Giving Is a Witness

August 20

Lesson 12

Devotional Reading:
Psalm 37:16–24

Background Scripture:
2 Corinthians 9:1–15

Printed Text:
2 Corinthians 9:3–15

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:

1. Restate Paul’s reasons for the need of Christians to be generous givers.

2. Explain how God makes it possible to be generous.

3. Make a personal giving plan.

How to Say It

Corinth. KOR-inth.

Corinthians. Ko-RIN-thee-unz.

Gentiles. JEN-tiles.

Isaiah. Eye-ZAY-uh.

Jerusalem. Juh-ROO-suh-lem.

Macedonia. Mass-eh-DOE-nee-uh.

synagogue. SIN-uh-gog.

Titus. TY-tus.

Daily Bible Readings

Monday, Aug. 14—Every Good Gift Is from God (James 1:12–17)

Tuesday, Aug. 15—Give and You Shall Receive (Luke 6:32–38)

Wednesday, Aug. 16—Do Your Giving Quietly (Matthew 6:1–6)

Thursday, Aug. 17—Pleased to Share Their Resources (Romans 15:25–29)

Friday, Aug. 18—Arrangements for the Jerusalem Collection (2 Corinthians 9:1–5)

Saturday, Aug. 19—A Cheerful Giver (2 Corinthians 9:6–10)

Sunday, Aug. 20—Generosity Glorifies God (2 Corinthians 9:11–15)

Key Verse

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:8

Why Teach This Lesson?

Do we give for a need, or do we need to give? Paul taught the Corinthians that both are true. When we give, we desire that our gift be useful and not squandered, and this is reasonable. Yet there is a spiritual principle involved that is very personal. This lesson teaches that giving is intended to benefit not only the recipient but also the giver.

The spiritual principles taught here go against many of the trends of society. We witness people who give for recognition, to advance a social agenda, or because they are coerced into giving. The Bible teaches that sharing is part of God’s plan to take care of the needy and hungry in our world. When we give in this manner, we are truly acting in a godly fashion, and God promises that we will receive joy from our sacrifice. The lesson includes the famous teaching that if we “sow” (give) generously, we will “reap” (receive) abundant blessings. As the lesson points out, giving is not an option. Learning to give is part of the path toward Christian maturity.

Introduction

A. Benefits of Sharing

For a recent Thanksgiving, my wife and I volunteered to deliver baskets of food from the church to needy families. After spending hours loading and unloading the car and trying to locate addresses on dark houses on a cold evening, we were tired and ready to go home. As we carried our heavy baskets from the car to the last house on our list, I commented wearily that we should perhaps leave this particular service opportunity to others until the time when we did not have two small children to drag around with us.

We knocked on the door and were greeted by a woman in her fifties. With her was a host of children, ranging from infants to girls in high school. She immediately invited us in and asked us to sit. Each child was introduced, and she told us that her eldest daughter had died recently and that another child had moved back in after losing a job. As a result, the lady was working two jobs herself, desperately trying to support her eight children and grandchildren.

We sat speechless, humbled by her testimony and her faith. Before we left she insisted that we all pray together. After we did she burst into tears and thanked us profusely for the food. We told her that she should not thank us; we were only delivering a gift from the church. But as we went out the door, she pressed a letter into our hands expressing deep gratitude for our visit and asking for God’s continued blessing on our home. As we walked back to the car, my wife and I decided that perhaps we should volunteer to deliver baskets again next year.

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This is the case not just because it’s better to be able to help than to need help. It is better to give because when we give to meet another’s need, we act as God’s hand for his sustenance. The food we left at that home was worth perhaps $300; the prayers we took with us were priceless. The benefit of sharing is not a material benefit. The benefit is the chance to participate in God’s plan to provide for his people.

B. Lesson Background

As noted in our last lesson, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians at a time when the people of the churches in Judea were suffering through a financial crisis. The Roman government did not have a consistent “federal aid policy” to address such situations. Unemployment insurance did not exist.

The situation was especially bad for Christians of Jewish descent who were not able to receive support from synagogues. Fortunately, God has a plan to help Christians in need, but it does not involve miraculous provisions of food or money. Manna no longer falls from the sky. Instead, God provides through the generosity of other believers.

I. Ready and Willing? (2 Corinthians 9:3-7)

A. Paul’s Boasting (vv. 3, 4)

3. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be.

