What I want us to look at this morning is the way Paul motivates giving in 2 Corinthians 9:6–14. My aim here is mainly to help us to think and feel about our giving the way God wants us to, so that every gift to S*P*A*N the Nineties is as spiritual and God-centered as this passage is.
Two Kinds of Giving
Notice first that in verses 5, 6, and 7 two kinds of giving are contrasted.
- Verse 5: "So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren to go on to you before me, and arrange in advance for this gift you have promised, so that it may be ready not as an exaction but as a willing gift." (Literally: "not as covetousness but as blessing.")
- Verse 6: "The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." (Don't give sparingly; give bountifully, generously.)
- Verse 7: "Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (Don't give begrudgingly; give freely and cheerfully.)
Three descriptions of how not to give, and three descriptions of how to give:
- Verse 5, NOT as an exaction or covetously; verse 6, NOT sparingly; verse 7, NOT reluctantly or begrudgingly.
- BUT, verse 5, as a willing gift; verse 6, bountifully; verse 7, cheerfully.
How Not to Give
Let's think for a moment about bad giving. In each of these three descriptions the essence of what's wrong is the desire to hold back. There is giving! But it's coming from a heart that wants to hold back.
Take the word "sparingly," for example, in verse 6. If I say, "Spare my life!" I mean, let me keep it; don't take it from me. If I say, "Spare no effort!" I mean, hold back no effort. Give all the effort you can! When Paul said, "God did not spare his only Son," he meant, God did not hold him back. He didn't keep just for himself. He shared him.
So to give sparingly is to give from a heart that deep inside wants to hold back. There are enough external constraints and pressures to make us give something. But the real feeling of our heart is not to think of how much we can give, but how much we can keep.
That's how not to give.
How to Give
Take the positive side now. In verse 6 the word is "bountifully." In the Greek it's the same word as the one used in verse 5. Literally, it means give on the basis of blessing. Our giving should rest upon the great truth that God is a bountifully blessing God, and then our gift in turn should be a bountiful blessing to others. Verse 7 says, it should be "cheerful."
So giving bountifully means giving from a heart that wants to share things. Something has happened in the heart so that the basic desire is now to give and share as much as possible instead of keep as much as possible. It's as though there was a magnet in the soul that used to be turned so that it pulled possessions into itself; and now something has happened to turn it around to the other pole so that it pushes things out toward others.
Which of these hearts do you have this morning? What was it like this week as you struggled to decide about your commitment to S*P*A*N the Nineties?
The Difference Between Two Kinds of Hearts
The leads us to ask, what makes the difference between these two kinds of hearts—the sparing heart, and the bountiful heart? I would answer like this, and then we will see it from the text as we read on.
The Heart That Sees God as Taker
The sparing heart has a relationship to God that feels him as a Taker rather than a Giver. If my life is being drained away by God because he is so incessantly and solely demanding, then I feel like grasping after the things of the world to meet my need. If every time I look up I see the pointing finger of God demanding, "Give me! Give me! Give me!" how can I look back down at the needs of the world and say "Take me: I will gladly spend and be spent for your good"?
O this person will give something! Because one of the draining demands that he hears when he looks to this ever-demanding, ever-taking God is: "Give something to the church!" So out comes the gift—the draining, life depleting, exhausting, sparing gift.
The Heart That Sees God as Giver
But what a difference between this gift and the gift that flows from the heart that has a relationship with God that feels him as a Giver rather than a Taker!
Beneath the bountiful giving of verse 6 and the cheerful giving of verse 7 is a heart that looks up to God and sees a Giver, a Supplier, a Helper. When this person looks to God, he feels replenished not drained. Just like the literal translation of verse 6 implies, his giving is based on blessing—God's blessing.
Even when this person hears a command coming from God, he hears it as a hopeful gift not a depleting demand. Like when a three-year-old starts toddling toward the street and his mother shouts from the kitchen window, "Barnabas! Stop!" The bountiful, cheerful givers have grown up enough in their relationship with God to know that his shouts are all love.
What Makes the Difference
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? If life is being sucked out by a demanding God, then I must suck in whatever pleasure I can from this world—O, moral pleasures to be sure, nothing terrible. God IS a demander. But our basic disposition is still one of taking, keeping, sparing—because God is always taking, always demanding. He is the great Taker.
But for the other person described in this text the flow goes all in the other direction. God is the great Giver, Fountain, Father, flowing in with ever-replenishing blessing and grace and hope. And so what this person feels when he looks at the needs of the world is a free, internal impulse to give, to share. This impulse is called love or grace. Love is simply vertical grace bent outward to other people.
The Biggest Issue in Our Lives
And so THE big issue for our lives this morning is how we see God. What do we feel him to be when we look up into his face? Paul knows this is the issue. And so the burden of the rest of this text is to help us see God and feel God as a Giver and not a Taker. He is a Giver on both sides of our giving—on the back side, enabling our giving with his blessing, and the front side, rewarding our giving with even more blessing.
