NOTES II Corinthians
9:6-15 (click here for study)
Paul continues his instructions to the Corinthians regarding giving by looking in depth at the paradoxical reality that generosity yields unexpected returns. He has just completed a discussion of the protocol he follows for the distribution of the gifts from the churches, and he has stressed the importance of accountability and transparency. In this passage Paul moves beyond the importance of honesty and pure motives and discusses the spiritual implications of giving for both the giver and the receiver.
He reminds the Corinthians that if they are stingy, they will reap stinginess; if they are generous, they will reap generously. On the surface this fact refers to the giving of money. Giving, however, is not limited to money, and Paul expands his instruction to help the Corinthians see that generous hearts respond to all needs.
Other passages in the Bible underscore the paradox of generous giving yielding great returns. Proverbs 11:24-25 states that one man gives freely but gains even more, while another man "withholds unduly" and comes to poverty. "A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed," the passage concludes. Proverbs 22:9 states that a generous man will be blessed because he shares his food with the poor.
Both of these proverbs move our understanding beyond mere monetary giving. Our commitment, motivated by a generous heart, to provide food and "refreshment" yields returns for us.
Paul further enlarges on the reality of giving when he says to the Galatians that "A man reaps what he sows." Don't be weary in doing good, he admonishes that church, because at the right time, they will reap a harvest of righteousness if they do not give up. (Galatians 6:7, 9)
"Giving" is not "donating" or "charity". True giving is the overflow of a heart that is filled with gratitude and love for God and for the reality of one's own security in Jesus. Generosity is not primarily about money; it is about everything we have: time, food, talent, comfort-God asks us to be generous with everything he gives us. Paul, in this passage, is reminding the Corinthians that as Christ-followers they are merely stewards of God's gracious gifts. All that they have they are to hold loosely and release to God for his use according to his sovereign will. Ultimately, giving is about yielding results for the glory of God.
Both Jesus and the Mosaic law underscore the universal truth that generous giving yields inexplicable returns. In Deuteronomy 15:10 Moses wrote that the Israelites were to give generously to their needy brothers "without a grudging heart". If they were generous, God would bless and prosper all that they did. In the previous chapter, Moses also instructed Israel that they were to bring their tithes every three years so the Levites, aliens, fatherless, and widows would be able to eat-and also so the Lord would be able to bless the work of their hands. (Deut. 14:28-29) Jesus brought the principle of generous giving into the new covenant. "Give, and it will be given to you," he told the Jews. With whatever measure they used to apportion their gifts, that same measure would weigh out their own blessings. (Luke 6:38-39) Matthew 7:2 records a similar statement, but it is in the context of passing judgment on one another. You will be judged with the same standards you use to judge others, Jesus said in effect.
Whether we respond to material, physical, emotional, or spiritual needs in another, the same principle applies. If we overflow with love for Jesus and are open to his Spirit loving others through us, we will reap blessings we could not imagine. God completely provides for our needs-all of them-when we commit who we are and what we have to him, acknowledging him as Lord of our lives and Lord of our circumstances.
Related to the idea of generosity is the idea of giving willingly and according to what one decides in one's heart to give. The Old Testament is full of examples of Israelites giving willingly, without compulsion or external prompting, to the work of building or rebuilding the temple. Beginning in Exodus, Israelites whose hearts prompted them to give, gave toward the building of the tabernacle. (see Exodus 25:2; 35:21-22, 26-29) Later, under King David, people willingly brought contributions toward the building of the temple. 1 Chronicles 28:5, 7, 9 says that the people rejoiced as they saw their leaders' willingness to contribute to the cause. Still later, under King Joash, people freely brought offerings toward the temple's repair. When King Hezekiah later purified the temple and reestablished "the service of the temple of the Lord," people brought thank offerings, "and all those whose hearts were willing brought burnt offerings." (see 2 Chronicles 24:10; 29:31) Further, the books of both Ezra and Nehemiah record the willingness of prominent heads of families to bring major gifts for the reconstruction of the temple after the Jews return from Babylon.
