As Paul worked to spread the gospel in the gentile world, he also worked to have the gentiles give an offering to poor believers in Jerusalem. We see evidence of this offering in several of his letters; it was a consistent theme of his work.
Paul saw a vital connection between God’s grace and our giving. Just as God has been gracious toward us, we should be gracious toward others, sharing the spiritual and physical blessings God has given us. Although good works can never pay for God’s grace, they are an expected result of God’s grace working in our lives.
Paul told the Corinthian Christians about this offering in person, and in a follow-up letter he wrote some more encouragement for them. We’ll pick up the story in 2 Corinthians 9.
Don’t let us down
“There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people” (9:1). In other words, I’ve already told you about it. You know that this offering is going to help the believers in Jerusalem.
“For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action” (9:2). The Corinthians (in southern Greece) had already told Paul that they were willing to give generously, and Paul had used their zeal to encourage the Macedonians (in northern Greece). In a similar way, he used the generosity of the Macedonians to encourage the Corinthians to be even more generous (8:1-7).
But now came the time for talk to be turned into action: “I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be” (9:3). Paul is putting some gentle pressure on the Corinthians to live up to their word—he does this by saying his own reputation is on the line. The Corinthians had said they would be generous; Paul had said they would be generous, and now the time came to see whether they were right.
“For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we — not to say anything about you — would be ashamed of having been so confident” (9:4). We do not want to be embarrassed, Paul says, and you don’t want to be embarrassed either. So put your money where your mouth is. It’s time to prove yourselves.
Paul expected the Corinthians to follow through on their promises, but he did not take it for granted. He wrote to remind them, to encourage them to do even better. He was not shy about financial matters. He expected total commitment from his converts, and he set high standards for them.
“So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given” (9:5).
Paul was zealous for the gospel. If he took time to coordinate this offering, it was because he thought it was very important. And because it was important, he sent reminders about it, he sent people to check up on it, and he used all his persuasive strategies to make sure that it was a successful offering.
If Paul suddenly showed up and caught the Corinthians unprepared, they would no doubt have given an offering. But the offering would have been given out of obligation, not well thought out, and not as generous as it could have been with some advance preparation.
Expect a blessing
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (9:6). Here Paul quotes a proverb — a saying that is generally true, although exceptions may exist. A farmer who sows a lot of seed will usually be rewarded with a good crop. But sometimes bad weather can ruin the crop. Even then, the farmer will probably receive in proportion to the amount sown.
Paul is saying that the same is true in financial generosity. A person who is generous will usually be rewarded. The reward doesn’t always come in money, and it doesn’t always come in this life, but God does bless people who are generous.
“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” (9:7). If we feel obligated to give, if we resent the offering, if we dread the request, then we are not really generous. True generosity is an attitude of the heart, and that is what God is looking for and that is what he rewards. So everyone should make their own decisions about how much to give. Paul is pointing out some factors we may want to keep in mind as we consider how generous we can be.
“God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (9:8). God is generous, supplying all that we need, so we do not need to hoard everything we have. He wants us to abound in good works, and generosity is one of them.
“As it is written: ‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever’” (9:9, quoting from Psalm 112:9). This quote is not about collections for the poor, but Paul nevertheless finds it appropriate here. It describes God’s generosity and assures us that God will always be righteous, working for and blessing his people.
Paul makes the promise even more clear when he says, “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” (9:10). Paul is using “seed” as a metaphor. He is writing to people who live in a city, not on a farm. His point is that God is the source of all blessings.
Whatever our source of money is, God can cause the source to prosper, so that we will in time receive more and more. He can work in the entire picture, from its beginning in seed, to its final result in bread. And Paul is saying that if we are generous, then God will bless our source and our results.
But the most important blessing is the harvest of righteousness, the gift of being counted as righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. We are counted as righteous by his grace, and we are simultaneously called on to live in righteousness, to conform our actions to what he wants, and this includes generosity.
The harvest of thanks
“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (9:11). If you are generous, God will bless you, Paul promises, so you can be generous in future occasions, too. He will bless the beginning of your income and the results of your work. He will supply your needs, so you can continue to give to others.
And as you do that, Paul says, people will be thanking God for what you do. This collection meets a real need, and the people who receive it will appreciate it and be thankful for it. We have many good reasons to feel good about helping them.
“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (9:12). The offering has both physical and spiritual value.
“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” (9:13). In this one verse, Paul makes many points:
- The Corinthians prove themselves by this offering. It shows that their love is genuine (8:8), that their word is good. Can it do the same for us?
- People praise God for good works (Matt. 5:16). Do they see good works in us?
- When we accept the gospel, when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we should obey him. Is our faith accompanied by obedience?
- People particularly appreciate generosity. It is a visible and practical way to let the gospel have results in our lives.
People will not only give thanks, Paul says, but they will also pray: “And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you” (2 Cor. 9:14). If God gives you the grace of giving (8:7), then people will pray for you, no doubt asking God to bless you.
We can be confident that God will supply all our needs and give us blessings we can share with others. As we share material blessings, we also form spiritual bonds between brothers and sisters in Christ.
“Thanks be to God,” Paul concludes, “for his indescribable gift!” (9:15). Can we describe this indescribable gift? Is it the grace of giving, the willingness to be generous with what God has given us? Is it the assurance that God will supply our needs? Is it the spiritual results that generosity has—thanksgiving and prayer? Or is it the often-hidden way in which God blesses those who are generous? For all these and more, thanks be to God!
Author: Michael Morrison, 2001, 2013