Quick—what was the best gift you ever received? How did you feel when you opened it? What made it so special?
For me, it was “Fort Legoredo”—a LEGO cowboy fortress. When I was about eight years old, my Grandma Rose stunned me with this lavish surprise after all the other presents had been opened on Christmas morning. I never thought I would own a LEGO set so massive and so cool. (And I’ve got the video footage of me weeping joyfully in a heap of wrapping paper to prove it!)
As far as I know, the Apostle Paul never played with LEGO forts. But he did know a thing or two about lavish gifts. You might say that lavish giving is the theme of 2 Corinthians 9. In this section of his letter, Paul encourages the church at Corinth—a wealthy trading center—to give generously to a financial offering that Paul was arranging for needy Jesus followers in the city of Jerusalem.
Paul even employs some playful competition to motivate the Corinthians in their giving. In 2 Corinthians 9:2, he writes: “For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.” (Apparently Paul knew the power of a matching gift in a fundraising campaign!)
Now consider this: How would you feel if your pastor told you that he was writing you a letter about why you need to give more generously to the ministry of the church? (Yikes.) Opening that letter might feel a little different than opening a special present on Christmas morning. It might feel more like unwrapping a big old pile of guilt rather than a delightful gift.
Sadly, it’s far too easy to take the good news of the Gospel and twist it into a crushing law. It isn’t hard to imagine a guilt-trip version of 2 Corinthians 9. Paul could have looked down his nose, wagged his finger at the Corinthian church, and piled on a long list of rules about their giving. “Make sure you’re giving generously! Make sure you’re giving intentionally! Make sure you’re giving sacrificially!”
But Paul knew better.
For one thing, he makes it clear that God isn’t all that interested in “guilt-trip giving.” In 2 Corinthians 9:7, he explains, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Your giving is ultimately between you and the Lord. Don’t let anyone manipulate your conscience just to increase the size of your donation!
Second, Paul knew that authentic Christian giving has more in common with that warm, fuzzy, Christmas morning feeling than we might initially realize. All of us are gift-receivers before we are gift-givers. The only reason we can give cheerfully and generously to God—and to others—is because God first gave cheerfully and generously to us (1 John 4:19).
That’s why in Paul’s fundraising letter, the primary giver in view isn’t the Corinthians—it’s God! He is the ultimate cheerful giver. Maybe some of your favorite Bible verses declare this very truth:
• “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (John 1:16)
• “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
• “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
• “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
• “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
Jumping back to 2 Corinthians 9, consider the many ways Paul basks in the generous grace of God in this chapter:
• “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
• “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 9:10)
• “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11)
• “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)
You can almost picture the joyful tears in Paul’s eyes—not unlike an astonished little boy on Christmas morning—as he penned that climactic doxology in verse 15. More than anyone else, he—a former murderer and persecutor of Christ and his church—knew the overwhelming joy of sins forgiven and a heart set free to serve the Lord.
For the Corinthians—and for us—that lavish gift of grace should motivate us to give freely, generously, and joyfully to others. No guilt necessary.
Thanks be to God, indeed!
By Jack Newman, Stewardship Communications Manager, Biblica.
Biblica is a global Bible ministry inspired by radical generosity. We are motivated by the belief that God’s Word radically changes lives, and that everyone everywhere deserves to experience its truth for themselves. To that end, we pioneer ways to break down barriers to the Bible, doing whatever it takes to activate Scripture where needed most. Now in its third century of ministry, Biblica continues to produce relevant, reliable Scripture translations and innovative resources that power the Bible ministry of hundreds of global mission organizations. Together, we invite millions to discover the love of Jesus Christ.