Chapter 9 (ESV) - 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.
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. 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. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
Question to consider: Why does Paul send some brothers ahead of his own visit with the Macedonians?
I thought it was best to read the entire chapter since portions of it are usually taken out of context for stewardship campaigns or prosperity theologians. Paul has been addressing the Corinthians about a giving project for the Jerusalem church that had been going on for the last year. Given the zeal with which they undertook this project, Paul was expecting big results from it. In fact, Paul had used the zeal of the Corinthians (the people of Achaia) to stir up the Macedonian churches so that everyone was excited about sowing into this project.
Considering their lack of maturity in other areas, Paul was now a little concerned that all his boasting on their behalf regarding this project might prove to be really humiliating if he showed up with a bunch of Macedonians to find out that these poorer churches proved more generous than the wealthier Corinthians. So he sent Titus and a brother famous for preaching the gospel (possibly Apollos given that description) to make sure the gift would be ready for Paul when he arrived.
When it comes to giving, Paul compared it with sowing seed and reaping a harvest. Ministers are forever using this idea to convince people that by giving, they will receive a special harvest of blessing from God. There is no question that there is truth to that statement, especially since Paul follows it up by saying that God will multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. However, this is not our motivation for giving. God loves a cheerful giver because their motive for giving is to see God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This kind of giving is infectious. It excites people to see God provide for the needs of the saints which results in an overflow of thanksgiving to God.
The illustration of sowing also describes the reality that small and steady giving over time by the entire body of believers produces a much greater harvest than the grand gestures of a few. Plus, large gifts from a few people can give cause for boasting whereas steady gifts over time by the entire body of believers puts the focus on the gospel of Christ and the grace of God!
Dear heavenly father, please refresh our view of giving and serving in the church. Help us to not act out of compulsion or greed but out of the joy in knowing that the good news of Christ is going out into the world. We lift up our churches to You in this way. Help our pastors to faithfully preach Your word and help us as Your people to faithfully confess our sins and serve with all our hearts until You call us home to be with You. Amen.