Paul’s teaching in this chapter about giving money is simply profound. Let’s start though with a. . .
REVIEW: THE OCCASION
When the Corinthians allowed visiting “super apostles” to belittle Paul, Paul made a surprise visit to resolve matters. It went badly. He retreated to Ephesus. From there he wrote a letter to rebuke the Corinthians, sending it by Titus’ hand. When Paul met Titus in Macedonia, Titus reported the good news of the Corinthians’ repentance, but the bad news that they had stopped setting aside money for the collection Paul would take to the poor Jerusalem church. Consequently, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 to persuade the Corinthians to finish what they’d started.
SHAME ON YOU AND ME?
“There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. “For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we– not to say anything about you– would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given” (9:1-5).
Paul admits it’s superfluous for him to write about serving the people God in Christ has set apart to himself. But he writes anyway, warning the Corinthians that he and they will be ashamed if they don’t take their part in “the collection”, especially since Paul has boasted of their eagerness. Yet he doesn’t want them to give begrudgingly. Let it be a gift freely given.
So should our giving be. Make it a generous, gracious gift whether we’re giving our “regular” Sunday offering or to missionaries or to a needy Christian family. Give as prosperity has been graciously given to us.
SOWING AND REAPING
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (9:6-11).
Paul applies an agricultural principle to money-gifts: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
Paul may also have in mind Scriptures like these . . .
“One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24,25).
“A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9).
This sheds a different light on “the collection”. For the sake of space, let’s just apply this to us. When we give our money, we’re not just giving money away; we’re sowing for a harvest. And how we give (not what) determines to some extent how generous will be our reaping. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give (this is less a matter of bookkeeping and more a matter of heart-giving) not reluctantly or under compulsion (don’t give gritting your teeth or feeling “under the gun”), for God loves a cheerful giver (Smile, you’re on God’s camera!).
Here’s the question, Paul: what exactly will we reap? I see two “harvests”. Paul identifies both in the following promises . . .
“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work . . . Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
Harvest #1: Generous givers will reap a harvest of grace in the form of money and possessions. I’m aware many commentators and pastors spiritualize this promise or reserve the reaping until heaven. No way! Paul specifically says, “ . . . having all you need” and God “will supply and increase your store of seed”. That, however, isn’t a promise to build our bank accounts . . .
Harvest #2: Generous givers will be graced so they can “abound in every good work”, thus spreading their righteousness to others, resulting in thanksgiving to God. In other words, God will give givers more to give more—and he will be praised.
PRAISE TO GOD
“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (9:12-15).
Paul has now come full circle. God supplies the Corinthians’ and our needs—and more so we can generously give to others with less. When we generously give, our service meets the material needs of God’s people. But more: many expressions of thanks to God overflow. Giving begins with God and ends with praise to God as God’s people give.
Paul can’t help but burst out in praise: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” But, we ask, “What is God’s indescribable gift?” Is it the grace of God that abounds to the generous giver so he might give more? Or is it God’s gracious gift of Jesus who took on poverty to make us rich? The answer is YES! BOTH!
Money is loved. Lusted after. Fought over. But given to others for God’s purposes in Christ, money becomes a means of worship. So let’s not “pay tithes” or “take a collection” or even “give an offering”.
When the plate passes, let’s joyfully, generously worship God who has given his indescribable gift of grace!