In this past Sunday’s sermon – Can’t Be no Greedy Christian – I took a look at the nature of greediness and selfishness and why those natures should not be within a Christian. Greed and selfishness, as you figure, oppose the foundation of the Christian faith. Our faith is built on loving others, being humble, and selfless. Within that sermon, I referenced Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in which he wrote that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).
I want to take a deeper dive into the scripture from Paul’s second letter to the people of Corinth in this Bible study. Surely, you have heard that God loves a cheerful giver but do you understand what that means? Do you understand how you are supposed to give?
I remember sitting in church and hearing deacons often say when it came offering time, “God loves a cheerful giver”. To be honest, when I would hear that, it would annoy me a great deal. There are many people who have told me flat out that they don’t feel comfortable coming to church because they don’t have anything to put in the collection. Some have told me they have felt pressured or even guilted into giving with that scripture being quoted!
I have heard this scripture used a great deal during offerings. Growing up, I also often heard about tithing and how members were supposed to give their 10 percent. So, let’s dive into giving in this study; we’re going to try to look at all of it! By the time we get to the end of this study we should have a greater understanding about giving and how we should give.
Quick note for before you start this study: Studies are written out to be longer than my sermons and the Sunday School lesson commentaries. I skip a week with posting bible studies because not everybody can complete a study in one sitting. Take your time and do not rush through my studies! Take it one day at a time if you need to do so. I will recommend a stopping point below for taking a break. Enjoy this lesson and share it with others!
History Lesson on Giving
We are going to take a moment here to look at God being generous in His giving. I want to first start in Genesis. We are going to take a look at quite a few chapters and scripture within the first book of the Bible to start us off. The reason why I want to start here is because I believe this sets the tone for giving.
God’s generosity from the beginning
In scripture, the first time the giving of anything comes up is when God placed man in the garden (Gen. 2:7-8). (Think about that for a moment). Go through the entire creation event and see the shape and condition of the world that man was placed in (Gen. 1:1-25). There was no price for the world; man didn’t pay anything to live on Earth. God gave, freely from his heart, to man a beautiful world for him to live in (Gen. 1:29-31). In this scripture, I want you to see the generous gift that life is to us.
To Adam, God gave him a helper (Gen. 2:18). The only thing required of Adam was one of his ribs (Gen. 2:21). (He had plenty of ribs to give, right?) So, Adam had a helper and did not even have to court her! So, they had the garden and the fruit of the garden to eat freely from – neither had to labor for a thing!
Now, they both lived in the garden freely up to when they sinned and ate from the forbidden tree. After their sin in the garden, I want you to notice, again, the generosity in God’s giving. When they sinned, both Adam and Eve saw that they were physically naked and they were shameful of this nakedness (Gen. 3:10). So, God gave to them tunics of skin to clothe them (Gen. 3:21).
So, question: where do you suppose these tunics came from? The giving of the tunics was not so free. No, Adam and Eve did not have to pay for the tunics but some poor animal had to pay with its life. Yes, there was an animal, potentially multiple animals, that was sacrificed in order to clothe both Adam and Eve for their sin. Speaking of sacrifices, there was another sacrifice that was also made to cover the sins of all of mankind.
God giving of Himself
For this thought, we will turn from Genesis and go to the New Testament. In that sacrifice, we find that God gave His all – His only begotten Son (John 3:16). Again, I want to point out that there was no price that mankind had to pay to have or receive God’s only begotten Son. Think about this: outside of continuing to sin over and over again, what did we pay to receive Christ from the Lord? Absolutely nothing.
In Christ, I want you to also understand that God has given a way to His heavenly kingdom (John 14:6). Through Christ, God has also generously given His mercy to all who choose to believe. So, we have received forgiveness freely from the Lord, but not only have we received forgiveness from Him, we have also received the kingdom of heaven from Him freely. There is no price that we have to pay to enter into His heavenly kingdom!
James wrote that the Lord gives liberally (or generously) (Jas. 1:5). There is no bottom to the well of blessings that come from God. God gives liberally, but what I want you to also understand is that when God gives, He does not give begrudgingly. In a recent Sunday School Lesson, we saw the Lord graciously answering Moses’ prayer (Ex. 33:18-19). God gives to us both liberally and graciously.
