10 Things You should Know about Financial Stewardship in the New Covenant
In last week’s article in the 10 things you should know series, we looked at what tithing was like under the terms of the Mosaic or Old Covenant. Today we turn our attention to what giving or financial stewardship is like under the terms of the New Covenant.
(1) Giving that magnifies the glory of God is always the fruit of the grace of God (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
In spite of their own “severe test of affliction” and “extreme poverty” the Thessalonians give generously. This is directly due to the fact that “grace” had been “given” or bestowed or poured out on them. What they did in serving their brethren is the fruit of what God had done in serving them! If the Macedonians “gave themselves first to the Lord” in this ministry (v. 5), it is because God had first “given” his grace (v. 1) to them. Whatever achievement on their part is praised, whatever example they may have set for others to follow, it is ultimately attributed to the antecedent activity of divine grace (see Phil. 2:12-13).
(2) All giving must be “grace” giving.
Consider the use of the word charis, “grace”, throughout this section of 2 Corinthians. It is used in 8:1,4,6,7,9,16,19; 9:8,14,15, with a wide range of meaning, from divine enablement to human privilege to a monetary gift to a word of gratitude to divine favor. This should remind us that grace is more than an attitude or disposition in the divine nature. It is surely that, but if thought of only as an abstract and static principle, it is deprived of its deeper implications.
Grace, however, is not only the divine act by which God initiates our spiritual life, but also the very power by which we are sustained in, nourished, and proceed through that life. The energizing and sanctifying work of the indwelling Spirit is the grace of God. Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well. Grace is a dynamic and experiential reality that empowers the human heart to look beyond its limitations and accomplish things that defy rational explanation. Grace is the power that enables impoverished and suffering saints to give when, by all accounts, they should be the ones to get. Such was the operation of grace in the giving of these Macedonian believers. And such ought to be its operation in us as well.
(3) John Piper summed up the spiritual dynamics of giving in 2 Corinthians 8 by saying: “Grace comes down, Joy rises up, and Generosity flows out.”
The sequence is crucial. Grace must initiate all giving that glorifies God, otherwise we would take pride and praise for our support of others. This grace alone accounts for genuine joy. Otherwise joy is misplaced and degenerates when circumstances turn bad. Finally, grace-given joy is always other-oriented. Having germinated in the soil of grace, it blooms in generous bounty to those in need. Such is the nature of true love.
(4) Giving that magnifies the glory of God often flourishes in the midst of poverty and affliction (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
Financial stress all too often breeds self-pity. It turns our attention inwardly, to self, and an obsessive concern for our own welfare. And it doesn’t stop there, typically leading to envy of those whose troubles are significantly less than ours and bitterness towards God for not alleviating our pain. The sort of troubles that plagued the Macedonians can also produce a sense of entitlement as we wonder why others are not taking notice of our plight and offering to us what we are persuaded is our right as the children of God.
And yet, the very people who, at least to my way of self-indulgent and sinful thinking, ought themselves to have been the recipients of the generosity of others are here described as the donors! Something had happened in the hearts of these people that runs counter to all common sense and cross grain to every fleshly impulse of self-preservation. There’s no escaping the fact that there joy in God undercut and severed their joy in money. God wants us to know that the same grace given in Macedonia and available in Corinth is still operative and available to us today.
(5) Giving that magnifies the glory of God is always rooted in the gospel of God (2 Cor. 8:9).
In 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul directs our attention to the one truth that has the power to liberate our hearts from the grip of greed and release in us the joy of generous giving: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (v. 9).
But to what end does Paul speak in this way? For what purpose? To stir up lethargic and presumptuous souls to give with exceeding generosity! Greed is not good. Greed does not work. It cripples and paralyzes and anesthetizes our souls to the needs of others. Worse yet, it ignores the magnanimous mercy and grace of Christ and the sacrifice he made so that we, through his poverty, might become truly rich.
(6) Giving that magnifies the glory of God is not percentage giving but proportionate giving (2 Cor. 8:12).
Paul reminds the Corinthians that all giving is to be proportionate to wealth. He says, in v. 12, that “if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (cf. also v. 11b where giving is “out of what you have”). God does not ask us to give beyond our means, but it is certainly permissible if we do (as in the case of the Macedonians; see v. 3). The apostle wrote much the same thing in 1 Cor. 16:2, telling them that each “is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper.” Paul's words in v. 12 indicate that he is not suggesting that the Corinthians (or anyone else, for that matter) borrow money in order to give. He assumes that they have “disposable income” from which they might draw to provide the needed help. At minimum, we should be extremely cautious about going into debt to make financial contributions.
(7) Giving that glorifies God must be voluntary, not coerced or forced (2 Cor. 9:1-5).
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:5 – “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.” I’m inclined to see here two ways that Paul envisioned securing their participation in the offering: either voluntarily or by pressure. On the one hand, Paul does not want them to give simply because he’s an apostle and they are bowing to his authority (although there’s nothing inherently wrong with that). Neither fear of him nor guilt over sins committed nor the pride that results in a competitive drive to exceed the Macedonians would constitute the kind of giving that he will later say results in God’s bountiful supply. “I want it to spring spontaneously and joyfully from your heart,” says Paul. “I want it to be primarily your idea, not mine. You’ve already shown a willingness in this regard that even stirred the Macedonians. So now bring it to fruition. Don’t humiliate yourselves by a failure to follow through on your promise, and don’t put me in the position of having to exercise an authority to exact from you a grudging and unwilling gift.”
(8) Giving that glorifies God must be bountiful, so as to ensure a bountiful return (2 Cor. 9:6).
