The Joy of Giving
A sermon on 2 Corinthians 9:5-8 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 2/8/04
In 1990 Randy Alcorn was pastor of a large church he had planted in Oregon. He loved his ministry, and anticipated spending the rest of his life pastoring that church.
He was also involved with a crisis pregnancy center, and began participating in peaceful, nonviolent rescues at abortion clinics. Like many others, he was arrested and jailed for a period of time.
Unlike many others, however, two abortion clinics brought successful civil suits against him; one judgment was for $8.4 million.
When Randy said he could not in good conscience turn over any money to a clinic that would use those resources to perform more abortions, the clinics went to court again, and managed to assess a writ of garnishment against his church – meaning they would have to turn over part of his salary each month to the abortion clinic. Randy’s salary would be used to pay for abortions.
Randy could not let this happen. So he resigned from the church. Furthermore, knowing that the writ of garnishment would be served to any employer who paid him more than minimum wage, Randy decided he could not work for more. For the last 14 years, Randy has worked for minimum wage.
In addition, knowing that the clinic could also go after any assets in his name, he turned over title of all his property to his wife. Randy owns nothing.
Was this a terrible tragedy?
Randy says, “It was one of the best things that ever happened to us.” Why does he say this?
This trouble led Randy to set up a non-profit corporation, Eternal Perspective Ministries, that receives royalties from his books. And Randy writes that shortly after so doing,
Royalties suddenly increased. Our ministry has been able to give away about 90 percent of those royalties to missions, famine relief, and pro-life work. In the last 3 years, by God’s grace, we’ve given more than $500,000. . . . I don’t go to bed at night feeling that I’ve “sacrificed” that money. I go to bed feeling joy, because there’s nothing like giving. . . . Giving infuses life with joy. It interjects an eternal dimension into even the most ordinary day. That’s just one reason you couldn’t pay me enough not to give.
Randy is a cheerful giver.
But is he just a special case – someone, perhaps with the spiritual gift of giving? Is he different from the rest of us?
Today’s passage, 2 Corinthians 9:5-8, tells us the answer is, “No!”
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 blessing, not as an exaction. 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows with blessings will also reap with blessings. 7 Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all contentment in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
“God loves a cheerful giver.” Why does God love a cheerful giver? Why should you be a cheerful giver?
We’ll answer these questions today by first detailing what a cheerful giver is not. Then the remainder of the sermon will come under three headings: Blessings, Contentment, and Grace.
Verse 7 tells us a cheerful giver does not give “out of sorrow” or “reluctantly.” Do you know people who give reluctantly? Do you know people who give sorrowfully, only out of a sense of duty, saying, “Here! I know I should give, so – here’s my tithe! Oh, I wish I could buy that new car instead! I wish I could move up from a 19” to 25” TV! But – oh, my! – I guess I can stand to part with it! What a sacrifice!”
A cheerful giver does not give like that!
Second, verse 7 also tells us that a cheerful giver does not give “out of necessity” or “under compulsion.” Thus, a cheerful giver does not give because of:
Third, a cheerful giver is not a hilarious giver. Some of you may have heard sermons where the preacher notes that the Greek word for “cheerful” is the root of our word “hilarious”. This is true – but irrelevant. Hilarious means, “exceptionally funny or amusing; boisterously merry”. But the Greek word simply means, “cheerful, happy.” Paul does not mean we should be boisterously merry when we give, or that we should be rattling off jokes as we put checks in the offering box.
So a cheerful giver does not give reluctantly or by compulsion; he does not give hilariously. What is a cheerful giver? These three words define a cheerful giver: Blessings, contentment, and grace.
Blessings are available in both the giving and receiving:
1) The cheerful giver isn’t primarily giving money – he’s giving blessings!
5b-6 [your gift] may be ready as a blessing, not as an exaction. 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows with blessings will also reap with blessings.
This is my translation; I have translated the Greek word eulogia in its most common sense in verses 5 and 6, “blessing”. Most English versions translate that last phrase something like: “whoever sows generously will reap bountifully”. The translation committees are basing that translation primarily on what they see as a logical contrast with sowing and reaping sparingly in the previous phrase. But this translation makes it appear as if the main emphasis in Paul’s exhortation is to give lots of money, when it is not. The giver is cheerful because he is sowing blessings for others.
And when you go around planting blessings, you harvest blessings yourself! They grow and multiply! So . . .
2) The cheerful giver receives blessings.
This is where the health, wealth, and prosperity teachers go wrong. Someone from that perspective reads a verse like this and thinks, “Whoever sows money will reap money! Oh, boy! I really want money and all the things it can buy, so I’ll sow money by giving to this ministry, and then I’ll watch it grow! Just think what I’ll be able to buy!”
