LESSON SEVEN: 2 CORINTHIANS 8:1-9:15
ENCOURAGEMENT FOR GENEROSITY
Paul makes an abrupt shift of topics in this chapter. Now that the issues causing the crisis of confidence between Paul and the Corinthians have been dealt with and their relationship reestablished, Paul is free to deal with his next subject, that of the Corinthians’ pledge to raise money in support of the struggling church in Jerusalem.
Money issues are sensitive ones, and the discussion of money in the church is no exception. You’ve probably heard people state that if a preacher talks about money, they won’t go back to that church: (“All they want is my money!”) They don’t understand that the Bible has a lot to say about money. Our attitude toward our money reveals our heart attitude toward God and toward people. Generosity is not innate – we have to be taught both how to give and how to receive willingly and cheerfully.
The wise administration of money is also important to the integrity of the church. The perception of impropriety or the lack of accountability in the handling of funds can cause irreparable harm to people and organizations.
NOTE: The giving discussed by Paul in this section is not about money given as regular support for one’s church. This is about voluntary giving which is “above and beyond.”
DAY ONE: EXAMPLES OF GENEROSITY
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 8:1-9
True spiritual wealth is unrelated to material wealth, and sometimes is in opposition to it. (Notice what is said about two of the churches in Revelation 2:9 and 3:17.)
Have you ever considered that the desire to give generously to meet the needs of someone else is a gift of God? If one’s giving is a barometer measuring one’s faith, I wonder what level of spiritual maturity is revealed by our giving.
Many believers and churches around the world suffer from very real persecution and poverty. Not every poor church needs financial assistance. In some cases, too much money can create problems. But some are so poor they cannot meet their basic daily needs. When one works cross-culturally, this aspect of giving takes on a very practical face. In some countries the needs presented at your door are very real and continuous. You could help but should you, and if so, who should you help, how much, and how should you do it?
A. MACEDONIANS’ EXAMPLE
- Why should we give to others?
- Should giving be an obligation or a voluntary act? What does this reveal about one’s heart?
- What giving should be done first? (8:5)
- The Macedonians pleaded for the privilege of giving to others in spite of their own material needs. (In addition to persecution, the Macedonians had been so impoverished by civil wars that their taxes had even been lightened!) Spontaneous gracious generosity in giving was evidence that they had received the grace of God. What impresses you about their generosity?
- What is Paul able to honestly commend the Corinthians for? He uses this to encourage them in generosity as well.
B. JESUS’ EXAMPLE
- What even more profound example did Jesus model? (8:9) Do not read this verse quickly! Take some time to meditate on all aspects of this verse. Jesus’ giving didn’t begin at the cross!
- What does Philippians 2:5-8 add?
- What did this gift cost Jesus? (Isaiah 53:1-10, Matthew 26:36-46 and 1 Peter 2:21-24 give a partial description. We cannot fully understand the depths of physical, emotional and spiritual pain He voluntarily endured for us!)
- With such an example of generosity on our behalf, how can we withhold blessings which are within our power to give?
Christ’s sacrifice, not the example of others, should be our true motive. We are asked to give proportionally while Christ gave all! True giving is first a giving of oneself. The attitude of generosity is not related to how much we have, it is related to Christ’s generosity toward us.
DAY TWO: FULFILLMENT OF PROMISES
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 8:10-15
Faith promises are a popular way of raising money for church projects. However, a promise given is worthless if not followed by action.
There were several reasons why raising money for the Jerusalem church was a good idea. The Jerusalem church was truly suffering. This gift was not for ongoing support of the church but was relief aid for the poor in that church. The church in Jerusalem was the “mother church” and in that sense, it was appropriate for “daughter churches” to help with her support. This would also be a tangible way to create unity and strengthen the bond between Jewish and Gentile believers. Paul later describes some of these thoughts in Romans 15:25-27.
- Rather than condemn the Corinthians for not finishing the collection, Paul commends them for being the first to begin the “Help Jerusalem Fund.” Read 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 for Paul’s advice on how to gather the monies.
- Time had gone by and nothing more had happened. What does Paul say about this in 8:10-11?
- Paul didn’t command generosity but strongly encouraged it. What is the only command in this chapter? (8:11)
- Whereas Christians are to be charitable to all, what does Galatians 6:10 say about our obligation to other believers?
Paul’s discussion about equality makes us nervous. Are rich people to give away all their money to the poor so that the poor become rich or so that both are now equally impoverished? Was the early New Testament practice in Jerusalem a model to be followed or was it a temporary plan, participated in voluntarily, which was designed to meet the needs of the suffering church at that time?
The body of Christ is global. As we know, there are times when one part of the world suffers from natural disasters, wars, or various types of persecution in a severe way. At those times they are dependent on people outside their geographic area for resources to survive. That was the situation in Jerusalem at that time.
It is interesting that God also talks about another kind of “equality.” James 2:5 describes how God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith. It seems that the rich and the poor need each other to supply what is lacking either materially or spiritually in their lives.
- Did Paul want the Corinthians to give as sacrificially as the Macedonians, even going into debt to complete their pledge, or was there a different standard? And was it the amount of money given or the heart attitude as one gave which really mattered? (8:11-12)
- Verse 15 refers to the collection of manna in the desert. (Exodus 16:17-18) It may be that while everyone went out to gather, due to differences in ability some didn’t gather enough and others gathered an excess. This was shared so that while some might have more than others, there was equality in that everyone’s basic needs were met and suffering was relieved. Could this be the kind of equality Paul was advocating?
- The principle of rhythm and reciprocity is at work here. Sometimes one person will be blessed with financial resources and can give from their excess. Sometimes it may be “sweat equity” that is needed. Later that situation may be reversed. In addition, in the case of the Corinthians and Macedonians, these Gentile believers had been enriched spiritually by the Jews and now had an opportunity to enrich the Jewish church materially. How might there also be fairness or equality in each of these ways?
- Is having money wrong? If not, then what should our attitude be toward money, and how should we use it? (1Timothy 6:17-19)
- What is other guidance from Scripture regarding money? (Matthew 6:2-4; Ephesians 4:28)
- Some more principles: a) giving is to be voluntary, but if a pledge is made it must be kept (Acts 5:1-4); b) a lack of generosity indicates a serious spiritual problem (1 John 3:17); c) the goal is not for each to have an equal amount of resources but equal relief from the burden of poverty; d) all people including the poor have the obligation to support themselves as much as they are able. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)
You may feel that as a cross cultural worker you are not rich. Yet even those on welfare in the USA have more resources than the majority of people in the world today. Are you as generous with your resources as you pray that your supporters are with theirs? Are you a gracious recipient when someone gives to you? Is there “equality” in your giving and receiving?
DAY THREE: WISE HANDLING OF MONEY
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 8:16-24
Tragically it is not only infamous televangelists who mishandle money for their own benefit, it can even happen with good pastors in good churches. When we give money either to individuals or to organizations, it is wise to investigate how the monies are handled and to be sure there is financial oversight and accountability so that monies are actually used for their intended purpose. It is risky to make donations to individuals or organizations, regardless of how good they sound, who do not have safeguards in place. This is one reason why global workers are wise to serve under established agencies with track records of careful administration of funds.
Paul was sensitive to this issue. Reading between the lines, it is likely that false charges had been made against him by the divisive parties in the Corinthian church – charges that he was promoting this collection for the Jerusalem church as a way to line his own pockets. The way he chose to handle the gift from the Macedonian and Corinthian church to the church in Jerusalem put him above reproach.
Paul would not handle the money on his own. There would be a group of people involved to remove any temptation or opportunity for stealing money and to remove any basis on which anyone could be charged or even suspected of fraud.
- Titus was known and respected by the Corinthians. How does Paul describe him?
- It appears that the “brother” in 8:18-19 was voted on by the Macedonian churches to represent them. How does the commendation of the churches speak to the quality of his character and life?
- A third brother, probably also from Macedonia, was part of the team. What traits did this brother, mentioned in 8:22, have? Perhaps he was a detail oriented person, able to keep good records of the handling of the funds. How important was it that he had already proven himself in many ways?
- In addition to being representatives of the churches, what was characteristic of each of the men in this group? (8:23b)
- How does Paul describe the goal of this trip? (8:19)
- We often speak of needing to please God rather than people, and regarding our spiritual lives this is true. In the case of the handling of money, what does Paul say? (8:20-21) What does Romans 12:17 say? Why is this so critical?
- It is important to finish what you start. How does Paul subtly remind them of this? (8:24)
- Many people begin well, but few finish well.
- A Christian must be above reproach in all areas, including finances. Knowing others are watching may help us be more responsible.
DAY FOUR: PLAN FOR GIVING
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 9:1-11
Rather than shaming the Corinthians (who were quick to start but slow to finish), Paul encourages them with the example of the Macedonians (who were slow to start but quick to finish). (9:1-5) He is confident of their sincere desire to give, but he is not naïve, and thus sends this reminder to them to save face (theirs and his). But he goes beyond that by giving wise principles for giving.
A. PRINCIPLES FOR GIVING
- Love: There are many reasons for giving: duty, belief in a cause, self-satisfaction, pride, but the best reason is love. God Himself was a giver. What was His motivation? (John 3:16)
- Generosity: 9:6 gives a common analogy from the agricultural world which has a broader application. How is this also true in the financial or material world? Does this apply in the realm of relationships? How is it also true in spiritual service?
- Cheerfulness: 9:7 is a very popular verse when it comes to financial giving. Rather than giving under compulsion, we are encouraged that God cares more about our attitude than the size of our gift. And when we think about how much God has given us, the privilege of giving to others becomes our delight!
- Thoughtful: 9:2 and 7 indicate that whereas sometimes we may give on the spur of the moment from emotional or spiritual impulses, normally it is wise to plan our giving. To determine how much we want to give, when and how, and then to prepare with discipline enables us to bring that desire to completion. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 describes a wise way to do that. Eager enthusiasm may stimulate a desire to give, but may not be sufficient to actually carry out that commitment without a plan.
B. RESOURCES FOR GIVING
- Isn’t it just like our heavenly Father to give us a desire to share with others, and then give us the resources necessary to be able to do so? Whether in the material realm or the spiritual realm, we cannot give what we don’t have. Because God gives us all we need, there is never a time when we can’t be generous. Restate and journal 9:8 in terms of how you have experienced this truth in your own life.
- If we refuse to be generous with others, this is an indication that we don’t really trust God or His sufficiency. James 2:14-17 describes this sad state. On the other hand, sharing with others proves that our confession of the Lordship of Christ in our lives is true. What does 9:8-9 imply about the person who trusts God?
- God gives us more not so we’ll have more but so we can give more. How does 9:10-11 describe it?
- How is God glorified when we share what we have with others?
- Both the Old and New Testaments encourage cheerful, generous giving. Read Deuteronomy 15:10-11 in conjunction with today’s passage. How does your giving compare?
- It has been said that whereas He may not repay you in the same currency you use, you can’t out-give God. Give an example of that truth from your own life.
DAY FIVE: TEST OF GENEROSITY
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 9:10-15
Some of our more difficult tests come not in times of affliction but in times of affluence. True faith leads to action. We must also prove ourselves obedient to God in times of relative prosperity. This is an opportunity for the Corinthians to pass that test. If they do it will also show that racial and national barriers have been broken in Christ. Their tangible expression of love will promote unity among the churches in Christ. How does John 17:23 say this glorifies God?
A. GIVING BENEFITS THE GIVER
- God often uses people to meet needs and to answer the prayers of others. It’s been said that if our hands are open toward others, they are also in a position to receive from God. In practical terms, how might a lifestyle of being generous with others motivate others to cheerfully meet your needs? (8:14)
- What might it mean that your harvest of righteousness would increase? (9:10)
- How does the way we live in the material world affect our service in the spiritual realm? (9:13-14)
B. GIVING GLORIFIES GOD
- How would your giving to others bring glory to God? (9:12)
- How might God’s grace to and through you encourage others in their faith? (9:13-14)
- What surprising group of people glorify God as a result of our lives in 1 Peter 2:12?
- For what gift, greater than ours and totally undeserved, do we all thank and praise God? (9:15; 2 Corinthians 8:9)
- Read Romans 15:26-27 for Paul’s summary of the joint gift of the Macedonians and Corinthians to the Jerusalem saints.
- How have you experienced the gift of one people group to another not only meet physical needs but also bring spiritual benefit to both? Did you direct the glory to God?
Consider each of the following questions. If you are married, discuss them with your husband and agree on a plan for giving generously and wisely.
- There are many needs knocking at our doors. How do you determine which ones you are to help meet?
- How do you plan your budget to include capacity for giving financially, not only for planned giving but also unexpected needs? What is your attitude as you do so? What does your attitude in giving reveal about your spiritual health?
- In addition to your service, in what other ways are you giving to meet needs within the faith community?
- In addition to your work, in what other ways are you giving to meet needs outside the faith community?
- If you are a parent, how are you training your children to have a cheerful attitude toward giving regularly and wisely from their resources to kingdom work?
- How are you training your spiritual children to be generous givers?
Some say there are more verses about money than about any other topic in the Bible! That seems shocking until we realize the importance of money to our lifestyles and ministries and that how we use our money is a barometer of the health of our souls. Whether one is on salary or on support, an honest evaluation of one’s attitude toward money is in order. If we consider how much God has forgiven us, and how much He has given us (including our financial resources), then our logical response is to give back in some way. Paul urges us to plan ahead so we are prepared to give generously to others, to complete any commitments we make with cheerfulness, and to be honest and wise in our handling of money. Wise giving of resources brings glory to God as well as benefits to ourselves and the recipients.
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