Generous!

Passage : 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

I think if you looked for a word to describe Western culture, or more specifically, London-dwellers, you wouldn’t necessarily use the word ‘generous’. 

We’re so immersed in a context where SELF is King or Queen. 
Where you chase your dreams, and don’t let anyone get in the way of that. 
Where you build your kingdom. 
Where you spend your money in the way that you want to for your benefit. 
Marketing and media is SO geared around making much of ME that my instincts to look out to others and be generous are…dulled, if not killed off altogether. 
It’s just the water we swim in. 
We’re all affected by it. 

As such, and I find this acutely, it can feel hard to be generous

Well, what we’re going to consider this evening is a wonderful antidote to that cultural venom. 
Tonight we’re carrying on in this letter to the Corinthian church, and we’re going to see Paul bring this theme of generous giving which we’ve heard about over the last few weeks to a glorious conclusion. 

***

It would seem that talks on giving are like buses. You wait ages for one, and then three come at once. And so if you feel a bit like we’ve had ‘giving overload’ – that’s ok. Remember: we’re letting God’s word set the agenda!

It would seem that talks on giving are like buses. You wait ages for one, and then three come at once. And so if you feel a bit like we’ve had ‘giving overload’ – that’s ok. Remember: we’re letting God’s word set the agenda!

Just a reminder of where we’re at so far in the letter. 

Over the last few chapters, Paul has been encouraging the Corinthians’ to make good on their pledge to financially support the church in Jerusalem. 
He’s held up the Macedonian church as a model example – a church who really didn’t have a lot, but still gave generously out of their poverty – and he’s pointed to Jesus, the one who became poor that we might become rich – all to encourage the Corinthian church to give generously for the work of gospel ministry in Jerusalem!

And we landed last week in 9:1-5 with Paul essentially saying: put your money where your mouth is. 
You said you were going to give…now bring it to completion. 
Paul wants to ensure ready, willing, generous giving from this church. 

And so three simple things to see this evening as Paul wraps up this bit of the letter. 

Let’s get into it. Firstly: 

GIVE GENEROUSLY AND CHEERFULLY! (6-7)

Paul starts in v6 with “Remember this”. 

In other words – what he’s about to say is important. Paul’s trying to grab their attention. If they’ve switched off after this lengthy section in his letter on giving, this is Paul clapping his hands: REMEMBER THIS!

Remember what?

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”

If you’ve read much of the Bible, you’ll know that there are a lot of farming metaphors. 
It’s because back then, everyone was familiar with that lifestyle. 
It doesn’t have quite the same impact with us today though, because the only time most of us ever set foot in a field is when we’re at a festival like REVIVE. 

But this image isn’t too complicated, even if you haven’t got a clue about farming – it’s simple: what you sow, you reap. 

Imagine a farmer sowing seed for wheat. 
If he went along the furrow planting a seed, taking a few steps, planting another seed – not only would it take him forever, but he wouldn’t get much of a crop at the end of it. 

No – much better is to be like those giant tractor contraptions you see in fields – often around about now – and it’s just chucking seed everywhere, like out of a water-cannon, seed just sprayed all over the field, covering every inch. 
Sow like that, and come August, your field is looking like this – it’s a bumper harvest. 

See Paul’s point?

If you give sparingly – if you give from a heart that deep inside wants to hold back – then you will reap sparingly. 

But if you give generously – if you are someone who just gives and gives generously and freely – then you will reap generously. 

It’s open handed, generous giving. 

Now: key question – what exactly are we reaping? This sounds like we give generously in order to get something back?

But it’s not about a personal material harvest. It’s not that we are generous in order to win material things back for ourselves. 
Paul’s talking in terms of spiritual realities; we’re going to see that lots this evening. 
The spiritual blessing from generous giving is enormous!
Both personally, as we grow to become more like the Lord Jesus, the one to whom we’re being conformed. 
And for others, as we’ll see later on in the text – the spiritual ripple effects of our generous giving are huge!