This is not Paul’s point at all. But there is a return! We’ll look more into the return in a future sermon, but for now note: we do receive blessings in return when we sow blessings.
Remember that our first sermon on 2 Corinthians 8 emphasized the importance of knowing what currency you are talking about when you look at a bank balance or a price: According to an ATM in the Philippines, my bank balance was 500,000! But that was in Philippine pesos, not in US dollars.
What currency is Paul talking about here? What types of blessings do we reap from giving?
Blessings come in many shapes and sizes. All are wonderful.
And remember: Why does God bless us in the first place? So that we can hold on to that blessing and say, “Look how much God loves me!”? No! Do you remember why God blessed Abraham? He tells him in Genesis 12:2-3:
I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (emphasis added)
We find the same idea in Psalm 67, verses 1 and 4:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations . . . 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.
So why is a true Christian giver cheerful? Because he is giving and receiving blessings.
Having all contentment in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8
Once more, there is a translation issue in this verse. Does Paul mean to say, “having all contentment” or “having all that you need”, as the NIV renders the phrase? The Greek word could be translated either way. Which translation makes the most sense in this context?
How would you answer the question, “What do you need?” We always think we need things that we want. For example, a two-year-old might say, “I want those gummy bears!” But when his Dad says, “No, son, it’s not time for candy,” the boy might well reply, “I need those gummy bears!” And we as adults do the same. We think we need lots of things that we desire. Given our confusion about our needs, the phrase “having all that you need” is misleading.
But think now: When do we have “all that we need” or “all contentment”, according to Paul? “At all times.” What does “at all times” mean? I think it means, “at all times”. The cheerful giver always has all contentment via God’s grace:
It none of these cases does it appear to a 21st century American that you have “all that you need.” But Paul is emphasizing that even when we are suffering in the eyes of the world, we can have all contentment.
Now that you understand “contentment” a little better, listen to the verse again:
“Having all contentment in all things at all times”
Let this sink in. This is an extreme statement! How can it be true? Only by complete confidence in God’s present and future grace. And that’s what Paul says:
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you” (Emphasis added)
Our contentment comes from our confidence in the God of all grace, who at all times will give us the grace we need in all things.
This leads us to our last heading:
No! God gives us grace so that we can be content in whatever our circumstances might be. And knowing that we are content, knowing that we will be content at all future times, knowing that God will supply our every true need, knowing that He will guide us and direct our paths and bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom, we are free to give and love and take risks.
Paul was content in the Philippian jail not because he knew God would send an earthquake and free him – but because He knew that God was in control. He believed God’s promises. And being content he could give of himself, of his time – and not worry about the consequences. As Scott Hafemann says, “Giving to others is simply what trusting in God’s promises looks like in a different dress.”
You too can be content in every circumstance – at all times, in all things. – by the grace of God. We thus can abound in every good work – no matter what it costs us in time, in position, or in money.
Why does God love a cheerful giver? Because the cheerful giver trusts Him, loves Him, believes in Him. The grudging giver does none of those things. The cheerful giver gives out of His joy in God.
Listen to George Mueller, the 19th century pastor in Britain who is best known for raising the equivalent of $150 million in today’s money for good causes – mainly for orphanages – by prayer, without ever asking directly for money.
According to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord’s work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself! Day by day seek to make this the most important business of your life. This has been my firm and settled condition for the last five and thirty years. . . the secret of all true effectual service is joy in God . . .
“I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.”
Do you want to be a cheerful giver? Get to know the Lord of the universe! Read His Word! Meditate on it! Then read how He has worked in the lives of great Christians! Turn off your TV, turn off the radio, turn off the music, close the newspaper, and focus on the truths of Who God is and what He has done.
Then ask yourself: What step of faith do I need to take in giving of myself?
Believe in God’s future grace to you – and then step out!
I warn you: you won’t feel complete confidence. Satan will tempt you to worry about the consequences. But “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all contentment in all things at all times you may abound in every good work.”
So hold on to that promise! Trust him! And even if your faith is as the size of a mustard seed, take that step of faith – asking God to increase your faith through it.
God loves a cheerful giver –
Will you be a cheerful giver?
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 2/8/04. The Randy Alcorn quote is from The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving (Multnomah, 2001). The Scott Hafemann quote is from The NIV Application Commentary: 2 Corinthians (Zondervan, 2000), p. 367. The definition of “hilarious” is from www.wordsmyth.net. The two quotes from George Mueller are taken from John Piper’s biographical essay, George Mueller’s Strategy for Showing God, available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/library/biographies/04mueller.html . The original source for those quotes is A Narrative of Some of the Lord's Dealing with George Muller, volume 2, 730-731, and volume 1, 271.
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