God expects us to be generous stewards of our many resources.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for 2 Corinthians 9:1-15
God does expect Christians to take care of one another, something the Corinthians had evidently promised to do. But when Paul heard they may be lagging in their commitment, he spoke strongly about the need and the benefit for giving—people praise God when we are generous in His name.
Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
[Throughout the years, I have produced a newsletter for teachers to help with that week's Bible study. I'm going through the very slow process of online-ifying old lessons in order to easily reference past ideas and topics.]
Getting Started: Things to Think About
God Loves a Cheerful Giver
“But He’ll take it from an old grouch” is how an older church member friend always ended that verse. Ask your class, “What do Americans spend their money on?” I had a bear of a time finding realistic answers to this because the demographics skew so heavily, and a small number of wealthy spenders throw off the entire picture. This chart from CNN Money seems the most reasonable:
In a monthly budget, this would be Housing 33%, Personal Care/Grooming 1.3%, Education 1.4%, Miscellaneous 1.8%, Alcohol 1.6%, Contributions 3.3%, Clothing 3.5%, Entertainment 5.4%, Health 7%, Insurance 11%, Food 13%, Transportation 18%. (This seems to be after taxes.) I think we can safely argue that all of those categories are defensible (except maybe the alcohol, but this isn’t a lesson about alcohol so don’t get distracted!)—we need to get around, we need to wear clothes, we’re supposed to enjoy life. The question is “how much do we need to spend on those items?” I read the 2011 Discretionary Spending Report from Experian, and it included an index of statements like “Everything I wear is of the highest quality” or “I consider my diet to be very healthy”. That gets into “discretionary spending”:
“Discretionary income is the amount of an individual's income that is left for spending, investing or saving after paying taxes and paying for personal necessities, such as food, shelter and clothing. Discretionary income includes money spent on luxury items, vacations, and nonessential goods and services.”
I would say it also includes choosing to buy more car or house than you really need, more expensive clothes than you really need, etc.
In our passage this week, Paul is commending Christians for giving generously to people in need in Jerusalem. Let's distinguish two concepts:
“Generous” means taking money you could spend on yourself and giving to someone else.
“Sacrificial” would mean cutting into your own needs in order to help someone else.
I say lots more in the rest of this handout!
Multiple Big Idea ideas this week, so let's go through them.
This Week's Big Idea: A Balanced and Faithful Budget at Church
When we read Paul’s requests in this passage, I we might all be tempted to have our church immediately send all of our offerings to missionaries serving around the world! But before we do that, let me explain Paul’s request in context.
Paul wasn’t asking for money for missionaries or evangelism: Jerusalem was in the midst of a famine, and the Christians there were in a crisis. This was essentially a disaster relief offering. Paul had great respect for that first church and wanted them to know that these newer churches supported them (but he still included language in his letters to make it clear that this wasn’t a bribe). This wasn’t money for the “institution” but rather for individual members (mostly widows without an income). This is very different than what we think of making a sacrificial offering toward today.
That said, Paul’s word still means to us as a church that we should always be thinking about how we can bless others with our budget. And here’s the thing: that’s complicated. Consider all of these priorities:
We bless moms by having a safe nursery/Sunday School for their children, and teachers who are equipped to build them up in the Lord
We bless our eldest members by having comfortable chairs and well-conditioned spaces for them to study and fellowship together
We bless our guests by having a place where they can clearly hear the Word of God explained to them without distraction
We bless God by giving Him our best in terms of the use of our talents in worship and the facility to maximize those talents
We bless our community by offering quality and attractive opportunities for them to hear about Jesus and respond to the gospel
We bless our city by paying our bills, maintaining our campus, and offering a safe place where residents are welcome
And that’s before we even get into obvious items like missionary support, disaster relief support, benevolence, and so on. Have you thought about it that way?
So, now consider all of these balances:
If we choose to have a building, that building will be our community’s impression of what we think about our responsibility to God. In addition to being safe and usable, it needs to be worthy. But at what point have we “overspent” on unnecessary comforts or frills?
