Giving God’s Way

A sermon on 2 Corinthians 8 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte NC, 1/25/04

How much should you give?  As a Christian, how much are you obligated to give?  Does the Bible answer this question?  Many would say, “Yes – He tells us to give 10%. You may give more if you so choose, but you are always obligated to give this amount.”

What does Paul say?

Two weeks ago we began studying chapters 8 and 9 of 2nd Corinthians, the longest passage on giving in the New Testament. We have seen that:

Recall that last week we saw that, to understand this passage, knowing what currency Paul is talking about is vitally important. And when Paul talks about being rich and poor in this passage, he is using different currencies.

So we might paraphrase verse 9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for you he became poor in one currency because he was rich in another currency, so that you by his poverty might become rich in that same currency”

Therefore, Jesus is our example: Knowing the riches we have in our relationship with God, we are free to give without worrying, for our Daddy is the King of the Universe! We may die, we may be killed, we may suffer, we may become poor in the things of the world – but because we have Christ, we have everything. We have all joy now and we will be His and in His presence for all eternity.

That’s what we’ve seen so far in chapter 8. In today’s passage, verses 8:10-9:5, Paul takes these truths and applies them to the specific case of giving money.  Now remember, true Christian giving is not primarily a giving of money but a giving of oneself.  But giving certainly includes money, and it included money for the Corinthians – so how should they give? Thus Paul describes giving God’s way.

There are three answers I want to bring out this morning: We should give:

That will be our outline.  We’ll conclude with by applying these thoughts to our own lives, and ask the question: How can we begin to give like true Christians?

In Accord with What You Have

Let’s now read verses 10-12:

And 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. 11 So 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. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.                              (2 Corinthians 8:10-12)

Recall the situation: Paul is raising a collection for the saints in Jerusalem who are undergoing great persecution.  The Corinthians said a year ago that they were willing to give, but their contribution has been delayed – presumably because of controversy over Paul’s apostleship.  Paul is now saying: “OK, those of you who are now acknowledging God, who are now acknowledging His apostle, show it! Show that your love is genuine! Furthermore, this benefits you (10), for you are becoming like Christ as you give.”

Now, a logical question could arise in the minds of the Corinthians: “I have so little – What can I possibly give to God in response to all that He has given to me?”  And this is a great question! Indeed, it is a biblical question, and will be our theme two weeks from today:

What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?  13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, (Psalm 116:12-13)

You can never pay God back – so never think of trying to repay your debt to God. Rather ask for more of Him!  Think like this: “Given all His benefits to me, given His promise to me that He will never leave me nor forsake me, how can I glorify Him with what He has given me?”

This is the situation in which Paul says, “Complete [your gift] out of what you have . . . it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.”

Do you see what Paul is saying? He is saying: “The point is not the absolute amount you give. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills – all the beasts of the forest are His. You can never even begin to pay God back for all that He has done for you.  What matters is that you acknowledge His goodness to you in the past - recognizing that all you have comes from Him - and that you trust Him completely with your future – knowing that He will provide you with whatever you need to accomplish His good purposes.”

In verses 13 to 15 Paul elaborates on this:

13 I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack."

Paul doesn’t want them to become worse off than the believers in Jerusalem. Instead, the abundance of material wealth in the church in Corinth should supply the needs of their poor brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. That much is clear.  Paul elaborates on this point in verse 15: This is a quote from Exodus 16 about the gathering of manna. All the Israelites went out to gather the manna, and doubtless the younger, more physically fit were able to gather more than those who were older, stiffer, and slower.  But in the end, miraculously, all of them had exactly what they needed. God intervened to make up the lack among the weak, and to lower the amount gathered by the strong.

So, in Paul’s time, God’s people once again should all end up with what they need, but instead of working via a miracle in each individual, God works through the willingness of His people to make up whatever is lacking for each Christian.  As opposed to the time in the desert, some Christians have much; some have little.  But God now works through the hearts of the Corinthians, moving them to give of their own accord to meet the needs of the poor in Jerusalem. In this way there is “equality” or “fairness”.

