A Generous Life #5 (of 6) 2 Cor 9:1-7

Reciprocity Reconstructed – 2 Cor 9:1-7

 I. INTRO

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:

  • Faith,
  • 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:

  1. Universal (“Let each one…”)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. “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.
  5.  “Not Under Compulsion. No force – psychological, guilt-driven, or otherwise.
  6. 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…

III. CONCLUSION

What if the cheerfulness of responsive obedient giving is not there?

I’ll suggest three things[1]:

  1. 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!)
  2. Pray earnestly that God would give to you, or restore, the joy of responsive obedience.
  3. 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.”)


[1] Adapted from John Piper, Desiring God: 248-249.

Book Review: Managing God’s Money by Randy Alcorn

by Joe Plemon on July 15, 2011

Managing God’s Money, Randy Alcorn’s most recent book, is a life changer.

I say this because the book has been a catalyst in initiating conversations with my wife that we never would have had otherwise. We already knew that everything belongs to God. We already understood the principles of being property managers for God. We were even tithers, and we felt good about it. But things are now different; instead of smugly believing that God is surely proud of us for how we manage his money, we are now investigating ways to go beyond a tithe, to dedicate all of our assets to His glory and to intentionally invite some trepidation into our financial lives by giving away much of the nest egg we have accumulated.

I believe the power of this book is Randy’s ability to move us from doctrine to practice. It is one thing to give mental assent to a truth, but a wholly different thing to openly seek just how it should be applied to one’s life. Money issues, being money issues, are much easier for most of us to assign to our subconscious, but Managing God’s Money forces confrontation, moving these issues from the head to the heart. As one would expect, Alcorn leads with scripture, using it extensively to give the reader God’s take on His money.

What do I like best about the book? Tough question. I read it with a yellow highlighter at my side, and was amazed that I didn’t run it dry. But let me share just a few portions that were life changing for me:

Am I the rich fool from Luke 12: 16-22?

It is easy to read this parable and discuss how this rich fool had his priorities scrambled, all the while being glad that we are not rich like him. However, as Alcorn points out, all Americans, by world standards, are indeed rich. He contrasts this man with the poor widow who gave her last two coins to the Lord, then throws us this zinger:

Let’s be honest – if asked, wouldn’t many of us congratulate the rich fool for his entrepreneurial enterprise and warn the poor woman to hold on to what little money she had?” See what I mean?

Heaven and finances

Many of us are foggy minded about storing treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20) because we are foggy minded about heaven. The section “Our Stewardship in Eternity’s Light” opened my eyes to the realities of heaven and therefore motivated me to store more treasures in my eternal home. Another life changer.

Tithing

True confession: I have read so much about tithing that I had little expectation of learning anything new on the topic. Was I ever wrong! My problem is that I had read what others thought about tithing without actually reading what the Bible has to say. Alcorn explains the Old Testament teachings and clearly rebuts two camps of Christian thought: that the tithe is the pinnacle of giving and that tithing should not be practiced under the New Covenant. As a result, my wife and I have already decided to 1) immediately increase our giving and 2) formulate a plan to make graduated increases in the future. Yet another life changer – one that we are both excited about.

Future reference

This is a book that I will be using over and over again, both for my own personal references and also as a springboard for future blog posts. I loved the way Managing God’s Money is organized, and even though it does not include an index, the Table of Contents is so well structured that I will be able to easily find whatever topic I am seeking.

I rate Managing God’s Money as a 5 on a scale of 5. But I offer one warning: it will destroy those stained glass beliefs that you hold so dear.

Like I said, it is a life changer.

Eternal Perspective Ministries provided me with a complimentary copy of this book to review. Managing God’s Money is available from your local Christian bookstore and from online retailers, as well as from Eternal Perspective Ministries (www.epm.org), a nonprofit ministry founded by author Randy Alcorn.

A Generous Life #2 (of 6) 2 Cor 8:1-7

I. INTRO

The title of our series – A Generous Life – is what’s referred to in literature as a double entendre, which means it can be understood in two ways. (Often one meaning of a double entendre is innocent and the other is risqué.  In the case of our series title both meanings are scandalously grace-filled – but neither is risqué .)

