Many people ask about tithing, giving, sowing, reaping, and other things related to giving money from a Christian perspective. The prosperity teaching assures us that if we give then God will give back to us. If we give or tithe to a local church, then we are guaranteed a financial blessing from God because of that giving. The problem with this approach to giving is that it is not supported by the Scriptures. The bible does not reveal a spiritual investment policy to obtain wealth or to be blessed.
This study is designed to reveal to you what the bible really teaches about giving and the motive behind that giving. It reveals not only giving, but also receiving from God. Some call it the principle of sowing and reaping. However, the principle, in my opinion, is misunderstood or misrepresented by many including those who call themselves ministers or bible teachers. The bible is very clear on how we are to give and how we get our needs met.
I hope that after completing this study, that you would have a better understanding of giving based on scripture and practice what you have learned.
The poor Jewish believers in Judea were experiencing extreme hardships because of famine outbreaks during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41 – 54 AD) that ravaged the land. This along with them being ostracized by Jews only exacerbated their situation. The church at Antioch (Syria) was quick to send aid via the Apostle Paul and Barnabas (See Acts 11:27-30). Paul also solicited aid from the Galatian church. The Macedonian church heard about the needs of the believers in Judea and asked vehemently to contribute in aiding them.
The City of Corinth
The city of Corinth was first inhabited in the Neolithic period (5000 – 3000 BC). It flourished as a major Greek city from the 8th century BC until 146 BC. Corinth was strategically located on a plateau overlooking the Isthmus of Corinth (See figure 1 below). The Isthmus of Corinth joined the Peloponnese peninsula and mainland Greece. Corinth was in such a geographical location that it controlled the east-west trade routes along with the north-south shipping routes.
Corinth was destroyed in 146 B.C. by the Romans because Corinth had participated in a revolt against Rome. The men of the city were killed and the women and children were sold into slavery. It was rebuilt in 46 B.C by Julius Caesar and established as a Roman colony. It was comprised of retired soldiers and freedmen. These were typically poor people. In 27 B.C. Corinth was designated as the capital of the province by Emperor Augustus Caesar.
Figure 1 - Map Showing Corinth[i]
After only a few decades after it was rebuilt, it became a major center for trade and industry. It also hosted the temple of Aphrodite (the goddess of love, fertility, and beauty), and the sanctuary of Asclepius (the god of healing). Corinth was also known for its commercialized pleasure, i.e., sexual immorality.
At its height, Corinth had about 500,000 slaves and 200 non-slaves. Corinth’s population was comprised of local Greeks, Asians, Jews, and Italians. Based on what we see in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the population was comprised mostly of uneducated people of the lower class.
The Macedonian Church Gives
Versus 1 – 8 describes the actions of the Macedonian churches, which Paul uses to encourage the Corinthian church to give as they had promised. God’s grace was manifested through the churches of Macedonia. Paul says that the Macedonian churches were in extreme poverty and afflicted and yet they gave abundantly to help the believers in Judea. An important note here is that Paul equates the generosity of the Macedonian churches with the grace of God as if God was working through them.
Though the Macedonian church gave abundantly, they gave according to what they could afford and even beyond that according to Paul. The Macedonian churches earnestly wanted to give to help the believers in Judea and begged Paul for the privilege of sharing with them. Paul emphasizes that the Macedonians gave voluntarily. It is important to note that the Macedonians gave even though they were impoverished. Their giving was to help other Christians who were in the same boat as they were so to speak. They gave out of their poverty to help others who were in poverty (persecution).
Previously the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians was strained. The Corinthians had questioned Paul’s authority as an apostle among other things. The relationship is now improved even as Paul dealt with some of the troubling issues in this letter. After dealing with those things, he moves on to their previous commitment to help the church in Judea. The Corinthian’s initial zeal to give may have been affected by the strained relationship between them and Paul. Paul urged Titus to spark the once eager desire of the Macedonian church to give.
Consider what Paul specifically says about the Macedonian Church.
- The grace of God had been given to them. This suggests that Paul believed that the grace of God caused the Macedonian church to give
- They were being afflicted severely
- They had an abundance of joy
- They had extreme poverty
- They had a wealth of generosity
- They gave according to what they had and perhaps more
- They gave voluntarily
- They begged Paul for the opportunity to help the Church at Jerusalem
- They gave themselves to the Lord and then to Paul for service.
