We are in the section of 2 Corinthians that talks about the important (and uncomfortable) issue of generosity. Paul has been encouraging the church in Corinth to give their support to Christians in Jerusalem who were suffering because of a famine that likely was made worse because of economic persecution due to their faith. He called them to give generously and cheerfully.
Paul, recognized the responsibility that comes from handling money donated by others and had taken great precautions to make sure everything was handled with integrity. Paul made sure that no one would think less of the gospel because of the way the money was handled.
As he begins chapter nine (again, chapters were added much later in the 1227 by a guy named Stephen Langton) Paul changed the focus. In chapter 8 Paul used the Macedonians as an example of great generosity. They were facing hard times, they were dirt poor, and were filled with joy. They insisted on giving to the cause and gave far more than anyone could reasonably expect.
In chapter 9 Paul turns it all around. He said the previous willingness to give of the Corinthians was actually what inspired the generosity of those remarkable Macedonians. Now, some of the Macedonians may be coming with the group to collect the offering. Paul says it would sure make them look bad if they didn’t follow through as they said they would! (As I said, Paul knew how to raise money!).After really applying the pressure Paul said, “But of course I want your gift to be a willing gift!”
Though it seems that much of what Paul says here is a repeat of what he said in chapter 8, there is a different emphasis. Paul here talks about the benefit of giving; or the upside of generosity.
6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say,
“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
Giving with the Right Heart
Paul reminds us that there is a correlation between the amount you give and the blessing you receive. This is true in all things. The more you are involved in a project or an event, the greater your sense of satisfaction when the project or event goes well. The more involved you are in your community, the greater the sense of ownership and blessing you will receive. The more you do in the remodeling project the greater the satisfaction you will feel when the project is finished.
Paul points out that the attitude with which you give is essential. People give for several different reasons,
- Some give out of duty. They feel they have an “obligation” to give. People feel a sense of ownership in the church (which is good) and feel the need to give to meet the expenses. But this is not the heart God wants from us.
- Some give hoping to gain salvation. Though we would never say it, we tend to feel that the more we give, the greater the chance we have of going to Heaven. That is great foolishness (no one can earn Heaven) but many seem to believe this.
- Some give because it makes them feel good. Some people feel “good about themselves” when they give. Their purpose in giving is to find joy. And of course, that sense of satisfaction is the only reward they get. There is no Heavenly reward.
- Some give to gain prestige. Some give because they want to be noticed as generous. They want to appear significant. They know their name will be listed or put on a building someplace. They may receive prestige from the world but it is not a gift to the Lord or for the advancement of His Kingdom. And Jesus would say they have received their reward in full.
- Some give because they are hoping for material gain. There are many who believe if they give money to the church or to other people God will multiply their gift and they will end up with even more money. Once again, this is really not giving to the Lord. It is selfish. It is about gaining more for ourselves.
- The final reason to give is because we want to be an agent of grace. God wants us to give cheerfully. God wants us to joyfully join Him in the expansion of His Kingdom. In a sense God gives us an investment opportunity that He wants us to enthusiastically support: His work in the world.
This is a good time to stop and examine your own heart. Why do you give? Are you truly giving to the Lord or . . . are you really giving to yourself in a way that sounds spiritual?
The Reason for Blessing
10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.
Paul reminds us of some important truths. First, God is the one who provides what we have. When we give, we are not giving God what is ours . . . we are giving Him what He has entrusted to us. We don’t truly own anything (in many cases the stuff we possess often owns us). When we die we leave it ALL behind.
We call this stewardship. Stewardship is how we relate to the material things of this world. A steward is one who takes care of something for someone else. A financial manager or a broker is supposed to manage your money (God’s money) on your behalf. (In this case the broker does derive a small fee.)
If the owner of the company you work for puts you in charge of operations while they are gone, it does not become your company! The company still belongs to the owner even though you have been given authority to manage things.
If you someone loans you their car for a period of time that person expects you to treat their vehicle with respect and appreciation. They don’t expect you to drive recklessly. They have entrusted you with their vehicle. You may be driving the car but it does not belong to you.
Everything we have is only on loan to us from God. Yes, you may have worked hard and worked your way up the ladder, but God is the one who has blessed you. He has kept you healthy. He has put you in the position to succeed. He has entrusted these things to us and we should handle them with respect.
We forget this very easily. Have you ever found yourself justifying some extravagance by saying, “Oh, it’s only money!”? Imagine that your Grandchild came to you and says they wants to buy some popcorn at the movie theater. You only have a $50.00 bill (that in my case would have been a gift from someone) and you hand it to them. They return with popcorn and candy and relate how fun it was to buy stuff for their friends! You ask (with some frustration and perhaps anger) if they spent all the money and they respond, “Grandpa, it’s only money!” How would you respond? You likely would say, “Yes, but it is MY money!” The money did not belong to your Grandchild. They had no right to waste it in this way.
Don’t you think this is the way God feels sometimes? I think God wants us to enjoy life just like that Grandpa was eager for his Grandchild to enjoy some popcorn. However, we must constantly remind ourselves that it isn’t OUR money. It is His.
Second, God has entrusted these things to us so we can be generous. He returns a blessing to us for the same reason: that we might be able to be even more generous.
