The Blessing of Giving

Original Date: 
Sunday, February 11, 2018

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 The Grace of Giving: The Blessings of Giving

If You Hold Your Breath, It Won't Taste As Bad
God seldom--no, make that--God never asks us to do anything that is not ultimately for our good. Do you believe that? Do you believe that God always has your best interests in mind?

Or does it seem to you like He makes up rules just to torment you? That He's playing around with you, wanting to see just how far He can get you to go?

Answer the question carefully. Answer it honestly. Do you believe that God will never ask you to do anything that is not ultimately for your good? The way you answer will say a lot about how you see God. It will say a lot about why you obey Him. It will say a lot about your understanding of the Bible.

You see, a lot of times we look at following God as though it is the lesser of two evils. We think of ourselves as a five-year-old at the dinner table who must choose between eating his brussels sprouts or going to his room. We think obeying God is kind of like those brussels sprouts. We don't like doing it, but the alternative--getting sent to our room (i.e. hell)--is much worse. And so we plug our noses and choke it down.

But obeying God isn't like that at all. It isn't something awful that must be tolerated--it is something that will bring us great joy, great satisfaction, and great blessing. You see, the Bible is full of the language of blessing. Again and again when the Scriptures tell us to do something that might otherwise seem difficult, they also show us that it will be for our greater good.

I could give you a bunch of examples: the fifth commandment tells us to obey our parents so that “it will go well with you and…you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to “give up meeting together”—in other words, keep going to church—so that we can “encourage one another.” Even the greatest sacrifice we are called to make is presented in the language of blessing: Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him because, He says, “whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:34-35)

God never asks us to do something that is not ultimately for our good.

And that includes the practice of giving.

Christian giving is not presented to us in the Bible as one more distasteful but necessary thing we must do. This isn't another brussels sprout we have to choke down. Instead, as we've seen, Paul uses words like "grace" and "privilege" to describe the opportunity to give. He talks about people who "urgently pleaded" for the chance to give. He says that they gave out of--and, apparently, with--"overflowing joy." He makes it sound as though that moment on Sunday morning when the offering plates come around and we have the chance to give our money away ought to be the highlight of our week.

The question is, why?

And the answer is, blessing. Here too, even in this matter of Christian giving, the Scriptures use the language of blessing. The Bible doesn't say we should give out of blind obedience--just because that's what you do--but because there is blessing in it for us. The giver isn't just giving, but receiving also.

The relevant verse from 2 Corinthians is the very same verse we looked at last week: 2 Corinthians 9:6:

6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

Last week we acknowledged that there are unscrupulous preachers out there that have used this verse and others like it to harm God’s people and line their own pockets. We looked at the abominable health and wealth gospel that teaches that it is always God’s will for Christians to be healthy and rich and if you are not, it is probably because of your lack of faith. We were very clear that this verse does NOT teach that if you give money away it always results in large amounts of money coming back.

And yet, as I said last week, this verse is in the Bible, and it is a good verse, and we need to pay attention to it. Paul is using the analogy of farming to talk about giving, and he is clearly saying that there is something good for us in it.

A farmer who does not sow his seed misses out on the harvest. You can keep your seed corn bags in the barn, but there won’t be anything to combine in the fall. In the same way, a Christian who refuses to give misses out on the harvest of spiritual blessings.

In fact, while it isn't clear in our English translations, the word which we read as "generously" here is actually the same Greek word for "blessing". In a sense, this verse could be read to say that the person who gives with the intent of blessing others will in turn receive blessing from God. Just as surely as our sowing seed leads to a harvest so surely does our giving lead to blessing.

So, what are those blessings? If we get serious about Christian giving, what can we expect in return? In the next 8 verses Paul touches on at least 5 blessings that come from Christian giving:

The Cheer that God Cheers
The first blessing Paul tells us about is the blessing of love from God. Those who sow generously to the Lord will reap a generous blessing of love from Him. Verse 7:

7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Here Paul is repeating some of the things we have already learned about giving in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9: Giving is personal, voluntary and an act of worship. You should have a plan (“each one should give what he has decided in his heart to give”); this isn’t a guilt trip (“not…under compulsion); but at the same time the hope is there that we will be able to give with joy (“cheerful”).

And then Paul says that “God loves a cheerful giver.” God “loves the [kind of giver] whose heart is thrilled and overjoyed at the prospect of investing in His kingdom.” (MacArthur, p. 141)

We know, of course, that God has a special love for the world (think of John 3:16) and even more special love for His own (think of what Jesus says about His "sheep" John 10:27-30), but even among Christians there are some He has singled out for a special approval--cheerful givers.

