Last week’s passage was about giving. And Paul is addressing the same topic in this week’s passage where he once again write to the Corinthians about the collection for needy believers in Jerusalem. It’s perhaps a mark of how important this matter was to him that he spent so much time writing about it. I mentioned last week that he mentions this collection in Romans 15 and he also wrote about it briefly in 1 Corinthians 16. And now, in 2 Corinthians, he writes about it more extensively. And one of the reasons this collection for needy believers was so important to him is because it demonstrated the effect of the gospel in the lives of Jewish and Gentiles believers; and it showed in a very clear way that Jewish believers and Gentiles believers were united together under Christ. The old division, the wall of separation — between the Jews on one side and the Gentiles on the other — has been overcome by the gospel; and those who were once separated from one another are now united together as members of Christ’s church and they’ve become brothers and sisters in the Lord. And what a testimony to the truth of the gospel it must have been when Jewish believers in Jerusalem, who had been struggling financially, now received gifts of money to help them. And when their Jewish neighbours asked them where did they get all this money from, they could answer that they received it from Gentile believers living in places like Corinth and Macedonia, whom they had never met, but who loved them and wanted to give generously to help them. Why would they do such a thing? Why would Gentiles want to help Jews? Because we’re united together under Christ the Lord who loved us and gave up his life for us and who has brought us together in the church and who calls on us to love one another. What a testimony! What a witness to the gospel!
And hadn’t God promised through the prophet Isaiah that the wealth on the seas will be brought to Jerusalem and the riches of the nations will come to you? Hadn’t he promised that the day would come when the Gentiles would send money to Jerusalem. And that day has come. So, that’s why this collection for the needy believers in Jerusalem was so important to Paul. It was the fulfilment of God’s word and it demonstrated the effect of the gospel, because through the gospel Jews and Gentiles are united together under Christ the Lord.
In last week’s passage, Paul used the example of the Macedonians and he used the example of the Lord Jesus to encourage the believers in Corinth to finish what they had started and to complete the collection they had begun. The Macedonians were so eager to give, that they begged Paul for the opportunity to share in this ministry. And when they gave, they gave even beyond their means. They were prepared to do without themselves so that they could give more to the believers in Jerusalem. And the Lord Jesus was rich, but he became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich. He was rich in the sense that before his incarnation, he lived in the glory of heaven with the Father and the Spirit. And as the Eternal Son of God he possessed everything, because he made everything and everything existed for him and for his glory. But he was prepared to give up the glory of heaven and to come to earth as one of us in order to deliver us from our sin and misery by his life and death and resurrection. He gave up everything for us, including his life on the cross. And he makes us rich by pouring out upon us one spiritual blessing after another.
And so, think about the Macedonians and how they gave beyond their means. Think about the Lord Jesus who became poor so that we might become spiritually rich. Think about them; and think about what you can do to help the needy believers in Jerusalem. That was what Paul was saying last week; and he was therefore teaching us to give what we can to help needy believers. No one has to give beyond their means, because whatever gift we give is acceptable according to what one has and can afford, and not according to what one does not have and cannot afford.
That was last week. And Paul continues to write about this topic in today’s passage. And in the section that runs from verse 16 of chapter 8 to verse 5 of chapter 9, he writes about how he was sending Titus and two other brothers to encourage them to finish the collection. And then in the section that runs from verse 6 to verse 15 of chapter 9, Paul reflects theologically on the subject of giving.
And so, in the first section, Paul tells the Corinthians that Titus is coming to them. But Paul is also sending two brothers with Titus who are unnamed. When he calls them brothers, he means they’re Christians. They’re brothers in the Lord. However, some commentators suggest the term ‘brother’ was reserved for Christian workers who were chosen and sent by the church to perform some kind of mission. Whether that’s how Paul uses the word ‘brother’, the fact remains that these two brothers were sent to Corinth to help with the collection.
One of them, according to verse 18, was known in all the churches for his service to the gospel. Other English translations say that he was famous among the churches for his preaching. So, that’s how he normally served the gospel. Paul then refers in verse 22 to the second brother who would accompany Titus. Paul says that this man had often shown himself to be zealous. Other English translations says he was earnest. It can mean enthusiastic. And that’s perhaps the best meaning here. This man is very enthusiastic about this mission, because he’s got great confidence in the Corinthians and in their willing to give generously to the collection. If the Corinthians were unwilling, then this man might have been less than enthusiastic. Who wants to go on a mission which is destined to fail? But since he believes the Corinthians will help, he’s very enthusiastic. He can’t wait to come to them.
