Week by week we give our gifts to God in church. As the offering plate came by week after week one young boy asked, “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy a season ticket?”
Two chapters of 2 Corinthians are devoted to the subject of Christian giving. We began last week looking at motives for Christian giving, In chapter 8 Paul gave the rich Christians in Corinth a number of good reasons why they should contribute gifts for the poor Christians in Jerusalem.
The example of the Macedonians
2 Corinthians 8 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.
An expression of fellowship, sharing the common life
, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.
Giving firstly to God and then to the cause
5 And they exceeded our expectations: they gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
Not out of obedience but out of sincere love
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
The example of Jesus Christ
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Finishing what they had started
11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.
Sharing and equality
14 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,
So far Paul has given the Corinthians no less than SEVEN motives for supporting the collection for the poor in Jerualem. At that point Paul digressed to commend his messengers, Titus and the two brothers who will be accompanying him to make sure the collection is handled with transparent honesty.
That was all last week. In 2 Corinthians Chapter 9 Paul returns to his subject of the collection for the poor with one more motive and a gentle dig at the Corinthians to make sure that they are ready and prepared when he is going to arrive.
2 Corinthians 9:1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people.
Paul really shouldn’t have needed to remind the Corinthians about the collection for the poor because they had raised the question with him in the first place, and he had answered their inquiry in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 16 Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.
So Paul knew the Corinthians were committed to this collection. But if he really didn’t need to write to them about this, he would not have done. The need of course had arisen because of the opposition Paul had experienced from a group in the church on his last visit to Corinth. Paul was worried that with all that upset the Corinthians might have forgotten their prior promise to give to the collection for the poor. So he was just being thorough. At the same time he doesn’t miss the opportunity to nudge them to give enthusiastically and generously.
2 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. 3 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. 4 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.
Paul wouldn’t want the Corinthians to be embarrassed if their offering was not ready when he arrived but he also wouldn’t want to embarrassed himself if all the good things he had been saying to the Macedonian Christians about the Corinthians turned out not to be true. I’m not quite sure about this bit. It sounds almost like emotional blackmail. Almost twisting the Corinthians’ arms so that they will prove themselves to be more generous than the Macedonians. But this leads him then to talk at length about a vital element of Christian giving – generosity.
What Paul has said so far about the collection for the poor is an instance of historical peculiarity. Those things were said to the Corinthians in their particular context on the occasion of the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. We can only apply those verses to ourselves by extension – we take them as specific historical examples which teach us general principles which we can then apply to our own context. But the things Paul goes on to say about generosity are independent of context – they apply to all Christians everywhere and in every generation. Whenever Christians are thinking about giving, to the poor or to the work of the church, one word is always applicable and that is generosity.
5 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.
Christian giving should always be generous, and not grudging. After eight motives for the Corinthians to give to support the poor Christians in Jerusalem, Paul goes on to give no less than NINE specific motives for Christians always being GENEROUS in our giving.
1. Sowing and reaping
6 Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
This isn’t some Christian version of karma. Nor is it a quote from the Old Testament but it does seem to be an echo of a number of common sayings in the First Century. Different passages carry the idea that sowing sparingly will lead to a poor harvest.
Job 48 As I have observed, those who plough evil and those who sow trouble reap it.
In perhaps the closes parallel, Hosea offers an inspiring perspective on sowing and reaping.
Hosea 10 12 Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, …
13 But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil,
You reap what you sow.
2. God loves a cheerful giver
7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
There are no rules about how much each of us should give. We should give as each are led. This principle appears many times in the Old Testament.
Exodus 25:2 The LORD said to Moses, 2 ‘Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.
Exodus 35 21 and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. 22 All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewellery of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments
Deut 15:10 10 Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
1 Chron 29 9 The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD.
We should always be giving freely, and not under any sense of compulsion.
“God loves a cheerful giver” is from an addition to Proverbs 22:8 in the Septuagint (“God blesses a cheerful and giving person”). The term rendered “cheerful” often applied in Jewish texts to gifts for the poor. And then Proverbs 22 goes on
Proverbs 22 9 The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.
God loves a cheerful giver! So be generous.
3. God blesses us so that we can bless others
8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
God does not bless us so that we can have too much. God blesses us so that we will have as much as we need, but then more which we don’t need so that we can pass on to others who do need it.
Actually last week the example of the Macedonians gave us an extension to that principle.
2 Corinthians 8 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.
The challenge is to give more than we can spare. It is probably better to recognize that it is not generosity to give from what we won’t miss anywhere. True Christian generosity is giving more than we can spare. God blesses us so that we can be generous.
4. Generous giving to the poor brings everlasting blessings
9 As it is written:
‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures for ever.’
That quote from Psalm 112:9 is talking about the generosity of righteous people towards the poor. God’s blessings on such people endure for ever. Paul then builds on that idea.
5. If we are generous God will help us always to be generous
10 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. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
God blesses us so that we can be even more generous whenever the opportunity arises. This is not the false gospel health, wealth and prosperity. The reward of giving away is not that God blesses us with more which we can then keep for ourselves and enjoy. Such a person will not be blessed by God. What matters is rather that the person who gives generously, and even sacrificially, proves themselves to be trustworthy in God’s sight. So God will bless them with more knowing that they will pass that on generously as well.
6. Our generosity meets the needs of the Lord’s people
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
Paul said of the Macedonians 2 Corinthians 8:5 they gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
Our giving is always first of all to God. We are only ever giving back to God wealth and possessions which he has given and entrusted to us in the first place. We give first to the Lord, but then we give to the needs of different people and causes. The Corinthians’ gifts were going to supply the needs of the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. And it is acceptable to look at the competing demands of different needs as we consider our giving: the needs of our local church and of churches overseas, and of the poor in our town and around the world. We will want to supply the needs of the Lord’s people whenever and wherever we can. But our generosity is not motivated by the extent of the need but rather by the extent of our gratitude to God.
7. Our generosity leads to thanksgiving and praise to God.
Paul just said in verse 11 and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
Then he says in verse 12 that their service is overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
He develops this theme. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others 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.
The generous giver is not concerned with their own glory. They do not give to receive the praise of others for themselves. Their concern is for the glory of God – that their gifts should bring praise and thanksgiving to God.
8. Generosity builds fellowship and unity in the body of Christ.
14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.
Remember the Christians in Corinth had mostly been Gentiles before they were converted. The Christians in Jerusalem had mostly been Jews. So the Collection for the Poor in Jerusalem would make a vital contribution to the unity between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Generous giving is an expression of fellowship which builds up the body of Christ.
9. Our generosity is just the proper response to God’s immense generosity to us in Christ.
2 Corinthians 9 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Reminder of 2 Corinthians 8:9 and the overwhelmingly generous grace God has shown us in Jesus Christ. We give because God first gave to us.
The story is told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a solicitous hand. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, “Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar’s need. Why give him gold?”
Alexander responded in royal fashion, “Copper coins would suit the beggar’s need, but gold coins suit Alexander’s giving.”
God has given so generously to us. We should give just as generously back to God and to other people who are in need. Like in Jesus’s parable of the two debtors, the more we have been forgiven, the more we will love God and the more generously we will give to others. Freely, freely you have received. Freely, freely give! God loves a cheerful giver!
2 Corinthians 9 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!