Work Your Plan

 

Week of March 30, 2014

 

Bible Verses:2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

 

The Point:Generous giving should glorify God and reflect Christís giving.

 

The Cheerful Giver: 2 Corinthians 9:6-9.

 

[6]The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. [7]Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. [8]And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. [9]As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."[ESV]

 

[6-9]ďGod takes great delight in giving gifts to His people. he favors them with spiritual and material blessings that cannot even be enumerated. He challenges His people to follow His example and wants them to realize that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change [James 1:17]. As the Father shows His generosity, so He expects His sons and daughters to be generous. And children of the heavenly Father should remember that they will never be able to rival God in His giving. No matter how charitable they are, much to their surprise they will experience that God is still more beneficent toward them. The next segment [6-11] is closely connected with the preceding one, for Paul continues to expand the discussion on giving. He now features a proverbial saying, self-evident truths, and Scripture citations. The stress in verse 6 falls on a proverbial saying, of which the first part may have been an agricultural proverb in that day: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. In the agricultural society of the first century, the activities of sowing and reaping lay close to the hearts of the people. The sower in Jesusí parable [Matt. 13:3-9] did not close his hand when he saw that some kernels would fall on the beaten path, the rocky soil, and the briar patch. He sowed generously as with rhythmic walk he strode across the field. And just as the parable of the sower has a spiritual application, so the words of Paul are analogous to a spiritual truth. He writes in Galatians 6:7, whatever one sows, that will he also reap, which is a law inherent in both physical and spiritual spheres. When seed falls to the ground, it decays while it germinates. In a sense, the farmer loses the seed he has scattered; he takes the risk of weather conditions, disease, or insects destroying much of the seed. But as he sows, he trusts that God will grant him the satisfaction of reaping a harvest. This is also true spiritually. The word bountifully is really the Greek word meaning Ďwith blessingsí, so the second half of the proverbial saying literally reads: Ďhe who sows on the basis of blessings, on the basis of blessings he will also reapí. That is, he who gives by praising God will in turn reap a harvest for which he thanks the Lord. The generous giver responds with thanks and praises to God for the numerous material and spiritual blessings he receives. Paul issues no command, enacts no rule or regulation, and exercises no coercion. He gives the Corinthians complete freedom and tells them to decide in their own hearts what to give. He specifies, however, that the responsibility rests on the individual and not on the church as such. Each person must ponder this matter in his or her own heart and then decide, so that the entire congregation may be united in contributing to the collection. Paul says that the act of giving must be accomplished neither reluctantly nor grudgingly. Reluctance implies a clinging to possessions that one hardly wants to give; and when they have been given, the giver grieves. Giving grudgingly denotes that external pressures compel one to conform to the rules of society; that is, necessity forces one to comply with the communityís objective. Giving, however, must be voluntary and individually motivated. By participating voluntarily, each person testifies to true faith in Jesus. Indeed, by voluntarily giving to the collection, Gentile Christians in Corinth demonstrate equality with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. They also authenticate their legitimate membership in Christís universal church. In verse 7, Paul emphasizes Godís love; in verse 8, His power. Thus Paul teaches in these two verses that God expresses His love to His people through His power. Throughout verse 8 the concept of all appears five times. With this concept, Paul attempts to describe Godís infinite goodness and greatness. The first item Paul discusses is that God has power to make all grace abound to you. God is involved in all the intricacies of a personís life, even in the decision one makes to give for a certain cause. Paul wrote that the Macedonians received Godís grace so that their decision to give resulted in a wealth of generosity [8:2]. In the service of the Lord grace begets grace, although the believerís grace in joyful giving can hardly be compared with Godís abounding grace to the believer. God showers His love on the joyful donor, who is unable to match Godís grace. He grants the gift of salvation, spiritual gifts, the fruits of the Spirit, and innumerable material blessings. In conclusion, all the spiritual and physical gifts are included in the word grace. The Corinthians were fully aware of Paulís teaching on this point [see e.g., 1 Cor. 1:4-7; 2 Cor. 4:15; 6:1]. Paul then states the result of Godís abounding grace: so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. If we take these words literally, they appear too good to be true. Does God give the joyful Christian everything to meet all his or her material needs (compare Phil. 4:10)? True, Godís grace is all-sufficient to meet our every need at any time. But when He grants us His grace, it is always meant to glorify Him in His church and kingdom on earth. A Christian, who because of Godís grace always has enough of everything (compare 1 Tim. 6:6-8], must give within the framework of loving God and neighbor [Matt. 22:37-40]. The spiritual and material flow of gifts coming from God to the believer may never stop with the recipient. It must be passed on to alleviate the needs of others in church and society [Gal. 6:10; 1 Tim. 6:17-18]. The believer must always be a human channel through which divine grace flows to enrich others. Paul uses the word sufficiency here which cannot be interpreted as self-sufficiency or self-reliance, for we are completely dependent on God to supply us in every need. God provides us sufficiency for the purpose of our dependence on Him and the support of fellow human beings. Twice in this verse Paul relates the verb abound to God and to us. God makes His grace abound so that we may abound in performing every good work. Fully trusting God to provide the necessary means, we may support the causes that promote His message at worship on Sundays. We support missions and evangelism, and in society we apply His divine message. As he has done all along, Paul strengthens his discourse by citing an Old Testament passage. He turns to the Psalter and quotes Psalm 112:9 with a slight omission. He wants to portray Godís boundless goodness toward the poor and His everlasting righteousness. The subject in Psalm 112 is the man who fears the Lord [112:1]. The first line of the quotation states that a person liberally scatters his gifts to the poor, for he has been blessed with wealth and riches. Because he is generous and lends freely, he is the recipient of good will and high honor [Ps. 112:3,5,9]. The second line repeats words that describe God; here they are applied to His child. The clause his righteousness endures forever depicts one of Godís characteristics but hardly fits a mortal being in a sinful world. Nonetheless, both the Hebrew and the Greek word for righteousness may also mean kindness or mercy in the sense of charitable giving. And that connotation fits the psalm and Paulís context.Ē[Kistemaker, pp. 310-315].