Do you remember the story that Jesus tells about three men who each were given some money? They were given different amounts and they were to use it to bring a return for the owner. The first guy doubled the amount he was given. So did the second. The third guy simply returned what he had been given. Do you remember what happened next? We are told the man who did nothing with what he was given had what he had been given taken from him and it was given to the man who had much. Why? Jesus said, “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29)
When we develop a spirit of generosity the Lord is eager to help us be more generous. He will provide more opportunities and more resources to meet those opportunities. He does not give us more to make us more comfortable or more indulgent. He does not give us more so that we can look more spiritual. He gives us more because He knows He can trust us to use what He gives us to meet needs and to build the Kingdom of God.
The Result of Generosity
11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.
13 As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. 14 And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. 15 Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!
We have spent a good deal of time talking about us: our motives, our responsibility, our stewardship. Paul now turns the camera around to see the impact in the lives of others. Not only will we be enriched as the givers, the recipients of those gifts will also be impacted.
First, God will be honored. Paul says they will thank God. He also said they will give glory to God because of our obedience. This should be our goal: to encourage others to know and experience the love of God. When we do what God has called us to do, we act as His hands and feet in the world. When people see our actions as God reaching out to them (which is exactly what it is). When we send money to the Philippines and that money is used for food baskets by the Hope Church the people of the area see God showing love to them through our gifts. He is praised and honored.
Likewise the opposite is true: when the church stands aloof from suffering, when we refuse to help hurting people, when we turn away or ignore those in need, God is dishonored. People now feel the church (and by extension, God) talks about love but does not really possess that love.
Second, needs will be met. This is very practical. When we support children through various organizations we make sure that those children have food, medical care, and get an education. When we provide clean water or goats and chickens we are helping to keep people alive and perhaps better their future. When we give money to someone who is going through a crisis we can help people save their homes, have food to eat, or pay for necessary repairs. When we send the gospel out on the airwaves, and when we support Christian ministries, we make it possible for lost people to be saved and for new believers to be discipled and grow. Even when we take time to listen we demonstrate to the person that they are significant and matter to us.
By giving (whether it is money, time, skills) we meet real needs. We must never forget this. We are not just “paying bills” we are extending love to people in very tangible ways.
Third, we are told the recipient will pray for us with deep affection. Once again this is a benefit to us but this benefit comes from the person who received our act of kindness. They may pray for us by name or ask God to bless the people who made their blessing possible. Think about what an incredible blessing this is! The people we seek to help will be coming to God praying for you!. All the money in the world cannot equal such a wonderful blessing.
Do you know what the greatest blessing of all of this is? It is the smile of God as He looks at us. When we serve Him it pleases Him greatly. Just as a special note or card from your child can touch you as no gift can, so our generosity, our willingness to serve as good stewards of the resources He has provided for us, brings God pleasure.
Many of us crave to hear a parent, a spouse, a child, or an employer say the words, “Well done!” or “I’m proud of you.” We know that someday those who serve the Lord faithfully will hear those words from Him. And as far as I am concerned there is no reward that will equal hearing those words from my Lord.
The Picture to Keep in Our Head
Paul is not done however; he has a picture he holds before us. Like a soldier who is motivated by the picture of his family in his helmet, or the researcher is motivated by a sick family member, this picture calls us forward and spurs us on. It is the picture of Jesus. Paul says, “Thanks be to God for this gift too wonderful for words.”
The way that others respond to our generosity is the way we should respond to the generous blessing of God. He provided for our deepest need. He saw the deep stain of sin and removed it through His Son, Jesus. Jesus paid the awful price that we deserved to pay. He suffered the wrath of God that should have been directed toward us. He made us into new creatures even though we thought we were beyond redemption.
His love and His sacrifice should motivate us to praise God. We should be forever and constantly grateful that we have been made new by the love of God. There should not be a moment that goes by when we don’t realize that in Him we live, and move, and have our being.
God has invited us to be a part of the great work He is doing in changing lives of people. He invites us to work with Him.
Think about how much fun it is to cook or do a project with your child or grandchild. Yes, the task likely takes longer, but there is a joy that the child gets from doing something useful with their parent or grandparent. Participating is better than watching. The mechanic, the Surgeon, the soldier, the fireman, the teacher all learn more from doing than from watching or listening. Jesus encourages us to join Him in the work of building His kingdom. What an opportunity!
The greatest barrier to generosity of course, is selfishness or greed. We feel we have the right to do what we want with “our money”. As we keep the picture of the love of Christ before us we will remember that we are forgiven, we are made new, we are who we are today because of God’s unfathomable generosity and kindness toward us. If we truly appreciate what we have received, we will want to do as He has done.
There was a movie out a number of years ago titled “Pay it Forward”. Trevor was a Jr. High Student who was challenged by his Social Studies teacher to think of one idea to change the world, and then put that idea into action.
Trevor decided that he would try to do one extravagant act of kindness for three different people. Afterwards he would ask those three people to each pay this gift forward by doing a random and extravagant act of kindness to three other people who are told to Pay it Forward.
The move shows what happens when people take seriously the challenge to “Pay it Forward”. Lives were changed. The impact of these acts not only affected the school . . .it went across the country (at least in the movie). It showed that one person could take part in something big and even life changing.
If you will, Paul is urging us to Pay it Forward. God has done something extravagant for us. He saved us through the work, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. The gift is free. We can’t earn it. We can’t possibly pay the giver back. What we can do however is pay it forward. We can be generous in the use of our time, our money, and our resources. As our friend Jason Gray has written, “With every act of love, we bring the Kingdom come.”
I hope you have come to see that when the Bible talks about money and stewardship it should not be something uncomfortable. On the contrary God is inviting us to take part in the opportunity to do something special, lasting and life-changing. He is inviting us to help His Kingdom come on earth even as it is in Heaven.