The Spirit of Giving
December 3, 2017 Speaker: Kit Johnson
Passage: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Last Sunday I began a two-week study on Christian giving. I believe that Christmas is an especially appropriate time to deal with this subject because giving ought to be at the heart of Christmas. Jesus gave everything to become one of us and to die for sins (8:9). His gift ought to inspire us to be generous givers. But sadly generosity rarely defines our experience of Christmas or any other part of life; therefore, it’s been good for me, and I trust it is good for you to think about this subject.
I am taking these 2 sermons from 2 Corinthians 8–9. Remember that Paul wrote these chapters as part of his efforts to collect an offering for poverty-stricken Christians in Jerusalem. But Paul had bigger concerns than simply providing for the physical needs of poor people. From the very beginning of the church Jews and Gentiles had struggled to accept each other. Paul wanted this offering to be a statement from the Gentile churches of the oneness of the body of Christ.
Therefore, Paul urges the Corinthians to complete their participation in this offering, but he does so very carefully. Paul clearly believes they need to finish what they had promised to do, but he doesn’t want to bully them into it. He wants their gift to be the fruit of God’s grace working in them to produce a glad generosity.
As a result, we saw last Sunday in 8:1–9 that uses 2 examples of grace giving to help the Corinthians see the joy of giving so that they will participate gladly. Paul cites the Macedonians, who gladly contributed to the offering even though they were quite poor themselves. He also uses Christ, who became poor through his death on the cross to provide us with eternal life.
In today’s text, Paul is going to help us think through how much we should give, he’s going to help us work through some fears that often keep us from giving, and he is going encourage us to give based on the fruits that come from giving.
I’d like to begin in vv. 6–7, which give us valuable instruction regarding…
The Pattern of Giving (vv. 6–7)
God teaches us three principles about giving in these two verses. First…
We must give generously (v. 6).
This verse uses a common agricultural analogy. The more seed that you plant, the greater your crop will be at harvest time. If you want to have a big harvest, you need lots of plants.
Except that it’s not that simple when your seed is highly valuable. My dad and my brother farm, and they have actually had lots of debates over how much corn to plant because a bag of seed corn costs $250-300. It’s tempting to cut back on the amount of seed and to hope that if you have fewer plants, they will all make bigger ears of corn.
And the same temptation would be present in a poor agricultural community in the ANE. That bag of seed could make a lot of food, and if you are eating small portions and just trying to survive, taking that bag out in a field and throwing the seed in the dirt is a very unnatural thing to do. But a farmer has to look to the future and trust that the rains will come. If he wants to have a good harvest, he must sow generously.
And generous giving is not natural either. When it comes to my money, I want to hold onto as much of it as I can for myself and my security. But God teaches that we should approach giving with a spirit of generosity. My attitude shouldn’t be, “What is the least I can give to satisfy my conscience?” Rather, I should be eager to give as much as I can to see God’s work accomplished and to see needs met.
And so are you generous with the money God has given you? Is your heart more inclined to find an excuse to give or to hold onto your money? Don’t be the farmer who skimps on seed; make sure that you are sowing generously.
Another principle we see about the proper pattern of giving is that…
We must give intentionally (v. 7a).
I first want to emphasize that little phrase “each one.” Paul is speaking here to each member of the Corinthian Church, and by extension to each of us. No Christian is exempt from the challenge.
Each of us must “purpose in our hearts” how we will give. Again, Paul has never said how much each family should contribute. Rather, he says that each family must make its own decision about how much to give.
And this decision should be the result of an intentional purpose or resolve that results from seeking the Lord and making wise plans. Therefore, I am not going to stand up here today and tell you how much you ought to be giving to the church or to needy people. But I will say that you need to have an intentional, responsible, and generous plan for giving that you are confident is according to the will of God.
Make sure that you give prayerful, wise thought to how the Lord would have you give because if you wait until you have a surplus, you will never give, at least not very much. Resolve to be generous.
A third principle we find here is that…
We must give cheerfully (v. 7b).
Paul begins with two wrong motives for giving—“grudgingly” and based on “necessity.” The Greek term behind necessity means to be forced or pressured into doing something against your will. Of course, when we are pressured into doing something we don’t actually want to do, we do it “grudgingly.”
I’m sure we all know what that’s like. Someone pressures us into a job or a phone call that we don’t actually believe is worthwhile, and we go ahead with it, but we are muttering under our breath the whole time. Something more must drive our giving.
In particular, v. 7 states, “God loves a cheerful giver.” In other words, God is pleased when I give because I want to. I genuinely care about a needy person, or I believe that the work of the gospel is worth more than my temporal wants. This kind of giving pleases God because it springs from grace, which produces love for others and faith in God’s eternal purpose.
What a blessing it is to think that when I give gladly God looks at that act with love. No one else may know what you are sacrificing and what is in your heart, but God does, and he is pleased. But what does this verse mean if you aren’t motivated to give. Should you stop giving, or should you wait until you want to give?
