2 Corinthians 9:1-7 “There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. 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. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we – not to say anything about you – would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Now everyone of us hopes that in our futures there will be a great harvest, and that is what this chapter is all about. Don’t become a Christian who produces only a few stalks bearing five ears of grain – after a lifetime of professing to follow Christ. Reap generously! Be one who is burdened with the weight of the sheaves you are carrying. For the church, the goal must be a harvest wagon absolutely loaded down, so that the oxen can hardly pull it – that’s the aim of every congregation. This chapter actually tells us how Christians can reap generously. Isn’t it an important section of the New Testament?
The apostle Paul wants to make sure that the congregation in Corinth understand the privilege and obligation of Christian stewardship. They are renowned for a multitude of other spiritual gifts and graces, and Paul does not want them to lag behind in this grace, and so he continues here, in another chapter, with this same theme of the nature and blessedness of true generosity. He emphasises this for two reasons:
i] It is not enough to pray and pass around the plate leaving it to the Lord to provide. Stewardship is a grace to be taught and learned, just like praying. The Lord Jesus didn’t say, “Praying will come naturally to you so I’ll go on to another theme.” He actually taught his disciples how they should pray. The Word of God also teaches us about how we handle finances, about being generous, and how the church is to collect and distribute money to those in need. True piety spends time in looking at New Testament principles of giving. “People are wrong when they try to be more pious than Paul. Of course, such things can be overdone. But the note, again, to hear ringing out crystal clear – a note unheeded by some in our day – is the note of care lest the ministry of Christ be criticized” (Jay Adams, “The Christian Counselors Commentary, 1 & 2 Corinthians,” Timeless Texts, 1994, p. 156). This is the hottest of issues in the world, so the church must ensure that it profits from everything the Word of God has to say on the theme. This past week the chief minister of the Scottish parliament has had to resign over financial improprieties. His career is all over. Let us heed Paul when he teaches every congregation how they are to handle financial affairs.
ii] Paul emphasises this theme of giving for another reason, that there are blessings which come to the generous giver alone, not to all professing Christians. Only he who is kind-hearted and liberal to others will receive them. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (v.6). So I ask you again if in your lives and in eternity you want to reap generously? Then you must understand what it is to sow generously. The apostle here explains it to us by laying down a number of principles.
1. GIVING IS A SERVICE TO THE SAINTS.
“There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints” (v.1). When you come to a church service and you put your money in the collection box then that is the commencement of ‘the service’ as far as you are concerned. That money is for God’s saints, that God may be served better by them in a quiet warm building, through a pastor-preacher who is enabled to give his whole life to this calling, and that the Lord’s poor might be without need. Some of the poor are in this town, and others are on the other side of the world. The starving persecuted Christians in Judea lived a thousand miles from Corinth, and the money the Greeks collected and sent was to serve them.
You can actually feel the weight of such service when you invite a hungry Christian around for a meal, first buying the food, then preparing it, cooking a meal, serving it in a pleasant atmosphere, washing up after they have gone and putting away everything. That is a service which costs money and energy and time, but it’s your gift to God and his people. You are serving him by “this service to the saints.” I am sure we would all do without three meals each week if it meant three hungry people thousands of miles away had a meal. We cannot do that, but we can send money to provide food for them, especially when they suffer floods or drought. Giving is a service to God’s people.
David Livingstone saw this, and spent his life serving the people of God. He said, “I place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the kingdom of God. If anything will advance the interests of the kingdom, it shall be given away or kept only as by giving or keeping it I shall promote the glory of him to whom I owe all my hopes in time or eternity.” His whole life given to Africa proved that that is what Livingstone truly believed.