  1. The first way to understand it is what we spoke about last week – The life of Jesus was the most generous life ever lived. In his unpublished essay on the Trinity, Jonathon Edwards writes, “God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, His own essence and perfection.”[1] Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, left this “cocoon” of infinite perfection and with humility and generosity condescended into human history. And Philippians 2 tells us that, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (vs. 6-8).
  2. The second way to understand our series title is that you and I have access to a holy capacity to live a generous life.  We see this in 2 Cor 8:1,“the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia.” It was not born out of their own strength or power – it was God blessing and enabling them (and us) to become outrageously generous.

Today we will begin to work through 10 Principles of Generosity that are found in these two chapters.  (Found in last weeks notes here on the Southside blog – and in the study guides, which are also available for download here on at the blogsite, or there are hardcopies in the lobby.)  We will work through two principles per Sunday for the next five weeks.  (Gene will be here next week.)

Before we get to todays principles, I’d like to provide a little bit of background:

First of all, notice the geography…

Macedonia is to the north of Corinth.

A commentator describes Macedonia as, “a splendid tract of land, centered on the plains of the gulf of Thessalonica…Running up the great river valleys into the Balkan Mountains, it was famous for its timber and precious metals. The churches of Macedonia had been planted by Paul on his second missionary journey.[2]

I think it’s important to notice that Paul is seeking to motivate the Corinthians through a  bit of competition. In the south, Macedonia was referred to as the “barbaric North” and the Greeks and Macedonians had a lengthy history of political rivalry.

And Paul was probably writing 2 Corinthians from Macedonia.

Corinth was a prosperous double-ported Roman outpost and colony of approximately 200,000 people that sat on a narrow strip of land (isthmus) between the Aegean Sea with the Ionian Sea (within the larger Mediterranean Sea).

Corinth was cosmopolitan in nature, and not unexpectedly, Corinth became notorious for luxurious and debauched living.  Some commentators liken it to San Francisco during the California gold-rush days.

We know from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that they were a pretty carnal church.  They took the grace of God for granted, tolerating immorality in their midst and some were also getting drunk at their gatherings.  One commentator states the Corinthians were, “undisciplined extremists…setting a poor example for their pagan neighbors. They also did not take kindly to [Paul’s] authority.”[3]

What we have in Corinth is a young church that was not yet disciplined – financially or otherwise, and Paul is seeking to teach them by showing them the example of the Macedonian churches. Churches that were so exemplary in their financial stewardship and generosity, that they are mentioned four times in the New Testament as exemplary churches.  They represented the kind of church that we here at SBF aspire to be.

Both the Macedonian churches and the church at Corinth were struggling under an economic recession that’s not totally unlike the one we are experiencing.  But the Macedonians were suffering far more painfully than those who lived in Corinth. The economic downturn hit them, apparently, much harder.

II. BODY

So in chapters 8-9 Paul has 10 principles for them. We’ll look at the first two today. 

Money is one of the ways that we show that we belong to Jesus and understand His life and message.  Throughout the course of the Gospels Jesus talks about money approximately 25% of the time.  In Mathew 6:21 and Luke 12:34, He says that where our treasure is, our heart is.  In other words, our hearts are reflected in our finances.  And Paul is saying that generosity reveals the grace of God.

So, the principles that we will look at today are:

  1. Generosity is a work of Gods grace. (2 Cor 8:1-6)
  2. Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice. (2 Cor 8:7)

Let’s look at them one at a time…

1.  “Generosity is a work of Gods grace.” (2 Cor 8:1-6)

1 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well.

I observed an equation in verse two.  It’s counter intuitive…

A great ordeal of affliction + abundance of joy + deep poverty = liberality.

This leads me to a hypothesis (or proposition):  Any circumstance that includes great affliction and deep poverty, wherein we place our joy and comfort in the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, will result in liberality.

If we place our joy and comfort in the god of money, and that god was crucified through an economic downturn, and showed few signs of resurrection, we have no reason for joy and generous liberality.  

If, however, our God is Jesus, then, our source of joy and generous liberality is still alive and well. Where there’s root, there’s fruit…

John Piper sums up the spiritual dynamics of this text by saying: Grace comes down, Joy rises up, and Generosity flows out.

This brings us to our second principle of generosity…

2.  Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice. (2 Cor 1:7)

7 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.