But Paul talks about a reciprocity here: he says that not only will the Corinthians give to those in Jerusalem, but that “their abundance may supply your need.” What does this mean?  Some have interpreted this to mean: “At a later time, they may be rich in monetary terms and you Corinthians may be poor, and then they will supply your monetary needs.”  This sounds good, but if that’s what Paul meant, it never happened.  Only about 14 years after Paul wrote this letter, the Romans completely destroyed Jerusalem, leveling every building in the city and slaughtering thousands of inhabitants. Furthermore, even at the time of Paul’s writing, due to the economics of geography and politics, there seemed little chance that Jerusalem would ever be more prosperous than Corinth.  So I don’t think that interpretation is correct.

The key here is, once again, the idea of currency. What did those in Jerusalem have that those in Corinth lacked? Their riches were in what currency?  The gospel itself! Paul says as much in Romans, written a few months or a year after 2 Corinthians:

For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. (Romans 15:26-27)

So the point is not, “Give money now so that others will give money to you in the future.” Rather, he says: “Give to other believers, and you will receive from them – most likely in another currency.” Paul will elaborate on this later in chapter 9, where he will explain exactly what we can expect in return for giving. Hint: the answer is not generally more money.

So the goal is not for every person to have exactly the same amount. The goal is the glory of God, with everyone understanding that all they have is from Him, and that He will provide all their needs.  So Paul says, “Give! Don’t worry if you don’t have much to give; don’t worry about where your food will come from tomorrow, just give, from your heart! And in doing so you will glorify God.”

With Honor in the Sight of Men

Return to the text now and let’s read the remainder of chapter 8:

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord.  18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And 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. 20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of man. 22 And 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. 23 As 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. 24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.                               (2 Corinthians 8:16-24)

There are lots of details here, but for our purposes this morning I just want you to understand the overall plan, and why Paul pursues this plan. As Paul has already said in verse 6, he urged Titus to return to Corinth to help the Corinthians complete their giving plan. Also, Paul is sending another brother, a famous preacher, with him. This same brother will accompany Paul and Titus to Jerusalem, as a representative of the contributing churches. An additional trustworthy brother will go with Titus and the first brother to Corinth.  Paul explains why he does this in the key verses for us, 20 and 21: “So that no one should blame us” or “find fault with us.” With money matters, there is always the potential for fault-finding. And here, Paul is concerned not only that there be no misuse of the money -  there is no chance of that with him and Titus handling it!  But he is also concerned “for what is honorable . . . in the sight of man.” He wants to make sure that there is not even the hint of an appearance of any dishonesty.

Why? Paul’s opponents are always looking for something to accuse him of.  The false apostles are guilty of peddling the gospel for money (2 Corinthians 2:17, 1 Timothy 6:5); Paul is careful not even to give a hint of such a problem in his own life. Even though he is completely trustworthy, and even though any one who knows him in the least should trust him, he has several people handle the money together, so that no one can criticize or accuse him of misappropriating it.

Remember the story of Daniel.  His opponents were trying to find something to accuse him of.  If there had even been the appearance of impropriety in his handling of money, they would have accused him of that. But:

4 Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.  5 Then these men said, "We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God." (Daniel 6:4-5)

Such should be our goal too. When our enemies look for something against us, may they only find the ways that we honor God!

So we must never fall into the trap of thinking, “We’re all Christians; we’re all trustworthy – therefore we don’t need to have checks on the way we handle money.” No. Let us handle money in a way that “is honorable in the sight of men.”

So far we have seen that we are to give in accord with what we have, and to give with honor in the sight of men.  Now,  finally, give:

As a willing gift (9:5)

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove vain in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, 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. 5 So 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. (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

Paul knows of their readiness, but wants them to prove it through actually completing the collection. That’s why he has sent Titus and the others so that before he arrives the collection will be finished.  Compare this to the way people raise money today, particularly politicians: When the president raises money, what does he do? Does he send out an appeal, saying: “This is what this administration believes is important for the country; these are the plans we will implement in the next four years, if reelected. if you believe in this, please give”? Well, yes, he does that.  But he raises most of his campaign money through personal appearances – dinners at $1,000 per person (or more). Or if the president or candidate can’t be there himself, he brings in a movie star, or other celebrity just to be present, or perhaps to sing or perform to attract crowds and money.  The basic idea is that the presence of a celebrity, a well-known person, draws a crowd and makes collecting money easier. And it works.

So why doesn’t Paul do that? Why doesn’t he say, “OK, put up a bunch of posters and put an ad in the Corinth Observer saying that the Apostle Paul is coming to town!  I’ll give an inspired talk to everyone, maybe heal a person or two, and then we’ll pass the plate. Make sure everyone knows that 20 denarii is the lowest contribution we’ll accept from anyone!”