Let me ask you if you are restless because of another sermon on giving? When you go to the doctor for a check-up he will poke you and press various parts of your anatomy. He will ask you, “Is this tender? Does that hurt?” If you say, “Ouch! That hurts,” then it could be that he is more a butcher than a physician. “I’ll stop going to him.” Many have said that about true preachers of the Word of God. But consider that there might be something wrong with you which the doctor has his finger on. He then will say, “I think we’ll take an X-ray, or an examination with the magic eye, or that you’d better have a scan.” The problem is not with the way he probes, but with your own condition. So too when there are some sermons on how much you are giving to the Lord, and you get resentful, maybe the preacher could be pushing too hard – that’s a possibility – or maybe there’s an abscess of a mean spirit in your soul, and it needs to be extracted and replaced with a spirit of generosity.
2. THE EXAMPLE OF THE GIVING OF OTHERS MAY STIR US TO GIVE MORE GENEROUSLY.
“For I know your eagerness of 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” (v.2). “We must arrange to take an offering for our brothers and sisters in Judea,” said the people of Corinth. Imagine the buzz of conversation when they first thought about it: “Yes, we must have a special collection. Who will organise it? Will you? You? When can we start? Who will take the money to Judea? How will they give it to the needy ones when they arrive there? I am going to sell a tent. Crispus is going to sell his pet lamb.” You can hear the questions and the host of ideas the people had in their “eagerness to help.” Paul spoke about this zeal to others and when those in Thessalonica and Philippi heard about the Corinthians’ enthusiasm it “stirred most of them to action.”
It is not easy to give illustrations of the sacrificial giving of other people. I might like to say to you, “Let me tell you about so-and-so in the congregation. You know how little money they have, and yet do you know how much they put in the collection box each week?” Then I would tell you, and you would be humbled to learn just how generous some Christians are. That might stir you up to be giving more yourself. But of course I cannot do that, because I do not know how much anyone gives, and never will, and that person would be horrified to learn that you all knew much she put in the box. Christians are told to be modest and private about our giving so that our right hand doesn’t know what our left hand is doing.
However, I can appeal to your memory some generous-spirited people in your own lives who might have left their impact on you. Think of the physical education schoolteacher who stayed behind school at the end of every afternoon to coach tennis and athletics. Remember that teacher who voluntarily spent Saturday mornings encouraging young musicians. The enthusiasm and sacrifice of those men and women stirred you to love what they loved. So too there have been Christians who have impressed you because they live so lightly for the things of this world. There was a Christian called Thomas Hearne who was setting off to sail up the Copperstone River when a party of Indians stole all their supplies. He wrote to his friends and said, “The weight of our baggage, being so much lightened, meant our next day’s journey was swift and pleasant.” Hearne was a pilgrim. He was moving. This world was not his home. He was traveling lightly to his eternal home. So when the stuff was stolen from him it made him look forward more and more to his eternal home.
3. OUR GIVING NEEDS CAREFUL ADMINISTRATION BY OTHERS.
“But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we – not to say anything about you – would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements” (vv.3-5). How fascinating these detailed plans are: “Prearrangements, concern, encouragement, embarrassment, confidence, planning – all these elements stand out. If Paul was anything, it was not sloppy. When something was to be achieved, he would do it decently and in order. Paul abhorred haphazard arrangements. He wanted things to be done with care – planning, then taking the time to do them well, thus avoiding many of the possible pitfalls that he could foresee” (Jay Adams, op cit, p.157).
Consider the Lord Jesus’ group of disciples, how they followed this wandering Rabbi from place to place. People gave them money for creature comforts and one of the disciples was delegated to keep the money. When they met poor people then Judas (who kept the poor fund bag) could tell them the state of the treasury. So it was organised even amongst the apostles.
When I was working with the “Evangelical Times” we reported the story of an American writer and radio preacher who had just bought a second home for a million dollars. His excuse was that once a year he took there the team of people in his organisation for a weekend’s discussion and prayer. They could stay there instead of in a hotel. It was an utterly feeble excuse for such a luxury. An old age pensioner wrote to me from London questioning the truth of the story, not wanting to believe it because out of her little pension she was regularly sending money to this man.
