Straight Talk on Giving
This is the last of a series of articles on the topic of giving. We have dealt with some basic principles of giving, some obstacles to giving, and some wrong ways to give. (You can read the previous articles here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.) Now I wish to share some positive principles of giving by focusing primarily on 2 Corinthians 9.
In this passage Paul is given a challenge at the Jerusalem Council to help raise money for the starving, persecuted Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. He accepts the challenge and uses his missionary journeys to accomplish it. While visiting Corinth he successfully enlists the help of the church there and then takes the news of their generous faith-promises to northern Greece to spur the Macedonians to give as well. They, in turn, are so impressed and so stimulated by the believers in Corinth that they give beyond Paul’s wildest imagination.
But then a problem develops. The relationship between Paul and the Corinthian church sours, due primarily to some false teachers who badmouth him to the church. As a result the money stops coming in. So Paul returns to the Corinthians to say, in effect, “You and I are both going to be embarrassed if you don’t keep the commitments you made a year ago.” But he doesn’t berate them; instead he shares with them the positive fact that…
Generous giving benefits the giver as well as the recipient. (6-11)
Beginning with verse 6 we read: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ 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 to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
This paragraph raises some very interesting, often misunderstood issues relative to stewardship:
1. God rewards generous givers. (6, 8-11) I have been very critical of health/wealth theology, which treats God as though he is a utilitarian genie who grants every wish to the faithful. Yet we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. The Scriptures do indeed teach that God rewards faithful giving, but the rewards are not necessarily financial and not necessarily in this life. God’s primary purpose in blessing the generous person, according to Paul, is that he “will abound in every good work,” not that he will become rich for selfish purposes. This is made even more explicit in verse 11: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.”
2. God trusts his people to give as they decide. (7) “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion . . .” The tithe was clearly mandatory in the Old Testament, but iftithing is still required I find it amazing that not one of the Apostles or writers of the New Testament epistles mentions it. I believe the tithing rules and regulations in the Mosaic Law were abrogated by the death of Christ. So how much should you give? Ultimately it’s between you and God. Of course, other passages tell us that our giving is to be proportional; i.e., we are to give as God has blessed us, and with the level of wealth most of us here in the United States enjoy, I personally don’t see how generous, sacrificial giving could mean lessthan a tithe for most of us.
3. God has a special love for cheerful givers. The rest of verse 7 says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” As John MacArthur writes, “It is hard to imagine a more precious promise than to be the personal object of God’s love. All the world’s aclaim, honor, and rewards given to all philanthropists put together does not come close to this privilege of being loved by God. Yet that is what He promises the cheerful giver” (MacArthur, 2 Corinthians, p. 314).
The Greek word for “cheerful” implies giving with abandon, giving with reckless pleasure. Sadly, a lot of people are far from that ideal. They think that when they give something away they lose it and it is gone for good. Others respond like organ donors; they decide to do their giving when they die. But a cheerful giver never looks back, never mourns the loss, never stews about what they might have bought with the money. He trusts the Father to take care of him.
4. Generous giving produces other wide-ranging benefits. (12-15) The last paragraph of 2 Corinthians 9 reads, “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 that comes 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!” In the interest of space I simply list four exceptional benefits of generous giving I see here:
It supplies the needs of God’s people. (12)
It awakens gratitude. (11b, 12b)
It glorifies God. (13)
It stimulates prayer. (14)
The last sentence in our chapter reads, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” This simple benediction is one of the most profound in all of Scripture. The most natural way to understand the words here is to see the gift as a reference to God’s gift of a Savior to a lost and dying world. That is the gift that is beyond all other gifts. That is also the gift behind all other gifts, because God’s inexpressible generosity to us is what motivates all our own feeble attempts to be generous.