2 Corinthians 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Read all of 2 Corinthians 8.
Scattered throughout the eighth chapter of 2 Corinthians there are seven principles of Christian giving. The background and context of this chapter are as follows. The church in Jerusalem was very poor at the time. The apostle Paul, in his missionary travels, was taking up a collection for the Christians in Jerusalem from various churches in the Mediterranean world. The churches from Macedonia (northern part of modern Greece) had already given very generously (vs1-2). Now Paul was urging the Christians at Corinth (central part of modern Greece) to follow the example of the Macedonian Christians and to complete the collection which they had begun the year before (vs6, 10, 11, and 24). From Paul’s message to the Corinthians in this chapter emerge seven principles of Christian giving. These principles apply not only to giving money, but to all areas of Christian giving–our time, our talent, and our treasure. (All we can possibly give is included in these three simple categories.) God has included these seven principles in His holy Word so that growing Christians will become giving Christians.
The first principle we want to look at is primary to all Christian giving: Give yourself first (v5). The Macedonians first gave their own selves, then gave their own substance. If I am not really “into” my giving, it is not true Christian giving. After all, the Lord doesn’t need my substance or service. He could have money grow on trees and have angels do all the work! But He wants me! This is primary. Notice (v5) the direction that this giving of ourselves is to take–“to the Lord and to us.” Some Christians have the idea that if they run off and live in seclusion “in dedication to the Lord” that they are giving of themselves. No way! The vertical (“to the Lord”) must include the horizontal (“to us”) to qualify as true Christian giving. We are to be involved on a down-to-earth basis with people who have needs. Note that this is “in keeping with God’s will” (v5).
Another principle of Christian giving is: Give to the point of sacrifice (v3). The Macedonians were not giving the “surplus off the top” or whatever amount happened to be “leftover at the end of the month!” Verse 2 shows us that these Christians were poor and under pressure to begin with, and yet they gave in the midst of their problems and in spite of their poverty. They gave till it really hurt! Certainly our measly contribution of a few dollars or “an hour a week” falls short of this divine principle. How far should we carry this principle of sacrifice? The next two principles give us guidelines.
Give after the example of our Lord (v9). How much did the Lord Jesus give? He gave all! And it wasn’t just for His friends: He gave His whole life for His enemies and for the likes of you and me. Why? So that “we through His poverty might become rich!”
But how does one give it all? Should we sell all we own and go around in a pair of old jeans and a T-shirt and live in a cheap apartment? Well, that wouldn’t be the worst reaction to this principle, and some of us may be called upon to live very much like this. However, Scripture is always balanced. The balancing principle here is found in verses 13-15: Give towards equality. Although the Macedonians were not wealthy, they did have more than those in Jerusalem at the time, and so it was right that they aim for equality. The intent was not that the Christians in Jerusalem should be eased to the point where the Corinthians would be poverty-stricken (v13). No, the aim was for equality. When we see others with a greater need than ourselves we should at least make a start towards equality. Something is wrong if we are too comfortable while others are in need! Praise God for Christian organizations which are concerned about the crying needs of people around the world. We should give liberally to these organizations.
But isn’t this equality principle indirectly communism? No! Verse 15 guards against such thinking. Verse 15 is a quotation from the Old Testament (Exodus 16:18) in reference to the manna. Read that account of how God miraculously provided bread for His people, and it becomes clear that equality was accomplished on the basis of needs, not amount. Communism aims for equality, but it is on the basis of the same amount for everyone. Christian giving aims for equality on the basis of meeting needs. Verse 15 also teaches us something else in reference to giving towards equality. It is something we growing Christians must wrestle with and it is heavy. We should not have more that we need! Enough to meet our needs, yes! Huge bank accounts, no! We must deal with our hoarding tendencies before the Lord.
A fifth principle of Christian giving comes to us from verse 12: Give willingly. This principle of giving with desire is also emphasized in verses 3, 4 and 8. From these verses we see that Paul was not commanding them to give. It was to be totally voluntary–as a proof that their Christian love was sincere (v8). The Macedonians had been very willing. They actually begged Paul for the privilege of being able to share in meeting the needs of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. What an example to the Corinthians! What a message to us!
A further principle of Christian giving is also in verse 12: Give what you have. The point here is that the Lord does not expect us to give what we don’t have, but He does expect us to give on the basis of what we do have. Do you have the ability to work with smaller children (or teenagers, or home Bible studies)? How much of that ability is being given to the Lord, and how much is being left unused and undeveloped and ungiven? Do you have the time to talk to your lab partner (or friend at work or neighbor)? How much of that time is given to a definite attempt to reach that person with the love of Christ, and how much is being left for small talk? Maybe another way of stating this sixth principle is as follows: The Lord doesn’t look so much on what we give as on what we have left!
For the final principle of Christian giving from this chapter, let us look at verse 11: Give according to plan. Desire is not enough in Christian giving. There must be a deliberate setting aside of time, talent and treasure, and then an actual giving in accordance with that plan. The Corinthians were not to stop with good intentions; they were to complete what they had purposed. Many of us growing Christians have good intentions and desires in the area of Christian giving. We will say “right on!” to a “devotional” such as this. But we never really get out the pencil and paper, as it were, and deliberately plan how much TV and magazine time we will “sacrifice” each week in order to give of ourselves to the work of the Lord. Christian giving will never come off with desire alone. We must give according to deliberate and studied plan.v Here then, are a few principles of Christian giving from one chapter of God’s Word. There are others, but certainly we have enough here to show us that we all need to “get out that pencil and paper.” Maybe New Year’s Eve would be an ideal time. Between now and then let us pray that the Lord would open our eyes to the particular needs that He would have us meet with our time, our talent, or our treasure. Then let us deliberately plan how we can and will give to meet those needs–willingly and to the point of sacrifice. Yes, true Christian giving is a lot more than the usual Christmas giving.