In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul exhorts his readers to prepare to take their share in a collection that he is making for the poor Christians at Jerusalem. Let us see what we can learn from this chapter about Christian giving.
The need to prepare (vv. 1-5)
When Paul wrote and sent messengers to urge the Corinthian Christians to prepare themselves to give to a special collection, he was careful to point out that it was not because he had any doubt about their keenness on giving. Indeed, he confesses that he had boasted of their zeal to others. But he knew that in such matters, in spite of our genuine zeal, there is always the danger lest we fail to live up to our reputation and indeed to our intention. So part of the responsibility of preparation rests on the minister of the Word, who ought in the discharge of his ministry to instruct people about the privilege of giving, and to exhort them to do it.
The importance of a right spirit (vv. 5-7)
Paul next expresses concern not only that they should be ready to give, but also ready to give in a right spirit. For, if giving is to fulfil its ministry for the glory of God, for benefit to others, and for enrichment to ourselves, it is of supreme importance that we should give in a right spirit. This matters very much more than how much we give. For giving, like seed sowing, is meant to issue in a harvest. The kind of harvest will depend of only upon the seed sown, but also upon the spirit in which it is sown. Here the word “bountifully” refers not to the amount but to the spirit. It means “with active goodwill”, bespeaking a blessing on the recipient. But if I give as one reluctant to spare, if I give with more interest in how much I can keep back for self than active concern to help others, then I shall inevitably he treated both by God and men as I treat others. For “he that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly”.
Also, for the Christian giving should be an act of worship, an act of priestly service (as it is called in verse 12) well-pleasing to God. But God will not be pleased nor honoured by our giving, if we only give “of necessity,” because we have to, or “with regret” (i.e. “grudgingly”), wishing it were not necessary. For God looks for, and delights in, and will cause to prosper, the cheerful giver—the man or woman who finds real joy and sheer delight in giving. True preparation to give must therefore include preparation of spirit.
The power for giving (vv. 8-11)
Here we may easily be prone to answer: “But this is a standard to which I cannot rise. I have no ability to do it. I lack the will because I lack the means. I cannot afford thus to give.” So, as though he knew what would be in our minds, Paul goes straight on to deal with the power for giving. He covers both aspects of ability, both the supply and the inspiration, both the resource and the determination, both the material ability and the moral desire. Most of us are only too ready to confess that we are weak in material resources. Perhaps what we ought rather to confess, to our shame, is that we are weak in moral determination.
Paul here makes plain that the desire to give and the assurance of sufficient means to give are both to be found not in ourselves, nor in our circumstances, but in God and in his ways of dealing with men. God’s way of working is seen in the harvest, in which he gives “seed to the sower and bread for food” (R.V.). The first charge on the harvest must be that of seed for sowing. It will not do to consume it all. Only as some is deliberately put aside for scattering will more be given. The principle of God’s working is declared in the striking words of verse 8. God is able, he can be counted on never to fail to minister to our need. His supply is not only enough to enable us to carry on; it also and always has in view the end of ministry to others. God’s crowning purpose for his children is to make them into givers, like himself. So his supply always qualifies us to give as well as to live, that we may “abound until every good work”.
The fruits of giving (vv. 12-15)
Developing the harvest metaphor Paul goes on to speak of the fruits of giving, the results it produces, and therefore the purposes that we should have in view when we do give. (a) Thanksgiving to God finds expression. First, our giving should be a thank-offering; and then the enjoyment of our gifts by others should call forth from them thanksgiving to God. (b) The needs of men are met. We share with God, the great Giver, in the satisfaction of ministering to the wants of God’s people. (c) The value of the Gospel, its power to make men act differently and to bring blessing into life is openly demonstrated. Also the genuineness of our own Christianity is displayed. This latter was particularly Paul’s interest here, For Jewish Christians were disposed to doubt whether so many Gentiles were meant so freely to share in Christ’s saving grace. The practical evidence of Gentiles giving liberally to Jewish fellow-believers would make it undeniable. (d) Mutual fellowship is thus actively promoted between Christian brethren. (e) We should all come to realise more that it is in harmony with the gospel of saving grace thus to amaze men by unexpected giving. For has not God himself given his Son to die for us sinners? “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.”