Ten Principles of Christian Giving, Part 3
- 2002 31 Dec
In II Corinthians 8 and 9, the Apostle Paul develops ten principles of Christian giving. In this installment, John Stott explains the final three concepts.
8. Christian giving resembles a harvest.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: 'He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor: his righteousness endures for ever.'
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion,... ~ II Corinthians 9:6-11a (NIV)
Two harvest principles are here applied to Christian giving.
First, we reap what we sow. Whoever sows sparingly reaps sparingly, and whoever sows generously reaps generously (v.6). 'Sowing' is an obvious picture of giving. What then can we expect to 'reap'?
We should not interpret Paul's point as if he were saying that the more we give the more we will get, and that our income will keep pace with our expenditure. No. Each should give 'what he has decided in his heart to give'; neither reluctantly, nor under compulsion, nor, for that matter, calculating what he will receive in return (Luke 6:34, 35), but rather ungrudgingly, because 'God loves a cheerful giver' (v.7).
If we give in this spirit, what will happen? Answer: 'God is able to make all grace abound to you' so that 'in all things' (not necessarily in material things) on the one hand you may have all you need, and on the other you may 'abound in every good work' because your opportunities for further service will increase (v.8). As Scripture says, the consequence of giving to the poor is to have a righteousness that endures forever (v. 9; Ps. 112:9).
The second harvest principle is that what we reap has a double purpose. It is both for eating and for further sowing. For the God of the harvest is concerned not only to alleviate our present hunger, but also to make provision for the future.
So he supplies both 'bread for food' (immediate consumption) and 'seed to the sower' (to plant when the next season comes round). In the same way, God will 'supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness' (v.10).
These verses are the origin of the concept of 'seed-money', expecting God to multiply a donor's gift. But this teaching has been much abused. Paul is not preaching the false prosperity gospel.
True, he promises that 'you will be made rich in every way', but he adds at the same time that this is 'so that you can be generous on every occasion' (v.11a) and so increase your giving. Wealth is with a view to generosity. This is the second principle of the harvest.
9. Christian giving has symbolic significance.
There is more in Christian giving than meets the eye. Paul is quite clear about this. In the case of the Greek churches, their giving symbolized their 'confession of the gospel of Christ' (v.13). How is that?
Paul looks beyond the mere transfer of cash from the Greek churches to the Judean churches to what it represented or symbolized. The significance of his collection was not just geographical (from Greece to Judea), nor was it merely economical (from the rich to the poor), but in particular theological (from Gentile Christians to Jewish Christians). His collection was a deliberate, self-conscious symbol of Jewish-Gentile solidarity in the body of Christ.
Indeed, this truth (that Jews and Gentiles are admitted to the body of Christ on the same terms, so that in Christ they are heirs together, members together and sharers together) was the 'mystery' that had been revealed to Paul (e.g. Eph.3:1-9). It was the truth he lived for, was imprisoned for and died for.
He elaborates even further on this in Romans 15:25-28, where he writes that the Gentile churches of Greece had been 'pleased' to make a contribution for the impoverished Christians of Judea. Indeed 'they owe it to them.
For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings (culminating in the Messiah himself), they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings' (Romans 15:27). It was a striking example of solidarity in the Christian fellowship.
In similar ways, our Christian giving can express our theology, because our gift symbolizes our support of the cause to which we are giving.
For example, when we contribute to evangelistic enterprises, we are expressing our confidence that the gospel is God's power for salvation, and that everybody has a right to hear it.
When we contribute to economic development, we express our belief that every man, woman, and child bears God's image and should not be obliged to live in dehumanizing circumstances.
When we give to the maturing of the church, we acknowledge its centrality in God's purpose and his desire for its maturity.
10. Christian giving promotes thanksgiving to God.
...through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! ~ II Corinthians 9:11b-15
Four times in the concluding paragraph of these two chapters, Paul states his confidence that the ultimate result of this offering will be the increase of thanksgiving and praise to God.
v. 11 'your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God'
v. 12 'this service that you perform...is...overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God'
v. 13 'men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity...'
v. 14 'Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!'
Here is a crucial test as to whether our giving is authentically Christian or not. Truly Christian giving leads people not only to thank us, the donors, but to thank God, and to see our gift in the light of his - the indescribable gift of his Son.
So, as we can see, Christian giving:
(1) is an expression of the grace of God;
(2) can be charisma;
(3) is inspired by the cross of Christ;
(4) should be proportionate to our wealth;
(5) contributes to equality;
(6) should be carefully supervised;
(7) can be stimulated by competition;
(8) resembles a harvest;
(9) has symbolic significance; and,
(10) promotes thanksgiving to God.
It is truly amazing that so much is involved in what may seem to be a straightforward transfer of money. On the one hand, the doctrine of the Trinity is involved - the grace of God, the cross of Christ and the unity of the Holy Spirit. On the other, we see the practical wisdom of an apostle of Christ.
I hope that this study of these chapters will help to raise our giving to a higher level and will persuade us to give more thoughtfully, more systematically and more sacrificially. I, for one, (having already 'preached this sermon' to myself before 'preaching' it to you) have already reviewed and raised my giving. I venture to hope that you may do likewise.
(c) 2002 by John Stott Ministries. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Generous Giving, Inc.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Stott has authored over 40 books, including the classic Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ, and The Contemporary Christian. Based in London, he travels extensively overseas, especially in the Third World, speaking mainly at seminars for pastors and at student conferences. He is also the Founder and Honorary President of the London Institute for Christianity. Visit www.johnstott.org.
ABOUT GENEROUS GIVING, INC.
Generous Giving (www.GenerousGiving.org) is a non-profit ministry that seeks to encourage givers of all income levels - as well as ministry leaders, pastors, teachers and professional advisors - to fully understand and embrace what it means to live generously according to God's word and Christ's example. It offers an array of practical tools like books, study guides, quarterly briefings, eNewsletters, and an exhaustive online library of news articles, statistics, Bible studies, and sermons on generosity. It also hosts the Generous Giving Marketplace (www.GGMarketplace.org), a Web site that introduces givers and Christian ministries to one another through a searchable database of hundreds of giving opportunities from scores of Christian ministries worldwide. Generous Giving is privately funded and does not solicit donations.
Read Part One of Dr. Stott's series.
Read Part Two of Dr. Stott's series.