean. King Charles II of England even wanted a selfie with a pineapple given to him. It was such a rare gift that a portrait had to be made, and so it was. Some say that the pineapple as symbol came from the time of its rarity when a hostess would set it on the table of her home for her guests, showing them that she offers the best for her guests. Others point to a more legendary origin. It’s said that when a New England ship captain would return home from his toilsome maritime voyage, he’d place a speared pineapple on his fence post as a clear invitation for all to come, dine with him, and join in conversation. Whatever the true history, the symbol is apparently here to stay. Pineapples equal hospitality.

In our text under consideration, we’re not talking about pineapples, but we are concerned with hospitality. You may remember from last posting that Paul is in the middle of addressing some money matters with the Corinthians. In the midst of these money matters, he is saying that something more important than money is at stake: it’s the Corinthians’ view of hospitality. Not hospitality in the sense of being warm and loving toward each other, but in the sense of receiving people appointed by God for their good. To be sure, the Corinthians are urged to give. But their giving (or not) will speak volumes. Paul gets to the point at the end of our section under consideration (v. 24): “So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.” As we’ve seen, in these two chapters (8 & 9), Paul exhorts them to show their faithfulness to their word and genuine love for the brothers. One way for them to do this was to give monetarily to the cause (8:6-7; 9:1-5). And now, Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to show their love to be genuine by receiving Titus and two other men (8:24). Paul not only wants them to make room in their hearts for him, as his is wide open to them (6:13; 7:2), but now they are to widen their hearts also to these approved, faithful, earnest men who love and care for them and the whole church (8:24).

Before moving forward in that vein, let’s ask about the identities of these men. Titus is one of them (8:16, 18, 23) with whom the Corinthians are very familiar. Titus is Paul’s co-laborer in Christ who loves the Corinthians deeply, and it appears that the feelings are mutual. Titus just got back from Corinth to report on the Corinthians to Paul, and now he’s heading back to them and bearing this second letter. Titus is doing so freely because of his “earnest care” that he has for them (vv. 16-17). But this time he has some others who will accompany him. One of them is a renowned gospel-preacher. This brother is famous “among all the churches” (v. 18) because of his bold proclamation of the gospel (literally, “praise in the gospel”). These churches are likely the Macedonian churches mentioned earlier (8:1; cf. also 9:4). As an important side note, in verse 19, we learn that these churches appointed this man for the task of collecting the gift and for his continued gospel ministry. This sounds similar to the idea of a regional church (i.e., a Presbytery) doing some regional mission and gospel work. (A few points for Presbyterianism. “Hear! Hear!” say all the Presbies.) Suggestions for who this famous brother is include Sopater of Berea, Aristarchus, or Secundus (cf. Acts 20:1-6). Origen apparently considered this man to be the very author of Luke-Acts, Paul’s travel companion, Luke. Those are the best educated guesses we have; dogmatism can’t go beyond that.

The other brother is mentioned in verse 22. He’s different from Titus and the famous preacher-brother. This third man has been tested and approved. He is one whose earnestness for the Corinthians grows and grows. Beyond that, we know only that he, along with the famous preacher-brother, is called a messenger of the churches (v. 23). The word for “messengers” is literally apostoloi, which, of course, is where we get “apostles” from. These men are not apostles in the sense of being the unique official representatives commissioned by Christ himself (like Matthew, John, or Paul); nor are they the apostolic associates (like Barnabas or James/Jacob, Jesus’ brother). The ESV has it right. These men are “apostles” in the sense of being messengers or apostolic representatives chosen to see to it that a specific task be accomplished. And it’s these men, or the churches, that are the glory of Christ (v. 23). Some commentators say that it’s the men who are the glory of Christ. Others say it’s the churches. The sense is the same in either case, I think, or at least the difference is negligible. Fame and honor are given to Christ as these men as representatives (or the churches in general) make known Christ through their ministries. These men, or the churches, are like a city on a hill in a dark world, shining the light of Christ as they reflect his face (cf. 4:6).

Let’s return to the main point and its connection to pineapple hospitality. Paul is essentially saying to the Corinthians: “Because of who these men are as earnest and appointed brothers who love Jesus, his gospel, and his people, you need to receive these men, and so prove (1) your love to all the churches (who, by the way, appointed them to come to you), and (2) the truthfulness of my boasting of you to them.” As I said earlier, much more is clearly at stake than throwing some coin Paul’s way for the relief fund. The test before them is a test of their hospitality. Will they receive these brothers, or will they deny them entrance into their homes and their hearts? Will they recognize them as true servants of the Lord taking up a collection appointed by the churches for the sake of Jesus’ suffering sheep, or will they turn their backs to these earnest gospel-men, and, by extension, the saints in Jerusalem? Will they welcome the light of the glory of Christ, or will they obscure or try to snuff it out because of their miserliness? How they respond to the call will say much about their love for Paul and the gospel.

Hospitality is much more than a coming-together, a like-mindedness, a sharing of the home, eating some rare and costly food, or telling and hearing stories of great adventure. Biblical hospitality is joined to the central theme of the Bible: God’s gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, John says these wall-dividing words: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [that is, the gospel], do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (2 John 10-11). The connection is clear. Hospitality involves receiving brothers and sisters in Christ, greeting them in the Lord, fellowshipping with each other because of a common Christ-union, and being engaged in righteous works together. That’s what Paul calls the Corinthians to do. That’s what we’re called to be and do as well. We’re not called to host extravagant parties, though such parties in themselves are not sinful. We’re not called to bring out the choicest meats and cheeses, and pineapples of course, for our guests, though doing so may show a love for them (if not done for selfish gains). We’re not called to tell of ourselves and our adventures or glory-stories to one another, though sharing our lives with others is integral in hospitality. We’re called to widen our hearts for one another, to show our love for each other because of Christ’s love for us, to tell glory-stories of Christ and his lavished love for us, to treat one another more highly than ourselves, and to give from what we have for the good of others. In other words, we’re called to make our homes and hearts gospel-homes and gospel-hearts. Plus, pineapples are prickly.

     
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