The Lord’s Day Morning
November 4, 2012
“Happy Giving: Because You Want To”
2 Corinthians 9:5-7
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. The stewardship committee has chosen 2 Corinthians 9 verse 7 as our theme verse this year: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” But I want us to concentrate on 2 Corinthians 9 verses 5, 6, and 7 this morning, and before we do that, I want you to see the big picture of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Paul, in these two chapters, is laying out a theology of giving. In these two chapters, Paul explains what the standard of our giving ought to be, he explains what the dynamic of our giving ought to be, what enables us to give the way we ought to give, he explains what the motivation of our giving ought to be, and he explains what the goals of our giving ought to be. In fact, one Bible commentary says that this passage is “Paul’s commentary on generous giving.” And I love that description because I think that’s exactly what Paul is doing here. He pauses in the middle of 2 Corinthians to talk to the Corinthians about what it means to give generously as a Christian.
Now Paul’s teaching on Christian giving comes in three particular areas. If you read Paul’s letters, he encourages Christians to give generously to the work of ministry, he encourages Christians to give to the work of missions, and he encourages Christians to give to the relief of the poor, especially poor Christians. In Paul’s teaching, he makes it clear that Christians have a responsibility to support the ministry of the church. And he himself will encourage Christians to give to those who are ministering to them even when he refuses to take anything from congregations that he is serving. He will very often say things like this: “I didn’t take anything from you; I worked my own self.” He was a tentmaker. He would provide for his own income. But then he’ll turn around and say, “But those who are ministering to you, your ministers, your pastors, your teachers, you support them. You give in order that they might be alleviated from worldly cares and to devote themselves to ministering to you.” And so he’ll say this repeatedly in his letters.
Secondly, he will encourage Christians to give generously for the support of evangelism and missions. Paul’s principle is, “The people that we are going to should not pay for our mission. The people who are sending us to the people that we are going to should pay for our mission.” And so over and over, he asks congregations to be involved in supporting those who are engaged in evangelism and missions. And think how that makes sense. When you go to a new people to share the Gospel and you say, “I’m not here for your money; I’m not asking you for anything. I’m already taken care of. The people who sent me here have already taken care of me. I don’t want any of your material resources,” you’re sending a huge message that you’re not there to get something out of them but to give something to them. Now of course, when people from the cultures that Paul evangelizes and goes and does missionary work with, when they become Christians then he asks them to turn around and give to the ministry and to missions to other people. But it’s important to Paul that as he goes out with the Gospel that he’s not doing it in order to get something financially out of the people that he’s going to. That sets him apart from shysters who are out there to make a quick buck in the name of religion. And so it’s very important for him that the churches support missions so that we’re not going out to the people that we’re evangelizing with our hands out and saying, “Will you please support us?”
Thirdly, Paul encourages giving to the poor, and especially to Christians that are in particular poverty and distress and need. And that’s what’s going on in this passage. Now the principles that Paul sets forth here are applicable to all three of those kinds of giving — giving to ministry, giving to missions, and giving to the poor — but the specific context here is giving for a collection that is going to be taken to Jerusalem and distributed amongst Christians that are in poverty and need. Now just think about what’s going on here. It’s quite marvelous. Paul, as a converted Jew, as a full-blooded ethnic Hebrew and a former Pharisee, has come to faith in Christ and though wherever he goes in Asia Minor he always goes to the synagogue first and he preaches three Saturdays and he gathers a small group and he says, “I’d like to take you through the Scripture and teach you about the Christ,” though he deliberately begins with proclaiming the Gospel to the Jew first, he says in Romans 1, he always ends up having a larger congregation of Gentiles than he does of Jews. So now he’s going to go to the dominate Gentile Christian congregation and he’s going to ask them to give an offering for the relief of poor Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem.
