Sowing generously. 9:6-15
In chapters 8 and 9 Paul tackles the issue of the collection for the poor "saints" (Jewish believers) in Jerusalem. There was obviously a practical need in the Jerusalem church, but Paul also wanted the Gentile believers to fulfill prophecy by contributing to the needs of the Jewish believers. When you see Gentiles bearing gifts to Jews, then you know that the Kingdom of God has come close to you. The collection is also mentioned in Rom.15:25-32, 1Cor.16:1-4, cf. Gal.2:10. Having covered the specifics, Paul encourages his readers (in general terms) to show liberality, v6-15.
v6. Paul quotes a proverb, one obviously in common usage at the time. All things being equal, the size of the harvest depends on the quantity of seed sown.
v7. The application of the proverb is as follows: a believer should give liberally in line with the abundant generosity shaped in the inner being by the Spirit of Christ. Giving should be driven by a conviction of the heart rather than the approval or demand of others. God "loves" (in the sense of approves, for God even "loves" the selfish sinner) "a cheerful giver", cf. Prov.22:8.
v8. Paul outlines an interesting Biblical principle in this verse. The believer who uses their resources in line with the impelling generosity of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, will be entrusted with greater resources ("make all grace abound") for service. "Give us this day our daily bread", is most likely a prayer for resources (time, talent and tinkle) toward realizing the Kingdom.
v9. Psalm 112:9 affirms the truth that the "righteous" (justified) act generously. It is not saying that generosity justifies or serves to maintain a right standing before God. Righteousness before God is a gift of grace.
v10. The Lord who supplies seed for the sower will give to the faithful believer "increasing surplus for service", Goudge. "God is the supplier of all good things; he will prosper your work and thereby make it possible for you to express your right standing before God", C.K. Barrett.
v11. Paul restates the thought of v10, but without the Old Testament illusions. The generosity of a justified person results in "thanksgiving" to God, who is the provider of the resources in the first place.
v12. The generosity of the Corinthians (the collection is voluntary) not only aids the poor in Jerusalem, but results in thanksgiving to God.
v13. The gospel of the free grace of God in Christ is tangibly confirmed by the generosity ("the service") of the Corinthians. Their generosity demonstrates their commitment to ("confession of") the gospel. The believers in Jerusalem will glorify God because of their "generosity" (integrity).
v14. In their prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God, the poor believers of the Jerusalem church warm to the Corinthian Christians, and this because of the gift ("grace") of generosity supplied to the Corinthians by God.
v15. "May God be thanked for his unspeakable gift." The "gift" is the impelling work of renewal within a believer, undertaken by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. Generosity is but one "fruit" of a renewal which is a gift of God's grace appropriated through faith.
The reward of responsibility
There is an interesting principle in the scriptures which is often misunderstood. It is the principle that faithful service receives God's reward. At the most basic level believers often think that faithful service here on this earth will be rewarded in glory with God's bounty. "God will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness" in eternity, depending on the worth of your service here on earth. "In my house there are many mansions" describes a scale of reward based on faithful service. Although an interesting idea, it is far from the truth.
In fact there can be no greater reward than union with Christ. There is no greater reward than knowing Jesus as our friend, and that reward is freely given on request. What then is the reward of faithful service? The principle of reward in the scriptures is a simple one. Those who act responsibly are rewarded with greater responsibility. God makes grace abound in us that we may abound in every good work, v8. The store of seed is increased to enlarge the harvest, v10. We are made rich that we might be generous, v11.
This is not the rather flawed notion that when we give away a dollar we get two in return. Rather this concerns the spiritual resources that are ours in Christ which are increasingly available to us as we use them wisely and well. If we are found trustworthy in little things, then we can be trusted with greater riches, Lk.16:1-18. As we "walk by the Spirit", "keep in step with the Spirit" (cooperate with the Spirit's renewal through faith) ,then increasingly we will not "gratify the desires of the flesh". On the money front, selfishness subsides and generosity increases. It is then our prayer "give us this day our daily bread" can be answered. Greater resources will be directed our way to use toward the realization of the Kingdom of God.
1. Why was Paul so focused on the collection for the "saints"?
2. If generosity derives from the heart, how do we prompt generosity?
3. What value is there in the use of our resources if use or non use has no bearing on our standing in the sight of God?