Here are the links to the prior posts in this series.
Last time we looked at the OT background of the tithe – both where it has gospel roots and where it is a command of the law. What the OT stories confirm is that while the law doesn’t save, it does reflect the will of God for his people.
This time I want to jump right into the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 8-9. The Corinthian congregation is an interesting parallel to today’s world. Corinth was a wealthy Roman colonial trading port city. It lay on key sea-ways as well and key over-land routes. The aristocracy of the city was based on wealth and not land. In the Corinthian letters Paul scolds them for their separation even during the Lord’s Supper into social stratum layers based on wealth (1 Cor 11:17ff). The old city of Corinth which the Roman’s had destroyed was such a cesspit of vice that the noun Corinth became a verb meaning to fornicate. A “Corinthian girl” was a euphemism for a prostitute. This adventurousness also extended to the religious realm where every type of mystery cult and philosophy could be found. It is in the Corinthian letters that Paul addresses meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8) and the warning not to marry unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14-18).
In 2 Cor 8:1-15 we have what might be the capital campaign. The gentile church was taking up a collection for the church in Jerusalem. Paul praises the Corinthians for their initiative in starting a collection, but the initial push has stalled. Paul is sending Titus and encouraging the collection to be finished. And here we have the two step. Paul does not want the offering to be a law, but wants it to spring from the gospel.
The core of Paul’s advice is in 2 Cor 9:6-11.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 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. 9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10 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. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
Here Paul states clearly what we have been following in this series with two added thoughts. The repeated themes: 1) He who supplies seed to the sower…will supply and multiply. The goal of stewardship is to recognize and trust God’s providence. 2) Doing so is a matter of faithfulness – you may abound in every good work. 3) Firstfruits are important – decide what you are giving in your heart first. The two new parts are the relation of sowing to reaping and the joy in cheerfulness. Cross reference for a second Luke 6:38. I want to be clear here. Jesus and Paul are not preaching a prosperity gospel. This is not a proclamation that giving to the church reaps material blessings. But, a part of the Christian life is being generous, is being a person given to grace. We have received grace, we should be willing to live that grace. If you want a gracious, graceful and full of grace church and community, a good place to start is your monetary support of it. The second point Paul adds is being cheerful about it. And that is not something you can really fake. God loves a person who can support the mission of God happily and not out of compulsion.
Practically I think we can look at this a couple of ways. First, if you are always hesitating in your offering and worrying about not having enough, you are not giving cheerfully. Reduce the amount until you are cheerful about it. But if you find that your spiritual life and church are somewhat empty don’t be surprised. You reap what you sow. In money matters challenge God. Not to give you the Mercedes Benz, but to give you a cheerful heart. You will be surprised at the response. God is not outdone here.
A second way to think about this is the sanctification walk. First pursue faithfulness. Faithfulness defined by the law is the tithe. We are not under the law, but the law is a good starting point. (Should the graceful response be less than the compelled response?) If that seems too steep at first, ok. Decide in your heart and challenge God in this area. Make a firstfruit offering and ask God to help your cheerfulness grow in this area. The life of a Christian is not under the law, nor is it instantaneous. Taste the truth here. God wants us to know and trust his providence. Will a time of testing come in these matters? Yep, probably. There will be times when you are giving a lot and never seem to be reaping anything. But most of the American church is far from that point. We are baby Christians in these matters. Babies don’t get tested like that. And there is no testing given us that we cannot withstand.
I’m out of space here. I’ll come back to this next week and do some wrap-up and clean up.