And so, Paul says, give generously, and reap a generous harvest.

Not only that, v7, give cheerfully

v7: Each of you should give…”

Pause there – there’s an emphasis on the word “each” here – in other words, everyone is to get involved! This is not just a ministry for the well-off!

We are all called to generous giving. So if you’re on minimum wage, or working multiple jobs to cover the rent, or on Jobseekers Allowance and looking for work – that doesn’t mean that you can’t get involved in this call to generous giving. 
It’s a blessing that we can all join in on. 
It’s not about how much. Note that Paul never talks about quantity of giving. It’s the attitude. You can be a generous hedge-fund manager, and you can be a generous teaching assistant. 
Each of us, regardless of our circumstances, can be involved in generous, cheerful giving. 

Moving on… 

“Each of you should give…what you have decided in your heart to give”

Again, just pause there – this is clearly a heart-issue – this is something we work out privately, not in small group discussion. 
We don’t take a vote on how much we should all give. It’s a matter of personal conviction.

And so let me ask you – are you praying about your giving? 
Off the back of the last few weeks of teaching on this, are you praying for a spirit of generosity, and for wisdom in how we can be generous in what we’ve been blessed with? 
Even if you’ve already got things like a regular standing order set up, which is a great thing to do – it’s still a good discipline for us, if we’re followers of Jesus, to regularly make time to pause and prayerfully consider our giving. 

And Paul goes on – what should be our motive as we give generously?

First, Paul lists two unacceptable motives:

“Not reluctantly”

The word ‘reluctantly’ was used in ancient literature to mean the opposite of happiness and joy. And so if you’re giving through gritted teeth, it’d actually be better not to give.  

“…or under compulsion”

So you should never hear anyone up the front say you MUST give x, y or z. 

You’ll have noticed that throughout these last few weeks, neither Richard or Santhosh or I have handed out giving forms at the end and said: “given everything we’ve heard, we’d like you to write down your financial pledge for the coming year”
No – we’re not to be strong-armed into giving – let that never be a motive to generosity. 

But, Paul continues: 

“For [so, here’s the positive motive for giving]God loves a cheerful giver”

Give cheerfully

The word ‘cheerful’ takes pride of place in the sentence. Give cheerfully! There is genuine joy in being a generous person.

Which means there is no such thing as a Christian scrooge. Or there shouldn’t be. The two terms should be mutually exclusive!

Which is radically counter-cultural, isn’t it? When you think about where we began, and how our culture encourages us to think – how it’s all about us, accumulating things for ourselves
But being a Christian is the opposite of that!

It’s a bit like this. Imagine a magnet.

I’m no scientist, but I know that magnets have one end that pull stuff towards them, and one end that pushes stuff away from them. That’s about the extent of my understanding of the science behind it.

Becoming a Christian is a bit like being a magnet which is flipped round the other way. Where we used to be turned so that we pulled possessions and material things into ourselves, now we are flipped the other way so that we generously and cheerfully push things out toward others. 

So – don’t give sparingly and begrudgingly – let’s be a church family who give generously, freely and cheerfully, and reap a generous spiritual harvest!

Now – the unanswered question I guess is this: what frees us up to be able to give so generously and cheerfully, and not be tight-fisted and begrudging?

Second point:

GOD GENEROUSLY GIVES US ALL THAT WE NEED TO BE GENEROUS! (8-11)

This section is incredible. It’s enormously theocentric: by that I mean – it’s all about God. 
Because if we have right thoughts about God, it will give us right thoughts about generous giving.

Let’s get into it. 

v8: ‘And God is able to bless you abundantly’

So this whole passage is grounded in God’s ability. 

And trust me, or better yet, trust God – He is able. 
Never forget that. 
God is able to bless you abundantly; to give you all that you need. 
He is the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. 
All creation belongs to him. 
Every star, planet, diamond, gold nugget, oil well – it’s all His. 
And He is omnipotently able to give us whatever we need in order to be generous – whether it’s a heart attitude we lack, or material resources. 

