February 21/22, 2015
Jason Meyer | 2 Corinthians 9:8-11
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. As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
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.—2 Corinthians 9:8–11
One of my favorite scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia is Aslan’s resurrection. Aslan, the great Lion, willingly sacrifices himself for Edmund. The White Witch has won—or so she thinks. She believed that the deep magic worked for her because it decreed that all traitors’ lives are forfeited to her, but Aslan knows something deeper still that the Witch did not know. Listen to C. S. Lewis:
It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.—C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Chapter 15
We all know that the resurrection of Christ is a miracle bursting at the seams with deep magic. Easter is a magical time for me—my favorite time of year, in fact. We will celebrate it fully in less than forty days. But this morning Paul is talking about a miracle that many people miss. They fail to see it as a miracle—after all it is a little less obvious than someone rising from the dead. Paul says that there is something supernatural about giving. This passage breathes out a fresh sense of wonder when it comes to giving. What we will find is that giving shares some of the same deep magic as the resurrection.
Let’s start with a no-magic basic math lesson. Let’s say that you have $50. Sunday comes, and you want to put a tithe in the offering plate. Ten percent of $50 is $5, so when the offering basket comes to you, you put your $5 in the basket. It seems simple and straightforward. You may say, “I don’t see any deep magic. I just see subtraction.” You had $50, you put $5 in the offering plate, and you subtracted to see how much you have left. You started with $50, and now you only have $45 left.
It is true that 50 minus 5 equals 45. But our text today testifies to a deeper magic at work—the miracle of multiplication. Paul is going to help us think about giving not as subtraction but as multiplication. I will state the main point here up front, and then we will see it together as the passage unfolds. Here is the main point: God’s abounding grace aims to make us abound in good works for his glory through the miracle of multiplication.
If we have learned anything in 2 Corinthians 8–9, it is that giving is about God. This passage looks at giving through the lens of God’s centrality. The first point looks at God’s ability, the second point looks at God’s aim, and the third point highlights God’s fame. This passage follows a familiar God-centered rhythm (“from him and through him and to him are all things”) found in Romans 11:36. In our passage, those three points line up this way: Abundance From Him (v. 8a), Abundance Through Him (vv. 8b–11b), and Thanksgiving To Him (v. 11c).
And God is able to make all grace abound to you,
Look at the way Paul portrays the miracle of multiplication. He breaks into a doxology. A doxology is poetic praise. It is a structured celebration of some aspect of God. A doxology is also a contextual celebration. What I mean is that something from the context makes the writer burst into poetic praise. For example, Romans 9–11 traces out the wise plan of God as he brings salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. Because the focus is on God’s wise plan, Paul celebrates the infinite wisdom of God’s ways.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.—Romans 11:33-36
What does Paul celebrate here? He celebrates God as Giver. That fits the context, wouldn’t you say? God is the giver of all grace. Paul speaks with unbridled adoration for God’s ability to make all grace abound. God is a fountain of grace that cannot run dry. He is an unlimited, overflowing fountain. He gives and gives and gives and never has less than before. There is no grace anywhere that comes to anyone without God giving it first. Amazing.
How does a doxology advance his argument at this point? What part does it play in the flow of thought? I really like what Princeton theologian Charles Hodge says about this doxology. Commenting on the phrase “God is able,” Hodge says:
The sacred writers often appeal to God’s power as a ground of confidence to his people (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:20; Jude 24). This is done especially when we are called upon to believe something that is contrary to the natural course of things. Giving is, to the natural eye, the way to lessen our store, not to increase it. The Bible says it is the way to increase it. To believe this it is only necessary to believe in the power, providence, and promise of God. God is able to make the paradox true that “one man gives freely, yet gains even more” (Proverbs 11:24.)—2 Corinthians, Crossway Classic Commentaries.
That insight provides the best transition to our second point. Why this focus on God’s ability to cause all grace to abound? What is Paul trying to prove? If the first point centers on God’s ability, the second point locks in on God’s aim for the abundance of grace he gives.
