**The following is a sermon I preached on May 13th at Seed Church. You can listen to the message here.
Happy Mother’s Day everyone. We are going to talk about giving today and no one gives more then mothers. Without moms, the earth would be an uninhabited waste land. Mom’s give so much and exhibit a lifetime of generosity. In celebrating Mother’s Day, we realize there are many women who, through no fault of their own, are trying to be mothers but can’t. We stand in solidarity with you and pray that in your noble task in seeking to be a mom that you would become a mom very soon.
There was a mega church pastor here in town that used to have a phrase. He would encourage people to reverse engineer their lives. What he meant was…to imagine your own funeral in the far future. When people come to your funeral and stand up and give a eulogy or share a testimony about you, what will they say? What will you be known for? What would be the reputation or legacy that you leave to your family, friends and community? Hopefully the life of someone who loved Jesus and others generally but what if another trait that they mentioned was your generosity? That you were incredibly giving to the people in your life.
Paul has been encouraging the Corinthians to give the last couple of chapters in his epistle that we have gone through. He will continue that here as we dive into 2 Corinthians chapter 9.
Verse 1 and 2: There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. 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 Achaea were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.
Our passage begins with the words of the Apostle Paul flowing from the previous passage. Paul was bringing an envoy to Corinth with Titus from Macedonia.
For all of the many issues of the Corinth church which we have discussed, the Corinthians apparently talked a good game about their giving. The church was eager to help but money collection had fallen on hard times. Paul had boasted about the Corinthians giving and was confident they would come through.
We have talked about the ‘severe letter’ Paul had sent from Asia before he travelled on to Macedonia. Macedonia was located north of Corinth. Thessaly was to the south. Basically this is modern day Greece but Corinth, obviously being the shipping port, was down toward the sea. In the chronology, this severe letter may have ruffled feathers (recall this was after Paul’s painful visit to Corinth).
Paul, since last year had been counting on the people of Achaia, and people were excited. The Macedonians had an overwhelming giving response as Paul pointed to the Corinthians as being this generous example. Well, now Timothy had come with bad news. The collection from Corinth was not so great and Paul, based on him talking up the Corinthians, may be subject to some embarrassment here. Paul’s mission with this collection was to have the Gentile churches pool their resources together and send it back to Jerusalem for the poor.
Verse 3-5: 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.
Paul had already written to them about the importance of giving and Paul has confidence in them and has boasted of them but he doesn’t want the boasting to ring hollow. This is like the friend you have that builds something up really, really huge! They tell you about the funniest YouTube video of all time and how they laughed for an hour. Once you pull that video up, it is just a cat running into a wall or something. Perhaps slightly amusing but not something you would laugh about for an hour. The friend’s build up would be hollow. They totally built it up but the video was anti-climatic.
Paul continues on with how he would be embarrassed if Macedonians showed up in Corinth and the church hardly gave a thing. Paul had built up, boasted and believed this church would chip in and help the cause of the gospel. The report Timothy brought back had him nervous.
The plan is floated to have the brothers visit Corinth ahead of time to help them get ready for the big gift as the church had promised this. Paul is not just concerned about the gift itself as evidenced at the end of verse 5. He is also interested in their hearts. Not wanting the Corinthians to give begrudgingly is key here and the Apostle gives further details on this as the passage flows along.
It is important to emphasize that Paul seems confident that the Corinth church will give as they have enthusiastically responded about taking up a collection. They just needed help organizing this effort.
Verse 6: Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
This statement, quoted by Paul, flows like a proverb but is not found in the Old Testament. The society back in Corinth was heavily agricultural. People lived very close to the food they ate and many were farmers. Whenever someone throws seed out into their field, they run the risk of birds snatching the seed away, insects destroying the seed, or weather not cooperating with the seed’s growth. Therefore, much better to spread or sow lots of seed because there is a better chance of a harvest. Paul gives an analogy here that would have spoken Corinth hearts.