We all get mail with appeals for money to help orphans in far away places. Try to check out these organisations before you send a single pound. Is the money going through responsible administration, and does it reach these children? What percentage do these charities take in administrative charges? In most of Africa there is very little need of western-style orphanages because the extended families will look after children whose parents have died of AIDS. The money should go through reputable gospel churches in those localities whenever possible. Our giving needs careful administration by other trustworthy and knowledgeable people.
Consider a Christian couple. God has made the husband the leader in the relationship, but God has also made the wife her husband’s chief helper and advisor. So a husband will be eager to learn from his wife’s wisdom and never make a major decision about family finances without discussing it with her. When a godly husband and wife work as a team, the wife can make significant financial decisions, knowing what her husband wants and happy that he has full confidence in her. That is how the virtuous woman and her husband of Proverbs 31 function together.
“For that kind of relationship to flourish, there must be trust and honesty. If you spend money in ways that you don’t dare tell your spouse, your spending is sick and your relationship is sick. Don’t keep secrets from each other. Don’t make major decisions without each other. Don’t think of any decision as yours alone, and don’t think of any part of the budget as yours alone. You belong to God and to each other, and your financial decisions must reflect that reality. When a wife says, ‘I can buy what I want with the money I earned in my part-time job,’ she is wrong. When a husband says, ‘I can buy a boat without discussing it with my wife – I earned the money without her,’ he is wrong. Own everything together. Decide everything together. Face challenges together. Enjoy success together (David Feddes, The Back to God Hour, “Money and Marriage,” July 2001, p.30).
Paul shows this congregation that an agreed-upon collecting plan is the way to best serve the cause of Christ. Careful, informed, regulated planning will serve the cause of enthusiastic and self-sacrificial giving. “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5). Addressing financial matters speedily because you have seen a photograph of a pot-bellied dying child is another way that haste leads to poverty. Planning together as a congregation and sticking to your plan helps to avoid impulse generosity and encourages sustained giving through godly administrators.
4. MAKE CONSIDERED PROMISES TO GOD ABOUT WHAT YOU INTEND TO GIVE.
“Finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised” (v.5). When the Corinthians first heard about the situation in Judea they became enthusiastic to help and made promises to give generously. Paul obviously considered that it was a good thing to have made a promise of a certain amount to be given to the work of God, and now was the time to make the promise real. Someone has said, “A promise made is a debt unpaid.”
Many Christians are like the man who said, “If only I had some extra money, I’d give it to God, but I have just enough to support myself and my family.” The same man said, “If only I had some extra time, I’d give it to God, but every minute is taken up with my job and my family, and what have you – every single minute.” The same man said, “If only I had a talent I’d give it to God, but I can’t speak in public; I have no special skill; I am poor in personal relationships; I can’t think quickly or cleverly as others.” So he promised nothing at all to God because he pleaded that he had nothing to give. But as the years went by God blessed that man with experience and wisdom and prosperity, but he still gave nothing at all to God because he had developed a mindset that made him confident that he had nothing to give. He was burying his talent where no one might find it, and the Lord says the most terrible words anyone could hear to the person who does that.
I am saying to you, commit an amount to God and stick to it. This passage is a call to a decision isn’t it? “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give” (v.7). You must decide on an amount in your own heart. Think about it and pray about it and ask God to help you give more than you can afford. Maybe ten pounds a week, maybe five, maybe much more. If your finances are in a mess and you cannot commit a tithe today, that’s all right. But promise God a specific amount each week. If you only give God what is left over after you have bought everything else then you will be giving God nothing. Then promise God that you will increase that amount. Perhaps every six months you are going to increase it by a pound. You find the timing and the amount that are plausible to you, and as your finances straighten out you will reach the amount that you should be giving.