The genuine believer is challenged to go give of themselves in a like manner in this passage of scripture from 2 Corinthians. Someone will think that this study is me encouraging you to give more money because of the stigma that the church is money hungry. This is a very common thought about giving, even when the church is not involved. We here “giving” mentioned and we start to think with our wallets and bank accounts.
Churches of Macedonia example
Now, I have always and will always tell you that money is not the only thing we have that we can give of ourselves. I honestly believe that those who believe money is all they have to give is limiting the gift given to them by God. We are more than what our wallet and bank account says we are — that is what I believe! Now, that being said, it is believed by many that what we give from our wallet is a testament to our love. (Whether that is true or not is not something I’m going to get into in this study.)
In this study, we actually see Paul talking about the giving of a gift (2 Cor. 9:5). This thought actually carries over from the previous chapter when Paul was boasting about the Macedonian’s giving. So, let’s take a look at scripture from 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 – be sure to read this scripture.
In this chapter, we see that the Macedonians were in great affliction but they still had a giving heart and implored Paul to take the gift that they had to give (2 Cor. 8:2-4). Paul wrote to the Corinthians how the Macedonians were giving from the “abundance of their joy” and that their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality (grace).
What were the Macedonians giving? Was it a boatload of money? Most likely it was not a boatload of money since the Macedonians were going through a trial of affliction. That said, whatever the Macedonians had to give, they gave to support the saints in Judea. Paul saw their actions as an act of grace that he was not expecting and encouraged the Corinthians to also move with such grace in their hearts (2 Cor. 8:7).
What were they giving to?
So, let’s take a quick moment to see the ‘cause’ that the church of Macedonia was giving to. I feel we need to understand why Paul was accepting anything from people who were greatly afflicted by their own means. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we see where Paul mentions a collection for the saints (1 Cor. 16:1). That scripture says: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also.”
Paul said that he had “given order” to the churches of Galatia to take up a collection “for the saints”. Who were the saints that Paul was talking about? We must cross reference this scripture with information we find in the book of Acts. In Acts 11:27-30, we find some very important information. A great famine was coming “throughout all the world” (Acts 11:28). Scripture records that this famine happened during the days of Claudius Caesar and apparently Judea was hit.
Let us also note: the people living in that time may have thought their region of land to have been the ‘world’; it was, after all, all that they knew of. So, let’s not take that scripture literally. Famines, it appears, was something very common in that land. We can trace great famines happening in that land going back to the days of Jacob – it was a famine that brought Israel and his children to Egypt (Gen. 41:56 – 42:2)! (Note: the great famine during Jacob days was described as ‘world wide’ but it was most likely a regional event.)
So, because of the famine spoken of in Acts, the apostles determined to “send relief” to the brethren living in Judea (Acts 11:29). Paul was gathering a gift for the saints in Judea! The churches of Macedonia saw that their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ were in even more affliction than them, and were moved to help in any way they could! The Corinthians were being encouraged to move with the same grace of heart to help.
Commanded to give?
What is interesting about all of this was that Paul was not expecting such a gift from the Macedonians and had to be implored to take their offering. Paul was not expecting such a gift from the Macedonians because he had not ordered them to give anything – they were just giving freely. Within this thought, we get to answer a very important question — are we commanded to give?
Jesus said that we will inherit eternal life if we love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul, and also if we love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Luke 10:25-28). I pull that reference from a conversation that Jesus had with a lawyer that was trying to “test” Him. We are commanded to love! The true follower of Christ has been commanded to love everybody – including their enemies and those that hate them (Matt. 5:44).
However, in the context of what we are studying in 2 Corinthians, we are talking about giving. Paul says something that is very interesting about giving in his letter to the Corinthians. He says (2 Cor. 8:8): “I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity (genuineness) of your love by the diligence of others.”
As I said earlier, there has been a challenge given to the true follower of Christ to have a giving heart. Paul could not necessarily command any believers to give money because there is no commandment for the follower of Christ to give money to anybody. You don’t have to give money in order to gain forgiveness or salvation – we receive those things through genuine faith!
