In the book I wrote some years ago called Charismatic Chaos, a portion of that book is devoted to the contemporary health-wealth-and-prosperity gospel, and in that section, the chapter begins with the consideration of a phenomenon that I find quite fascinating. One of the most unusual legacies of World War II has been the development of what are known as the “cargo cults” of the South Pacific.
Many aboriginal island people, ranging from north Australia all the way to Indonesia, were first exposed to modern civilization through the allied armed forces during World War II. Into their very primitive and backward, simple life came the military, and the American military in particular often used remote islands that dot that part of the globe as sites for temporary landing strips and supply depots so they could supply, particularly, the Navy as it moved around as well as troops. So white men came bearing cargo into these little remote islands and left as quickly as they had come.
The tribal people had no time to learn the ways of civilization. There was no process or progress involved. In the darkness of their aboriginal life came the light of high tech, up-close kind of culture, at least whatever was high tech in the forties. Cargo planes would swoop from the sky and land and leave their payload and then take off. Island natives saw cigarette lighters produce fire instantly and believed it to be miraculous. They saw large machinery push aside whole forests to build air strips. They saw for the first time jeeps and modern weaponry and refrigerators and radios and power tools and many varieties of food that they couldn’t even comprehend.
Of course, they were fascinated by all of that, and they concluded that the white men must be gods. So when the war was over and all the armies were gone, tribesmen built shrines to the cargo gods. Their tabernacles are perfect replicas of cargo planes, control towers, airplane hangars, all made of bamboo and woven material. And they look essentially like the real thing, but they were non-functional except to act as temples for the worship of the cargo gods.
On some of the more remote islands, by the way, those cults are still thriving today. Some have personified all Americans into one deity whom they have named Tom Navy. They pray for more holy cargo from every airplane that flies over, and they venerate religious relics like Zippo lighters, cameras, eyeglasses, ballpoint pens, nuts and bolts and so on.
As civilization has begun to penetrate some of these cultures, their fascination for the cargo has not diminished, and missionaries who have been sent to areas where cargo cults have flourished receive a warm reception at first because they’re Western people, and it seems as though the cargo cultists are looking at their arrival as some kind of a second coming of the cargo gods. But they’re looking for cargo and not the gospel, and missionaries have found it very difficult to penetrate the materialism that is the very essence of those islanders’ religion.
I suppose that we could even classify the modern phenomenon within the charismatic movement called the word faith movement or the faith movement or the faith formula or word of faith or hyper faith or positive confession or the name it and claim it or whatever, a form of the cargo cult, a superstitious materialistic kind of way to supposedly use some form of Christianized voodoo to make God be coerced or cajoled or manipulated or controlled or exploited for my own personal gain.
We hear a lot today about prosperity gospel, about the fact that Jesus wants you rich, wants you to have a big house and a fancy car and an outlandish wardrobe and on and on and on. These greed-driven heresies are popular because they promise what virtually every false religion in the world has always been built around and that is the idea that there is a God somewhere who gives us what we want. Virtually all false religion ever spawned by man and Satan worships a God whose function it is to deliver some cargo. And the point of that delivery is for self-indulgence, personal fun, personal pleasure, personal satisfaction.
So it’s not that we haven’t heard a prosperity message, there has always been in false religion the message of prosperity, that the gods are there, somehow we need to plug into them so they deliver the goods to us. It’s found its way into the aberrations of this health-wealth-prosperity gospel in Christianity, but it’s a far cry from God’s true path to genuine prosperity. God is concerned about your material needs. God has promised to take care of that. There is a path to prosperity, but it is according to the Word of God and not according to these concoctions of men.
Turn in your Bible to 2 Corinthians chapter 9, and let’s go back to the section from verses 6 through 15 in which we have God’s path to prosperity. God’s path to prosperity. They tell us today that the way to be rich and the way to be prosperous is by faith, but God has a different plan. They tell us what you need to do is speak it into existence by positive confession, but God has a different plan. There is a plan to prosperity, a level of prosperity way beyond the shallow one that these people advocate, but the path to getting there is quite different than what these people are saying.
The central principle in God’s path to prosperity is in verse 6. Second Corinthians 9:6, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.” A very simple axiom, a self-evident truth, very simple. What you give determines what you receive. It’s built on an agricultural analogy. The more seed you sow, the larger your crop. That is self-evident, that is obvious, nobody needs proof for that. There is abundant proof. You sow a little seed, you get a little crop. You sow a lot of seed, you get a larger crop.