I think it is a well observed rule that expenses always expand to fill the income. That means that almost all of us ‘just get by’ no matter what we make. So if you make no promises about weekly giving but leave it to the end of the month then you will always find you have little to give to God. You won’t give because you don’t think you can afford it. But if you write your cheque to the cause of Christ first then you will, as always, still ‘just get by.’ Make the promise of a certain amount each week. In other words, “seek first the kingdom of God” by making the cheque for the church your priority.
5. GIVE EAGERLY, CHEERFULLY AND ENTHUSIASTICALLY.
“I know your eagerness to help … and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action … it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given … not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (vv. 2 & 5 & 7). What do we say about a person who gives like that? Here is a man whose first priority in life is the kingdom of God. Here is a man who is wearing the whole armour of God! Here is a man who walks in step with the Spirit! Here is a man who lives by faith in the Son of God! Here is a man who has seen the unique beauty of the Lord Jesus! Here is a man who has the pearl of great price!
When a man finds Jesus, we know that it costs him everything. All happiness, joy, peace, forgiveness, security and eternal life is found in Christ. A sinner who discovers him marvels just like a dealer in jewelry who stumbles across the most lustrous pearl in the world and who cries, “I must have this pearl for myself. How much does it cost?”
The seller says, “Ah, it’s too dear, far too costly for you.” “But how much?” “Well, it’s very expensive.” “Do you think I could buy it?” “It will cost everything you have – no more, no less.”
“I’ll buy it.” “So what do you have? Let’s write it down.” “I have 10,000 pounds in the bank.” “Good, 10,000 pounds. What else?” “I have nothing more. That’s all I have.” “Have you nothing more?” “Well, I have some money here in my pocket.” “How much?” “I’ll see … thirty … forty … fifty … eighty.” “That’s fine. What else do you have?”
“I have nothing else. That’s all.” “Where do you live?” “I live in my house.” “The house, too.”
“Then you mean I must live in the garage?” “Have you a garage, too? Then that as well. What else?” “Do you mean that I must live in my car, then?” “Have you a car?” “Yes.” “It becomes mine. What else?”
“Well, you have the house, the garage, the car, the money, everything.” “What else? Are you alone in the world?” “No, I have a wife, two children…” “Your wife and your children, also.” “Them also?” “Yes, everything you have. What else?” “I have nothing else, I am left alone now.”
“Oh, you too! Everything becomes mine — wife, children, house, money, car — everything. And you too. What of your reputation? What of your influence? They are mine too. Now I give you permission to use all those things, but don’t forget they are mine, just as you are mine. When I need any of the things you are using, you must give them to me because now I am the owner. You have paid the price, and here now, for you, is this glorious Pearl!” (cp. Juan Carlos Ortiz, “Call to Discipleship”, Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1975, pp. 42,43). That is salvation. That is the cost of discipleship. That is the wellspring of Christian stewardship, generosity, enthusiasm and cheerfulness.
“To Thee, Thou dying Lamb,
I all things owe;
All that I have, and am,
And all I know.
All that I have is now no longer mine
And I am not my own; Lord, I am thine.
How can I, Lord, withhold
Life’s brightest hour
From Thee; or gathered gold,
Or any power?
Why should I keep one precious thing from Thee,
When Thou has given Thine own dear self for me?” (Charles E. Mudie).
It is out of that faith and love for the incomparable Jesus Christ that a life of generous sowing comes. “I count all things but loss that I may gain Christ.”
There was a very wealthy man who had never been known for his generosity to the church. He had no desire to gain Christ, and no desire to reap generously. His story is a stark example of what Paul speaks of here, that those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly. The church with whom he had some kind of connection was involved in a big expenditure and some of the deacons decided to pay him a visit. When they met with the man they explained that in view of his resources they hoped that he would like to make a contribution to this building programme.
“I see,” he said, “so you have it all figured out have you? In the course of your investigation did you discover that I have a widowed mother who has no other means of support but me?” No, they responded, they did not know that. “Did you know that I have a sister who was left by a drunken husband with five children and no means to provide for them?” No, they said, we didn’t know that either. “Well, gentlemen, did you know also that I have a brother who is crippled due to a car accident and can never work another day to support his wife and family?” Embarrassingly, they responded, no sir, we didn’t know that either. “Well,” he thundered triumphantly, “I’ve never given any of them a penny, so why should I give anything to you?” And he showed them to the door.