In 2 Corinthians Paul underscores the necessity of giving willingly and in harmony with one's convictions to give. If the willingness to give is there, he says in 2 Corinthians 8:11-12, the gift is acceptable. The size of the gift is not what makes it acceptable; rather, it is the willingness of our hearts to give according to what we have. Ananias and Sapphira are eternal reminders that when we consecrate and promise our gifts to God, we cannot get away with holding back from God. They both died when they reported to the apostles that they had given all the money they earned from the sale of a piece of property when, in fact, they held back a portion of the profit for themselves. They had, apparently, promised the whole amount to the church, but they lied to keep part of the money for themselves. (see Acts 5:1-11) As Christ-followers, we must be transparent and honest, giving with hearts completely open to God's love. Because we are reborn and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we have an obligation to God to live by the Spirit instead of by the sinful nature. When the Holy Spirit convicts and blesses us so we can give generously, we sin when we refuse to allow God's promptings and blessings to empower our giving.
Grace and Good Works
In verse 8 Paul makes an interesting statement: "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."
This statement links grace with good works. In the context of this passage so far, "good works" seem directly related to giving money. In the context of the next verses, however, "good works" certainly include but are not limited to giving money. If "grace" is mercy or clemency or unmerited favor, how is grace related to "all things," "having all that you need," and abounding in good works?
When we believe that Jesus is Lord, confess with our mouths that he is Savior, and submit our hearts to his sovereignty and salvation, by his grace he fills us with his Holy Spirit. That indwelling following our heart's acceptance of Him is the new birth. God's grace saves us by the blood of Jesus. We are born sinners, spiritually dead. We deserve nothing from God. Yet he gives us his grace and, by means of his own sacrifice for our sins, he forgives us of our fatal flaw and restores us to eternal life. That grace of God is the mystery of the universe. That grace caused Jesus to give up his glory and become sin for us. That grace applied his own sacrifice to us and gave us life. That grace is what causes his Spirit to indwell us, mere mortals, when we accept him. That grace is also what brings about our completely new identity and reality when we are born again. That grace literally supplies everything we need: clothes, food, houses, money, work, relationships, meaning, identity, and our place in his sovereign plan.
Because of his grace, God does more for us than we could even ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20-21) His grace is what gives us the gifts of the Spirit as he chooses them for us when we are born again: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to others' needs, leadership, mercy, and more. (Romans 12:3-8) His grace teaches us to say "No" to worldly passions and ungodliness and to live godly, upright, self-controlled lives. (Titus 2:11) God's rich grace lavishes on us all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:4-8) God's special grace to Paul was to preach the "unsearchable riches of Christ" to the Gentiles. (Ephesians 3:7-9) God's grace seasons our conversations, helping us know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6) God's grace opposes pride, arrogance, and worldliness but honors humility. (James 4:4-6; 1 Peter 5:5) God's grace will also restore us and make us firm, strong, and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)
God's grace not only gifts us with the tools and equipment we need to live Godly and self-sacrificing lives, but God also fills us with grace and with the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. (2 Peter 3:17-18) As God's children, born by the Holy Spirit and adopted into his family, we become not only the recipients of the God's graceful gifts but of God's grace itself. We become full of grace, able to oppose worldly things and selfish ambition. We, by the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us, become able to give God's grace to those around us, not only receiving his good gifts but giving them to others. The last verse of the Bible sums up the miracle and mystery of God's grace: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen." (Revelation 22:21) Wherever God's people are, each one receives gifts of grace from God, and each one receives grace itself from God so God's people become mediators of His grace to each other and to this world.
Jesus said that if we sought the kingdom of heaven, God would add to us everything material that we need. In fact, he assured us that God knows what we need even before we ask for it. (Matthew 6:8, 25-34) Paul also assures us that "God will meet all [our] needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19) In fact, God's people have always known that the Father will care for his people and supply their needs when they make Him their heart's focus instead of themselves. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want," David wrote. (Psalm 23:1) "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart," he wrote again in Psalm 37:4.
God makes his grace tangible in our lives by not only saving us undeservedly but also providing for our physical and material needs. His grace, however, does not stop there. His grace is also the source of our good deeds. When we understand that our souls and our lives belong to God through his death and resurrection and through our own rebirth by his Spirit, we experience the unparalleled freedom from the worry and fear of existence that drives people in their natural state. As we begin to rest in Jesus and allow him to provide for us as we grow in surrender to him, we begin also to discover that even our work for him is not our own choice. God himself gives us our work.
Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Our lives, our calling, and our work are part of God's eternal plan. When we are born again we begin to discover and live in the reality of God's sovereign grace, and we begin to blossom in the freedom that results from knowing that Jesus cares for and provides for every part of our lives. He even brings us his work to do. In the same letter Paul underscores the divine appointing of our work for God: "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and n the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-13)
When we receive God's grace and surrender our wills to him, everything we do-our "good works"-begins to reflect the goodness and love of God. Jesus told his disciples, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) Paul pointed out to Titus the importance of his life reflecting God's grace to those he taught: "Encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us." (Titus 2:6-8)
Peter wrote, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." (1 Peter 2:12,15)
As we learn to rest in Christ's finished work, as we allow his grace to calm our hearts and replace our worry and fear with confidence in his love and provision, our lives begin to yield fruits of righteousness. We begin to live in the Spirit as opposed to succumbing to the temptations of our sinful flesh which still houses our born-again spirits. As we submit to the grace of Jesus in our lives, even our work is a gift from him. As he fills us with love and security, we overflow with love and grace. Our "good deeds" and our conversations begin to be vehicles of grace instead of vehicles of guilt or compulsion or manipulation. God does, indeed, "make grace abound to [us], so that in all things at all times, having all that [we] need, [we] will abound in every good work." (v.8)
Seeds and Harvest of Righteousness
Having established how grace is intimately connected with God's provision for our needs and also with our own ability to respond generously to others, Paul now shows how giving is ultimately not primarily a physical act but an act of witnessing and of worship. He quotes Psalm 112:9, a verse which links "gifts" with "righteousness": "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."
He continues by elaborating, "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." (v. 9-10)
Both testaments of the Bible clarify that God disseminates his blessings by means of righteous people who respond to his love and grace. Psalm 112:5-6 states that "good will come to him who is generous and lends freely. A righteous man," the psalm continues, "will be remembered forever."
The account of Zacchaeus, the wealthy tax collector whose life was transformed by an encounter with Jesus, demonstrates how God's grace in a life awakens the awareness of one's sins of greed and the needs of the poor: "Look, Lord!" Zacchaeus said to Jesus, "Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." (Luke 19:8)
In the church at Joppa, a disciple named Dorcas was known for making clothes and giving them to widows and the poor. Her sudden death cause great grief, and Peter prayed for her to be restored to life. The church rejoiced at her return to health, and the miracle of her healing caused many to believe the Lord. (Acts 9:36-42)
In his revolutionary Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the people to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. The Father himself, Jesus pointed out, "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:44-45)
God's righteousness is the source of all good gifts, and God scatters his gifts abroad by placing his righteousness and generous Spirit into his own people. God ministers to the poor and spiritually needy through his people whom he gifts with his own power.
Of Seeds, Blessings, and Scattering
In verse 10 Paul juxtaposes a passage from Isaiah with his quote in verse 9 from Psalm 112:9. The Isaiah passage says, "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth" (Is. 55:10-11)
The quote from Psalm 112:9 is this: "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."
Paul consciously combines the ideas of God scattering his gifts abroad with the assurance that God supplies seed for the farmers so there will be bread. By connecting these two passage, Paul creates a powerful metaphor suggesting that God freely scatters the seeds of his blessings. In this passage he deliberately enlarges his description of God's gifts to include not only the practical and material things we need which we can pass on to others but also righteousness and intimacy with him. These personal, spiritual blessings we receive from God are also gifts which we sow in the field of our lives and work. As God fills us with himself, we literally share him and his transformation of us with those we meet.
God gives us himself and transforms us from hopeless sinners into people born of his Spirit, Paul asserts, so we can scatter the seeds of our new righteousness and yield a rich harvest. God will "enlarge the harvest of [our] righteousness", Paul declares, and we "will be made rich in every way so that [we] can be generous on every occasion."
In this expanded metaphor of God's blessing us so we can scatter seed yielding a "harvest of righteousness," Paul is drawing on Isaiah's comparison of "seed" with the word of God. "God will increase your store of seed," Paul asserts, "and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness." Isaiah's prophecy intimates Jesus's own use of seed metaphors to describe the power of God's word, and Paul is using this rich imagery to explain to the Corinthians that the real essence of generosity is their free sharing of the gospel.
In his parable of the sower and the seeds landing on four different types of ground, Jesus identified the seed as "the message about the kingdom." (see Matthew 13:19) In Luke where this parable is repeated, Jesus identifies the see as "the word of God." (Luke 8:11) In his parable of the man sowing good seeds in his field but discovering that an enemy had sown weed seeds in the same field, Jesus identified the good seeds as "the sons of the kingdom." (Matthew 13:38)
In still another parable, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to the mustard seed. It begins as the smallest of seeds but becomes the largest of plants, offering shelter for the birds of the air. (Matthew 13:31)
Paul used the metaphor of a seed representing the gospel message in 1 Corinthians 3:6 when he wrote, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grown."
Jesus used the metaphor of a seed to describe his own death and the death to self that each Christ-follower must experience. "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:24-25) Salvation, Jesus is saying, depends upon sacrifice. He had to die in order to bring humanity to life. Each person has to die to his natural self in order to be born again as a child of God.
The seed which Paul says God will increase is the word of God and the grace of God in us. Just as he supplies the material needs of his people, God will also supply and multiply our spiritual blessings. He deepens our relationships with him, and he increases our spiritual understanding of the truth in his word. He does these things not only so we will become mature but also so we can share Him with others.
Harvest of Righteousness
As we scatter the seeds of God's grace and God's word, we will reap a harvest of righteousness. This harvest will yield maturity and blessings in our own lives and will also produce transformed people who embrace the gospel because of our scattered seeds.
Hosea wrote that if we sow righteousness, we will "reap the fruit of unfailing love." He admonished Israel to seek the Lord until He comes to shower righteousness on his people. (Hosea 10:12) Righteousness in the life of God's people is similar to the "now and future kingdom" about which Jesus taught. Today we can embrace and scatter the seeds of God's truth and grace and reap His righteousness growing in our lives. We can also confidently know that He will shower even more complete and consuming righteousness on us and on the world when he comes in person to reign as Kings of kings.
The writer of Proverbs gave practical advice about the benefits of embracing righteousness. He said the wicked person earns deceitful wages; however, if a person sows righteousness, he will reap a sure reward. (Proverbs 11:18)
Isaiah was even more specific about the harvest of righteousness in the life of God's people. The fruit of righteousness, he wrote, is peace; the effect of righteousness is quietness and confidence forever. The person who scatters God's seed and harvests righteousness will be peaceful, secure, undisturbed, and blessed. He or she will "sow by every stream." (Isaiah 32:17-20) Such a person's sowing and reaping will be expanded. God blesses those who commit themselves to the work he gives.
Paul also connects the fruit of righteousness with spiritual and mental qualities. He prayed that the Philippians' love would abound in knowledge and depth of insight so they would discern "what is best." He admonished them to be pure and blameless and filled with the fruit of righteousness. (Philippians 1:9-11) Hebrews connects God's discipline with the fruit of righteousness. Although the discipline is painful "for a time," it will produce a harvest of righteousness. (Hebrews12:11)
James specifically described the characteristics of a person depending of God and experiencing the fruit of righteousness. Such a person will have wisdom from heaven. He or she will be "pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." People who "sow in peace," James concludes, will "raise a harvest of righteousness." (James 3:17-18)
The fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 could also be called the fruit of righteousness. This fruit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." When a Christ-follower lives by the power and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, his personality increasingly reflects the characteristics of Christ. Jesus's righteousness covers us, and we begin to reflect Him instead of our own sinful nature. Later in this same letter, Paul defines the larger implications of harvesting righteousness. Not only will we display the effects of righteousness on our personalities, but we will sow "to please the Spirit" instead of sowing to please our sinful natures. We will ultimately "reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:7-10)
Faithfulness in suffering, John declared in Revelation 2:10, yields a crown of eternal life. Furthermore, our harvest of righteousness will include not only our own eternal life but also that of the people who came to know Jesus at least partly because of our scattering the seeds of God's word and the grace of Jesus. Jesus will come to "harvest the earth" (see Revelation 14:15-16), and those in the harvest whose lives we touched will be part of our own harvest of righteousness.
When Paul wrote, "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" (v.10), he was summarizing for the Corinthians the physical, material, and eternal implications of allowing the grace of Jesus to give them truly generous hearts. Generosity seems, at first glance, to be easy to identify and describe. Upon a closer look, however, generosity is snot simply the act of giving often and much. True generosity begins with allowing the grace of Jesus to transform our hearts and make us alive, born of the Spirit. Generosity grows as we submit to the Spirit, allowing Him to change our self-protecting impulses into trust in Jesus. As we learn to trust, we no longer have to protect ourselves; Jesus himself protects us. As we allow Jesus to guard our hearts and lives, the things we have cease to define us, and we become increasingly sensitive to the needs of others. We begin to be able to share the things we have and the grace of Jesus generously.
This generosity does not yield the fruit of righteousness; it is part of the fruit of righteousness. Growing in grace means that we become increasingly free, internally open to Jesus, and we become the medium by which He ministers to others. The harvest of righteousness which God will enlarge is both material and spiritual. It includes our own spiritual growth; the freedom to hold our blessings loosely, allowing them to be the source of blessing for others; eternal life; and the eternal life of those Jesus touches through us.
Rich for Generosity
Paul restates the point of his seed and harvest metaphor in more material terms: "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." (v.11) Being rich in every way implies much more than money. In other places Paul elaborates on the types of riches God lavishes on his people. For example, earlier in this letter Paul lists some of God's riches to the Corinthians: "But just as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us-see that you also excel in this grace of giving." (8:7) In his first letter the Corinthians, Paul also defined some of the spiritual riches God had given them: "For in him you have been enriched in every way-in all your speaking and in all your knowledge-because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." (1 Cor. 1:5-6)
To the Colossians Paul wrote that God revealed to the Gentiles the "glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:27) He further wrote to the them that his desire for them was to "have the full riches of complete understanding" so they could know the "mystery of God" which is Christ, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Co. 2:2)
Paul further identified the riches God grants his people in his letter to the Ephesians. God raised us with Christ and seated us "in the heavenly realm" in order to demonstrate "in coming ages" the "incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:7) Paul further said God's grace to him was the commission to "preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." Further, his preaching was to clarify the mystery that had been hidden through the ages and was now being revealed through the church-"the manifold wisdom of God" was being made known "to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms." (Eph. 3:8-11)
Jesus himself clarified the fact that God's gift of "riches" to us also included our physical needs. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asked the people to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. They do not spin or sow or reap, yet they are beautifully arrayed, and they do nothing to assure their protection and beauty.
"Why do you worry about clothes?" Jesus asked. "Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink/' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:28-33)
When Paul told the Corinthians that God was making them rich in every way, he had both material needs and spiritual gifts in mind. When a person follows Jesus, even his basic needs for existence become Christ's personal concern. If we focus on him, making him the center of our attention, the focus of our thoughts, the Lord of our lives, Jesus takes care of us. He makes sure we have the food and clothes we need; he sees to it that we have the money we need or the transportation we must have; he takes over the concern for our welfare and our existence. As we seek Jesus and grow in surrender to him, we increasingly leave our material concerns in his hands and spend our energy on the work he gives us to do. God supplies our needs, often in ways we would never expect. Further, as we grow in our love and intimacy with him, we also grow in the riches of spiritual understanding, wisdom, faith, knowledge, and sincerity. We increasingly experience the riches of the Holy Spirit's indwelling us, teaching us, loving us, transforming us. As we respond to his love by obedience to the Holy Spirit's promptings in us, we grow in the riches of seeing reality through new eyes of faith. The grace increasing in our lives begins to overflow, and God touches others through his riches flowing out from us.
Generosity Elicits Worship
This passage from 2 Corinthians, however, suggests that the underlying purpose behind true generosity is not simply providing comfort and material needs for others. While our generosity is part of God's plan of provision for his people, giving is not an end in itself. The New Testament is full of passages linking generosity with thanksgiving.
Generosity is an outpouring of God's grace through a person. It may be in the form of material blessings, but often, true generosity is an outpouring of spiritual and emotional blessings as well. When people respond to God's gifts and grace to them, they become vehicles of God's blessings to others. The life of Jesus and also the experiences of the apostles model the miracle of true generosity eliciting not merely relief or gratification from the recipients but deep thanksgiving.
Earlier in this same letter to the Corinthians, Paul was explaining how God had delivered him from "deadly peril." God would continue to deliver him, Paul said, "as you help us by your prayersMany will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many," Paul wrote. (2 Cor. 1:10-11)
Paul considered the Corinthians' prayers for him to be gifts from their hearts. He acknowledged that God was delivering him in answer to those prayers, but he pointed out that the ultimate result of the Corinthians' prayers and his deliverance was praise to God. Ultimately, the unselfish expense of energy spent in prayer brought glory to God. God's care for Paul glorified God's own power and authority and sovereignty.
The experiences of the apostles in the book of Acts underscore this phenomenon of praise associated with sacrificial giving. When Peter and John healed a cripple in Jerusalem shortly after Pentecost, the people were astonished and came running to hear them speak. Peter told them he healed the man by the power of the One they had killed but who had risen from death. The priests had them thrown into prison but could not decide what punishment to mete out to them because "all the people were praising God for what had happened." (Acts 4:21) Similarly, when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit, the apostles praised God, and their praise continued for God's work among the Gentiles. (Acts 11:16-18; 21:17-20)
The reason the miracles among the early believers were so impacting was that they revealed the presence and power of God among the people. Those watching or receiving the gifts of these miracles were drawn to acknowledge that God was the One at work, not merely Peter and Paul. The apostles honored God by being vehicles of healing, but God glorified himself through the miracles in the early church.
Jesus's example gives us, perhaps, the clearest understanding of the true meaning and reason for generosity. Jesus spent his energy during his life on earth doing his Father's work. He healed people, preached, and gave his time and energy sacrificially to bring Israel to repentance and also to awaken the world to the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. He instructed his disciples to let their lights shine, so men would see their good works and praise their Father in heaven. (Matthew 9:6-8) The good works were never for the purpose of confirming the disciples' status as God's chosen people. They were always for the purpose of revealing the power of God and of creating a deep response of gratitude to God for his work among people.
When Jesus healed the paralytic in Capernaum after healing the two demoniacs, the crowd was "filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men." (Matthew 9:7-8) The crowd's response was not to the person of Jesus himself; Jesus was so submitted to his Father that his miracles did not bring praise or reverence to him. Rather, his miracles and selfless generosity brought people face-to-face with their Father in heaven. They understood that Jesus's power was from God, and they understood that God had shown favor and great mercy to mankind by giving such authority to a human. Even though they didn't understand that Jesus was truly God as well as man, they DID understand that his power was not human or evil. They knew that his work was entirely the work of God, and they praised God with deep rejoicing for His mercy to men. As they watched Jesus consistently make the mute to speak, the crippled to be well, and the lame to walk, they "praised the God of Israel." (Matth. 15:31) Jesus's love and miracles brought honor to God. This honor of and praise to God was the purpose of Jesus's work.
Luke tells of the time Jesus saw a funeral procession and stopped, calling the dead young boy to life and restoring him to his mother. The people, again, were filled with awe and praised God, saying, "God has come to help his people." They rejoiced because they recognized through Jesus's selfless ministry the fact that God had indeed provided hope for them. The prophets had all promised that God would save his people, and through Jesus's ministry, the people saw that God was keeping his promises. They didn't really understand that he was the Messiah, but they did understand that God was doing something new in Israel, something redemptive, and they praised Him.
The most revelatory of all Jesus's gifts and sacrifices, however, was his death on the cross. Many of the people of Israel (mostly not the religious leaders, though) recognized the power of God in Jesus' sacrificial ministry to them. They were drawn to acknowledge God because Jesus's works reminded them of their cherished promises of help and redemption. The cross revealed the grace and love of God not only to Jews who had a history of believing God cared for them, but also to Gentiles who had no knowledge of the love and mercy of God.
Luke records the death of Jesus in chapter 23 of his gospel. He describes how darkness descended over the land at midday and lasted for three hours. At the end of those three hours, Jesus called out, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit," and he died.
The Roman centurion in charge of the crucifixion had been watching these singular proceedings, and he was convicted. When he heard Jesus call out and then saw him die, the centurion "praised God and said, 'Surely this was a righteous man.' " (Luke 23:47)
Jesus' complete surrender to the Father made it possible for him to perform the most devastating act of selfless generosity in the history of earth. In his death, the most public and horrifying of punishments, Jesus was humble and submitted to God. Even when his Father turned away from him and withdrew his light from the earth, Jesus did not panic or lose faith or struggle to protect himself. Although he could not sense his Father anywhere, still he trusted him, and Jesus followed his agonized cry of abandonment with a cry of surrender: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46)
The centurion saw with a flash of spiritual insight that Jesus was not an ordinary man. While his willingness to accept his torture and to forgive those who nailed him to the cross mystified many and angered others who sneered and mocked him, this one centurion recognized that something more important than he could imagine was happening. His heart was open to truth, and when Jesus died, the centurion praised God, acknowledging Jesus to be sent from God.
