2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:1-15

2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:1-15

Guilt-free Giving

I’m going to do something uncharacteristic of my series in 2 Corinthians. I am going to tackle half of chapter 8, and all of chapter 9 in this one post. We will look at the portions that deal with giving. In the next post we’ll return to chapter 8 and focus on verses 16-24. This post will summarize the principles and purposes of giving. A brief word regarding the context of Paul’s words is in order first. Paul is taking up a collection for the church in Jerusalem. This church is in dire straits and dependent on the munificence and magnanimity of Christ’s followers. Paul is appealing to the Corinthians’ prior commitment to generously and abundantly give to this cause (8:6-7; 9:5). Paul bases his appeal also on the Macedonian churches’ overflowing generosity as a way to stir up the Corinthians to love and good deeds (8:1-5). There’s much in these chapters, so I’ll be brief.

According to your means (8:3, 12)

At the start of Paul’s exhortation to give, he points to the churches in Macedonia that give both according to their means and beyond them (literally, according to their power or ability). These churches gave of their resources, even though they had been severely afflicted and extremely impecunious. One of the implications of this is that we don’t have to be rich or well-off before we’re in a position to give. In God’s providence, some have more, others have less. Regardless, both groups are to give according to their abilities. Remarkably, these Christians in Macedonia were even begging Paul to let them give (8:4). Isn’t that the opposite of how most of us humans, even us Christians, think and act? When we have little, we cling to the coin. We think of our needs. When these churches did this, it was not expected or commanded of them (8:5), so we do not need to turn the Macedonians’ generosity as a guilt trip for us. That’s not Paul’s intent. And indeed, there’s nothing wrong in itself with caring for your needs. But to give of yourself even in great trials is to lean upon the Lord by faith (8:5). Whenever I read these verses, I often think of my mother. She’s not poverty-stricken, but she has had little in terms of the world’s goods for most of her life. However, I don’t know a time at church when she didn’t give of her small resources. It didn’t matter if she was visiting the church or not; she gave something. Sometimes we give according to our means; sometimes we give beyond and for the good of others. When you reflect on your attitude and act of giving, do you give according to your ability, or do you hold back out of fear?

According to your heart (8:8; 9:5, 7)

As I said, Paul’s exhortation is not a legalistic tactic to bind the Corinthians’ consciences to give more and more. He even tells them to give according to the decision of their hearts. Three times at least Paul clarifies for the Corinthians that he’s not commanding them. He wants each Corinthian to consider in his own heart what he should give; and he’s to do this without feeling compelled. Moreover, once he has decided, he’s not to be reluctant. That sum will look different from person to person. Each one has different obligations and financial responsibilities. But once the decision has been made, there shouldn’t be regret, indecision, or reluctance. Neither should the person be under the impression that he’s being forced to it. After all, he’s decided in his heart what he will give. With reference to your giving, do you come to church already decided on what you will give, or is your giving an afterthought or spontaneous decision? (This is not to speak against spontaneous, voluntary giving, but the norm set forth is that of anticipated, thoughtful giving.) If so, does your heart linger like Lot’s wife’s did, and does it consider what could be obtained with the money you’ve given? Or do you trust that what you’ve given was prayerfully considered and prompted by a heart’s free giving?

As a proof of love (8:8, 24)

The Corinthians had already told Paul that they’d give to the relief fund. They had already communicated a readiness to help provide for the relief of the saints. What Paul calls them to, then, is the proof of that desire. Their readiness was a mark of love, and love is seen in actions. By staying true to their prior word, therefore, the Corinthians will demonstrate their love to be genuine. When we give, we do so to show that we love others. We’re giving in part to get beyond ourselves, to think of others more highly than ourselves. James hits the nail on the head: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:14-17). Based on this, isn’t withholding, then, an act of hatred for one another? Wouldn’t we say of the one who merely said, “Be warmed and filled,” that he really didn’t love the brother? When you give, do you do so out of love, to show God and others of your genuine love for the saints?

With joy (9:7)

Piggy-backing on what was said a couple paragraphs ago, we come to perhaps the most common phrase with respect to Christian giving. We give, because God loves a cheerful giver. God isn’t delighted in us being miserly or reluctant with our giving. He abhors stinginess. Here Paul is quoting from Proverbs 22:8 in the Septuagint (which adds a line we don’t have in our English versions), which reads, “God blesses the cheerful man and giver,” changing “blesses” to “loves.” God loves a cheerful giver, because God is the cheerful Giver. God doesn’t begrudgingly give us good things. He hasn’t withheld from us any of his innumerable riches! He joyfully gives to his people all things. Therefore, we likewise should be cheerful givers. When you give, do you do so out of much joy? If so, you’re growing more and more into the image of the Son.

As a thank-offering (9:11-12)

The next truth dovetails with the previous one. Paul speaks of this ministry of giving as thanksgiving to God. We’re reminded of the Old Testament freewill offerings, those sacrifices that were not required but were given out of a heart full of gratitude for God’s faithfulness. Giving is an act of worship. It’s a sacrifice of praise. When you give, do you offer up thanksgiving to God? Is your gift a gift of thanks? After all, were it not for God, would you have anything to give in the first place? Next time you give, view it in part as an offering of thankfulness to God.