If we choose to offer material support to people in other communities, remember that our first responsibility is to members of our church—financial relief and also the materials we need to productively encounter God with one another. But at what point are we simply spoiling ourselves?
If we choose to have a staff, we must treat them well and take care of them financially (the worker is worth his keep). But at what point are we simply paying someone else to do work that we should be doing ourselves?
Tough questions! Over time, churches tend to start spending more on themselves; it’s a natural progression. And so we should be diligent about our budget, making sure that we are keeping the needs of others in front of our own needs. You’ll be amazed how much FBC gives toward the kinds of needs Paul described.
This Week's Bonus Big Idea: How Baptists Maximize Their Money
Missionary endeavors have changed quite a bit in the past century. International “diplomacy” has changed; it is very expensive to maintain the infrastructure necessary for mission work to happen safely and effectively (i.e. long-term impact). Plus the cost of living continues to increase around the world. Southern Baptists realized a long time ago that we would be better served by paying a staff of people to support missionaries so they could focus on sharing the gospel and planting churches rather than searching for healthcare, the local embassy, and wondering if they have a safe place to go in times of unrest. And so we created the Cooperative Program. In Georgia, we voluntarily give to the state offering, and they send a percentage on to the national offering (with The Southern Baptist Convention).
The state uses some of that money to support struggling churches, to take care of orphans (Children’s Home), and to take care of elderly saints (Retirement Centers)—exactly the things Paul was asking the church in Corinth to support. At First Baptist Church, we have put a number of such needs directly into our Operating Budget: Manna, our local Baptist Association, our radio broadcast (listened to by homebound members and more), Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries (which survives only by direct support), and all of the ministries we operate around here. But in addition, we also have our own “cooperative program mission offering”, the Go and Tell Fund (see below for more information about that) as well as supporting the mission offerings for Georgia Mission, Lottie Moon, and Annie Armstrong.
As a church, if we want to increase our support for those needs—in addition to all of the things we currently support through our tithes (remember, a percentage of everything you give to the church automatically goes toward these needs)—we can give directly to the Go and Tell Fund, and we can ask our church to increase our budget allocation to the Cooperative Program in the next budget year. And additionally in addition, I know that many church members take it upon themselves to help people in need; they don’t wait for the church to do it.
What the Cooperative Program (CP) Supports
At the national level: 50% goes to the International Mission Board, 23% to the North American Mission Board, 22% to the 6 SBC seminaries, 2% to our Religious Liberty Commission, and 3% to operating expenses.
For the IMB, 83% of their budget goes toward missionaries. The average missionary costs $60,000/year to support.
For the NAMB, 52% of their budget goes toward sponsoring church plants, 9% toward evangelistic efforts, 23% toward mission support, and 15% toward administration.
At the state level: 40% of giving is sent national, 14% goes to our 3 Baptist colleges and Retirement Home, and then the remaining 46% is split into
Business services 5%
Church revitalization 2%
Church planting 5%
College ministry 10%
Church ministry 15%
Capital improvements 1%
The math doesn’t add up because they include other sources of income in their totals (making it somewhat annoying to track). The point is that our state convention/mission board is doing the work Paul talks about in our passage.
The question will always be how to “minimize overhead”. Everyone has different ideas about that, and I think each church simply prays for God’s guidance and a clear conscience on their uses of money.
[Editor's note: between the time I originally wrote this and added it to our website, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board has undertaken a massive restructuring and divesting process designed specifically to reduce overhead and put more money into ministry. It was difficult and controversial, but they stuck to it and have had tremendous results.]
Part 1: Confidence Expressed (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)
Now concerning the ministry to the saints, it is unnecessary for me to write to you. For I know your eagerness, and I boast about you to the Macedonians: “Achaia has been ready since last year,” and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you in this matter would not prove empty, and so that you would be ready just as I said. Otherwise, if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we, not to mention you, would be put to shame in that situation. Therefore I considered it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance the generous gift you promised, so that it will be ready as a gift and not as an extortion.
