[1] Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, [2] for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. [3] But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. [4] Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. [5] So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. [6] The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

2 Corinthians 9:1-6

I have been leading churches for over 30 years and over that time much has been said about the so called ‘Prosperity Gospel.’ I have been personally accused of lacking faith whilst at the same time having to pastor dear friends living on the edge of poverty who, because of what they read and saw on TV, believe (quite genuinely) that one day God would bless them in such a way that they would have money to do all sorts of things.

I do not wish at this point to name names, as I believe many who lead in the so called Prosperity Gospel are my brothers in Christ and have other parts to their ministries that I have found to be personally helpful and genuine. The issue that concerns me is the link between the level of how much you give with the connection to how much you get back. Whatever else may be said of the prosperity movement, this is its foundational and driving force, namely, the belief that there is a direct, cause and effect, a correlation between the size or the quantity of the seed that a person sows and the return it pays. In one book it is described as the the “spiritual law of return” and as reliable as gravity!

Some of the more edgy parts of the so called Prosperity Gospel put it in simpler terms, the more you give, the more you get. Is getting for oneself the goal I ask? I am told, ”you are a child of God, a son of the King and therefore deserving of the best, these things are your birthright.”

At this point I put my pastors hat on and have to confess that I worry (I know the Bible says I shouldn’t) and have laid awake at night thinking and praying for my friends who at one time were praying for a car, but not just any old car but a top of the range car full of gadgets. (At this point in time they hadn’t even learnt to drive!) There are tens of thousands and more particularly in third world countries that hope that “one day…” I may need to come back to this, my mind is thinking of all sorts of people and situations.

I believe that the theology of Paul in 2 Corinthians 8-9 is of a decidedly different spirit. Yes, there is a giving that gets, but that is far and away different from giving in order to get. Yes God is generous and blesses us beyond our imagination. In the divine economy, says Paul, giving that is joyful, generous, spontaneous rather than coerced and motivated by heartfelt compassion for those in need is a giving that results in getting. But the getting is not for personal gain but in order that the giver may have an abundant supply for yet more giving.

Before looking at this incredible truth a bit deeper, let me have a go at a brief summery.

Paul’s comment that the Corinthians’ initial zeal to give stirred up “most” of the Macedonians is a healthy dose of realism. In other words, not all the believers in Macedonia gave generously with joy in the midst of their affliction (see 8:1-5). Some maybe didn’t give and some maybe wouldn’t give, some maybe needed reminding to give, but of course many did give and generously.

Turning now to the Corinthians and their earlier commitment to join in this endeavour to alleviate the poverty of the Church in Jerusalem, Paul’s initial excitement has had cold water poured all over it. Titus has come from Corinth with the discouraging report that the collection had been put “on the back burner.” His point in verses 3-5 is that in light of his previous boasting about them this could now be a cause of some embarrassment to both himself and them. Did Paul get over enthusiastic? Perhaps he over estimated what would occur. Haven’t we all done that?

Paul Barnett in his commentary on 2 Corinthians (New International Commentary series) says:

“Although Paul has applied a degree of moral pressure on the Corinthians by

(1) holding up the example of the Macedonians (8:1-5)

(2) by urgently reminding them of their own initial ‘desire’ and ‘willingness’ in the previous year (8:10-12),

(3) by telling them he had used their example of ‘willingness’ and ‘preparedness’ in promoting the appeal to the Macedonians (8:24; 9:2-3), nonetheless, it was important that their response was ‘voluntary’ (8:3), as appropriate to the ‘grace of God/Christ’ (8:2,9). Paul’s words are not ‘command’ but ‘advice’ (8:8,10). Thus Paul wants their response to be ‘a free gift,’ not ‘an exaction’”

Now, some think that verse 5 is describing two attitudes toward giving, either generosity or stinginess. I’m inclined to see here two ways that Paul envisioned securing their participation in the offering: either voluntarily or by encouragement.

Paul does not want them to give simply because he’s an apostle and they are bowing to his authority. Neither fear of him nor guilt over sins committed nor the pride that results in a competitive drive to exceed the Macedonians would constitute the kind of giving that he will later say results in God’s bountiful supply (Vs 6).

Paul, I believe wants giving to be spontaneous, joyful and from the heart. He wants it to be in them, from them, their idea not his. He believes they have already shown faith and willingness to give which in turn stirred the Macedonians.

So now his appeal is, don’t humiliate yourselves by a failure to follow through on your promise, and don’t put me in the position of having to exercise an authority I don’t want to or put me in a difficult position.

Here’s what you must keep in mind, says Paul: “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (vs 6).

But doesn’t this therefore play directly into the hands of those who truly follow the Prosperity Gospel. There it is, in Biblical black and white……give a lot so you can get a lot.

The trouble is, on the one hand bountiful giving results in bountiful getting. But is bountiful getting a bigger house, a Jaguar car, a retirement home in Spain, an expensive holiday (after all you deserve it)! In the following verses Paul will make it clear that more bountiful receiving is for more bountiful giving. We must place this verse in context!!, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s be sure we understand Paul’s point in verse 6. In farming, what may initially appear to be a loss (“sowing”) is in fact a gain (“reaping”). As one sows, so one reaps. But what determines whether a gift is “sparing” or “bountiful?”

We already have seen from the example of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 that the quality of a gift is not determined by the quantity of that gift. A gift may be comparatively small and yet spiritually large. I can remember my own children giving all their pocket money to us when we as a family were believing God for a financial breakthrough, it was in monetary terms small, in spiritual terms in was colossal. (God did come good and their faith was rewarded, they saw the supernatural provision of God, they have not forgotten what God did).

There are two things to see here, which are mentioned and will also be developed later in the chapter.

The first thing is that giving that is bountiful is in proportion to ones own wealth. I have discussed this before. I have known some very poor people give bountifully and some people give extraordinary sums that really did not make any difference at all to their pocket, to others it just looked a lot (See widows mite in Luke 21).

The second thing, and perhaps even more importantly is that bountiful giving is determined by the mind of the giver. This means that it is possible to give much but to sow sparingly. So what kind of “mind” or “heart” or “spirit” or “attitude” does Paul have in view, the sort that turns even a small gift into a bountiful and generous sowing of seed?

The answer comes, at least in part, in verse 7 and we will look at that next time.