Lessons for the Generous Giver (Mike Riccardi)

2 Corinthians 9:1–5   |   Sunday, November 26, 2017   |   Code: 2017-11-26-MR



With Thanksgiving officially in the rear-view mirror, it seems it’s not too soon to begin anticipating Christmas. The stores have changed their seasonal displays, the radio stations have put Christmas music on loop, many of you have begun setting up decorations, and the Christmas shopping lists have begun to be formulated. And that last one is especially appropriate, because Christmas, after all, is the season of giving. And though the world has done its best to make that giving about consumerism and selfishness, as Christians, we celebrate Christmas as the season of giving because it is in the incarnation of God the Son that the Triune God has given the greatest gift ever given. In the God-man, the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, fallen humanity is given a perfectly sufficient, perfectly suitable Savior from sin and judgment. Fully man, and therefore able to stand man’s place, both to bear man’s punishment and accomplish man’s righteousness. And yet at the same time fully God, and therefore able to bear the wrath of God without perishing eternally, and able to bestow His infinite merit upon the innumerable sinners who come to Him in repentance and faith.


Christmas is the season of giving because Christmas is when God gave man the world’s greatest gift. And we who are Christians give gifts to one another in order to magnify the beauty of that greatest gift—because our hearts are satisfied and made glad by the bountiful grace of God, and so we desire to imitate that grace in generous giving.


Well as we turn to the Book of 2 Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9, we find the Apostle Paul taken up with this very theme: Christian giving, as fueled and shaped by the grace of God displayed in the Gospel, whereby we have been gifted with the precious Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ! In fact, these two chapters are shaped by two, what we might call, Christmas texts. In chapter 8 verse 9, Paul captures the glory of the incarnation in an economy of words when he says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” And then in the final verse of chapter 9, verse 15, Paul closes this section on giving with the exclamation, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” The incarnation of the Son of God—whereby He who was rich for our sakes became poor—is God’s indescribable gift to us. And that Gospel grace is to fundamentally drive and shape our own giving.


Now, the historical setting for this instruction on giving is the Apostle Paul’s administration of a financial collection for the saints who belong to the church in Jerusalem. Because of persecution and other circumstances orchestrated by divine providence, the believers in Jerusalem are unable to provide themselves with the basic necessities of life. And so Paul has arranged to take up an offering from the various Gentile churches to offer them relief. And he writes these two chapters to stir up the Corinthians to bring to completion the offering that they had begun in the last year, so that when Paul comes again to Corinth he can receive their offering and transport it to Jerusalem.


And the directives that Paul issues in these two chapters concerning this 2,000 year-old offering become to us, and to Christians of all ages, the closest thing to a systematic theology of Christian giving that is found anywhere in Scripture. And as these chapters are rooted in and shaped by the two “Christmas texts” of chapter 8 verse 9 and chapter 9 verse 15, we find that this portion of Scripture outlines timeless principles for giving that is produced by grace, that is shaped by the Gospel, and that is glorifying to God. And in our series expositions so far, we have gleaned several such principles.

Last time, we turned to verses 16 to 24 of chapter 8, where Paul writes something of a letter of commendation for a three-man delegation consisting of Titus and two unnamed brothers, whom Paul decides to send to Corinth ahead of him. These three men will assist the Corinthian church with the logistics of taking up the collection for Jerusalem, and set things in order in preparation for Paul’s arrival. And Paul urges the Corinthians to receive these men as messengers of the churches, and to follow their directives for the offering.


Well, as we come to the first five verses of chapter 9, we really have a continuation of Paul’s thoughts concerning Titus and his team. In particular, he goes on explaining precisely why he finds it necessary to send this three-man delegation ahead of him. Let’s read our passage for this morning. 2 Corinthians 9, verses 1 to 5: “For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints; 2for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, so that, as I was saying, you may be prepared; 4otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to speak of you—will be put to shame by this confidence. 5So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.”