Never forget that He is able
With the purpose being what?

So that in ALL things at ALL times, having ALL that you need…’

I love how catch-all this is! There is NO LACK!!!

Everything you do. All the time. Having everything you need.

As one commentator writes: 
‘God’s resources are not subject to the ebbs and flows of life. Whatever comes, God has the ability to provide abundantly’ (Guthrie)

And so provision is always available.
And the provision is always entirely adequate.

It’s God’s person dependent on God’s resources for God’s ministry to others. 

It’s all from and about Him

And can you see the ‘SO THAT’ in the sentence? That’s key. 

‘so that…you will abound in EVERY good work’

The purpose of abundant blessing from God, in whatever form that takes, is so that we can ‘abound in every good work’, which in this instance in the context of the passage, is generous giving. 

God will give us all that we need to do every good work. 
We won’t lack the resources required for godly living. 
For generous giving! 
We’re given sufficient by God not for self-centred consumerism but rather to give elaborately to others.
Even in poverty, that’s shown to be true isn’t it – the Macedonians are the example!

God generously gives us all that we need in order to be generous. 

And then Paul does something which he’s already done a bit of in this letter, and appeals to the Old Testament

v9: “As it is written…”
He’s about to refer to Psalm 112 – a song which, if you look at it, is all about generous giving from those who fear the Lord. 

And Paul refers to it because he wants the Corinthians to see that just as God exhorted the Israelites to be generous givers, so also the new covenant community of Corinth is to be the same. 

The verse says this:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor…”

This is completely willing generosity to those in need. It’s what we considered earlier – cheerful, free, liberal, generous sowing. 

“…their righteousness endures forever.”

What does Paul mean by this?
I think he’s saying this: at a fundamental level, God’s people are able to give so freely and generously because they know that the imputed righteousness that is theirs through faith in Christ is never going anywhere – it endures forever – and so with that security, they are freed up to freely give! 

Think about it: if, through faith in Christ, I am clothed with his righteousness. 
I am declared right before a holy God, and that is a permanent status which endures forever and guarantees my access into paradise and fellowship with God for all eternity. 
If that’s the case, then it liberates me to freely be generous with everything I have, because I know that through faith in Christ, I have everything I could ever want and more besides. 

See the point? God has generously given us all that we need, seen most clearly through the lavish grace that he has poured out on us through faith in Christ, such that now I am free to be cheerfully generous, because I don’t need to cling to these earthly things anymore, because I have everything in Christ! Our righteousness endures forever!

Paul goes on, v10:

“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food”

Paul’s picking up on the image he painted back in v6 about the farmer sowing seed, and he’s stepping back and asking: where does the supply of seed come from? Who stands behind the sowing and harvesting?

And the answer, of course, is God. He is the one who provides. God provides for his people, and his provision is enough for everyone. 

And just as God gives seed to the farmer and bread for food for those who need it, so he…

“…will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness”

God will give us the resources we need so that we can give generously, and this is for our spiritual good! 
See Paul’s point in all this? 
God is the ultimate source of giving – because no one would have anything to give apart from him.

Now – we should just pause on this phrase: will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness’. 

You might have seen this week in the news about President Trump’s ‘spiritual advisor’, a lady called Paula White. She leads a huge mega-church in the States. 
But the message she preaches is dangerous, with a capital P.
And I say this not because this is a passage about false teachers, but because you will hear false teachers like Paula White or Joel Osteen or Kenneth Copeland using verses like this to suggest that if you give financially, then you will experience financial and material blessing in return. 
So – Paula White at the turn of the year talked lots about 2020 being a year of ‘first fruit offerings’. And if you go on her website, which I’d discourage you from doing, she smiles with her shiny teeth and talks lots about giving your first fruits, using lots of the language here from 2 Corinthians about ‘sowing’, by donating on her website to her ministry, and then reaping financial blessing as a result. 