That is the basic principle of God’s path to prosperity. Sowing is giving, as we have been noting, and we’re just reviewing for a moment here. Sowing is giving, and when you give a lot, God gives back a lot. That reminds us of Luke 6:38, “Give and it shall be given unto you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” God will literally pour it into your lap, the phrase is. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that they need to give and they need to give generously and faithfully. He’s using three basic approaches in chapters 8 and 9 to motivate them.
First of all, he used the example of the Macedonians. You ought to follow the example of these godly, generous Macedonians, chapter 8, verses 1 through 9. And then in chapter 8, verse 10 and following, he used some general explanation and exhortation. He tried to motivate them by explaining the situation, explaining the need, explaining how the money would be handled and cared for and ultimately brought to the people who had the need. So he motivates them by example. He motivates them by information, and then he motivates them by benefits.
And in chapter 9, verses 6 to the end, he is talking about the benefits that will directly accrue to them if they give. And the principle of verse 6 is the main principle, whatever you sow you’re going to harvest. And if you give a little, you will harvest a little; if you give a lot, you will harvest a lot. A harvest of prosperity from God awaits the bountiful sower. That’s the issue here. Give a lot because the more you give, the more God multiplies back to you. And remember what I told you. It is in kind; that is, if you sow money and material possessions, God will bring that back.
The crop, the harvest, is of the same nature as the seed. And the analogy carried out is whatever you sow comes back. When you sow in the material realm, God gives you back in that material realm as well. Now, what is this harvest? What does God give us? In terms of looking at all of it as it unfolds, starting in verse 7, we’re going to look at five things, five results, five benefits for sowing that ought to encourage you to sow bountifully.
Number one is love from God, verse 7, “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” When you give out of your heart with no pain and not giving because you’ve been pressured, when you give freely and spontaneously and joyfully and cheerfully and generously, God loves you in a special way. No more precious promise than that could be made. When giving is voluntary, when it is personally willed from deep within the heart, when it is done with joy and without reluctance and without compulsion and there’s no pain and there’s no pressure, God grants a special love to such a giver.
And if God has a special love for that kind of giver, I want to be that giver. I want to experience the fullness of God’s love. As Jude said, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Find out who God loves and why He loves and get yourself into that place. That would be true here. I want to know the fullness of the love of God. That’s the first great benefit of sowing bountifully.
The second one is - and they flow sequentially, the second one is generosity from God. Generosity from God. How does God show that love? How do I know, you say, that God has a special love for me if I’m a cheerful giver? How will that love be experienced? Or how will that love be manifest? And the answer comes in verses 8 and following, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you.” In other words, God will show His love in an abounding grace. And what will that abounding grace convey? “That always,” verse 8, “having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance.”
In other words, God’s love will manifest itself in abounding grace that provides you with an abundance of everything you need. God is going to respond lovingly by being generous. This is action that God’s love takes. Whom He loves, He lavishes. In other words, we know He is able, verse 8, to do what He promised in verse 6. He said if you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully, and God is able to make all grace abound to you. In other words, you could never give too much. He would always have more grace than you have gifts. He is going to give.
He is able to give, and He’s going to give you everything you need to have all sufficiency in all things so that you may have an abundance. Is this to lavish on yourselves? Is this to consume on your own desires and fulfill your own satisfactions? No, at the end of verse 8, it is for every good deed. The point, as we made last week, is very, very singular in terms of understanding this. God makes you prosper for the one purpose that you might do with that prosperity what you did to earn that prosperity, and that is give back again. For every good deed.
When God knows you have it in your heart to do good deeds, to be generous and to give, He gives back multiplied so you can keep doing it. When He finds a giver, He lavishes on that giver because He knows he’ll give it back. Verse 10, “He supplies seed to the sower and bread for your food, and He will supply and multiply your seed” - here it is - “for sowing.” He’ll give it back to you so you can sow more. Verse 11 says the same thing. “You will be enriched in everything” - here’s the reason - “for all liberality.” So that you can be generous, so that you can be liberal.