 

God Supplies all Things: 2 Corinthians 9:10-11.

 

[10]He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. [11]You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. [ESV]

 

[10-11]ďGod is the one who provides, scatters, and multiplies. God is the source of the seed, which is likened to righteousness, and God produces the crop. Paulís interpretation of the Psalm is drawn from his observation of the farming process. The seed planted provides a harvest and enough seed to plant next yearís harvest. But this statement also reflects the basic confession of Judaism that God graciously provides all of the bounty of nature. The one who is generous acts on the assured faith that God bountifully supplies bread for the sower and multiplies the seed corn for future harvests. The phrase the harvest of your righteousness now applies righteousness to humans. The harvest of righteous deeds, like the harvest of the field, does not come from us, but from God. The righteousness that we become through Christís sacrificial death works itself out in our sacrificial generosity to others. A lack of generosity calls into question whether or not we have truly received the righteousness of God. Paulís point is that God makes us righteous through Christ and gives us seed money for a harvest of generosity. The more we sow, the greater the harvest; and the greater the harvest now, the greater the harvest will be in the future. The first half of verse 11 summarizes Paulís point in the previous verses: God will provide the means for them to be generous. They are enriched by God solely to give them every opportunity to be generous with others. God is generous in giving people wealth so that they may be generous with others. What we do with our money, then, becomes a litmus test for our relationship to God. If we try to hoard it or to spend it all on ourselves, that should set off alarm bells that our relationship with God is out of balance or worse, nonexistent. The rich fool with his bulging barns and bumper crop wondered where he could store all his good things to preserve them all for himself. It apparently never crossed his mind that he had plenty of storage in the mouths of the needy. Those who are decisive and resourceful in trying to find ways to use Godís bounty to help others, as the rich fool was decisive and resourceful in finding ways to feather his own luxuriant nest, are those who are righteous in Godís eyes and who live out Godís righteousness. The second half of the verse introduces the theme of thanksgiving by those who receive their gifts, and this idea is developed in verse 12. Giving to others becomes a kind of thank-offering to God that multiplies itself. We thank God for what we have received; others thank God for what they have received from us.Ē [Garland, pp. 411-413].

 

Giving Results in Thanksgiving to God: 2 Corinthians 9:12-15.

 

[12]For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. [13]By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, [14]while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. [15]Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift![ESV]

 