First of all, this verse is a summary (or synopsis) of 1 Corinthians – with a loving admonishment to share the grace God has given, or imparted, to them (“see that you abound”).

“When poverty-stricken Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving money to other poor saints…it is an extension of their joy in God…They are denying themselvesbut the joy of extending God’s grace to others is a far better reward than anything money could buy.[4]

Three important points:

  1. Grace initiates all giving that glorifies God, otherwise we would take pride and praise for our support of others.
  2. This grace alone is the root of genuine joy. Otherwise joy is misplaced and dissipates when circumstances turn bad.
  3. Grace-given joy is always other-oriented.  When our giving germinates in the soil of grace, it blooms in generous bounty to those in need. Such is the nature of true love.

What we find in our study of stewardship and generosity is that the seed-bed, the foundation of it all is grace.

The grace of God, first and foremost, is the power of God’s Holy Spirit that converts the soul. It is the activity, the moving, of God whereby God saves and justifies us through faith (see esp. Rom. 3:24; 5:15,17).

Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well.

Grace, then, is a dynamic and experiential reality that empowers the human heart to look beyond its limitations and accomplish things that defy rational explanation.

Grace is the power that enables impoverished and suffering saints to give when, by all accounts, they should be the ones to get. Such was the operation of grace in the giving of these Macedonian believers.

If we attempt to live generous lives out of our own soul or self will, we cut off the very grace that was given through Jesus.  “Soul grace” (we’ll call it) actually denies the deity of Jesus.

III. CONCLUSION

There is a prosperity gospel that is preached in many churches throughout North America.  (It’s particularly said because this Americanized version of the gospel is being exported around the world.)  Those who claim that God wants His people to be materially rich have missed the whole point of the gospel.  Having said that, I believe there’s one area that they don’t go far enough in…

Their mantra is that, “we give to get – and we can never out-give God.”  Is there truth in that?  [Yes.]

What the gospel tells us, however, is that giving to get does not go far enough.  We are to give to get, to give again – and again, and again…

GRACE GIVING (Version 2)

(This is our initial attempt to generate a formal statement regarding SBF’s stance on the stewardship of finances.  Please read it and make any comments or ask any questions that would help you to better understand what the Bible teaches us about money.)

So what’s the deal with “tithing”? The word tithe simply means “one-tenth.” Under the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, the Israelites were required to give in such a way that it amounted to a little over 23% of their income. The first was 10% of all of their possessions (Lev. 27:30–33; Num. 18:20–21), which was given to the Levites for Temple Ministry. A second was taken from whatever produce was left after the first tithe was given. Jewish interpreters consider this to be a second giving requirement for feasts and sacrifices (Deut. 12:17–18; Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21). Finally, another tithe was given once every three years to support the poor (Deut. 14:28–29). On top of these giving mandates were the voluntary freewill offerings given out of their own will and desire above and beyond their normal giving (Ex. 35:29; Lev. 22:23; Ezra 3:5).

When it comes to the New Testament teaching on giving, we begin with the understanding that the Mosaic Law no longer binds us (Rom. 6:14). This leads us to the question, “Should we still give according to the Old Testament system, or are we able to give less – or even more?”

Concerning this, Paul wrote, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6–8).

As Christians who are no longer under the Law, we give because of the grace that God has given us. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul commends the believers in Macedonia for what is often referred to as “grace giving.” Paul describes the qualities of this benevolence as being generous (2 Cor. 8:2), willful (2 Cor. 8:3), directed by God (2 Cor. 8:5), shared (2 Cor. 8:6), active (2 Cor. 8:7), and motivated by love (2 Cor. 8:8). This kind of giving should not be done out of a “legalistic” mentality, but as the Lord leads you to give (2 Cor. 8:8).

It may be concluded that the Old Testament tithing system set a standard for giving, and that while we are no longer required under the Law to give, we are under grace—and our giving is to reflect this. We are not under compulsion to give; rather, we are to give cheerfully and prayerfully as God leads us. New Testament teaching places our giving in the category of an aspect of worship unto the Lord, which is why churches (usually) receive these tithes and offerings as a part of our corporate worship gatherings on Sundays. Additionally, many churches also make the option available to give privately via online debit cards, as that is now how many people handle their “crops.”


[1] An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity.

[2] Edwin A. Judge:1982.

[4] Desiring God: 104.