This evening we are in a short series of sermons on Paul's teaching on giving. We are to look at 2 Corinthians 9.6-15 and the very last part of the section in his letter that deals with Christian giving. A "Giving Review", of course, is a great opportunity, once a year, to reflect on, and examine, our own practice of giving and check how it matches up to the Biblical pattern for giving.
My headings for tonight are after a few words of introduction, first, Giving - The Principle; secondly, Giving – The Benefits; and, thirdly, Giving – God's Glory.
There are three things you need to know by way of background.
- One is that Paul is seeking a fund from around the Mediterranean for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. This letter among other things is to encourage the Corinthians to complete their contribution to that fund so Paul can ensure it gets to Jerusalem.
- Two, the Church at Corinth was in a rich city, but with only some rich members. For Paul writes to the Christians there in his first letter (1.26) and referring to them before they were converted …
"… not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful not many of noble birth".
But obviously there were some.
- Three, they are, of course, believers who knew what Christ had done for them. In the previous chapter (8.9) he had written:
"You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."
All this is teaching for Christians. Paul is not trying to get money from outsiders, but from people who are encouraged to give, because Christ first gave himself for them.
However, Christian people are not perfect and Paul knows they need reminders, not least about giving. This is what Paul is doing now.
So much by way of introduction. Now my first heading is Giving and the Fundamental Principle
Look at verse 6. Paul writes:
"The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."
Paul is using farming as a metaphor – or a picture – of what is so obvious in farming but not so obvious to men and women regarding Christian giving. For if you sow in primitive fashion scattering seeds from a basket, you will reap much less than if you use a tractor and mechanical planter. It is obvious. And so it is with giving money for God's work and God's people. The more you give (or, using Paul's metaphor, sow), the more you get (or reap) and not only in terms of money (the mistake of the prosperity gospel) as we will see.
But perhaps to some this doesn't sound very spiritual – "Give and you will get." However, this is precisely what Jesus taught – Luke 6.38:
"give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."
What do you say to that?
Well, here is a great 20th-century biblical scholar, R.V.G.Tasker:
"The unselfishness of our charity is not marred by remembering that such giving is in the best and highest interests of the donor."
And he was just echoing a great 19th-century biblical scholar, Charles Hodge, who wrote:
"It is right to present to men the divinely ordained consequences of their actions as motives to control their conduct."
So this is the fundamental principle you need to learn about giving.
"whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."
But – yes – there is a qualification. It is not any old giving. In fact, there are three qualifiers.
- First, verse 7 says:
"Each one must give as he has decided in his heart."
Giving needs to be thought through. So in our case you should read the Giving Literature. And the Corinthians, and we, need to think about what Paul had said in his first letter and we considered last week. He said, as he says here, giving is for "each one" not just the rich. And its to be in proportion to what one has, not what one doesn't have. And it's worth saying, the biblical tithe – 10% – is a helpful starter. Although in Jesus' time a poor widow gave, amazingly, 100% and Zacchaeus, a tax collector, gave a 50% sum.
And Paul says there has to be regularity in giving. In the modern world that regularity is helped by, if you can, using regular standing orders from your bank, for giving for Christian work and workers and gift-aiding if you are entitled to. So all that should have gone into the decision making of the Corinthians. And all that needs to go into our thinking for deciding about our giving in 2019.
But then you need to note that word "heart" – it is not "decide in your mind" but "decide in your heart". You then need to remember (or be aware) that the Bible's psychology suggests this about "the heart" – namely, that …
"… what the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind rationalizes."
So in this materialistic and fallen culture in which we are living, "giving", for some, is far from an instinctive desire. And at times all of us can be tempted to think, "Oh, No!" And we come up with wonderful rationalizations. But at that point you remember what Paul is teaching here, namely that "the more you sow, the more you reap." And you remember that principle and realize it is simply foolish not to join in giving. So here in Paul's second letter to Corinth, the first, basic principle regarding giving is this – giving has to be thought through.
- Secondly, verse 7, says, giving must not be reluctant.
"Each one must give as he has decided in his heart not reluctantly."
You are not to have the attitude – "I don't want to do this, but I suppose I must do it." For giving is not meant to be painful.
- And, thirdly, verse 7, goes on:
"Each one must give as he has decided in his heart not reluctantly or under compulsion."
There must be no psychological manipulation. So don't respond to such pressure. I am afraid you get it from some people who phone you up wanting money. They make you feel a heel, if you don't promise them something over the phone. But why is such reluctance and such negative compulsion so wrong? The answer is in the last part of verse 7. It is simple.
"For God loves a cheerful giver."
And look at verse 8:
"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."
God is able to bless you in return when you give to him for Christian work and people in need. Do you believe that? You should. For our God is the creator of this universe is able! And Jesus Christ, God the Son, is the one through whom this universe hangs together. As our Old Testament reading said:
"O Lord … both riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In our hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all" (1 Chronicles 29.12).
And God knows all about each one of us and our needs. Jesus says:
"even the hairs of your head are all numbered" (Mat 10.30).
So God, who by his Holy Spirit is providentially at work all the time in our world, can make this amazing promise in verse 8. And it is amazing: – notice the "all's" –
"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 [that is the "all" word in the original – in every] good work."
