Over the last several weeks we have been learning about our identity, purpose, and call as the church. So far in our “Who are We?” series we have learned that we are what we confess (in Romans 10:9-10), we are greater than the sum of our parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), and we are exposed by what we do (Galatians 6:7-10). Today we are going to learn that in many ways we are a product of what we are willing to invest for the kingdom of God. A sermon on giving/investing in the church and what she is doing is one of the most difficult to sit through and most tedious to prepare for in any community of believers. However, passages associated with giving and finances are among the most prolific in all of the Scriptures and must be addressed by any Bible believing church. With that said, let me immediately set your minds at ease by getting me off the hook. First, in no way am I made aware of who gives or how much any one individual or family has given to this church. Second, I will be preaching as I always do, by using the Bible. In other words, the ideas, principles, and message you will hear are not from my own mind but from the mind of God. This means two things. On the one hand you can rest easy, knowing that I am not targeting any one person in this room with this message. However, on the other hand, whatever challenges or convictions you may or may not receive will be from God by means of His Word and through the Holy Spirit. In other words, my agenda (as it is every week) is to preach the Word. God’s agenda may be to instruct, challenge, and correct as necessary. Therefore, without further ado, let us take a close look at a profound series of verses from 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.
I. PRINCIPLE #1: GODLY GIVERS GIVE AND REVEIVE PROPORTIONALLY-9:6
A couple of weeks ago we provided some background on the church of Corinth. We explained that this church required a lot of attention from Paul (4 letters) because of its own internal struggles and because of the context in which it found itself. What we call 2 Corinthians is the 4th letter Paul writes to this church and by this time the church had successfully dealt with many of the problems that Paul had addressed in previous correspondences. With maturity and unity on the rise, Paul is prepared to give further instructions that are fitting for a healthier church kicking on all cylinders. The fact that Paul is able to address giving means that the church is spiritually capable of handling these kinds of discussions. A healthy church is a giving church.
Anytime giving is mentioned or discussed, the harvest is always in view. In order to illustrate this, Paul asks the Corinthians church to consider a farmer. Although Corinth was not known as a primarily agrarian region, ancient societies in Paul’s day had closer ties to farming than the West does today. The original audience’s familiarity with the field came also with familiarity with common-sense growing principles. Therefore, the image of a farmer sowing seed in the field, harvesting, and brining his produce to the marketplace would have been a no brainer for the recipients of this letter from Paul.
Therefore, with this in mind, Paul presents two scenarios for the church’s evaluation. First, Paul simply states, “he who sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly” (9:6). In other words, the more seed you put in the ground, the more yield you are going to get. To sow sparingly means to sow a limited or even negligible quantity of seed.
On the flipside, in scenario #2 we learn that “he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (9:6). The word “bountifully” actually means “blessing” or “benefit,” suggesting here that those who plant much seed in the ground are going to take in a huge blessing come harvest time. Such sowing involves great giving and a great reward. These two scenarios work together to give Paul’s first principle for giving, “godly givers give and receive proportionally.”
If you are getting lost in the fields, consider this modern day analogy. In our world of 401K’s, IRA’s, Stocks, etc. people attempt grow wealth by the same general principle. The more you invest in these different assets or ventures, the more you are potentially going to receive. Giving to anything always takes into consideration the return. The farmer does not plant seed and then walk away, saying, “Well, I’ll never see that again.” Although it is out of sight (hidden in the ground) he knows he will someday see the harvest. Similarly, no one contributes to their IRA thinking, we there is more money gone. Instead she has the big picture in mind, hoping that there will be a large nest egg/return in the future. This might seem obvious, however, people fail to recognize that this same phenomenon exists in the practice of giving to the work of God.
However, how do we know Paul is talking about money and giving to the church? At the beginning of this chapter, Paul mentions an anticipated gift. This gift would be used for the ministry of spreading the gospel message and was expected to be big, “So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness” (9:5). Therefore, in order to encourage the biggest and best financial gift possible, Paul gives these four principles to the church for whenever they give toward God’s ministry.
Applied today, this principle teaches that what we are going to experience this year, next year, and ten years down the line is going to be, at least in part, a direct reflection of what we are giving today. Here is a question: if everyone gave of their time, talents, and treasure in the same way you did, could the church expect great things? According to the first principles Paul offers the Corinthian church, Godly givers give and receive proportionally. The more investments that are made, the greater capacity there is to accomplish much for the kingdom of God.
II. PRINCIPLE #2: GODLY GIVERS GIVE WITH INTEGRITY AND CHEER-9:7
The second principle Paul gives concerning gifts involves integrity and cheer. Though Paul desired a “bountiful gift” (9:5) (i.e. a big donation), what was more important to Paul was an honest and willing heart—“each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart” (9:7a). Honesty in giving begins with being honest with oneself. People ought not give out of compulsion, obligation, manipulation, or guilt. Instead, they must give in compliance with the will of God for their lives. They should not give more because their proverbial arm is being twisted. They should not give less because they are holding back and lacking faith for God to provide. How much should people give? Exactly as much as God wants them to and in keeping with the Spirit’s leading in their lives.