So God gives back what you sow. He gives it back pressed down, shaken together, running over. He gives you back more so that you can do every good deed, so that you can sow more seed, so that you can give with more generosity. The point is very simple: God blesses our giving so that we can give more. It’s not that we can buy more for ourselves. It’s not so that we can consume it on ourselves, so that we can elevate our lifestyle to an outrageous level. God gives to us so that we can continue that which gained that gift, and that is our generosity.
When you give generously and joyfully to God’s Kingdom purposes, He pours it right back to you because He knows your heart is a heart that gives and you’re going to just continue to give. So, the first benefit of sowing bountifully is love from God, which secondly manifests itself in generosity from God. He enriches the one who gives. That takes us to the next sequential benefit, which is a marvelous one, and we see it in the beginning there in verse 11 and then running down through verse 13. Look at verse 11. “You will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.” Now stop right there for a moment.
Now we’re coming to the real reason for all of this, and let’s call it glory to God. The first benefit is love from God; the second, generosity from God; the third, glory to God. Now we’re getting to the real issue. Paul says, notice in verse 11, that your giving and your liberality through us is producing thanksgiving to God. Who is us? Well, that’s Paul, Titus, and those who were handling the offering. When we take that offering to those Jerusalem saints, when we give them that offering, they’re going to thank God, they’re going to exalt God, they’re going to worship God when their needs are met.
So Paul is saying through us as channels by which the gift would be delivered, you are producing thanksgiving to God. What’s going to happen is the Jerusalem saints are going to receive your gift, and they’re going to praise and thank God. They know that every good and every perfect gift comes down from God who is the Father.
Go back to chapter 8 for a moment, verses 1 and 2, and remember this. Paul says, “Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia so that in a great ordeal of affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.” You understand verse 2. They were under affliction and persecution. They were deeply poor. They were entrenched in a poverty condition. But they gave generously. Why? Verse 1, because the grace of God was given to them. In other words, it was God who moved on their hearts.
That was not a normal, natural human thing to do, to be so generous, and any time that kind of generosity is expressed by a believer to another believer, the person receiving the generosity thanks God, whose grace prompted the heart. And so Paul says the third great benefit of your sowing bountifully is that the more people who are touched by your giving, the more thanks will be given to God. And this is the noblest purpose of all, that God should be praised and God should be thanked.
Of course, that’s the reason also for condemnation. Romans 1 says that God is revealing wrath in the world because when men knew God, they didn’t honor Him as God or give thanks. The human race is a thankless child, and God is deeply grieved and offended and will take vengeance on those who have received of His blessing in this world and never thank Him. He is pleased to be thanked.
Go back to 2 Corinthians chapter 4 and remind yourself of what Paul said. Earlier in this chapter, at the beginning, he talks about a very difficult ministry. He says that we are - verse 8 - afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not despairing. Verse 9, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed. Verse 10, always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus. Verse 11, we are being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake. Verse 12, death works in us. The man was on the brink of death every day as he tried to carry out the gospel.
But look at verse 15, “All things are for your sakes.” Why would a man do that? Why would he live every day on the brink of death? Why would he put his life on the line? Because it’s for you, for you. And then follow this, “In order that” - verse 15 - “the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” Paul says the primary issue is that God be glorified.
God is glorified when men thank Him. Men will thank Him when they have heard the gospel and believed - that’s why I preach. I preach so that you may believe, and in believing thank God, and when you thank God, you bring Him glory and glorifying God is the epitome of everything. As I have told you before, he is preaching the gospel so that more and more people can glorify God with their thanks.
So Paul is saying, “Look, the more you give, the more God gives back. The more He gives back, the more you’re able to give. And the more you’re able to give to invest in the Kingdom to support God’s people and God’s missionaries and God’s ministers and the advancement of the church, the more people that are touched by your giving, the more glory is going to God. That’s the issue.
Verse 12 expands further on it, chapter 9, verse 12, in a very unique way. Let me give you a little background before we read the verse. Jews who became Christians were basically suspicious of gentiles who became Christians. In fact, you remember Peter had to come back and say, “Look, I was there, I talked to Cornelius, I preached the gospel to him, to his household,” Acts 11. “He believed, his household believed, the Holy Spirit came,” and he has to report back to the Jews that the gentiles received the same gospel, the same salvation and the same Holy Spirit as we received. That was very hard for the Jews to swallow.