Obviously not. The Bible is clear that giving is a necessary aspect of discipleship. Galatians 6:6 commands the person who is “taught the Word” to “share in all good things with him who teaches.” If Life Point is ministering to your soul, you need to give to Life Point. And 1 John 3:17 states, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” In other words, a lack of generosity calls into question a person’s profession of faith.
Therefore, God is not saying that if you don’t want to give, you should wait to give until you want to. Rather, you need to change your value system. Learn to view your finances from an eternal perspective and grow a vision for people and for the Great Commission. And then just give in faith choosing to believe that God’s purpose is better than your own. As you pray and give, I think you will be excited to see God change your affections so that you love what he loves, and you give cheerfully.
And so we have seen in vv. 6–7 that God expects us to give generously, intentionally, and cheerfully. All of this naturally raises the question, “How much should I give?” If you grew up in the church, you may have been taught that God requires you to give your tithe, or 10% of your income to the church. After that, it’s great if you want to give to the needy or to missions, but God doesn’t require anything more.
The word tithe literally means 10%, and the concept appears throughout the OT. Abraham gave 10% of the spoils of war to Melchizedek the priest. The Law required Israel to give 2 or maybe even 3 tithes a year to the tabernacle worship. One of the clearest passages regarding the importance of the tithe is Malachi 3:8–10. God condemns Israel as robbing him by not bringing their tithes to the storehouse, or temple. Oftentimes, pastors will cite these verses as saying that if a Christian fails to tithe 10% of his income, he is robbing God of what belongs to him.
The problem with this logic is that the NT never actually says that OT laws regarding tithing bind church age saints. The word tithe only appears 7 times in the NT, and all 7 uses simply refer to the OT practice. Therefore, I can’t in good conscience say as your pastor that you must give 10% of your income to the church or you are disobeying God.
So does that mean that if you have always given 10% that you can stop writing those checks or seriously cut back? Well, not exactly. The NT clearly obligates Christians to give generously to the work of the ministry. Galatians 6:6 says that you are obligated to provide financially for those who teach you the word, and several other passages say the same thing. As well, Paul commends the Philippians a couple of times (1:3–5; 4:14–20) for partnering with him in his missionary travels by sending him financial support. And 3 John 5–8 commands us to participate financially in the gospel ministry of others by sending them out, “in a manner worthy of God” (v. 6). Therefore, giving to the church and to GC ministries is an essential aspect of discipleship. Therefore, giving is an essential aspect of discipleship.
So what is an appropriate amount to give? I would say that while the NT doesn’t obligate us to give a tithe, it is a good starting point. If the tithe was the foundation for giving for 1,400 years, we are safe to assume that it is a good baseline for us as well.
From there, when you consider what 2 Corinthians 8–9 say about generous, sacrificial giving and what other passages say about pursuing heavenly treasures rather than earthly ones, I would say that for most Christians living in our affluent society, 10% ought to be a minimum, not a hard ceiling. After all, do we really believe that heavenly treasures are worth more than the things of this world if we are giving exactly 10% and then blowing through money on vacations, eating out, and fancy clothes?
We need to be very careful that our finances reflect an eternal focus, a love for others, and a commitment to the GC. And so I would urge you to take a serious look at how you are spending your money. Do your finances reflect faith in God or a race for pleasure? Commit yourself to give sacrificially, and then make a wise plan to do it. If you have never given much at all, you might need to slowly work toward your goal versus suddenly taking hundreds of dollars out of your monthly budget. Don’t be foolish, but also don’t wait until every duck is perfectly in a row, because they never will be. Make giving a priority according to the pattern of vv. 6–7.
The Promise of Giving
Of course any discussion of giving sounds good until you actually enter into the real world of our finances. You can do a lot of good with 10% of your income. You could make a lot of progress on your mortgage, put away a lot of money for retirement, or build a big college fund for your kids. It’s very reasonable to fear what may happen with these things if you give sacrificially.
God figured you may have these fears; therefore, notice that…
God promises to bless proportionately (vv. 6, 8).
Verse 6 couldn’t be any clearer. God says that if you give generously, you will reap generously. And v. 8 adds that if you give sacrificially, God will make “all grace abound” and provide “all sufficiency in all things.” In other words, if you give generously to God according to his will, he will respond by generously giving to you.
Now, I want to be clear that Paul doesn’t teach the prosperity gospel. There are a lot of shysters out there who will say that if you give $100 to God, he will give you $1,000. This obviously hadn’t happened for the Macedonians, as we saw in chapter 8, and Paul doesn’t promise prosperity here either. The only thing God ever promises regarding finances is as Philippians 4:19 states, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Therefore, anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying to you.