And if anyone raises any kind of question about these three men, Paul assures them in verses 23 that Titus is his partner and fellow-worker among the Corinthians; and the other two brothers represent the other churches. That is, they have been sent by the other churches. And they are an honour to the Lord. So, they bring glory and honour to Christ. Therefore, Paul says in verse 24, show these men the proof of your love. Welcome them and treat them with love.
Look back to verses 20 and 21 now, because this is where Paul explains why they have decided to send three men to help with the collection. And here’s the reason: we want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. And we are taking great pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord, but also in the eyes of men. Paul wanted to ensure that everything in relation to this collection was done decently and in order so that no one could accuse Paul, for instance, of misappropriating the funds. And so, these three reliable men were appointed to oversee how the money was administered when it was taken from Corinth to Jerusalem.
Sometimes we say that it doesn’t matter what others think of us; and the only person who counts is the Lord; and he knows I’m honest and I’d never dream of taking any money that doesn’t belong to me. But sometimes what other people think of us does matter. And it can cause so much trouble to the church if people think we may be dishonest or careless in the way we handle money. And so, it’s important that we take pains to do everything decently and in order.
A few year’s ago, all the churches in the UK had to register with the charity commission. And now, we now have to submit an annual report to the commission concerning our work and our finances. And it’s a pain. It’s a pain, because it’s extra work. And we have to submit the report in the correct format and by a certain deadline. It’s a pain. But it’s important, because by submitting our accounts to the charity commission, we’re demonstrating that we’re administering the church’s finances decently and in order; and we’re not using the money we receive dishonestly.
You see, we need to be above suspicion. Yes, the Lord sees into our hearts and he knows if we’re honest people. But no one else can see into our hearts. They don’t know by looking at us that we’re honest. And so, we need to do things decently and in order and we need to open ourselves to inspection so that everyone will know that we’re honest.
In verses 1 to 5 of chapter 9, Paul is encouraging the Corinthians again to finish what they started. So, he knows their eagerness to help. In fact, he’s been boasting about them and their eagerness to help. Last year they were the first to give, but they now need to finish the collection. And so, he’s sending them Titus and the two other brothers so that they’ll be ready.
According to verse 4, Paul intends to come to Corinth with some Macedonians. Well, if we come and you’re not ready, we’ll be ashamed. We’ll be ashamed because we were telling everyone how eager you’ve been to help. And so, we’ll look foolish for being so confident about you. And therefore, in order to prevent that, we’re sending Titus and the others to visit you in advance of us. And they can help you finish all the arrangements for this generous gift which you have promised to make. Then it will be ready as a generous gift and not as one grudgingly given.
And having written about the collection in Corinth, Paul goes on in verses 6 to 15 to reflect theologically on giving in general.
And so, he begins with a principle. And it’s this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. And whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
The principle comes from the world of agriculture and farming. The farmer who only sows a small number of seeds will reap only a small harvest. But the farmer who sows a large number of seeds will reap a large harvest. You won’t get a large harvest from a few seeds. No, in order to get a large harvest, you need to sow a large number of seeds. And Paul takes that agricultural principle and applies to the subject of giving in order to encourage his readers to give generously. Sowing sparingly therefore means giving sparingly. That is, giving in a stingy way. Being tight-fisted with our money. Giving reluctantly or under compulsion. And sowing generously means giving generously.
Now remember what I said last week. We tend to think ‘giving generously’ means giving a lot. Someone gives a thousand pounds and we say, ‘What a generous gift’. However, if that person is a billionaire, then a thousand pounds means nothing to him. And so, giving generously is not so much about the amount we give, but it’s our willingness to give what we can afford. One person is tightfisted with their money and reluctant to give. They only give grudgingly when they have to; and then, they give as little as possible. Another person is generous with their money. Instead of being tightfisted, they are open-handed and willing to give what they can afford. Even though the amount they can afford to give may be small, they’re still ready and willing to give it. And it’s that willingness to give which counts.
