2 Corinthians 8:11- 15
This morning we come into a section of 2 Corinthians where Paul, in the context of testing the genuineness of the Corinthian church, is giving them instruction about what giving and generosity that is acceptable to God looks like. This morning our task is to consider what is acceptable to God and then to examine ourselves in light of what we find. If we are the people of God we should bear the marks of it in the area of money, giving, generosity and stewardship.
God has said so much regarding this subject in the Scriptures, but we will limit our study this morning to those issues which are either directly taught here or which (it seems to me) naturally arise as we try to apply this passage to ourselves.
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
Remember that the overarching context is that Paul is eager to see the Corinthians give evidence that they are genuine believers (that God’s grace is truly at work in them). Does their conduct match their confession, especially in this area of generosity towards God’s people? Remember that Paul is not interested in commanding them to follow a list of rules. He is interested in the fruit of the Spirit that issues from a new heart. Do we have that new heart?
This morning we will not be compiling a list of rules, by which we can declare ourselves righteous. We will be asking if the fruit of God’s Spirit is evident in our lives.
Given the subject matter this morning, I think it is important that we gain perspective from our Lord and Savior Jesus in Matthew 19:24,
… I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
I wonder if we recognize the danger that money and possessions pose to our entering the kingdom. There is great danger in being rich. And compared to the rest of the world every one of us is rich.
This morning we need to consider the use of wealth, giving, and stewardship that glorifies God and it is a weighty and important subject. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person (you and me) to enter the kingdom of God. Something miraculous has to happen! Something radical! Or we will not go to heaven.
Have we seriously considered the threat that wealth poses to our hearts?
Guests on the earth
In Psalm 39 David gives us a number of great pictures that help us gain perspective on our situation on the earth. In Psalm 39:4 and 5 David says, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” and then in verse 12, “Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers.”
Do we understand that we will last here only a very short time? We are fleeting. Do we understand that all our days are a nothing before the Almighty and all of human history is a breath? Do we consider ourselves guests on the earth? We are here in God’s world as guests. We own nothing and will soon be gone. Do we have the right perspective about who we are before our God and are we living in His world, making use of His things, soberly?
Health, Wealth, Prosperity Rejected
Unfortunately, there are well known teachers who claim the name of Christ who are teaching that Christians, because they are children of God, ought to be experiencing the benefits of comfort and health and wealth in this age and if we are not experiencing those things we must not be walking by faith or living in obedience to God.
They want to claim that if we just follow Jesus and obey His word things will go well for us in this world because the kingdom has come and we are citizens and sons of the King and so if we will just obey we will be blessed with comfort and health and wealth. In their view, riches and healing and health are a sign of God’s favor.
But as we saw in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 8 when God’s grace (favor) comes down it does not necessarily mean poverty will be revealed. In fact, if you have been with us in 2 Corinthians you will know that Paul has said again and again that yes, we have treasure secured, eternal in the heavens, but now we have it in jars of clay. In this age we can expect persecution, affliction, being struck down. We can expect to carry the death of Jesus around with us in our mortal bodies. We can expect our outer-self to be wasting away. We can expect groaning, burdens, dishonor, slander, punishment, sorrow, having nothing… yet in Christ, we do possess all things (2 Cor 4-6).
Those who teach that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy and prosperous in this world are ignorant of what God has said or they are deceptive. And often those who teach such things connect the receiving of God’s material blessing with the obedience of trusting God. ‘You want God to bless you with financial security and abundance?’ they ask, ‘than you must trust him with what He has already given you.’ Which usually means giving money to that preacher or church or organization. And so the motive in that false teaching becomes, ‘if you want a material blessing, giving us your money.’
But in the Scriptures normal Christianity is sorrowful, yet always rejoicing – poor, yet making many rich. Light and momentary affliction preparing eternal weight of glory.
Brothers and sisters, we are here for a moment and we have a mission to attend to and it is not a mission to amass earthly wealth for ourselves, it is a mission to make many rich eternally through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a mission to take the treasure of the gospel to difficult and hostile people who live in difficult and hostile places. Your mission in this world is not to live a comfortable and self-serving life, it is to multiply disciples of Jesus Christ, seeing them grow to become fully devoted to Him, His people, and His mission until He returns. Who will be faithful to complete this mission? Certainly not those whose first concern is comfortable living and accumulating riches and comfort.
Do we bear the marks of God’s people? Do we bear the marks of people who have run in faith to Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and coming again for forgiveness of sins and life everlasting? Do we bear the marks of those who have set their hope in Jesus Christ alone for resurrection and joy? Are we looking forward in faith or, are we grasping for the riches that perish?
