NEW COVENANT GIVING 2 Corinthians 8–9
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).God wants the giver, then the gift.
Paul reminded the Corinthians of the Macedonians’ generosity (8:1–7), and urged them to give (vv. 8–13). Giving is sharing (vv. 14–15): a proof of love (vv. 16–24), and a service to the saints (9:1–5). God will supply those who give (vv. 6–11), for giving stimulates praise and thanksgiving to the Lord (vv. 12–15).
Understanding the Text
“Their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” 2 Cor. 8:1–5. The poor still tend to be more generous than the rich. Perhaps it is just that those who are needy can better identify with others in need. Or perhaps it’s that those with little have learned to trust the Lord so much that they do not fear giving. When I was in seminary my Uncle Al sent us $20 a month. I was very concerned, because I knew something of the financial burden my uncle labored under. I even (foolishly and most ungraciously) wrote and said that if it was a burden for them, we could get along. They were hurt, but like the Macedonians in Paul’s time, “they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” I was relieved, because that $20 was often all we had for food the last week of the month! And I hope I learned then that giving is a joy of which no one should be deprived. “I am not commanding you” 2 Cor. 8:6–9. Paul brought up the subject of giving because he had sent Titus to Corinth, and one of his tasks was to receive the funds that had been collected there for the needy. Yet Paul maintained a delicate balance in dealing with the topic, and was very careful not to “command” giving. The Old Testament did command giving. The Law required that a tenth of the produce of the land be contributed for the support of the Levites and priests who led the community in worship. An additional tenth was gathered every third year and placed in local storehouses, for distribution to the poor and needy. Later in Israel’s history additional amounts were collected as taxes by Jewish kings, and then by the Gentile emperors who dominated Syria-Palestine. Each of these contributions was required: one had to pay. Now Paul introduced another principle. No one has to give. And no fixed percentage of income was set as the “right” amount! Moreover, while some giving did go to the support of missionaries (cf. Phil. 4:14–19), most collections mentioned in the New Testment were in the nature of disaster relief, and sent to saints in parts of the world stricken by drought or devastated by war. No one was commanded to give to meet such needs. But, as Paul reminds us, giving is (1) a grace to be developed (2 Cor. 8:7), (2) an evidence of sincere love (v. 9), and (3) an appropriate response to Jesus, who “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (v. 9). “If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable” 2 Cor. 8:10–12. It’s easy to daydream about how generous we’d be if we suddenly inherited millions of dollars. But giving is a matter of “what one has, not . . . what he does not have.” God isn’t as interested in the amount as He is in our willingness. Ten dollars from a poor widow may mean more than $10,000 from a wealthy man—and that $10 may have a greater spiritual impact on others. “That there might be equality” 2 Cor. 8:13–15. The giving we see in the New Testament is sharing, not giving. In fact, the word “share” (koinonia) is used more often by Paul in these chapters than the word “give” (doron). What Paul pictured for us is Christ’s living body, extended over the entire earth. Money in this analogy is the sustenance carried by the blood supply. It needs to reach every cell, so that each will be able to carry out its function. Paul did not want one part of the body bloated and fat, while another is starved to helplessness. Instead the part of the body that has shares with that which lacks, aware that one day positions may be reversed. If such sharing does take place, the whole body of Christ on earth will be strong, able to carry out God’s will for humankind. We moderns have a tendency to lose sight of Paul’s worldwide vision. We give to pad our own pews, or enlarge our church buildings. Such giving may be valid. But it is not that sharing that Paul or the New Testament envisions in 2 Corinthians 8–9 and similar passages. “We are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” 2 Cor. 8:16–24. What a principle for modern media ministries to remember. And for the local church as well. We’re all vulnerable to money; if not to cash itself, to the power money represents. This is one reason why every Christian ministry must be protected by establishing financial controls, and establishing a policy of absolute openness concerning its books. Don’t be insulted if someone asks to check on your receipts and expenditures. Thank him. He’s doing you the service of holding you accountable to man as well as God. “Then it will be ready as a generous gift” 2 Cor. 9:1–5. I know some folks think that church budgets are at best unspiritual, and a pledge drive is close to satanic. These can be, if they’re manipulative. Any approach to raising money for Christian work is wrong if it operates by producing guilt or twisting arms. But Paul reminds us that it’s not wrong for giving to be organized and systematic. If you pledge, and set apart a certain amount each week, you’re more likely to be able to give what you intend to than if you wait till the last moment, and find you’re short on cash. Lack of planning and organization can transform what was intended to be spontaneous and joyful into grudged giving.
Joyful Giving(2 Cor. 9:6–14)
Emphasize the benefits! According to my friends in marketing, this is the key to good advertising. Make sure folks see the benefits that accrue if they buy your product. I imagine that makes it tough for an ad agency trying to sell cigarettes. And for a preacher trying to sell giving! Paul, however, was a master salesman. He stuck strictly to the truth. He didn’t push. And yet he made it clear that joyful giving has tremendous spiritual benefits. No one has to give. In fact, Paul didn’t want any reluctant givers. A person who feels he has to give, or gives grudgingly, shouldn’t drop a single coin in the collection plate. God doesn’t need the money. And that kind of giving won’t bring the giver any blessings at all! But if we want to give—ah, then we reap tremendous blessings. So Paul reminded the Corinthians and us of the blessings that make Christian giving such a joy. First, giving benefits you materially and spiritually. You see, it’s impossible for us to outgive God (vv. 6–11). God is able to pour so much grace into our lives, that having been “made rich in every way” we “can be generous on every occasion.” This isn’t a “send in 10 dollars and God will send you 100” kind of promise. It is simply a reminder that God is the source of bread as well as the inner joy we experience in Christ. We give only money. God meets our material needs, and gives us spiritual riches as well. Second, giving permits us to bless others. What you give supplies “the needs of God’s people.” Even more, our giving deepens the relationship of others with the Lord. As they realize God prompted us to give, they “will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the Gospel.” Third, giving stimulates others to pray for us. As others identify us as the means God used to meet their needs, they will respond with gratitude and appreciation. And each of us needs all the prayers we can get! God doesn’t really care about our money. After all, His resources are infinite. But He does care about the spiritual benefits that generosity brings the giver and the recipient of this unusual grace.
Give joyfully, for you will be blessed.
“The New Testament does not teach us simply to give away possessions for the sake of giving them away or appearing virtuous. Nor does it encourage us to adopt a ‘simple lifestyle’ because simplicity has merit in itself. Rather, all of these commands are put in the context of glorifying God and furthering the work of His kingdom, and of laying up treasures in heaven and increasing our heavenly reward.”—Wayne Gruden