And to drive this lesson home Paul quotes from Psalm 112 which is a description of the man who fears the Lord. You need to know (for this quote) that the word for "righteousness" in both the Old Testament and the New can sometimes mean "any religious act especially giving money". So Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said:
"Beware of practising your righteousness before other people,"
when he was referring to giving to the poor (Matt 6.1).
So Paul quotes Psalm 112.9:
"As it is written, 'He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.'"
"Endures", means the effect of his giving and its reward are eternal. It begins now and has eternal consequences, such lives converted to Christ and the church built up to minister to more people.
But perhaps someone is still saying, "I don't believe this."
Is not Paul going to be contradicting himself, for he is soon going to say in chapter 11 verse 27 of this letter, that he was often …
".. in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure."
What reward was that? Where was grace abounding then? Well, before we seek to answer that question we need to move on to our second heading, Giving and the Benefits.
And look at verses 10 and 11:
"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."
Note two things being said there. And the first is that sowing and harvesting has a twofold effect. On the one hand it supplies "bread for food". But on the other hand it also provides wheat that can be sown for the next harvest. As Paul writes,
"It will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness."
It meets immediate needs like bread meets the human need for food. But giving for God's work also provides for future needs like seed provides for the future. It achieves the growth of God's work. So it will not only result in a "harvest of your righteousness" but will, as Paul says, "increase the harvest of your righteousness." And that leads to Paul saying in, verse 11,
"You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God."
And that is the second thing we need to note. We have already admitted that the Christian does not always have an easy ride through life. And we heard Paul speak of his own experience of hard times. So how does it make sense to say, "You will be enriched in every way"? Well, it begins to make sense if you realize that Paul is no longer referring to "each one" individually, as he was in verse 7. The "you" in verse 11 is plural. Paul is now talking to the whole church. So the harvest is experienced as the harvest of the Church as a whole. But that harvest can be experienced by church members in very different ways. Paul says to the Corinthians that if they are faithful in their giving (verse 11) …
"… You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way."
So it is not just material enrichment that is promised but enrichment "in every way". That must include material enrichment at least for some, but also spiritual enrichment at least for others. And certainly that can be in lessons learnt that make you much more effective for Jesus Christ.
I know of businessmen and others who have given large sums for God's work and then suffered large losses. But God has blessed them through their experiences and they can then be generous with their time in helping others handle similar experiences. And says Paul, any enrichment is not for us to enjoy selfishly but, verse 11, for further generosity – "to be generous in every way".
Hebrews 12 echoes the biblical principle that "the Lord disciplines the one he loves" (12.6). He lets his people go through hard times, to learn spiritual lessons that are of eternal value and benefit for themselves and others.
Who is a faithful believer here tonight, but going through a hard time at the moment, and it is not for some foolishness that needs repentance? Well, trust God, and realize that "the Lord disciplines [or teaches] those he loves" for their good and their benefit. That is something some people forget. So we need to think about sowing and reaping at the level both of individuals and of churches corporately and not only in terms of growth economically, but also spiritual growth.
And there are many other returns or harvests or benefits on any sort of giving but certainly Christian giving. This is now commonplace of social science. For, when a Bible-believing church grows (and financial generosity is a necessary, but not a sufficient factor, in such growth), the wider society benefits. Dena Freeman from London University in her study on Pentecostal churches in Africa, found that they were far more effective in meeting development needs than NGO's working for development.
And, individually, "giving" itself benefits you. A 2008 Harvard Business School study found that giving money to someone else lifted participants' happiness more than spending it on themselves. And giving is good for your health. A wide range of research has linked different forms of generosity to better health, even among sick and elderly people. And giving is contagious. When we give, we don't only help the immediate recipient of the gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity in our networks. You then reap a harvest of cheerfulness – and cheerfulness in giving. And that all fits in with Jesus' seminal statement, recorded in Acts 20.35. He was addressing the Ephesians elders. And throughout history, that address has been so formative for Christian clergy.
But what were his closing words? These:
"remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
And, of course, giving to God's work brings glory to God and thankfulness on the part of recipients and on the part of donor's for their benefits as well. And that brings us to our third and final heading, Giving and God's Glory.
Look at verse 12:
"For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God."
That is simply the fact. Paul and his colleagues are encouraged and thanking God, and so are others, for the build-up of donations being collected around the Mediterranean.
Look now at verse 13:
"By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission [or obedience] flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others."
What is the "confession [or profession] of the gospel of Christ"? Well, as Paul says in Ephesians 2.8-10, it certainly includes the confession or the belief that …
"by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus [but] for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
So we are not saved by works but we are save for good works. That is so important particularly here. For the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (as they heard about this gift) were glorifying God not just because these Gentile donors saying they were justified by faith without good works. But they glorified God that they had genuine faith because it was proved by the good works of their generosity once they were saved. And this helped Christian unity between the Jewish and non-Jewish Christians. For this was so important to Paul. So,
"By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing 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."
That is genuine Christian unity. And with that Paul has said all needs to say. But note in conclusion how he ends, verse 15:
"Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!"
Paul ends with the supreme example of God's giving – Jesus Christ – that leads to all this further giving.
So, a final question –
Is there anyone hearing these words who has never received that supreme gift?
Well, at this time of the Giving Review, why not receive God's gift of Jesus himself, and all that he means in terms of forgiveness of sins through his Cross, and purpose and spiritual strength for this life through his Holy Spirit, and hope for eternity.