Do you catch how brilliant this is? You’ve got something going on here ethnically and religiously. Ethnically the world is looking on and they’re saying, “What is up with these Gentiles sending money to Jewish people in Palestine? That’s strange. Generally the Jews don’t think very highly of Gentiles. What’s going on with all these Gentiles all over Asia Minor sending an offering for the relief of Jewish people back in Jerusalem that are facing poverty and need?” Secondly, remember that back in Jerusalem there were a lot of Christians, even Christian leaders, that were not very excited about Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. They thought that if a person wanted to follow Jesus they needed to become Jews, and Paul said, “No they don’t. The Gospel is for the Jew and the Greek and the Greek does not have to become a Jew for the Gospel to be for him or her.” And so there were a lot of people back in Jerusalem that weren’t real enthusiastic about what Paul was doing in reaching out to these Gentiles. Now Paul is telling these Gentiles, about whom many of those Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem were not terribly enthusiastic about his evangelistic mission to, “I’d like you to gather money so that it can be taken back to Jerusalem and it will probably end up blessing some people that weren’t super excited about me bringing the Gospel to you.”
But do you see what’s up with Paul? This is a massive opportunity to promote Christian unity. You know, what better way to show that the walls of division and separation have been brought down than for Gentile Christians to be sending a collection back to Jerusalem to support Jewish Christians who are in poverty and distress? So it’s an amazing thing that’s going on in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. And in that context Paul teaches about Christian generosity. And just look at the outline of the passage. Just take a look at, beginning in the first verses of chapter 8, and let’s walk through what happens here.
If you look at the first four verses of chapter 8, Paul talks about taking up a collection for the relief of the saints. They’re going to take up money that’s going to be given to poor Christians in Jerusalem. And then if you look at verses 5 to 15, he exhorts the Corinthians to give generously to this collection and he is not above a little healthy competition here. He says to the Corinthians, “You know, the Macedonians who don’t have your per capita income, have given more to this than you have. And I would hate for those Macedonians to beat you, Corinthian Christians.” Paul is not above trying to urge the Corinthians to be more generous in light of what the Macedonians have already given. You know, I love the fact that we live in what is regularly rated the most generous state in the nation. We’re not at the top when it comes to per capita income, but over and over again, Mississippi is rated the most generous state in the nation in terms of per capita charitable giving. And Paul’s doing a little bit of this. You know, it would be like a pastor in New York whose congregation has a very high per capita income, saying, “You know, those Christians in Mississippi, they’re outgiving you. And I’d really hate for you New Yorkers to be out-given by the Mississippians.” That’s a little bit of what Paul’s doing here in the middle of 2 Corinthians chapter 8. He’s doting the Corinthians on to be more generous because people who have less than them have given more than them. It’s very interesting
And then follow down through the rest of chapter 8. In verses 16 to 24, he explains who the delegation is who’s coming to collect the money, who’s going to take it back. He doesn’t want people to think that it’s going to be, “I’ll take all that money and I’ll take care of it. I’ll make sure it gets there.” No, there’s a delegation that’s going to be responsible for getting it back to Jerusalem. Titus, who gets a letter written to him later in the New Testament, is one of the people in that delegation and they’re going to be the ones responsible for getting it back to Jerusalem and distributing it.
And then in chapter 9, go ahead and take a look at chapter 9, he then begins to explain the principles of Christian generosity. And as he does so, he tells the Corinthians that their generosity to believers in Jerusalem is going to manifest the grace of God in their lives and it is going to bring glory to God in the world. Now again, think how this happens. Their generosity to Christians, even some Christians that we’re super excited about the Gospel being brought to them, is going to show what? The grace of God at work in their lives. God showed grace to us when we didn’t love Him very much. When we didn’t love Him at all He gave His Son. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly,” Paul would say in Romans chapter 5. And so by giving to these needy Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, some of whom haven’t been really excited about Paul’s Gentile mission, what are these Gentile Christians showing? Grace! God’s shown them grace by saving them through His Son, Jesus Christ. Now they get to show grace in their giving.