This story of the centurion's response of praise as he watched Jesus' ultimate gift helps define the nature of true generosity. When we give from hearts full of grace and love for God, our gifts impact others in ways far beyond the obvious purpose of our giving. True generosity does not originate in our pity for or sensitivity to another's need. True generosity originates in the heart of God. The Holy Spirit motivates us to serve and give in ways that God knows others need to be served. If our gifts originate from our own desire to do good works, they may not truly be what the recipients need. Instead, they make US feel better.
Further, if our giving results from our concern for others, we will likely miss the real need those others carry. We can feel sorry for the needy, and we can feel pleased that we can help "those less fortunate than we are," to quote a phrase many of us often heard in offering benedictions in church. When we try to meet others' needs, however, we always bring our own motives and perceptions to the gift. We cannot see what the needy really need; only God can see that. In our efforts to be heroes and solve people's problems, we may actually give gifts that are not truly helpful.
Jesus did not simply decide to die. He did the will of his Father when he went to the cross. He went willingly and in full agreement with the Father, but as a man, he could not have made the sacrifice he did without the omniscient and sovereign love and knowledge of the Father guiding him. Jesus trusted God, and that trust is what brought about the gift that saved the world. His gift results in humanity everywhere eternally praising God for his mercy and grace and justice. We do not only look at Jesus on the cross and thank him for dying. Jesus' death and resurrection resulted in our being born by the Spirit, and forever we will praise the Trinity for God's sovereignty and sacrifice and for our own restoration as children of God.
When we trust the Spirit in us to motivate us and to bring us God's work, our generosity becomes a completely natural, unstrained outflow of our surrender to God. Our gifts become the gifts God gives others-he just gives them through us. Our trust and love for Jesus color and shape the gifts we give, and when people receive them, their response will be to praise God for his mercy and care and unimaginable love. Our role in giving is significant only in that we represent to others what an obedient Christ-follower does. People will not see us as the source of their gifts; they will see God as the source of their gifts. Their praise will not be that we are generous or compassionate; rather their praise will be that God cared for them and we were obedient to God.
Obedience and the Gospel
Paul emphasizes the divine origin of true generosity by telling the Corinthians that because of their gifts, "men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity." (v. 13) If true generosity originated in the magnanimity of human hearts, it would not be perceived as "obedience".
When a Christ-follower is submitted to Jesus, confession of the gospel becomes a natural part of living. The new birth, the spiritual awakening accomplished by the Holy Spirit indwelling a believer, creates a new awareness in which the grace of God is the central reality. That new awareness of living each moment surrendered to the grace of God yields a new kind of obedience. Instead of willfully and compulsively "working" on obeying God's requirements, a born-again Christian will focus on Jesus instead of the law. Obedience in a born-again person is no longer trying to make oneself do the right thing. Instead, it is a continual yielding to the Holy Spirit. Obedience is not shaping up one's behavior; it is saying "Yes" to Jesus in each situation. It is surrendering our rights to decide and control and giving our outcomes to Him instead. Obedience is allowing the Holy Spirit to do God's work through us, speak God's words through our lips, give God's gifts through our hands. Instead of our deciding what needs to be done in a given situation, obedience surrenders the moment to Jesus and responds as the Holy Spirit works in us.
Obedience to Jesus requires that we fix our thoughts on Him (Hebrews 3:1) and forgive, comfort, affirm love, and respond to spiritual authority. (2 Corinthians 2:5-9) Obedience means that we stay away from deceptive teachings (Romans 16:17-19) and actively teach sound doctrines while living lives of temperance, self-control, faith, love and endurance. (Titus 3:1-2) We are not to conform to evil desires. (1 Peter 1:14-15)
When we obey Christ, we make our thoughts captive to him. (2 Corinthians 10:5-6) That surrender of our thoughts will result in excellence in faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, and love. (2 Corinthians 8:7)
Obedience that accompanies the confession of the gospel is a life of continual yielding to Jesus. Because we are connected to God, we can respond to Him instead of to our natural impulses. We no longer live by a set of rules and behavioral codes. Instead, we live by the love that can only come from God, love that will chip away our self-centeredness and fear, love that will take away our desire to control and retaliate. Obedience to Jesus is a life of surrender, a life through which God our Father can love and minister to those in need around us. True obedience results in a life defined by true generosity, generosity born in the heart of God and given flesh by our hands and eyes and lips and feet.
