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As God Hath Prospered
To live pleasing to God and to walk consistently with the truth He has revealed, it is vitally important for believers to recognize, accept, and proclaim the dispensational changes God has made in His dealings with man.
Concerning the subject of giving, God has changed the instructions He gave to Israel under the Law; and He has changed the instructions given to Israel in the Gospels and early Acts under the kingdom program. Therefore, it is essential that we recognize these changes in order to be godly and correct in the matter of giving under grace.
The Basis of Giving
II Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9, is the foremost portion in the entire Word of God concerning the subject of giving for the dispensation of the grace of God in which we live. This is given directly to the Body of Christ by the risen Lord. God has provided a very complete body of truth on this subject, perfectly fitted to this dispensation of grace. In this tremendously important passage, Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, says,
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich (II Corinthians 8:9).
Giving in the dispensation of grace starts with us being on the receiving end! God asks us to remember that He gave first—He gave the life of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through believing He died for our sins and rose again the third day, we receive the free gift of salvation and share in His glory forever! God does not ask the unbeliever to give; He asks him to believe the gospel and receive the gift of salvation by grace through faith alone. Then, and only then, is he enabled and privileged to give in return out of gratitude.
Giving financially is only one of the ways that we give of ourselves to the Lord, and it certainly is not the only way God wants us to give. It is, however, something that the Lord has invited us to do. God does not want us to be passive or, even worse, neglectful in this area. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1 that we are to be imitators of God and walk in love as Christ hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God. We cannot walk in the love of Christ if we do not sacrifice of ourselves and give unselfishly for the good of others. This is what II Corinthians 8:9 is saying to us. It is showing us the principle by our Lord’s example, and this is to be the basis of giving in this dispensation of grace!
Exhortation by Godly Example
Look at II Corinthians 8:1:
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.
It is such a blessing to see the Apostle Paul begin this way. He does not say, “Let me make known to you how much money the Macedonians have sent.” Rather, he starts out saying, “Let me show you—let me make known to you—the grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia!” God had been gracious to the Macedonians; He had been gracious to the Corinthians; He has been gracious to you and me! But what Paul was really saying was that God had been gracious to the Macedonians and, by inference, look how they had responded in return!
Here was a people who had responded properly to the grace that God had bestowed upon them! The real issue is how are we responding to the wonderful grace that God has bestowed upon us? The churches of Macedonia were north of Corinth, and one of these would have been the Philippian church. We read about some godly characteristics in the Philippians that God would like to see in us. Paul did not use the unscriptural principle of setting standards by comparison. Rather, he used the Philippians as an example of scriptural godliness in this area. This is exhortation by godly example!
The Proper Response
In verse 1, we have before us the real issue about grace giving. Simply, it is the fruit of the grace of God—hearts gripped by the truth and changed lives! Giving is our proper response to the grace of God! The true grace giver loves the Lord and the Lord’s people, and he will give to the Lord from the heart, for the furtherance of the grace message and also to help other saints who are in need. This is the kind of giver that God wants us all to be, and He makes it clear from the start. “Let me declare to you how well the Macedonians have responded to the grace that God has bestowed upon them!” Isn’t it wonderful to see it put this way? God strikes a cord of truth here that should touch each of our hearts! The first point then in our giving today is the motivation: the grace of God and our appreciation for it. Grace-motivated giving stems from our love of the God of all grace, and from our desire to live His grace and to see others reached and helped with it.
The second point in grace giving is the equation. We find this in verse 2:
How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
Let us think of this verse as a mathematical equation. The terms of the equation are: great trial + abundant joy + deep poverty = liberality or liberal giving! Think of this! By any other standards, these factors would never have produced this result. Great trial and deep poverty would normally yield sadness and discouragement. By human standards, these factors would hardly have worked out to generous giving. What made the difference? Their abundant joy in the grace of God! These people were heavily persecuted; if we read the Philippian Epistle, we will see the trials they faced. But we will see more; we will see their proper reaction to these things in being faithful to the Lord through their trials to the glory of the grace of God!