. . . so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
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 . . .
These verses are so vital to understand if we are going to understand the deeper magic Paul wants us to see. Let me make five initial observations that set the stage for the application point that I want to spend most of our time on. The application took me by surprise. It is fresh and new for me—chock-full of challenge and excitement—and frankly I am still trying to come to grips with it, but you will see what I mean in a minute. Five observations will prepare us to see this poignant moment of application.
First, notice that the second half of verse 8 starts with “so that” and repeats the verb abound from the first half of verse 8. The “so that” shows God’s aim or purpose. Paul repeats the verb abound because he builds a bridge between God’s ability and God’s aim. God can (point 1), and He will (point 2). In other words, the good news of God’s grace is that God acts on his ability—God can make grace abound, so he will make grace abound.
Second, good works are the goal of God’s abounding grace. He is able to make all grace abound to you so that “you may abound in every good work” (v. 8c). God gives in abundance on purpose so that you become a giver—you join God in doing good. The aim of the abundance is not to be a hoarder of grace like a dead sea, but a giver who becomes like a river of grace flowing to others. Don’t skip over this point too quickly and miss the power of it. God gives us more than we need on purpose so that we are caught up in his purposes.
Picture the Nile River and the part it played in Ancient Egypt. Once every year the Nile would overflow its banks. Once the silt-laden waters receded, the silt would remain and create fertile soil for crops to grow. There would be a season for overflowing, a season for planting, and a season for harvesting. Paul’s picture is better. God makes his children a river of grace, and he makes sure that they overflow their banks. But here is where it gets good. We are always overflowing (not just once a year), always planting (not just once a year), and always harvesting—they are all happening together. Our rivers of grace are always overflowing and always leaving fields of good works everywhere we overflow.
Third, he assures the Corinthians that the river of grace can’t run dry. The way he makes this point is almost as fantastic as the point itself. Look at the alls. The word for all appears five times in verse 8 alone: all grace, all sufficiency, in all things, at all times, every good work. Paul expects us to read verse 11 in a way that connects with verse 8 because he adds two more uses of the word all in verse 11: enriched in every way to be generous in every way. God intends for his children to be rivers of grace. The grace can’t run dry because he can’t run dry—never, ever, never. There will always be an abundance of grace for every situation we face at whatever time for the sake of every good work.
Fourth, this phrase “all sufficiency” is so fascinating because it tells us so much about the kind of relationship we have with God. Because of who God is, we enjoy a state of “all sufficiency.” What does that mean? Paul uses an interesting word for “sufficiency” here. It was used of “self-sufficiency” in the language of his day, but Paul modifies self-sufficiency in a very important way. Paul says that God’s ability to give enough grace means our relationship with God decisively defines our dependence. We don’t have to be dependent on anyone else but God. Here is why that matters. If we are dependent on others, we may exploit them or they may oppress us. Paul celebrates the direct connection and immediate access we have to God. We don’t have to go through others to get to God.
Do you feel the balance between individuality and community? We have a direct connection to God that defines us, but we are created to be in community because he gives us grace that needs to be given to others. This gives us a sense of individuality while at the same time giving us a way to contribute to a community. We are created to be more than individuals, but not less.
Fifth, Paul finds this same picture of giving in the Old Testament. Psalm 112 is the portrayal of a man who is gracious, merciful, and righteous (Psalm 112:4). Paul was probably drawn to this psalm because of the image of scattering seed: “He has distributed [scattered] freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (Psalm 112:9). It is a picture of a man scattering his seed generously to the poor.
But here is what is so exquisite about choosing that psalm. There is a debate among some commentators as to whether or not God should be the subject of the quotation. Is God scattering seed freely and giving to the poor, or is the righteous man? Is it God’s righteousness that endures forever or the righteous man’s righteousness? There are three clues that Paul is thinking of the righteous person.