Later on, in Acts 15, Paul, Barnabas come back from their missionary journeys among the gentiles to report to the Jerusalem Council, the Jewish church, and they told them the same thing. The gentiles believe, the gentiles are saved, the gentiles are receiving the Holy Spirit, we’ve got to embrace them. Paul writes in the book of Ephesians the middle wall or partition between Jew and gentile has been broken down, they are now one new man, one flesh, one body, one family, one Kingdom, one temple.
But that was very hard for the Jews to accept because they had for centuries believed that they were the people of God and the only people of God and gentiles were on the outside of God’s Kingdom and God’s purposes, and now they are embraced mutually in the church, and it’s kind of hard to deal with, just generically. But more specifically than that, it must have been very difficult for Jewish Christians to believe that the Corinthian church in particular was for real because the Corinthians were involved in so much iniquity.
Now remember, the 1 Corinthian letter has already been written some time before this and it has, no doubt, circulated. And Jewish Christians know what was in 1 Corinthians and it’s just a long litany of the sins of that congregation. Suing each other, factions, pride, involving themselves in intellectual things rather than spiritual things, sexual sin, incest, going to harlots, you name it. I mean, it was all going on, drunkenness, desecrating the Lord’s table, confusion about the resurrection of Christ. It just goes on and on.
They were actually standing up and in the name of speaking in tongues cursing Christ. Women were out of line. I mean, the church was chaotic. And what came to the Jewish Christians from that was the question: Are these people really Christians? Is this really a church? Paul had to write 1 Corinthians to them. Prior to that he wrote another letter, which isn’t in the Scripture, and after 1 Corinthians, wrote the severe letter and condemned them for following false teachers. Now he’s writing another letter to them, which confronts some other things; namely, their continual interest in these false teachers who are discrediting Paul.
The word was out on the quote/unquote grace vine. They knew. And the question was, are the Corinthians real? Is it a true church? There was some genuine suspicion running loose and reasonable suspicion. Even in chapter 13 of 2 Corinthians, in verse 5, Paul says, “Test yourselves to see if you’re in the faith, examine yourselves.” “I want to know that all of you are genuine.” So the question was at least being asked about whether or not this gentile church in Corinth was for real. They had attacked the apostle Paul, the beloved Paul, as well as being characterized by all the rest of the sinful chaos.
So Paul writes with that in mind in verse 13. Listen to verse 13. “Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also by prayer on your behalf yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you.” This is a very, very important section. I just wanted to give you that background. There are real questions about the legitimacy of the confession of this Corinthian group, and Paul sees great value in their contribution in terms of validating their salvation.
So as we come into verses 12, 13, and 14, he really gets into the heart of this issue. Let’s look at verse 12, first of all. “For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.” Then he goes in to 13 and 14. Now let me just kind of pull it together. First he says you are not only are meeting needs, you’re creating glory for God. And then in verse 13, you are giving proof of the genuineness of your salvation. And then in verse 14, you’re not only doing that, you’re making friends.
Now watch this unfold. Let’s start at verse 12. “For the ministry of this service” - by the way, the word service is a priestly word from which we get liturgy. It views this whole collection as a spiritual, religious, priestly enterprise; that is to say, it is being lifted up and offered to God primarily to glorify Him. So he says the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints - I want to stop there for a moment. It did do that. It did fully supply the needs of the saints.
By the way, that verb, fully supplying, is a very, very interesting verb. The word “fill,” plēroō is used a lot in Scripture. And as I’ve told you many times, when the Greeks want to intensify a word, they put a preposition on the front of it, just attach it as a prefix. This word, plēroō, has a prefix, ana, that intensifies it, really supplying, but they put a second one on there to really intensify it, they put a pros. So it’s prosanaplēroō, two prepositions added for double intensity, and what it says is exactly what it means, it is to fully supply the needs of the saints.
Now, let me stop at that moment and tell you something. The need was pretty great. Remember, there were tens of thousands of believers in the Jerusalem church by now. There were large numbers of them. A very high percentage of them were poor. Because of the persecution that broke out against the church, they lost their jobs, their livelihood. Many of them were pilgrims from other parts of the world who had no way to make a living in Jerusalem.
So that Jerusalem church was very, very, very greatly in need of money, food, clothing, shelter. It was a severe problem, and apparently thousands of people were involved. So if the gift from the Corinthians could fully supply the needs of the saints, you’re talking about a huge amount of money. And, again, it reminds us that the Corinthians were probably wealthy. Their area was profitable. As we know, it was a trade route area. They were doing well. Persecution obviously hadn’t broken out against the Corinthian Christians, so they weren’t paying some kind of a severe price as some of the Macedonians had started to have to pay.