In chapter 8 Paul urged the Corinthians to rise to the example of the Macedonian churches by giving generously to the relief effort for Jerusalem. Paul had sent Titus to Corinth to prepare the church for his own upcoming visit and to collect their offering for the Judean churches (2 Corinthians 8:16–21). But he had also sent along several representatives of the Macedonian churches. They would go with him to Jerusalem as ambassadors of the Gentiles (8:22–24).

What Do You Think?

How do we handle contributions to reduce temptation or minimize suspicion of misuse?

Paul’s purpose in using this procedure probably is at least twofold. First, it will ensure that the funds will be managed in a proper and ethical way (8:20).

Second, it will allow the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem a chance to meet Gentile believers from a variety of different places. These representatives could then report back to their home churches about their experiences in Jerusalem. Hopefully, this will secure a greater sense of unity between the Jewish and Gentile segments of the first-century church.

What Do You Think?

Some may think that Paul’s boasting about the Corinthians’ intention to give was an attempt to raise a larger offering through guilt. How did Paul guard against the accusation of being manipulative? How can we do the same?

4. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident.

Paul now lays out the first reason why the Corinthians should get serious about preparing their gift. In 2 Corinthians 8:1–5, he bragged about the generosity of the Macedonian churches, but it appears he also has been bragging about the Corinthians. How embarrassed he would be if some of the Macedonian Christians were to travel to Corinth with him only to discover that the stewardship campaign was in disarray! And not only Paul would be embarrassed—the Corinthians themselves would surely be even more humiliated. Paul therefore urges them to fulfill their pledges so that his confidence will be confirmed.

B. Corinthians’ Generosity (vv. 5, 6)

5. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

The Corinthians apparently had responded quickly to a previous call for aid. But for some reason almost an entire year passed without any focused efforts to bring this program to a successful conclusion (2 Corinthians 8:10, 11).

Visual for Lesson 12.



Challenge your students to answer the question “Why give?” as they add to the answers already on this visual.

Paul assumes that they will be faithful to their pledge. But he goes on to state a key principle about giving: the motive is just as important as the gift. From a financial perspective, money is money; a starving person can buy food with it whether it is given with good motives or poor motives. But giving is intended to benefit not only the recipient but also the giver.

A gift that is well planned and thoughtfully bestowed allows the giver to share in the joy of the fellowship. But a gift that is rushed or given from a sense of guilt does not provide this joy. Instead, it often creates feelings of resentment, either toward the needy, toward the one who points out the need, or toward God himself, who calls us to give. Thoughtful consideration in advance will make giving a blessing to all involved. Paul urges the Corinthians to plan their giving carefully. Not as one grudgingly given speaks of the need to avoid giving a gift that you would really rather keep for yourself.

6. Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

The imagery here is drawn from agriculture: common sense says that a person who plants more seed will reap a larger harvest. But Paul cannot mean that God is more impressed with a larger gift. As we noted last week, Jesus says that the size of the donation makes no difference (Mark 12:41–44).

In this context the terms sparingly and generously are proportionate to an individual’s ability to give. God does not expect a person who makes $30,000 a year to give as much as a person who makes $100,000; he does, however, expect both to be willing to share when others are in need. God is concerned with one’s motive for giving. Any gift given without sincere love is worth nothing in God’s sight (1 Corinthians 13:3).

With this in mind Paul’s reference to reaping probably should be taken to refer to spiritual blessings. Experience teaches us that people who give a lot of money to Christian causes don’t automatically become wealthy in a worldly sense. They do, however, enjoy a wealth of peace and satisfaction because they know that they have done the right thing. They know that God will always provide for those who focus on his service. They know that they are rich toward God (Luke 12:21; compare Proverbs 11:24; 22:9).

C. Everyone’s Choice (v. 7)

7. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Giving is not an option, and Paul does not present it as an option to the Corinthians. Some of God’s people are clearly in need, and God is going to use the financial resources of the Corinthians to meet that need. The Corinthians can, however, choose the kind of attitude they will exhibit in fulfilling this obligation. They can give begrudgingly, out of a sense of duty and guilt, or they can give cheerfully, thanking God that they have the means to help other people. God is pleased with such gifts because they reveal a heart that is in line with his own.

What Do You Think?

How will we be affected in the long run if we give grudgingly instead of deciding freely what we want to give?