But compare this with the Corinthian equation. Here we have: less persecution + carnality + abundant wealth = poor giving! What a contrast! What made the Corinthians so different? They were slow to show an appreciation for the grace of God, both in helping the Apostle Paul to proclaim the message of grace and in helping the Lord’s people who were in need.
Read verse 3:
For to their power, I bear witness, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves.
The Philippians did not have the money to spare! They were poor! But they did not let that stop them. They loved the grace of God and the people of God more than the necessities of life—let alone those things which we just have to have! They could hardly afford to give, but they gave anyway, first of themselves and then of their substance. They did it to see the message of grace go out and to see God’s people helped. Paul says that to their power or ability, and beyond their ability, they literally chose of themselves! It is important to see that they were not forced to give. There was no emotional hype, no legalism; they saw the need and responded of their own choosing, being motivated by God’s grace alone! They simply reacted spiritually! They had a good excuse not to give, but they were more concerned about others than themselves.
Perhaps we can see God speaking to us here. Perhaps we can learn from their example!
Beseeching us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave themselves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God (II Corinthians 8:4,5).
Paul says that the Philippians literally begged him to take the gift. When we have to beg God’s people to give, something is wrong! The saints should be begging the teachers of the Word for opportunities to help more! But this demonstrates the amount of desire we have to help in the Lord’s work—whether we ask to help or whether we have to be asked.
Fellowshipping in the Ministry
Notice again the Apostle’s wording here. He says their gift represented a fellowshipping in the ministry to the saints. The Philippians fellowshipped in the ministry in two important ways, which represent the two reasons for giving today. First, as Philippians 1:5 says, they “fellowshipped in the gospel from the first day until now,” or until the now occasion (the opportunity to help Paul again). They had a desire right from the beginning to help Paul financially so he could preach the wonderful gospel of God’s grace. They shared in the preaching of Paul’s gospel—the gospel of the grace of God—and so should we; that is important! Second, they fellowshipped or shared in the physical needs of the saints, as is brought out here and in Philippians, chapter 4.
We do not hear much about this today, but God says it is just as important—you and I literally giving of our substance to a needy brother. This is the main reason these two chapters in II Corinthians were even written; this is important, too!
In supporting the preaching of the Word, we should not give to just anyone! We should only support assemblies and teachers that are preaching Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery (Romans 16:25)! This is the truth, and that is what we should support! In helping believers who are in need, we should be discerning, but by all means willing.
The Poor Saints at Jerusalem
We need to ask the question here: Who were these saints in verse 4, and why were they in need? The answer is that they were the poor, Jewish saints in Jerusalem that Paul referred to in Romans 15:26. The reason for their poverty is a uniquely dispensational one!
These Jews were saved under the kingdom economy or dispensation, and they had followed the Lord’s kingdom instructions for giving. They had sold all their possessions and had all things common, as it says in the early part of the Book of Acts. They rightly did this, anticipating the return of Christ to establish the millennial kingdom (where all their needs would be provided miraculously).
That program continued in the early part of Acts until suddenly, having proven Israel in unbelief along with the nations, God saved Saul of Tarsus, thereby beginning a new dispensation—the dispensation of the grace of God. (Saul became Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, and God used him and his Epistles to reveal the mystery, God’s sacred secret concerning the dispensation of the grace of God.)
With Paul’s salvation, the setting aside of Israel and the setting aside of the kingdom program began. God changed the dispensation. Those Jews who had sold all their possessions were now in dire straits! The kingdom program was waning and soon to be completely set aside! They were, therefore, the victims of the setting aside of the nation of Israel. However, the setting aside of them (national Israel) meant the extending of God’s hand of grace to all sinners everywhere—including individual Jews as well as Gentiles.
God in His grace was now going to respond to the needs of these Jewish saints in accord with the new dispensation and move the saints to supply their need. He did not do this through the Law or miracles or kingdom instructions, but according to the principle of grace. He laid it upon the hearts of the Gentile believers to respond in love and to give to the needs of their Jewish brethren. This is God’s primary way of providing for His people in need today, and we need to be keenly aware of it!