But on the other hand, we do need to believe the promise of Philippians 4:19. God has said that he will provide for all of your needs. Therefore, if fear is keeping you from giving, then you need to do what is right before God and trust him to be faithful.
You probably also need to adjust what you think you need and maybe where you are seeking joy. When God says he will supply for all of your need, he doesn’t mean that he will necessarily give you a luxurious retirement or pay your kids’ way through college. He means he will provide for your needs.
And when v. 8 says that God will “make all grace abound toward you,” that grace isn’t just money. It’s primarily joy, peace, and contentment. In our culture, we are wired to think that this is a small return. “You mean that if I give generously to God, he’s only going to give me joy? What a raw deal!” Except that it isn’t a raw deal. Folks, no amount of money can ever replace being right with God and enjoying his grace.
Therefore, don’t be afraid to give to God sacrificially and obediently. God blesses proportionately. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). God will provide for your needs, and he will give a joy that money can never buy.
But notice as well regarding God’s promise…
God promises to bless for the purpose of giving (vv. 8–11).
Again, there’s a lot of people out there who like to claim that if you give to God, he will make you rich, and so they seek to motivate you to give for selfish reason. It’s about getting rich, not about ministry. We just saw that God does promise to be generous with those who give, but notice that God has a very different motive (v. 8). God gives so that I can give, not so that I can pursue temporal pleasure.
Verse 9 follows by noting an aspect of God’s purpose. God cares for the poor, and a part of his righteous will is to see that their needs are met. Therefore, v. 10 states that God gives to us so that we can participate in his work of righteousness. And that theme continues into v. 11a. Folks, God never gives to us ultimately for our own pleasure. He gives so that we can glorify him and advance his mission.
It’s such a blessing to observe people who really get this. God has blessed them financially, but they don’t wear it as a badge of honor. Sure, they enjoy the fruits of their labor, as they should. But their joy is not in vacations or nice homes. Rather, they see their resources as a stewardship to be used for the advance of the gospel, and they find their joy in serving Christ, not in boats or cars.
How do you view your money, and where are you seeking your joy? Do you crave the pleasures of this world, or do you get excited about demonstrating Christian love to a needy individual and about partnering together as a church to reach our world for Christ? Don’t look at your finances selfishly. View them as you should everything else in terms of God’s glory and God’s purpose and then trust God that he will provide for your needs and that he will give joy that money can never buy.
This brings us to the benefits or…
The Produce of Giving (vv. 11b–15)
Paul closes out this section by describing two incredible benefits that come about when God’s people give generously. First…
God is glorified (vv. 11b–13).
These verses look forward to how Paul and especially the needy believers in Jerusalem would respond to the Corinthians’ gift. In particular, vv. 11–12 state that their generous gift would produce thanksgiving. But notice that this thanksgiving will not ultimately be directed to the Corinthians, because it’s not ultimately the Corinthians who would be providing for these people. No, both verses say that thanksgiving will be directed “to God.”
We shouldn’t expect anything different from Paul because the foundation of these two chapters is the grace of God. Paul opened 8:1 by saying that he was about to tell a story of grace. And notice how he closes (vv. 14b–15). Folks, everything we have is by the grace of God, and when we give generously with glad hearts, it is because of the grace of God.
Therefore, when we give, it’s not ultimately us who are glorified; it is God. And we wouldn’t want it any other way. We are just thankful that we could be a means by which God answers someone’s prayers and demonstrates his glory. We are just thankful that God would use us to manifest his grace to people around us. It’s a great gift whenever we can glorify God.
A second benefit when we give generously is…
God’s people are united (v. 14).
This verse looks forward to the fact that when the Jerusalem church receives the gift, they will pray for the Corinthian church, and they will long for them. In other words, their hearts will be knit together by this act of grace.
We all understand that one of the best ways to grow unity is to work together to achieve a bigger goal. This happens all of the time in sports. A group of guys wants to win so badly. Therefore, they don’t care about petty differences or selfish interest. They bind together and they end up loving each other because of their pursuit of victory. This idea is why soldiers who fought together often stay close friends for life.
And it’s also wonderful when this happens in the church. When we express unity by meeting a financial need for someone, we grow unity. And the same should happen when we give and serve together. God has given us a monumental task. We are to make disciples in our community, and we are to start new churches here and around the world. God’s purpose is so much bigger than any of us. It is a great gift when that purpose is bigger than any person, and we invest together in seeing it accomplished.
As we close, I again want to direct our attention to 8:9. Jesus gave everything for us when he left heaven to die on the cross for sin. Do you know him as your Lord and Savior? If not, we have some resources we’d like to give you, and we’d like to explain how you can know Christ for yourself.
And for those who are saved, are you abounding in the grace of giving? Do you marvel at what Jesus did for you, and do you respond by generously giving of yourself and your resources to him and to his purpose? Let’s learn to see giving as a grace, and then let’s give in keeping with how God has given to us.