And Paul says more about that willingness to give in verse 7, where he says that each man, or each person, should give what he has decided in his heart to give. Now, referring to our heart means that this is a personal decision we have to make. No one can instruct us how much to give. No one can tell us what to give. No one can force us to give a certain amount. We’re to decide for ourselves in our hearts what to give. In Old Testament times, God’s people were told exactly what to bring. They had to bring a tithe, or a tenth, of their produce to the Lord. However, I explained last week that tithing was the way the Israelites supported the priests and Levites who worked in the temple. And so, tithing was connected to the temple and to the Old Testament sacrificial system, which has now ended with the coming of Christ. So, while believers were commanded to tithe in Old Testament times, believers are not commanded to tithe in the New Testament. Instead we’re to give what we have decided in our hearts to give.
Again, I mentioned last week that Paul is writing here about a specific kind of offering. He’s not referring here to the offering we give to the church to pay the bills. He’s referring to an offering to help needy believers. Sometimes it’s called a love offering, because it’s a way to express our love for one another. However, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that the envelopes people use for the weekly offering to the church to pay our bills are called ‘WFO envelopes’. WFO stands for ‘weekly freewill offering’. Or sometimes they’re called ‘FWO envelopes’ for free will offering. It’s an offering we make of our own free will. So, the elders don’t come round to your house to tell you what to give. The committee members don’t come round to your house to tell you what to give. You decide freely in your own heart what to give.
And notice as well that Paul says ‘each man’ or ‘each person’. So, what he says here about giving is not for the rich only. It’s for every person in the congregation. Giving to help needy believers is not for the well-off only. It’s for all of us.
And why is it important that each one of us should give in this way? Look what Paul tells us in verse 7: each person should decide for themselves, so that they don’t give reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. God loves it when his people give cheerfully and not reluctantly and when we give freely and not under compulsion. Now, I once heard another preacher say that if God loves a cheerful giver, then that must mean he hates the reluctant giver. And so, the preachers said, that means you’d better not give reluctantly. And so that preacher turned Paul’s words into a warning. But his words are not a warning. They’re not a threat. Paul’s words are a wonderful encouragement. He’s encouraging us to give generously, not by warning us, but by reassuring us that God loves it when we give cheerfully.
So, sowing generously means giving generously. It means deciding in our hearts what we can afford to give; and giving it away cheerfully and freely. Now, if that’s what sowing generously means, what does reaping generously mean? That’s what verses 8 to 11 are about. And in these verses Paul makes the point that God richly blesses those who give generously. But he richly blesses them so that they can use what they have received from him for the good of others.
So, in verse 8 Paul says that 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 all good work. In other words, because of God’s kindness to us, he will ensure that in all things, or in all circumstances, and at all times, we will have all that we need. Isn’t that a wonderful promise? We worry that we won’t have enough left over if we give away some of our money. If we give away some of what we have, how will we pay our bills? How will we survive if I give away some of what I have? Well, God is able. God is able to show you his abundant kindness and give you what you need.
And in this way — by God providing us with what we need — we’ll be able to abound in all good work. That is, we’ll be able to use what he has given us for the good of others.
And notice, of course, that Paul doesn’t say that God will give us what ‘we’d like’ or ‘wish for’. He says he will provide us with ‘what we need’. He’s not saying God will make us rich and give us a mansion and a yacht and a private jet and a fleet of cars. He’ll give us what we need. And he’ll give us what we need so that we can use it, or some of it, for the good of others.
And then Paul backs up what he says by quoting from Psalm 112 which is a psalm about the blessed man who fears the Lord and who delights in God’s commands and who scatters his gifts to the poor. So, here’s a psalm which is about someone who give generously to help needy believers. But where does he gets the gifts he scatters to the poor? That’s the question. And the answer is that he gets his gifts from the Lord. The Lord has given him what he needs; and he has taken what he has received from the Lord and he has given it away to needy believers.
And then Paul refers in verse 10 to he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food. He’s talking about God, isn’t he? God is the one who supplies seed to the sower and therefore bread for food. Where does the farmer get the seed he needs to sow which leads to a supply of bread to eat? He gets it from the Lord, doesn’t he? In a similar way, where will I get the money I need to give away? I’ll get it from the Lord. He will provide it so that I can give it away.