Verse 7: Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Giving should be done individually. Paul, in context, is talking about a community collection from the Corinth church but in verse 7, he breaks this down to the individual person. An individual has to decide to contribute to the community collection.
Reluctance implies a temptation to cling or hoard possessions or money rather then give to those in need. There is a hesitation or even a hostility to giving because people are clinging to their possessions.
‘Under compulsion’ suggests a person who is not happy while giving. Perhaps they feel pressure from the community to give and so feel pressure or force rather then giving sincerely out of their hearts.
God loves the cheerful giver. The cheerful giver has a joy in helping someone else or responding to a need and giving sacrificially. This phrase comes from the Greek Old Testament (the Sepatuagint) in Proverbs 22:8a, ‘God blesses a cheerful man and giver.’
Verse 8: And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
God is a God of grace. God is all powerful and able to give His children what they need. In the economy of God, grace begets grace. God says He will give us all that we need so we should not be afraid of giving sacrificially. By Him giving us everything we need, we can abound in doing good works for others namely giving financially to those who need assistance or offering other kinds of help.
Verse 9: As it is written: ‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.’
Paul again in strengthening his letter by quoting Scripture with a slight omission from the passage. This quote is from Psalm 112:9. There are some translation issues here. Some commentators suggest that the first half of this quote is referring to a person- i.e. someone who is able to give generously to the poor from their wealth and riches. The second half of the quotation can be translated ‘His righteousness endures forever’ as in God’s.
But we are getting a picture in this passage of a joyful giver who is happily bestowing upon the poor many needed gifts.
Verse 10-11: Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving.
Yet another loose quotation from the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) in Isaiah 55:10 as Simon J. Kistemaker notes: ‘“The rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater.’ The context of Isaiah’s prophecy shows that God is the subject who provides the rain and the snow to function as His instruments to germinate the grain that was sown.’ The phrase ‘harvest of your righteousness is from Hosea 10:12.
The farmer or the Corinth church member has seed. He is reliant upon God for the rain and weather to germinate the seed and the subsequent growth that would produce a harvest.
All material and spiritual blessings have their origin with God. He provides. He gives. What He gives us is an opportunity to give to the poor.
Now we come across a verse that sounds an awful lot like the prosperity gospel. ‘You will be made rich in every way to be altogether generous.’ What does this mean? Does this mean that if you give to the church, you can expect to become richer and buy nicer cars and houses? Is this about giving in order to receive a higher material standard in life?
The Greek word for ‘in every way’ and ‘altogether’ is pas. It does indeed give a sense of God’s hand being opened for those who choose to give to the poor joyfully. God supplies materially, socially, intellectually, and spiritually in order for gifts to be given to others. However, this does not mean that people who give will be showered with material gifts from God to satisfy selfish desires. Rather, the wording in this context is along the lines of God supplying ways and means for people to give to the poor- to bless others and in so doing, being blessed themselves.
Generosity should result in thanksgiving and indeed thanksgiving to God for all parties involved. This is the endgame on how people are blessed and how they are enriched. By the feeling of gratitude that God is providing and the joyful feeling that comes along with giving.
Verse 12-13: This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.
The service again is the gentile churches, including Corinth, taking a collection for the church in Jerusalem. Supplying for the Lord’s people is giving to the poor. Believers throughout Achaia, Macedonia, and Asia Minor were joining in to help the saints in Jerusalem. The needs of the poor should be met and expressions of thanks to God would be the result. Meeting physical needs through the provisions but also meeting spiritual needs through inviting other people to give thanks to God for the provision. The gentile churches were being used to answer the prayers of the saints in Jerusalem.
Obedience goes along with confession of the gospel. Of course, a famous command of Christ was in a parable- the Sheep and the goats. ‘Whatever we do for the least of these we have done it unto Christ.’ In other words, our confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior should spur us on toward listening to Jesus’ commands about how to treat one another.
