2 Corinthians 8:1-9: The Joy of Generous Giving
Topic: Default Passage: 2 Corinthians 8:1–9
2 Corinthians 8:1-9: The Joy of Generous Giving
Our Scripture reading this morning comes from 2 Corinthians 8:1-9. It says,
1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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 by his poverty might become rich.
May God bless the reading of his Word.
Let’s pray: Father, we’re told that the one who delights in your Word is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season and that has leaves that do not wither. We want to be that tree. So please, open up your Word to us this morning so that we can be rooted in your Word, nourished in your Word, and sustained by your Word. Holy Spirit, use the things taught in this passage to change us from within. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
One of the ways in which God’s blessed our church is that we now have a building of our very own. For those of you who are newer around here, you may or may not be aware that, prior to about 9 months ago, our church met in a hotel, and before that we met in a school, and before that in another church’s building, and before that in my living room. But now, God’s graciously provided us with this building. And we want to use this building in the wisest way we possibly can in order to make the greatest impact on people’s lives. As you’ll notice on the front of your bulletin just about every Sunday, our church’s mission is “to glorify God by helping people know Christ personally, grow to spiritual maturity, and become disciple-makers themselves.” That’s why we, as a church, exist and also what we desire to accomplish through our stewardship of this building.
Yet, perhaps you’ve noticed that there are a few things that need to be done around here—especially downstairs—in order to get this building into a more usable condition and transform it into a place where people can feel comfortable and welcomed. And, as you might expect, these renovations cost a lot of money.
So, beginning this Sunday and continuing for several weeks, we’re going to be doing what we’re calling a “Season of Giving” for these church renovations and asking you to prayerfully consider what the Lord would have you contribute. And I’d like to emphasize the simplicity of this Season of Giving. This isn’t the kind of capital campaign that some of you may have experienced or heard about at other churches. We haven’t hired any outside consultants, we’re not doing any official pledge drive, and I haven’t crafted any clever sales pitches to persuade people to give. So there’s really no elaborate fundraising machinery of any kind. These simple cards you see in the pews are as elaborate as we plan to get. Instead, we’re approaching this as we’ve always approached things of this nature—and that is to simply make known the need in a non-manipulative way and then trust God to put it in people’s hearts to contribute to that need.
I’ve really been inspired in that general mentality by a man named George Mueller. In case you’re not familiar with him, George Muller lived in England during the nineteenth century and believed God was calling him to establish an orphanage to take care of the numerous orphans living in quite miserable conditions in England during that time. However, there was one problem: he barely had any money that he could use to get this orphanage up and running. But Muller was a man of prayer. In fact, he believed so much in the power of prayer that he actually decided not to make any of the needs of his ministry known to anyone except to God himself in prayer. He wasn’t going to tell anyone what he needed to establish or sustain the orphanage and was just going to trust that God would hear his prayers and bring what was needed. And guess what? That’s exactly God did. Not only did God provide the land and all of the resources they needed to establish the orphanage, but he provided enough for George Muller to care for more than ten thousand orphans over the course of his lifetime. At one point, his orphanage housed two thousand orphans at once. And in all, God provided over half a billion dollars (in today’s dollars) for Muller’s orphanage ministry. And all of this was done simply through prayer. They never did any official fundraising. Now, eventually, they did publish their needs in a simple pamphlet once a year. But beyond that, they simply prayed to God and then trusted him to meet their needs.
In fact, Muller recorded over fifty thousand specific answers to prayers in his prayer journal, thirty thousand of which he reported as being answered the same day or even the same hour he prayed them. For example, he records that, one day, the orphanage director informed him that all the orphanage children were dressed and ready for school, but there wasn’t any food for them to eat. The orphanage didn’t have any food left or money to purchase food. So Muller told her to take the three hundred children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. Then, once they were seated, Muller thanked God for the food and waited with the expectation that God would provide the way he always did. After a few minutes, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Muller,” he said, “last night I couldn’t sleep. Somehow I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in.” Soon, there was another knock on the door. This time it was the milkman. He told them that his cart had broken down right in front of the orphanage and that the milk would spoil by the time the wheel on the cart was fixed. So, he asked Muller if he wanted some free milk. Muller couldn’t help but smile as he brought in ten large cans of milk—just enough for the three hundred thirsty children. And that’s what it was like at Muller’s orphanage, day after day after day. You can go to England today and see the museum dedicated to Muller’s ministry and God’s extraordinary provision. What a testimony to the faithfulness of God and the power of prayer!