Abounding in This Grace
The Philippians had been godly in both areas of giving, that is, for the preaching of the gospel of grace and for the needs of the saints. They had even gone beyond Paul’s expectations. They did not just give money; they first gave themselves! The important question now is: Which are we? Are we Macedonians, or are we Corinthians? Are we spiritual—do we love the Lord and walk in that love; or are we carnal, materialistic, and living for ourselves? What does God want us to be?
Giving is really fellowshipping in the Lord’s work; it is being a part of something that has eternal benefits. In verse 6, Paul now says,
Insomuch that we besought Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also.
This same grace also—the grace of giving! Isn’t that precious? Paul says there had been a beginning; there had been an initial response to the need that Titus had made known. The Corinthians had begun to respond correctly to the first Epistle, but there is more.
Verse 7 tells us:
Therefore, as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.
This verse speaks of the Corinthian response to the first Epistle that Paul had sent. They were abounding in faith or faithfulness, in word or in speaking the Word. They were now growing in their knowledge of the truth, and it was bringing an increase in their diligence and love.
Many of us might boast the same things. We might claim to be maturing spiritually and doing quite well in our knowledge of the grace message. But God says there is one more thing we need to abound in, and that is the grace of giving! We cannot really be faithful, we cannot really walk according to knowledge, we cannot really walk in love without giving—giving of ourselves and also of our resources! Giving is what the love of God is all about. Ephesians 5:2 says,
And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.
Let us take note that God wants us to abound in this grace of giving! Did He abound in grace to us? Of course, He did! Will we not abound in return? We cannot pay Him back, but rather we can abound in service out of love! Give that men might be saved by hearing and believing the gospel of grace. Give that all saints may see what is the fellowship of the mystery—that special body of truth which God revealed through Paul for this present dispensation of grace. Give so God’s people will have the things they need—food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and yes, love from their brethren. This is imitating God (Ephesians 5:1) and walking in love as Christ has also loved us.
Proving Our Love
Next comes an important point, and that is the proof of our love! Please do not be offended, but speaking frankly, talk is cheap. It is easy to say we love the Lord, we care about this message, or we care about the brethren! Only our actions can prove the sincerity of our words. The Corinthians were long on talk and short on action. Many of us may be in the same situation.
Verses 8 and 11 speak of the need to put our good intentions to work and to do what we say. First, we need to want to do it, and then we need to perform it. In both chapters 8 and 9, Paul unfolds several underlying principles of grace giving. The Apostle Paul begins in verse 8 of chapter 8 by saying,
I speak not by commandment...
It is very important to note that there are no commandments to give in this dispensation of grace! It is right to give—in love, it is good to give; but there is no commandment!
The word for commandment here is the word used in Romans 16:25 and in I Timothy 1:1. It can have a very strong meaning, and I believe it does here. This is a principle today; there is no legal, authoritative imposition upon believers to give in this dispensation of grace. God exhorts us here from the standpoint of the earnestness of others and the need to prove that our love is genuine. It is not a command; it is done in love, voluntarily.
Israel’s Way: Duty, Devotion, and Dispensation
Now, let us examine Israel’s giving and the specific changes that God has revealed to us, the Body of Christ, for this dispensation of grace. Basically, Israel had three types of giving. They had the giving of duty, or Law giving; they had the giving of devotion, which was free-will offering or giving; and they had dispensational or kingdom giving. Duty, devotion, and dispensation—that was Israel’s way.
The giving of duty was, of course, what was required under the Law. The most commonly known amount here is the tithe. But actually, they gave more than just ten percent. Israel’s giving in this area was for the maintenance of the priesthood (additional provision for the priests came from certain of the sacrificial offerings), the tabernacle (later the temple), and the provision for their festivals. In this dispensation of grace there are major changes—there are no priests, no temple building, and no feasts!