1 Timothy 6:6-10
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Riches are dangerous.
Are Riches the Problem?
So, is it sinful to be rich? No. Riches are not the problem – it is the love of money that is at the root of every kind of evil. There were some very wealthy people in the bible who loved the Lord. But it is dangerous to be rich, like us. It is not sinful to be rich, but it is sinful to crave riches and to set our hope on riches and to want to secure our riches and to grow our earthly riches more and more.
Those with riches tend to trust in their riches and not in the Lord of lords, the Creator and Sustainer of everyone and everything. But the mark of God’s people is that they give themselves first to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5). Have we given ourselves to the Lord?
Brothers and sisters, let’s approach our text in 2 Corinthians soberly, with a right perspective, realizing the danger of trusting in riches and not the Lord. With sobriety, lets learn from 2 Corinthians 8 about the kind of giving that is acceptable to God.
Meeting Needs vs ‘Pious’ Self-Imposed Poverty
If you look at verse 13 and 15 they say,
“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need [the suffering Jerusalem saints], so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’”
I would like to draw out of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians a couple of principles here.
Poverty is Not the Goal
First, notice that even as there is danger in being wealthy (because we will be tempted to trusting in wealth and not God), there is no inherent godliness connected to poverty. Paul wants those in poverty to be relieved. He wants those in need to have that need supplied. His idea of a good outcome in the church is not that all the members of Christ people burn their houses down, live on the streets and starve to death nor live on the backs of others when they are able to meet their own needs.
Here is a couple of passages that help us understand the right use of wealth:
1 Thess 4:11-12
“…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
We should be working with our hands to have enough to support ourselves and not be dependent on others. The same idea is expressed in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12,
2 Thess 3:11-12
“For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now, such persons, we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”
But consider Ephesians 4:28 as Paul adds an additional element,
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
So, let’s put this together. It is not good to be in want nor is it good to be dependent on others when it is in our power to support ourselves. There are times when we have no choice, but let’s not confuse legitimate need with idleness and foolishness. If fact, we are told that it is good to work hard and even to accumulate a surplus so that we have something to give to others who are in need.
So, even as we must guard our hearts against trusting in the emptiness of possessions (rather than in God who richly supplies all things!) we must not think that wealth is the problem to be discarded – it is to be used to support ourselves and to meet the needs of others.
Meeting Needs for Christ’s Sake is the Goal
Notice also, that the giving described here in 2 Corinthians is not giving driven by some theoretical and abstract principle; it is giving to meet the real needs of others. When the Lord blesses you with more than you need (and we saw in 1 Timothy 6 that we are to be content with food and clothes and not to crave more than that) it is so that you can meet the needs of others.
It is clear from what we have seen in the past few weeks from chapter 8 that we as Christ’s people are to be a people overflowing with hearts of generosity, not following a list of rules out of some duty driven obligation. So often stewardship is reduced to abstract principles like, Christians give 10% of their annual income. But that is not what Paul is describing here at all.
What Paul is describing is a people who, in verse 5, “…gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” God’s people are not driven by some wooden unfeeling principle. They are driven by new affections for God, robust faith in God, and new affections for His people and for His mission.
When we give ourselves first to the Lord we are giving everything that we have and everything that we hope to have to the Lord – it is His. We entrust ourselves to Him and His will, the things that He loves become the things that we love.
Have you given yourself to the Lord? Have you given everything to Him? It is His. And you are His.
Those led by God’s Spirit do not say, “I have fulfilled by duty to God and man by tithing my 10%. The 90% is mine.” Those led by God’s Spirit say, “In You, Oh Lord, do I put my trust. All I have is from You and is Yours and so I will use what is Yours to support and strengthen and help Your people and Your aims in this world.”
Is this how we function here?
Considering the Tithe of the OT and making Application to the NT.
I have just touched on fairly controversial subjects (in some circles) that naturally comes to mind when talking about wealth, giving, and stewardship in the church and that is tithing.
Interestingly, even as 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is all about evidence of the work of the Spirit in us expressed as generosity it does not mention tithing (the practice of giving ten percent of our income to the Lord). It could be argued that the reason is because Paul is calling the church to collect a special fund for a particular need, and not addressing the regular giving habits of the church, but the fact is that the New Testament does not explicitly teach that New Covenant believers are required to tithe. There is no set percentage given in the New Testament.