There are ‘stories’ all over the website, of people like “Levina” in London, who says: “After sowing a first fruit offering for the first time, I was blessed with financial support by someone as an unexpected present to pay my new apartment security deposit!” 

Or Miranda in South Africa, who writes: “I gave a first fruit offering for the first time ever. My husband got a promotion. My brother received university scholarship. And on the same week, a lady from church asked for my resume!”

Now – I don’t want to say that God can’t provide for us in material ways – of course he can, he is absolutely able! 
But he doesn’t promise to. 
And the promise here in 2 Corinthians is not a harvest of personal prosperity or financial security, but a harvest of righteousness. The ‘benefits’, so to speak, are spiritual. So if ever you hear someone say or teach that you should give money in order to experience blessing from God by way of personal material prosperity, run a million miles from it. That’s clearly not what Paul is teaching this church.

And another part of the problem with this prosperity teaching is that the focus always lands on YOU

Give money to this so that YOU will prosper. 
Support this ministry so that YOU get benefit. 
It’s just individualistic Western culture with a thin veneer of spirituality. 

But it’s the polar opposite of the picture painted here in 2 Corinthians.

Look at the order of things in v11…

“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 to God”

Can you see the two purpose clauses here?

It’s similar to v8 – we’re given all that we need by God with the purpose of being generous all the time! 
So the goal of whatever provision God gives us is outward generosity, not personal prosperity – it’s that magnet idea that we thought about earlier. 

And the ultimate goal of all this isn’t just lots of generous people. 

There’s a bigger purpose. 

See it?

“Through us your generosity will RESULT IN thanksgiving to God”

This is the goal of it all. It’s all for the praise and thanksgiving of God. 
The focus isn’t on us. 
It’s on him. 

So, lastly:

GENEROUS GIVING OVERFLOWS IN PRAISE TO GOD! (12-14)

V12: “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people”

So, assuming the Corinthians come good on their pledge to give generously, it won’t just have the impact of blessing the church in Jerusalem who need it, because, carrying on…

“…but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God”

So: there is a bigger thing going on when you give generously – it overflows in praise to God!

God gets the glory when his people give generously!

Why? Surely the giver gets the glory?

If I stop off at the garage on the way home and buy the best bunch of petrol station flowers that money can buy and give them to my wife when I walk in the door – I get the praise and thanks, right? So surely if we’re generous, we get the praise? 

But that’s to miss the whole of the second point. 

The Giver does get the glory! Because as we’ve established already, God is the one who generously gives us all that we need so that we can give generously! So when we’re generous, all thanks and praise goes to him!

Paul goes on in v13…

“Because of the service by which you have proved yourself, 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.”

So more praise and thanks to God. 
But let’s just pause to spot that generous giving is about being obedient and accompanies a confession of the gospel.

It’s what should naturally follow from a confession of the gospel – it’s a sign that we believe this to be true; 
that in Christ we have everything, 
that God has generously showered his grace upon us, 
that we are set free to serve others, 
that we have the secure hope of eternal life in paradise which means we can hold loosely to the things of this earth; 
that Jesus is not only my Saviour but also my Lord, of everything, including what I do with my money – that and a thousand other things beside – when we believe those things to be true and confess them, the overflow of that should be generous giving.

As someone writes: ‘Generous giving is the province of a regenerate heart’

And so if you are confessing Jesus Christ as Lord but that isn’t being backed up by generous gospel giving, then something’s not stacking up. Giving is a sign of obedience to God’s gospel. 

And then look at v14: “And in their prayers for you, their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you”

So as a result of their generous giving – because of the grace that God has given them to enable them to be generous – others are then praying for them with tender affection.

Can you see the massive impact that their one act of generous giving is having?! 

People all over the place are impacted by it – this is the harvest of righteousness that is being reaped!