Says Paul: “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (v. 6). Doesn’t this play directly into the hands of the proponents of prosperity? There it is: give a lot so you can get a lot. On the one hand, bountiful giving does result in bountiful getting. But bountiful getting, as he will make clear in the verses that follow, isn’t for hoarding or padding one’s retirement account or moving up in scale from a Buick to a Bentley. It’s for more, greater, effusive bountiful giving. So what constitutes “bountiful” sowing?
First, one must take account the means of the giver. Giving that is bountiful is in proportion to one’s wealth (cf. 8:3,11,12; 1 Cor. 16:2). Second, bountiful giving is determined by the mind of the giver. This means that it is possible to give much but to sow sparingly. So what kind of “mind” or “heart” or “spirit” or “attitude” does Paul have in view, the sort that turns even a quantitatively small gift into a bountiful and generous sowing of seed? The answer comes, at least in part, in v. 7, and leads to our next principle.
(9) Giving that glorifies God must be glad-hearted and free (2 Cor. 9:7).
There’s no escaping the fact that when it comes to money, motivation matters: “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7).
Giving is a universal responsibility. “Each one,” says Paul, which is to say every one, should be energetically engaged in this act of stewardship (see also 1 Cor. 16:2). No one is exempt. Indeed, why would they want to be? The phrase “as he has made up his mind” employs a verb found only here in the NT. Its focus is on personal deliberation and freedom of choice. Giving is never to be impulsive or careless or lacking in preparation and planning. Think about what you are doing. More importantly, think about why you are doing it. Pray about it. Plan it. Pursue it in a calculated and intentional way.
Sowing a bountiful seed, the sort that reaps a corresponding bountiful harvest, must be devoid of reluctance. Others translate this word “with regret” or “grudgingly” or “out of sorrow.” Paul’s point is that our giving must never be accompanied by a sense of loss or by the sorrow that comes from thinking about what we otherwise might have done with the money. If your giving is characterized by grief over what you might have gotten had you kept the money for yourself, God is not pleased. If your giving is accompanied by fantasies of the physical and material comforts that might otherwise have been obtained, God is not pleased.
Neither is God pleased when we give under the gun, or to use Paul’s phrase, under compulsion. Are we concerned about what the church treasurer will think when he issues our end-of-year giving statement? Do we give to impress pastoral leaders and others in the church with our generosity? Do we give in the same way we pay our income tax, from a sense of legal obligation or even fear of criminal prosecution? Do we give because everyone else does? Paul doesn’t want the awkwardness or pressure of the moment to influence their decision. He doesn’t want the weight of his apostolic authority to exert undue influence on their choice.
But does the intent of the heart really affect the moral value of the act? The only way to answer that question is by looking at the close of v. 7. We must be diligent to avoid monetary regret when we give and we must never contribute under compulsion “for God loves a cheerful giver”!
Needless to say, if God loves a cheerful giver, he is displeased when people give but don’t do it gladly, even if their giving is generous in terms of quantity. “When people don’t find pleasure (Paul's word is ‘cheer’!) in their acts of service, God doesn’t find pleasure in them” (Piper, Desiring God, 104).
The “cheerful” giver is the one whose heart is rapturously filled with the knowledge of the goodness and greatness of God, whose mind is captivated by the beauty of Christ, whose soul is satisfied with all that we have in him, and who, in spite of all adversity and in defiance of every circumstance, rejoices with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). Such a giver God loves!
(10) Giving that glorifies God is giving that gets in order to give (2 Cor. 9:8-11).
“But what will become of me if I sow bountifully? Will there be enough for my needs? Will I be able to provide for my family? What about the next offering? Will there be anything left to contribute to what may prove to be an even greater cause than the former one? Worse still, what’s to prevent my generosity from creating a financial crisis of my own? After all, an unexpected downturn in the market could put me in the position of being the next person who’s dependent on the church for survival.”
Paul addressed this fear in v. 6, declaring that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Most folk believe the opposite: If you want more, give less. But Paul says, if you want more, give more. But how can this be? The answer is given in vv. 8-11.
Clearly, God promises to supply abundantly those who give generously. Paul wants the Corinthians to be free from the fear that generous giving will leave them impoverished. His language is effusive and unmistakable: “God is able to make all grace abound to you” . . . God “will supply and multiply your seed” . . . and “you will be enriched in every way”. So, does that mean the prosperity people were right after all? Well, not exactly. One must never claim a promise without noting its purpose. In other words, we must ask the question, to what end or for what purpose or with what goal in mind does God cause the generous Christian steward to abound? Simply put, why does God promise financial abundance to those who cheerfully and freely give to others? Paul says it three times over (note the italicized words):
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (v. 8).
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (v. 10).
“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (v. 11).
This is not a guarantee that our circumstances will improve or that we will be insulated against suffering and hardship. Don’t forget his earlier description of the Macedonians who were recipients of this marvelous and effusive grace and yet were not spared from “a severe test of affliction” nor delivered from “extreme poverty” (2 Cor. 8:2).
Rather, God’s promise is that he will never stir your heart to give and then fail to supply you with resources to do so. But the idea that we should give so that God will enrich us personally with a view to increasing our comfort and convenience and purchasing power is foreign to Paul's teaching. Personal wealth is here viewed, not as an end in itself, but as a means to a yet higher goal: continued generosity to those in need. The principle at work in this divine scenario is that if you give generously now you will discover that God not only sustains your desire to give but will greatly increase your resources for yet more joyful and even more glorious giving in the future. The point is that we receive in order to give, not in order to hoard.