Technically then, under the giving of duty, the people of Israel were required to give certain amounts. First, there was the tithe or ten percent paid to the priests (Numbers 18:21). The priests also gave one tenth of the offerings given to them to the high priest (Numbers 18:26)! But that was not all. There was an additional ten percent that had to be paid for the provision of their many feasts (Deuteronomy 12:17; 14:28; 26:12)! That makes twenty percent. And there is yet more! Annually, each person paid one-half shekel for the maintenance of the temple (Exodus 30:11–16)! That puts the amount given above twenty percent!
This describes Israel’s required giving. But none of these percentages are applicable to the Body of Christ today! We are not under any of these regulations. Many denominations believe that the tithe was a principle that applied before the Law because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:20. Even some grace teachers share this view, though they do not believe the tithe is obligatory, or commanded.
This writer does not believe that the tithe has any place in the dispensation of grace for two reasons. First, Paul says right here, “...not by commandment,” which is further alluded to in II Corinthians 9:7. Second, concerning Abraham, God was supplying the need of the priest (we read in Genesis 4:18 that Melchizedek was the priest of the Most High God)!
Rules and Regulations—Types and Shadows
Remember that beginning with Adam and Eve we see people who were treated quite differently than we are today. They were not treated as full-grown sons as we are. They were under rules and regulations, and their whole life was filled with types and shadows.
Even in those early days, God had evidently given them unwritten instructions, otherwise, where did Abel learn to bring a sacrifice? Or, how did Noah know to take seven of the clean animals for sacrifices? How did Abraham know to give a tithe?
These are not principles for us of the Body of Christ; they were for those who were spiritually immature and in the shadows. It seems that the tithe was a token amount under the earthly program, during a time of immaturity, testing, types and shadows, to show God’s rightful ownership and provision of all things on earth, and to honor Him through the priesthood for His direct supply.
The giving of devotion really meant that they could give above and beyond their twenty percent, if they wished. Even under the Law, they could give from the heart if they chose! We see an example of this in Mark 12:42 where the Lord taught about the widow’s mite.
All Things Common
The giving of the kingdom dispensation involved the selling of all one’s possessions (especially after the day of Pentecost) and the common sharing of all things. These were instructions that directly involved the offer of the millennial kingdom as at hand and anticipated its establishment. This is alluded to in Luke 12:32,33, where the Lord said,
Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which grow not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not...
It is also evident in Matthew 10:9, where they are told to provide neither gold nor silver...nor a bag for their journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, and is most evident in Acts 2:44,45:
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted to all men, as every man had need.
In Acts 4:32–35 it says,
And the multitude that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that any of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common...as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet...
There are those that say these instructions were voluntary, but either a believer accepted the kingdom offer and joined the company, having proved his belief by selling all his possessions, or he had a right to keep his possessions and not join the company (Acts 5:3,4)!
His Poverty, Our Riches
The important thing, though, is that these instructions have also passed from the scene and are not part of God’s program for the Body of Christ. Today, if we do not provide for our own household, God says we deny the faith and are worse than an unbeliever (I Timothy 5:8)! Today, God says that if any will not work, neither should he eat (II Thessalonians 3:10)! God has changed the dispensational program! We are not anticipating the establishment of the millennial kingdom—that is not God’s present administration! Today is the dispensation of grace (Ephesians 3:2)!
Thus, today we are to give from the heart because of God’s grace, and we do thereby show the proof of our love, as in II Corinthians 8:8. But the Apostle Paul goes on in verse 9:
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.
Here is the whole issue of grace giving in one verse—the principle, the example, and the fruit that resulted! This was Christ proving His love by becoming poor! This was His death on the Cross, where He paid not for His sins but for yours and mine!
The Ultimate Gift
Perhaps you don’t know Him as your Saviour; perhaps you don’t know that you are a sinner unable to help yourself. The Bible says that all those who die in their sins without the Saviour will suffer God’s wrath for all of eternity! But God in His love for you does not wish this to happen. This is the beauty of the gospel, that Christ died for you and was raised again the third day!