And once again, in the practical matters of this 2,000 year-old collection for a church on the other side of the world, the Holy Spirit so superintends the pen of the Apostle Paul as to teach us several lessons concerning our own giving to the Lord and to His people. And because we understand that our giving is first and foremost an act of worship to the Lord Himself, and because we desire that our worship be acceptable and well-pleasing to Him, we must be concerned to learn the lessons He Himself teaches us in His Word for how His people must give to His work.


And 2 Corinthians 9:1–5 provides us with five lessons that ought to inform and shape the way we think about the faithful stewardship of the resources God has blessed us with, and that also teach us how we ought to think about Christian obedience and pastoral oversight in general. And as we move through this passage, we’ll seek to learn those five lessons.


I. Giving is Ministry (v. 1)


The first lesson we find in verse 1. And that is that giving is ministry.  Paul says, “For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints.”


Throughout our exposition of the first seven chapters of 2 Corinthians, I repeated in almost every sermon what I believe to be the theme of the letter—namely, joyful, enduring ministry in the midst of affliction. Throughout Paul’s defense of his own apostolic authenticity against the attacks of the false apostles, he has taken pains to extensively define New Covenant Gospel ministry. And one of the reasons I chose to preach through a book dominated by the theme of enduring ministry, is because I wanted to unmistakably instill into your minds that ministry is not something that is left to the professionals. It’s not that pastors and elders and professors and missionaries are called to ministry, and the believer in Jesus who works a secular job does something else in church.


No, one of the great lessons of the New Testament in general, and of 2 Corinthians in particular, is that every Christian is called to ministry! Chapter 3 verse 6: if God has called you to salvation by the New Covenant, He has called to you to be a minister of the New Covenant. And chapter 5 verses 18 and 19: if you have been saved through the message of reconciliation, you have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. And as Ephesians 4:11–12 says, Christ has given His Church pastors and teachers, not: to do all the ministry so that the saints just sit by and watch as spectators or consumers! No, He’s given pastors and teachers “for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, to the building up of the body of Christ.” And so we are all called to New Covenant, Gospel ministry! We are to preach the Gospel of reconciliation by which we ourselves were reconciled to God to those who yet remain God’s enemies. And we are to minister to one another in the body of Christ, so that we might be built up and grow into greater and greater maturity in Christ. We are all called to ministry!


But then we come to chapters 8 and 9 and it seems like Paul has transitioned away from his main theme. In fact, liberal scholars have observed the seeming disjunction of chapters 8 and 9, and concluded they’re not part of the original letter at all—that they’re an interpolation from another piece of correspondence. But when we recognize that giving is ministry, it’s plain that Paul hasn’t deviated from his theme in the least. This collection that Paul is administrating is described in verse 1 as “this ministry to the saints.” In chapter 8 verse 4, the NAS translates this same exact phrase as “the support of the saints,” but it is literally, “the ministry to the saints.”


And over in chapter 9 verse 12, Paul calls this collection, “the ministry of this service,” adding this term leitourgia—from which we get the English word “liturgy” and “liturgical”—which was a technical term for the priestly temple service of the Old Testament. And what was the ministry of the priests and Levites in the temple? It was to offer sacrifices. And so in Philippians 4:18, when Paul receives from Epaphroditus the financial support given by the Philippian church, he speaks of their gift in the language of Old Testament sacrifice. He says, “I received what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” “It was as if my physical needs were an altar, and your gift was the sacrifice laid upon that altar. And because it came from a heart made glad and eager to give by the grace of God, when Epaphroditus set those coins before me to meet my needs, a soothing aroma wafted into heaven. God smelled the sweet-smelling aroma of a spiritual sacrifice, and He was pleased.” And he’s saying the same thing to the Corinthians: “When the needs of the saints in Jerusalem are fully supplied by your gifts, this offering will be shown to be what it always was: the ministry of spiritual sacrifices to God by means of serving His people.”