[12-15]ďIn this epistle, Paul makes use of the word group ministry more than in any other letter. The word related to Paulís ministry, especially where it pertained to the Corinthians. Here, however, the focus is on the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, who now will be served by the Gentile churches. The phrase of this service needs a lucid interpretation. There are three different explanations. First, the two words ministry and service are synonyms. But if this is true, why would Paul indulge in redundancy and why would he use the demonstrative pronoun this to modify service. Next, secular usage of the word ministry connotes public distribution of funds to the people in Jerusalem. But it is unlikely that in this setting Paul had in mind strictly public service. Last, ministry is a word that describes the religious service of Gentile Christians to the Jewish Christians in the capital of Israel. And this interpretation seems to fit the context. It refers to the harvest of righteousness that the Gentile churches reap. This last interpretation describes the people who obey God, give thanks to Him for Christian fellowship, and help one another by participating in the collection. Their offerings should be interpreted as sacrifices, and the distribution of these gifts is a true ministry to the saints. In the second part of this verse, Paul stresses two verbs that are written in the progressive tense: Ďis supplyingí and Ďis overflowingí. In view of the protracted time during which the giving and the receiving occurred, Paul appropriately writes the progressive tense. Believers throughout Achaia, Macedonia, and Asia Minor contributed monetary gifts that delegates carried to Judea and distributed to the needy in Jerusalem. In all these places, both Jewish and Gentile Christians, united in heart and soul, were expressing joyful praises to God. As the needs of the poor in Jerusalem were met, God was glorified through the many words of thanks that were uttered. The characteristics of genuine love toward the needy are revealed in words of praise to God. The service of the ministry is performed by the donors; in this text, the Corinthians. The recipients of their gifts are the saints in Jerusalem, who will approve the genuine love of the Gentile churches. As a result of this testing, the people in Jerusalem will magnify Godís name. Paul knew the mind and heart of the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. He had positive proof of the genuine love demonstrated by the Macedonian churches: their collection. He also was confident that the Corinthians would not disappoint him in showing their tangible love. But with respect to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, he had to have complete trust. Would they respond positively and spiritually to the lavish donation from the Gentile churches? Paulís they will glorify God looks confidently to the future. Now Paul wants the Corinthians to know that the Judean churches will be praising God for the confession of faith coming from the lips of the Corinthians. Admittedly, not everyone in the Christian community of Corinth is fully submissive to Christís gospel. These words of Paul, then, serve as a stimulus for the Corinthians to attain a higher degree of obedience to Christ. Nevertheless, Paul is confident that the saints in Jerusalem glorify God because the Gentiles believe and are obeying the gospel proclamation. When Paul writes the term confession, we ought not to think in terms of a creedal statement. Rather, he has in mind actions by which believers exhibit daily obedience to Christís gospel. The Corinthians acknowledge the truths of that message when they hear and obey the voice of Christ. Paul has complete confidence that the collection in the Christian community at Corinth will be an indication of generosity toward the people in Jerusalem. According to Paul, this deed of charity will strengthen the bond of fellowship between the Jewish and the Gentile churches. He wants to see the unity of all the churches as they share possessions with one another. The Gentile believers generously shared their material resources with the Jewish saints in Jerusalem as a demonstration of a bond of mutual fellowship. Their act of sharing resulted in God being praised by the recipients of these gifts. And Paul does not limit the proof of partnership to Corinth and Jerusalem but includes all Christians everywhere. We assume that whenever the need arose, the Gentile churches would help others. They knew that the church of Jesus Christ is one body with many members. Paul knew that the church in Jerusalem, and especially James and the elders, supported him in prayer. These saints also prayed fervently for the Corinthians congregation. Paul could confidently write to the church in Corinth that the saints in Jerusalem expressed unity with them in Christ by praying for their spiritual needs. Christians fervently intercede for one another because of the bond of fellowship they have in common. The members of the church in Jerusalem voice to God their heartfelt yearning for the Corinthians. This does not mean that they would travel to Achaia Ė the extreme poverty of the saints in Judea made it financially impossible to travel long distances. Rather, they had a spiritual longing for both the Gentile and the Jewish Christians in Corinth. They wished to edify them in their faith. They could satisfy their longing for the Corinthians only through intercessory prayer to God and beseech Him to strengthen the unity of the universal church. Why do the believers in Jerusalem pray earnestly for the Corinthians? Paul answers, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Paul adorns the noun grace with the adjective surpassing to indicate that God dispenses His grace to numerous people. Three brief comments. First, Paul ascribes to God the glory and honor for putting in the hearts of the Corinthians a desire to contribute to the collection. Next, his faith in God is unwavering, because he knows that Godís grace will surpass all expectations to bring the collection to its destined and multiple end. Last, Paul puts complete confidence in the church at Corinth and trusts that the members will respond enthusiastically to his appeal. And he counts on the church at Jerusalem for sustained prayer support. What is Paul trying to convey in verse 15? With the words of a prayer, Thanks be to God, he introduces a doxology, which is a fitting conclusion to the preceding reference to Godís surpassing grace. God receives the tribute that is due Him for His providence to make the collection a blessing to the entire church. Paul expresses his gratitude to God for his inexpressible gift of Jesus Christ. This gift of God to the world is the birth, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventual return of His Son. For Paul, the thought of God giving His Son to mankind is astounding. He sees the glorious results in the faith both Jew and Gentile place in Jesus Christ, in the breaking down of racial barriers, and in the unity of the Christian church.Ē[Kistemaker, pp. 319-323].

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What further principles of giving does Paul give us in these verses? What is the purpose of the agricultural proverb? What does it mean to be a cheerful giver? What role does Godís love and His power play in your giving?

 

2.†††††††† What does Paul mean by the harvest of your righteousness in verse 10?

 

3.†††††††† Biblical giving results in many thanksgivings to God (on behalf of both the giver and the recipient) and in glory to God. Is this true of your giving?

 

4.†††††††† What role does the surpassing grace of God play in Christian giving?

 

References:

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul Barnett, Eerdmans.

2 Corinthians, David Garland, NAC, B & H Publishing..

II Corinthians, Simon Kistemaker, Baker.