This points back to an instruction in 1 Cor 16:1-4. Paul is collecting money to take to Christians in great need in Jerusalem, and he has asked the Corinthians to set aside some money each week so that when Paul comes, they will have it ready for him to take to Jerusalem. Apparently, they have been slacking in their collection. (Perhaps people have been withholding their gifts in protest to the mess the church has been in.) Paul says there are no excuses for being miserly. In 2 Cor 8, (1) he uses the Macedonians as an example of sacrificial giving—they were in poverty themselves but still gave to Jerusalem. (2) He promises to be accountable for the use of the money. And then here he hits them with a third motivation:
The word for “ministry” is the same word from which we get “deacon” (waiting on tables). In the early Christian church, this referred to serving church members in need and being responsible (good stewards) with those resources. Those things are embedded in Paul’s use of this word. But Paul mentions that he has been “bragging” about Corinthian generosity. That might sound a bit manipulative to us, but in reality the Corinthians themselves had in the past made big promises about how they would support Paul’s offering. In other words, the Corinthians had “written big checks” with their mouths, and Paul was coming to cash them.
There are two important truths here, and you can emphasize either one.
Don’t make financial promises that you won’t keep. Our church doesn’t use the pledge model, but a lot of churches do, and this can be a big problem for them.
Analyze Paul’s methods for encouraging giving. What do you think about them? We all know of Christian leaders who have used questionable methods to pressure people into giving, and I don’t think God is pleased with that at all. Paul makes it clear that this offering must not be “extortion” (which meant the same thing then as it does now) but a true gift.
Aside: The 10-10-80 Budget Rule
When Shelly and I got married, we were both relatively new Christians, and we certainly had no training in Christian household management (no training in budgeting of any kind). When we read about “sowing generously”, we thought it was a great idea, but we had no discipline to do it well or wisely.
Here’s a rule someone taught us early on: give 10% of your income to the church, save 10%, and live off of the remaining 80%. Dave Ramsey would tell you to save 15%. You may want to give sacrificially and cheerfully, but you still need to fulfill your financial obligations and prepare for the future (be responsible so your church won’t have to take care of you). Your 10% tithe and 10% savings are to be considered “bills” like a car payment and electricity bill.
So if you want to give sacrificially, you look at the 80% of your income that you live on. What expenses can you cut back? Can you reduce your food costs? Maybe go out one less evening a week? Buy a cheaper car than you were planning on? Maybe not take that vacation? But then here’s the thing—you take that extra money and you give it away to people in need (I would recommend going through reputable agencies like the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home or Manna Ministries). It’s an expectation that a Christian will have a balanced home budget; we should never spend more than we make. Sacrificing wants in order to afford a tithe is not “giving sacrificially”—it’s an expectation from God. Rather, Paul is talking about cutting into our other wants so that we can give above and beyond the tithe, spending our “me” money on others.
Part 2: Benefits Found (2 Corinthians 9:6-11)
The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. As it is written: He distributed freely; he gave to the poor; his righteousness endures forever. Now the one who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will also provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us.
Here, Paul gives us a much-loved truth—think of all the different parts of life in which this is true (work, investments, forgiveness, exercise, friends, benevolence, etc.). But mention this as well: “health and wealth preachers” (which we have discussed in various lessons over the years) twist this truth into manipulating people to give to their ministry: “give generously to me, and God will bless you with material wealth”. We all know that’s not what Paul is saying, so . . . what is Paul saying? Well, Paul has just spent two letters to the Corinthians convincing them that material wealth and worldly success is no measure of God’s blessing or human faithfulness, right?
And then Paul gives what I think is the best “command” for Christian giving: give what you have decided in your heart. People ask me, “Do I have to tithe?” The answer is always no; we truly have freedom in Christ. BUT—Christians are to give generously and in thanksgiving for all God has done for us. Think back to that chart on the first page: the average person spends almost twice as much on personal entertainment as on contributions. Does that sound generous? Here’s how I approach it: how much money do I spend on myself and how much do I spend on others? Do I feel generous? God has lavishly blessed us in Jesus Christ; we should do the same for the rest of the world. And then look at what God promises in return: we will have grace and everything we need. Just ask we should not ask for more than “our daily bread”, we should not expect more than we need—and what we need is enough. Giving sacrificially is an act of faith that God will always make sure we have what we need. Paul quotes Psalm 112:9, that God ultimately takes care of all people (He sends rain on the righteous and the wicked) because it is the right thing to do. We should trust God and follow His lead.