Now, obviously, our church is a bit more active in making our needs known than Mueller was. Yet, it’s still in that same spirit of prayerfully trusting in God to provide that we’ve been operating and that we plan to continue operating. So that’s why we’re approaching this Season of Giving the way we are and keeping it very simple.
Yet, at the same time, I’d like to take this opportunity during our Season of Giving to remind us of a few biblical principles, and—especially for those who are younger in the faith—to essentially disciple you in this area of giving. That’s my responsibility as your pastor. I’m going to be held accountable by God one day for how faithful I’ve been in doing that. So before we begin our next sermon series in a couple of weeks going through the book of Genesis, I’d like to spend this Sunday and next Sunday in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. You may remember that, several months ago, I briefly mentioned ten principles related to the subject of giving in one of my sermons. And at the time, and we didn’t have time for me to elaborate on any of those principles, but now we do. So I’d like to look at the first six principles this Sunday and then at the remaining four principles next Sunday.
And let me be clear that this sermon is intended primarily for Christians. If you’re not a Christian, we’re not asking you to give any money to our church. I really can’t emphasize enough that God isn’t after your money—he’s after your heart. So our encouragement for you is simply to embrace Jesus. Understand the desperate need that all of us have to be rescued from our sin, and then look to Jesus for that rescue.
Yet, for the rest of us, I’m hoping that this brief excursion through 2 Corinthians 8-9 will be very helpful for us as we seek to exalt Jesus and surrender to his lordship in every aspect of our lives. And, in fact, I believe you’ll discover—if you haven’t already—the joy to be found in generous giving. You know, we live in a society that doesn’t really have that mentality. Our society is one where people are often much more interested in what they can get than in what they can give. Yet, the Bible tells us that there’s actually far more joy to be found in giving than there is in getting. As Jesus himself said, recorded in Acts 20:35, “…It is more blessed to give than to receive.” It’s counterintuitive, but it’s true. The greatest joy is found not in what we get but in what we give.
And that’s also the unifying theme of our main passage, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9—or, as we often call it, the main idea. God invites us to experience the joy of generous giving. God invites us to experience the joy of generous giving. So, we’re simply going to walk through this passage and, as I mentioned, pull out six principles for generous giving. Paul’s writing this to the church of Corinth in order to encourage them to contribute generously to an offering he’s collecting for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem. And he emphasizes these six principles.
Giving Is the Fruit of God’s Grace in a Person’s Heart
First, giving is the fruit of God’s grace in a person’s heart. Giving is the fruit of God’s grace in a person’s heart. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:1, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia” and then goes on to describe their generous giving. So Paul refers to giving as something that originates with “the grace of God.” It’s not natural. Our natural tendency is to be stingy and to hoard money and other resources for ourselves. Kind of like when somebody breaks open a pinata at a child’s birthday party and all the kids rush in to grab as much candy as they can. You know, at that point, as the saying goes, it’s every man for himself. And, of course, that’s part of the fun with a pinata, but unfortunately that’s not entirely different than the way we’re naturally inclined to approach money and material possessions in general. But when God’s grace gets ahold of our hearts, it changes us. Instead of greedily holding onto what we have with an iron grip, we begin to hold it all with open hands.
Giving Should Be an Overflow of Our Joy
Then a second principle we see is that giving should be an overflow of our joy. Giving should be an overflow of our joy. Moving onto verse 2, we see how exactly God’s grace manifested itself in the Christians of the region of Macedonia. Paul writes, with regard to these churches, “…for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” So, take note of the situation these Macedonian churches were in. They didn’t just run into some extra money and decide to give some of it away. No, quite the opposite, in fact. They were in the midst of a “severe test of affliction.” That word translated “affliction” literally refers to pressure that’s being exerted on something. For example, it was used of the pressure exerted in crushing grapes in order to make wine. That’s what the Macedonian churches were going through. And yet, “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” So notice the formula there. You take some “extreme poverty” and add to it an “abundance of joy,” and what do you get? “A wealth of generosity.”
