SECOND CORINTHIANS 9 IS THE second of two consecutive chapters that Paul devotes to the subject of giving.
(1) He resumes with a lovely delicacy (2 Cor. 9:1–5). On the one hand, he assures the Corinthians that they do not really need reminders; on the other, he gently reminds them, so that neither he nor they will be embarrassed. After all, just as he used the Macedonians’ example of giving even in the midst of severe trial as an example to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:1–3), so he has been using the Corinthians’ generosity and enthusiasm as an example to the Macedonians! He does not want them to be caught short.
(2) A principle that every farmer knows has a bearing on this matter of giving: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6). Some argue that this promises a tit-for-tat reciprocity between financial giving and material prosperity. You give three hundred dollars to my ministry, and God will give you at least five hundred (or a thousand, or whatever). Of course, the preachers who say this sort of thing either do not believe it, or do not believe it applies to them, for otherwise they would be rapidly giving away all of their money. But the focus in Paul’s presentation turns on two other points:
(a) The amount we give is measured less in absolute terms of currency than in the cheerfulness and heart-generosity with which we give (2 Cor. 9:7).
(b) The return is more comprehensive than mere material prosperity, and far more beneficial: God is able to make us abound in every good work (2 Cor. 9:8), and he will supply and increase our store of seed (continuing the agricultural metaphor) and will enlarge “the harvest of [our] righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10). God will make us “rich in every way” so that we can be all the more “generous on every occasion” (2 Cor. 9:11). One should reflect on the fact that the “you” to whom such promises are given are the people of God collectively. It does not necessarily follow that each individual in the church is thereby promised to become “rich in every way” and not, say, die early of cancer.
(3) Paul’s focus, finally, is not on the givers at all. Paul sees in the gifts not only a service that supplies the needs of God’s people but one that overflows “in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Cor. 9:12), as believers praise him for the obedience of the Corinthians and intercede for them because they recognize in them the “surpassing grace” of God (2 Cor. 9:13–14). For in the final analysis, we are all debtors to God’s “indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).