In verse 8, Paul made it clear that what he was telling the Macedonian church about giving to assist the believers in Judea was not a command, but rather that they give voluntarily according to what they could afford to give. Paul is evaluating the genuineness of their love, which was expressed by their previous desire to help.
Finish What You Started
In verses 9 through 11, Paul encourages or even admonishes the Macedonian church to finish what they started. He said that a year prior, they had started to do something about the situation with the church in Judea and they desired to do so. That tells us that they were not coerced into helping, but rather that they genuinely wanted to help and began to do so.
Paul also makes a statement that I believe is important to consider. He said that Jesus was made poor so that they would be rich through his (Jesus’) poverty. It has been said by many ministers that Jesus was rich. It has been said that Jesus was so rich that he needed a treasurer to keep the money. However, reading the Gospels, we do not get the picture of Jesus being rich. I wouldn’t say he was destitute, but he was not a rich man. He had a treasury because people supported him as he ministered and he therefore needed someone to handle those donations. That doesn’t mean that he was rich.
The bible never reveals that Jesus had a house of his own. We never read about him going to his own home where the disciples stayed with him for a while or something like that. Jesus was technically homeless. He and his disciples stayed wherever people would welcome them. Contrast Jesus’ ministry lifestyle with his heavenly position, you can clearly see that he gave up a lot to come down to earth to save us from our sins. This ethical situation, so to speak, is what Paul was most likely referring to. It is doubtful that Paul was only talking about Jesus’ economic condition given what Paul goes on to say. Jesus gave up a lot for us because of grace, and likewise the Corinthian church should give to help those in need.
In verse 12, Paul says that their readiness to give is acceptable according to what they have, not what they don’t have. Paul describes how their abundance can be used to help another’s lack and later how another’s abundance may in turn be used for their lack. When you are in a position to do000000000000000000 good and have something to do it with, then do it (See Proverbs 3:27).
Verse 15 is a very powerful passage of scripture that highlights the purpose of our abundance.
2 Corinthians 8:15 (ESV) — 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
That is from Exodus 16:18, where when God provided manna from heaven, everyone happened to gather what they needed. Of all the manna that came down, everyone received their daily bread so to speak. The same concept can be applied to our giving. God’s blessing is on all his people. Sometimes we manifest an abundance where we can help someone else and at other times we are in need of that help, which is subsequently provided by someone else. This implies that the blessings of God is not merely for ourselves, but so that we can provide for those who are in need.
Titus and the Brothers
Titus was sent to the Macedonians to get things ready for them to give. Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians to give proof of the love they professed. This act of giving is seen as proof of their love in addition to the grace of God working through them.
In verses 1 thru 5, Paul tells the Corinthian church that he is sending brethren to them ahead of time so that they would have their promised gift prepared. Paul had been bragging to the Macedonian church about the Corinthian church and their desire to help the church in Judea. He wanted to be sure that their gift was ready when he arrived at Corinth so as not to be embarrassed about his confidence in them if they were not ready. Paul again makes the point that the gift should be voluntary and not something done out of obligation.
Sowing and Reaping
Paul goes on to make a point about sowing and reaping. I suppose this could be what is called the law of sowing and reaping.
2 Corinthians 9:6 (ESV) — The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
See also the following passages of scripture: Proverbs 11:24-25, 19:17, 22:9, Luke 6:38, Deuteronomy 15:10.
Paul used a well-known principle from farming to illustrate his point. A farmer knows that the more seeds he sows, the greater the harvest he will reap. If he skimps on sowing seed, then he will get less of a harvest. Therefore, the farmer does not consider sowing the seed as a loss of seed because the harvest will produce much more seed to sow later. The farmer knows that in order to get the optimum harvest, he must sow as much seed as he can.
Paul applies this sowing and reaping principle with giving to help those who are in need, i.e., the poor. The idea is not that the person doing the sowing will benefit materialistically. The idea is that the more you sow, the more that someone else will benefit as well as yourself. Paul also points out that God is the giver of the seed to sow.