And I love how it says that, as these things were mixed together, they “overflowed” into a wealth of generosity. I get the picture in my mind of dropping a few Mentos into a bottle of Diet Coke and then seeing the concoction overflow—very rapidly—out of the bottle. The bottle can’t contain what’s inside of it any longer, so it all just overflows. And that’s the dynamic that should be at work in generous giving as well. Jesus stirs up joy in a person’s heart—in the words of this verse, an “abundance” of joy or more joy than they can hold inside them—and that joy then “overflows” in the form of generous giving. So this is the exact opposite of giving begrudgingly or out of some sense of guilt or obligation. No, God wants our giving to be an overflow of our joy—specifically the joy we have in Jesus.
There’s a Time for Sacrificial Giving
Moving forward, the third principle is that there’s a time for sacrificial giving. There’s a time for sacrificial giving. Still speaking of the Macedonian Christians, Paul writes in verse 3, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.” Notice the phrase “beyond their means.” We’re told that the Macedonians didn’t just give “according to their means” and stop there but actually did more than that and gave “beyond their means.” It’s like they did some calculations and figured out how much they could comfortably give without impacting their lives too much, and then they gave more than that. Their giving was sacrificial. They actually had to do without certain things in order to give the way they did.
And there’s a time for that. There are times when God burdens your heart for a certain situation and a certain need and leads you to give not just generously but sacrificially. Today, that might look like sacrificing the purchase of a new vehicle or a desired vacation or even something more significant so that we can engage in a higher level of giving. And, of course, we count it a joy to do that since we’re sacrificing something of lesser value for something of exponentially greater value.
Giving Should Be First and Foremost an Act of Worship toward God
Fourth, we see in this passage that giving should be first and foremost an act of worship toward God. Giving should be first and foremost an act of worship toward God. In verses 4-5, Paul describes how the Macedonians were “…begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” In other words, the Macedonians weren’t just trying to make Paul happy by their giving but were giving as a heartfelt act of worship toward God. That’s what it means when it says that they gave themselves “first to the Lord.” Their first priority—and I’d say the one that encompassed all others—was to glorify God in their giving and give as an act of worship toward him.
This is a lot different, of course, than what often motivates people to give. You can see it with corporations especially. Isn’t it interesting how corporations will donate a certain amount of money to a charitable cause then spend twice that amount of money in order to make sure that everyone knows about the good deed they’ve done? Now, thankfully, individual people aren’t usually that aggressive in bragging about their good deeds, but there’s still a tendency for us to give in order to be seen. We might not shamelessly flaunt our giving, but we still often find creative ways to let people know about our giving.
And it really comes back to the heart. What’s the motive behind your giving? What are you trying to show? Who are you trying to impress? Are you giving because of what others might think of you? I was out getting some food not too long ago. I can’t remember exactly where it was—maybe Panera or someplace like that. And the worker behind the register asked me rather loudly in front of numerous people if I wanted to round up my total in order in order to help kids with childhood cancer. So…that kind of put me in an interesting position, didn’t it? I mean, what kind of terrible person would I be if I wasn’t willing to spare 30 extra cents or whatever it was to help kids who have cancer? And even worse, everyone standing around me would know what a terrible person I was. So, of course, even though I had no additional information about the charity I was donating to, I rounded up. And I have to confess that it was probably not first and foremost an act of worship toward God. So…don’t do that. Instead of being like me in that particular situation, be like the Macedonians who “gave themselves first to the Lord.”
And notice also in that phrase what it actually says that they gave. According to Paul, these Macedonian Christians gave not just their money, but what? “Themselves,” right? They gave their very selves. And that’s really what God ultimately desires. As I mentioned earlier, God isn’t after your money—he’s after your heart. I mean, if God wanted your money, I’m pretty sure he could just take it. He is God, after all. And what does he need your money for, anyway? He’s the one who spoke this universe into existence. He doesn’t need money to do what he wants to do. So God’s not interested in your money but rather in your heart. Kind of like when you choose to marry someone. Hopefully you don’t choose your spouse based on how much money they have, right? That kind of thing is generally frowned upon even by secular society. Hopefully, you choose your spouse because you love them and you love knowing them and you love being with them. So, understand that God’s not primarily interested in your money. He’s after your heart. Yet, giving is nevertheless a natural and inevitable expression of a heart that’s devoted to him.
