Stewardship: The Generous Church
“Stewardship: The Generous Church”
2 Corinthians 8-9
This morning, we complete our mini-series on the nature of the church. Today, we will be addressing the issue of stewardship in giving for the local church. It is inevitable that at the mention of stewardship, people strangely hear but one thing: “Here we go. The pastor is going to ask us to give more money to the church.” Am I right? Let me suggest to you that this understanding is incredibly short-sighted. Let me challenge you to flip that thought on its head.
First, it is ultimately not for the benefit of the pastor that the church members give more money. I hope to show you that generosity is actually for your benefit. Also, we need to reprogram our minds. We have been conditioned into thinking that we work to accumulate possessions for ourselves (even our children). We have been brought up focusing on retirement plans and inheritances. And yet we have not come to the realization that everything that we think that we earn for us is actually God’s provision for his purposes. And we’ll zero on in this in the moments to come. We need to revisit Paul’s words in Romans 11:36 “36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” At the conclusion of Paul’s thoughts regarding God’s election of his people and his pondering God’s wisdom and knowledge, Paul concludes that all things come from God, through him, and that all things are for him. And in this, God is glorified. Let’s keep this verse in mind as we launch into this subject of God’s resources.
And we’re going to do this by looking at 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Please turn there in your Bibles. No, we will not cover two chapters exhaustively. But what I want to look at these rich chapters and extract some timeless principles that will help us understand what it means to be generous followers of Jesus Christ. And because I know that you desire to be good students of the Bible and you know that we need to continually interpret God’s Word in its context, let me say at the outset that this section does NOT specifically refer to regular weekly giving within the church. However, Paul interjects rich, glorious and timeless theological truths that he will apply to a specific situation. And these same truths will prove to be invaluable to us as we consider the bigger picture when it comes to our finances.
So, what is going on in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9? What is the context from which we will glean insight into our resources? We actually need to recall Paul’s previous letter to the church of Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul makes mention of a combined effort for a collection for the saints in Jerusalem. He indicates that the churches of Galatia were also contributing. Paul also says that he will visit the Corinthians after passing through Macedonia. And it appears as though the Macedonians would be joining the effort of the collection.
In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul proceeds to speak of his experience in Macedonia and the response that was received regarding the collection. And throughout the section, he will use them as an example to spur on the Corinthians for their part. He will also refer to their desire to begin the collection and the need to complete it. And how this will reflect their hearts. And yet Paul’s primary motivation will be theological. This is why we can extract from this rich text these timeless principles that serve as our motivation to be generous as well.
We find the first point in verses 1-6 of chapter 8. Let’s read this portion of the text. READ. The first point is “Generosity Reveals Grace.” Let me point out that we need to notice how many times that grace is mentioned in these chapters as well.
Paul begins by introducing the generosity of the Macedonians in verse 1. But he does this by drawing primary attention to the grace of God. Now watch the effect of the grace of God in the lives of the churches in Macedonia. It is demonstrated with the introduction of the word “for” in verse 2. “for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity…” Wait. What? Paul had visited Macedonia and could testify their dire situation. They found themselves suffering persecution from the surrounding culture because of Jesus Christ. And in the midst of the suffering, they were abounding in joy. Doesn’t this characterize us all? This is our first response in affliction… joy. This was most certainly the grace that Paul was speaking about because this is not the human response to suffering. It is because God had invaded their lives and provided for them the fruit of joy.
Notice what happens next. Paul says that their extreme poverty had overflowed in a wealth of generosity. Again… what? We don’t know what this means. And I don’t mean to minimize anybody’s financial struggles. But we will likely never face the poverty issue to the same magnitude as these folks. In fact, R. Kent Hughes tells us that “The word Paul uses for “their extreme poverty” is the word from which we derive the English word bathysphere—the ship we use to probe the depths of the ocean—a Jacques Cousteau kind of word.” Their poverty was extreme. And yet they did not hoard anything that they did have. It actually translated into a wealth of generosity. It may not have been a significant quantitative amount, but it demonstrated a wealth of generosity.
Again, this is not normal. When we struggle financially, is our first thought how much more we can give? This was caused by the grace of God that had been given among the churches of Macedonia. There is no other accounting for it.
But let’s press it home even more by looking at verse 3. “For”. This is an elaboration on their generosity. “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means.” Not only did they give according to their means, they exceeded their means. Someone has said that sacrificial giving means that you give until it hurts. And then give a little more. That’s what the Macedonians were doing.
These folks were not coerced, manipulated, or forced to do this either. The text says that they did this on their own accord. Not only that, they were begging… earnestly… for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. I can’t remember the last time that I was in a severe test of affliction and extremely impoverished where I gave beyond my means, begging to give more. How about you? Why is this? Why would people do such a radical thing?
