The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever." He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God.
Richard Halverson, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate, pointed out something that bothers a lot of people and excites a few. He said,
Jesus Christ said more about money than about any other single thing because, when it comes to a man's real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man's true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man's character and how he handles his money.
That is a good paraphrase of Matthew 6:21 where Jesus says, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." In other words, what your money goes after is a signal of what your heart goes after. And Jesus cares more than anything about what your heart is going after.
What our hands do with our money shows what our hearts are doing with God. Or to get right at the heart of the matter: what we do with our money shows what we believe God is doing with us. What money is to us shows what God is to us. Jesus said, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). No, it consists in his relationship to God. "This is eternal life—true life —" Jesus said to his Father in heaven, "that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). What we do with our money shows where we believe life—and joy and love and hope and security and meaning and freedom—is found.
Supporting Three Things by Giving
Alongside everything else that the apostle Paul did in his amazing ministry of spreading the gospel, he also taught the churches to give money regularly—and to support at least three things by their giving.
1. Taking Care of the Poor
One was to help take care of the poor. For example, when Paul shook Peter's hand to agree that he would go to the Gentiles and Peter would go to the Jews, Peter reminded Paul (in Galatians 1:10) that in all his ministry he remember the poor. And Paul said he was eager to do that very thing. So for example in Romans 15:25–26 he wrote, "At present I am going to Jerusalem with aid for the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contributions for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem." And today's text in 2 Corinthians 8–9 is an example of how he tried to motivate the churches to give to support the poor Christians.
2. Supporting Missionaries
Second, Paul taught that the churches were to give to support missionaries who go from place to place and plant churches. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9 he says to the church, "Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? . . . The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel" (vv. 7, 14).
3. Supporting Ministries of the Local Church
Third, Paul taught that the churches were to give to support the ministries of the local church. For example, In 1 Timothy 5:18 he said, "The scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his wages.'" And he was referring to the elders of the church who make the ministry of the Word their vocation.
So Paul taught the churches to give to sustain the poor, to send missionaries, and to support the vocational ministers of the Word.
And he taught them to give regularly—in a systematic way week by week. Look at 1 Corinthians 16:1–2.
Now concerning the contribution for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come.
Notice several things.
- First, this instruction is not unique to one church. It is the way he was teaching other churches besides the one in Corinth. Verse 1: "as I directed the churches of Galatia so you also are to do." This has relevance for all Christian churches.
- Second, he calls for weekly setting aside of money for the purpose of this ministry. Verse 2: "On the first day of every week each of you is to put something aside." That may be because people were typically paid once a week. In any case it is a call for regularity and system in giving and not sporadic, occasional giving.
- Third, the setting aside is to be on the first day of the week. Already in Acts 20:7 the Christians were beginning to meet on Sunday as their special worship day. Revelation 1:10 calls it "the Lord's day" because it was the day he triumphed over death. So probably Paul is saying: make this setting aside part of what makes this day holy to the Lord. It is the Lord's day. Show it with an act of worship in the setting aside of some money for the cause that he died for.
- Finally, notice that it doesn't say that the money is brought to the church gathering each week, but that there is a setting aside each week so that the public collection when Paul gets there will be smooth and hassle-free. The act of worship begins at home between you and God as you write the check. In fact that's the decisive point, isn't it? When the Lord prospers you, week by week (or fortnight by fortnight) will you do what this text says and set aside an amount to show where your heart is—to show what your life is?
Testifying to What We Love
So Paul is following in the footsteps of Jesus when he teaches us to show where our heart is on the first day of the week—the Lord's day, the day of worship—by setting aside part of our earnings week by week as a testimony of what we love:
- We love the poor, and want to reach out to those in desperate circumstances;
- we love the lost and the people who have no chance to hear the greatest news in the world so we support missionaries;
- we love the church, the body of Christ, the family of God, and so we support its leaders and its ministries.
I pray that those of you who want to be biblical people will hear this: the Bible calls us to regular, systematic, proportionate giving to the cause of Christ. Many of you did not grow up in homes where this was a priority. Your obedience in this matter does not come nearly as easily as if you had been shown and helped to give each week as a child. I pray that you will make 1992 the year you start giving in this way.
I thank God with all my heart for the hundreds of you who know and love this biblical way of life. God has used you, more than any of us knows, to spread his praise to all nations.
The Basis of the Joy and the Courage to Give
So what I want to do is take our text this morning and encourage you with the promises that God makes to cheerful, generous givers who trust in him. My prayer is that this will increase the joy of veteran givers to press on, and that it will increase the courage of sporadic givers to join the joy of weekly (or biweekly), systematic, proportional giving.
Here is the basis of the joy and the courage:
1. God's Mathematics
In God's mathematics the best way to increase a sum is to subtract from it.
Verse 6: "He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."
