Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist church in the eighteenth century. He was a preacher and a theologian and oversaw a rapidly growing movement. Wesley taught from the scriptures how a movement should operate and how Christians should live, including how they should manage their money.
His money advice was: Gain all you can; save all you can; give all you can.
Gain all you can. Work hard; be diligent; make all you can in honest, God-honouring ways. The way the money was earned was equally important to Wesley. He preached against earning money in ways that hurt ourselves, or others or the creation.
“Save all you can” does not mean accumulate in a bank account. It means be as economical as you can. Do not spend unnecessarily. It is actually a call to live a simple lifestyle.
Give all you can: the purpose of earning and saving was to be generous. The purpose is to give, especially to the poor.
In his younger days, while at Oxford University, having just bought some pictures for the walls of his room, a chambermaid came to his door. It was a cold, wintery day and he noticed that she had only a thin, linen gown. He put his hand into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. Immediately, he sensed that God was not pleased with the way he had spent his money. Quote: “He asked himself, Will thy Master say, “Well done, good and faithful steward”? Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?”
That incident changed his attitude to his money.
In his first year at Oxford, Wesley’s annual income was £30. He worked out that he needed £28 to live. He gave away the other £2 (7% of his income). The next year his income doubled to £60 but Wesley reasoned that he still only needed £28 to live so he gave away £32 (53% of his income). The following year his income increased to £90 but he still only needed £28 to live so he gave away 69% of his income. The temptation would be to think, “I have more money; I can spend more money. I can expand my lifestyle” but Wesley chose to live as simply as possible and to prioritise giving. He didn’t need more than £28. In the fourth year, his income was £120 but he lived on £28 and gave away 77% of his income. Eventually, with multiple book royalties etc. etc. Wesley’s income was more than £1,400. By that stage his living expenses had increased to £30 and he still gave away the rest. He was giving away 98% of his income.
He practised what he preached. He earned all he could in honest, God-honouring ways. He saved all he could by living a simple lifestyle and not increasing his spending even though he could have. And he gave all he could – eventually 98% of his income.
Later in his life, Wesley was concerned that the one thing that would destroy the Methodist church was wealth. When people become Christians, they become more disciplined and more frugal and so tend to gain wealth. But wealth can kill spirituality. Wealth, and lack of generosity, were the most serious threats to the Methodist movement. The first two rules, without the third, would kill the church. He wrote: “Of the three rules which are laid down … you may find many that observe the first rule, namely, ‘Gain all you can.’ You may find a few that observe the second, ‘Save all you can.’ But, how many have you found that observe the third rule, ‘Give all you can’? Have you reason to believe that 500 of these are to be found among 50,000 Methodists? And yet nothing can be more plain than that all who observe the first rules without the third will be twofold more the children of hell than ever they were before.”
The point of earning and saving is that we might give. The Bible stresses generosity.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, encouraging them to give to relieve the poverty being experienced by the Christians in Israel because of famine. He cited the example of the Christians in Macedonia. We read from 2 Corinthians 9 but the passage begins in chapter 8. Paul says that the Macedonian churches, who were themselves experiencing extreme trial and poverty, gave generously. He says they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability. They pleaded for the privilege of being part of this offering. The Macedonians pleaded for the privilege of giving to help their brothers and sisters. Wow!
Paul then encouraged the Corinthians to do likewise. “Since you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you – see that you also excel in this grace of giving” (2 Cor 8:7). Giving is a grace – a God-enabled, beautiful gift.
There is something very lovely about generosity, is there not? There is something particularly unattractive about miserliness or selfishness. But generosity is selfless and loving and gracious. There is something very attractive about the person who is thinking of others.
In Chapter 9, Paul urged generosity.
Those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will reap generously. There is a principle there, isn’t there? We reap what we sow. Generous people receive generosity. The fear we have is that if we give we will end up with less. But Jesus said the opposite happens. If we give, we end up with more. It is counter-intuitive. It doesn’t seem right which is why we struggle with it but it is a spiritual law. We do not give so as to receive but knowing that those who give do receive ought to free us up to give. It ought to take away the fear.
This is so important, Paul reiterates it several times. “God is able to bless you abundantly” but Paul says that that is so that, having all you need, you can abound in every good work. In other words, God will provide so that you can give and as you give, God will provide. And His provision is “abundant”.
That is verse 8. Verses 10 and 11 says that God will supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion. God gives to us so that we can give to others. God expects us to pass it on. If we do not pass it on, God has no reason to continue giving generously to us. If we want to experience God’s generous provision, we need to give generously.
Paul’s first point is that we can give without fear. If we show ourselves to be generous, God will provide.
His second point is that giving is God-like.
v.9 quotes Psalm 112: They scattered abroad their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever. Their righteousness. Giving to the poor is righteousness.
Likewise, v.10 says that God will supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. God will use your giving in ways beyond what you can imagine. You act righteously (that is, in this case, give generously) and God will multiply the harvest.
We will come back to the harvest soon. The point here is that the Bible describes giving as righteousness. When we are generous, we are acting like God. God is incredibly generous. Think about the many passages about God giving. God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (John 3:16).
Matthew 7:11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’
Let’s come back to the harvest. Giving produces a harvest. That is point three.
Three results of giving are mentioned. Our giving helps others – obviously. Verse 11 says that when you give you supply the needs of the Lord’s people. But not only that. Giving also results in many expressions of thanks to God. V.10 had also said, “Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” V.13 says that people will praise God for your obedience and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. People are touched by generosity. It is a good witness. People thank and praise God.
You would, wouldn’t you? If you were in need and someone visited with a gift of money, wouldn’t you say, “Thank You, Lord!”?. God had acted through that person.
The third result is that the people you help will pray for you whole-heartedly. V.14 says, “In their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.”
Those are three pretty incredible results of generosity:
- People are helped.
- God is thanked and praised. God receives glory. That is our desire: that God be glorified.
- People will love you and pray for you.
When we are generous, other people win, God wins and we win. Generosity produces a harvest.
I should really spend a lot more time on this but you will have noticed that some of those passages focus particularly on giving to the poor. One of the really big money themes in the Bible is giving to the poor.
Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
Ponder that. If you give to the poor, God sees it not as a gift but as a loan to Him. There is nothing surer than that God will repay any loan. There is no better investment than giving to the poor. We should talk more about the focus on the poor but we do not have time.
Paul’s final point is about our attitude when we give.
2 Corinthians 9:7 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.
Giving should not be reluctant. “I’ll give but I don’t really want to. I resent giving.” Nor should it be under compulsion. There is no compulsion to give. Giving is a choice. Paul said, ‘You should give what you have decided in your heart to give.” It is entirely up to you. If you choose to give nothing, or little, that is up to you. It is your choice.
Of course, he still urges generosity because generosity if God-like and generosity does produce a harvest. But the choice is yours. Just know that the choice has consequences. Those who sow sparingly also reap sparingly and God doesn’t receive glory.
What God does love is a cheerful giver – the person who gives and is excited about giving; the person for whom giving is a joy and blessing; the person who gives freely and generously; the person who is thinking about helping others not concerned about himself.
Is that you? How joyfully do you give? Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive. It feels good to give. If we fear that money has too much power over us, one of the best ways to break that power is to give things away. If the temptation is to gain, break it by intentionally doing the opposite: give. Give because people are helped. Give because God receives glory. Give and experience the freedom and the buzz. Be generous. Be one of those people.