The amount of money each will give is up to the individual heart (compare Acts 5:4). Even so, Paul is not saying that we can give nothing if we feel like giving nothing. Going back to verse 2, the Corinthians already have pledged to give a certain amount, and Paul seems to be aware of that figure. At least part of the issue is that once we are aware of a need and determine the extent to which we can help, we should not go back on our word.

Baptized Pocketbooks

It was a strange statement. But upon reflection, it was quite profound. “Baptized pocketbooks,” said the preacher. “We need more baptized pocketbooks!”

When someone’s faith in Jesus leads him or her to respond in Christian baptism, it’s natural for the person to remove all the items that would be ruined by the water. This includes watches, shoes, pens, and wallets. Although it’s not useful for wallets to become literally immersed in the waters of baptism, it is essential that our pocketbooks be baptized symbolically. This doesn’t mean that we should have some kind of ceremony in that regard. It does mean that a Christian’s pocketbook is part of his or her Christianity.

Sadly, however, the pocketbooks of many Christians seem to be unbaptized. Often people trust God with every area of their lives except their finances. When a person comes to Christ, every aspect of life is to be brought under the lordship of Christ. Everything from our moral standards to our giving should be a proclamation of the Breastplate of Patrick: “Christ with me / Christ in the front / Christ in the rear / Christ within me / Christ below me / Christ above me / Christ at my right hand / Christ at my left.”

T. B.

II. Source and Result (2 Corinthians 9:8-15)

A. God’s Provisions (vv. 8, 9)

8. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Grace in this context does not refer to “saving grace” but rather to God’s gracious provision of spiritual gifts (see Romans 12:3–8). As the Corinthians well know, God has blessed them with every spiritual gift that they would ever need to complete the mission, empowering them to abound in doing good works for the gospel. If God can empower a person to prophesy or miraculously heal the sick, should we doubt that he will secure a sufficient income for those choosing to give a little extra money?

What Do You Think?

Before an offering is taken, many worship services feature an offering meditation and prayer. How can these help all to see the possibility of giving more than first thought possible?

9. As it is written:

“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;

his righteousness endures forever.”

Paul emphasizes his point by quoting Psalm 112:9. That psalm describes the character of the person who fears the Lord (112:1), noting the blessings that this person enjoys as a result of God’s favor. Such a person gives gifts to the poor liberally. As a result, God ensures that this person’s righteousness endures forever.

The Corinthians similarly should demonstrate their righteousness by giving liberally to the needy believers in Judea. God himself has dispersed liberally gracious gifts to his church, a testimony to his eternally righteous nature. Those who give generously are thus imitating God.

B. Corinthians’ Fruits (vv. 10, 11)

10. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.

Paul now reminds the Corinthians that God provides not only for our spiritual needs but also for our physical needs. Everything comes from him. The farmer buys seed by God’s grace; the seed grows by God’s grace; the harvest is preserved by God’s grace; the bread is baked by God’s grace; the money we earn to buy the bread is earned by God’s grace. Every bite of food that we put into our mouths is thus the final step in a long series of events that reveal God’s care.

This physical provision can be a reflection of the abundant spiritual provision that we enjoy in Christ if we allow it to be. Trusting in such care, we should be able to give generously (compare Isaiah 55:10).

What Do You Think?

Some who preach a “health and wealth” doctrine would use 2 Corinthians 9:6–11 as proof of their belief. How would you respond to them?

11. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

Every thing refers to both the physical and spiritual blessings mentioned in verse 10. When we give, God promises to provide and to provide abundantly. The Corinthians should therefore have no hesitation about meeting their pledge. If they do meet it, God will be glorified because the Jerusalem Christians will praise him for providing for their needs in this way.

Through us refers specifically to Paul, Titus, and the representatives of the Macedonian churches who are assigned to deliver the gifts to Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:16–23; 9:3–5). But in a more general sense, us would include the Corinthians as well. God will provide the money to the Corinthians, who will give it to Paul and companions, who will give it to the needy in Jerusalem. The Corinthians will thus be God’s hand to the needy, directly causing this thanksgiving to take place.

C. Others’ Thanks (vv. 12-14)

12. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

Any benevolent gift to any charitable cause can help meet the needs of a poor person. In this respect it does not make much difference whether we give money to a Christian relief organization or to a secular benevolent group such as the United Way. But a gift given in the name of Christ has a further effect: it brings glory to God because it allows other people to see his hand at work in the world.