The prosperity teaching of today perverts what Paul is saying here. There are many ministers who use verse 6 to show that in order to gain more for ourselves, we must give more. The giving that they refer to is not to give to the poor or to help someone in need. It is rather to give to a local church or to a man or woman of God. These ministers have deceived people into thinking that if they give to their local church that God will somehow bless them abundantly and materially. The bible does not support that teaching at all. The money that we receive is not to be thought of as solely for ourselves. What God gives us should be shared with others as much as possible (See Matthew 19:21). God does not bless us materially so that we can consume things on our own lusts (James 4:2-3). The more we sow, the more we reap. The more we reap, the more we sow in order to help others more and more.
The Cheerful Giver
Paul continues by making the point that each person should give what they have decided to give. Their giving should not be from obligation or coercion. They should be cheerful in their giving in the sense that they are glad to help others with what they have. The amount of the gift isn’t as important as the heart motivation of the gift. Blessings from giving do not come if one is giving only to receive something from God. The bible does not reveal giving as an investment strategy. Be happy about helping others. Be like your heavenly Father who is always looking out for the poor to help them and provide for them. Sow your seed so that you will have a harvest to help others even more.
When we give in this manner, i.e., cheerfully, then we can have confidence in knowing that God can make all grace abound to us, so that we will have sufficiency in all things at all times, and that we may abound in every good work (helping the poor).
Verse 10 reveals a very important concept with regards to giving and God’s provision.
2 Corinthians 9:10 (ESV) — 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.
- God provides resources so that we can give to those who are in need
- God provides what we need for our own lives
- God will increase our resources so that we can give even more to those in need
- We will receive a return of our righteousness, i.e., a spiritual return (See Matthew 19:21)
- Our generosity in helping others will bring praises and glory to God
Examining 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 has revealed some very important points regarding giving, sowing, and reaping. We see the false teaching regarding giving and the truth regarding giving.
The false teaching about giving is that the more we give, the more we get. It is also false teaching that merely giving to the local church (i.e., going through the motions) will somehow provide a blessing to you. These concepts are not revealed in scripture. Giving to a local church or even giving to help others should not be to gain blessings merely for ourselves, but rather to help others.
It is interesting that scripture does not teach us to focus on the local church and provide for it. Instead we are to care for each other. The current church organization is a man-made construct. Jesus did not die for us to form denominations and the corresponding local church organizations. Somehow this concept has been lost. We are led to believe that our priority is to give more and more to local churches and ministries, when at the same time, we may be neglecting people right next to us that need our help (See Mark 7:8-13 as an example).
This is not to say that we should not support the local church. Some local churches are truly about the work of ministry and they reach out to help the poor, not only with material things, but also spiritual. In addition to that and more important is that many churches are truly about the ministry of Jesus Christ. They proclaim the word of God to the community around them and beyond.
To elaborate here, it is false doctrine to give to a local church or ministry in hopes of gaining more for oneself. There is a common saying, “Have a need, plant a seed.” Actually, the bible reveals that when we have a need, that the church should give to provide for our needs (e.g., Acts 2:44-45). Sometime in the future, we will then be in a position to help someone else that is in need. We need to be more people-centric instead of religion-centric.
The Truth About Giving
God provides the resources that we use for ourselves and for others. The purpose of the blessings that we receive is not to merely consume it on ourselves, but to enable us to give increasingly more as the blessings of God increases. The more we get, the more we can help others.
We notice that the work of ministry in the context of this study is in helping others. It had nothing to do with an established church structure or general ministry. God is concerned about the poor and we see from the Old and New Testaments that God worked through people to meet their needs. For example, the tithe was established as a way to provide for the Levites, widows, orphans, and foreigners. Harvesters were to leave the corners of their fields unharvested and not to go back and pick up any dropped items, but rather to leave them for the poor who would come to glean the fields (See Leviticus 23:22)
Be generous and help those who are poor around you. Help those who are in need. Do not put religious obligations ahead of the general concern and care (love) for other people.
We learn from Paul here the importance and blessing associated with helping the poor. Yes, there are blessings and provisions for ourselves when we help, but that gain enables us to be generous even more.
Some Things To Consider
Here are some things that you may consider based on what we have learned in this study.
- Where should I give?
- How can I better help those in need around me?
- Do I trust God enough for me to give and trust that my giving will not lead to insufficiency?
- Am I truly a cheerful giver or do I give because of what I was told?
- Am I in a Christian community where we help one another?