You don’t have to go another day in your sins and on your way to hell! You can become rich through His poverty. You can be saved right now by believing that He died for you and is your risen Lord and Saviour. That is all you have to do—in fact, it is all that you can do! Nothing else will avail to save you except His death and resurrection for you and your faith in Him. God saves today by His grace alone, and this is how you become rich, through His poverty! Please do not wait another day to believe upon Him as your Saviour and pass from death to life, to receive the forgiveness of sins and His everlasting life, to be saved for time and eternity—all by the riches of God’s grace! God loves you; Christ died for you.
...believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved (Acts 16:31).
In II Corinthians 8:10,11, Paul says,
And in this I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be willing a year ago. Now, therefore, perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.
God only expects us to give out of that which we have. He knows our circumstances, and He is very understanding of our needs. Verse 12 adds to this, saying,
For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that which a man hath, and not according to that which he hath not.
Many of us might think that we do not have the means to give, but God says all He expects is for us to give out of that which we have. He is the One who provides what we have, and He knows our needs. You may not have much you can give, but God is saying to abound in what you can!
God wants us to make sensible decisions; He does not want us to give emotionally, without thinking. He does not want us to throw our financial situation into collapse or near devastation. If you give all you can afford right down to just enough left for the necessities, that is sacrificial giving
The Philippians did this, but it does not mean that they starved. The right principle is: What do we want to give, and how much of that can we truly afford—desiring to be scripturally responsible for the needs of our household? We can give only as much as He has enabled, while being Pauline in providing for our families.
This rules out pledge giving, too! God only expects us to give out of that which we have. Furthermore, we do not give liberally and expect God to make us wealthy in return—to give back tenfold. NO! That does not apply to this dispensation either! We are free to give all that we can afford, or we are free to give less; but Paul says to remember the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in our decisions! God’s plan here is gracious and fair. It gives us the opportunity to give genuinely, from the heart, not out of obligation or because of legal bondage.
The Principle of Equality
Finally, then, in this chapter is the principle of equality. In these two chapters, Paul quotes twice from the Old Testament. Neither time is it in relation to tithing (which is conspicuous by its absence). But concerning equality, he quotes from the Old Testament:
For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: as it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack (II Corinthians 8:13–15).
What does this equality really mean? It does not mean that everyone should have the same amount of money in the bank. I only have a thousand dollars in the bank; you have nineteen thousand dollars. You give me nine thousand dollars, and then we will both have ten thousand dollars! No, this is not what God means. The meaning here is that each believer will have the basic needs of life met. He does not mean the desires of life. This is what most people think of when they think of needs—they confuse needs with desires.
God’s Provision Today
God tells us in I Timothy 6:8 that our needs are food and raiment—and we would include shelter and medical care, also. That is it—needs basic to life! Today, God is not providing miraculously, as He did for Israel in the wilderness, during the Lord’s earthly ministry, or even as in early Acts where they had all things common. Those were all provisions having to do with the kingdom program.
Today God provides for the needs of His people mainly through other saints. This does not mean that we give to the lazy. God says that if a man will not work, neither should he eat (II Thessalonians 3:10). Then, there are those who are in need because they are poor managers. They need to be helped to learn good management skills. If they will not respond to good counsel, then our giving to them must, of necessity, be restrained.
There are also those who are in need because they had to have all the luxuries of life and went in over their heads. There is a way to help them, but it is with reserve, not necessarily giving money, but perhaps food and clothing. Let them sell those luxuries they just had to have. If they will not do that, then we must cut back and let them go hungry.
To those who are truly in need, God wants us to abound in this grace of giving (Ephesians 4:28). It is a matter of our testimony before God and man that we take care of the needs of one another! So let us open our eyes and look around. Let us see how we can prove our love by helping. This can and should be done through the local assembly, but it is certainly not limited to that! Do not hesitate to help someone privately.
