(This is a post I wrote for onemoneydesign.com)
The largest discussion of Christian giving in the entire New Testament is found in 2 Cor. 8 & 9. I have always wanted to tackle this passage in an extensive way. Recently, I found the time to do just that. Rather than provide a lengthy commentary on the passage, I decided to break it up into principles in the same order that Paul himself presents the topic. I hope it benefits your walk with Christ and your desire to manage your money to His glory.
• Giving can stir others to give: “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.” (9:2, NIV) Jesus’ command to give “in secret” was intended to prevent us from giving in order to be noticed by men. I don’t believe this means that all contributions in all cases should be kept silent. Clearly we see Paul making generosity public to stir others to give. Again, the motive of publicity here is to stir others to action, not to impress them (thus, keeping in line with Jesus’ teaching).
• Generous desires can dwindle: “So that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.” (9:5, NASB) How often have we promised (either to someone or ourselves) that we would give, yet when giving time came…our hearts had changed. Paul is trying to encourage the Corinthians to avoid a gift “grudgingly given.” (9:5, NIV) We ought to recognize that our hearts need prompting to continue to be generous over the long-haul, and we should take caution to fight against the things (like covetousness) that stifle the fire of God’s Spirit within us.
• Stinginess and generosity return to us: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (9:6, NIV). In a few verses, Paul will explain why this principle exists, yet the Bible consistently teaches that stinginess and generosity are returned by God in kind. This shows us that generosity is always in our best interest. The most common reason for our stinginess (whether we will admit it or not) is that we think withholding increases the amount of resources we have available to us. Yet, the Bible clearly teaches the opposite: sowing sparingly will lead to reaping sparingly (and reaping sparingly usually leads to sowing even more sparingly…and the cycle continues). Sow generously.
• Christian generosity is purposeful, from the heart, and cheerful: “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.”(9:7, NIV) Probably one of the most quoted verses in the New Testament regarding giving, I believe this has everything to do with transforming our hearts–giving us a glimpse of Christ in us. We should give cheerfully from the heart. If we think this verse is a license not to give, then we are ones who sow sparingly (and back to [8:8] where Paul calls our giving a test of our love). Do verses like this challenge us to increase the eternal purposes and joy in our hearts to give? Or, do we feel relieved to find a “loophole” in the awfully troublesome command to love others more than ourselves (does God love a cheerful miser)? Certainly this verse should challenge Christian leaders to lead their flock towards heart-transformation, and away from compulsive, manipulative, arm-twisting tactics to increase contributions, but I believe the overall purpose of this verse (set in the context of the surrounding 39 verses) has everything to do with transforming us into purposeful, strategic, joyful, and generous givers.
• God provides all sufficiency and abundance for our giving: “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…Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed…You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” (9:8-11, NIV) Christian giving is supplied by nothing less than God Himself. He will bless abundantly, in all things, in all times, in every way, so that we will have all we need and still be able to be generous on every occassion! How inspiring is this! Often our stinginess is attributed to the fact that we look to ourselves to provide what is needed to give. If only we will look to God, we will find limitless resources to pour out.
• Generosity’s return is for the good of others: “So that…you will abound in every good work..they have freely scattered their gifts to the poor…so that you can be generous on every occasion.” (9:8-11, NIV) Often misunderstood by prosperity gospel thinkers, God’s word clearly attests that such generous resources are given from above so that we may give generously. Generous heavenly provision is designed to flow through our hands and out into the world. If our hearts only desire is to store up treasure for ourselves, we are operating outside of the principle being discussed here.
• Generosity increases righteousness: “As it is written…their righteousness endures forever…will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.” (9:9-10, NIV) This passage quotes Psalm 112, a Psalm dedicated to describing righteous living. Giving needs to be an integral part of our desire to increase in righteousness.
• Generosity results in thanksgiving and praise: “Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is…also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God…others will praise God…for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” (9:11-12, NIV) Our giving will allow thankful praise to rise to our heavenly Father. When we give in His name, we allow others to worship God in a deeper way.
• Generosity can fully provide all needs: ”For the ministry of this service is…fully supplying the needs of the saints.” (9:12, NASB) By God’s design, the process of Christian generosity is capable of fully supplying the needs of the saints. Let us engage such a noble honor.
• Generosity is “proof” of obedience: “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” (9:13, NIV) Paul claimed the Corinthians would prove their obedience to the gospel through their generous giving. Not being legalistic, we need to challenge ourselves to look honestly at how much “proof” of obedience to God’s word we see in our life. This will convict any honest Christian, and lead us to where Paul goes next…grace.
• Ends with grace: “The surpassing grace God has given you.” (9:14, NIV) Paul began and ended his challenge to the church at Corinth speaking of God’s grace. There is a great lesson in this. Our giving, must begin and end with God’s grace.
• Ends with praise: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (9:15, NIV) Proper Christian giving will always result in praise to God. We can assure our hearts that we are following Him fully when He gets the praise and glory for our participation in His generosity.
For more of my thoughts on giving, pick up a copy of my most recent book, The Secret of Generosity.