And what will that result it? It will result in God getting glory in the world. Again, just think of their neighbors. “You’re taking up money to give to Jewish people in Palestine but you’re not very well off yourselves, you’re facing persecution here, and Jewish people don’t like us. And don’t they call us dogs? Don’t they call us dogs?” “Yeah, but we’re now brothers and sisters in Christ. We believe in Jesus Christ who is the Messiah and these Jewish people that we’re sending this collection to also believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and though we are ethnically Jewish and Gentile and so different as water and oil, we’re now brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.” And can’t you see their unbelieving friends kind of scratching their heads and saying, “What’s going on here?” God’s going to get glory in the world through this collection. So that’s the background of the passage that we’re going to read today. And before we read that passage, let’s look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Father, this is Your Word, and it’s a rich Word and it’s a convicting Word, Lord. So teach us, inspire us, convict us, change us, by Your Word, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it in 2 Corinthians chapter 9 verses 5 to 7:
“So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you had promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
CHRISTIAN GENEROSITY MANIFEST THE GRACE OF GOD
Christian generosity manifests the grace of God in our lives to the glory of God in the world. That’s my theme. Christian generosity manifests the grace of God in our lives to the glory of God in the world. And that’s why Paul talks in this passage about two different ways, two different attitudes in our giving. Did you notice, looking at verses 5, 6, and 7, that he gives a three-point contrast between those two different ways of giving? One way is the way he doesn’t want us to give. The other way is the way that he does want us to give. And he gives a three-point contrast in verses 5, 6, and 7 to those two different ways. Let’s look at them closely in this passage.
First look at verse 5. Here, he says, “I don’t want you to give as an exaction. I don’t want you to give as if somebody showed up at your door and said, ‘Come on. Hand over the money.’” You know, the tax man showed us and said, “I’ve decided unilaterally that I need more money from you. Give it to me now.” You know, and you sort of grudgingly hand it over. I don’t want you to give as an exaction. That’s verse 5. But how? “As a willing gift.” Literally, Paul says, “Not as covetous but as a blessing.” In other words, he wants you to give not so that your attitude is that you’re wanting to hang on and that you’re really reluctantly giving it over, but instead you’re giving it like a pastor gives a benediction. Do pastors love to pronounce benedictions? Oh yes we do! There’s nothing that we love more than to bless somebody. You want to bless somebody. And Paul’s saying, “Don’t give where you’re just hanging on, reluctantly letting it go. Give in a willing way.” So not as an exaction but as a blessing. Not unwillingly but willingly.
Then, secondly, look at what he says in verse 6. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.” So Paul is saying, “Don’t be stingy.” Not only don’t keep trying to hang on, but don’t be stingy. You know, you’re at the Salvation Army bucket and you’ve got a handful of quarters and you’re picking through to find the pennies. Don’t be parsimonious and stingy. Dump them all in. Don’t be sparing. But in contrast, look again at verse 6. “He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” So not parsimoniously, not stingily, not sparingly, but bountifully, generously, lavishingly. So it’s not an exaction, not stingy; it’s willing and it’s generous.
And then third, look at verse 7. He says, “Each one must do as he has made up in his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” In other words, you’re not going to be begrudging. You’re not going to be reluctant in that giving, but in contrast he says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” So there you have it. Paul has sketched out two ways of giving. One way is coveting; it’s wanting to hang on. It’s sparing; it’s stingy. And it’s reluctant; it’s begrudging. And Paul says, “Don’t give that way.” In contrast, the other way is willing, generous, and happy. And Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “That’s how I want you to give!” And that gives us the three points of our message today. If we are going to manifest this Christian generosity that shows the grace of God at work in our lives and gives glory to God in this world, then that giving will be giving that we want to give. Paul wants you to want to give.
Now behind this of course is a story from the Old Testament. Do you remember when Moses was taking up a collection of money and materials from the children of Israel in the wilderness in order to build the tabernacle? And do you remember what he said to them? He said, “Now here’s the deal. Nobody should give to this who doesn’t want to. I don’t want anything that is given from anyone who is only giving it because you feel like you have to. I want you to give because you want to.” Apparently, Moses didn’t want one penny or one thread in the tabernacle that had been given by somebody who didn’t really want to give it. He wanted the whole thing to be sewn up and put together out of the generosity of people who really loved God and wanted to worship Him. And that’s behind what Paul is saying. But of course, the real thing that is behind what Paul is saying is God Himself. God has been willing to us in the Gospel. “For God so loved the world that He gave.” He willingly gave His own Son. So when we are willing in our giving we are emulating God because He has been willing in the work of our salvation. So it’s the Gospel that serves as a model for our giving.
