6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 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. 9 As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!2 Corinthians 9:6-15
A quick note before we begin. Today, we skip forward a bit into chapter 9. After this entry, we will notice a shift in chapter 10. We aren’t certain, but many entertain the possibility that chapter 10 (and possibly other points later in the letter) marks the beginning of a later letter tacked on to the end of this one. We can’t be sure, of course, but it makes sense as chapter 10 seems to pick up a line of defense from Paul that seems to address the Corinthian community’s response to points made in the letter we refer to as 2nd Corinthians. Now, on to our study…
2nd Corinthians 9:6-15 is an often quoted passage from Paul’s letters about generosity. However, rather than take his words out of context in order to make a quick appeal to your wallets, let’s consider the larger point Paul is making . Giving isn’t about measuring our generosity on the scales of what we think God will give us in return. Being generous is about knowing who you belong to.
This makes perfect sense given the flow of the argument. In chapter 8, verse 15, Paul argues that we are the body of Christ, the spiritual dwelling place of the Son of God who became poor for our sake so that we might have a share in his life in fellowship with the Father. Because of this, our generosity, our giving, and our thinking about resources ought to exist in conformity with this underlying truth.
From there, Paul goes on to give thanks for the partnership of Titus in the latter half of chapter 8, a natural outpouring of the type of generosity that motivates the Christian. Titus has been invaluable to him, especially in his work to help heal the rift between Paul and the Corinthian community. Paul now sends him now as an advance guard not just of Paul and his ministry, but as an evidence of the validity of the collection Paul is taking up for the church in Jerusalem.
From there, we come into chapter 9, with Paul continuing to insist that this gift is evidence of something deeper. If the Corinthian community will honor their pledge, it would be a sign of Christian unity, Paul insists. It would also help them save face in regard to other church communities throughout the region. Again, Paul resorts to using both the carrot of generous appeal and Christian character, as well as the stick of humiliation in comparison with others.
And it is here that we alight on Paul’s famous words in chapter 9, verse 6 about sowing and reaping. I don’t have enough time here to catalogue how often this passage has been abused by big personality, famous preachers to bang the collection plate as they dial for dollars in Jesus’ name. The appeal is pretty straight forward: use this passage to show people that if they don’t plant their resources in faith in a particular ministry, God will not repay them with kindness, generosity, or material prosperity. In the worst cases of this abuse, this passage is the go to verse for prosperity gospel teachers.
However, such appeals fail to pay attention to verses 9 and 10. Yes, Paul, in some sense, is making a correlation between the generosity/stinginess of the Corinthian community and its spiritual depth and maturity. But this is no mathematical equation that has us sow one part our offering, with ten parts reaped of God’s bounty.
No, the real issue Paul is getting at is that our sowing or our reaping has everything to do with how we view God. If we view God through the lens of our own tendency to give, then of course God seems to be transactional. But if we see God this way, we are engaged in idolatry. In fact, what we are really doing is attempting to remake him in our image such that we get as good as we give.
But this is not the point at all. Paul makes it clear in verses 9 and 10 that all creation, all harvests, all sowing, and all reaping come from the God who created the world, and brings forth its abundance. God is the creator and sustainer of the world, he is telling this community. And if this is true, then we can never outgive or be so loose in our generosity that we would somehow outpace God’s capacity to provide for our needs. In fact, even the capacity for us to work, to have resources to share, and to bring our gifts to bear are a direct result of God’s generosity.
So give, Paul implores them; you don’t need to be afraid. In fact, such giving reflects a true appreciation of what we have already received in Christ, God’s indescribable gift. So, stop measuring by a profits and loss statement of your own prosperity, Paul seems to be saying; is there any measure of wealth or status that could truly compare to what we have received in Christ?
Here, I come to a close with an observation. If there is a condition that seems to typify Western culture, it is consumerism. As a result, we are constantly in a mode of comparing things, as well as measuring our relative levels of affluence. We compare our ‘old’ cell phone to the latest model on offer, telling ourselves we need to get the ‘new’ one because it is better. As a result, our ability to consume, we think, is actually a measure of our worth and value as persons. At the heart of a great deal of our dissatisfaction with our lives lies a constant ‘measuring’ of ourselves and our stuff with others’, and we can’t help but internalize that process.
However, if I hear Paul rightly here, I think he is reminding us that we’ve got all the wrong measures when it comes to God. God is not transactional; God is indescribably generous. In light of this, we are called to be generous as well, and not just on special occassions. Our whole life, Paul shows us, is an act of sowing and reaping based on the eternal faithfulness and righteousness of a God who loved us first.
In a way, being generous child of God is like playing with house money: there is never an end to the amazing things the grace of God can and will do!