10. Sowing Generously (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (24:50)

In the previous lesson, we looked at various motivations to give towards the collection to relieve the poverty of the believers in Jerusalem. In this lesson we examine some of the spiritual principles that underlie giving throughout the Old and New Testaments.

The Law of Sowing and Reaping (9:6)

The Law of Sowing and Reaping, the Law of Spiritual Causality teaches that there is an underlying cause for our relative degree of blessing from God or non-blessing.

"Remember this:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows generously
will also reap generously." (9:6)

"Sparingly" is pheidomenōs, "in a scanty or meager manner, sparingly," from pheidomai, "to be miserly."[334] "Generously" (NIV), "bountifully" (NRSV, KJV) is eulogia, "blessing," which we saw in the previous verse (9:5). Here, the idea is "sowing for blessing." Since the concept of blessing connotes the idea of bounty, eulogia also bears the meaning, "generous gift, bounty."[335]

Too many times we give out of a sense of poverty and loss rather than a sense of bounty. My dear friend, are you giving with bounty in mind or with meagerness in mind? What is your attitude in giving? What is your practice in giving?

Paul seems to be stating a law of nature that has spiritual ramifications as well. When you sow your field trying to put in as little seed as possible, the harvest will be meager. But when you sow your field with the maximum harvest in mind, then you won't scrimp on the seed, knowing that what you give now will come back to you many-fold. It is a matter of having a farmer's common sense about sowing.

A Proverb of Generosity (Proverbs 11:24-25)

We see this principle often in the Old Testament. Here's the principle in a proverb:

"24 One man gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
25 A generous man will prosper;
he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." (Proverbs 11:24-25)

Principles of Blessing and Tithing (Malachi 3:10-12)

Consider the promises in Malachi that result from tithing:

"β€˜10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,
that there may be food in my house.
Test me in this,' says the LORD Almighty,
β€˜and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven
and pour out so much blessing
that you will not have room enough for it.
11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops,
and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,'
says the LORD Almighty.
12 β€˜Then all the nations will call you blessed,
for yours will be a delightful land,' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:10-12)

The tithe (that is, 10% of one's income) belonged to the Lord according to the Mosaic Law. It was his, not theirs. Thus, when people did not give the tithe to the Lord, they were guilty of robbing God, since they kept back what belonged to him. As a result they experienced a curse.

But look at the promised results of tithing:

  1. Abundant blessing (10b).
  2. Protection from pests and crops not maturing[336] (11).
  3. A reputation of being blessed (12a).

  4. A land of delight[337] (12b).

These blessings seem to be material blessings promised to the people of God, not just spiritual, though having God delight in you is certainly a spiritual blessing. The cause of the blessing is bringing the full tithe, not just a fraction of it.

The Result of Failing to Put God First in Giving (Haggai 1:2-11)

Take a look at Haggai, written during the period right after the nation returned from exile. The people were intent on building their own homes, but neglected repairing the house of God. It's a long passage, but sobering and instructive:

"2 This is what the LORD Almighty says:
β€˜These people say, "The time has not yet come for the LORD's house to be built."β€˜

3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai:
4 β€˜Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses,
while this house remains a ruin?'
5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says:

β€˜Give careful thought to your ways.
6 You have planted much, but have harvested little.
You eat, but never have enough.
You drink, but never have your fill.
You put on clothes, but are not warm.
You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it

7 This is what the LORD Almighty says:
β€˜Give careful thought to your ways.
8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber
and build the house,
so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,'
says the LORD.

9  β€˜You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little.
What you brought home, I blew away.
declares the LORD Almighty.
β€˜Because of my house,
which remains a ruin,
while each of you is busy with his own house.
10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew
and the earth its crops.
11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains,
on the grain, the new wine, the oil
and whatever the ground produces,
on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.'" (Haggai 1:2-11)

Haggai is talking about a cause and effect with regard to giving.

Jesus' Teaching on Giving and Blessing (Luke 6:37-38)

We see the same kind of teaching from Jesus about cause and effect "“ including in the area of giving:

"37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

38 Give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over,
will be poured into your lap.
For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:37-38)

When Jesus talks about the measure you use, he means: If you give with a big scoop or a cup completely full, then you'll receive with the same big scoop and full cup. If you give with a tiny scoop or just a pinch, you'll receive just a tiny blessing. The blessing is related directly to the giving "“ which is what Paul is teaching us in 2 Corinthians:

"Remember this:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows generously
will also reap generously." (9:6)

There is a definite law of cause and effect in giving to God!

