Notes for teaching on 2 Corinthians 9:1-15, which is featured in Explore the Bible, Spring 2018, Session 12.
Paul encourages the Corinthians to make good on a commitment they made at an earlier date to take up a collection for needy Christians in Jerusalem. Along the way, he offers a grounding for giving in general. The passage is applicable today because it challenges Christians to reflect on their own practice of giving.
Notes on the Text
(Quotations taken from the NIV)
1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. 2 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.
Paul continues a discussion that he began in 8:1 about a collection for needy Christians in Jerusalem. As the passage unfolds, it becomes clear that (1) the church at Corinth was the first congregation to respond to the need in Jerusalem (8:10), (2) Paul used their example as an encouragement to other churches to do the same (9:2), and (3) the time is near for the Corinthians to make good on their commitment to give. In this first section of chapter 9, Paul commends the Corinthians for their previous commitment, which has spurred other congregations to action.
3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.
Because Paul has bragged on the Corinthians and has even used their example to call other congregations to action, it is important that the Corinthians follow through on their commitment. Otherwise, they will be shamed because of their failure. This concept of shame was extremely important in the ancient “honor/shame” cultural paradigm in which shame was to be avoided at all costs. The concept is doubly important because of the public nature of the Corinthians’ commitment (through Paul’s bragging) and because their commitment caused others to commit as well. It would be shameful indeed if this congregation, which Paul used to spur others to action, did not follow through on their promises.
Now, as the time nears to collect the Corinthian offering, Paul is giving them a kind of “heads up” by sending an advance party made up of Titus and representatives from the Macedonian churches (8:16-24) (these are the churches who were inspired by the Corinthian example). The presence of this advance party, made up as it is of Macedonian Christians, underscores the need for the Corinthians to be ready to live up to their commitment. Their opportunity for either honor or shame will be apparent as they look Christians who were spurred on by their example in the eyes.
Paul shows pastoral wisdom in sending the advance party. Rather than showing up unexpectedly and calling for an immediate offering, he gives the Corinthians time to remember their commitment and honor it gladly. Otherwise, they might have felt “under the gun” and given to avoid shame rather than from glad hearts. In all of this, Paul expects the Corinthians to honor their commitment but also treats the congregation with love and respect by giving them time for reflection.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 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.
Having given the Corinthians time to reflect on their commitment, Paul now instructs them concerning their motivations. He holds two axioms together: (1) a Christian’s reaping is in proportion to his/her sowing (this makes generosity a good idea) and (2) Christians should give from the abundance of their hearts rather than reluctantly or under compulsion – in other words, we should give cheerfully. While these statements are not opposed to one another, they can be held in tension. Paul is basically saying, “It’s a good idea to be generous in your giving, but only give what you can give cheerfully.”
8 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. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
10 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. 11 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.
Now Paul explains what he means when he talks about reaping and sowing. Importantly, the idea is not that we give so that we can get from God. That would be selfish. Instead, God gives to givers so that they can keep giving! The idea is that God makes believers able to do good works by supplying their needs and more. This is an important grace from God, as it is hard to focus on the good works he has for us when we are simply trying to survive. Moreover, what we sow is not only financial in nature. Verse 11 tells us that we will be enriched “in every way” so that we can continue in our generosity. God does much to increase our spiritual maturity as we give.
And, of course, all of these blessings from God (which are shared by Christians) ultimately produce thanksgiving to God. Think about a time when God has supplied your need through another Christian, whether it be financial or something else. In that moment, you thanked the person, but you also thanked God, who guided the person to perform that good work on your behalf!
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Here Paul underscores the theme of thanksgiving as he reiterates the idea that people will give thanks to God because of the Corinthians’ generosity. Embedded within this talk of thanksgiving are two descriptions of giving in verse 13: (1) giving is an opportunity to prove ourselves and (2) giving is an opportunity for the obedience that should go hand in hand with our confession of Christ as Lord. These are really just two ways of saying the same thing – our giving shows our commitment to Jesus in a tangible way.
Paul ends by thanking God for “his indescribable gift.” The gift he refers to, of course, is Christ. However, with the preceding verses in view, he is expanding things to include the generous lives that Christ brings about.
Notes for Teaching
2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are often used in teachings about tithing. This is odd, as tithing is not in Paul’s mind. Though he does in other places speak of the church supporting its teachers, Paul is here talking about Christians sharing resources with their needy brothers and sisters in Christ. If we were to put this in Baptist terms, we might say that Paul is talking about “offerings” rather than “tithes,” meaning that he is calling the Corinthians to give above and beyond their regular contributions to their local church community. This is not to say that tithing can’t be a part of discussion of this passage (the passage is, after all, about giving). We should, however, be careful first to frame the text as Paul meant for it to be framed.
In talking about tithing, you’ll probably come across two viewpoints: (1) Christians should tithe the 10% instructed in the OT; and (2) the New Testament doesn’t prescribe a certain amount for tithing. Strictly speaking, the second assertion is true, although it has been abused by those who are not generous. The idea is not that we are excused from giving because the New Testament doesn’t prescribe an amount. Rather, the idea is that God is more concerned about our generosity than he is about our percentages. (Think here of the widow’s mite!) In talking about tithing, it is of utmost importance that we move the discussion to the meaning of generosity rather than arguing about percentages. Generous people are concerned with keeping what they need and sharing their abundance. What should that look like in American culture?
A Possible Teaching Plan
Ask your group is God has ever met a need, financial or otherwise, through another Christian. What was that like? What was their response? If you have such a story, I would be ready to share it first in order to break the ice.
Explain: Explain that Paul is talking about similar situations in our passage today.
The Corinthian Situation
Read: 2 Corinthians 9:1-2
Discuss: What do we learn about the Corinthians from these two verses?
Explain: Explain that the Corinthians had made a commitment to take up a collection for needy Christians in Jerusalem and that Paul had boasted of their commitment to spur other congregations to the same.
Read: 2 Corinthians 9:3-5
- What is Paul driving at in these verses?
- Why would he send “the brothers” ahead of time?
- Why is the Corinthians’ honor at stake?
- Why doesn’t Paul just show up and demand that the collection be taken?
Instructions for Giving
Read: 2 Corinthians 9:6-7
- What does it mean when Paul says, “Those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly, etc.”?
- What is Paul’s advice to the Corinthians as they decide how much to give?
- What do you think Paul would say to a Corinthian church member who said the he/she couldn’t give anything cheerfully and therefore would not give at all?
Read: 2 Corinthians 9:8-11
- According to this passage, why does God bless abundantly?
- What does this mean for us in our lives?
Read: 2 Corinthians 9:12-15
- How does thanksgiving factor into giving?
- What do you think about Paul saying that giving is a chance to prove one’s self and has to do with the obedience that accompanies our confession of the gospel of Christ?
o How important is giving in light of this passage?
- What have you learned about Christian giving up to this point in your discipleship?
- How does 2 Corinthians 9:1-15 challenge or affirm what you have learned?
- How does tithing factor in to giving? How much should we give?
- What should a Christian do if he/she can’t give cheerfully?
- What does this passage tell us about our relationship to needy Christians around the globe?