The Gain in Giving
Scriptures: II Corinthians 9:6-15; Psalm 112
Introduction to scripture reading:
In II Corinthians, Paul devotes 2 of 13 chapters, over 15% of the letter, to a special offering he is collecting from the Gentile Christians in Greece to help the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem suffering from a famine. We read about it last week, and Paul is still talking about it this week: II Corinthians 9:6-15. [Read]
I once read a sermon where the pastor told about a young businessman struggling to make ends meet. At one point the man had fifty dollars on which he and his family had to live for the next two weeks. But that Sunday at church the man put the entire fifty dollars into the offering plate. I was curious what lesson the pastor would draw from this. I would have said, “Wow, I don’t think he should have done that.” I might have even quoted II Corinthians 8:13 where the apostle Paul says, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of fair balance.” But that was not the point made by that pastor. He told the congregation, “That man went on to amass one of the largest fortunes in the state.”
There are a number of pastors out there preaching that giving to the church is a way of becoming rich. And they quote the Bible, including II Corinthians, chapter 9. In verse 6 Paul says, “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Then in verse 11 he says, "You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity."
This would be a great way to get pledges. If I could promise that pledging comes with a winning lottery ticket, or that for every dollar you put in the offering plate you will receive two dollars in stock options, we would have no trouble making our church budget.
But it doesn’t work that way, despite what some preaches say. After all, who gave more than Jesus? Yet at the end of his life he had no more money than he started with. He was born in a borrowed manger and buried in a borrowed tomb. The apostle Paul did not travel around in luxury. He walked on foot and hoped he would find someone offer him food and lodging. Anyone who preaches that giving to the church will make you rich has a hard time explaining Jesus, Paul, St. Francis, Mother Theresa, or almost any other saint in Christian history. So what does Paul mean when he says, "Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully"?
First of all, I think the English translation is misleading. If we translated verse 6 literally from Greek, word of word, it would go something like this: “Those sowing sparingly, sparingly also will they reap, and those sowing on the basis of blessing, on the basis of blessing also will they reap.”
The key word is not bounty but blessing. If we give out of a sense of being blessed, then the giving will be for us and others a blessing.
This is confirmed by what Paul says in verse 8: “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” Paul does not promise that the Corinthians will become rich. He promises that God will give them what they need to be a blessing to others. Which is exactly what God did in the case of Jesus, Paul, St. Francis, and Mother Teresa. None of them were rich. But all of them were unquestionably a blessing to others. God gave them what they needed in order to be a blessing.
This idea is expanded in verses 11-12: “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.”
Notice, Paul does not say that giving will multiply riches; it will multiply thankfulness. The gain in giving is gratitude.
The same idea is found in our first scripture reading from Psalm 112. Vs. 5-6:
It is well with those who deal generously and lend,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
they will be remembered forever.
Notice what is promised. It is not that those who give will get rich, but that they will be remembered, and they will be remembered for their goodness.
This idea is repeated in verse 9:
They have distributed freely,they have given to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.
It is not that those who give freely will be rich, but that they will be remembered with gratitude.
After church last week one of our church members asked me if Paul ever talked about tithing. Tithing is the Old Testament practice of giving 10% of the crop to God. Some churches encourage their members to give 10% of their income to the church. In the Mormon Church I think it is even required. But Paul never talks about tithing or any other percentage we should give. He does not want giving to become a new form of law, a new kind of works righteousness by which we try to buy God’s favor. The truth is we don’t have enough in our bank account to buy God’s favor. We could sell our house and cash out our entire 401-K and still not have enough to pay for the love and grace and eternal life God has given to us free of charge in Jesus Christ. We could never give enough to buy what God has given us. All we can do is be grateful.
So that’s why Paul says in verse 7: “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Several years ago Time magazine had a cover story called "The New Philanthropists" profiling some of the richest people in America and what they give to various charities and foundations. We hear all the time about what the Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos of the world give to charity. But the most moving story in this article was about an 81 year-old retired train engineer named Morris Popes. Morris lived in Atlanta, GA, on a retirement income of about $1,700 a month--about $20,000 a year. He gave about $3,000 a year to his church, the First Corinth Missionary Baptist Church, and another $1,000 or so a year to the Atlanta Food Bank. In the article he says, "I look at how God has blessed me during my working years and raising my family, and I can't tell you how many times I've come to these homeless shelters and heard people say, 'My children haven't had a bite to eat today.' Everyone should feel the pleasure of giving to others. If they knew that, they would give too" (July 24, 2000, p. 51).
At the church I served in Spokane, we had an elder on the Stewardship committee named Bucky. Bucky was a regional vice president at Bank of America, so he knew a lot about managing money responsibly, both for individuals and for our church. But come stewardship time Bucky sometimes did a talk in the church service. We called it the Bucky talk, and he often concluded with this line: “Don’t give until it hurts; give until it feels good.”
I would put it this way: don’t let guilt be your guide; let it be gratitude.