In the same letter, however, Paul can be seen engaging in what appears to be a client-like heralding of the “churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1b), stressing “that during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity” (8:2). On the surface, this appears to be Paul subordinating himself to this particular church, speaking of them as a client would a patron. Of significance though, is that “they gave according to their means and beyond their means” (8:3a). So on the contrary, this is not the act of a patron.
In that day, a patron did not diminish his own comfort and standing to serve a client. With that world’s ultimate patron, that being Caesar, always looming in the background as Paul continually operates in a counter-imperial mindset (as does Jesus as well-demonstrated by the Gospel-authors presentation of Him), a distinction between the patronage of Caesar and Jesus is drawn, as Paul writes “For you the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although He was rich, He became poor for your sakes, so that you by His poverty could become rich” (8:9). Jesus is an altogether different type of patron.
This is precisely what Paul has described as the actions of the churches of Macedonia. Indeed, this is the act of a community vested by the Spirit of the Creator God. Beyond that, “They did so voluntarily, begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints” (8:3b-4). Patron’s did not act voluntarily, but rather, they acted upon request, calculating how fulfilling the request and meeting a need would impact their honor standing. Not only is this not what has occurred with the Macedonian churches, but they went to the other end, to the end of shame, begging Paul to allow them to participate. It’s almost as if there are no definitions or culturally recognized categories for what Paul is describing. Conceivably, this can be viewed as something entirely new in the world, and if one takes the position that the incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection changed everything, then it is difficult to disagree with that assessment.
Paul did not wish to be viewed, on a human and cultural level, as either patron or client. On a cosmic level things were different. He had a patron (Jesus) and he was most certainly a client, and this impacted every area of life, while also going against the cultural grain of the Greco-Roman world. This even went against the grain of his own culture, as the popular (generalized) opinion within the world of Israel was that when their God took it upon Himself to act as Messiah, that the Gentiles would then become the clients of Jews, with the Gentiles relying on Israel and Israel’s special relationship with the Creator God that they might derive the obvious benefits that had been reserved to national Israel. Something like this attitude is on display when Paul is dealing with Jew/Gentile issues in the churches (Ephesians, Galatians and Romans particularly, and also in the record of the book of Acts).
Paul was perfectly content with divesting all presumed honor so that he might be looked upon as a client to the cosmic King and the Creator God. This becomes obvious as one moves forward in the first chapter of the letter to Timothy. Paul speaks in the voice of a client, heralding his supreme patron, and can be heard to say “I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1:12-13). Here, it is good to be aware that the celebration of the compassion and mercy (along with the loyalty, patience, and humility) of one’s patron was a standard feature of clientele praise.