And so the Corinthians could provide a huge amount. He’s saying it is enough to fully supply the needs of the saints, to meet their needs. It indicates a generosity and largeness of the gift they were collecting. Remember? I told you that. It’s called earlier back in chapter 8 verse 20, a generous gift. It was a very large gift. They had begun to give to it, as earlier in chapter 8 we note. They had begun a year ago or last year and now they were still finishing it.
In order to finish it, they were to give every first day of every single week, so they were collecting a large amount of money over a long period of time so they could fully supply the needs of the saints. And again it reminds us that God wants the job done to the full.
So first of all, their giving did indeed meet needs. But secondly, look at it in verse 12, and more importantly, it was overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. And this gets us to this whole idea that it brought glory and honor to God. How? Because the many who received the gift would be thanking God. It would literally overflow through many thanks to God. All those who received the gift, all those who didn’t need it but saw their brothers and sisters receive it, everybody would be thanking God, whose grace had moved so mightily in the Corinthian church, thanking God that the Corinthians had such love and generosity.
And then comes verse 13, “Because of the proof given by this ministry.” What did it prove? It proved your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ. It was a proof of their salvation. How do you know someone is saved? By what they say or by what they do? Sayers only are self-deceived. Jesus preached that in the Sermon on the Mount. The people who say are the people who build their house on sand. The people who do are the people who build it on a rock. That’s what James meant when he said, “Don’t be just a hearer of the Word but a doer” and later on said, “Faith without works is dead.”
That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “If you continue in my Word, then you’re my real disciple.” Jesus said, “You love me, keep my commandments.” First John says the very same thing, 1 John 2, verses 3 and 4, “The one who loves me is the one who keeps my commandments, and somebody who says he loves me and doesn’t keep my commandments is a liar.”
So the gentiles needed to make the confession of the gospel of Christ, their public confession, like Romans 10, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in the heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved, for with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.” They had made the confession, they had made the profession, and now he is saying to them, “You need to prove it, you prove it by your obedience, and here is a great way to demonstrate that. And when” - listen to this. “And when they see the gift you give, they’re going to glorify God, but when they see that it evidences your salvation, they’re going to glorify God all the more.”
What is more wonderful than the fact that you gave is the fact that you belong to God. And that’s the essence of what’s going on here. The verse assumes that some Jewish Christians no doubt doubted the reality of gentile salvation, particularly in view of the chaos at Corinth. And they had reason to ask, believe me, because of the Corinthian iniquities: Was it real? Was it legitimate?
So Paul says because of the proof given by this ministry - ministry means this collection, this service, this duty - by the way, it’s the same word as in verse 12 translated ministry, it’s the word diakonia, by this humble service, by this selfless service, by this sacrificial giving, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ. They’ll glorify God more for your salvation, even, than for your gift, and also, verse 13, “for the liberality of your contribution to them.”
Obedient submission to the Word of God is the evidence of a true confession of Christ as Savior and Lord. It’s meaningless to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior if you don’t obey Him. Here, Paul says you can demonstrate that your salvation is real. Obedience is always the true evidence of salvation. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, Ephesians 2:10 says, which God before ordained that we should walk in them. We’re going to walk in them because He planned it and He saved us and transformed us to do that.
And so if the Jews were looking for some obedience to verify the Corinthian conversion, they needed to look no further than this. They will glorify God. They will praise God and say they’re really saved, they’re really regenerate; look at their love, look at their generosity. So it’s the combination, and he adds at the end of verse 13, “And for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all.” It was a large gift. Again, it’s designated here as a liberal gift, and it caused them to thank God, and then he adds at the end of verse 13, to all - to all. Everybody who hears about it. Everybody across the church.
All who know about it, all the church everywhere who sees this generous love, who sees this evidence of true confession of Christ, is going to rejoice. And the point is very simple. When you give and you give magnanimously and lovingly and cheerfully and joyfully and out of the heart, it evidences your regeneration, it causes God to pour back to you more. You give again and what happens? All of that giving touches lives after lives after lives and just raises the voice of thanksgiving to God. And that’s the whole point.
