By Mitch Marczewski
Money can be a touchy subject in anyone’s life, especially those in the church. The abuse of church finances and the mishandling of biblical texts concerning money both run rampant in the American church. Churches tend to preach on giving and guilt those in the church to give or they downplay the importance of money and never speak of it. As a people following Jesus, we are to have a healthy understanding of money and finances in order to impact the world for the gospel. Through our giving many of us can become missionaries without leaving the country and Bible teachers without ever writing a book. Our money allows us to make impacts in many, many lives through its proper use. The danger in talking about money is that we can quickly run to one of two camps: prosperity or poverty. Prosperity preachers eschew the lies that God desires all people to be rich through their faith in Him, while poverty gospel preachers demonize money by their fear of it becoming an idol in their lives and elevating suffering and asceticism as the best means to serve the Lord and be sanctified, which Galatians clearly speaks against. Both extremes are wrong and must be balanced out. Money is not the most important thing, and it certainly doesn’t ultimately make you happy, but money is a tool given to us by God to serve our families, equip the saints for the work of ministry, and spread the gospel throughout the world. We cannot afford to demonize money or elevate it to the ultimate thing in our lives. Demonizing money is to spurn what God has given and fail to love your family or fellow believers properly. Exalting money is to make money the ultimate aim and goal for the glory of our selfish desires. Paul neither demonizes money nor does he exalt it in 2 Corinthians 8, rather he calls the church to treat money as a gift of God’s grace, to receive it with gratitude, and give out of that grace and gratitude to the glory of God.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he speaks to the Corinthian church about the generosity of Macedonians and encourages them to follow their example in their giving. We can learn some important principles in how we should treat money and giving today.
1. They gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will – 2 Corinthians 8:5
Before the Corinthian church gave anything to anyone, they first gave themselves to the Lord. Proper use of finances and giving to the Lord doesn’t make sense if God is not the motive for our giving. Those who do not first pledge allegiance to Christ have no context for proper giving nor do they have the proper motive to give at all. We must first give ourselves to Christ by His grace before we can begin to properly give to others and to His body. Paul commends the Macedonians for not simply being generous but for giving of themselves to Christ first and foremost. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1). This includes our lives and our money. In order to use money correctly, we must first live our lives correctly.
2. We want you to know…about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia – 2 Corinthians 8:1
Paul once again calls attention to the grace of God being the motivator of the Christian life. The grace given to the churches in Macedonia compelled them to give cheerfully out of the gratitude that comes from grace. When we realize that all that we have comes from the grace of God, we begin to see our lives as an opportunity to extend that same grace to others. The character of God is clearly seen in the gift of His son. Our God is a gracious, giving God who gave us Christ and extended grace to us so that we may give grace and gifts of love to others. Our motivation for giving is rooted in the character of God and the cross of Christ. Also, an abundance of joy ruled their finances. Verse 3 tells us that they gave out of the deep joy in their hearts. Christ was so wonderful to them and the grace of God was so evident in their lives that they gave even when it hurt to give. They gave joyfully and cheerfully.
3. They begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints… 2 Corinthians 8:4
It's not that there may be relief for others and hardship for you, but it a question of equality – 8:13 They gave intentionally and they gave proportionally. Their giving wasn’t willy-nilly and wasteful but rather it was prayerful and purposeful. They gave to share in the ministry of the saints. They had prayed and discerned where, when, and how much they could give. Their giving was also proportional. In the Old Testament, the tithe (in conjunction with other giving laws) was the standard of giving. A tenth of all resources were given to the temple to help keep it running. The New Testament, however, does not use the Old Testament template for giving; we are now required to give freely and generously. This frees us up from being rigid in our giving. Those who do not have much can sometimes only give 3% of their money to the Lord, while those who are rich may have the ability to give 60% of their wealth. This does not make one person more holy than the other, but both are giving out of their respective abundance and wealth. Principles for giving are much more difficult for us to swallow because they require us to think, pray, and give as the Holy Spirit leads us. A law is much easier to follow but it often forces us into giving dutifully and begrudgingly. The law even runs the risk of causing us to oppress the poor due to their lack of resources. God is gracious to remove the tithe prescribed by the Mosaic Law and replace it with a standard of grace-fueled generosity.
4. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart – not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 9:7
Cheerful giving is a necessity in the Christian life. Paul instructs us to give “as he has decided in his heart” and not reluctantly. God wasn’t reluctant in giving us grace, so we should not be reluctant to give generously out of our gratitude. We don’t only give cheerfully because we must but because God takes delight in it. God loves to see us reflecting the gospel in our cheerful, grace-filled giving. We must see that we bring God joy when we give out of the abundance of joy in our hearts.
5. Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. – 2 Corinthians 9:7
Paul uses a farming illustration in relation to our giving. If we sow sparingly in our giving, we will obviously reap a small harvest and vice-versa. If a farmer plants 12 seeds in a field, he does not then expect to only reap a small harvest and see only a few crops grow. If a farmer sows many, many seeds, he will expect a harvest in proportion to his sowing. This verse is often taken out of context as a formulaic approach to our giving, and preachers will sometimes use it to guilt Christians into giving in order to get more things from God. This approach is antithetical to the context and does not affirm the gospel in any way. Paul’s point here is common sense, and he uses a proverbial statement to make a point. Paul is not in any way affirming that we give much to gain much. We give out of gratitude. God in his grace rewards us in our obedience. We are surely blessed by our giving but only when we give by grace, with gratitude, and to the glory of God.
In closing, as Alistair Begg aptly puts it, “If we give grudgingly, our approach to giving is ‘I have to.’ If we give dutifully, our approach is ‘I need to.’ If we give thankfully, our approach is ‘I want to.’ Our hearts must be given to God fully, our desires fixed on Him deeply, and our love for others evident. Lord, may we give cheerfully out of the grace you have given us.