Grace Turns Giving Upside Down
Building God into Your Budget
Giving can be a touchy subject. It may be hard for pastors to address it without apologizing on the one hand or laying down a guilt trip on the other hand. Most of us often would rather avoid talking about the subject altogether.
Some Christians abide by the principle of the Old Testament tithe (ten percent). A 2013 Barna study shows that at best 12% of born-again Christians are giving this percentage of their income. Most of us are afraid, for different reasons, to talk about it, so we just brush it under the rug.
The reality is that giving is important to address because the Bible speaks clearly about it. And if we “follow the money trail” in our own lives, it typically leads us to what we truly value. Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.
God’s Abounding Grace
In 2 Corinthians 8–9, Paul is writing to prepare a church for a group sent by Paul to collect a “blessing” from them (1 Corinthians 16:1–4). The gift will support poor and needy churches in Jerusalem.
Paul starts in 8:1 by telling them he wants them to know about a work of God’s grace in Macedonia. Poor, afflicted Macedonians had so much joy in the gospel that they gave “beyond their means” to contribute to this cause. Paul never mentions amounts or percentages in these chapters. Instead, he mentions God’s immeasurable grace overflowing into radical generosity.
The standard for giving in the New Testament is no longer a mandated tithe, but the picture of love in the face and cross of Jesus Christ. We’re now called to “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9) and give in accordance with the gospel of a Savior who emptied himself completely. The Macedonians had emptied themselves because they treasured this generous gospel reality so deeply.
In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul wants to give the Corinthians as much confidence as he can that if they sow generously (9:6) motivated by God’s delight in cheerful givers (9:7), that the God who loves cheerful givers will give them everything they need to give radically.
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. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
All grace, making us all sufficient, at all times, for every good work.
In other words, God is the ultimate Giver. With our giving, we should not mainly ask about our ability, but we should ask about God’s ability. God is the never-ending, never-dry fountain of grace that causes his people to overflow in generosity of their own.
But why? Why does God do this? For his glory.
The end of verse 11 says that there will be “thanksgiving to God.” Verse 12 says it will overflow into “many thanksgivings to God.” Verse 13 says “they will glorify God.” And in verse 15, Paul ends these chapters by saying, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.”
It is all by God’s grace, and therefore God gets all the glory. It is not human nature to simply give stuff away generously. We like to accumulate to impress and accumulate for insurance. We like a hefty retirement plan. But when God’s grace empowers God’s people to abound in the good work of generous giving, others see this good, unnatural work and give glory to our Father in heaven as the gospel is put on display in tangible, abnormal ways.
God’s abounding grace makes us sufficient (2 Corinthians 9:8–9), and God’s glory is the end goal of everything that comes to us and then through us to others (9:12–15).
But perhaps most amazing is the way in which God says this works. God loves cheerful givers, and God’s economy operates with that in mind, not in the way of our American economy that rewards those who store up for themselves.
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. (2 Corinthians 9:10)
God is the ultimate cheerful Giver. He is the storehouse supplying the seed. And as we take on the generosity portrayed in the gospel with our giving, he will increase our harvest of righteousness and multiply our seed, our resources for giving.
The practical reality of believing this promise is that when we do our year-end or new-year budget, we should not ask how much to subtract, but how much we want God to multiply. The question is not, “How much can I afford to lose?” but, “How much more of God do I want to gain, and how much of my resources do I want multiplied?”
Give More to Give More
Paul is clear why God will work this way:
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11)
God loves cheerful giving and will give more to cheerful givers so that they can give more away. We give more to give more. It must be by grace. It must be from a glad delight in the gospel. It must be for his glory.
This is not the so-called “prosperity gospel” that treats God like a vending machine. Put in a quarter and believe God owes you something. Nor is this a vision of God filling up our cup just enough so that we can barely survive. This is glad, grace-filled generosity that sees God as the fountain that is always on so that our cup is always full even after we overflow in generosity.
Do we trust him? Do we trust this all-abounding fountain of grace? Do we trust that this wisdom that contradicts worldly wisdom might do so on purpose to show that God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of men?
As you have freely received, freely give. Do it by his grace. Do it for his glory. And do your budget with multiplication, not subtraction in mind. God loves a cheerful giver.