Giving financial resources to give aid to fellow Christians who are in need is ministry, friends. And when we engage in the ministry of this service, we are acting as the very kingdom of priests that Scripture says we are. That we are, 1 Peter 2:5, “a holy priesthood, [offering] up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Sharing our resources in order to meet the needs of the saints is the ministry of New Covenant sacrifices, by New Covenant priests. And that describes each and every one of us.


So are you looking for a way to serve in the New Covenant ministry to which you’ve been called? Consider that the giving of your financial resources to give aid to fellow Christians who are in need is ministry! Romans 12:8 speaks of giving as a spiritual gift, right alongside service, teaching, exhortation, leadership, and mercy. Just as some of us teach and preach, just as each of us seeks to speak the Word of God to one another to build one another up, just as we counsel one another from the Scriptures, just as we offer loving reproof and admonition that every man might be presented complete in Christ, just as we pray for one another, just as we meet practical needs like bringing meals to one another and helping one another with home repairs or yardwork or any number of things— so also do we give to one another to meet legitimate financial burdens. And so as you seek to engage in the ministry of the New Covenant to which you have all been called as priests, when you learn that your brothers and sisters have a legitimate financial need—not one born of laziness or sinful waste, but a legitimate need—prayerfully consider that the way the Lord might employ you in ministry in that situation is to give generously to meet those needs.


II. Giving is Chiefly a Matter of the Heart (vv. 1–2a)


A second lesson that we learn from this text comes in verses one and two. And that is, number two, that Christian obedience in general, and giving in particular, is chiefly a matter of the heart.  And this is a bit of a subtle point, but note it carefully in verse 1 and the first part of verse 2: “For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints; for I know your readiness.”


Now, in the final verses of chapter 8, Paul has commended Titus and the two unnamed brothers to the Corinthians, and urged them to receive them and give sacrificially according to their direction. And then he says, “It’s superfluous for me to keep writing to you about this. I don’t have to keep repeating myself, here.” And why’s that? Verse 2: “For I know your readiness.” I don’t need to write any further about this, forbecause—I know that you are ready to participate!


This word, readiness, is a word Paul uses several times in these two chapters. Prothumia. It speaks of an intense willingness, a forwardness of disposition, an eagerness to do something. The only other place this form of the word is used in the New Testament is in Acts 17:11, where Luke tells us that the Bereans “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” And when you hear that you picture a congregation chomping at the bit to get a hold of the Word of God, eagerly shuffling through its pages with excitement to discover its teaching! This is not a group of saints who have to be constantly nudged and cajoled into searching the Scriptures, but those who are internally driven by their own disposition and love for truth!


Well this is how the Apostle Paul describes the Corinthians. They were ready to participate in this offering for Jerusalem. He’s already said this about them. Back in chapter 8 verses 10 and 11 he says, “You were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also completion.” They genuinely desired to meet this need! Their hearts were in it!


And so Paul says, “I don’t need to write any further, because your hearts are already engaged to obey spontaneously!” You see, pastoral instruction is unnecessary when the people of God are ready to obey from the heart.  And if that’s true, that means that the purpose of pastoral instruction is to ready the hearts of the people of God for obedience.  Do you see that from the text? If Paul doesn’t need to give further instruction because the Corinthians are ready to obey, then the purpose of pastoral instruction is to so affect the hearts of the people of God that they are moved—by God’s grace, through God’s Word—to obey willingly and eagerly.


And so I say that Christian obedience in general, and giving in particular, is chiefly a matter of the heart. Both with respect to giving, and with respect to all other aspects of Christian obedience, sanctification does not consist merely in external behaviors. It consists first of all in such a change in the state of the heart that the regenerated believer loves what God loves and hates what God hates, and acts in accordance with that renewed heart. You see, genuine Christian obedience—and genuine Christian generosity in particular—can’t be fabricated! It can’t be counterfeited by moralists who merely clean the outside of the cup! Why? Because God cares not only about our doing, but also our readiness to do! He commands us to be in such a frame of heart as not only to perform righteousness, but to love righteousness! not only to give, but to be ready to give—to give cheerfully, verse 7, and to give from a motive of willing generosity and not covetousness, verse 5.