Verse 15 is quoted from Exodus 16:18; let us read it again:
As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.
God desires equality as to the basic things all believers need. One may have more money or possessions than another, and that is all right. But we should see to it that no truly needy brother is hungry or homeless—that is grace giving, too! Do not worry about the tax credit you will or will not receive; it is much more important to help a brother or sister in Christ than it is to receive a tax credit! This week we may be called upon to help meet the needs of others; later, they might be called upon to help meet our needs. The purpose is that we might all have the things we need to sustain us in this life.
Verses 16–24 of II Corinthians 8 can be summed up in one very simple word—accountability! As we read these verses, we notice some important things. First of all, the Apostle Paul took every precaution to ensure what he calls,
Providing for things honest, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men (verse 21).
God says there should be several—not just one or two, but several—well-qualified, spiritual men overseeing the handling of the finances. It must be above board, open and honest in every way, that there might be no possibility of temptation or wrongdoing at all! God says that this is not only important to Him, but it is important before men—both the saved and the lost! This is not just if it is convenient; it is always absolutely necessary!
Notice again verse 24. It concerns the matter of proving our love and sincerity, and this is the third time Paul has mentioned this. We may have all the good intentions and say all the right things; but until we actually do something to demonstrate our love, no one really knows whether we are sincere or not! Sooner or later, we have to back up our words with action, or our words are meaningless—and we are of little help, if any at all!
Fruit of Grace—Fruit of Giving
There is a basic distinction between chapters 8 and 9 of II Corinthians. Both are about grace giving, but from different aspects.
Chapter 8 deals with giving as the fruit of grace and exhorts us by example: the example of the Macedonians, their godly response to the grace of God, and the ultimate example of Christ giving Himself that we might be saved! Chapter 9, however, deals with the fruit of giving and exhorts us by assurance.
Look at II Corinthians 9:1–3:
For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the readiness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many. Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready.
Notice here Paul’s love for the Corinthians—he did not want to embarrass any of them. They had good intentions a year ago; now he was helping them to save face. He wanted to help them do what was right. This is the kind of graciousness and desire to edify that we should have to one another!
Therefore, I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up before hand your bounty, of which ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness (II Corinthians 9:5).
As God Hath Prospered
Paul does add some other teaching about this particular collection. In I Corinthians 16:1,2, we read:
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.
Being honest with this portion, we have to say that these instructions are concerning this particular collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Any guidelines we would set from this portion would be only an application. Obviously, in this case, it was such a large cooperative effort and there was such a large amount involved that this procedure was the most expedient and gave the most liberty. (Paul did not want a “high-pressure” collection when he came to town.)
We can see that there are many principles here which complement what Paul says in II Corinthians; but as to the manner of the collection, let us be careful not to impose some kind of regulation. This was a guideline and not a mandate that there must be a collection taken every week.
This collection in I Corinthians 16 was probably not one of passing the plate nor a situation where anyone knew what amount the other was giving. You might remember in Matthew 6:3 that the Lord said, “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth”! This principle still applies; God does not want us keeping track of who gives what and how much!
The Lord Hath Ordained
We might ask the question, “Does all giving have to be channeled through the local assembly?” The answer is NO. The local assembly should receive our primary support, and we are not trying to detract at all from the importance of providing for the needs of the pastor and elders of the local assembly, who rule well and labor in the Word. Paul says in II Corinthians 9:14:
Even so hath the Lord ordained that they who preach the gospel should live of [or receive their living out from] the gospel.
It should be a matter of personal concern that we see to it that the needs of those who minister the Word are adequately met—not just subsistence level, either. Some may say, “Well, they do not need much; and besides, the Lord will reward them later for their labor.” That is true—He will; but He will not reward a person for that kind of thinking! A minister of the Word should be willing to teach while working with his own hands, but shame on the people of God who force him to do that! God’s workmen have the liberty to refuse remuneration or pay, but God’s people do not have the liberty to refuse to pay them!