Now some argue that the New Covenant does not need to state a set percentage because the Old Covenant clearly set the standard at 10%. But that is also debatable. If you study the Old Covenant theocracy you’ll find at least three tithes that appear to be different from one another and you will see regulations about not reaping your fields right up to the edge nor gathering the gleanings that have dropped at harvest time and to leave it for the poor and sojourner. And a pretty convincing argument can be made that an Israelite under the Old Covenant was required to give more than 23 percent of their income to the Lord not counting the produce left in the fields for the poor.
And this 23 percent was used to support the Levites who ministered in the tabernacle and temple, it was used for a required yearly sacrificial feast to the Lord, and it was used to meet the needs of the fatherless, widow, and alien in the Israel.
But that Covenant has passed away. That geopolitical nation and the circumstances in which those tithes could be paid has passed away. So are we obligated and required to pay 10 percent or 23 percent to the church?
For more detail about the Old Covenant tithe, this are some of Sam Storms considerations,
‘Some believe Israelites paid nearly 22 percent of their income to the Lord every year! Let me summarize this argument.
According to Leviticus 27:30-33, 10 percent of all grain, cattle, fruit, etc., was to be set aside as a tithe to the Lord. This tithe, in turn, was to be given to the Levites for the work they did while serving at the tent of meeting. The Levites constituted the tribe of Israel from which the priests were taken. We read in Numbers 18:20-32 that they received this tithe because they were not given an inheritance in the land.
Thus, it would appear that the first 10 percent of the Israelites’ income was to be given to the Levites, who in turn tithed from that 10 percent (1percent), giving it to the high priest (Numbers 18:26-29). Clearly, the Levites, or those who ministered in the tabernacle and temple, were supposed to live off the tithes of the other eleven tribes.
In 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, Paul reminds the church that in the Old Testament economy the Levites who worked in the temple lived off the tithes brought there: ‘Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?’ He then says in 9:14, ‘In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.’
Paul’s argument is that those who spend their lives ministering the Word of God should be supported by other Christians. To make his point, he draws attention to the way it was done in the Old Testament. At a minimum, Paul is saying that other believers are to financially support those in so-called ‘full-time-ministry.’ Whether or not he is saying that they should do it by giving precisely 10 percent is less certain.
On the basis of Deuteronomy 14:22-27, some argue that a second tithe (or 10 percent of the remaining 90 percent, hence 9 percent) was to be taken once a year to Jerusalem, there to be consumed by a man and his family in a sacred feast or meal. If a person lived too far was to transport his tithe to Jerusalem, he was permitted to exchange his goods for silver. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he was to covert his cash back into cattle, sheep, wine, etc., (Deut. 14:24-26). If this is the correct interpretation, we now have Israelites paying 19 percent of their income in tithes. But there is more to come.
According to Deuteronomy 14:28-29, an additional tithe of 10 percent was to be paid every third year. This tithe was to be given to the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless, and the widows. In other words, every third year the Israelite was to take an additional 10 percent of the remaining 81 percent. If my math is correct, this means that every year the Israelite was required to pay approximately 21.7 percent of his income in tithes to the Lord.
[It is actually 23.3 percent if we don’t assume the additional tithes are based on the remaining amount but on the principal income amount. In addition to all this, we need to add that the Israelites were not to reap right up to the edges of their field, neither to gather the gleanings after the harvest. They were to leave it for the poor and sojourner (Leviticus 19:9-10).]
Others have objected to this interpretation, arguing that these passages in the Old Testament all refer to the same tithe… Regardless if which view one takes, the important point to note is that the Israelite was required to pay his tithe. It was tantamount to a national income tax. That is why Malachi 3:6 speaks of those who do not pay their tithes as ‘robbing’ God. In Israel, under the Mosaic covenant, there was no such thing as separation of church and state. One’s tithe was a religious tax designed to sustain the theocratic state of God’s chosen people.”
Desire to Do It
As we have seen in 2 Corinthians, in no uncertain terms, we are not under the Old Covenant Law (though it certainly has much to teach us about what God loves!). We are not driven forward or pressed in or constrained by external force of law to give 10 percent or 23 percent of our income to the church. Instead, we are led by God’s Spirit to give ourselves fully to the Lord and then to be radically generous to meet the needs of God’s people and to support the mission of Christ in the world.
As is clear in verse 1-12 of chapter 8 Paul wants to see the Corinthians have an earnest desire and a genuine love for their brothers and sisters. He is not interested in duty driven obedience. Without desire and love for God and others, giving any amount does not please God, it is not acceptable.
2 Corinthians 9:7
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
The New Covenant standard is not 10% is faith, hope, and love. The standard for the New Covenant people of God are hearts satisfied with in Christ and overflowing with generosity, not a duty-driven tithe.
