We all know the verses “God loves a cheerful giver,” and even “whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly.” But 2 Corinthians 9 contains so much more. And some of it is rarely taught, maybe because its promises sound almost too good to be true.
In an effort to avoid stepping into prosperity theology, some preachers never talk about the rich promises in the chapter and miss out on teaching about what the Apostle Paul calls “the grace of giving.” Maybe it’s easier to approach it as a parable.
Imagine you have some land. Maybe you’re a farmer. Maybe you’re not, and the land is just sitting there. Someone who cares about you comes to you with bags of seeds. He tells you to plant it. Just do that much. You don’t even have to know at first how to plant it correctly. Just trust him enough to scatter the seed on the ground and watch what happens.
That’s all you have to do, he says. He will water it. He will make it grow. He will take all responsibility for the outcome of the crop (since it was his seed to begin with). You get the strong impression that he is trustworthy.
So you do it. You plant the seed, and you’re surprised to see that he comes and tends it alongside you. He’s there even, sometimes, when you’re asleep. It grows and produces far more than you could have asked or imagined. It benefits you and others. (And he keeps bringing you delicious loaves of bread baked from your wheat crop and other things you need.)
At harvest time, he asks you how much of it you want to give away. You take what you need, and you give the rest of it away. (Of course you do, because if you don’t, it’ll just go bad. There’s no sense in hoarding produce.)
The next year, he comes back with more seed. Of course, you plant it. Eventually, you become a great farmer, producing more and more each year. People may notice your prosperity.
There may have been a point when you thought about keeping more of your harvest. You tried that. The reward wasn’t so great. Less growth in the crops. Less growth in you. Why keep more when you already have everything you need?
You learn that even if you scatter the seed onto the ground, using it all up (though you have more land to plant), the seed for that other land comes too. And the more you plant, the bigger the harvest. And the bigger the harvest, the more relationships you form with people who need what you have and those who want to join you in giving from their own crops.
The One with the seeds continues to return, faithfully, with more seed. Sometimes, maybe, it isn’t as much as you’d hope. Often it’s more. You get to know him better. You trust his judgment. Your gratitude abounds. (How could it not? Think of all the people you’re helping and those you’re befriending … but only because he taught you how and provided the means for you to do it.)
You start giving up some of the things you thought you needed so you can buy more land to plant on. This seed grows well there too. Maybe, you think, you don’t need to be rich. Giving has become your regular thing, a really good habit, and giving up something to do more of it sounds like a pretty good deal.
The joy of farming and the joy of giving to others who need it builds up in you, sometimes overflows. You are changing as a person. You’re happier, stronger, wiser, yet more trusting in general. You are rich in so many ways, and all you want to do is keep working alongside the One who taught you to farm.
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and … your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
– 2 Corinthians 9:11
The more you do this, the more other people are praising the One who brought the seed (even the ones who haven’t met him yet). Though you have dedicated yourself to this work, they recognize something else in the overflowing nature of it. All thanks goes to the One who brought the seed. Even those who have never met him believe you that he is faithful. They see your obedience to him. They sense your joy, and they are grateful for you too.
You find friends who are farming with the same seed, taught by the same One who brought you the seed. They’ve had a similar experience with their crops. They are growing in similar ways. The One with the seeds tells you to gather together, to farm together, to learn how to farm together on different land where other groups of people are need what your seed is producing.
You do it. And the love in you for other people in other places grows too. You have friends all over who have received from your crops, who have farmed with you. And all this you got by saying “yes” to a couple of bags of seed and then going out and scattering them.
This is a picture of 2 Corinthians 9.
You don’t have to know everything
You’re not required to be an expert (though you may become one). You just have to be obedient. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable. A sower goes out to plant crops, but he loses some of his seed along the path. Some lands on hard soil that doesn’t have the nutrients it needs. It sprouts but then withers. Some lands among weeds that choke it. But the sower in Jesus’ parable isn’t blamed for any of this. Instead, he’s rewarded. Some of the seed fell on good soil and produced a crop that outweighed by 30, 60, even 100 times the seed lost to hard, shallow soil and weeds.
Planning your giving is wise. Doing your due diligence is great. But how much better is it when it is backed up by a good Heavenly Father who works together with us to cause our work to produce fruit? He who planned a good and generous work in us is faithful to complete it. The only thing we have to concern ourselves with is going out and doing what he asked us to do.
Your giving is never a waste
There’s a tiny little word in verse 9. In Greek, Skorpizo means “to scatter.” It can even mean “to waste.” The giver talked about in Matthew 13 isn’t even careful about his planting; but his giving is not a waste, because it is God who brings the harvest. If we obediently plant seeds, he is faithful to bring fruit.
When we first start giving with God, it’s a learning process. But he’s providing the means – almost like a parent allowing a child to learn how good giving is. Though it’s right to work at becoming wise stewards, there’s a sort of safety feature in giving with God. Even what may look like giving “failures” to us can be redeemed and worked out (as he works out all things) for a harvest of righteousness.
God isn’t watching our productivity. He’s looking at our hearts. And he’s looking at the way our hearts’ work is touching the hearts of others.
Real results are coming, whether you see them or not
Through you, God is providing for the needs of the hungry and caring for the poor. But it’s not just about that. The gift of seed will always produce more and bless others. But this passage says it’ll produce a harvest of righteousness.
This is part of the “surpassing grace” Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians. You are changed when you give what you’ve been given. It’s not just what you produce that is growing – the harvest – but you are growing too – in righteousness. And it’s a righteousness that cannot be taken from you.
And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
– 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)
We hear all the time that God loves a cheerful giver, but this isn’t something we just muster. A cheerful giver is someone who is experiencing this life with God, receiving from him as the source and giving it away joyfully. Learning to be generous with God naturally leads you to be that cheerful giver God loves.
And one of the most amazing lines in this text is that God is perfectly able to replenish whatever you give, so you can be generous on all occasions, which will result in thanksgiving to God. We avoid this verse, because it sounds like we’re presuming upon God. But there it is in the text. Though it doesn’t say he automatically will replenish what you give away, it says he is able to make it happen. He is able to increase your supply so that you can produce more fruit and grow in giving. It’s no wonder givers are joyful!
Photo: Thomas Bennie on Unsplash