Look at verse 5. They had given themselves first to the Lord. When we realize that are lives are not our own, we will also acknowledge that our possessions are not our own. Think about this. Paul had written previously in 1 Corinthians that those who have trusted in Christ and have the Holy Spirit residing within them are not their own. They have been bought with a price. The Macedonians got it. They understood the grace that they had received in their salvation and the grace that motivated them to give beyond their means. When you give God the whole of who you are, the parts should be easier to give.
They also understood that when they gave in this manner, they were participating in something much greater than their daily lives. They were involved in assisting God’s people in Jerusalem. And they considered this a great privilege to which there was also tremendous benefit. I will likely revisit this at the end. But when we think through our own level of giving for the cause of Jesus Christ, I hope that we will come to the realization that God uses us and our resources to increase his kingdom. And when are completely invested in this mission, there is tremendous blessing. But we don’t naturally think of this as the great privilege that it is. I’ll admit that I need to continually remind myself of the big picture. And so we need to emulate these churches that exhibited this great faith. They did not consider themselves their own, but belonging to God and his mission.
Verses 6-7 will introduce our second brief point which is Generosity Comes from God. I’ve mentioned this already but this generosity does not originate in the hearts of men – but in the grace of God. At the end of verse 6, Paul challenges the Corinthians to complete this act of grace.
And then in verse 7, Paul lists several aspects to which to compare their giving. The generosity isn’t secondary in their Christian walk. He says that “as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in their love (this is a difficult phrase. Some translations have it read something like “your love for us” or “the love from us that is in you”). But the charge is that in the same way that they are to excel in these, so they should excel in their generous giving. It is likely that the Corinthian church would have understood the importance of excelling in their faith and speech and knowledge. And here Paul equates this act of grace with them.
Kent Hughes introduces this important point: “There is no way to grow to spiritual maturity without committing your finances to the Lord. Jesus can have our money and not have our hearts, but he cannot have our hearts without our money.” And Luther has said that the last place for a person to be converted is in his wallet.
Let’s look now at our next point which is Greatest Example of Generosity. In verses 8-10, Paul will provide a primary motivation for their obedience in this. And it does not come by way of command. Rather, he appeals to the genuineness of their love. And by association, this would refer to their very salvation.
Here’s how Paul shows this. In verse 9, Paul begins by saying “for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Wow! Talk about getting right to the point. How can we not be generous when we look to the Son of God? Philippians 2:6–8 says that Jesus, “6 … though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Does anyone know anything more generous than that?!?
Jesus has existed for all of eternity with the Father and Holy Spirit in heaven. Colossians tells us that through him all things were created. He is eternally equal in the trinity. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Everything belongs to him. He is debt free. But Jesus did not count equality a thing to be grasped. He left the throne in heaven to become like one of his creatures. He came to be born as a baby – not to a king in a palace, but to a teenage mom and a dad who was a blue collar construction worker.
Jesus was exceedingly generous – even to the point of giving away his very life! Paul says that for your sake he became poor, so that you might become rich. This doesn’t mean that he came that we all might be materially wealthy. Rather, he was generous so that those who were spiritually poor could be made heirs and sons of the King. This is our example of generosity.
And in verse 10, Paul says that the benefit is for the readers of this letter. How? You ask. It is for their benefit because it would confirm their commitment and faith in Christ. If they were to follow through on their commitment, it would confirm their faith. And if they refused to complete it, it would demonstrate that they were not part of God’s people.
The next point is Proportionate Generosity. In verse 11, Paul encourages them to finish it so that “your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.” The first thing to note here is the motivation. It is their readiness in desiring that Paul targets here. As we have seen, Paul is after voluntary generosity and not commanded obligation.
To help illustrate the point…During a Scottish worship service in Edinburgh, it is reported that one member of the congregation accidentally put in a crown piece instead of a penny, winced in the realization of what he’d done, and quietly asked for it back. But the usher was Scottish too and answered, “In once, in forever.” “Oh well,” groaned the giver, “I’ll get credit for it in Heaven.” “No,” said the usher, “you’ll get credit for only a penny!” God’s focus is on the heart and not the amount contributed.
And Paul says that “if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” What we need to realize is that God does not need our money. And yet our giving reflects our hearts. And so a poor person can give “more” than a rich person because of its sacrificial nature and faith exercised in giving. A rich person’s $10,000 check can pale in comparison to the poor person’s dollar. So, I think the point here is that sacrificial giving is proportionate in the sense that we give until it hurts, and give a little more. We’ll revisit this thought momentarily.
Our next point we will find in chapter 9 of 2 Corinthians. Please flip the page if you need to. We will now look to Generosity Reveals Faith. Let’s pick up the text in verse 6. READ vv. 6-12. Beginning in verse 6, let’s see how this reveals our faith. Paul begins with agricultural imagery to communicate generosity. And yet, he also includes a promised blessing for this generosity. And the opposite is true as well: the stingy will reap sparingly.