With that said, the Bible does provide some guidelines for godly giving elsewhere. The Old Testament is clear that a tithe (that is 10% of one’s income) is an acceptable gift to God (see Gen. 14:20; Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:28-29; Deut. 12:11). But wait, you say, if tithing is such a big deal in the church today, why didn’t Jesus have much to say about it. I thought we were free from the Law? The New Testament confirms that Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to dismiss it (Matt. 5:17-19).
Matthew 23:23-“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these (tithes) are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
In this verse, Jesus addresses tithing as something so understood/engrained/familiar that it is almost unworthy of a mention. While New Testament believers in Jesus’ day and in today’s world are free from the law, they have also been called to live by the higher standard of grace. A tithe was considered a starting point not an end goal. If anger was taught to be on the same level of murder and lust equal to adultery in Jesus’ eyes, does it not stand to reason that the tithe is now considered a base-level command—a minimum expectation.
“I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.” –J.D. Rockefeller
Under the grace that we enjoy, the average, modern-day Christian gives only 2.5 percent of his or her income (not even a tithe). In Money, Possession, and Eternity, Randy Alcorn writes, “When we as New Testament believers, living in a far more affluent society than ancient Israel, give only a fraction of that given by the poorest Old Testament believers, we surely must reevaluate our concept of …giving.”
Not only must a believer give with integrity according to Paul, he or she must give cheerfully—“not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). Motives play absolutely no role in the farming analogy Paul used earlier. It does not matter what kind of attitude the farmer had while he was sowing seed. If he sows good seed and has good weather, he will reap a harvest whether he is working for profit, pleasure, or pride. It makes no difference how he plans to use the money that he earns; the harvest will probably come just the same.
This is not so with giving in the church. Motives matter to God. As one commentator says, we must not be “sad givers” who cry as they see the money leaving their hands or “mad givers” who give because they feel like they have to. Instead, believers ought to be “glad givers” who cheerfully share what they bring because all that they have is a demonstration of God’s grace. God loves a cheerful giver.
Ask yourself these questions. How much do you give? Is it consistent with God’s will as expressed in His Word and according to His leadership in your life? Also, How do you give? Is it with great joy for your Creator and eagerness to participate with Him or is it grudgingly? Godly givers give with integrity and cheer.
“Giving should be an outward, material expression of a deep, spiritual commitment…an indication of a willing and obedient heart.” –Larry Burkett
III. PRINCIPLE #3: GODLY GIVERS GIVE OUT OF ABUNDANCE AND BLESSING-9:8
The third and final principle in these few verses reflects Paul’s understanding of God’s grace. Ultimately, Christians can only dispense of what they have received. All that the believer has received is a gift from God, who, is capable of making every grace available to the believer at all times. The universals of this verse are incredible. First, “God is able to make ALL grace abound to you” (9:8a). Every grace of God is available to the believer. This speaks not only to the grace afforded to the believer at salvation, but the grace that is afforded to the believer for their everyday needs. This first universal reveals the potentiality of God’s giving capacity to the godly giver.
The second “all” statement comes next, “so that ALWAYS have ALL sufficiency in EVERYTHING…” (9:8b). Here, Paul communicates that the Christian who practices godly giving will have what he or she needs when he or she needs it. This does not mean that God awards giving with wealth and material possessions. Instead, it means that God blesses those who give with what they need to do what He’s called them to do! No one who gives to the Lord in a godly way is lacking anything to do all that God desires for him.
Finally, Paul concludes with one more universal statement saying, “you may have an abundance for EVERY good deed.” God’s grace seen in the time, talents, and treasure He has bestowed on His people do not exist for the benefit of those who already have them. Instead, they are to be used to do good works for others. In other words, the reason God has been so generous with people is so that they might be generous with others for His kingdom-building work!
Our church is all about doing the best work that there is, proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ and building his kingdom by reaching the lost and developing disciples (to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to the world). God’s grace will provide all that is necessary for us to be effective in seeing this happen in our context. However, we have some needs that must be addressed in order for this good work to be made manifest. The good news is this—we have all of the money necessary to do all that God has called us to do in making this place a place where people can come to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to the world. All we must do is be faithful invest it to be used to these ends.
According to 2 Corinthians 9, Godly givers give and receive proportionally, give with integrity and cheer, and give for good. In many ways, the church in Corinth and the church today is a product of what it was willing to invest in the kingdom-building endeavor and these investments came by means of the faithful giving of its members. So, what might we do in response to a message like this? Malachi 3:10 might have an answer.
“’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’”
As you consider the investments you make for the kingdom of God (your time, talents, and/or treasure), test God. That’s right! (Don’t worry, the Bible gives permission.) Test God and see how He will bless you and this church because of your godly gifts.
When was the last time you prayed about what you give? Often giving becomes so familiar that we do not give it a second thought. Maybe today we ought to revisit this in our lives and make any changes necessary according to the Spirit’s leading in our lives. Maybe this means beginning to tithe. Maybe for you this means giving an offering (beyond a tithe). Perhaps, if you have been already been giving an offering, this means considering giving even more. When we ask the question “Who are we?” may we be able to say that we are investors in what God is doing in his church for the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom.