In a previous post I looked at the need to be generous if small churches are going to work together to plant churches. Looking at 2 Corinthians 8, we saw that we can’t be more sacrificial than God. Now in 2 Corinthians 9 we discover that we can’t be generous than God.
Look at 2 Corinthians 9:6-11. There is a danger that these verses misinterpreted as advocating some kind of prosperity gospel in which we earn blessings from God. The harvest Paul that promises here is a harvest of ‘righteousness’ (9:10).
But the prosperity gospel is not our danger! I suspect our danger is much more likely to be a functional deism in which we operate as if God is not present and active in a dynamic way in our lives and churches. So let’s take these promises seriously.
Look at verse 6: ‘Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.’ The imagery is clear: if you plant 100 bean seeds you’ll get a bigger harvest than if you plant 10. But there’s a straight-forward cause and effect between planting seeds and harvesting fruit.
It’s not so clear that the money you give to the poor in Jerusalem, the greater the harvest you will reap in Corinth. Unless, God promises to bless your giving. Unless, God is no man’s debtor. Unless, we can’t be more generous than God.
Look at how Paul goes on in verses 7-8: ‘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. And God 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.’
‘Every good work’ is literally ‘all good works’. So there are five ‘all’s in this verse: ‘all grace … all things … all times … all you need … all good works’. How would you like this to be true of your church? ‘In all things at all times, [we have] all that we need [so that we] abound in all good works.’
If you want that, then sow generously and give cheerfully. You cannot be more generous than God. When you sow generously, when you give cheerfully, God ‘makes all grace abound to you’. And what happens then? ‘You may abound in every good work.’
How do this work? I think we can identify some lines of cause and effect:
- Generosity encourages generosity. Generosity in one area encourages generosity elsewhere because giving loosens the grip of wealth. A generous church creates a culture of generosity in which its members are generous.
- People replace people. Churches often testify that, when they have sent people, others have come to replace them. But there’s a also a natural sense in which people leaving creates gaps for others to fill. It creates opportunities for people to step up.
- Mission inspires mission. Involvement in mission leads to involvement in mission. It changes mindsets. It makes them missional. It encourages creativity. It gives courage.
These are the natural lines of cause and effect. But there is also something supernatural going on here. God is generous to those who are generous.
Look at verse 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.’ If you sow generously then God will give you more seed! And what do you do with seed? You sow generously.
Verse 11 is even more explicit: ‘You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.’ If you give generously then God will give generously to you so you can continue to give generously. He entrusts us with his resources. If we’re generous then he entrusts more – so that we can be more generous.
The economy of God
There’s almost a sense in which resources move backwards and forwards. In 8:14 Paul says: ‘At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.’ There’s a constant circulation of resources. My church gives to your church. Your church gives to another church. That church gives to my church. And we end up back where we started. And you’re tempted to say, Why bother? Why is the economy of God like this? Why this circulation of resources with everyone giving to everyone else? Three reasons to close:
- Verse 13: It evokes God’s praise: ‘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.’
- Verse 14: It connects God’s people: ‘And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.’
- Verse 15: It highlights God’s generosity: ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ All the time we are remembering God’s generosity to us in Christ.