And that means that we need to examine ourselves, friends. Because we can write large checks and put copious amounts of cash into the offering plate, and know nothing of genuine Christian generosity! Because genuine generosity is not a matter of what passes through your hands, most fundamentally; it’s a matter of what is in your heart—whether your heart is a possessed of a readiness, of an eagerness, of a cheerful willingness to give of your own resources in order to bless the people of God! And so that means we need to prepare our hearts. We need to labor to get ourselves in the proper frame of heart, so that our gifts won’t be given from covetousness, but from the bountiful freedom of Christian love. And we’ll have more to say about this as we come to verse 5. But for now, let us learn that Christian obedience, and Christian giving in particular, is chiefly a matter of the heart.


III. Boasting is Legitimate (v. 2b)


We find a third lesson for us that comes in the bulk of verse 2. And that is, number three, that boasting is legitimate.  Verse 2: “For I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them.”


Paul says, “Dear Corinthians, not only do I know of your readiness to partake in this ministry to the saints. I boast about you to the Macedonians! I’ve been boasting to the Macedonians that that readiness is so present with you, that you’ve been prepared to participate in this collection since last year!” A year ago, in 1 Corinthians 16, Paul had given the Corinthians instruction concerning this collection. 1 Corinthians 16:2 says, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem.” And from that day, the Corinthians were eager to serve the saints in Jerusalem. Once again, in 2 Corinthians 8:10, they not only began saving their money as Paul had instructed them, but they genuinely desired to do so. And Paul says, “When my ministry took me into Macedonia, and when I made known to them the needs of the Jerusalem church, I boasted to them of how eager you Corinthians were to share this burden!”


In the same way that Paul opens this chapter by boasting to the Corinthians about what the grace of God had accomplished through the Macedonians’ sacrificial giving, Paul says, before they gave, he was boasting to them about what the grace of God had stirred up in the hearts of the Corinthians! And when the Macedonians heard about the Corinthians’ zeal for this task, it was that very zeal that stirred the Macedonians to overflow in generosity, even in the midst of their deep poverty!


And I conclude from this that boasting is legitimate. That is, it is right to boast to the people of God about what the grace of God has accomplished in other believers. You say, “Wait a minute! Doesn’t Paul himself quote the prophet Jeremiah in 1 Corinthians 1:31, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord”? Wasn’t it Paul who said to the Galatians in chapter 6 verse 14, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”? Yes, but that’s precisely what Paul was doing when he was boasting of the Corinthians to the Macedonians. Just as he boasted of the Macedonians in the opening verses of chapter 8, “Now brethren I wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia,” so also when he boasts of the Corinthians, he doesn’t attribute any goodness to them; he attributes it to what the grace of God has accomplished in them. By boasting in what God’s grace has done in the Corinthians, Paul is boasting in the Lord! He is boasting in nothing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because it is only by the power of the cross that sin is conquered and grace comes to so reign in the heart as to make the heart eager to part with one’s own resources for the good of God’s people!


And so we learn from Paul’s example here that it is right to boast to the people of God about what the grace of God has accomplished in other believers. And not only that, but we may also observe that it is right to tell those of whom we boast that we do boast in the grace of God at work in them. Notice that Paul doesn’t shy away from telling the Corinthians—numerous times throughout the letter—that he boasts about them. Chapter 7 verse 4: “Great is my boasting on your behalf!” 7:14: “Our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth.” 8:24: “Show them the proof of . . . our reason for boasting about you.” And then here in chapter 9 verse 2. You say, “Wait! Won’t that puff them up with pride to know that Paul is bragging on them to other believers?” Well, Paul doesn’t seem to think that he’s laying a snare of flattery for the Corinthians. And that is because if the grace of God has so worked in the hearts of God’s people as to warrant boasting, it’s legitimate to suspect that the grace of God will work in the heart so as to keep it from being puffed up with pride at the report of such boasting.