God as Giver on Both Sides of Our Giving
Let's see this from the Word of God itself. And let it fill you with hope that the commitment you have made is not only going to be possible, but is going to be one of the most spiritually rewarding acts of these years.
God as Giver Before Our Giving
Verse 8 talks about God's giving on the backside of our giving, that is, the giving he gives first that enables us to give: "And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance [or: make every grace abound to you], so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work." So here he says very clearly that God wants to be known as a bountiful God. He is able—he omnipotently able to give us whatever we need in order to be generous. He IS a giver in this affair, not a Taker.
Free and Generous Giving
Verse 9 picks up an image that Paul used in verse 6, namely, the image of sowing seed. In verse 6 he said that if you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully. Now in verse 9 he gives an illustration taken from Psalm 112:9 of a person who sows seed bountifully. "As it is written, 'He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.'"
So the sowing of seed in verse 6 and the scattering of seed in verse 9 is the free and generous giving of help to meet the needs of people. And this generosity is called righteousness in verse 9.
Now in verse 10 he takes that Old Testament quote from verse 9 and brings out its relation to God. He is the one who gives the seed for scattering and he is the one who will bring a harvest from this righteousness. "He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources [lit.: 'your seed' or 'your sowing']"—so there God is the Giver on the back side of our giving again: he gives the seed so we can scatter it abroad as verse 9 says.
God as Giver After Our Giving
Then verse 10 goes on and says, " . . . and he will increase [or: cause to grow] the harvest of your righteousness." Now what does that mean? Well, "righteousness" in verse 9 is the generous scattering of seed to those in need. The harvest of righteousness is probably what grows up as a result of this scattering. In other words, "God will increase the harvest of your righteousness" means the same as "He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." Bountiful sowing is righteousness. Bountiful reaping is the increased harvest of this righteousness.
So the point of verse 10 is that God is the Giver, not Taker, on both sides of our giving: he gives seed before we give so that we can sow it generously; and he gives harvest after we give so that we are rewarded for our generosity.
The great truth of this text is that God wants to be known and trusted and loved as the Giver not the Taker in this whole affair of giving. Otherwise all our giving is draining, burdensome, oppressive, legalistic, and sparing. And who needs it!
Four Aspects of the Harvest of Righteousness
But Paul is not done. What is the harvest of our righteousness? What does the harvest of our sowing look like when it begins to come in? I see at least four aspects of this bountiful harvest that come in when we sow bountifully.
1. Even Greater Ability to Be Generous
The first two are mentioned in verse 11: "You will be enriched in every way for great generosity." That's the first aspect of the harvest: namely, an even greater ability to be generous. The more you give, the more you will be able to give. And if it is more blessed to give than to receive, you can see what a harvest of joy this will mean.
2. More Thanks to God
Verse 11 goes on, " . . . great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God." The second aspect of the harvest that comes from generous sowing is that God gets more thanks. Verse 13 says the same thing. The different versions handle the difficult Greek differently but the one thing they all agree on is that God gets glory or praise because of our generosity, our obedience to the gospel. RSV: "Under the test of this service, you [or: they] will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others."
God gets glory when his people give generously? Why? Doesn't the Giver get the glory? Exactly! The Giver gets the glory! And the people who sow most bountifully display most vividly that their God is an inexhaustible Giver.
3. The Joy of Seeing God Meet His People's Needs
The third aspect of the harvest that comes from our sowing is mentioned in verse 12: "The rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God." The third aspect of our harvest is the joy of seeing the needs of God's people met.
When you sow to S*P*A*N the Nineties, will you be sowing to meet the needs of the saints and the needs of the world? How you answer that question will determine the kind of harvest you expect from your sowing and how you will pray in the months to come.
4. Affection and Love Among God's People
The final aspect of the harvest that comes in when we sow bountifully is the affection and love of God's people. It's mentioned in verse 14. The people who benefit from your sowing "long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God in you."
Everybody wants to be loved by other people. Everybody wants to be needed by other people. Everybody wants to be desired and longed for by other people. I want to be loved and needed and longed for and prayed for. And like verse 14 says, I want that to be "because of the surpassing grace of God in me." Why? Because the grace-Giver gets the glory.
To the Giver Be All the Glory
And when I am loved and needed and longed for, I want God to get the glory. And to me the best news in all the world—the bottom line of all I preach, the reason I wrote Desiring God, my hope for S*P*A*N the Nineties, the rock under the shifting sands of my emotions, the meaning of my parenthood, the bond of my marriage, the theme of my life, the heartbeat of my ministry—is this: that God wants to be the Giver in my life and your life so that he will get the glory.
May that be the meaning of every commitment card that comes in for S*P*A*N the Nineties. Amen.