GENEROUS IN OUR GIVING
Secondly, we are to be generous in our giving. Wholehearted Christian giving is giving that you want to give, first, and second, it is giving that is generous. You want to give and you generously give. Now as I said before, I love the fact that we live in the most generous state in the nation, but my friends, we can do better. We really can. I was very convicted – I didn’t put this part of the worship guide together, but for two weeks now I have actually known what quote was going to be used. If you’d take out your morning worship guide and look at the top of that worship guide and look at the last quote on the “Thoughts on Stewardship.” It’s a C.S. Lewis quote and it goes like this: “The only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. Our charities should pinch and hamper us.” Now here’s the sentence. It’s the next sentence that’s convicting to me. Here is it: “If we live at the same level of affluence as the other people who have our level of income, we are probably giving away too little.” Ouch. I think C.S. Lewis is right. If we’re not giving enough to the Lord that it doesn’t make a difference at our level, the level at which we live, we’re probably giving away too little.
Now along with that, I want to make another comment. And it’s simply this – this is just a statistical reality that I want you to be aware of. As Christians’ incomes have risen in America, Christians have given proportionately less to the support of ministry, missions, and benevolences. And there’s something wrong with that. That’s got to be wrong. Right? That’s got to be wrong. The greatest generation, our forbearers — some of them are still here; they’re sitting in the room — from the era of the Depression and from the era of the Second World War, gave about three times more of their income proportionately than we give. There’s got to be something wrong with that. We make more than they did; we give proportionately less than they did. There’s got to be something wrong with that. And so that C.S. Lewis quote really convicts me and that reality that I’ve just shared with you really convicts me. And I want to say, that as generous as we are, we need to be more generous. It’s not that we are in a competition with unbelievers, it’s not that we’re in a competition with other people in our levels of affluence, but it is that if our following Christ doesn’t make any difference in the standard of living that we experience, that our support of the Gospel, our support of the spread of missions doesn’t make a bit of difference in the level to which we live in terms of affluence, then the Gospel just hasn’t made that much difference in the stewardship of our live and our material resources. We’re not as generous as we ought to be. And Paul’s saying to the Corinthians, “I want you to be generous.” And remember, back in chapter 8, he said, “You know the Macedonians don’t have as much as you do and they’ve given more than you.” Well I don’t want anybody to ever be able to say that about us. We need to be generous in our giving.
JOYFUL IN OUR GIVING
Third, our giving ought to be happy. It ought to be joyful. And notice what Paul says. “God loves a cheerful giver.” How does that happen? How do you give in such a way that you are willing, you’re generous, and you’re joyful? Well, it has to do with the heart and the stewardship committee talks to us almost every year in some form or fashion and they’re right to do it. But let me ask you this question: How does your heart get right in order to want to give willingly and generously and joyfully? It’s about who you think God is. If you think God is stingy, you’ll be stingy. If you think God is generous, you’ll be generous. The key to a joyful heart, a generous giver, a willing giver, is who you think God is.
John Piper preached a sermon on this passage, I don’t know, twenty-five years ago, and in that sermon he said this. “What makes the difference between the sparing giver and the bountiful giver?” And his answer is their relationship to God and who they think God is. Listen to what he says. “What makes the difference, then, between the sparing giver and the bountiful giver is their relation to God. For one, He is an incessantly demanding, draining, Taker. For the other, He is an inexhaustible Giver. The one feels that, ‘If God is draining me, then what joy can I have if I don’t drain the world?’ His basic disposition is still one of taking, keeping, and sparing because he thinks God is always taking, God is always keeping, God is always demanding. He’s the great Taker. But for the other person who is described in this passage, the flow goes all in the other direction. God is the great Giver, the great Fountain, the great Father, flowing in with ever replenishing blessing and grace and hope. And so what that person feels when he looks at the needs of the world is a free, internal impulse to give, to share, and that impulse is called love or grace.”
And that’s exactly what Paul is talking about in this passage. That’s why he says that Christian generosity is a manifesting of the grace of God in our lives and it gives glory to Him in the world. We have an opportunity to do that in the support of the ministry of this church, the work of missions, and benevolences. Isn’t it interesting that the three-fold outline of our budget is in fact reflective of the three things that Paul asks Christians to give to? We have an opportunity to do that. We can manifest it tangibly in the way that we plan to give and the way that we give. May God bless you all as you do so. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for its conviction and its encouragement. Thank You for the way even our giving is related to the Gospel. Grant that we would show the grace of the Gospel in our lives in our generous giving. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.