Most people operate on exactly the opposite principle to this one, namely, We will have more if we give less. But the Bible says, You will have more if you give more. This doesn't sound like good mathematics. Ten minus one is nine. And ten minus zero is ten. So if you want to have ten instead of nine, you subtract zero from the checkbook on the first day of the week. Right?
Wrong! The problem with that math is that it leaves God out. That's what I am trying to change this morning—to put God and his promises back into your finances. God says: if you subtract more seed from your bag, you have more than if you subtract less seed from your bag. That's God's promise to you. Put him to the test. If you ask, How can this be? we will see more as we move on.
2. God's Love of Happy Givers
God loves for you to be happy in your giving.
Verse 7: "Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
This is an utterly wonderful truth about God. You may feel it if you imagine what the universe would be like if God were not like this. What if God were like a father who was basically irritated by happy children? What if on Christmas morning a little child has wrapped up some clay hands in a praying position that he made in pottery class at school with a poem to his mother that says,
I made these hands the size of mine,
And make a promise too.
Would you please take them as a sign
That I will pray for you.
And what if he is so excited about giving this gift to his mother that he can hardly sit still and says, "Open this one next, mommy, open this one!"—and the father snaps at him, "Just shut up and be still. She'll get to it!" Or worse, what if his joylessness was so great that he said, "What are you so excited about! They're just some crummy praying hands"?
If God were like that, the universe would collapse into a black hole of nothingness for me. So you can see why I love verse 7. God loves a cheerful giver. God loves when his children are happy in their giving. God joins every childlike saint on the edge of his throne to see and savor the joy of every gift given and every gift received. God cannot be irritated by excessive joy in giving because there is no such thing. The heavens are the limit, and he is pushing us in this text to as much joy as we can possibly experience.
God enjoys your enjoyment of generosity. And God engages all his omnipotence to be a happy God. And therefore he will have a happy and generous people. When you set your heart to be a part of this rhythm of generous joy, you tap into an infinite source of divine power—God's sovereign love of cheerful giving.
3. God's Power to Provide for Happy Givers
God's power and grace combine to give cheerful givers enough for themselves and abundance for others.
Verse 8 (literal translation): "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that by having all sufficiency always in every way, you might abound for every good work."
The point is that God gives us more than we need, and the reason he does that is not so we can store up the excess, but so that we can provide for good works—the poor, missionaries, ministries. The verse can be summed up: God gives enough for us, abundance for others.
Or to link it up with verse 7: the reason God gives you more than you need is not so that you can reduce your joy by keeping it, but increase your joy by giving it. Remember, in God's wonderful way of calculating, if ten minus one is more than ten minus zero, then 15 minus 6 is lots more than 15 minus zero.
Verse 8 makes crystal clear what the meaning of wealth is. Wealth is the God-sent possibility of multiplying the joy of providing for every good work.
4. The Confirmation of Eternal Righteousness
Compassionate giving confirms our eternal righteousness.
Verse 9: "As it is written, 'He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.'"
That is a quote from Psalm 112:9 and the context there makes plain that it is talking about the person who trusts God with his future (112:7) and gives generously. The point comes out when you see the connection with verse 8: notice the "as" that connects the verses. Verse 8 said that God makes us abound so that we can supply abundantly for good works. Verse 9 says, "just as" the man who gives abundantly to the poor will have a righteousness that goes on and on and on into eternity. In other words God will go on giving what we need to fulfill righteousness if we go on giving it out, and that will take us right into eternity.
If we act as conduits for God's grace (instead of cul-de-sacs), then there will be an unending supply of righteousness. Compassionate giving confirms our eternal righteousness.
5. The Giving of Thanks to God
The cheerful generosity of faithful giving leads many people (more than we know!) to give thanks to God—and that is the goal of all our lives, that God be glorified and thanked.
Verses 10–11 repeat the previous points and add this one:
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources [lit.: "your sowing"—i.e., he will make your ability to be generous increase!], and increase the harvest of your righteousness [your righteousness will endure forever!]. You will be enriched in every way [here is the meaning of wealth again, as in verse 8], namely, for great generosity [for providing in abundance] for every good work, [then here comes the new and final incentive:] which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
If you've ever wondered in the past, Where does it say in the Bible this sentence that we keep using at Bethlehem: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him," well here it is.
Verse 7 says that God loves a cheerful giver—a person who finds satisfaction in giving, a giver who really loves to splash people with the goodness of God. And therefore God promises to provide abundantly for people like that so that they can splash and pour for every good work, and make their joy go through the roof. And now verse 11 (and 12) says that in all this God is the one who gets the thanks—God gets the glory. Christians, the generous channels, get the joy. God, the generous spring, gets the glory. It is the best of all worlds: our generosity, our joy, and God's glory all rising together. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
May God take all these promises and make you courageous and joyful on the first day of every week in 1992. In this way every good work appointed for this church to do will be done.