Q1. (2 Corinthians 9:6) Does the Scripture teach that material blessing results from giving generously to God's work? Why are we so careful to reinterpret this as referring mainly to spiritual blessing? If you compared your own actual giving to God's work to a tithe (10%) of your income, would it look generous?

Freedom and Joy in Giving (9:7)

As you are preparing the collection to be sent to Jerusalem shortly, Paul says, I don't want you to be under any kind of pressure to give "“ especially last-minute pressure to give! Why? Because pressure doesn't produce good fruit.

"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give,
not reluctantly or under compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver." (9:7)

"Decided in his heart" (NIV), "made up your mind" (NRSV), "purposeth in his heart" (KJV) is proaireō, in the middle voice, "to reach a decision beforehand, choose (for oneself), commit oneself to, prefer."[338] In other words, you should be giving to this collection because you've thought it through and want to be a part of it. Christian giving should be motivated by thoughtful discipleship and love for Jesus, not by guilt or greed "“ motivations too often promoted by churches, as we'll see below.

Now Paul mentions two wrong motivations for giving:

  1. Reluctance. "Reluctantly" (NIV, NRSV), "grudgingly" (KJV) is lypē, "pain of mind or spirit, grief, sorrow, affliction," here, with the preposition ek, "out of," it means "reluctantly."[339] If you're giving, but really don't want to, stop! If it pains you to give, don't! Giving out of inner reluctance isn't real worship anyway; it's conforming outwardly to someone's expectations for us. Rather, worship is an inward response of love for God. Pray that God will increase your love for him so your reluctance to give will evaporate.
  2. Pressure. "Under compulsion" (NIV, NRSV), "of necessity" (KJV) is anankē, "necessity or constraint as inherent in the nature of things, necessity, pressure of any kind," a divine dispensation, some hoped-for advantage, custom, duty, etc. Here, "under pressure."[340] It's amazing to me how pastors will use guilt as a motivator to worship "“ for worship is what giving is supposed to be. How can you worship out of guilt? Usually, pressure is exerted to get you to do something you really don't want to do because of your reluctance.

I've witnessed offerings preceded by a 20-minute harangue. I've also been in churches where at offering time people line up, walk to the front, and make their offering under the watchful eye of the pastor. I can see offering being a time of joyful celebration that might be characterized by a parade, but I'm afraid that it is sometimes just a way to pressure people into giving something for the sake of appearances. Passing the offering plate can provide pressure to give, too. Some churches place an offering box in the back of the church so that people can give when they leave, greatly reducing the pressure. The offering might be a little less, but not much. (I've heard that it doesn't affect how much is given!) People who give reluctantly or under pressure never give much anyway!

What God is looking for is a heart that is happy because it is able to give to God and to his work "“ a "cheerful giver." "Cheerful" is hilaros, "pertaining to being full of cheer, cheerful, glad, happy," here, "one who gives cheerfully, gladly ( = without reluctance)."[341] As we are teaching people to give, we need to focus on positive motivations, such as love and joy, rather than fear and guilt.

Q2. (2 Corinthians 9:7) Why do you think pastors or other church leaders use guilt to try to compel people to give more? Can greed be behind their pressure? Why is pressure incompatible with worship? What does cheerfulness while giving say about the condition of a person's heart?

God Can Cause You to Abound (9:8)

One of the greatest obstacles to giving is fear "“ fear that if we give to God, we won't have enough for ourselves. This isn't greed, which is a different motivation, but garden-variety fear. Fear is the opposite of faith. When we have faith that God will supply our needs, then we give without fear. Look at this promise:

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (9:8)

"Grace" (charis), you recall, is the word Paul has uses in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 to describe the offering being collected (a "work of grace"). He is saying that God can bless you financially in an abundant way. The word "abound" (KJV, NIV) and the phrases, "in abundance, share abundantly" (NRSV) is perisseuō, "abound," which occurs twice in verse 8. Here it means, "have an abundance, abound, be rich," "have ample means for every enterprise."[342]

The phrase "all that you need" (NIV), "enough of everything" (NRSV), "all sufficiency" (KJV) is the adjective pas, "all" and the noun autarkeia. The basic idea of the word is "self-sufficiency" in the sense of "independence." Here, it means, a "state of having what is adequate, sufficiency, a competence."[343]

Notice these two words: "abound, have an abundance" and "sufficiency, having enough." Greed wants to have plenty "“ more than what is needed, so that you'll have enough if you get in a hard place again. But faith that overcomes the fear of want only needs "enough," because it trusts God to supply what is needed in the future. In the Sermon on the Mount,

  • Jesus teaches us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11)
  • Jesus teaches us, "Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth" (Matthew 6:19)
  • Jesus teaches us, "Do not worry about your life.... but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)
  • Jesus teaches us, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34)

When becoming rich is our goal, we get off the path that Jesus leads us on. Now God may, in his wisdom, make you rich. But when becoming rich or hoarding wealth becomes your goal, you've missed out on God's will for you.

