The most comprehensive teaching on giving in the NT is arguably found in 2 Corinthians, from which we can derive several principles for generous giving.
The foundational principle behind all giving is that first of all, we don’t actually give God anything; rather we decide what to keep (2 Cor 9:9–10). David also clearly articulates this principle when he writes, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us!” (1 Chr 29:14)
Paul said ‘see that you also excel in giving’. As wonderful as my contributions are in other areas, it is no good saying ‘I will contribute excellently in other ways, just not giving.’ God wants me to also be an excellent giver.
Paul says that giving money reflects our sincerity of heart. Jesus said giving is a matter of worship – you cannot serve both God and Mammon (Matt 6:24). The heart only has room for one King. The heart that loves money will ask ‘what is the minimum I have to give? But the heart that sincerely loves God will say, ‘what is the maximum I can get away with giving? Any excuse to give more is great!
Giving money is a privilege and keeps my heart sincerely serving God and not money.’ Also, because Jesus said that our hearts would be where our money is, (Matt 6:21) giving also helps keep us sincerely serving the church and our hearts sincerely set on eternity. Experience shows that trying to be a member without financial commitment doesn’t work, as the member’s heart soon drifts away from the church.
Paul here encourages the Corinthians to look in astonishment at the generosity of the Macedonians and be spurred to give lavishly as a result. Hebrews 10:24 also tells us, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” In our money-crazy times, perhaps no good work needs more “stirring” than generous and disciplined giving. We trust you’ll be stirred by the generosity that is already a culture at The Assembly and would in time stir others by your counter-cultural example of radical generosity.
When we understand the fact that Jesus was infinitely rich, and willingly gave up that wealth to come and live in poverty, and not only live in poverty, but die a most horrific death (2 Cor 8:9), our hearts will be moved to emulate our saviour in some small way by giving up some of our riches so that others (through the church) may become rich (by inheriting eternal life).
Wonderfully, this makes for a gracious atmosphere to our giving, where we motivate one another in a Christ-centred, non-coercive manner. But do remember that grace is not opposed to discipline, just to earning. Our hearts can be pretty sneaky so let’s be tough on ourselves and not dodge the issue: whilst we are paranoid that this should not feel legalistic, we are equally paranoid that we should not try to justify our own short-comings of lack of discipline or stinginess in the name of avoiding legalism! For example, we never blame our bosses for consistently paying us a regular salary on a regular basis. On the contrary, we commend them for their discipline and commitment. Grace motivates us to discipline and commitment.
Paul clearly writes here of the amazing instance of the Macedonians, who “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Cor 8:2). He later writes (v4) about how they begged Paul to be able to play a role in the collection for the struggling Jerusalem saints. Is this our attitude to giving? Are we begging God to allow us the privilege of playing a role in the advancement of His Kingdom through the means He has given us?
God has put a wonderful principle in place of sowing and reaping (2 Cor 9:6). This principle says that as we give, God will give back so that we have more to give. Prosperity theology teaches that we sow in order to reap wealth to live large in this life. However, this misses the point. The harvest God promises is either more money to give away, or even better: souls won over to Jesus, or the feeling of the smile of God, who loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7)
Paul talks here of generous giving as flowing from “your confession of the Gospel of Christ” and evidence of “the surpassing grace of God upon you” (2 Cor 9:13–14). Of course, we don’t give in order to get right with God. But God has graciously given us many “tests” by which we can know whether we are the real deal or not. How we treat our money is one of them.
In many places in these two chapters, Paul shows that the generosity of Christians helps to commend the truth of the gospel to unbelievers, and that many of them will cross the line of faith as a result. See, for example, 2 Cor 9:12–13.