To help us understand this image, I share a paragraph from Giants in the Earth, a novel about Midwest pioneers that describes an old farmer’s joyous energy at the potential of what he is about to sow.
With what zest he broke the tough-fibered prairie sod, which had never been broken before since the beginning of time.… And with what reverence he held up the beautiful seed which he was to sow on his own ground. The plump kernels appeared to glow with some inner golden light as the warm rays of the sun struck full across them, and they seemed to be squirming in the hand that grasped them as if they were charged with a life, suddenly roused from slumber, that was seeking release there.
The old farmer would sow generously in glad anticipation of reaping a great harvest. How much more so when we consider the spiritual realities to which Paul alludes to here? This type of sowing is charged with life. Great generosity births exponential blessing. R. Kent Hughes adds that “what we give, though material, glows with the golden light of eternity. Generosity unleashes that light. To be generous is divine.” Do we look as though eternity were stamped on our eyes? Do we see the potential for God’s Kingdom in our generosity?
Do you see how sowing bountifully or generously, reveals faith? Why don’t many of us sow generously? We often think of the “what if’s?” We often lack faith. Look down to verse 10. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the Source. The One who gives you what you have will continue to give you what you need AND will continue to give you more so that you can give more. And then he says, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way…” Get all that?
God gives generously to us so that we will be generous with his generosity. I had a professor one time who challenged my thinking of finances. He had immigrated from South Korea (I believe) and learned to live on a low income. And as he gradually got pay increases, he would not raise his standard of living (because he was accustomed to it), but instead gave that same increment away. Isn’t that a backward way of thinking for us? We think of using our pay raises to raise our standard of living, don’t we? God gives generously to us so that we will be generous with his generosity.
What do we reap? There are many who would preach that we ourselves become rich through our generosity. Is this what the text says? Let’s consider our benefit in our giving. First, look back at verse 10. Paul says here that besides multiplying our seed for sowing, our generosity will increase the harvest of our righteousness. There is both an immediate and eternal blessing in our generosity. Our faith is increased as we watch the hand of God at work with our resources. I believe also that we grow in spiritual maturity as we are obedient to God’s Word.
Our generosity confirms that one is a Christian. We suggested at the outset that generosity is an act of grace. It comes from God and through his people. We know from Matthew 6 that we store up treasure in heaven. We are not designed to accumulate treasures on earth but to focus on eternal reward.
We find more benefits in verse 11. We will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way. This seems to indicate a cyclical pattern which will produce thanksgiving to God. Trace this thought through the next couple of verses. This ministry meets the needs of other saints, increases the magnitude of thanksgiving and leads to the glorification of God. Why? Because our deeds of generosity will match the message of the gospel.
We just mentioned the greatest example of generosity that is communicated in the gospel. Jesus left his rich kingdom in heaven to make the poor rich by his death on the cross. Christians declare this message. And when our generosity reaffirms what we’ve been talking about, God is glorified! And if we’re not generous…??
What does this mean for us? Is the pastor merely manipulating us so that we can make budget? No. But that would be wonderful too… Rather, I want you to buy into the big picture that Paul lays out here.
To summarize, Paul points out that generosity is a gift from God. And God’s people should manifest generosity. In fact, it confirms that they are his people. God’s people will certainly follow the greatest example of generosity – especially when it is the very One that gave their lives for them. Paul adds that our giving is a reflection of our hearts and an indicator of our faith.
At one point, I was considering posting our attendance for the month of January and the reported giving so that we could evaluate and see if it reflected a generous people of God. I’m not going to do this because I don’t want anyone to give out of a sense of guilt. Rather, I would challenge you to consider if your level of generosity accurately reflects your heart.
Moreover, consider what we are about as the church in Squamish. We have considered in the previous weeks what it means to be part of the body of Christ – how we are striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. We make it our aim to introduce people to Jesus Christ. Can you look at the seeds and see the potential harvest? Are the seeds glimmering and shaking in your hand as you anticipate expectantly for the harvest?
It is true that what we apply our finances to can seem lackluster as we consider paying electric bills and phone bills and a pastor who continually makes us feel guilty. But consider as well, the lives that have been changed because we have determined to come and pray and worship and equip and encourage one another. Consider those who have come to know Jesus for the first time. Think of those who have been sent out from this church to the ends of the earth declaring Jesus to the world.
This is the mission that we are committed to. We desire to see God at work in this church, in this community, and in his world. God has called out a people to have first given themselves to God and then to be a generous people so that we demonstrate our faith, our heart and our thankfulness to him. To God be the glory. Let’s pray.