Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 2 Corinthians 8:13,14
The context of this passage is that the church in Jerusalem was struggling. This may have been ongoing fallout from a famine some years before, or simply because the church there was poor. Either way, they didn't have the resources to keep going. In this letter, Paul has drawn attention to the generous gift of the Macedonians and he is now encouraging the Corinthians to give likewise.
However, his use of language is really interesting. On the one hand, we might think of this gift as merely an act of charity. The Jerusalem church was poor, the Corinthians were potentially wealthier, and Paul is merely asking the Corinthians to give out of their excess to help their poorer brothers and sisters. However, Paul does not frame the gift in that way. If he had then the Corinthians would have effectively become the patrons of the Jerusalem church and that was a model of financial support that Paul despised. He rejects it for himself for instance in 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9: 1-18, 2 Corinthians 11:5-10).
Instead, Paul's emphasis is on justice not charity. As he repeatedly notes in this passage, 'the goal is equality'. In other words, Paul is saying here that the fact that we share resources - my plenty supplying what you need; and your plenty supplying what I need - is not a matter of charitable giving; it's a matter of justice. It is how things are meant to be in the Kingdom of God. Of course, this same pattern is also evident in the way the early disciples shared all things in Acts 2 and Acts 4, and how debts were cancelled in the Jubilee principle of Leviticus 25.
As I say in the blog about The Three Key Questions about Tax, none of this means that we can achieve absolute equality today. But the question that must be asked is this: in which direction are we heading? Is it the direction of more equality or less? Paul would certainly encourage us to seek more, and our tax systems if better engineered can do just that.
The Bible And Tax - Revd David Haslam's in-depth exploration of the Biblical precedents for the Tax Justice Campaign with reference to both the Old and New Testaments and to theologian Ched Myers' ideas of 'Sabbath Economics'. Physical copies can be purchased at a cost of £1 per copy, £5 for 6 or £10 for 12. Email us at mail (at) catj.org.uk for more information..