Worthy of Double Honor
Please notice that I referred to pastors and elders who rule well and labor in the Word being worthy of our support! I say this because that is exactly what is said in I Timothy 5:17—that the elders who rule well and labor in the Word are to be counted worthy of “double honor”! Honor them first by appreciating them and taking heed to their teaching, but honor them second (or give them double honor) by helping with their material needs so they will be able to go on teaching!
The elders should, indeed, help in teaching the Word; if they do not, something is lacking. If they are not qualified, something is very wrong. The elders who labor are also to be included in the remuneration! Most assemblies do not do this today, but that just means we are really not very Pauline!
Many pastors receive salaries, but what about the elders who teach? Money is not always the issue, but perhaps we could help out on their electric bill, or put some meat in their freezer, or see to it that they have a needed car repair! This is how we honor those who labor in the Word—even if the man has a regular job. It still takes time and effort for him to minister!
In the same passage where God refers to giving double honor, He also says,
...thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the grain. And, the laborer is worthy of his reward (I Timothy 5:18).
Yes, the needs of the local assembly do come first, but all our giving does not have to be channeled there. We do realize that Paul did say in Philippians 4:15 that the church had sent to his need, and in I Corinthians 16:1, he said that he had given instruction to the churches of Galatia, and now also to the Corinthians. It is right and normal for whole churches to be involved in those kinds of giving situations, but this is not some kind of rule or mandate that says all giving must be handled through the local church, as important as that institution is. We have more liberty than that.
Sowing and Reaping
Let us look more closely at II Corinthians 9:5:
Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, [and now watch what we do as we read this next part] and complete beforehand your before announced blessing...
Paul is talking about sending brethren ahead of himself to complete the gift that the Corinthians had said some time ago that they would give! And he continues,
...that the same might be ready, as a matter of blessing, and not as of covetousness.
The word used here for bounty is the Greek word eulogia (eulogy, the word for blessing)! It is the word used in Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” The Lord wants our giving to be a blessing—a eulogy—something that speaks well of our love for the Lord and His people! Isn’t that precious? It is not Paul or others or us coveting after money. It is a matter of blessing—giving of ourselves out of what God has blessed us with, and giving it for a blessing to others!
Notice this truth in connection with the principle stated in verse 6:
But this I say, he who soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he who soweth upon blessings, shall also reap upon blessings.
The same Greek word that is used in verse 5 for bounty (eulogy = blessing) is used here.
Let us look at this principle. He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountiful blessings shall reap bountiful blessings! Do we believe this verse? This verse is a promise from God! It is as sure as our salvation! Are we sure that we believe it? If we really believe this verse, why don’t we abound more in this grace of giving?
If we go out into a field and sow a handful of corn, how much corn will be there when we return in the fall? That is right—not much! But if we sow much seed, then in the fall there will be bountiful blessing. God is not saying that if we give a lot financially He will bless us with much financially. He is saying that if we give much blessing, we will be blessed in return! This would be both blessings in joy, as we see God work through our gifts, and also blessings in eternity. Mark this well: If we are selfish and stingy, we will reap what we have sown. God wants to bless; He wants us to be a blessing, and He promises that there will be blessings in return.
This is not talking about salvation—that we receive by faith in Christ alone. This is talking about multiplied blessings in this life and reward in glory for loving service, which He says we can be assured of! Remember, chapter 9 speaks about the fruit of giving and exhorts us by assurance—both for generosity and for stinginess!
“Hilarious” Giving from the Heart
Paul then goes on to add to this principle the required motive to receive God’s “well done.” Verse 7 says,
Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
Here is the answer to the issue of tithing. Here Paul uses a word that directly negates tithing, and I believe he knew it. He purposely does not raise the issue of tithing; and as a matter of fact, he says, in effect, that we are not to give that way.
He begins by saying “every man...as he purposes in his heart...” This is where God starts—the heart! The word purposeth means to choose one thing before another. It is very close to our word priority. Though priority comes from the Latin, this Greek word is very close! It has to do with what we choose or put first in our heart! God wants our giving to be the result of truly putting Him first in our hearts.
