In all Giving, God gets the Glory! (2 Cor. 9:12-15)
Why is it that we are so quick and easily inclined to take credit for what God has done? Of course, I know the answer. Sins such as pride, arrogance, selfish ambition, combined with an ignorance of the antecedence of divine grace, all converge to make it feel natural. If we are to avoid falling into this horrific trap, we must remind ourselves often that God is always antecedent; his gracious work in us always precedes and makes possible whatever work we in turn do for others.
This is certainly the case when it comes to the stewardship of our finances, as we have already seen on several occasions here in 2 Corinthians 8-9. The fact that God is always prior, that his grace awakens, supplies, and sustains our giving in no way diminishes the virtue of our actions. I doubt if anyone this side of heaven will ever adequately account for this. Explaining how the antecedence of divine sovereignty is perfectly consistent with subsequent human responsibility is certainly beyond my abilities. Perhaps all that we need to know at present is that it’s biblical.
So, as we bring our study of these two chapters to a close, I want once again for you to observe how definitive Paul is in making certain that all glory and honor and credit go to God for our giving.
Yes, this “ministry” of “service” undoubtedly supplied the needs of the saints in Jerusalem. They were greatly and gloriously sustained and helped by the generous offering of the saints in Macedonia, Corinth, and elsewhere (v. 12). What an incredible blessing this is to behold and to see how it builds and nourishes mutual love and fellowship among the saints (“they long for you and pray for you,” v. 14).
Yes, the Corinthians will be seen to have submitted to this task, an obedience that is the fruit of their embrace of the gospel.
Yes, the Corinthians will be known as a people overflowing in goodness. The “generosity” of their “contribution” will be acknowledged by all (v. 13).
But make no mistake about it. God was beneath and behind it all! Look again at what Paul says:
“For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:12-15).
Note first that “the thanksgiving is given to the ultimate benefactor, God, not to the intermediaries, the Corinthians” (Harris, 646; v. 12b). Paul made this crystal clear in v. 11 when he acknowledged that human generosity produces “thanksgiving to God.” Why would God be thanked if the ultimate and sufficient cause of this ministry was in the hearts of the Corinthians? Credit to whom credit is due! God is thanked because he is the one who stirred and sustained their commitment to give. This, in fact, is our ultimate aim in giving: the glory of God!
Furthermore, why will they “glorify God” for the willing submission and obedient confession and generous contribution of the Corinthians (v. 13)? Again, the only credible explanation is that God is the gracious source of their virtuous acts. God had imparted the desire to give and had provided the resources to fulfill it. The giver always gets the glory.
Note also that it was “because of the surpassing grace of God” (v. 14) “upon” and in the Corinthians that this offering first took shape and was finally consummated. It is only appropriate, therefore, that “thanks” be given “to God for his inexpressible gift” (v. 15).
Finally, consider again Paul’s use of the word for “grace” (charis) throughout these two chapters. We first saw how God gives “grace” to his people (see 8:1 and 9:14), enabling their hearts to overcome covetousness and greed and experience the joy of generosity. Then, secondly, the word “grace” is used to describe the very gift itself, the money that the Corinthians happily sent to Jerusalem (see 8:7). Finally, this leads to the giving of “thanks” (the Greek word is eu-charis-tia) to God for this remarkable scenario. Paul wants to make sure that God is seen as both first and last: his grace generates the giving, the goal of which is the glory of God!
What is God's “inexpressible gift” for which Paul and all others offer thanks? Is it “the surpassing grace of God” operative in the Corinthians, mentioned in v. 14 (cf. 8:1)? Or is it God’s gracious gift of Jesus (2 Cor. 8:9) who, though rich, impoverished himself to make us rich? The answer is both! As Tasker said, Jesus Christ is “the divine gift which inspires all gifts.”
That said, the gift that transcends human speech is preeminently Jesus himself. Throughout his letters Paul employs every manner of speech, a vast array of adjectives, and the most vivid imagery imaginable to describe the splendor and sufficiency of God’s gift to us in Christ Jesus. But there are limits to the mind of man. There are times when our dictionaries prove deficient. When explanation fails, exclamation takes over. When words fall short, wonder ensues. Jesus is, as Paul says, “inexpressible” (the word he uses is found only here in all the NT). He is ineffable, and leaves the adoring soul stunned, speechless, and gasping for breath.
And now, before closing our study of these two chapters in 2 Corinthians, a brief summary of the twelve principles of Christian stewardship is in order.
(1) Giving is always and ever the fruit of an antecedent work of divine grace. We are energized to give and find the resources for doing so because God has graciously stirred and sustained our concern for others and then supplied us with seed for sowing (2 Cor. 8:1; cf. 1 Chron. 29:12-19). God is always and ever the reservoir. We are the pipes.
(2) Giving is to be in proportion to wealth. Precisely what percentage that might be is never stated by Paul and was obviously of no concern to him (2 Cor. 8:3,11,12; 9:8-11; cf. 1 Cor. 16:2).
(3) Giving is to be regarded as a privilege; indeed, it is an act of worship and praise (2 Cor. 8:4; cf. Phil. 4:15-18).
(4) Giving is to be voluntary, not forced, pressured, or “under the gun” (2 Cor. 8:3,11-12; 9:5,7).
(5) Giving is to be preceded by the dedication and consecration of oneself to the Lord’s work in whatever capacity possible (2 Cor. 8:5).
(6) Giving is to be characterized by a spirit of reciprocity (2 Cor. 8:13-15). When we consider the plight of those in need, let us never forget that the day may come when we ourselves may be dependent on them.
(7) The administration of Christian giving should take into consideration the wise principles that governed Paul's approach to the collection: test and approve those who are entrusted with financial matters in the church; never entrust such matters to one person alone; such people should have a good reputation in the church and in the surrounding community (2 Cor. 8:16-24)
(8) Giving is not to be impetuous but rather characterized by forethought and prayer (2 Cor. 9:7).
(9) Giving must never be poisoned by regret over what we perceive has been lost or by covetousness for what we might otherwise have purchased for ourselves (2 Cor. 9:5,7).
(10) Giving should always be cheerful and joyous (2 Cor. 9:7).
(11) Giving should not be undertaken with a view to personal enrichment. Rather, one should give with the expectation that God will supply the giver with abundance for additional giving (2 Cor. 9:8-11).
(12) All giving should find its source, power, and pattern in the grace of God in Christ (2 Cor. 8:1,9; 9:14-15). In view of the indescribable, inexpressible, and ultimately unfathomable gift of the Father in and through the Son, generosity on our part should never be constrained but rather flow freely from a heart set free from sin and selfishness.