First, Paul uses the conjunction “just as” to connect verse 8 and verse 9 as a comparison. Verse 9 makes explicit that one of the good works he primarily has in mind is giving to the poor.
Second, the word your in verse 10 makes the reference to the Corinthians in verse 9 very clear. Verse 10 interprets the sowing and righteousness of verse 9 with reference to the Corinthians. “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”(v. 10).God supplies the Corinthians with seed for sowing and increases the harvest of their righteousness.
Third, the connection between Psalm 111 and Psalm 112 is exquisite and illuminating. Some debate whether Paul means that God’s righteousness endures forever because Psalm 111:3 says that “his righteousness endures forever.” But that is the very point. God’s giving cannot be separated from the giving of his people. He gives to his children (Psalm 111) so that they will give (Psalm 112). The person of Psalm 112, who gives and whose righteousness endures forever, is a reflection of the God of Psalm 111, who gives and whose righteousness endures forever. Psalm 111 fits the first half of 2 Corinthians 9:8; Psalm 112 fits the second half of 2 Corinthians 9:8.
I want to clearly distinguish the prosperity gospel—which is a false gospel—from what Paul is teaching. The prosperity gospel gets the gospel dead wrong because it defines the gospel as what God gives us in response to what we do. The real gospel is what God gives us in spite of what we do. Our sin earns a wage: death, and the free gift of God is eternal life through the riches of Christ’s righteousness. The most telling error of the prosperity gospel is that it doesn’t fit in the “we know” of 2 Corinthians 8:9.
We know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ—how because he was rich, he became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich.—2 Corinthians 8:9
All Christian giving is proof of a gospel already given, not a gospel that will be received after we give.
But this text makes it clear that there is even more wrong with the prosperity gospel than I have ever seen before. The prosperity gospel gets the miracle of multiplication wrong. It says that God wants Christians to be rich. It really only has two steps for making this happen: Sow some seed money in faith that God wants to bless you, and God will multiply your harvest of wealth.
The biblical vision for giving is much more glorious. God does want Christians to be rich, but add the three massively important missing words: rich “in good works.” There are actually four steps in this text: God supplies seed, we scatter the seed, God supplies and multiplies more seed, and as we keep scattering the multiplied seed, the harvest of righteousness keeps multiplying.
We are enriched—made rich. We do give in order to get—we give in order to get more to give. We become bigger givers, which means we become bigger rivers of blessing. You give in order to get more to give. You give in order to give more. You get a bag of seed to sow, and it doesn’t run out.
Let me contrast the two in very tangible ways. Here is the miracle of multiplication according to the prosperity gospel: give a Rolex to get a BMW, and then give the BMW to get a private jet. In the prosperity gospel, we only give to get more for ourselves. Givers become greater hoarders. In this false teaching, the heart of the giver never experienced the real gospel, so the heart was never set free from covetousness.
Here is the miracle of multiplication: giving beyond our ability like the Macedonians. Scott Lewis attended a conference where Bill Bright challenged people to give one million dollars to help fulfill the great commission. This amount was laughable to Scott— far beyond anything he could imagine since his machinery business was generating an income of under fifty thousand dollars a year. Bill asked, “How much did you give last year?” Scott felt pretty good about his answer: “We gave seventeen thousand dollars, about 35% of our income.”
Without blinking an eye, Bill responded, “Over the next year, why don’t you make a goal of giving fifty thousand dollars?”
Scott thought Bill hadn’t understood. That was more than he had made all year. But Scott and his wife decided to trust God with Bill’s challenge, asking God to do the impossible. God provided in amazing ways. With a miraculous December 31 provision, the Lewises were able to give fifty thousand dollars. The next year they set a goal of giving one hundred thousand dollars. Again, God provided.
Randy Alcorn says, “Scott wrote me a note saying that in 2001, they passed the one-million-dollar mark in their giving. The best part is that they are not stopping” (Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, 65–66).