The end of verse 12, “Many thanksgivings to God.” And all true Christians everywhere, that’s what “to all” at the end of verse 13 means, he just throws in everybody. Everybody is going to know about the salvation of the Corinthians, everybody is going to know about their love for the body of Christ, their love for the poor saints. And God will be glorified through everybody.
When you give and the church flourishes and the gospel’s preached and saints are taught and needs are met and the Kingdom advances and the church grows, thanksgiving just rises and rises and escalates - escalates. You want to touch as many people as you can with your giving so that as many as possible can thank God and give Him glory.
All right, love from God, generosity from God, and glory to God. Number four, the fourth sequential blessing, friends from God - friends from God. This is an absolutely thrilling verse. Verse 14, What is a poor man going to give back to a generous rich man? What can the poor give back to the rich? What can the Jerusalem saints who have received this magnanimous gift of love give back to the Corinthians? Verse 14, “While they also by prayer on your behalf yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you.” You know what he’s saying there? They recognize that God is at work in you, and they long for fellowship with you, and they pray on your behalf.
What have you got? You’ve got friends. Friends. The gift will make friends. Who is he referring to? Certainly the Jerusalem saints who received the love gift from the Corinthians but everybody. At the end of verse 13, “To all while they also” - all of them are going to be engaged in this. First of all, by prayer on your behalf. The prayers of the poor are the reward to the rich. The prayers of all who share in fellowship with Christ, they will all know you’re for real. They will all know of your love and generosity, and you’re going to have lots of people praying for you. And as James reminds us, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man produces much. Who wouldn’t want that?
And by the way, beloved, that’s the heart of real unity. In the church we talk about unity, there’s a lot of talk about ecumenical unity. Real unity is basically simply stated in who you pray for. That’s right. Your heart is really knit together with those you pray for. Mutual prayer is the stuff of real unity. Obviously, it’s built around sound doctrine, but your real love for the saints is basically framed by your prayer life. You can say you love the saints, and you can see how much you love the saints by incorporating into that category those you pray for.
If you pray for two or three, those are really the ones who have the strength of your love, and then it’s diminishing as it goes beyond that. So the wider your intense love goes, the more saints you embrace. That’s the real unity.
And I’ll tell you something. When you reach out to someone and provide for them something profound and precious, they become your friends, and your friends will pray for you because love intercedes. That’s the heart of real unity, mutual prayer. The Corinthians will enlarge the circle of their friends. Their friends will pray for them - a marvelous return for their loving generosity.
In Luke 16, Jesus told a story, a fascinating story about a guy who was getting fired. He went in to his boss, and his boss said you’ve been inadequate as a manager, you’ve messed up badly, and I’ve lost a lot of money, and you’re fired. And apparently he gave the guy a week before he had to leave, and in the meantime, after he was fired, he knew he was going to be out on the road on his own with no place to go, and of course, in ancient times they lived in the house of their master, so he wouldn’t have a place to live.
Smart guy, he calls in the creditors who owe his master money, and he starts discounting their debt. He says to one, “How much do you owe?” And he says, “Well, I owe a hundred.” And he says, “Pay fifty.” He says to another, “How much do you owe?” He says, “I owe a hundred.” He says, “Aw, just pay eighty.” And so he’s calling in all these people and discounting all their debt. Literally, taking more money out of his master’s pocket in that story.
But his master finds out about it and he says, “This is a very shrewd man. This is a very smart man because he’s making friends so he’ll have a home to stay in when he goes out of here.” That’s what he’s done. He’s obligated everybody to him. Now he’s got all these people whose debt has been discounted, all he has to do is knock on the door and say, “Hey, remember me? I discounted your debt fifty percent, and I need a place to stay.”
He was making friends using money in order that he might be able to be received into somebody’s home. That’s the point. Jesus said, “He is smarter than most people in the kingdom.” And He says, “Why aren’t you using your money” - your mammon of righteousness, He calls it - “Why aren’t you using your money to make friends who will welcome you into eternity?” Why aren’t you using your money for that which is eternal so that someday when you go to heaven and leave this world, there’ll be a whole bunch of folks opening their arms to welcome you in because you used your money to benefit them? Use your money to win friends for eternity.
But here, Paul is saying use your money to win friends in time. Invest in the lives of other believers who will intercede for you, and more than that, who will yearn for you. What does that mean? Long for a dearer, closer, sweeter communion. It means to earnestly desire. It means to long for someone. And they’ll do it because of the surpassing grace of God in you. They’ll know God’s at work in you in a marvelous way, and they’ll yearn to fellowship with one in whom God is so much at work. They’ll yearn to pray for someone in whom God’s grace is moving in a surpassing way.