And so, in that spirit, I want to tell you, GraceLife, that I regularly boast of what the grace of God has accomplished in you. When I speak with others of the pastors and elders who ask how things are going in GraceLife, almost without fail I say, “GraceLife is wonderful. It is the most enjoyable part of my ministerial responsibilities to lead, and shepherd, and teach those precious saints!” It is a special gift for a preacher to preach to a hungry congregation—a congregation that loves the Word of God, and that desires no fluff, no frills, no entertainment along with it. Just Scripture, sixteen ounces to the pound! I boast of your warm-heartedness, of your care for me and my family, and of your care for one another.


I boast that the grace of God has seemed to especially work in this group a lack of pretension—the absence, in so many of you, of a hypocritical compulsion to appear more spiritually mature than you are, and the absence, again, in many of you, of a spirit of celebritism that’s impressed with your pastors simply because people know our names. I love that you’re not impressed by that! Now, are there areas in which we can improve? Of course. I think we could be more devoted to fellowshipping with one another more regularly. More of you should be involved in Bible studies which meet as an extension of the shepherding of this fellowship group. And in all areas I think we can excel still more. But I boast about you! And based on Paul’s words here, I’m in good, apostolic company in doing so.


And one of the reasons that such boasting is legitimate is that it serves to motivate other believers to obedience by the godly example of those of whom we boast. Look again at the end of verse 2. Paul says, “I boast about you! And your zeal has stirred up most of the Macedonians!” The zeal of the Corinthians had stirred up grace-induced generosity in the hearts of the Macedonians, so much so that now, Paul is boasting in the Macedonians in order to stir up grace-induced action on the part of the Corinthians! Now this teaches us that, as one man of God put it, “It is perfectly proper and morally right for [the people of God] to be stirred to holy desires and actions by the report of such desires and actions in others” (Martin). And so the power of a godly example cannot be underestimated! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ,” and in 1 Thessalonians 1:6, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”


And so when we hear reports from other Christians boasting in what the grace of God has accomplished in other believers, we ought to be stirred up by their zeal unto the same holy affections and holy actions! When we read in Scripture of how the Macedonians, in spite of their great ordeal of affliction, and in spite of their deep poverty, nevertheless begged Paul with much urging for the favor of the participation in support of the saints; when we read the biographies of faithful Christians throughout the history of the church, who gave their lives to the mission field so that Christ would be worshiped among the nations, or who loved not their lives even unto death, and poured out their blood for the pure doctrine of the Gospel; and when we hear the reports of how the grace of God has so worked in other faithful Christians in our own day, perhaps even in our own church, so as to produce exemplary patterns of obedience, we ought to be roused to lay hold of such grace ourselves. We ought to warm our hearts by the fire of their passion for holiness, and say, “Lord, I’ve seen You at work in my brother’s heart! in my sister’s heart! O Lord, work in my heart! Enlarge my heart! Pour out on me the grace that You have so graciously lavished upon them! Baptize me with the spirit of generosity with which you have baptized the Macedonians! Work in me the passion for the lost that fired the heart of William Carey, and Adoniram Judson, and John Paton! Give me that sacrificial love for my brethren that you’ve given Ron, and Paul, and Pete, and Carlos! We need to catch fire by the fire that the grace of God has ignited in others!


IV. Shame Can Be Helpful (vv. 3–4)


And so this text has taught us that giving is ministry, that giving is chiefly a matter of the heart, and that boasting is legitimate. We find a fourth lesson in this passage that comes in verses 3 and 4. And that is, number four, shame can be helpful.  Verses 3 and 4: “But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, so that, as I was saying, you may be prepared; otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to speak of you—will be put to shame by this confidence.” Now, Paul has said that he has no further need to write the Corinthians concerning the collection, because they were ready. But he does keep writing! And he does so, not because the Corinthians need further motivation to give, but because they need practical directions as to the logistics of taking up the offering. And so here Paul explains why he has sent Titus and his team.