To help others (8:6-7, 13-15; 9:3, 10-11, 13-15)

Recall that one of the purposes of taking up the collection was to be of monetary benefit to the saints (8:4). In that light, Paul is sending Titus to them, to collect their gift, not for himself, for Titus, or for the Corinthians, but for the saints in Jerusalem. Paul is collecting these gifts for others. The Corinthians’ gifts will do much to relieve the afflicted saints in Jerusalem. We live in a world that involves money, goods, and services. Money is a real need for us. And so, the monetary gifts of the Corinthians will be felt in real, tangible ways in the lives of the Jerusalem saints. As for the Corinthians at the time of Paul’s writing to them, they have an abundance, and their abundance should be used to supply the real needs of the saints elsewhere. Do you give knowing that your gift will be used to bless others? Think about the times when you’ve been blessed from someone’s abundance. You didn’t know how you’d pay for rent, buy groceries, get the car fixed, or pay that medical bill. But God was kind to you and he used someone’s abundance for your need. Isn’t it humbling to be on the receiving end? Isn’t it humbling to be on the giving end?

But that’s not the only way the Corinthians will help others through their gifts. We already saw this in part in the previous section, but part of our monetary service is to engender thanksgiving in others to God. The Corinthians’ generosity will be used by God to produce in Paul and others a thanksgiving turned to praise and glorification of the God who supplies all our needs (9:10-13). When you give, as you faithfully submit your life’s resources to the kingdom of righteousness, you’re helping others to humbly glorify God. By doing this, both we and those whom God helps through our gifts grow in gratitude. Do you want to grow in gratitude? Give!

To reap what you sow (9:6)

Most controversial in these two chapters is found in 9:6. We reap what we sow. If we sow sparingly, we reap sparingly; if we sow bountifully/generously, we reap bountifully/generously. This is a text on which Prosperity Gospel preachers glom to buttress their heretical views of “faith-giving.” If you’re a farmer tightfisted with your seed, don’t expect for much of a harvest. If, however, you sow liberally, the corresponding harvest is to be anticipated. This is no guarantee to have a monetary return on your gift. It’s not that if we sow a seed of $153 to some ministry on TBN that we’ll get a return of $1503 for our “seed of faith.” That’s blasphemous and an abuse of Scripture. Moreover, that attitude is contrary to the tenor of the text. Paul is not promoting a quid pro quo. We don’t give to get. We give to give! What Paul is saying is that God loves to bless those who freely give to others. And how does God give? Sometimes monetarily; there’s no doubt about that, and no use in hiding that reality for fear of being misunderstood. God gives us what he knows we need at the time we need it. God blesses the blesser. God gives to the giver. Paul says that this divine abundance is for us to have sufficiency in all things, that we might abound in every good work (9:8). The Lord abundantly provides for his people to do the work of the ministry. And that abundance looks different from person to person and time to time. He gives enough. Nay, he gives more than enough. He richly provides. Some gather much; others gather little. In either case, God has provided for us, so that there is no lack (8:15).

Because God gives (8:9; 9:8-9, 15)

Finally, why do we do this? Why should we give? We already saw that we give because God gives. We cheerfully provide for others because God has cheerfully provided for us. He has done that in two categorical ways. He has provided for our earthly needs, and he’s given us what we need spiritually. As to the former, we just saw that God’s earthly gifts abound for his people. Of course, that may not look like abundance. Could the saints in Jerusalem in need of relief really say that they had an abundance? From an earthly perspective, no. But God’s Word is clear that his people are “enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (9:11), and that God has freely given to the poor (9:9). Again, God gives us more than we need to live on earth for however long he would have us here. And because God supplies our needs, we faithfully commission our money and gifts to serve, bless, and supply the needs of others.

And as to the latter, our spiritual needs, we give, because God has provided for our greatest spiritual need: that of the Savior. Back in 8:9, we’re reminded of the gospel, and Paul paints the gospel in monetary terms. We were poor (because of our massive sin-debt). The rich Christ (who had it all in heaven) came to earth, humbled himself, didn’t have a pillow on which to lay his head or a place to call his home—this formerly rich but now poor Jesus came to us, so that our poverty would be addressed in full through the riches of his righteousness earned on earth. This gift of the righteous Son is called God’s “inexpressible gift” at the close of chapter 9 (v. 15). All our gifts pale in comparison to the inexpressible gift of Jesus. All our Christmas, birthday, Valentine’s, and anniversary gifts, as lovely as they are, are fading shadows of the monumentally substantial gift of Christ. That gift wasn’t earned by us. No gift by definition is earned. As recipients of this great gift, we are speechless. We give, therefore, not from guilt, but from grateful hearts that love the Giver who has given us all!

  • Romans 11:33-36

    Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!
    For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?
    For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

  • Cross Creek Presbyterian Church (PCA) - 430 S McPherson Church Road - Fayetteville, NC 28304
    Office:(910) 864-4031 - Fax: (910) 864-8363