This week is our fourth and final installment of our theology of giving series. In week one we examined Malachi 3:6 – 12 and we surveyed the character contrast between God and his people; God is consistently faithful while his people are consistently unfaithful. The problem we saw in week one is that God’s people were robbing him of the tithe he commanded them to give therefore God was calling them to repent and obey so that the watching world would see how blessed God’s people were.
In week two we examined the story of the widow who gave everything in Luke 21:1 – 4 and Pastor Donnie faithfully reminded us that the practice of giving must flow out of a heart that desires to give everything to God because God gave everything for us in the person and work of our crucified, risen and returning Savior.
Last week we took a journey as we followed the ten New Testament uses of the Greek word for “tithe” through Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42; 18:9 – 14 and Hebrews 7:1 – 10 and along the way we examined who/what we love the most, who/what we trust the most and who/what we believe to be superior in our lives; at the end of last week it was compellingly obvious that when we tithe we are practically confessing that Christ Jesus is superior.
This week we are going to examine 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. These two chapters are perhaps the largest chunk of New Testament Scripture we have on the topic of giving and although these two chapters are not directly speaking about giving a tithe they do speak very practically about the motivation for giving over and above our tithes to help others in times of need and they are especially practical as they talk about the grace of giving (8:1 – 15); the integrity in giving (8:16 – 24); and being ready, willing and generous in our giving (9:1 – 15).2
Now, I do want to add one additional note before we dive into the text. This is a seriously large portion of text and I wanted to be careful to highlight some of the most important aspects of this text while being faithful to staying rooted to the message of the gospel.
So, I have leaned very heavily this week on a commentary written by Pastor R. Kent Hughes: 2006. While I always rely on commentary as a general guide in my preaching, so that I am standing on the shoulders of other faithful preachers, this week I will admit that I have sought to summarize Kent Hughes’ outlines and arguments in my own words for the sake of faithfulness and brevity. So, with that said, let’s dive in!
#1: 2 CORINTHIANS 8:1 – 15 | HAVE I EXPERIENCED THE GRACE OF GIVING?3
In 2 Corinthians 8: 1 – 15, the apostle Paul says, “1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints – 5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9For 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. 10And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13For I do not mean that others should be eased, and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
This section of Scripture is not about tithing (as I said earlier) nor is it even about regular giving to the local church, it is about a one-time special gift to [support] another church, [it’s also] about God’s grace as it relates to giving, [and] the motivation behind our giving.4 The implication in this text is that authentic salvation changes our orientation to wealth like it did for Zacchaeus in Luke 19; if our professed salvation has not loosened our grip on material things so that we have become giving people, it is quite possible that we are not saved, despite our confessions and our protests.5 Once again, when we claim the name of Jesus as our Lord and Savior, that confession (if it is authentic) will inevitably be followed by growing in our obedience to Christ, especially in this area of our giving.
In verses 1 – 7 the apostle Paul uses the Macedonian churches as an example to motivate the Corinthian church to give; the Macedonian churches were poor and afflicted but despite their physical circumstances they were generous and self-giving; the implication here is that there is no way to grow to spiritual maturity without committing your finances to the Lord; Jesus can have our money and while not having our hearts, but he cannot have our hearts without also having our money.6 Does Jesus have both your heart and your money? You will know the answer to this by examining your bank statement and observing what percentage of your wealth you give away to the work of the church and to the needs of others around you.
In verses 8 – 10 the apostle Paul uses Jesus as an example to motivate the Corinthian church to give because giving is a matter of grace from beginning to end; Christ Jesus gave himself for us and as we receive his grace, we then give ourselves to him and to others in his name; this response to [God’s grace] includes giving what we have.7 When I begin to really grapple with the fact that God has given me what I do not deserve, I am motivated to give God what he does deserve!
In verses 11 – 15 the apostle Paul instructs the Corinthians to follow through and make good on their commitment to give in proportion to what they have because their giving will have a reciprocal effect in meeting the needs of the community; in effect, when we walk our talk, the community of believers are taken care of as those of us who have truly experienced the grace of Christ give generously.8 The implication of these verses is that we should give in proportion to what we have and then when every believer walks in obedience to this, everyone is blessed and no one lives without a need being met. This really reminds me of the picture of the early church in the book of Acts (2:42-49; 4:42-49).