Tithes and offerings
So, what about tithes? What about church offerings? Yes, I know you are now asking those questions. Yes, I know you’re thinking about that ten percent you are “supposed” to give. So, let’s dive into tithes and offerings for a moment in this study. Where did the 10% tithe come from?
Giving a tenth goes all the way back to Jacob! In Genesis, when Jacob had entered into the Promised Land, of which he was unaware he had entered, he fell asleep. In a dream, God had promised that land to Jacob and his descendants (Gen. 28:10-13). When Jacob woke up from this dream, he dedicated a tenth to the Lord of all that God would bless him with (Gen. 28:18-21).
From Jacob to the just before the Mosaic Law, giving a tenth to God was not a law. After the giving of the Mosaic Law, God commanded from the children of Israel a tithe of all the land they would dwell in (Lev. 27:30). The tithe was then later shared with the Levites for the work they did in the tabernacle (and later the temple) (Num. 18:21, 24). During the days of Jesus, there was actually a temple tax that He was asked to give (Matt. 17:24-27). The temple tax was used for the upkeep of the temple.
Under the law, the Israelites were commanded to give a tithe. Yet, such a command to tithe is nowhere to be seen in New Testament scripture for the followers of Christ! Now, this might just be rubbing some folks the wrong way because they have heard that they should give a tenth of what they have. Now, pastor seems to be saying something quite differently. Let’s keep digging into scripture.
Stopping point: you have made it through the first part of this study. Take a break if needed and return back to this point to continue. This is the bookmark point of this study. If you do not feel like pausing, let’s dive deeper into this study!
Be open to giving
Though there is no command to tithe (give a tenth) for the New Testament saint, I believe that the suggestion to be open to giving is littered throughout the New Testament. In fact, I would say giving a tenth is simply the baseline – the starting point – of what we could give.
In the scripture I referenced earlier in regards to Jesus and the temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27), Jesus has Peter to give their tax “least [they] offend”. Again, the temple tax was collected for the upkeep of the temple. Churches have bills that need to be paid, and so we should certainly want to maintain our places of worship. Sadly, I’ve noticed many smaller congregations have to shut their doors because of a lack of funding.
The Macedonians did not have to be commanded to help out the saints in Judea because they were moved in their spirit to do so. The people of Corinth wanted to help the saints in Judea a year prior and Paul encouraged them to do what they began (2 Cor. 8:10). Paul also said (2 Cor. 8:12), “For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.” There’s a couple of important principles that we must focus on when it comes to giving.
Here is the first principle to Christian giving: the believer must be open to giving. Again, Paul says, “if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has.” In other words, are you open to giving? If you are open to giving then you should definitely give what it is you intend to give. There are many people who are open to giving but they do not have, or they are unable to give.
Do not feel forced
Here is the second principle to Christian giving: the believer should not feel forced (required) to give, especially when he or she does not have anything to give or is unable to give. I cannot stress this enough – you should not feel forced to give when you are not capable of giving! Your heart has to be open and willing to give. The Lord does not command you to give anything when you are unable to do so. There are many believers who burden themselves when it comes to giving, when they absolutely should not.
I remember I was speaking with one of my uncles, who is a deacon at my home church, a few years ago about a situation with a member and their tithes. The member was struggling with keeping up with their bills and was still trying to give to the tithe offering. This was someone who thought giving a tenth was mandatory, but the only thing mandatory in this faith is loving God and others. I recall my uncle telling this person to pay their bills first before worrying about a tithe.
My uncle was rather upset that a member had been choosing to struggle with bills. He wished the member had come forward and let them know of their struggles so that they church could help with the bills. Paul writes this about feeling burdened by giving (2 Cor. 8:13-14): “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality.”
You should absolutely not ever feel burdened to give. If you are unable to give, do not give. If you have things that you have to take care of first (because not taking care of those things will endanger your or the ones you love life), take care of those things first! Listen to this one: if you do not feel like it is in your heart to give, do not give!
