Recently, I saw a verse of Scripture that left me scratching my head. First, I’ll give the context and the entire passage.
In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to make plans to pick up the money that they have been collecting to help the church in Judea during a time of famine. Paul has heard that the Corinthians have collected a large sum of money, and he is praising the church for their generosity. (It is during this praise that Paul writes the famous line, “God loves a cheerful giver.”)
At the end of this passage, Paul reminds the Corinthians that God will bless them for their generosity, and that, also, God will be praised because of their generosity. Paul writes:
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:10-15 ESV)
The verse that left me scratching my head (when I read it in another source by itself) was 1 Corinthians 9:12:
For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (1 Corinthians 9:12 ESV)
Why did this verse leave me confused? Because I know that the same Greek work is translated both “ministry” and “service.” (That would be the term Î´Î¹Î±ÎºÎ¿Î½Î¯Î± - diakonia.) So, why would Paul write the same noun twice in this sentence?
The answer was simple, once I looked up the verse in my Greek NT. Paul didn’t write the same noun twice. The first term (the one translated “ministry” above) is Î´Î¹Î±ÎºÎ¿Î½Î¯Î± (diakonia). But, the second term (the one translated “service” above) is from a completely different word: Î»ÎµÎ¹Ï„Î¿Ï…ÏÎ³Î¯Î± - leitourgia.
Now, Î»ÎµÎ¹Ï„Î¿Ï…ÏÎ³Î¯Î± (leitourgia) is an interesting term. Typically, especially in the OT, it pointed to the work of a priest. The term is used (in the LXX – the Greek translation of the OT) in Numbers 4 to describe the “service” of priests. In the NT, we see something similar. For example, see how Luke used the term to refer to Zechariah in Luke 1:23.
So, in 2 Corinthians 9:12, Paul is saying that the Corinthian’s monetary offering (collected in order to help God’s people in Judea) is a priestly work which meets the needs of the saints. But, this service to others, which is actually priestly service to God, doesn’t only meet the needs of God’s people, it also results in thanksgiving to God. In fact, Paul says their service (giving money, in this case) is abundant with many with thanksgivings (plural) to God.
If we continue reading to the end of chapter 9, we see that the Corinthians’ service results in thanksgiving to God, the reception by the believers in Judea results in thanksgiving to God, and Paul himself offers thanks to God.
The clear (and abundant) principle here is that our service to others results in thanksgiving to God (the abundance of many thanksgivings to God) on many different levels and by many different people.
Something to think about as we approach Thanksgiving Day.