And his major concern is that they be prepared. Verses 3 and 4 consist of one long, somewhat complex sentence, but if you strip out all the extraneous details, Paul states the core of his purpose in two ways: first positively, and then negatively. First, he says, “I have sent the brethren…so that…you may be prepared,” and then he says, “I have sent the brethren…lest you be found unprepared.” And if you’re like me, this comment makes you scratch your head a little bit, because all Paul could talk about in verses 1 and 2 was the readiness of the Corinthians to participate in this offering, and how he’s boasted of that readiness, and how that readiness has stirred up the Macedonians to generous giving. How can he be concerned that the Corinthians be found unprepared for his visit? 


Well, he’s speaking about two different kinds of readiness, or preparedness. One commentator calls them a “preparedness of intention” and a “preparedness of completion.” He says, “The readiness of which Paul speaks [in verse 2] is described [in chapter 8 verse 11] as ‘the readiness to will;’ their preparedness was a preparedness of purpose, but as yet only of partial fulfillment” (Hughes, 324). See, Paul had been boasting of the Corinthians’ willingness to participate, but here he’s concerned that they might not have everything ready when he comes. The money still needs to be collected, counted, put in the appropriate travel bags, and prepared to be transported to Jerusalem. And because Paul doesn’t want to come to Corinth with some companions from Macedonia only to find the Corinthians unprepared—scurrying about and hastily throwing everything together—he’s sent Titus and the brothers to help set all things in order.


And the reason he doesn’t want to come and find them unprepared is, verse 3, “in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case.” He says, “Don’t forget: I’ve boasted about you! But if I come, and I find that your preparedness of purpose didn’t issue in the preparedness of completion, all the boasting I’ve done is going to prove to be nothing more than mere talk! If you don’t carry your readiness of desire through to completion, my boasting in the grace of God at work in you is going to be made empty! It’ll prove hollow!”


And what would be the result of that? Look at verse 4 again: “Otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to speak of you—will be put to shame by this confidence.” See, it would have been expected that, in addition to Titus and the two unnamed brethren, several other members from the Macedonian churches would have accompanied Paul on his journey from Macedonia to Corinth. So imagine the potential for humiliation, here. These brethren from the Macedonian churches, according to chapter 8, found themselves in a great ordeal of affliction and deep poverty. And yet when they heard that the comparatively-well-off Corinthians were so ready and eager to give to this collection project, the report of the Corinthians’ zeal so stirred them up that according to their ability, and even beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging Paul with much urging for the favor of impoverishing themselves for the sake of supporting the saints in Jerusalem! And now, these destitute-but-joyful believers accompany Paul to Corinth, where they excitedly expect to see the fruit of the Corinthians’ readiness that they’d heard so much about!


And they show up, and they find the upper-middle-class Corinthians totally unprepared! Everything is disorganized! There’s been no final collection, no final count! Everything’s being thrown together in a frenzy! And they look at Paul and they say, “Didn’t you tell us that this was the congregation that was so eager to participate in this collection? This isn’t anything to boast about. This isn’t eager, willing, readiness! They don’t give any evidence of their heart being engaged to share in this ministry. Nothing is prepared!” And not only would the Corinthians be put to shame for failing to live up to their reputation, for failing to follow through on their promises. But Paul would be utterly disgraced for having boasted so confidently and yet to have nothing to show for it. And he’s saying, “Dear Corinthians, don’t do that to me! Don’t give me a red face!”