Aside: Georgia Baptist Children’s Home
May 13 was the “official” offering day for the GBCH (Mother's Day). Our church gives regularly to them through our Go and Tell Fund (see below), so we advertised it without emphasizing it. However, for other KBA church members reading this handout, let me encourage you to make sure that your class members know that our Children’s Home is always in need of generous donations! Go to http://www.gbchfm.org/The-Messenger for a great magazine with lots of valuable information about the ministry and need.
Part 3: Adoration Gained (2 Corinthians 9:12-15)
For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the proof provided by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedient confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone. And as they pray on your behalf, they will have deep affection for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
And Paul does give a worldly benefit for Corinthian generosity (and no, they didn’t have tax deductions then): people will hear of it and glorify God on their behalf. You’ve heard me say that the response we want to a service is not “what an excellent sermon” or “what excellent musicianship” but “what an excellent God they serve”. That is our greatest reward, for people to observe our life and realize how wonderful God is. Don’t thank the person for the large donation, thank God for giving that person the opportunity to demonstrate their faithfulness. For example, today our church will have a special offering to retire the debt on the former dry cleaners building. I know we will all be amazed and encouraged when we see how generous our church can be uniting behind a vision for doing something that can be of benefit to our community.
And I would end the lesson with something like this. In my life and ministry, the greatest encouragements I have had have been when learning about how generous church members have been with their time, money, and other resources. If you want proof of how much someone trusts and obeys God, it’s in the ways they have helped people in need. As a pastor, I hear about generosity that people prefer to be anonymous, so I’ll just say that we have a lot of generous people in our church family who take care of one another. Perhaps folks in your class can share stories they have heard—omit the names out of respect for privacy—of Christian generosity around here.
And finally, look at the response. Most of us won’t be able to literally repay someone for their generosity toward us, but we can pray to God that God will bless them in every way of grace and that God will continue to bless them financially so they can continue to be generous with more people in need. As Paul said, thanks be to God for His indescribable gifts!
Closing Thoughts: The Go and Tell Mission Fund
At FBC Thomson, we have two mini “cooperative programs” for missions: the Ministry Donation Box and the Go and Tell Mission Fund. Church members voluntarily give to these, and we use it for a number of purposes.
If you've stumbled across this page from another church, I strongly encourage starting something like this. It has worked well for us.
For the fund, a set percentage of it goes to Manna, the Kilpatrick Association, the Baptist Children’s Home, World Hunger Relief, disaster relief, our Honduras partnership, and Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries. The rest of it, we use to help church members do their own local mission work. Here’s a list of how the mission fund has been used in the past two years: · welcome baskets for the women’s shelter; · care packages for college outreach; · needs to coordinate Angel Tree ministry; · emergency aid for local burnout victims; · special thank-yous to local first responders; · “The Change” community rally; · emergency needs for missionaries on furlough; · emergency needs for children through DFCS; · special invitations to evangelistic events; · supplies for Children’s Home events; · Bibles to send to India; · school supplies for all local schools; · unexpected opportunities during West Virginia and Gatlinburg mission trips; · partnering with Partners for Success and Manna; · supplementing the Backpacks for Appalachia; · additional disaster relief for Irma victims; · support for the Community Thanksgiving outreach; · Wonderfully Stitched ministry for local girls; supplements to help us reach milestones in mission offerings.
Basically, if a church member has an idea for local mission work, this fund is there to make sure that they can afford to do it. If you have an idea, let us know! If your Sunday School class wants to do a mission project, let us know! People give these resources for them to be used for the good of others.
But here’s my point with this list: look at how much of that goes toward the kinds of needs Paul is talking about! We’re doing more of this work than your class might realize; and there are so many more needs if you want to take one on!