One of the great benefits, then, of giving, one of the great benefits of generosity is people who become your precious, treasured, loving friends who intercede for you, who long for you because they see the surpassing grace of God in you. You talk about a path to prosperity, there’s a path to prosperity.
The first thing that happens when you give generously to God, God loves you in a special way. He manifests that, secondly, by being generous and giving back in kind more than you could give so you can keep giving and keep giving. Not only that, but an even higher benefit, thanks is going to heaven from all over the place because of your generosity. And beyond that, you are making friends everywhere who will pray for you and long for fellowship with you.
And then fifthly and lastly, you sow and you reap love from God, generosity from God, glory to God, and friends from God, but look at this last one, verse 15. This climactic statement is so uplifting, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” You don’t have to think too long about what that indescribable gift is. It’s pretty obvious, right? It’s Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” And Romans 8:32 says, “He not only gave His Son, spared Him not but gave Him for us all.” He not only gave His Son but He gave all that is associated with His Son.
He will freely give us all things. That’s the indescribable gift. The gift that inspires all gifts, the gift which is so glorious, human words fail to be able to describe it, fail to be able to comprehend it. It is the indescribable gift. It is so big, it is so great, it is so glorious, it just fails to be able to be described in human language. It cannot be described in human language.
“Thanks be to God.” Now, why does he close like that? Why does he close with, like, a benediction? Why does he close with what is just a paean of praise like that? How does that relate to what we’re talking about? Let me tell you very simply, I think this is the final great statement about the benefit of giving, and here it is - number five - likeness to God. When you sow bountifully, you receive love from God, generosity from God, glory to God, friends from God, and likeness to God. Listen, you are like God when you give generously. And I think that’s what’s wrapped up in that last crescendo.
Here is the basis, here is the ground, here is the foundation for all Christian giving: God gave Christ. God gave Christ. God planted a seed and Jesus said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone. But if it dies, it brings forth life.” And God planted the seed, Christ, in the grave, as it were. He buried the seed and reaped a redeemed humanity. God buried His Son and reaped a redeemed humanity. And that makes it possible for us to sow and reap. And we are like God most when we give voluntarily, sacrificially, joyfully. That’s the way He gave, purely out of love.
In Ephesians chapter 5, the first couple of verses says be imitators of God, and it was God who sent Christ to offer Himself as a sacrifice to God. Be imitators of God. How can we imitate God? God gave His Son, God sowed His Son and reaped a redeemed humanity. And you are like God and I am like God when you give the generous gift, the indescribable gift, the gift that’s beyond what could be expected. Your generosity is Godlike.
That’s uplifting. That’s elevating. Give because when you do it is the path to prosperity. What is your prosperity going to look like? What’s your harvest going to look like? Love from God, generosity from God, thanks and praise and glory to God from all over, friends from God, and likeness to God. God gave the first gift and made it possible for us to give, and as we give sacrificially as He gave sacrificially, we are like Him. What a privilege.
And that takes us to the end of those two chapters and leaves us with one remaining question: How did the Corinthians respond? How did they respond? What did they do about Paul’s plea regarding the offering? Did they finish the offering or did they not? Quickly, I can give you the answer. Sometime after the writing of 2 Corinthians, Paul paid his third visit there. He told them he was going to come for a third time. He mentions it in chapter 12, verse 14, and chapter 13, verse 1. He told them he was going to come for a third time and he did.
Best estimate is that he spent about three months in Achaia, in Greece. You can see that in Acts chapter 20, the first couple verses. And during that time that he was there, the three months that he was there, he wrote Romans, okay? So sometime after Titus and the other brothers took this letter and generated the continual giving in response to this letter, Paul went. Stayed three months and during that time wrote Romans. So if we want to get some kind of insight into how they reacted, Romans is a good place to look.
Let’s look at 15 - Romans 15. This is all we really need to know here. Verse 26 and 27. Actually, we can start in verse 25, “I am going to Jerusalem.” He’s now on his way. It’s been probably five and a half months since he wrote 2 Corinthians when he writes Romans. So it’s a couple of months before he makes his third trip. He stays three months. In that five months plus, the Corinthians have time to respond. And apparently they did. He said, “I’m going now to Jerusalem” - verse 26 - “for Macedonia and Achaia.”