And from this we learn our fourth lesson: that shame can be helpful. Or stated a bit more thoroughly: It is proper for overseers to exhort their congregations to obedience on the basis of the desire to avoid shame. You say, “Oh my goodness! What a fleshly enslavement to the opinions of others!” No! It’s not fleshly to desire to avoid shame; it’s gravely wicked not to desire to avoid shame. Where does shame come from? It comes from your God-given conscience accusing you of sin on the basis of the law that’s written in your heart (Rom 2:14–15). And the only people who don’t have a genuine desire to avoid shame are those whose consciences are so seared—those whose rebellion against God is so severe—that God abandons them, and gives them over to a reprobate mind (Rom 1:18–32). Paul calls them “enemies of the cross of Christ” in Philippians 3:18 and 19, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame.”


I mentioned earlier the many things for which I boast of the grace of God in you. Imagine for a moment that I’ve boasted to a friend of mine of how warm-hearted and loving you are. And imagine that on that basis, my friend counsels an interested, unbelieving friend of his to visit GraceLife because he knows she’ll be warmly received. And let’s say, for whatever reason, that you’re cold toward that person—that she recognizes several people seemingly intentionally trying to avoid eye contact with her, that during the break time or after the service no one engages her in conversation, and she slips out after the sermon without having made genuine contact with anyone. And imagine my friend asks about her time in GraceLife, and she’s forced to tell him that she was ignored and neglected! When my friend comes to me and relays that to me, and says, “Mike, what happened? You boasted of your people’s warm-heartedness and love, and they seemed to go out of their way to avoid her,” what do you think will be my reaction? I’ll be embarrassed. I’ll be ashamed that my boast was nullified by your actions! And would that be wrong? Would it be fleshly? No, it would be entirely appropriate!


And Paul is teaching us that your desire to avoid that shame—both for yourselves and for your pastor who has boasted about you—is a perfectly legitimate motive for striving for obedience! Your highest motive ought always to be to bring glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ! But an extension of that ultimate motivation is the subordinate motivation fueled by the God-given desire to bring no shame upon yourselves, nor upon your leaders who boast of the grace of God at work in you.


V. Prepared Hands Make a Proper Heart (vv. 3–5)


Well, we come to a fifth lesson that emerges from this text. And that is that prepared hands make a proper heart. And this comes in verses 3 to 5, but especially verse 5. Paul says, I don’t want you to be unprepared, void my boast, and bring shame upon the both of us. “So,” verse 5, “I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.” And I say that this teaches us that prepared hands make a proper heart, which is sort of a rhetorical way of saying that diligent preparation and organization concerning our giving allows us to cultivate the proper heart attitude, so that our gifts will be acceptable to God.


Paul says he’s going to send these brethren ahead of him, so that the Corinthians have the adequate time to make the adequate preparations. By this, he ensures—look at the end of verse 5—that the gifts that they’ve pledged “would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.” And that term, bountiful gift, translates the single Greek word eulogia, which so often refers to a blessing. Here it has the sense of a generous gift. The New King James translates this, “…that it may be ready as a matter of generosity, and not as a grudging obligation.” You see, the same gift can be a gift of bounty, or a gift affected by covetousness—a gift fueled by generosity, or a gift fueled by grudging obligation. And Paul says: the difference between those two states of heart is prepared hands. The difference is whether you’ll have the time to carefully prepare—to look through your finances and prayerfully consider what you are able to offer to God as a fragrant aroma and acceptable sacrifice, to pray for the needs of the saints to whom you’ll be giving – that God would use the spiritual sacrifice that you’re preparing to genuinely meet needs and to bring honor to His name, to organize how those carefully considered gifts will be collected in an orderly, God-honoring, excellent fashion filled with integrity.


Paul doesn’t want to come to Corinth and have the Corinthians be reminded of the collection simply by his presence! “Oh no! Paul’s here already?! Ah, I’ve been meaning to sit down with my wife and figure out how much we can give to the saints in Jerusalem! Man, the time just got away from me. OK, let me run and grab some money. Oh, but how much should I give? What can I afford? Well, there’s this expense, and that expense, and, hmm, I wish I was able to give more, but, this will just have to do!” Do you see how virtually impossible it is that such a gift—thrown together in such a hasty fashion as that—could come from a heart of generosity? Do you see how easy it would be for covetousness to restrain generosity when you haven’t prayed to the Lord, filled the mind with truth, filled the heart with affection for the brethren, labored to get your heart touched by a sense of the grace of God to you in Christ?