Verse 14-15: And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
James and the elders at the church in Jerusalem were praying for Paul and the gentile churches he was ministering too. Paul describes their hearts going out to the Corinthian believers or it could be translated yearning for the Corinthians. The extreme poverty around Jerusalem probably prevented most from travel so they had a heartfelt desire to see the church who was helping them so greatly. Given the theological disputes between Jews and Gentiles in the early church, the Body of Christ taking care of one another was showing the grace of the gospel.
Paul toward the end offers a doxology. ‘Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.’ And that would be the gift of Christ Jesus.
While going through this passage, we see that God (through Paul) is tying joy and gratitude and thanksgiving to the act of giving. If God is the ultimate Giver and also is the Author of all reality, it follows that we discover a deep sense of joy and meaning when we pursue a mentality that results in sacrificial giving to others.
Giving matters in a culture that exalts a radical individualism and thereby selfishness to an extreme. When we sacrificially give, this connects us to others and by connecting us with others, we become connected to God.
When we give, we are prayerfully trying to meet a fellow image bearer of God in their struggle and trying to help in whatever way we can. We are mourning with them in their pain and developing the empathy that guides us to want to alleviate their suffering.
We should not treat the issue of giving like we are the ones who are high and mighty. The righteous heroes riding in for the rescue. No. Rather, we should strive for the perspective that all of us, in some way, are in need and flawed and struggling and other people can give to us. All of us have something to give but there are gifts that others want to bless us with that we can receive.
At Seed, we have many generous people and during this chapter in Seed’s history, we need generosity and continued financial giving. This topic is always awkward for church’s to talk about but maybe not so much for me. I don’t get paid by Seed and have actually never been paid by Seed so I can talk about financial giving.
The thing is Seed has given a lot to our family. We’ve been coming here since the beginning of 2014. We always gotten strong Bible teaching, cool friendships, some decent BBQ/ potluck food and when Michelle and I welcomed Naomi and Reuben to our family, lots of good teaching and activities for our kids. When both our kids were dedicated to the Lord, we were given the gifts of ‘The Jesus Storybook Bible’. This is a book we read about every night and Naomi has been very interested in the crucifixion account and asking lots of questions.
I don’t want to turn this into an advertisement testimonial but everything I have said is absolutely true regarding what Seed has meant to my family. As a community at Seed, we realize there are expenses such as taking care of Pastor Jeff and Kim and their family. We are going to be hiring a new teaching pastor that we will want to take care of as well. Some of you help out with children’s ministry and worship or other areas where you get paid a stipend. And we have the building and utility costs and all the boring stuff.
In financial giving, we don’t give a percentage. The Bible asks us, as it does here in 2 Corinthians, to give generously. What does giving generously look like for your family and within your budget? We all fully recognize that you may have different stages in life where you have to give less because maybe you have other bills piling up or, tragically, a job loss. Then there are times where perhaps you can give more.
Whatever you can give, it matters and giving joyfully will bring a deeper meaning to your life.
If you can, besides giving financially to Seed, consider giving to other noble causes. Give to science where we are searching for cures to our most devastating diseases. Cancer. Alzheimer’s and dementia which my grandma died of. We all can research online and find incredible organizations and charities that are genuinely trying to alleviate human suffering. We can join in and, prayerfully as God moves us forward, find a cure for these terrible diseases.
Seed actually regularly gives to other organizations in our community that give back to their respective communities. Here are some of them:
1) Nourishing Network. We are actually in the middle of a food drive for them right now. This organization started in 2014 and their mission was feeding hungry and homeless students in the Edmonds School District. Originally it was weekend meals and then it evolved to a larger role. They estimate that 600+ students in the Edmonds School District are homeless. Often times, these students leave school on Friday and don’t have another meal until Monday. This organization strives to get food to these students.