Let me pressing this a moment more. Are you and I obliged to give 10% of our income to this local church? Is that what God requires? I have heard of churches that require the members to supply the leadership of the church with their tax returns so that they can ensure that the income of the church is at least 10% of the membership’s income.
But the sad truth is, as I’ve read statistics that said only about 3-5% of even protestant church goers actually tithe (so in a church of 40 that is 1.2 – 2 people, church of 400 that is 12 -20) and most protestant churchgoers give less than 2% of their income. I would not be surprised if this were so (but I’ve also been told that 90% of all statistics are made up. I just made that up). I don’t know what you give, nobody in this church knows what percentage you give and we are not going to check.
But the standard is far higher than 10% or even 23 percent. It is a heart fixed upon the Lord and His righteousness – it is life that has been entrusted to the Lord. It is a heart fully devoted to Christ and fully devoted to His people so that we work hard as the Lord prospers us so as 1. not to be a burden and so that 2. we can give for the needs of others and for the furthering of the gospel. Not to pad our retirement or make our lives more comfortable and secure (with food and clothes we will be content).
Have you been freed to a life like that? Are we marked by this a kind of generosity?
Now I want to make sure we note here that this does not mean merely giving to the local church, but it should certainly include it. Yes, I believe that as the Old Covenant taught us, God’s people ought to support the local assembly ministry of the gospel (see 1 Cor. 9:13-14 Paul speaks to that a bit). And so your life of radical generosity should include robustly supporting the local church, but that is not where our generosity ends. After you have given to support the local church you are not off the hook and free to life like an unbeliever! All that you have is the Lord’s and if you have entrusted yourself to the Lord all that you have will be used for His glory and His mission.
And maybe for you, it truly is only 1% that you can spare, probably not, but maybe. Or maybe it is 10%, or maybe it’s 23% or 30% or 95%. The Lord has so abundantly blessed us as westerners with resources. Are we using His things for His glory and His mission?
Are we investing in making many rich for eternity, or are we investing in making ourselves rich here?
Good Start Matched with Completion
And notice in verses 10-12, Paul says,
And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
The issue in Paul’s mind is not, ‘are the Corinthians living on the brink of poverty because that is what pleases God?’ No. This issue is not, ‘are they giving their dutiful 10 percent?’ We see clearly Paul is not asking them to give out of their need (as Jesus tells us the widow did in Mark 12:42, or as the Macedonians did). Paul is concerned that the Corinthians are meeting the needs of others and supporting God’s people out of what they have from hearts that are genuinely living upon Jesus.
And here we see he is concerned that they may have just given lip serves to wanting to give, but that truly they don’t intend to follow through. He is concerned that their hearts line up with their words.
How about us?
Do we have a surplus? If we do we have something to give for the furthering of the gospel and the support of God’s people. Do we say, “yes, I am a follower of Christ and I want to use God’s things to support his people who are suffering and I want to use His things to support His mission” but then do we follow through with those words in the way we actual use God’s things? Is our desire matched by our completing the good work out of what we have?
Convicting. Let us not be hearers only. But doers.
A Call to Radical Discipleship
Jesus called us to be his disciples, to follow him on the calvary road – to lose our lives in this world that other might live and God might be glorified. He did not call us to build our own empires or live in comfort and luxury. He called us to be content with food and clothes and to entrust ourselves to Him who raises the dead.
As David said, we are but guests here in a world. We are not our own – and even as we have been adopted, Peter tells us we are aliens and sojourners here and the author of Hebrews told us that here we have no lasting city. Our citizenship and our hope and our treasure is secured in Christ. By faith in Him we have been granted rewards unimaginable, and pleasures forevermore, to behold His glory.
Do our lives look like the lives of those who have been captivated by a vision of the great and awesome God who loved us and gave Himself for us – so that we have given ourselves to Him and now by His will do we generously and joyfully and fearlessly give out of what we have been given? Are we bending our lives and livelihoods toward kingdom purposes or toward self-serving comforts?
Let’s finish well. Let our conduct line up with our confession. Our lives here are but a breath, let us live them here trusting Him, who, though He was rich, yet for our sake, He became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich.
God took on human flesh and dwelt among us,
Fulfilling all righteousness,
He died upon the cross and perfectly paid the penalty for sin,
God raised Him from the dead, testifying to the perfection of His work,
And all who trust in Him, in Him who beat the power of sin and death and who is Lord of lords – will be raised in like manner and enter into eternal life and riches in the presence of His glory forever.
We live now between the ages. In the hour of grace. And we are here to proclaim this gospel and make many rich forever.
That is why we are here and all that we have been entrusted with in this life should be used for that end.
Do we bear the marks of Christ’s people?