The Purpose of Giving
Paul writes one more chapter about the offering that was being given by the Greek churches for the benefit of the poor saints in Jerusalem. 2 Cor. 9:1, 2 says,
1 For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints; 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them.
Paul said that it was unnecessary for him to convince the church to do “this ministry to the saints,” that is, to minister to their needs with these offerings. After all, this project had originated with them. Nevertheless, Paul wrote another chapter on this topic in order to show how God blesses cheerful givers.
No Extortion Tactics
As in 2 Cor. 8:10, Paul again mentioned that this plan to send financial help to the Jerusalem church had been organized for a year. 2 Cor. 9:3-5 continues,
3 But I have sent the brethren, that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, that, as I was saying, you may be prepared; 4 lest if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we (not to speak of you) should be put to shame by this confidence. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, that the same might be ready as a bountiful gift, and not affected by covetousness [pleonexia].
Paul had originally planned to go to Corinth with the brethren to pick up the donation in person. However, those plans had changed, as we have already seen. For this reason Paul sent “the brethren” to them with instructions to meet Paul later as he made his way toward Jerusalem.
Paul also did not want this “bountiful gift” to be “affected by covetousness.” The Greek word pleonexia has a range of meaning, including “extortion” (as The Emphatic Diaglott renders it). Paul wanted to give everyone time to pray about what they should give, so that later, when the excitement waned, no one would think that Paul had extorted the money through the use of emotion or guilt.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:6,
6 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.
Every farmer knows that he cannot sow sparingly and reap bountifully. The abundance of the harvest depends first upon the abundance of the seed that is sown. Nature teaches us this. But this principle set forth by the apostle is also connected to his previous statement showing his abhorrence of extortion or “covetousness” (pleonexia).
One of the curses of the law for disobedience, found in Deut. 28:38-40, says,
38 You shall bring out much seed to the field but you shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it. 39 You shall plant and cultivate vineyards, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall devour them. 40 You shall have olive trees throughout your territory but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off.
Micah 6:15 applies this prophetically to the rebellious nation of Israel, where the prophet says, “You will sow but you will not reap.”
Perhaps Paul had this judgment of the law in mind when he spoke of extortion that might be used in taking up offerings and donations. Extortion is theft, and covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5, KJV). Hence, those who appeal for offerings ought to be careful not to engage in such violations of the law in order to raise more funds. Likewise, those who give ought to give cheerfully according to what God has placed in each heart, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 9:7,
7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Paul was not seeing how much money he could raise. His main concern was that all should do as they are led by the Spirit. The Spirit of God lays it upon each person’s heart to give according to His purpose. Fundraisers are usually concerned only with collecting more money, having little or no concern about whether or not the people were doing the will of God or responding to the leading of the Spirt.
It is the responsibility of the giver to “do just as he has purposed in his heart,” because a grudging gift does not come from the heart, and a response to compulsion—even if couched in Scriptural principles—is led by men rather than God. While tithes themselves are given as a debt to God, offerings are voluntary. Giving tithes to God, when understood properly, is by an act of obedience; giving offerings to God, when given cheerfully, is an act of love.
For this reason, when God spoke to me about returning to full-time ministry in 1991, after being out of the ministry for ten years, I told God that I am willing as long as I did not have to be a fundraiser. He honored my request and has supplied the needs of the ministry without any help from me. Thus, I was able to focus upon developing love in the hearts of the people, rather than urging them to support the ministry.
God’s Reward to Cheerful Givers
2 Corinthians 9:8, 9 says,
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; 9 as it is written [in Psalm 112:9], “He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever.”
Here Paul quotes Psalm 112:9, which is part of a portrait of a righteous man whom God blesses,
9 He has given freely to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be exalted in honor.
According to the NASB (above), the psalmist says that a righteous man gives freely to the poor.
The KJV reads, “He hath dispersed; he hath given to the poor.”
The Septuagint reads, “He has dispersed abroad; he has given to the poor.”
I am not sure why the NASB omits the first part of the verse, “He has dispersed.” No explanation is given. But Paul includes it in 2 Cor. 9:9, where he renders it (NASB), “He scatters abroad.” This wording paints a picture of a farmer sowing seed abundantly, and this is related to giving to the poor.
This, then, is what Paul had in mind when he wrote about sowing abundantly when giving to the poor. Psalm 112 makes it clear that God is pleased with generosity and benevolence. Paul adds that “God is able to make all grace abound to you” and to supply your needs with abundance.
When Paul quotes Psalm 112:9, he seems to apply it to God Himself, rather than to a benevolent man. Actually, the verse applies to both God and man. Not only is a righteous man rewarded for his generosity with an abundant harvest but God Himself, being generous, gives him that reward.
So first the righteous man (as a farmer) sows abundantly to God by giving to the poor, and then God sows abundantly in the cheerful giver when the time of harvest arrives.
In other words, the farmer sees the crop as the harvest, but God sees the harvest as His way of generously sowing seed in the farmer.
2 Corinthians 9:10, 11 says,
10 Now 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; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.
When this principle of sowing and reaping is utilized in a righteous way, we are “enriched in everything,” which produces “thanksgiving to God.” It is unfortunate that in the past century many have secularized this principle of sowing and reaping. Charles Filmore set forth an impersonal God who was little more than a field to be exploited by “spiritual principles” as a way to obtain wealth.
His distorted view of God has done much damage in the church, for he turned the principle of generosity into an investment and a business arrangement. Giving is supposed to be done to meet the needs of others, but Filmore and those influenced by him have turned the main focus into a way of meeting one’s own needs through investment.
God’s main interest is not in prospering people financially but in depositing in them the true riches inherent in the divine nature and in the knowledge of God. When men today give money as a business investment, rather than as an act of love, they miss the underlying purpose of the principle of sowing and reaping. Love gives regardless of any personal benefit. When one grows in love, one comes to know God. Those who love are indeed rich by God’s standard of measure.
The Ministry to the Saints in Jerusalem
Paul did not expect to receive any reciprocal compensation from the saints in Jerusalem who were beneficiaries of the gift from the Greek churches. 2 Cor. 9:13-15 says,
13 Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, 14 while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn [epipotheo, “earnestly desire, to pursue with love”] for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
Paul says that this donation is “proof” that Greek believers have a genuine relationship with God. There were many in Jerusalem who doubted this because Greek believers remained uncircumcised. Further, the Judean culture and religious thinking caused many to think of any non-Jewish proselyte as inferior. This was why Greeks were told to remain in the “court of the gentiles” with the Judean women. There is little doubt that Paul wanted this financial gift to be used as evidence that the love of God in the Greek churches was genuine.
Paul also believed that the recipients of the gift would respond by praying a blessing upon these Greek believers. More than that, Paul hoped that they would earnestly desire to establish a closer fellowship with their Greek brethren, having seen evidence of their sincerity.
Paul ends this section by saying, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” This shows that Paul expected the Jerusalem saints to respond to their Greek brethren even as they would respond with thanksgiving to God “for His indescribable gift.”