2) AJS is another organization we support. Organization stands for ‘Association for a More Just Society’. They work in Honduras and provide investigative, legal, and psychological support for people who have been the victim of violent crimes and don’t have the resources to get a good attorney. Honduras is well known for being one of the most corrupt governments and legal systems in the world. They also push for structural change in Honduras security and justice systems. Extremely vital and important work trying to change a country.
3) Hand in hand is a third organization near and dear to our hearts. Some of you have worked with this organization becoming foster parents and helping kids get into a safe, godly home. This organization as well as those partnering with them are giving kids who have been abused, neglected or marginalized a new and different support system.
So as we give to Seed Church, our church also gives to other organizations.
The major context of Paul’s exhortation in 2 Corinthians 9 is financial giving. He was desiring this Corinth church to create a collection for the poor in a Jerusalem. The context is definitely giving generously out of our wealth.
As I mentioned before though, there may be chapters in life where you cannot give much money away but there are other things you can give away. We can give our time to visit those who are sick or elderly. We can give time to visit people in prison. In the past, people at Seed have given time to a local elementary school to have a homework club. There is so much we can give.
If you have owned a business for awhile, you can give advice to a young entrepreneur who is just starting up. Everybody in here has different hobbies, interests or things they have studied. We all can give to each other are various areas of knowledge and expertise.
It comes down to a couple of things again: are we willing to surrender ourselves to God’s will to be generous in an exceedingly materialistic culture? If we reverse engineer our lives, do we think that a reputation of being an extremely generous person at the end of our lives will be gratifying and meaningful? A reputation and a legacy to hand off to others.
Thesis: Paul challenges us to be cheerful givers so we can be more deeply connected to the heart of God.
Being a sacrificial giver is a challenging thing in our world. We live in a culture that came up with the bumper sticker, ‘He who dies with the most toys wins.’ There is such a focus on ourselves and all thing things we may desire in a materialistic culture.
Sometimes we may have an anxiety about giving because of how expensive living is. We pay mortgages or rent. Utility bills. Taxes. We pay for healthcare and food and gas. On top of that, it’s good to enjoy ourselves and pursue entertainment, vacations and other leisurely activities. Being responsible entails saving or investing for retirement and also doing the same for our children’s college education.
With all of these bills in our lives that we have to pay that are also good and important things, how do we make room in our budgets for giving? What does engineering a budget that allows us to give sacrificially look like for our individual families? This is a big struggle in a culture that encourages these things (which are good things) and also dealing with cultural messages and mass advertisements that indulge our selfish desires. Being a sacrificial giver is very much a going against the flow type of position that requires a prayerful focus in a society that always has us busy and distracted (and often distracted from the things that really truly matter).
How can we become sacrificial and cheerful givers?
If you have a budget, do you list giving as a priority for that budget?
Here is an uncomfortable question: Should giving hurt a little bit? Is that sacrificial? We want to be cheerful givers. There is a fine line between conviction and guilt. We want to be a community of cheerful based giving upon our foundational convictions.
Ultimately to be a cheerful giver, we need to be connected to the God who is a generous God. By connecting with this God, we need to allow Him to change our mentalities to a focal point of thankfulness for what we have. When we realize that the money and possessions that we have are a result of the grace of God, perhaps we will hold a little bit loosely to these things in order to intentionally look for opportunities in our lives to give to others.
In a culture that is radically individualistic and there is so much me, me, me all the time, Christianity is a faith and a philosophy that is outward focused. How am I loving God and loving my neighbor? Love, by this definition, is not a mere feeling or just joining a fellow person in empathy (although that is key). Love must always be accompanied by action. The action of reaching out to someone in need and giving sacrificially, not out of coercion or guilt but because we sincerely care about the people God has put in our lives.
God is a God who has indeed given us an indescribable gift. His grace as shown in the sending of Jesus. The ultimate gift offered by Jesus and His death on the cross and resurrection is peace with God. A reconciliation with the God who loves that we have strayed far from.
Have you received the gracious gift of God in Christ Jesus? That is a big first step in being transformed by Jesus into a sacrificial giver.