God has a soft spot in His heart for people who give "what [they have] decided in [their] heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion." God is pleased when His people enjoy investing in His Kingdom.

John Piper, in his book Desiring God, writes:
I take this to mean that God is not pleased when people act benevolently but don't do it gladly. When people don't find pleasure (Paul's word is "cheer"!) in their acts of service, God doesn't find pleasure in them. He loves cheerful givers, cheerful servants. What sort of cheer? Surely the safest way to answer that question is to remember what sort of cheer moved the Macedonians to be generous. It was the overflow of joy in the grace of God. Therefore, the giver God loves is the one whose joy in him overflows "cheerfully" in generosity to others. (Piper, Desiring God, p. 104)

You Will Be Made Rich
The second blessing Paul speaks about is the blessing of God's provision. Those who sow generously to the Lord will reap a generous blessing of provision from Him.

In verse 8 Paul writes:

8God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

In other words, when we give generously God is strong enough and gracious enough and generous enough to provide us with all that we need. Even as we give our stuff away, God is able to ensure that we will always have enough stuff for ourselves. It's the lesson Jesus told us to learn from the birds of the air and the lilies of the field--if God is able to provide them with a carefree existence, shouldn't we also conclude that He is capable of providing for our needs? (Matt. 6:25-30)

While we don't want to major on the material blessings God gives to generous givers we can't rule them out. When we do give cheerfully and generously God's Word does indeed promise that we will have what we need. Here’s one of the reasons the prosperity gospel finds so much traction. The Bible does talk about God blessing generous givers in material ways. Verses 9-11:

9 As it is written:
“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
10 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. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

“You will be made rich in every way.” Imagine what a prosperity preacher could make of that verse. But please pay attention to the context. This isn’t a promise that God will make you fabulously wealthy so that you can spend all your money on yourself. This is God saying that when you do a good job of being generous He likes to give you more money so you can be even more generous.

That’s the point of the Old Testament quote in verse 9: God scatters his gifts to the poor through the generosity of people like you and me.

Andy Stanley writes:

If a restaurant gives good service, it results in repeat business. The same applies to good stewards. God wants to give to you so that you can give to His work. And if you sow generously, then God is able to give you more and more.

Furthermore, God takes special care of faithful stewards. As long as you are in a giving partnership with Him, He makes sure you get everything you need, exactly when you need it. That’s His offer. It doesn’t mean you then indulge yourself in lavish shopping sprees. That wouldn’t be good stewardship. But it does mean He’ll faithfully provide for your needs.

True wealth is having everything you need when you need it. And God is able to give you all things, at all times—all that you need. (Fields of Gold, p. 56)

If you are using it properly, God has no problem with giving you more money. As one writer summarizes: "If men are willing to give, God will always make it possible for them to give" (Barrett, p. 237).

Ever-Increasing Glory
So, God blesses generous givers with love and with provision.

The next blessing God has for the generous giver which Paul speaks of is the blessing of righteousness. Those who sow generously will reap a generous harvest of righteousness. Let’s go back and look more closely at verse 10:

10 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

Notice the repeat of the language about sowing and harvest. That’s a reminder that verse 10 is connected to verse 6. It’s still the same metaphor. And the specific harvest that Paul talks about is “righteousness.”

We have an interpretive difficulty though. The word "righteousness" in the New Testament has a rather specific use in which it refers to salvation. For example, in Romans 5 Paul talks about "the provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness" which leads to eternal life (v. 17). "Righteousness" and "justification" are virtually synonymous in the sense that those who have the "gift of righteousness" are going to heaven.

Is Paul saying, then, here in 2 Corinthians 9:10 that if we give generously enough we can buy our way into heaven? Certainly not. God cannot be bribed into giving free passes. There is nothing quite as sad as the rich man who, upon dying, divides his estate between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church and the Jewish Temple and the Islamic Mosque and New Age Society just to "cover all his bases." God doesn't hand out mansions in heaven to those who give generously the way Presidents hand out nights in the Lincoln Bedroom to strong campaign supporters.

The kind of righteousness which leads to salvation, the Bible says very clearly, is a "righteousness from God...a righteousness that is by faith from first to last" (Rom. 1:17). It cannot be purchased or earned by us, it is grace acquired for us by Jesus Christ on the cross (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; Eph. 2:8-9).

What then does Paul mean by the "harvest of your righteousness"?

There is another sense in which the Bible uses the word "righteousness" to refer to the change of life which follows a Christian's conversion. The Bible talks about "righteousness" in the sense of "right living" or "good conduct" (i.e. 1 John 3:7). In this sense we are talking about the ultimate Christian goal of "becoming like Christ," who was perfect in righteousness.