God provides the seed for sowing and multiplies more. Paul quotes the exalted vision of Isaiah 55 that pictures God as the fountain of all giving. God starts the process of giving, and it never returns to him empty. No gift of grace ever misfires—he has 100% accuracy.
God’s children scatter the seed so wide that the good works can’t be hidden. What happens when they are discovered? Anyone that has ever read Matthew 5:16 knows.
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.—Matthew 5:16
God’s fame grows. God’s aim is to multiply good works so that his abundant fame will multiply.
which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
Why doesn’t God just give manna? Cut out the middleman all together? Why would God decide that having middlemen would be better? Why put a system in place where He gives to some so that they give to others? God’s grace looks more glorious when it shows God’s power to provide material wealth and change hearts so that his people don’t worship it, but worship him and join him as givers.
First, he must supply the abundant material blessing. Second, God must now do a miraculous work in the heart. This grace changes the heart so that his children become cheerful givers, not stingy hoarders. Listen to Paul Barnett:
It is one thing for God’s power to provide amply what is needed to his servants, but perhaps a greater outpouring of divine power is needed to impel those servants to overflow in generosity to others, as witnessed by the resistance of the Corinthians to be open-handed to others. There are few evidences of God’s power so impelling as the transformation from tightfisted meanness to openhanded generosity.—Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.—Romans 6:17–18
God works joyful obedience in the heart so that there is an internal “want to.” We become slaves of righteousness instead of slaves to sin, set free from covetousness by the superior blessing of being bought and changed by Christ.
Technically speaking humanity cannot give in a pure sense. We are first and foremost receivers. We only give what we have already received. This means good works like giving do not earn grace—they are grace. Remember Paul’s paradigm for giving: Grace came down, joy came up, giving came out. The giving (the good work in view) comes into existence from him, through him, and to him, as his grace from beginning to end.
Giving is also not something you do for the church; giving is something you do because you are the church. It is how a gathered gospel people live out their identity.
Good works will be seen, and God will be thanked. But that does not mean that we will even see half of our harvest. There is a deeper magic at the sowing stage, and now we close by talking about the deeper magic at the harvest stage. To understand this deeper magic, we have to come back to the Bible’s teaching on resurrection.
Paul has used the image of a seed being sown. There is a deeper magic that comes from the death of the seed that produces not more death, but life out of the death. Remember what Jesus said about a seed in John 12?
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.—John 12:24
What is true of Christ’s resurrection is also true of our resurrection.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.—1 Corinthians 15:35–37
Here is the reason why giving doesn’t often feel like farming. We don’t always see the harvest. There is a connection between planting and harvesting that we can see within a short season of time. What is the “so what” of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15? The resurrection means your labor is never in vain, even when it feels like it because you don’t see the harvest you hoped for.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.—1 Corinthians 15:58
The resurrection allows you to always abound in the work of the Lord (always and abound were both found in 2 Corinthians 9:8). We plant on earth, but the crop can only be seen in heaven. Christian giving says that “fields of hope in which we sow are harvested in heaven.” That is why giving partakes of the deeper magic of the resurrection. It must be done by faith. We believe, and then we see (in part), and later we will see fully. That is why giving is so supernatural—it is by faith, not by sight. We give and sow by faith, not by sight, but someday the faith will be sight.
Randy Alcorn (Treasure Principle, p. 69) says that all the money left in bank accounts, retirement programs, and foundations will go up in smoke in the fire on the last day, but whatever is given will last forever at 10,000 percent rate of return.
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”—Matthew 19:29.
Giving operates on the same principle as many card games in which the winner is the first to get rid of all of their cards. The other players then have the cards in their hands count against them. The world is playing the opposite game and trying to see how many cards they can get. The world looks at us like we are fools because they are playing according to different rules.
But as Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Listen to the voice of the one who set the rules for this life: “What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world [all the cards], but forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.—Acts 20:32
Sermon Discussion Questions
Main Point: God’s abounding grace aims to make us rich in good works for his glory through the miracle of multiplication.