Paul continues, “...so let him give; not grudgingly...,” and this word means out of sorrow. Our giving is not to be done sorrowfully! “Oh, I wish I didn’t have to; I really don’t want to.” If this is our attitude, we are not to give! “Not out of sorrow, or of necessity”—here is the word that answers tithing, i.e., not of necessity or legal obligation (that is the meaning of the Greek word)! God will not have this to be the basis of our giving, and that must be clearly understood.
Paul closes by saying, “...for God loveth a cheerful [or as in the Greek, a hilarious] giver.” Someone who gives out of love for the grace of God makes this a real priority. He is not sorrowful, nor is he just obligated. He wants to give; he is happy to give! This man can see past the vain pleasures of this life to the things that can be accomplished for eternity and the blessings that will result from his giving.
Abounding in Every Good Work
In verse 8 we read:
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.
This verse complements 8:12 perfectly. God will provide us with all we need to abound in every situation, that is, to every good work that He would have us do! The rest is a matter of faith, that is, are we willing? Sometimes we are unable to do much and God understands, but do we abound in what He has enabled? Other times God enables us to do much, and instead we squander the excess on ourselves. When God provides us with extra, according to this passage, it is that we might abound in every good work. God does not give us abundance to squander upon ourselves—of that we can be sure! To illustrate this principle (that God enables us to abound so we will abound), He shows the rightness and the joy of this by quoting from the Old Testament:
As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor; his righteousness remaineth forever (Psalm 112:9).
To understand this quote, we must read its context. In doing this, we will discover something precious. The person in this verse who disperses abroad, who gives to the poor, and whose righteousness remains forever is not the Lord, but it is the man who fears the Lord! As it is written, he hath dispersed abroad—this is not God, but the godly man. If we will read Psalm 112, starting from verse 1, we will see that. Paul says this is what a godly man will do, and the Psalms attest to it.
A godly man will take of his abundance and disperse to those who are truly in need; he will give to the poor—especially of his own brethren. Then look what God says. His—the giver’s—righteousness, the rightness of what he does, will remain forever! Remember, this is exhortation by assurance, brethren! Think of that! God says the rightness of our deed will remain forever! This is giving that has eternal dimensions! God says there are eternal blessings in store when we do what is right and when we are unselfish with that which he has blessed us. Verse 10 complements this perfectly, saying,
Now he that ministereth seed [this is God, the giver] to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness.
This is so precious, so wonderful to see! God wants us to have the things we need, and He might call on our brethren to supply them. He wants our brethren to have these things, too, and He might call on us to meet their need. Through it all, Paul prays that God will multiply our seed sown (our giving) and increase the fruit (the multiplied blessings of our right actions).
From II Corinthians 9:11–14, we learn that the result of our gracious giving has several aspects.
Being enriched in everything to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; While by the proving of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; and by their prayer for you, who long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you.
God increases the fruit of our right actions as we take what He has supplied us and are bountiful with it! That is what verse 10 is saying. Here are the things that result. First, the needs of the saints are supplied (verse 12). Second, thanksgivings abound to God (verses 11 and 12).
These thanksgivings abound in a threefold way. First, God is glorified when by our active ministry others praise God for our professed subjection to the gospel of Christ (verse 13). They know we are being obedient to the Lord in whom we have believed. Our actions in giving match the reality of the gospel in our lives, and they praise God for our subjection.
Second, they praise God for our liberal distribution to their needs and even to the needs of others. Third, they glorify God in their thoughts and prayers for us—as they long after us, that is, they thank God for His exceeding grace in us! In reading verse 15, notice that God finishes right where He began—with His grace in us:
Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.
The Apostle Paul began this portion with the grace of God and the Macedonians right reaction to it, and he ends with the possibility of others thanking God for our right reaction to His grace in us! Will this be the case for you and me? Our reaction—what will it be?Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift (II Corinthians 9:15)!
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