Isn’t that what we do today?  In politics, certainly, but even in the church? We have a concert, have a well-known speaker, gather a crowd, get emotions up through music or through oratory, and then, when people are most vulnerable, make the appeal for money?

Paul doesn’t do that because Paul does not want any money collected that way.  Instead, he wants it all collected ahead of time to make it obvious that this is a willing gift, literally a blessing, granted from the Corinthians to the church in Jerusalem. This gift is to be a picture of God’s love flowing through the Corinthians, and that is impossible if there is any sense of force or manipulation or even emotional appeal in the collection. 

Paul says it must be a willing gift and not an “exaction” (NIV “grudgingly given”). What does this mean? The Greek phrase is strange: literally it says the gift should not come “out of covetousness” or “out of greed.” There are two possible interpretations of this phrase:

We could say that the gift is not to be given to fulfill Pauls greed. This interpretation would make the same point as 8:20-21: to be honorable in the sight of men.  If Paul goes and makes this appeal personally and collects lots of money, it can give him an appearance of selfishness, greed, or covetousness.  Even when he gives the gift in Jerusalem, it will look more like it is from him rather than from the churches. Paul could easily say, “Look at all the money I raised for you.”

But the second, more likely interpretation is that this gift is not to be given from covetous hearts.

Question: Do greedy, covetous men ever give money?  By all means! They give all the time!  Greedy men give:

·        When they think giving will benefit them;

·        When they are forced to do so;

·        When they are put in a position where it is awkward not to give;

·        When there is strong social pressure to give.

Paul is smart enough and powerful enough to do this. He could put pressure on these Corinthians to give. But that is not honoring to God!

So Paul has no desire for money collected like that. Indeed, he has no desire for money per se.  He wants gifts that will honor God. To achieve that purpose, giving must be done willingly, with no force and no appearance of force.

Application: How Can We Begin to Give like True Christians?

So we have seen that true Christian gifts are given:

What does this mean for us?

Many people try to get at an answer to this by asking: How much should I give? And then the common answer is, “Ten percent.” But that’s the wrong answer because the question itself is wrong.

Commenting on this passage, Scott Hafemann says, “The fact that believers often ask how much they should give reveals that they have not yet grasped Paul’s perspective.”

The question of how much to give is not the central question.  The central questions are:

These are central, and come before any question of money.  But then, in the end, we always come to money.

You might say, “OK, Coty, I acknowledge all that. I know I lack in those ways. I’m praying that I might grow and I ask you to pray for me.  But here I am just giving occasionally out of my surplus. Having already worked to give myself to God, what can I do? Money, of course, is tight. How can I change, so that I become a true Christian giver?”

Paul answers this question in 8:11:

So now finish doing [your work] as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.

The Corinthians desired to be true Christian givers. They made a plan to move in that direction. Paul clearly approved of their plan. Now he says, “Live up to that plan!” 

Just so with you. Make a plan. Stick to it. Ask: “Given that I belong to God, given that He has given me all that I have, given that I am to love my neighbor as myself, given that I am responsible for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church; how much should I set aside, off the top, before spending anything, from each paycheck?”

In this context, tithing can be helpful. If you have never tithed, consider moving in that direction. Not because there is a biblical command to do so, not so that you can reach that level of giving and say, “OK, whew! Now I’ve fulfilled my obligations before God.” But when you consider that the ancient Israelites, poor as they were, gave at least 10 percent of their income to God – can’t we rich Americans, who understand so much more clearly the extent of God’s grace given to us - can’t we give that much?

So make a plan. Stick to it. And then regularly ask yourself: Is God putting the desire in my heart to give even more? I believe He will.

What will be your great joy in giving?

If you are not a believer – if don’t see Jesus Christ as most valuable, if you don’t trust Him as Lord and Savior - the central question for you is not, “How can I give of what I have?”  The central question is: Who is Jesus Christ? Where do I stand before Him?  Don’t get sidetracked from that task by focusing on giving. Open your heart before Jesus! Receive from Him! And then you are in a position to give.

But if you are believer, you have been blessed by God. You have been blessed tremendously. You have every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. You are rich in Christ! So give! With joy! Give yourself fully! And enter into the delight of your master!

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 1/25/04. The Scott Hafemann quote is from The NIV Application Commentary: 2 Corinthians (Zondervan, 2000), p. 381.

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