This is the image of a family where every member carries his or her own weight of responsibility in giving and the motivation for this kind of heart attitude that affects the activity of our lives is bound up in the word “grace”; a word that Paul uses no less than eight times throughout 2 Corinthians 8 – 9.
When a church family gets caught up in the picture of the bloody cross, the victory of the empty tomb and the promise of heaven for sinners who have become saints by the grace of God in Christ Jesus… then and only then will that church family be transformed into gracious givers. Have you pondered the grace of God in the cross, the empty tomb and the promise of heaven as you simultaneously contemplate the call to give of your wealth? Have you experienced the grace of giving? Grace received becomes grace extended in God’s economy. We have such an awesome opportunity to be part of that economy of grace when we give.
#2: 2 CORINTHIANS 8:16 – 24 | IS MY GIVING BACKED BY INTEGRITY?9
In 2 Corinthians 8: 16 – 24 the apostle Paul says, “16But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17For he not only accepted our appeal but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. 18With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the lord himself and to show our good will. 20We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. 22And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.”
In the gospel of Luke, Luke records Jesus as saying over and over again that it is useless to talk about loving Jesus and trusting him and having the sweet assurance of forgiveness and the glorious hope of Heaven unless it makes a difference in our material attachments; strong emotions, deep sweet feelings, and confidence in being forgiven are only valid if they open our hands; these are theological truths that the apostle Paul appears to share as well (Lk. 6:24; 4:18; 12:20 – 21; 16:13; 18:24 – 25).10
The apostle Paul valued integrity in giving as well as integrity in the process of receiving the offerings so much so that he outlines the integrity of the men who will receive the offering and in doing so he also outlines the integrity of the system of collecting the offering; this is extremely important for us in an age where financial mishandling has left a huge black eye on the church.11
We must be above reproach in making sure that those people who collect the offering are men and women of integrity who are also known to be generous in their giving and we must also work to ensure that the systems (collections, accounting, spending limits, budgets, etc.) are above reproach and full of integrity as well.
In verses 16 – 22 we can see that the apostle Paul distances himself from the collection of the Corinthians’ giving while commending the integrity of three men who would perform the collection; these three men (Titus, an unnamed famous brother appointed by the churches and another unnamed brother who was trustworthy) were men of integrity who were well known by the Corinthians.12 Paul did not hand this responsibility over to men or women who were irresponsible or untrustworthy; they were people who were known for their personal integrity and trustworthiness. We must consistently ask if our giving (both personally and systematically) is backed by integrity.
In verses 23 – 24 the apostle Paul summarizes his commendation of the men who would collect the offering and he also challenges the Corinthians to follow through on their commitment to give so that they could prove Paul’s boasting about them to be true and to show that they had not received the grace of God in vain.13
The importance of this offering extended well beyond the Corinthians into eternity because this offering: 1) Would prove the validity of their faith – that it was not in vain; 2) It would help the impoverished church in Jerusalem survive; 3) It would demonstrate the miracle of the new covenant – Jews and Gentiles are actually one in Christ; 4) It would declare the glory of the Lord to the church and to the world; so for the same reasons, what we do with our money is of significance now and in the world to come; it will declare whether or not salvation has come to our house; it will declare whether or not we are sons and daughters of God.14
What we learn in this section of the text is that integrity begins with our public confession of faith in Christ, it extends into the kind of people we are becoming, and it continues to work its way into the systems of money management that we practice. Every time you and I work to ensure that our checks do not bounce, that our bills are paid on time, that our spending is not reckless, that our generosity is in proportion to what God has given us… every time we pay attention to that small invisible thread of integrity in our money management is yet another opportunity to worship God with how we think about what we want and then act accordingly. Is your giving (personally and systematically) backed up by a reputation for integrity?
