Grab your Bible and let’s go deeper into 2 Corinthians 9.
Look with me at 2 Corinthians 9:6-8: The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
Paul’s teachings to the New Testament church in 1 & 2 Corinthians includes specific counsel of how God’s people are to steward (manage) God’s resources for God’s glory. We do this by being joyful, regular, and generous givers to the local church in which God has us a committed member. The resources God intends for His bride (the body of Christ; the church) to have, is to come from the redeemed individuals who are a part of that local body.
If we are not a regular part of the body of Christ, we are members of the body of Christ who are acting like orphans. We have no pastor/elders to whom to submit; no body to whom we can be a blessing; and no local context to use our time, talents, and treasure to help make disciples. Essentially, if you are saved and without a local church home that you are committed to, you are in sin and need to repent.
Faithful participation in para church organizations like SFJMC is a great addition to our home-base involvement in the local church. This is why Soldiers for Jesus’ by-laws demand that every patch holder is a faithful member and participant in a local church. A part of this faithful membership to a local body is to support the ministry that feeds and leads you with joyful, regular, and generous giving.
This is built on the biblical practice of first-fruits giving. God calls for His people to give to Him of their first fruits. This simply means that the first of your income is joyfully given to the Lord as an act of worship and a testimony of whom you love and trust in more than anything else. If you love comfort most, you will pay the mortgage first; if you love your family most, you will pay for the groceries first; if you love your entertainment the most, you will pay the cable bill first, and so on. One of the practical ways we show God and others that we love and trust Him the most is to faithfully give Him our first fruits.
The problem is all too often, we sinfully decide what kind of lifestyle we want or think we should have and then we look to give God what is left over, if we give Him anything. This is completely backwards. We are to prayerfully seek God and commit what we will faithfully give to Him, and then make our lifestyle fit with what is left. This way, He is first and everything else falls under Him.
In today’s passage, Paul gives one of many critical instructions on the way in which we are to practice first-fruits giving to our local church.
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.
To give reluctantly means you really do not want to give of your first fruits, but you feel obligated. If this is your attitude towards giving to God, then don’t go any further until you do business with why your heart is not so in love with God and so trusting of God. Lack of love and trust is directly related to reluctance to give to Him of your first fruits.
This is super important because Paul stresses instead of giving reluctantly, we are supposed to give cheerfully!
The word “cheerful” in the Greek is the word “hilarion.” It’s where we get our English word, hilarious.
God loves a hilarious giver. This should give us an idea of how joyful God intends our giving to be.
We need to understand what God is trying to teach us about how amazing it is when we live an open-handed life. It should bring us an immense amount of joy and bring God an immense amount of glory!
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now about the money being collected for the Christians in Jerusalem: You should follow the same procedures I gave to the churches in Galatia. On every Lord's Day, each of you should put aside some amount of money in relation to what you have earned and save it for this offering. Don't wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.
Paul taught believers are to set aside a regular amount each week and give it to the church.
Are you faithful in your commitment to give God the first fruits of your labor? Or do you haphazardly give only when there is extra or when you get around to it? Paul is saying, giving should be a regular habit. The local church is dependent on the regular giving of its people. Like any organization, including our own, it will not operate correctly if its members are flippant and not timely in their giving. The church cannot steward its resources well for the work of the ministry if it doesn’t have a reliable base to budget and live off of. The regular giving of the saved is important.
The other problem that often arises is this: when times get tough, people start dipping into this committed first-fruits giving to help bail them out. If you truly are giving God your first fruits, then when money is tight, this is the last thing you should be adjusting. Everything else that comes after this should feel the hit before your giving does. You are much better off adjusting the cable, your eating out money, or the Starbucks fund than what you have committed to the Lord. This practice will allow your giving to be a faithful and uninterrupted, regular practice.
2 Corinthians 8:2-3 Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, their wonderful joy and deep poverty have overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford but far more. And they did it of their own free will.
I love this passage we read this week. These Christians were so generous and open-handed with their giving that they gave sacrificially, even though they were experiencing deep poverty.
It is important to understand, what is generous to one person can be completely different to what is generous to another. Not because it’s a matter of opinion, but because God has entrusted each of us with a different amount of resources. Jesus highlights this when pointing out the generosity of the widow’s mite in comparison to the larger gift of the wealthy leaders.
So how do we figure out what is generous?
We can start by looking at Jesus. He gave sacrificially. This simple truth should rock us as we consider the depth of Jesus’ generosity by becoming our atoning sacrifice on the cross. This truly should fly open the gates of our hearts to give much more than we did when in sin, especially when considering that this giving is to advance the kingdom of our great God.
Let me make it even more practical: how do you know you are giving sacrificially?
ANSWER: it costs you something!
Generous or sacrificial giving is not out of the abundance of your lifestyle (what you can afford to give away without impacting you). Instead, generous or sacrificial giving means you give up something significant in your lifestyle to be a blessing to others. Paul is saying, it is our joy to do this with regularity. It is ultimately for the glory of God that we consider how generous we can be to help advance His kingdom.
If you are trying to figure out a minimum number required to give, then your giving is already from a heart that is more about how much you can keep for you and less about how much you can give to advance the gospel. Remember, any of the giving we do is in the name of the One to whom it all belongs anyway! This should change how we look at this.
Now, generous giving can also mean that you are looking for ways to give to other advancements of the gospel in addition to your first fruits given to your local church. A few examples are: support a missionary, give to a local gospel ministry in your city, or give above and beyond your regular pledge to SFJMC. Another thing I encourage you to do is set aside a little bit each month to what Jennifer and I call “gospel gifts.” This money is simply set aside and available to give to anyone you come into contact with who has a need you feel helps you put on display the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s hard to do this often unless we have made plans to set it aside in advance.
When we as Christians begin to discover this kind of open-handed living, we will find the old saying is very true:
”God will do way more with what you have left after you generously give than you could ever do with the full amount.”
A final point related to generous giving: our Scripture today says we are not to give under compulsion!
This means, you don’t emotionally and flippantly just give it all away and not steward well the rest of what God has called you to. Generous giving is not reckless giving; it is prayerfully and wisely giving as a good steward.
To close: there is no time like the present to take a fresh look at this practice in your Christian walk.
Are you joyfully, regularly, and generously giving God of your first fruits and not just your leftovers?
Do you ultimately trust that as you are faithful to Him, He will provide for you everything you need?
Don’t ever forget, all that you have is God’s, not yours! He has entrusted it to you to manage it for Him.
Go to God in prayer about these things. Sit with your family and seek God together. Be willing to get counsel if needed. Be willing to repent and start a new obedient practice today. God’s word is clear on this issue. Paul has dedicated a lot of his writing in these chapters to this. We need to be willing to submit ourselves to God’s word and practice these things.