So what is the promise in verse 8? That if you give, God will give you more than enough for your own needs and sufficient for you to do other good works as well. He will give you enough for yourself plus enough to help others in some kind of good work.

The Righteous Man

To drive home his point, Paul quotes from Psalm 112:9.

"As it is written:
  β€˜He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
  his righteousness endures forever.'" (9:9)

Paul's point is clear when you read the context of this Psalm about the faith of a righteous man:

"6 Surely he will never be shaken;
a righteous man will be remembered forever.
7 He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
8 His heart is secure, he will have no fear;
in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.
9 He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor,
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn will be lifted high in honor." (Psalm 112:6-9)

The righteous man in the psalm is full of faith and unafraid. Therefore, through his faith and confidence in the Lord "he has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor," since he knows that the Lord will supply his needs.

Another promise comes to mind that Paul shared with the Philippian church that had helped to support him on his missionary trips:

"And my God will meet[344] all your needs[345] according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)

If all this sounds similar to the Prosperity Teaching common in our time, it is because the Prosperity Teaching isn't wholly false. It has helped many people understand God's desire to prosper his people financially "“ and that's a good thing. However, Prosperity Teaching includes distortions that tend to get people out of balance in their faith. For more on this, see Appendix 2. A Brief Critique of the Prosperity Message.

God's Supply, Increase, and Enlargement (9:10-11)

Paul continues:

"10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God." (9:10-11)

How does God supply[346] seed to the sower? By giving a harvest large enough so that there is not only enough "bread for food," but also enough seed to plant next year's crop. The farmer sows the seed; God gives the increase.

Now look at the promise:

"He ... will also supply[347] and increase[348] your store of seed and will enlarge[349] the harvest of your righteousness." (9:10b)

God will not only supply you seed, but increase or multiply your store of seed. What is seed for? To plant, not to eat. So God is not increasing your general wealth so that you have more than you need. Rather, he is increasing your "seed" so you have more to give for his Kingdom purposes. This way you can see a greater "harvest of your righteousness," that is, you can do more and greater good works that result from you being a righteous person.

It is in the context of having more to give, that Paul says the same thing another way:

"You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God." (9:11)

"Made rich" (NIV), "enriched" (NRSV, KJV) is ploutizō, "to cause to be relatively high on a scale of opulence, make wealthy," then figuratively, "to cause to abound in something, make rich."[350] The question is: What kind of riches is Paul talking about? Spiritual riches? Yes. Financial riches? Yes, since he says, "you will be made rich in every way." Does this mean that you will become financially wealthy if you give to God? Perhaps, but it does mean that he will give you more finances than you require for your own family's needs, "so that you can be generous[351] on every occasion." The whole point here is not accumulating personal financial wealth. It is God blessing you so you'll have more than enough yourself, so that you can continue to give generously. Your faith begins a cycle of giving that you should not interrupt by your greed. If it flows in, it must also continue to flow out for this promise to be continually renewed and reactivated.

Q3. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11) According to these verses, what is the purpose of God increasing your "store of seed"? How do greed and generosity differ from each other? What is God's promise here to generous givers?

Your Giving Will Prompt Praise (9:12-15)

Paul's final encouragement to giving is that the Corinthians' gift will prompt great praise towards God to rise up from the recipients.

"12 This service that you perform[352] is not only supplying[353] the needs[354] of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved[355] yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience[356] that accompanies your confession[357] of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you,[358] because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (9:12-15)

Notice how at the end of this section, Paul turns the focus back to God:

  1. God's surpassing grace, grace that goes beyond, exceeds, outdoes anything imaginable.[359]
  2. God's indescribable[360] gift, indescribable because of the incredible love that prompted it and the majesty and station of the sacrifice for our sin, the very and only Son of God himself!

The words "grace" (charis) and "gift" (dōrea), nearly synonymous here, remind us that our salvation isn't because we have been deserving, but that it flows wholly from his amazing love for us, and the generous gift that He has given. Our own gifts, no matter how generous, pale in comparison!

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

Praise the Lord!

Q4. (2 Corinthians 9:12-15) Why should our giving prompt thanksgiving? How is our giving a demonstration of God's grace? Why is God's gift of Jesus termed "surpassing"? Why is God's gift of Jesus termed "indescribable"?