Understood this way, then, Paul is saying that our generous giving leads to a harvest of increased Christ-likeness. That is to say, as we learn to give the way Christ so generously gave (8:9), God blesses us by making us ever-more like Christ.

And this is exactly what every Christian should want. What greater blessing can there be for one who loves Jesus than to be like him in righteousness?

This is the Biblical Exchange Rate. This is the spiritual fruit we reap as we sow our gifts for the work of God's Kingdom. We plant our money in the offering plate and God increases our harvest of righteousness. He pushes us ever-closer to that ever-increasing glory of being like Christ.

...From Whom All Blessings Flow
The fourth blessing which Paul says will result from our giving is a blessing which doesn't come directly to us; and yet it is a blessing which every believer should long for. It is the blessing of praise directed toward God. When we sow generously to the Lord there is a generous harvest of glory directed to God.

Verses 11-13:
11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 12This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men 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.

When Paul, Titus, and the others arrive in Jerusalem with the offering collected in Macedonia and Corinth and elsewhere, the result is going to be that the Christians there will respond by giving praise to God. Paul says it in three different ways: "Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (v. 11); "This service...is overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God" (v. 12); and "men will praise God" (v. 13). Says one author: "Any time one group of believers shows real generosity to another group of believers, the recipients will thank God for prompting the hearts of the givers" (MacArthur, p. 145).

Implied here is a recognition of where the gifts really come from in the first place. The poor Christians in Jerusalem are not, first of all, going to praise the Corinthians, but they are going to praise God. It really is God's money, and we're just taking care of it for a while. This idea runs throughout the passage. After all, it is God who "is able to make all grace abound to you" so that you will have all that you need. It is God who enlarges your harvest. And so it makes sense that as we give the recipients of our giving should be moved to praise God. He is the ultimate source of every good gift. (James 1:17)

The question, then, is whether or not praise directed toward God is something we really want to happen.

And the answer should be: Of course! Praise to God is what we are made for. It is our purpose as a church and as individuals. The chief end for which each and every one of us has been created is to glorify God. And so, nothing should fire us up quite as much as seeing more and more people offering more and more praise to God. If our giving generously will lead to that happening, then we should be prompted to give more and more.

The Circle of Friends
And so, the harvest of blessing we reap as we sow generously to the Lord includes: love from God, provision from God, righteousness from God, and praise to God.

But, just because the first impulse of those who receive our gifts will be to thank God, that doesn't mean there will not also be thanks directed toward us. This is the fifth and final blessing Paul talks about--the blessing of friends in God. When we sow generously to the Lord there is a generous harvest of friends in the Lord.

Verse 14:

14And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.

While the poor believers in Jerusalem might not be able to pay the Corinthians back financially, one thing they can afford to do is pray for them. When we give generously to those in need, one of the inevitable results is that their hearts will "go out to" us in Christian friendship. And who can't use more friends? Especially friends who will pray for us?

Love from God, provision from God, righteousness from God, praise to God, and friends in the Lord. This is the harvest of blessing to be reaped by those who sow generously in the Lord.

Daily Bread
John MacArthur tells the story of orphan camps that were built all over Europe at the end of World War II. The victorious Allies worked hard to make sure the millions of orphans from all over the continent would receive the best care and the healthiest food and drink.

But administrators at one camp became very disturbed when they realized that, after just a few weeks, most of the children were not sleeping. Despite having three meals a day, clean clothing, good hygiene, and warm beds in which to sleep--the children were staying awake all night. The perplexed officials interviewed the boys and girls as part of a study to discover the source of the problem. Before long, they had a solution.

Each night, as the children prepared for bed, the dormitory attendants would place in each youngster's hands a small loaf of bread. Before falling asleep each night, the last thing the children would experience was the feel of bread in their hands. In a matter of days the children were sleeping through the night, assured by the bread that there would be food tomorrow.

They had become anxious, because their experience had told them that even though they had food one day, it didn't necessarily mean there would be food the next. By taking a loaf of bread to bed with them, that fear was dispelled. (p. 81-82)

Sometimes we fail to give generously because we feel like those war orphans. We aren't sure what tomorrow will bring and so we cling to the things we already have.

Paul concludes this section of scripture on Christian giving with a jubilant expression of praise. Verse 15:

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Clearly he is talking about Jesus Christ.

We've come full circle now, right back to the incredible grace of Jesus who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

We're reminded of what Paul says about this great gift elsewhere, when he says to his audience in Rome that if God "did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32)

In other words, Jesus Christ is the nightly loaf of bread in our hands. With this indescribable gift of God we know that God will most certainly provide us with all that we need. Because of this indescribable gift, we know that we can be generous givers because God will always give generously to us.