Achaia is the area where Corinth is the main city, so he’s referring to the Corinthian church. “Macedonian and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so.”
There it is. There’s your answer. They responded joyfully, happily, they were pleased to do it. Paul says, “I have it, I’m on my way to Jerusalem.” And that’s exactly what he did. He went to Jerusalem, he took the money, and he gave it to the poor saints. In rehearsing his arrival in Jerusalem in Acts 24, verse 17, he says, “After several years, I came to bring alms to my nation and present offerings.” He made it. He brought along some of the Macedonians, some of the Corinthians with him, and they delivered the offering.
Well, two chapters on giving that had their effect. I want you to know that’s my prayer, that these two chapters in our experience will have the effect, that your giving will never again be the same because of what we have learned. Do you want love from God? Generosity from God? Glory to God? Friends from God? And likeness to God? Then sow bountifully and you will reap that very bounty from God Himself.
Now, in final conclusion, turn to 1 Kings 17. I want to just close with an unforgettable illustration. First Kings 17. It’s about Elijah, the prophet, and in verse 8, “The Word of the Lord came to Elijah and said, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” This is a prophet who is off to Zarephath, and he is told by God that there will be a lady there, widowed, who will provide for him. “So he arose and went to Zarephath, came to the gate of the city. Behold, a widow was there gathering sticks.” Obviously, to make a fire.
“He called to her and said, ‘Please get me a little water in a jar that I may drink.’” Boy, culture then must have been different than it is now. Can you imagine what somebody would say to you if you interrupted them doing that and tell them to go all the way over to some well, stick a bucket down to the bottom, pull it all the way up and pour it into a jar, take it out of the jar and put it into a cup or whatever? “Please give me a little water in a jar that I may drink. And as she was going to get it” - I mean isn’t that amazing? She just did it.
“He called to her and said, ‘Hey, bring me a piece of bread while you’re at it.” This is a pretty complicated operation here for this dear widow who’s got a handful of sticks. And she answers in verse 12, “As the Lord your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar, and behold, I’m gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son that we may eat it and die.” “I don’t have anything. All I have is a little bit of flour and a little bit of oil, enough to make one last meal of bread and water, and we’re going to eat that and then die of starvation. It’s over. I can’t provide any more.”
And Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid, go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first.” This is a very demanding fellow here, but this is a very wonderful lady. “You know, take the same flour and the same oil but just make a special little one for me first.” “And bring it out to me, and then after that, you can go make one for yourself and your son.” Wow. I mean I can’t imagine what somebody in our culture would be saying by now to this guy.
And then he qualifies the whole thing. “For thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth.’” Now remember, they were in a famine. “So she went and did according to the word of Elijah and she and he and her household ate for days. The bowl of flour was not exhausted, nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the Word of the Lord, which He spoke through Elijah.”
Listen, if God says, “I’ll fill your jar,” He’ll fill your jar. We believe that? There it is. The question is: When God says, “If you give, I’ll fill and overflow your jar,” do you believe that? That’s the question. The question is: Do you believe the Word of the Lord? The Lord said, “I’ll fill the jar, I’ll have the oil there every day, I’ll have the flour every day, you’ll never want, but you have to give what you have to start with and exercise your faith.” And God provided. You can trust Him. Are you? Are you giving in a way that demonstrates that you believe that? That’s the issue. Let’s pray.
Father, thank you again for this great, great passage tucked away here in 2 Corinthians, oft overlooked and yet so powerful in our lives, to open to us the floodgates of blessing. How many Christians are there all over the world who are pursuing blessing, pursuing the special love of God, the special generosity from you, who desperately want to glorify you and to make friends and to be like you, and they don’t even know this principle - pursuing it in who knows how many ways? And here you’ve said the path to this prosperity is as simple as willing, loving, cheerful, generous giving. So tangible. So practical.
Help us to be faithful so that we might see the gates of heaven open and pour out a blessing so that we can’t even receive it. Just too much. And then, Lord, give us the privilege of giving again and again. Oh, how grateful we are for such blessing, to be loved, to be lavished, to be the cause of glory to your name, to increase our circle of loving, praying friends, and to be like you, a sacrificial giver. What privilege. Work that work in every life, we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.
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