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2 Corinthians 8:815; 9:611comment (0)

April 22, 2010

By Mark DeVine

Related Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:815; 9:611

Bible Studies for Life
Associate professor of divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

The Right Support
2 Corinthians 8:8–15; 9:6–11

“God told me not to give money to any church until He first told me which church He would have me join.” “Oh, is that so?” I thought to myself upon receiving this information from a man who had been visiting our church for about six months. Fascinating is it not, the sort of things God chooses to “tell” folks these days. Pardon my facetiousness. I asked the young man how long it had been since he had belonged to a church and felt free to offer financial support for the ministry of the gospel. He pondered the question a moment before responding, “Oh, maybe five years or so if memory serves.” I told him I was grateful for the members of my church who faced no such obstacles since the ongoing work of ministry was costly and urgent.

I then asked the man if he did not find it strange that God would deliver such instruction given that the divine encouragement to His people to tithe and give generously and cheerfully features so prominently in the pages of Scripture. “All I know is what God told me” was his response. John Calvin provided the whole church with sound advice when he insisted upon the inseparable relationship between the content of God’s Holy Word and the working of God the Holy Spirit, especially where guidance by the Spirit is claimed. “The Word and the Spirit agree with one another,” Calvin said. When claims of the Spirit’s guidance conflict with the teaching of the Bible, let us test the “spirits” by the Word.

Playing the Guilt Card
Our focal passage, along with many other Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments, should have given pause to the “spiritually-led” nontither I encountered. The apostle Paul pulled no punches when he wrote to the believers at Corinth — “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Although He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.”

Wow! I do not think that I have ever encountered a sermon on tithing that employed a more powerful and potentially guilt-producing premise than these words of Paul. Have you? According to Paul, the bottom line is that when material blessing increases for some believers, their abundance ought to become available to address the need or deficit experienced by others (2 Cor. 8:14). According to Paul, the threat of possible public embarrassment at not giving generously provided appropriate motivation for the Corinthians’ generosity toward their poor spiritual siblings in Macedonia.

Sowing and Reaping
Fear of embarrassment though was not the only motivation cited by the apostle. In his book “Future Grace,” John Piper challenged the widespread view that “gratitude” is the quintessential and highest motivation to obedience in Scripture. Without denying the appropriateness of gratitude as a spur to right living, Piper noted that a more prevalent encouragement to sacrificial obedience in the Bible is God’s promise to help and bless those who embrace the divine call to action. Thus we read in our passage, “Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.”

Such promise of divine blessing was meant to draw from the Corinthians the kind of cheerful giving that flows not only from gratitude for what God has already done but also from confidence that God is not through blessing His children and trust that no act of sacrificial giving within the context of the local church will fail to result in future blessing.

Nevertheless the rich and diverse biblical encouragement to generous giving in the context of the church does not establish a law for believers (2 Cor. 9:7). But the biblical message regarding giving does cast great doubt upon such notions as that voiced by the “spiritually-guided” nontither who had convinced himself that his stinginess was divinely inspired. The biblical tithe would seem to establish a benchmark of minimum expectation for those for whom Christ “became poor” in order to “make rich.”   

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