#3: 2 CORINTHIANS 9:1 – 15 | AM I A READY, WILLING AND GENEROUS GIVER?15
In 2 Corinthians 9:1 – 15 the apostle Paul says, “1Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready as I said you would be. 4Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated – to say nothing of you – for being so confident. 5So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. 6The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And 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. 9As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ 10He 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. 11You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
In this final section of text regarding the Corinthians’ commitment to give, the apostle Paul is not writing to persuade them to give but rather, he is writing to assist them in completing their committment.16 The apostle Paul is not acting like a Mafia Boss who sends his henchmen to collect what is due; he is acting like a leader and a brother who is reminding his family members that they made a commitment and he is outlining what he is doing to help them follow through on their commitment. At the end of the day, the question in Paul’s mind is this: “Are you a ready, willing and generous giver?”
In verses 1 – 5 the apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians that their poverty-stricken sister-churches had already given out of their poverty because they had heard that the Corinthians were ready to give and he wants them to avoid the humiliation of their reputation not being matched by their readiness; he wants their reputation to be matched by their readiness so that their willingness and their eagerness to give would be proven by their actions.17 Actions always speak louder than words. In the words of a good friend of mine, “Posers pose, and givers give!” My hope is that The Well would be known as a church who is who we say we say we are and does what we say we will do.
We must remember that giving does not save anyone and it does not prove that anyone is saved but it does indicate that our confession of faith is indeed authentic because the giving of the redeemed is a response to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who “for your sake became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (8:9).18 When we live like ready, willing and generous givers, we really are modeling the work of our Savior at the cross, the empty tomb and the promise of Heaven. Jesus put his money where his mouth was; he proved his readiness, his willingness, and his generosity when he went to the cross, when he left the tomb empty and when he promised us eternity in heaven.
In verses 6 – 7 the apostle Paul described what it looks like to be ready, willing, and generous givers: A ready, willing, and generous giver will understand that it is a blessing to give as a blessed giver; it is not how much you give but rather that you give as generously as possible with an attitude of joy and cheerfulness in the blessing of giving; Christians are to be generous people who see giving as an exciting and joy-filled, worshipful adventure.19
In verses 8 – 15 the apostle Paul outlines the benefits of being ready and willing to give generously. In short, when we are ready and willing to give generously, we benefit personally as we experience God meeting our needs and then the church benefits corporately from the widespread gratitude towards God as glory is given to God through our affection for one another as we each carry our own weight in the discipline of giving.20 Ready, willing and generous giving really is a family discipline as each person decides what the Lord has called them to give. So, are you a ready, willing and generous giver? Have you been so captured by the message of the gospel – that Christ would give himself at the cross and leave the tomb empty and give you the hope of Heaven – have you been so captured by this message that you just cannot help yourself anymore because you are so ready and so willing to mimic your Savior in your generous giving?
As we conclude this series we must remember that when God calls us to obedience to his Word in our giving, he is not calling us to reach deep down inside our beings and rise to the best within us; this call to be ready and willing and generous in our giving is a call to authentically come to Jesus in true belief and repentance; it’s a call to contemplate Christ’s giving of himself as the example for the giving of our own wealth – Christ’s embrace of poverty so that we might become rich, is the reminder that this call is not a call to legalistic observance but to remember God’s grace, as Paul’s repeated mentions of the word “grace” so rightly emphasize; this is a call to rise to Christ’s best within us; it is not a call to save ourselves in our giving but it is a call to demonstrate by our giving that our faith is not in vain and that we stand with the apostle Paul in proclaiming 15Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! as we give.21 Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 R. Kent Hughes, 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2006), 155 – 177.
3 Ibid., 155 – 162.
4 Ibid., 156.
6 Ibid., 156 – 159.
7 Ibid., 159 – 160.
8 Ibid., 160 – 161.
9 Ibid., 163 – 169.
10 Ibid., 163.
11 Ibid., 164 – 165.
12 Ibid., 165 – 168.
13 Ibid., 168 – 169.
14 Ibid., 169.
15 Ibid., 171 – 177.
16 Ibid., 171.
17 Ibid., 171 – 172.
18 Ibid., 172.
19 Ibid., 172 – 174.
20 Ibid., 175 – 176.
21 Ibid., 176 – 177.