Paul says, “I don’t want to get to Corinth and have you surprised by my presence, and, because you want to save face with me there, have the collection be a matter of my wringing your gifts out of tight-fisted, narrow-hearted hands! I want you prepared! I want you reading over this letter, assimilating its directives and applying its principles, praying that the Lord would accomplish this grace-produced, Gospel-shaped, genuine generosity in your hearts!”


Prepared hands make proper hearts, friends. We heard before that Paul likens Christian giving to the ministry of the Old Testament priests. And in that sacrificial worship, the priests didn’t just prepare the offering; they were also to prepare themselves. They were to wash with water, to don the priestly garments, to be anointed with oil on the head. Well, though our preparation will look different, the need for the preparation of the heart of the worshiper is only increased for us, the priests of the New Covenant! When it comes to our weekly offerings, or when it comes to considering how we might give above and beyond our regular giving to meet the needs of the saints, we can’t just casually throw that together and make that decision flippantly! We need to prepare for that ministry of giving! We need to cultivate the proper heart attitude, so that what comes through our hands is genuine generosity—produced by the grace of God, shaped by the Gospel of God, and only therefore glorifying to God.


So you ought not to be writing the check for the offering in the car on the way to church. Your decision about how much monthly support to pledge to a missionary ought not to be made in haste. As you consider the financial needs of the members of your Bible study, it ought to be done with the prayerful reflection that brings the heart into contact with a sense of God’s grace. Set aside time, so that the preparation of your giving will make it the act of worship that it ought to be. Review your finances, thank God for His provision for your needs, ask for His continued provision, and pray that He would enable you to give sacrificially, from a genuinely generous heart—cheerfully and not begrudgingly, but delighted to imitate the Lord in giving grace to others, who has so richly poured out His grace upon you.




And in meditating on that point, we see once again how far this is from the externalistic moralism that conceives of Christianity, or righteousness, or goodness, as merely the performance of a checklist of external duties. No, as I’ve said, this generosity to which we are commanded cannot be counterfeited! It must be organically produced in the heart by the grace of God! And where has that grace been preeminently revealed to us? “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that although in His pre-existent, eternal glory and deity He was in possession of spiritual riches whose wealth words are unable to describe, He nevertheless voluntarily and sacrificially renounced those riches, and embraced the poverty of life and death as a human being, precisely so that we who were destitute of God’s favor and blessing could be enriched with the very righteousness of God Himself! That grace has been revealed in the Father’s indescribable gift to us—in the incarnation and atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ!


And if you are here this morning and have not been united to Christ by faith alone—if you have not personally drunk from the sweet fountains and have not personally feasted at the banquet table of Gospel grace—it is impossible for you to be generous in the way this text commands it of you. You don’t have a heart that has been opened and enlarged by divine grace. And it is only by divine grace that genuine generosity dwells in the heart. If you sit here today still dead in your sins—still clinging to your own sinful pleasure, or even clinging to what you believe to be your own “good works,” trusting in your own righteousness to take you to heaven—I call you to turn from your sins, and turn from the filthy rags of your own works, and trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins, for a right standing before God.


He stands ready to receive you—the model Giver, whose loving heart renders Him eager to pour out the gifts of the blessings of His grace! The Father who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. The Son who came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many—who said, “Dear woman, if you knew the gift of God, you would have asked Me for a drink, and I would give! I would give you living water that would satisfy you forever!—who says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest!” Dear sinner, don’t die in your sins! Receive indescribable gift of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ!


And for you have received that gift, open your heart to give generously to others, so as to magnify the grace that you yourself have been so generously shown.