Authentic Ministry 20/Second Corinthians
One of the great lessons that we must learn is that God is far more generous than we are. Often, when we are confronted with scarcity, it is the result of our own greed, laziness, unbelief, and so on. When this starts to happen, we clutch at what we have even more, which perpetuates the downward cycle. God is the God of abundance, and the thing that corrupts the resultant affluence is something that we call sin.
“For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many. Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready: Lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting. Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness. But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:1–7).
Summary of the Text
Paul says that on one level it is unnecessary for him to go again over his teaching on finances and giving to the saints (v. 1). He knew they had covered that previously. They had been very eager to give the year before, and Paul had bragged on them to the Macedonians, which is part of the reason that they were provoked into zealous generosity (v. 2). But Paul sent these brothers on ahead to make sure the gift was ready because otherwise it would look like Paul had been boasting in vain (v. 3). The issue was not the donation itself, but rather whether the donation was prepared and ready to go (v. 4). Imagine the humiliation if the raggedy Macedonians showed up at Corinth with their big gift, and the well-to-do Corinthians had to say, “Oh, yeah, we said we would do that, didn’t we?” So this is why Paul sent on the brothers mentioned in the previous chapter. He knew that if the gift was unprepared, there would be a temptation to try to squeeze it out of them, or to hurry it up, and that would be covetousness and not bounty (v. 5). The word rendered gift in this section is literally blessing. And so Paul then comes down to the central principle—money is seed corn, and the amount of the harvest is directly correlated to the amount that was sown (v. 6). Sow sparingly, reap sparingly—sow generously, reap generously. This is not just a matter of amounts, but also of attitudes. Each donor should settle the amount to be given in his own heart, and then give that amount. He is responsible to monitor that—no grudging, no crisis giving (necessity), and why? Because God loves a cheerful giver (v. 7).
Zero Sum Thinking
The thing that paralyzes us is our blind faith in the static and fixed nature of the created world. This leads to zero sum thinking, which in turn leads to a grasping selfishness. Unlearning this zero sum mentality is the hardest thing in the world—in order to do it, you have to mortify envy, lust, greed, and all the rest of that rancid crew.
Zero sum thinking assumes that the size of the pie is necessarily fixed, and that more for someone else means less for you, and that more invested in the soil means less for you, and that more given to kingdom work means less for you. Because there is always the same amount of stuff, the more people we have, the poorer we get. But this is wrong. God has placed us in a world where the pie is constantly growing. Envy stares malevolently at the percentages, and not at the goodness of abundance. But what would you rather have? One percent of a million dollars, or fifty percent of fifty cents? One is smaller than fifty.
We have been taught to view everyone as consumers. But why not producers? We are born into this world with only one mouth, and with two hands. Why shouldn’t we produce twice as much as we consume? “In a multitude of people is a king’s honor, but in the lack of people is the downfall of a prince” (Proverbs 14:28).
Generating the Grudge
Now one of the ways that recipients of donations get around what Paul is teaching here is that they do their manipulative thing, and then add a note that says that God wants the person to give the gift that was wheedled out of them, and to give it cheerfully (hilaros). In other words, they disobey the assigned preconditions for creating this generosity, and then demand that the donor ignore the fact that they did so.
It is like those who invent draconian sabbath restrictions in order to turn the joy of sabbath rest into the equivalent of eating a bowl of driveway gravel, and then, when somebody protests the treatment, they are lugubriously and solemnly informed that God wants us to learn how to call the sabbath a delight (Is. 58:13).
Demand for generosity (emotional demand, authoritative, or other) quenches the desire to do any such thing. This is a principle that applies in multiple areas. Nobody wants to pitch in to help out the dispensers of buzzkill. “Why don’t you kids visit us more?” The thought bubble over their heads says “because of conversations like this one.”
What God is Like
Our God is a generous God. When He summons us to a life of generosity, He is not trying to squeeze riches from us to fill up His coffers. He doesn’t need us in that way. “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 50:12). He summons us to generosity so that we might become more like Him. His requirement that we learn to give is a form of giving to us.
“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.”
Ephesians 5:1 (KJV)
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”
2 Corinthians 9:15 (KJV)
We worship the God of the open hand. In order to see that open hand, we must look to the gift that was given to us in Christ. And when we look at that open hand, what we see is a nail scar. Sacrificial giving is the way of the Christian because it was the way of Christ.