So, what is Paul saying? That we want to be people who sow generously. That is, we want to be people who give generously. We want to be people who give generously, because we believe the Lord loves a cheerful giver. So, we want to be cheerful and generous givers. But we worry that we won’t have enough if we give away some of what we have. Well, says Paul, you can rely on the Lord to provide you with what you need so that you can give away some of what you have. You can rely on him. Think of the farmer again. He sows and then he reaps; and then he sows and then he reaps. It’s an ongoing cycle through the years. And so, we give and then we receive; and then we give and then we receive. It’s an ongoing cycle through the years, giving and receiving: giving to others and receiving from the Lord. And it’s receiving from the Lord so that we can give to others.
When we lived in Co. Kildare, we could get the God Channel on TV. Sometimes what was on the God Channel was great. Many times it was awful. I remember seeing a preacher once encourage his viewers to send him money. This was to be their seed money. Send him their seed money; and if they send him their seed money, God will give them back lots more. Don’t you want lots more money to spend on yourself? Well, send me a small amount of money and God will give you lots more in return. Now that’s nonsense. And Paul isn’t talking about that kind of thing. He’s not talking about how to get rich. He’s saying that when we give generously and cheerfully, we can expect to receive from God. But we receive what we need from God so that we can give to others.
And Paul sums this all up in verse 11: you will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion. Now, don’t get carried away by the word ‘rich’. Paul has previously said that God will give us what we need. So, he’s not talking about how to get rich. But he’ll enrich us in the sense that we become the kind of people who want to give generously on every occasion. And we’ll want to give generously on every occasion because our generosity leads to what? Look at the end of verse 11: it leads to thanksgiving to God.
And that’s what the final verses are about. By means of this service, Paul says, you will not only be supplying the needs of God’s people, but it will overflow into many expressions of thanksgiving to God. Think of the needy believers in Jerusalem. They’re praying to the Lord to help them. They’re crying out to him in their desperate need. Lord, help us! And then one day Paul and Titus and these other brothers arrive with a collection from Corinth and from Macedonia to help them. And so, later that day, the believers in Jerusalem will pray to the Lord. But this time, they’re not crying to the Lord to help them, but they’ve praising God for his faithfulness and they’re thanking him for his good gifts and they’re rejoicing because God did help them. And so, says Paul, because of this service, men will praise God. Men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession. They will praise God because you weren’t just people who said you were believers, but you were people who obeyed like true believers. And they’ll praise God for your generosity to them, to people they had never met, but people they loved because they were fellow believers in the Lord. And because of this service to them, they will pray for you. And when they pray for you, their hearts will go out to you.
Isn’t this marvellous? Paul says because of this service, men will praise God. We want men to praise God, don’t we? We want people all over the world to praise God. We want his name to be lifted up and exalted throughout the world. And here’s something every single one of us can do which will result in praise to God. Every single one of us can do this. You can give. You can give what you can afford to help needy believers. And those needy believers will receive your gift and they’ll praise God because of it.
And Paul ends this passage with praise. He says: ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ So, in last week’s passage, he used the example of the Macedonians and he used the example of the Lord Jesus. The Macedonians gave beyond their means. The Lord Jesus gave up everything for us. And Paul gives us one more example: and it’s the example of God the Father who has given us an indescribable gift. What is the his indescribable gift to us? It’s the gift of his Son, isn’t it? And it’s the gift of salvation through faith in his Son.
We don’t deserve it. Isn’t that the excuse people sometimes use to keep them from helping others? They say those needy people don’t deserve anything from us. It’s their own fault they’re poor. They should get a job and earn a living without relying on handouts from me. But we don’t deserve anything from God except for condemnation for a lifetime of disobedience. But he who is rich in mercy gave up his Son for us and for our salvation. And to sinners like us who deserve nothing but condemnation, he gives us forgiveness which we did not earn and do not deserve; and he gives us the free gift of eternal life. So, thanks be to God for his indescribable gift. And let’s follow his example and give freely as we have opportunity, so that we’re able to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ which will result in more praise and glory and honour to God our Father and to Jesus Christ our Saviour.