Can you see how this collection of money for the church in Jerusalem does a whole lot more than just meet material needs of a few people?

It’s like throwing a stone in a lake – there’s the initial splash, and then the ripples work there way out, out, out. 
Same here. 
There’s the initial generous giving which then prompts people to turn to God in thanksgiving, and that has a ripple effect, drawing attention to the work of God in the world. The spiritual ripple effects of one act of generous giving are enormous!

And so don’t underestimate the global impact of generous giving. 
We might not feel like we’re able to contribute much. 
It might feel like a tiny pebble being thrown in a giant ocean. 
But don’t underestimate the cosmic significance that generous giving can have. 

As we thought about a few weeks back – 5% of our budget goes toward church planting in London through Co-Mission. 
So the money which you generously give is being used to plant and strengthen churches all over our city. There are Eritreans on a council estate in Vauxhall who are hearing the gospel and trusting in Jesus because of generous gospel giving from other Co-Mission churches like Dundonald – and that is resounding in praise to God. 
And 11% of our budget goes toward overseas mission. So the money which you generously give is being used to support mission partners from The Gambia to Belarus to South Africa to Mozambique. Local churches are being strengthened in those countries, and people are becoming Christians as they hear the gospel and have the Bible translated into their own language, because of the generous and cheerful giving from church families like this one – and this is all resulting in an overflow of expressions of thanks to God around our city and around the world! 

We’re nearly at the end of this section. But Paul can’t quite finish yet. 

He has to end with this – his great crescendo – v15:

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift”

This is the first time that this word ‘indescribable’ appears anywhere in the Greek language!

As one commentator writes: ‘Paul could find no word to describe the ineffable character of God’s gift, so he made one up – a word that says, in effect, that the gift can’t be described!’

That’s where this whole section has to land. In praise to God for HIS radical, generous gift to us. Because his gift is indescribable! 
It is something too wonderful for words. 

And if you’ve sat through this over the last few weeks and you’re not a Christian, you’re just exploring, perhaps you’re wondering why we’ve been going on about generous giving so much. 

Here’s why Christians will want to give generously. 
Because we worship a God who has given generously for us. 

I don’t know what your view of God is. 
Tight-fisted? 
Stingy? 
Harsh task-master who only gives to those who really deserve it?

No no. 
The God of the Bible is immeasurably generous. 
And it’s seen most clearly through the ‘indescribable gift’ of His Son, the Lord Jesus – the one who came to suffer and die in our place, that we might have our guilt and shame washed away, and be restored back to relationship with him. 

If you don’t know this generous God yet – then why not find out more about him. 
Read A Better Life with a Christian friend, come chat to me afterwards. 

And so this giving appeal ends. It’s been three-sermons worth! And the question we might have in our minds is this: was Paul successful in his appeal to this church?

Just flick to Romans 15. 

This was a letter Paul wrote towards the end of his ministry to the church in Rome, and at the end of the letter, he writes this.

(By the way, Achaia was a province of the Roman Empire.  It’s capital? Corinth).

READ Romans 15:23-27

Don’t you just love that?!

The church in Corinth heard the appeal from Paul, and got involved in generous, cheerful giving, knowing that God had generously supplied all that they needed, and it resounded in praise and thanksgiving to God – even as far as the church in Rome!

As we land. Imagine being part of a church family like this. 

One where we generously and cheerfully give for the work of gospel ministry, 
out of the generous supply that God has given us, 
and which resounds to the praise of His glorious grace. 

Wonderfully, God is already at work amongst us like that in many ways.  Let’s pray that it might continue, for His glory. 

More about the author :

Tom Heasman

Tom Heasman

Tom is one of our pastors, with particular responsibility for overseeing our evangelism strategy and ministries. He thinks it's the best job in the world: telling people the good news about Jesus, and helping to equip others for that task. He’s married to Josie, and they have two young daughters, who are trying to convert him from watching sport to watching ballet…with little success.

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