You understand, that man had never given of himself, therefore he never gave of his resources. Giving is an outgrowth. It is the inevitable result of the regenerate heart consumed with growing love for this Saviour who gave himself for us. As that love demands our souls, our lives, our all then we give not only ourselves but our goods also to Christ and to his church. But men have put the cart before the horse. They say in so many churches, “I give, therefore I’m a Christian.” Men and women, it’s just the reverse. It is because I am a follower of Christ that I give.
6. WHOEVER SOWS GENEROUSLY WILL ALSO REAP GENEROUSLY.
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (v.6). Do you understand what this sowing is? It is giving yourself and all that you have to the Lord and his work. If a gardener sows a mere three seeds he may get three plants, but if he sows hundreds of seeds he may get hundreds of plants. This verse has nothing to do with a health-and-wealth, God’s-gonna-make-you-rich gospel. God’s greatest blessings are rarely in the form of money. When Jabez prayed in I Chronicles 4:10 for God to enlarge his territory he was not asking for an increase to his personal empire. Those words have to do with our covenantal inheritance in Christ, our eternal reaping, not fields and real estate and a business empire. God will not be reduced to the keeper of the storehouses of financial gain. There is no magic prayer that anyone can repeat which will unlock a divine trapdoor so that a Mercedes and second homes and winter Caribbean cruises will fall out of the sky into your life. Reaping generously is not about luxurious living it is all about the eternal blessings of the living God coming in abundance upon his people.
Paul is reminding them of the work of the farmer, how he has to plough up the soil and harrow it, and fertilise it, and prepare it for the seed and then sow his crop. The more he works on his land the more he anticipates the harvest. He looks at the sky, and he irrigates, and he sets up some scarecrows to drive the birds away, and he gets up early each day with his shotgun and guards his crops. The more energy he invests, the more involved he becomes in the harvest. In whatever you invest your time and energy and money and emotions then those things will become very important to you. If you invest your money in an expensive car then you will garage it each night and keep it polished. If you buy stock in Amazon.com you will start watching the stocks and shares figures to see how the company is doing. If you buy a building and rent it out then you will ensure that it is well maintained. If you invest time and money in your marriage you are motivated to keep working on it and maintain your love. The more you put into something the more you hope to get out of it.
The same thing is true concerning your relationship with God. If you invest in the kingdom of God then your spiritual life is going to be elevated to a higher level. If you sow in the work of God in Benin, or Kenya, or in Ecuador, or Latvia you will be praying for people in those places every day. When you give money to support a Christian home for those with learning difficulties you will be interested to know more about that work, what is involved and what encouragements you can get from that place. If you have done a one year placement in Manila and worked in one of the children’s homes then for years afterwards you will be sowing int o the work in emotions and in words and in cash. Wherever you put your treasure that is what you will be most interested in, for that is where your heart will be. So Paul is saying so simply to these Corinthians, “Give generously to God and you won’t be losers. Invest in the blessedness of heaven. What glories await us all!”
There is a story of a sailor who was shipwrecked on a South Sea island. He was seized by the inhabitants and carried shoulder high to a throne and proclaimed their king. He was given everything he asked which they were able to provide him. Then he learned that their king ruled for one year only. “What happens to him then?” he asked. They told him that every king was abandoned on a lonely island to starve to death. There was no escape for this man; that was his fate, and so this is what he decided to do. In that year he issued royal decrees week after week sending carpenters and builders and farmers to that island. Boats and a fine house were built. He learned how to fish. Groves of fruit trees were planted, animals were taken across there and put in pens. When his reign was ended he was exiled not to a barren rock but to a paradise of plenty. Each one of us is like that sailor king. Our entire life is like a year, and then death banishes us away from all our contacts in this world. In the short time at our disposal we have opportunity to prepare ahead of time by sowing generously so that we will reap generously in the land to which we are going.
