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 was also looking toward the fulfillment of prophecy - 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 to show liberality, v6-15.
v6. Paul quotes a proverb, one obviously in common use at the time. All things being equal, the size of the harvest depends on the quantity of seed sown.
v7. So, a believer should give liberally. 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 intends to use 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. The line in the Lord's prayer, "give us this day our daily bread", may well be a prayer for resources toward realizing the kingdom of God.
v9. Psalm 112:9 affirms the truth that righteousness (justice) is revealed in a person's kindness toward the poor. The NIV has "he", but the TNIV has changed this to "they" to indicate that the subject of the quote is the "righteous" person; it is they who scatter their gifts.
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. The generosity of a believer results in "thanksgiving" to God, the one who gave the resources in the first place.
v12-13. Not only is the "cheerful giver" divinely resourced for their giving, their gifts also prompt in the recipient thanksgiving and praise. The generosity of the Corinthians will not only aid the poor in Jerusalem, but will result in thanksgiving to God, a thanksgiving prompted by the knowledge that the gospel has powerfully touched a Gentile community. The generosity of the Corinthians will demonstrate their commitment to the gospel.
v14. The anticipated generosity of the Corinthian believers will build a bond of fellowship between them and the believers in Jerusalem.
v15. This bond of fellowship prompts Paul to burst out into thanksgiving; "May God be thanked for his unspeakable gift." Paul doesn't spell out what the gift is. It may be the impelling work of renewal within a believer, undertaken by the indwelling Spirit of Christ - the fruit of generosity. It may, of course, be Christ himself.
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 for 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 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 that 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.
So then, let us focus on the needs facing gospel ministry, look to the Spirit's work of renewal for a generous heart, and pray for the resources - seed for the harvest.
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?
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