Be Cheerful in Giving
Any time I say that, eyes open and grow extremely wide. We are now at that point in this study where I want to focus on being a cheerful giver. What does it look like to be a cheerful giver? Let us look now at the scripture recorded in 2 Corinthians 9:1-15. We can now study this chapter with an understanding of what Paul is saying in this scripture.
First, we see Paul speaking about the generous gift that the Corinthians were supposed to be preparing (2 Cor. 9:1-5). He speaks of how he had sent some of the brethren ahead of him to the Corinthians to let them know that he and some of the Macedonians were on the way. Again, let us note: the Corinthians wanted and were willing to participate in helping the brethren in Judea.
Don’t give begrudgingly
Paul plainly states that he sent the brethren ahead of him and the Macedonians so that the Corinthians could be ready for their arrival (2 Cor. 9:4-5). You see, Paul had also been bragging about the Corinthians to the Macedonians and did not want the Corinthians to be unprepared for their arrival. (In other words, Paul did not want the Corinthians embarrassing him and themselves.)
However, let us also note that Paul did not want to show up to Corinth with the Macedonians and it feel like a last minute sort of thing; he did not want the Corinthians to feel forced to give (2 Cor. 9:5). Let me better explain this. Have you ever gone to the grocery store, shopped for your groceries, and then got to the checkout line where the cashier springs on you a charity they are assisting with donations? Suddenly, you may feel forced to give because you don’t want to be that one customer that does not donate. You end up donating a few dollars, but you end up doing so reluctantly.
That reluctance to give in that situation is giving begrudgingly – you gave but it hurt you to give in that situation. Again, God does not ask of us nor does He command us to give in such a manner. Paul understood this well which leads us to that scripture that gets quoted at collection time in church – “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7)”. Yet, I would also tell you that God loves when we study and grow in our understanding. There is a lot more to that scripture than just those words!
Give what’s in your heart
Here is that verse in its entirety: “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” I have put in bold the part of that scripture that we must digest. Again, we see the two principles of Christian giving that I mentioned earlier. First: we must be open and willing to give, in our hearts. Secondly: we should not give reluctantly nor in a manner where we feel forced to give. Giving should be an act of grace (love).
God wants us to give from our hearts just as He does — freely. Whatever we have determined to give in our hearts, we should give freely. If all you have are pennies to give, and you feel it in your heart to give that, then that is what you should give. I want you to also understand that this is not just true when it comes to money, but when it comes to many of the other ways in which we can give. If there is one thing I hope you come away from this study understanding, it would be just this thought: never feel forced to give of yourself anything! Give what you have determined in your heart to give and be happy in your giving.
However, don’t be greedy
Now, there is someone who is going over this study who now will feel it is OK to hold on to what they have for selfish reasons. They will think, “OK, preacher, I’m going to give a bunch of pennies and save the rest!” Let’s make something very clear about being a cheerful giver: yes, self care is built into Christian giving, but there is no excuse for being greedy and selfish. Paul said of the Corinthians that they “abound in everything” – this meant they were incredibly blessed and had much that they could give without being burdened (2 Cor. 8:7).
It would have been completely selfish of them to hold on to their gifts that they could easily share with others. This would have looked incredibly awful to the Macedonians who we have seen were greatly afflicted but still gave what they could give! Sadly, there are many so-called “believers” who abound in everything (they have plenty and could easily give), but they choose not to give. Instead, they go the route of being selfish and greedy while others around them could really use the help.
More blessed to give
This sort of action is what led to John asking the question in his epistle that I used in my sermon – Can’t Be no Greedy Christian. That question: How does the love of God abide in one who has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him (1 John 3:17)?
Paul wrote that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Jesus taught us that it is more blessed if we humble ourselves and love others. (Remember what we studied when we studied the Beatitudes last year.) We are happier when we give because our spirit is happy! If we sow much in our giving, God will greatly return us many more blessings (2 Cor. 9:6). Let us remember that is a spirit that came from the Lord and God is happy when He gives to us.
So, yes, you should be moved in your spirit to give. We should not be commanded to give, nor should there be a law in order for you to give. Be moved in your spirit to love your neighbor as you love yourself – don’t go the selfish route.