How do you start? How can you buy into this divine portfolio? What’s the deal? How much does it cost to get an interest in this great heavenly scheme? You hear how marvelous it is in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God invested in men and women by giving his only Son. Our investment is our faith in him – “that whosoever believes in Jesus Christ has everlasting life.” How absurd! How disproportionate! It is so utterly asymmetrical! God sowed his only Son, planted him in Golgotha and buried him in a tomb – that was his sowing. What a sowing! My sowing is my faith – my little faith, my flawed faith, my inconstant faith, my weak faith. You mean that’s where I begin to sow – my seed faith? That is what God says, “Without money and without price, come and trust in me!” As the hymnist says, “All the fitness God requires is to see your need of him.” We come to him to find all we need is in him.
God takes this sinner and God forgives him. God says he’s guiltless and God has nothing against him. God acquits him and vindicates him. What a great return! All that guilt remitted. All the sin overlooked. All the awful record deleted. What a great gospel! But then you see God goes beyond that. He prepares a new relationship with us. He adopts us into his own family. He makes us sons and daughters of the living God. The Judge doesn’t simply say to us, “You are free to go,” but he says, “Take my name, and come into my family.” That is what God’s love has done. The God who has every right to condemn us, whose forgiveness was at such a price. He makes us his sons and daughters, heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ. He says that, “this is the harvest that awaits you, that you will have the same rights and entitlements and inheritance as my only begotten Son.”
God is our inheritance. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. We will occupy the same relationship to God as Jesus himself. It would have been an extraordinary thing if God had said simply, “Acquit him! Let him go! Forgive him!” But God didn’t say that. He said far more: “Bring him into my home, into my family, to my table and my own bosom. Give him my name and all the entitlements that go with sonship and being a member of my family.” That is the harvest of blessing that begins at the new birth and will soon come to its full fruition in heaven.
Please look around. Consider your life. Think of all that God has prepared for them that love him – every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Sow generously to that. You begin when you come by faith and entrust yourself to him, and then you live for him, and his people, and long to know him and be with him for ever. One thing is for sure there is nothing else in eternity but Christ. There’s that great Christian epitaph: “What I spent, I lost. What I saved, I left. What I gave, I have.” That is the secret to eternal life, we invest in the eternities. We reap assurance, a good conscience, and a growing hope.
There is a famous case study when a psychologist took a child, set him in a room by himself without any thing to read, no music, or TV, and he said, “There is a bar of chocolate on the table. You can eat it if you want to, but if you don’t eat it until I come back in about 15 minutes, you can have two of them.” One child after another was tested in this way and they were graded by whether they were willing to say no to a short-term benefit in order to have greater gain later on. Those who waited turned out to be the children who were the most mature. They were followed up later in life, in ten years’ time, and in twenty years, and thirty years and it was discovered those who had chosen delayed gratification were the most well-adjusted and successful in life.
We are being encouraged to give generously to the work of God, to invest in eternity by trusting what the Lord Jesus has said, “I am going to prepare a place for you. I will take you unto myself that where I am there you will be also.” Trust the man who raised the dead. Trust the man whom the winds and waves obeyed. Trust the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount. Trust the man who on the cross prayed for those who were killing him. Trust the one who said to the dying thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Trust in him! Of course, you can have so much without Christ. You can have newer furniture, faster computers, fancier clothes, more Christmas lights and sunnier holidays. But remember those somber words, “What I spent, I lost. What I saved, I left. What I gave, I have.” Think of the living Saviour preparing a place for us. What are all the toys of this world compared to being there. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” God guarantees this. You will reap sparingly, or you will reap generously. That is the choice. Eternal leanness or eternal prosperity. Only one you can have.
11 November 2001 GEOFF THOMAS