Where are we headed today? The BIG IDEA is reciprocity reconstructed.
I would like to begin, however, with a review of our foundational verse in this series – and in this section (chapters 7-8): 2 Cor 8:9.
Then we’ll define, deconstruct and then reconstruct this concept of reciprocity – and then use that concept to help us unpack the three key verses in our passage today (primarily vs. 6,7, & 8).
Part of the teaching today will be a critique of the so-called Prosperity Gospel, sometimes referred to as Health & Wealth or Name It And Claim It. Sadly, this message has seeped into the Evangelical landscape of North American Christianity. And what’s even sadder is that it is being exported to third-world countries through infected missionaries and ministries. But more about that in a few minutes…
Let’s begin by going back to our foundational verse for this series: 2 Cor 8:9, which identifies Jesus Christ as the most generous life ever lived…
2 Cor 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
This is a rich (no pun intended :)) theological statement, which anchors this section on practical Christian stewardship. It identifies the ultimate example of (self) giving – how and why Jesus so fully and completely gave Himself (Christology).
This verse invites us to ask and answer three questions:
1. How rich was He? No one ever started so rich as the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ps 50:12b: “For the world is Mine, and all it contains.”
2. How poor did He become? No one ever became as poor as the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Cor 5:21: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
3. How rich do we become? No one ever started out so poor and have become so rich as those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
Eph 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” [no need for a second blessing]
Our “riches” in Christ include: Justification, forgiveness, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, partakers of the divine nature, new heart, new will, new creation, imperishable inheritance — the inheritance is Him. We’ve been invited into the Trinitarian dance…
OK, with Paul’s lesson of Christology, let’s consider Reciprocity Reconstructed. What does reciprocity mean? (Definition, Deconstruction, Reconstruction)
Definition: rec·i·proc·i·ty [res-uh-pros-i-tee] noun
A reciprocal state or relation.
Reciprocation; or mutual exchange.
Deconstruction: The word reciprocity has been adulterated by the (so called) Prosperity Gospel movement (i.e., “word of faith,” “positive confession,” “health & wealth gospel,” etc.) claims the Bible teaches financial (& physical) blessing is the will of God for Christians. Their doctrine teaches that:
- Positive speech, and
- Donations to Christian ministries
Will always increase material wealth and physical health. At the root of this “false” doctrine is their belief that God’s promise of dominion to Israel applies to Christians today.
Paul clearly warns against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warns against ministries who stir up – and teach the desire to be rich.
1 Timothy 6:9-10: “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Reconstruction: The reciprocity of the gospel exchanges my sin for Christ’s righteousness. Martin Luther calls it, “the great exchange”…
Luther says, “This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them.”
So, the Health & Wealth folks have cheapened the concept of reciprocity – and made it about materialism. Kind of an Americanized brand of Christianity…
II. BODY – now let’s take these concepts and move into our passage for today…I’ll give a cursory view of the first five verses and then we’ll unpack vs. 6,7, & 8.
The ministry of giving in Corinth – 9:1-5:
- Paul’s reminding them of their initial commitment to give – vv. 1-2. Paul’s comment that the Corinthians’ initial zeal to give stirred up “most” (v.2) of the Macedonians is a healthy dose of realism.
- In other words, not all the believers in Macedonia gave generously with joy in the midst of their poverty and affliction (cf. 8:1-5).
- In vs. 3-5 we see Paul’s purpose in sending Titus –
- Paul’s initial excitement has been somewhat tempered. Titus has come from Corinth with the discouraging report that the collection has, basically, been put “on the back burner.”
- Paul expresses some disappointment here these verses. Paul views stewardship and living out the generosity of Jesus as an important component of discipleship. Paul had hoped they were farther along.
- He is also attempting to prolong the friendly competition between the Macedonians and the Corinthians.
Verses 6-11 help us to understand and apply the principle of reciprocity in Christian giving…
In v.6 we encounter the illustration of “sowing” and “reaping”…
Now I’m not a farmer (I could kill an artificial plant!), but in farming, what may initially appear to be a loss (“sowing”) – in due time, it will produce a gain (“reaping”). As one sows, so one reaps.
So, we need to ask what determines whether a gift is “sparing” or “bountiful”? It is not determined by the quantity, but by:
- The means of the giver (we learned from chapter 8 that giving is to be in proportion to our wealth (cf. 8:3,11,12; 1 Cor. 16:2); and
- The heart (mind/mood) of the giver (it is possible to give a lot of money, but still be sowing “sparingly” (cf. 8:1-5; 9:5b).
In v.7 we encounter the pattern for generous stewardship. There are six parameters:
- Universal (“Let each one…”)
- Personal (“just as s/he has purposed in his heart”). Many commentators say that if Paul had believed that we should begin our giving with a tithe, he would have reiterated that here.
- Choice/Resolve (“as he has purposed;” this verb proaireomai, found only here in the NT, means: to choose deliberately or to make up your own mind about something.) In the end only you and God will know if you are sowing sparingly or bountifully.
- “Not Grudgingly,” or, without regret. Lit., “not out of sorrow;” i.e., giving and then grieving over the fact that money is gone; thinking of all the things you could have purchased with the money.
- “Not Under Compulsion.“ No force – psychological, guilt-driven, or otherwise.
- Cheerful. The Greek word translated “cheerful” is hilaron, from which we get out English word “hilarious.” What does it mean to be a cheerful, or hilarious, giver? It means that we find our joy, our delight, our pleasure in the generosity of Jesus Christ and we give out of a worshipful, joyful heart – as we remember what Jesus Christ has done. Is it an act of faith? Yes. We sow and we wait…
What if the cheerfulness of responsive obedient giving is not there?
I’ll suggest three things:
- Don’t say it doesn’t matter how you feel. Confess the sin of joylessness (yes, joylessness is a sin). Acknowledge the coldness of your heart. (Money might be one of your root idols!)
- Pray earnestly that God would give to you, or restore, the joy of responsive obedience.
- Go ahead and do the outward dimension of your responsive obedience in the hope that the doing will rekindle the delight.
Paul envisions us joyfully and bountifully sowing in the light of God’s faithfulness — that we might give as a response to His joyful sacrifice and righteousness. (Heb 12:2: “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross.”)
 Adapted from John Piper, Desiring God: 248-249.