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The Corinthian Offering

2nd Corinthians 8,9

Lesson audio

It is sometimes unfortunate that the Bible has been labeled with chapter and verse. Particularly in the matter of giving, there is a temptation to take a verse out of context because it seems so good in an offering meditation. Our church no longer uses offering meditations, so perhaps we are somewhat immunized.

It is important to note that we will learn by example in this passage, which is exactly the principle Paul uses in writing it.

Exhortation to Giving

The power of example

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.

(2Co 8:1-5 NASB)

We must begin with the fact that the example Paul uses, that of the churches in Macedonia, is an act of devotion to God. It indeed must have been extravagant, but very much in line with their purposes. How do we know this?

  • They asked to give. Paul was going to skip them, as he knew they were in poverty. He didn’t want to embarrass them in their poverty; but they were focused on their Lord, not their wallets.
  • They gave beyond their ability. The amount of offering money coming in is rather predictable at most churches; this was well beyond that.
  • They gave themselves to God first. This is the secret of giving in poverty: to commit yourself to God first. The heart of devotion wills sacrifice into being.
The completeness of the Christian

So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. 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 through His poverty might become rich.

(2Co 8:6-9 NASB)

We see here that what Paul is doing is not so much asking for giving but completing it. The Corinthians had the intention to give. Paul is simply asking them to match their deeds to their intentions.

This is why the church is distributing pledge cards. The concept is not one of a particular day asking for a huge offering with an emotional, guilt trip appeal. Rather, they already had the intention to give – and that is what pledge cards are used to form in us.

It is in fact a form of completeness in the giver. If you pray, read the Bible, and attend church services it would be odd indeed that you gave nothing. (It does happen). But most of us would challenge such a person’s sincerity. Paul takes this in a positive way; you’re so good at all these other things, shouldn’t you be good at this too?

His great example, of course, is Christ. As God He is the sum of all perfections; but as Man he humbled Himself to the point of the Cross. In light of that example, tell me again why you cannot give?

Barriers

I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality-- at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, "HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK."

(2Co 8:10-15 NASB)

We often put up barriers to giving. Paul tackles what the Corinthians might say by way of objection:

  • Eager, but undisciplined. As we shall see, Paul gives them instructions on how to accumulate this gift. He tells them again, match your intentions with your deeds. Be mature in the faith; what you promise, deliver.
  • Valuing the gift in the world’s way. Usually heard as “my gift is so small it won’t make any difference.” It won’t make any difference – to the world. It will make a difference with God. Just who did you expect to reward you for your generosity?
  • The sense of fairness. You need to know that everybody is giving a fair share. Paul points out that your time for receiving will come too – then what?

Mechanics of Fund Raising

But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord. We have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness, taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. We have sent with them our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things, but now even more diligent because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ. Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.

(2Co 8:16-24 NASB)

For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints; for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, so that, as I was saying, you may be prepared; otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we--not to speak of you--will be put to shame by this confidence. So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.

(2Co 9:1-5 NASB)

Fund raising has its mechanical workings, just like anything else in the church. There are certain principles which God desires (or commands) with regard to this just as with anything concerning the church.

Right kind of people in charge

What kind of people should be in charge of our giving campaign?

  • Enthusiastic. If God loves a cheerful giver, we at least want to see an enthusiastic giver in charge. While we ourselves may not be enthused about a building fund drive, the person in charge should be – otherwise it will go nowhere.
  • Respected. In our church drive, the leader is one of the elders. That makes sense, for an elder must be someone the church respects. There is a sense of “if he’s for it, then it must be at least pretty good.”
  • Chosen. We would not accept someone that was picked by some consulting firm. We would want the person to be chosen, and chosen from among us.
Right in the sight

Giving campaigns are rather public things. We are going to be seen by the world around us. So we want to avoid causing criticism; criticizing the giving leads to criticizing the church – and then to criticizing her Lord. We do not want our failure in giving to keep someone away from the door of salvation.

Beyond that, the campaign must be for a known, good purpose. Paul is collecting here for the relief of the famine in Judea. Our campaign is for new buildings for the work of the church. If the goal of the campaign sounds a little shady, perhaps it is. Wise as serpents, harmless as doves.

Planning ahead, not emotional response

See how Paul treats his brothers here. It is not a campaign of brilliant preaching followed by an emotional response. Rather,

  • He is sending them this letter in advance – so that they will have time to accumulate the gift they had promised.[1]
  • He is encouraging them to follow through on what they had promised. Doing this now rather than later gives the Corinthians time to recover from any lack.
  • He is careful not to shame them – and thus tells them to be ready when he (and that Macedonian example he cites) come to call.

Results of Giving

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, "HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER." Now 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; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

(2Co 9:6-15 NASB)

Sparing vs. Generous

It is a common principle of God’s care that he uses your measuring cup. By the standards you judge others, you will be judged.[2] (You’d be surprised how non-judgmental I can be with this in mind.) The same is true in your giving. If you are generous, by your standards, God will be generous (by His standards) to you. It works in judgment and forgiveness; it works in giving too.

Most of us, however, see sacrificial giving as beyond us. We’re too worried about “what might happen.” Think this one through with me, please. Just who is in charge of “what will happen” – not what might? For this reason we should not be afraid to sacrifice.[3]

Please note that God looks upon the heart of the giver – just what is it that you intended to give – as well as the gift. He is concerned with your spirit; your wallet he can fix any time He wants to.

God loves a cheerful giver[4]

It is a readily available fact: God rewards those who seek Him.[5] So we may well consider the question: what does the verb “love” mean in the context of God? Is it not the case that He considers us His children, and takes all the delight in us that we take in our own? Are you stingy with your children?[6]

There is another side to this. Chrysostom tells us the practical side of being cheerful about giving. There will come a time when you will disapprove of something for which the money is used. You have your own opinion of how things should be, and it is highly unlikely that everyone in the church will have the same opinion. If you give grudgingly, you work up a slow boil over “how they are using my money.” This cannot be good for you or the church.

Spiritual returns

Paul points out some obvious and not-so-obvious blessings of being the giver:

  • Men will see your giving and praise God for it. Your giving tells of your relationship to God. If you sacrifice for Him, you must indeed think Him to be great. They can’t help but see it.
  • More obviously, someone will praise you for your generosity. As long as their praise isn’t the reason for your generosity, a little of this won’t hurt.
  • Finally, those who are blessed by what you give will pray for you. (With kids, this takes a few years). It never hurts to have someone else remind the Almighty of how much that someone has been blessed by you.

[1] Note, please, that there is no sense here that the church as an organization held the money in waiting; rather, that each Christian did.

[2] Luke 6:38

[3] Luke 12:27-34

[4] The word in the Greek is the root word for “hilarious”

[5] Hebrews 11:6

[6] Matthew 7:9-11

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