[Where I live, lots of people ask me for money. This post is one of several in search of a biblical view of giving to the poor. The introduction is here. I believe the process of finding a biblical stance is at least as important as the conclusions to which I come. For this reason, I intend to post portions of several 3-column studies that have helped me arrive where I have on these issues. For the sake of brevity (not one of my gifts), I’m not including all I’ve discovered in these studies, but rather only those realizations which have pointed me toward my current stance on giving. For a better understanding of what a 3-column study is and why it’s important, see these instructions. Also, I’m saving all “I will” statements to print at the end of the series.]
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
A little context: Paul is writing to encourage the Corinthian church to give generously (as they’ve previously committed) in order to meet the needs of other Christians. There will soon be a collection, and he wants them to be ready. [Much of this is in chapter 8, which we’ll come back to later in this series.] But it’s important to note now that Paul is writing to a congregation, though much of his instruction is on the individual level.
Rather than post column 1, I will simply direct you to 2 Corinthians 9:6-15. Below is a summary and restatement in my own words:
There’s a truth we learned on the farm that you’d do well to remember as you help others in need: whoever plants little, will harvest little. And the man who plants much will harvest much. How much you give determines how much you will receive. Each Christian should decide on his own how much he should give and shouldn’t be concerned with what others might try to bind on him. God loves when we find pleasure in sharing with others. And he is powerful to be generous to us, so that we can always have everything we need for our lives to overflow with good deeds. We already know this from scripture:
“The righteous man has spread his wealth among the poor;
and his right relationship with God will last forever.”
Continuing our analogy from agriculture… God provides seed and produces a harvest from it, so the farmer and his family can have bread to eat. In the same way, he will increase your ability to give, and will then grow your relationship with him. You’ll be wealthy in every facet of life, so you can be generous in every facet of life. And others will thank God for your generosity.
So you’re not only assisting other Christians when you give, but you are also prompting them to thank God for his blessings in their lives, and to demonstrate their gratitude to him. Your generosity has proved your relationship with the Father, and others will praise God when they see your faith has produced action. You have demonstrated, by meeting their needs (and the needs of everyone), that believing in Christ amounts to more than words. And when those who have received your gifts pray to God, they will thank him for you, for the blessings he poured on you, and for the way he prompted you to serve those less fortunate. We should praise God for the way he works in our lives!
What I’ve learned:
- The individual who gives generously will receive much. And the stingy guy will receive little.
- How much an individual gives is a personal decision and an issue of his heart.
- No one should ever be coerced by others into giving a certain amount or percentage.
- God loves when we enjoy giving.
- God can and does pour blessings on the generous giver that will allow him to continuously do good deeds. Often, if not regularly, this is done in the form of wealth, so the giver can persist in meeting others’ needs.
- My generosity not only meets others’ physical needs, but also results in them giving thanks to God.
- The generosity of Christians shows others that obedience and caring always accompanies true faith in God.
I don’t want to be mistaken for preaching a prosperity gospel — that accepting Christ necessarily brings with it financial blessings. And that is not what I’m preaching. But I can’t ignore that in both texts we’ve looked at thus far, there is stressed this principle: If I give generously to those in need, I will be blessed. We accept this portion of the principle without qualms — we say a blessing can be a spiritual one, or these riches can be rewards in heaven, etc. But scripture clearly states the generous giver will receive even material goods and wealth — to magnify his ability to serve others at all times and in all situations.
I’ll be honest; I don’t like that. I don’t want a dangling carrot to be a Christian’s incentive for giving to others. I want love for God and others to be his only motivation. But that’s not what scripture teaches. Paul even reminds the Corinthians that he who sows much will reap much, so as to prompt them to give generously. Of course they are also told ahead of time they’ll be expected to use the wealth they do receive to minister to others. But all the same, the promise of material wealth is a valid and biblical motivation for generous giving, as long as one realizes this future blessing is intended for future service.
While Paul doesn’t come right out and say it, there seems to be at work here a general principle of stewardship. All money belongs to God, yet he places some of it in our hands. And if we use it to his glory by assisting those in need, we have managed his money well and will be given more, with which we’re expected to do the same. It seems, however, I can break the cycle at any time by using this money for my own service and pleasure.
Other items of note:
- How much I give is a personal decision. In my opinion, though, we’ve really missed the boat on this one — in both directions:
- We act as if all a Christian’s financial undertakings should be private. How much I give IS a private decision, but this doesn’t remove the need for accountability to, and honesty with, other Christians. I would suggest there are three reasons we might want to keep our giving private: 1) we are ashamed of how little we give, 2) we don’t want to be compelled to give more, or 3) we don’t want to be held accountable for our spending habits. If giving were a heart issue that each Christian had personally worked out with God, none of these three issues would exist. I’m not suggesting we should publish how much everyone gives. But I am suggesting we should encourage and hold one another accountable in the area of giving — in small groups, Bible studies , or just at lunch with another guy. Why would we think it normal to confess to one another and pray about spiritual leadership in our families, anger, or pornography — while giving remains an off-limits subject?
- On the other hand, many churches where I live (Geita, Tanzania) require all members to give a certain percentage in order to keep their membership. [And you thought the church in the states was like a country club…] These numbers, whether the member succeeded or not, are published and then read over loudspeakers in public places. Public shaming is a common form of “inspiration.” I don’t know of any churches in the states doing that, but I do hear “1/10th” thrown around a lot. I believe we have to question whether or not tithing is a Christian concept.
- If I am giving as God intends, he and I both will be happy.
- We receive in this text three important reasons for giving:
- I am able to meet the needs of another Christian.
- I am prompting others to be thankful to God for the blessings I share with them.
- I am demonstrating true Christianity — that faith is always accompanied by action.
- And again, just as in Psalm 112, we find that giving to those in need proves our right relationship with God. What, then does not giving to those in need prove? Or not giving generously? Cheerfully?
If you’re following along with 3-column studies, Deuteronomy 15:1-11 is next.