The Genuineness of Our Love Is Seen in Our Willingness to Give
After that, the fifth principle for generosity we see in this passage is that the genuineness of our love is seen in our willingness to give. The genuineness of our love is seen in our willingness to give. After Paul urges the Corinthians to imitate the Macedonians in their generous giving, he states in verse 8, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” Biblical love is about more than sentimental feelings. It’s about our willingness to serve and help the people around us—especially brothers and sisters in the faith. In 1 John 3:17-18, John asks, 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. You see, “words” and “talk” are easy. Anyone can post something on social media in support of a worthy cause. But God calls us to go beyond giving mere lip service to something and instead actually love “in deed and in truth.” And, by the way, that’s one reason why I enjoy going out for Love Your Neighbor Days so much. We get to show love not just by some sort of social media post but by actually interacting with people and blessing them in practical ways. And hopefully, going out to those homeless camps changes our general disposition in our day-to-day lives, making us more sensitive to the needs and opportunities to serve people around us.
And, as we see back in verse 8 or our main passage, our willingness to do that and to serve and give in practical ways is a key indicator of the genuineness of our love. The clear implication of this verse is that if we’re not willing to give to those in need, any claim that we make of loving them is a relatively empty claim, or at least not very meaningful. The genuineness of our love is seen in our willingness to give.
You see, giving points back to the heart. I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but there’s actually this invisible cord running from your heart all the way down here to your wallet. The true condition of your heart is seen in your giving habits. In fact, I think we can even say that the way we handle money is one of the most reliable indicators there is of our spiritual condition. Again, the way we handle money is one of the most reliable indicators there is of our spiritual condition—of our love for the Lord, our devotion to the Lord, our delight in the Lord, our trust in the Lord. Our handling of money is connected to all of that.
Jesus Is the Ultimate Example of Generous Giving
Then a sixth and final principle from this passage is that Jesus is the ultimate example of generous giving. Jesus is the ultimate example of generous giving. Paul writes in verse 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 by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus left his riches to become poor in the sense that he left the glories of heaven in order to come as a lowly human to this sin-cursed earth for the purpose of saving us. Philippians 2:6-7 states that 6 …though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. You see, we stood guilty and condemned before God because of our sin and had absolutely no means by which to rescue ourselves. So, Jesus came to our rescue.
And not only did he humble himself by leaving heaven and entering this world as a lowly human, he actually went beyond that. As we read in the next verse, Philippians 2:8, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” You see, our sins cried out for God’s judgment, but Jesus took that punishment in our place in his death on the cross. He made atonement for our sins so that God’s justice could be satisfied and we could be saved. Back in verse 9 of our main passage, that’s what it means for us to “become rich.” Again, Paul writes, “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 by his poverty might become rich.” Even the Christian who has the least amount of earthly possessions is actually rich beyond all comparison in the way that most matters. Through the voluntary poverty of Jesus, we, as his people, “become rich” in the sense of possessing all of the spiritual blessings he purchased on the cross. Now, of course, none of that is automatic. The Bible clearly teaches that, in order to benefit from what Jesus did on the cross and from his subsequent resurrection from the dead, we have to put our trust in Jesus as our all-sufficient Savior—looking not to ourselves but to him alone as our only hope of being right with God and enjoying eternal life.
And, for those of us who have done that, we see here in this verse that Jesus is not only our all-sufficient Savior but is also our ultimate example of generosity. Notice the word “for” at the beginning of this verse. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…” That word “for” connects this verse with the preceding verses, where Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians to give generously. So his encouragement to give generously is now being bolstered and amplified by the motivation we find in this verse. It’s like Paul’s saying, “I’ve encouraged you to give generously…now here’s why. Here’s what should motivate you more than anything else.” “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 by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus is the ultimate example of generosity as the one who gave all he had to give—even his very life—for the sake of his people. So, giving—or, at least, the kind of giving that pleases God—begins and ends with the gospel. As we saw earlier, it begins with the gospel as God graciously changes our hearts. And it ends with the gospel as we continually look to Jesus as the ultimate example of generous giving and exhibit our gratitude toward him.