Grace Begets Grace
God's generosity given life through our hands and heart and feet comes full circle. In a miracle of omnipotence, God pours his grace of security, peace, sustenance, and love into our lives. That grace changes us into new creations, and that same grace of God flows through us to others. The flow of grace does not have an end. The more fully we surrender to Jesus, the more his grace fills us and flows from us. The more God's grace flows in streams of living water to the people around us, the more God's grace nurtures and holds us.
This phenomenon of grace flourishing in and through us does not operate on the logical phenomenon of cause and effect. Although our telling of grace at work in and through us may sound like simple cause and effect, the reality of it is a miracle. If we decide to be generous so we will be blessed, our generosity will become a compulsion. Further, the more we try to do the right things in order to receive grace and peace, the farther we are from true generosity. The paradox is that blessings only impact us when we are submitting to God, not when we are managing our lives so we will be blessed.
God is faithful. When we honor him, he blesses us. "Give, and it will be given to you," Jesus said. "A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:37-38)
David wrote, "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed." (Psalm 37:25-56) And in Psalm 112:5 he wrote, "Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice."
Proverbs 11:25 says, "A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed."
"A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor." (Proverbs 22:9)
Paul wrote to Timothy that he should instruct the wealthy not to be arrogant but to put their hope in God "who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." He further instructed Timothy to tell the wealthy to be rich in good deeds and to be generous. If they are generous, they will be lay up treasures for themselves in heaven and will take hold of eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
Jesus illustrated true generosity in a thought-provoking parable. A man hired people to work in his vineyard at various times throughout the day. At the end of the day, he paid each person his wages. Everyone received the same fee, even the person who had worked only an hour. Those who had worked all day were angry.
The owner, however, said, "Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" (Matthew 20:13-16)
God's grace and generosity to us do not depend upon the quantity of our good work. His gifts to us depend entirely upon our willingness to do the work he asks us to do when he asks us to do it. Each of us has a unique relationship with Jesus, and he gives us unique work to do. He may also give us work and then call us to leave it and take up other work. Our role in God's cycle of generosity and grace is simply to yield to him. God blesses us with himself, and he blesses us with his work. When we respond to his blessings with willing hearts and hands, his grace fills us and energizes us for the work he gives us.
God's grace flowing from Himself through us is the love that makes the church powerful and causes people to see and praise God. True generosity is the essence of God's love in us, making us sensitive to others and proclaiming Him in the world.
God's indescribable gift, the death and resurrection of Jesus, is what makes our generosity possible. God's gift healed the rift in the universe that separated humanity from the Father. Because the blood of Jesus healed that rift, we can be directly connected to God; we can be one with him. This connection makes it possible for his love and grace to be in us and to flow from us. All true generosity springs from God's unlimited love and the ultimate gift of Jesus.
God is asking you to surrender yourself entirely to him. He is asking you to release your judgment, your understanding, your need, your fear, your possessions, your control to him. God is also asking you to release your resentment and anger to him. Sometimes God's blessings to others make no sense to us. The wrong people seem to have God's favor, and God seems to assign the wrong work to the wrong people.
God is asking you to give up your resentment and pride and trust him to bless everyone, including you, as he knows they and you need to be blessed.
Sometimes God asks us to give up gifts He gave us. Such relinquishment seems to be senseless. Why would God give a gift and then ask us to release it? Yet God asks us to trust him.
Trust and surrender are the heart of God's call to us. When we trust him, he can give us peace and rest in those places where we had nurtured control and resentment and ownership. When we allow God to own everything in and about us, we become open to his grace in new ways. We become able to be generous to degrees we had never reached before.
The paradox of true generosity is that the more we release to the control and sovereignty of God, the more we experience his riches and peace. Giving up our rights and our ownership to our Father results in security and provision we cannot experience when we're "in charge". This reality is indescribable outside a context of the new birth. When we become citizens of God's kingdom, the wealth of the universe is ours. Jesus dwells in us, and he gives us all of himself. God does not divide himself and give pieces of his heart and power to his people. Each one of his children receives all of him.
Open your heart and your hands to God. Allow him to be your all in all. Let Jesus fill your heart and your life with security and daily provisions and all the riches of His power and love. Let Jesus bless others through your deep generosity which springs from knowing you are secure. Trust God to be your true Father, filling your life with all that you need and appointing you to be his hands and heart to the world.
Praise the Father for his indescribable gift of Jesus to the world. Praise
Jesus for his unimaginable sacrifice for us. Praise the Holy Spirit for
bringing us to life and filling us with the fullness of God.
Copyright (c) 2002 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted September 7, 2002.