2 Corinthians: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Also available in e-book and paperback


Lord, thank you for teaching us the principles of giving to your Kingdom work. Since giving is a quality that describes your character throughout the Scriptures, we want to learn to be giving people so that we can be your disciples. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously." (2 Corinthians 9:6)

"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7)

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15)

End Notes

[334] Pheidomenōs, BDAG 1051.

[335] Eulogia, BDAG 408, 4.

[336] Shākal, "be bereaved, make childless, miscarry." Here it is used figuratively of unproductive land (Victor P. Hamilton, shākal, TWOT #2385).

[337] "The basic meaning is "to feel great favor towards something ... take delight in, be pleased with, desire" (Leon J. Wood, hēpes,̣ TWOT #712).

[338] Proaireō, BDAG 865.

[339] Lypē, BDAG 605.

[340] Anankē, BDAG 61, 1.

[341] Hilaros, BDAG 473. Though our English word "hilarious" comes from this word, it means "extremely funny" in English. English "hilarity" is "boisterous and high-spirited merriment or laughter," which goes well beyond the Greek meaning of "cheerful" (Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary).

[342] Perisseuō, BDAG 805, 1bα.

[343] Autarkeia, BDAG 152.

[344] Plēroō, "to make full, fill (full)" (BDAG 827, 1a).

[345] Chreia, "that which is lacking and needed, need, lack, want, difficulty" (BDAG 1088, 2a).

[346] "Supplies" (NIV, NRSV), "ministereth" (KJV) is epichorēgeō, "to convey as a gift, give, grant" (BDAG 387, 1).

[347] "Will supply" (NIV, NRSV), "minister" (KJV) is chorēgeō, originally "lead a chorus" or "pay the expenses for training a chorus," then generally "defray the expenses of something, provide, supply (in abundance)" (BDAG 1087).

[348] "Increase" (NIV), "multiply" (NRSV, KJV), is plēthynō, "to cause to become greater in number, increase, multiply" (BDAG 826, 1a).

[349] "Enlarge" (NIV), "increase" (NRSV, KJV) is auxanō, "to cause to become greater in extent, size, state, or quality, grow something, cause to grow, increase" (BDAG 153, 1).

[350] Ploutizō, BDAG 833, 2.

[351] "So that you can be generous" (NIV), "for your generosity" (NRSV), "bountifulness" (KJV) is haplotēs, which we discussed in the previous lesson, "generosity, liberality" (BDAG 104).

[352] Verse 12 uses two nouns to describe service, which NRSV translates "the rendering of this ministry." The first noun is diakonia, "ministry, service." The second is leitourgia, "service of a personal nature, help, assistance, service," with some sort of religious connotation (BDAG 592, 2). We get our word "liturgy" from this word. The two words together might be literally translated, "the ministry of this religious service."

[353] "Supplies" is prosanaplēroō, "to fill up or replenish besides, supply something," also used in 11:9 (BDAG 876).

[354] "Needs" (NIV, NRSV), "want" (KJV) is hysterēma, "the lack of what is needed or desirable," frequently in contrast to abundance, "need, want, deficiency" (BDAG 1044, 1).

[355] The KJV's curious phrase, "... whiles by the experiment of this ministration," is better explained by the NIV: "... because of the service by which you have proved yourselves." In other words, the believers in Jerusalem will then realize what giving this offering has accomplished in your own Christian character and maturity. The offering is proof of God's work in you. The noun is dokimē, "the experience of going through a test with special reference to the result, standing a test, character" (BDAG 256, 2). Also at 2:9 and 8:2.

[356] "Obedience" (NIV, NRSV), "professed subjection" (KJV) is hypotagē, "the state of submissiveness, subjection, subordination." (BDAG 1041).

[357] "Confession" (NIV, NRSV), "professed" (KJV), homologia, "expression of allegiance as an action, professing, confessing," here, with the idea, "the subjection of your professing of the gospel" = "your professing of the gospel finds expression in obedient subjection to its requirements" (BDAG 709, 1).

[358] "Their hearts will go out to you" (NIV), "long for you" (NRSV), "long after you" (KJV) is epipotheō, "to have a strong desire for something, with implication of need, long for, desire something" from epi-, "accumulation, increase, addition" + potheō, "long for" (BDAG 377).

[359] Hyperballō, "to attain a degree that extraordinarily exceeds a point on a scale of extent, go beyond, surpass, outdo" (BDAG 1032).

[360] "Indescribable" (NIV, NRSV), "unspeakable" (KJV) is anekdiēgētos, from a-, "not" + ekdiēgeomai, "to narrate in full or wholly," then, "to relate, tell, declare" (Thayer, 193).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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