It is difficult to find a simple guide to the Bible’s teaching about money, stewardship, and the grace of generosity. There are conflicting voices within Christianity that tend to harness the gospel either to a prosperity legalism that puts us at the centre, or a strange silence as though dealing with money is somehow distasteful. Of course, Jim Packer has written incisively and insightfully on the topic in Weakness Is the Way [1]  Packer’s chapter is a reflection on 2 Corinthians 8–9, full of good sense, where he states that the apostle Paul is “bending over backwards to encourage and motivate the Corinthians toward generosity.” [2]

This is a four-part expositional reflection on 2 Corinthians 8–9, an extended footnote, hopefully complementing Packer’s Chapter. It originally appeared in CRUX, Spring 2016

—Read Part 3—


Part 4:

Second Corinthians 9 is dedicated to the transforming effects of grace in giving. The apostle explains how grace reverses the alchemy of money [3] through the metaphor of farming. The chapter bristles with echoes from the creation narrative. God the creator gives the seed, the sun, and the harvest. The world is alive with the purpose of God. The grace of God in giving reverses the emptying, flattening, and destructive power of money by multiplying and filling our actions with the blessing of God. Instead of doing deals to control events, we bear fruit for God. The Bible is unblushing about this reverse alchemy. When we give to God from any of our resources, we are caught up in a new chain of indirect cause and effect where God himself brings blessing instead of anxiety, love instead of fear. When given to God’s purposes $1,000 is no longer $1,000. It is seed that bears fruit for blessing. The apostle delineates the effects of grace-giving on three parties.

The grace of God in giving reverses the emptying, flattening, and destructive power of money by multiplying and filling our actions with the blessing of God. 

The most obvious effect of grace-giving is the blessing brought to others, the recipients of the gifts. Paul describes the financial gift of the Corinthians as “the blessing” — “arrange in advance for the blessing [lit.] you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing blessing [lit.], not as an exaction” (2 Cor. 9:5). This echo of creation means that in giving financially the Corinthians were not just meeting needs, or expressing a vague positive wish, but were included in God’s activity of blessing. And the blessing returns to God himself since those who receive the gifts, in answer to prayer, have their faith and joy in God strengthened and overflow in thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:11). 

Less obvious, perhaps, is the effect of giving on ourselves. Farming changes the farmer. When we give financially it is like planting seed in the ground. It disappears. It may as well be dead. is is exactly when God gives it new life. He grows the seed invisibly, silently, and slowly where we cannot get our hands on it. By his creation power he increases and multiplies the seed so that it bears fruit. The promise is that God “will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10). The word Paul uses for harvest is literally “offspring.” God took the financial gift of the Corinthians and ensured it had children and grandchildren that endure forever.

On the farm, the one who sows and the one who reaps is the farmer. [4] So, generous giving does not just bless those who receive the gift, it is a greater blessing to those who give. It grinds down our greed so that in some way we also reap the benefits of this alchemy of grace. More, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). His grace is all-sufficient for our lack, at all times and in all things. It is only the sufficiency of God’s grace to us that can break the iron grip of greed. As we give ourselves and our resources to the Lord, he provides for us what we need. Our overflow is not in self-sufficiency but in knowing his. Giving is therefore a form of godly weakness turned upside down by God’s grace. It is saying, “I am not in control, but God is. I do not own my future, but God does, and he is sufficient.” It is not possible to give joyfully or generously unless we believe God’s grace is sufficient for us and that his power is being made perfect in our weaknesses.

It is only the sufficiency of God’s grace to us that can break the iron grip of greed.

Least obvious of all is the effect of our giving on God himself. Here we tread reverently. The apostle teaches that God allows us to participate in his blessing in a way that has an effect on him. At every point of giving, God is directly involved, from supplying the seed to increasing the harvest. God desires to prove his sufficiency to us and loves to be engaged in our lives in this risky way, giving us more grace so we might experience more grace. He loves a cheerful giver since then we are acting like his Son. This is how the apostle finishes the two chapters:

For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Cor. 9:12–15)

The financial giving of the Corinthians increased the glory of God, which cannot be increased. Generous giving, by the grace of God, restores the weight of God’s glory to those things stripped of their true value by money. Instead of bowing to worship money in fear and anxiety, the grace of God makes it possible for us to use money to increase his glory.

***

The chorus of our culture goes something like this:

It’s all about the here and now,
I want more,
I can never have enough.

Generous Christian giving is, and always has been, profoundly subversive. Every act of generosity takes the axe to the idol of money and loosens our chains. By giving we demote money from its godlike status, treating it not as something to be loved but as something to be used for blessing.

So Paul finishes this section in 2 Corinthians in the same way he began, rejoicing in the unspeakable gift of grace in Jesus Christ. Grace empowers us to give since Jesus is himself the greatest gift of grace. He became the seed that fell into the ground and rose again in glory. That glory, which outweighs all worlds, dwells in every act of grace, including those that have to do with money. 


[1] J. I. Packer, Weakness Is the Way (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 55–88.
[2] Ibid., 64.
[3] Gay, Cash Values, 63–72, referring to the work of Georg Simel, The Philosophy of Money (Philosophie des Geldes, 1900; Boston: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1978).
[4] The apostle states it bluntly, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows blessingly [lit.] will also reap blessingly [lit.]” (2 Cor. 9:6).