This is, ultimately, much more important than the actual physical relief that the gift may bring, for it leads people to a greater trust in God. This has eternal implications. The Corinthians should not give merely as though they are helping some starving people whom they have never met. Rather, they should give as though they are bringing honor to the God who gave them everything they have.

13. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.

Paul notes two things that the Corinthians have done and one thing that other people will do when they see the results. First, they have professed their faith in Christ, submitting themselves to him. Second, they have demonstrated their faith actively by pledging to help the Jerusalem saints. If they are now faithful and live up to their pledge, then others will see Christ at work in them and will glorify God for their generosity. In this way a simple act of service—as simple as opening your wallet or writing a check—takes on eternal spiritual significance.

Liberal Distribution in Disguise

She looked like the cleaning lady from a TV comedy skit. At least that was the first thought that crossed my mind when the director of development at our Bible college introduced me to this humble visitor to our campus. The sweet little lady had arrived to witness the dedication of a new building.

I smiled and introduced myself as one of the professors and made small talk about her home and church family. Then I quickly excused myself to hurry off to my next class. Later that week, I found myself in the school cafeteria and had the opportunity to sit next to my colleague who had introduced me to the older woman.

“Do you remember that nice little lady I introduced you to earlier this week?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” I replied.

“She wasn’t very pretentious, was she?”

“No, not at all.” And I thought that that was an awfully nice way of putting it. “Very plain and common were the words that would have come to my mind.”

“Well, later that day,” the director continued, “that very plain and common woman wrote the college a check for $75,000.”

Of course, it would have been a great blessing to receive whatever gift she would have generously offered. But God taught me a lesson that day. That very simple lady was one of the most extravagant people I have ever met. Some people choose to live very simple lives in order to be extravagant givers. Only God knows the true nature of each gift. We look on the outer appearance, but God looks upon the heart.

T. B.

14. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.

Paul indicates that the Jerusalem Christians will return the favor done for them by praying for the Corinthians as they thank God for providing the help. These prayers are, in a sense, the return on the Corinthians’ investment. If such prayers seem to have less worth than the money we give, then we clearly have misunderstood how God operates.

D. God’s Great Gift (v. 15)

15. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

This verse is foundational to all Christian stewardship. Paul shifts from the narrower discussion of grace as the gifts and financial blessings that the Corinthians have received (v. 14) to a general prayer of thanksgiving. The gift of God noted here must be the wonderful grace evident in salvation through Christ. If God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son (John 3:16), then surely we can give a portion of our material blessings to help other believers.

Conclusion

Stewardship is not an optional feature of the Christian life. God has given us many wonderful things—salvation, material blessings, spiritual gifts—and he expects us to use these for his purposes. Thoughtful stewardship not only brings relief to those in need but also ultimately brings glory to God.

Of course, when Paul wrote this letter he had no idea whether the Corinthians would come through with their gift. Perhaps they would back out and embarrass him. But the evidence suggests that they did the right thing. Later in the letter, Paul tells them that he is about to visit them once more to check on their progress (2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1). Paul did travel to Corinth, and he and the representatives from Macedonia spent the winter with the believers there before going on to Jerusalem (see Acts 20:2, 3).

During this layover, Paul wrote the letter to the Romans. At the end of that epistle, he mentions that the churches in Macedonia and Achaia had made contributions for the needy in Palestine. Achaia is the district in which Corinth was located, suggesting that he found things ready as requested (Romans 15:25–28). When Paul and companions arrived in Jerusalem, the gift was received warmly just as Paul anticipated. Further, also as Paul had predicted, the leaders of the Judean church praised God for the grace given to the Gentiles (Acts 21:17–20a).

The Corinthian church was beset with many serious problems, and it is easy to criticize them for their immorality and immaturity. Yet in this instance the church responded to Paul’s warnings. They ultimately did the right thing. As such, they stand as a model not only of generosity but also of willingness to repent. May we be so as well.

Thought to Remember

Witness through your giving today!

Prayer

God, help us to appreciate the wealth of spiritual and material blessings that you have given us. Help us also to trust your continuing provision, so that we may give of our time and resources generously as you have called us to do. Let our acts of service always bring glory to you rather than ourselves. In Jesus’ name, amen.


 

 

        Underwood, J., Nickelson, R. L., & Underwood, J. 2005. New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2005-2006 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati