February 7/8, 2015
Jason Meyer | 2 Corinthians 9:1-5
Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.—2 Corinthians 9:1–5
We spent four weeks in September and October on the vision of “Fill These Cities.” In November, we started a series entitled “Funding the Filling: Part One.” It was a four-week series walking through 2 Corinthians 8. We now begin the second part of that study as we take four weeks to walk through 2 Corinthians 9. These two chapters together give us the most stirring picture of giving found anywhere in Scripture.
You can remember three points from chapter 8: the flow chart of grace, the gospel of grace, and giving as the proof of grace. First, remember the paradigm of chapter 8:1–2: that grace came down, gladness came up, and generosity came out.
Second, Paul later pointed to the giving of Christ in the gospel. “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” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Third, Paul talked about giving as the proof of grace. He said that the Macedonians passed the generosity test, proving that they knew gospel grace, and now it was time for the Corinthians to take the test. He has boasted to everyone that they would pass the test with flying colors.
I want to give a name now to this type of giving: gospel-drenched generosity. I invite you to picture it with me. Think about being out in the rain in a hard down pour—what happens to you? You get drenched. You walk inside the house, and you are dripping wet. You have to work hard to not get water everywhere you walk. That is the kind of giving I am talking about. Gospel-drenched giving means you are so drenched from the downpour of gospel grace that you are dripping wet with generosity.
This is the kind of giving Paul is after in this chapter, so let’s go with him to the first five verses. This passage has three puzzle pieces. If we put them together they form a sentence: (1) be ready (2) to give from a blessed heart (3) not a greedy heart. I will take them apart and look at each piece, then put it back together and clarify the main point that stands out when they are joined together.
I want to read the passage again. I am going to highlight a certain word so you can hear it for yourself again and again and again and again and again.
Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
Paul uses a variety of words for the concept of readiness. He is careful to say that he is not trying to create readiness. He is confident that they are already ready. He says that they have “been ready since last year” (v. 2). In fact, their readiness to give was one of the means God used to stir up the Macedonians (v. 2).
He is saying that in God’s poetic providence, their readiness stirred up the Macedonians, and now the coming of the Macedonians can help rekindle and reignite their readiness (v. 4).
Paul also shows them what will happen if they are not ready. Paul’s boasting in the Corinthians would prove to be just a lot of hot air. He would be “humiliated” (v. 4), but they would be even more humiliated.
“Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident”(v. 4).
The next two points are both found in verse 5, and they set up the main point of the passage. Notice the conjunction so in verse 5. It is a conclusion word—Paul is stating his main point, the point that the first four verses were building toward:
So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
Paul is telling the Corinthians about the arrangements he has made to receive their “blessing,” which the ESV translates as “gift.” He sends the brothers ahead to arrange in advance the blessing previously promised. Why? So the Corinthians would be ready with a “willing gift,” not an “exaction” gift (v. 5). He wants them to appreciate why he has taken these steps to send the brothers ahead of time so that there are no last-minute, pressure-packed appeals that produce the wrong kind of giving. He is cultivating an environment that will help ensure the right kind of giving. So here we are talking about the right kind of giving and the wrong kind of giving. How would we state the main point in a way that might stick? Here is how I would pinpoint Paul’s message to the Corinthians in these verses:
God wants giving that pours out from a blessed heart, not giving that is pulled out of a greedy heart. Or for you visual learners, picture a downpour, not a tug of war.
Paul is drawing his argument to a conclusion by giving the reason he made all of those arrangements: to ensure that their giving was not pulled out with the powerful force of pressure-packed last minute appeals. He wanted their giving to pour out freely and genuinely when the clock was not counting down. Picture an NBA basketball game in which the shot clock is winding down and the person with the ball just has to throw it from wherever they are. That is the kind of giving that Paul is trying to avoid. He is there, and the Macedonians are there—the shot clock is almost at zero, and they feel forced to give out of a stingy heart.
There are two kinds of giving Paul highlights. The words in the original language he uses here are so profound. There is giving that arises from a blessing (an overflow) and giving that arises from covetousness (giving scraps or leftovers). The contrast is between two different hearts: enthusiastic vs. greedy and thus stingy.
So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift [blessing] you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift [blessing], not as an exaction.
What is this “willing” giving? Paul uses the word blessing twice in this verse. The readiness that Paul wants is an enthusiastic overflow that comes in response to grace already given. The word blessing is repeated twice more in the next verse:
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Why would one sow seed “bountifully”? The image here is someone who has already received so much. We will see more of this same point in the next few weeks in verses 10–12.
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 every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.
Where did this “blessing” come from? Consider the way Paul uses this word in Ephesians 1:3 and Galatians 3:14.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.—Ephesians 1:3
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.—Galatians 3:14
Paul’s point is that what is given must be an overflow of what has been already received. Our giving must be an overflow of God’s giving. We do not earn and then give away some of what we deserve; we give freely of the free gift already received. Blessing poured out from God results in blessing poured out from the Corinthians as a blessed people, which then will lead to the Jewish Christians blessing or thanking God. They together share in the blessing of Abraham.
So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
As mentioned above, the word the ESV translates as exaction is the word for covetousness or greediness. Paul’s point is that the Corinthians’ greedy grasp of their money may keep them from giving what they should. If the money is wrenched out of them by Paul’s last minute appeal, then it will undermine the point of the whole collection. Some money would be raised for the poor in Jerusalem, but it would not signal heartfelt unity in the family of God between Jew and Gentile Christians.
The following verses repeat the word for blessing, which means that they also show us what Paul meant by the word “greediness,” which he compares to stinginess, which leads to reluctant giving.
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.—2 Corinthians 9:6–7
This point is what I meant earlier in talking about a downpour vs. a tug of war. When greed grips the heart, giving only happens when someone pulls hard enough to wrestle some money out.
The story of Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield may be the best example I know of a giving tug of war. It was 1739, and Whitefield was preaching in America and raising money for an orphanage. Benjamin Franklin was not a Christian. In fact, he wrote in an autobiography that Whitefield prayed for his conversion but “never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard. Ours was a mere civil friendship, sincere on both sides, and lasted to his death.” Here is how Franklin described as the effects of Whitefield’s eloquence:
Returning northward, he preach’d up this charity, and made large collections, for his eloquence had a wonderful power over the hearts and purses of his hearers, of which I myself was an instance.
I did not disapprove of the design, but, as Georgia was then destitute of materials and workmen, and it was proposed to send them from Philadelphia at a great expense, I thought it would have been better to have built the house here, and brought the children to it. This I advis’d; but he was resolute in his first project, rejected my counsel, and I therefore refus’d to contribute. I happened soon after to attend one of his sermons, in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me, I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles in gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and concluded to give the coppers. Another stroke of his oratory made me asham’d of that, and determin’d me to give the silver; and he finish’d so admirably, that I empty’d my pocket wholly into the collector’s dish, gold and all. At this sermon there was also one of our club, who, being of my sentiments respecting the building in Georgia, and suspecting a collection might be intended, had, by precaution, emptied his pockets before he came from home. Towards the conclusion of the discourse, however, he felt a strong desire to give, and apply’d to a neighbour, who stood near him, to borrow some money for the purpose. The application was unfortunately [made] to perhaps the only man in the company who had the firmness not to be affected by the preacher. His answer was, “At any other time, Friend Hopkinson, I would lend to thee freely; but not now, for thee seems to be out of thy right senses.”
That is an example of eloquence vs. will power. On that day, Whitefield’s eloquence won. I know that I don’t want to fight that battle. First, because I would lose—I am no George Whitefield. But second, eloquence vs. willpower is a losing battle before the battle ever gets underway. We want giving to be worship, a downpour that comes from a heart that God has drenched with grace from on high.
That means this sermon and this series will be a colossal failure if someone reaches the end and says, “Well, that was nothing but a big guilt trip.” God forbid. I make a promise to you right now that I will not use words to verbally pick you up and hold you upside down by your feet and shake you until your pockets are empty. That kind of preaching and the giving that flows from it cannot please God. God has gone on record saying he loves a cheerful giver. If he loves cheerful giving, I will leave it up to you to fill in the blank concerning how he feels about guilt giving. Go ahead, try it—how would you fill in the blank? God ________ a guilt-ridden giver.
God is also not pleased with duty-driven giving that simplistically says to give because you have to. You don’t have to like the IRS to pay your taxes, and the same principle applies here. You don’t have to like God to give to church—you don’t have to like it, just do it. How would you fill in the blank: God ________ a duty-driven giver.
Guilt-ridden or duty-driven giving both lie about God and His all-satisfying supremacy. Giving is about God and the gospel. Is the gospel great enough to grip us for eternity?
Past Grace: Sacrificial and Proportional Giving
I want to testify to the grace of God at Bethlehem for a moment before I say another word. An outpouring of grace led to an outpouring of generosity to the tune of almost $1.5 million ($1,476,064 through January 14). That amount was the most money that has been given to the church in such a short amount of time. The previous amount was $700,000 that came in 2011 as part of a special offering to buy the land we now own along I–35 in Lakeville.
If you were at the Quarterly Strategy meeting in January, you heard how our treasurer Scott Rebney thinks that amount raised for mortgage reduction will save us $465,275 in interest over the life of the loan. If you add these savings on interest to the donations, then the almost $1.5 million because almost $2 million ($1,941,339).
When you combine the almost $1.5 million, our church and missions giving, and our TCT giving, it adds up to just under $11 million. TCT has been brought into the budget now so it is not a separate funding mechanism. It is so central to who we are that we want it to show up in our budget planning and spending. We want to make sure that giving to TCT is not a separate thing with our budget—we want it to be an integrated thing. It is great in this year’s budget to have church planting funds available so we can plan and strategize. Don’t miss the praise report here—the Lord has poured out more financial blessing than ever before at Bethlehem. The previous high water mark was 2011.
Can I tell you what was even more meaningful? All the emails or cards I received telling me how many of you came to cherish the gospel more through the series and that as a result you gave in a way that was worshipful rather than guilt-ridden or duty-driven. Those emails and cards meant so much to me because they were answers to prayer.
Future Grace: Sacrificial Giving
There will be a future campaign to raise money for a South campus building. Lord willing, that will come sometime this year. Right now the elders are in the midst of exciting discussions about what that building will look like and how it will be tied to the wider vision of Filling These Cities.
Would you please dedicate some time in the next few days to boldly approach the throne of grace in our behalf? It has been an exciting thing to move from being in the midst of the clouds and feeling turbulence to finally feeling like we are peeking our eyes above the clouds a little. We are praying and dreaming about the next ten years, not just the next ten minutes. We need your prayers. Please pray for us this Tuesday, Feb. 10. This will be our second meeting to discuss these things, and we are praying for a breakthrough.
Present Grace: Proportional Giving
I am praying that the tide of giving will rise, not for a narrow window of time but for all of the time. Imagine that every family at Bethlehem gave 10% of their income to Bethlehem.
If every family at Bethlehem gave 10%, our budget we would be over $20 million. Let me be clear that I am not after anyone’s money, I am after everyone’s discipleship. The discipline of giving is an essential aspect of discipleship. Paul said it was in fact proof of being gospel-gripped and proof of being a disciple.
Remember that tithing is a ground-floor goal for a disciple. I argued that the Old Testament covenant tithe is the ground floor of new covenant giving, not the ceiling. It is where we start, not where we end. The New Testament paradigm is the sacrifice of Christ, not the tithe.
Name It and Kill It
Greed is the great enemy of gospel-drenched generosity. Name it and claim it theology is a false theology that is in the grip of greed. We have a different theology, which I like to call “name it and kill it.” Let’s name the sin of covetousness or greed and go after it as we close. Notice that Paul calls it a destructive trap or snare.
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.—1 Tim. 6:9–10
Paul calls the desire to be rich a snare—a concealed and baited bear trap. It is a trap because it promises security and satisfaction but it cannot deliver. Sin always overpromises and under-delivers.
I heard one preacher tell the story of Guy de Maupassant. Maupassant was a 19th century French author. He was famous for being the father of the modern short story. He was fabulously wealthy: a yacht in the Mediterranean and a mansion on the coast of Normandy.
But he ended up in an asylum on the French Riveria. He had tried to end his life with a letter opener against his throat. This was at the height of his career. He died at the age of 42. He wrote his own epitaph: “I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing." Why did Maupassant despair? Not because he lost everything. He had everything and realized it was all a lie. He thought that he could buy enough to fill up the gaping hole in his soul. But it is a lie. Another author said it is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with marbles.
Covetousness is such a fatal sin because it becomes a replacement for the true God. Paul in fact calls it idolatry—worshipping and trusting a false god.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.—Colossians 3:5–6
Whatever we prefer above God is our god. Whatever we replace God with is our god. It becomes the object of our worship, and we sacrifice to get it and sacrifice to keep it. But Paul says God will not be mocked. His wrath will set all things to right and vindicate his worth as vastly superior. False gods require sacrifice to get and sacrifices to keep.
The true God shows his glory through his Son’s once-for-all sacrifice to get us and keep us for all eternity. Nothing can compare to being bought by him. We are no longer defined by what can be bought. We are defined because we are bought. The covetous heart has an identity defined by what can be bought, while the Christian has an identity defined by the fact that we are bought. We no longer have an obsession for possessions because God is our obsession and we are his possession.
Why does greed grip us? Think about children for a moment. It is somewhat adorable to watch children with what is sometimes called a transitional object, that is, an object that temporarily takes on a function of mothering by being a comforting presence. Sometimes it is a doll or a teddy bear or a blanket.
In fact, all I have to do is call it a security blanket and everyone knows what I am talking about. It became common language after 1956 because Charles Schultz put it into his Peanuts comic strip. Linus has a blanket that he carries with him everywhere—he calls it his “security and happiness” blanket. Children outgrow these blankets when they become adults . . . or do they? Could it be that we just replace them with more sophisticated security blankets. I would argue that financial security has become one of the most sophisticated security blankets for adults. Financial security becomes a replacement for God, a comforting presence in our lives.
Listen to what the Bible says we can do when we have God:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”—Hebrews 13:5
Hearing the all-powerful, always-present, never-absent God say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” means you can throw off all childish or sophisticated security blankets and say, “I am covered from head to toe with Him. I don’t need the financial security of money because God is my only comfort in life and death. I can’t lose my comfort because he will never leave me, never forsake me. He bought me, and he will never let me go. Amazing grace has come down and covered me for all eternity.”
Closing Song: “Grace Flows Down”
Sermon Discussion Questions
We can reduce the passage to three essential ingredients that can be stated as a sentence: (1) Be ready (vv. 1–5), (2) to give from a blessed heart (v. 5), (3) not from a greedy heart (v. 5).
Main Point: God wants giving that pours out of a blessed heart, not giving that is pulled out of a greedy heart (v. 5).