Theology 101

The Spiritual Economics of Giving

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All too often sermons on tithing invoke more cringing, frustration, or resentment than actual tithing. The groaning becomes audible, the internal squirming becomes palpable, and people immediately start looking at their watches—or the nearest exit. However, there is another, more Christ-exalting way to view tithing.

In the first century AD, Corinth served as one of the wealthiest and most integral port cities of the Roman Empire, and the name of the city was synonymous with “immorality.” In Jerusalem, a more pious city nearly 750 miles away, people were recovering from a famine. In the midst of this economic and cultural dynamic, the apostle Paul asks the Christians of Corinth to collect a portion of what God had blessed them with and offer it to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 9:6-15). The reasons Paul gives for being generous ought to radically change the way we typically think of tithing.

God is Glorified When We Give Joyfully

First, Paul tells the Corinthians how to give, or more specifically, what mindset we should have when giving. He insists that tithing is not simply an obligation to be fulfilled within the Christian life but an opportunity to glorify God with what he has entrusted to us.

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7).

Most Christians are familiar with the last clause in this verse, “for God loves a cheerful giver” because that is the stereotypical way pastors prompt people to give, but that misses the full meaning of the verse. Here Paul is telling Christians not to give with a spirit of anxiety or out of obligation; rather, we should give out of joy, because we trust God to continue to provide and desire to glorify him by how we use our resources.

2. God Provides Abundantly to Be Glorified in Our Giving

Second, Paul explains why we are able to express generosity toward others and why God provides some people with abundant resources.

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…You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:8,11).

In these verses, Paul tells the Corinthians that God has and will by his sovereignty and goodness provide for their needs and that he will continue to do this for the purpose of fueling their generosity. The end result—God is glorified through the generosity of the Corinthians (v. 8) and the thanksgiving of Paul and the believers in Jerusalem (v. 11).

God Is Glorified by Those to Whom We Are Generous

Third, Paul elaborates on how God is glorified by the thankful hearts of the recipients:

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 that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others (2 Cor. 9:12-13).

In other words, the God-glorifying goal of their generosity to these brothers and sisters is not merely to provide for them; rather, it is to produce in them thankful hearts that glorify God.

4. God Is Glorified by Hearts Grateful for the Opportunity to Give

In the remainder of the chapter, Paul expresses that the Corinthians ought to be thankful to God when offering their resources to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.

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. 9:14-15).

Paul identifies the ability—the opportunity to give to others—as God’s inexpressible gift to us. According to him, being able to express generosity to others is the “surpassing grace of God” and an “inexpressible gift” to us.

The reason that being generous is such a profound blessing to the giver is two-fold. First, it is a blessing because God has supplied us with enough physical and monetary resources to satisfy our own needs and the needs of others. Second, the act of giving to another is a God-glorifying, joy-granting expression of our faith and satisfaction in Christ. What’s more, it allows others the opportunity to glorify God for his grace to them through our generosity.

These observations and teachings on tithing, giving, and generosity lead us to the undeniable conclusion that we as Christians give not simply because it’s a command or because we feel guilty about a lack of generosity in the past. We don’t even tithe or express generosity merely out of compassion. As Christians, we give because it brings us unspeakable joy and glorifies God. This is the Christian’s motivation in all things, and generous giving is no exception. To the Christian, generosity is a blessing and an expression of God’s grace in one’s own life. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift indeed!

Editor’s note: Learn more about loving God through faithful stewardship in Wholehearted: A Biblical Look at the Greatest Commandment and Personal Wealth.

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