September 19, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (2 Corinthians 9)

Submitted by Kenton W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

2 Corinthians 9:1-7

  • What can I learn from the fact that Apostle Paul, after saying that he knew about their readiness to help, still sent the brothers to the Corinthians to ensure that his boasting about them would not prove to be empty? 

      Apostle Paul plainly states that he had been encouraging the Macedonians to give via the example and zeal of the Corinthian church.  While Apostle Paul states he knows about the Corinthian church’s desire to help, he honestly admits that he’s a little afraid they won’t.  He is fearful they will not be ready to give when the time comes.  A serious doubt had arose in Apostle Paul’s mind and rather than remain passive, Apostle Paul wanted to first and foremost be assured of the Corinthians’ heart and love because he knew then that preparing the gift would follow.  I visualize the Macedonians going to Corinth with Apostle Paul eager to meet their brothers and sisters they had tied their lives to through this act of giving, this church that had been such a source of strength and encouragement in the face of affliction and suffering—only to be met with maybe a meager gift, or a monetary gift clearly gathered quickly and given with reluctance.  Sure there would be humiliation, but what a downer that would be.  How deflated, confused and disappointed the Macedonians would be.  Much of their joy gone.  Maybe not so zealous the next time a call to give.  Maybe a little more doubt and hesitation in their approach to other brothers and sisters that come their way.  Apostle Paul a chapter earlier states that his aim for the Corinthians is to have their love prove genuine and as their leader and spiritual father he was going to do all he could to ensure that.  Here’s a picture of a leader that saw himself as his brothers’ keeper, and that meant being pro-active.  Apostle Paul knows the depths of man’s sinfulness and man’s inclination to sin, and obviously Paul had legitimate doubts and did want to allow sin whether it is worldliness, greed or stinginess to rob the Corinthians of participating in this act.  I could look at Paul being overly critical, cynical and too much, but I see it as a father doing all he can to make sure his children get that experience.  He wanted the Corinthians to actually love others through this monetary giving, to experience the joy of giving, to experience the “harvest of righteousness” that God will give them.  Apostle Paul did not approach ministry casually and wishfully think things would work out for the best and just happen.  He took initiative.  In the same way I can learn as a minister with people entrusted to me that I cannot be a casual and wishful thinker especially when it comes to opportunities for them to grow and experience joy.  I know firsthand in others’ and my own life how quickly sin and temptation can pull away a person from their good intentions.  It’s a spiritual battle and I need to have that forward-thinking and be active in presence in my sheep’s lives so they can experience God at work through them.

  • Does this contradict v. 7?  

Apostle Paul sending brothers to Corinth to ensure the gift was ready does not contradict v. 7 that every person should decide in their heart not under reluctance or compulsion.  Once again Paul’s aim is for the Corinthians to prove their love genuine and love by definition cannot be forced on another person or coerced into. I can’t compel or force someone to love me or someone else.  Apostle Paul’s intentions are also clear in v. 5 that he wanted it to be “willing gift” and not by exaction which can be thought of as extortion or pressuring with severity.  The picture isn’t of bullies going around either taking the money by force or putting them in an extreme guilt trip and filling them with shame or threatening them with God’s wrath for not giving the gift.  Paul sent a brother famous for preaching the gospel, and another earnest in his care for the Corinthians.  These are brothers reminding the Corinthians of the gospel and how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave it all—His own life—for their salvation.  They are there to spur these brothers towards love and good deeds.   There hope is not that they would compel the Corinthians to give by force, but by love’s compulsion.  The same compulsion that drove them initially to take part in this service to the Jerusalem church.  To return to that decision they made in their hearts.  This is the role of a leader.  This is the role of a coach training an Olympic athlete—pushing and urging the sprinter to run another lap. Even though the sprinter might be tired, he runs another lap not forced by his coach, but knowing the coach has in mind the same goal he has—to win that gold medal and the glory of it all.  This is my role because as a minister I need to ensure I am compelled by love because there are people under my care that I am held accountable for—that I am to ensure their actions aren’t out of exaction, but a willing love.  

2 Corinthians 9:6-10

  • In what ways is it generally true of life that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully?” 

I see this verse and it’s fairly accurate of life.  The amount of work I put in generally has a direct relationship with the results—with how much I gain.  The more I invest my time in studying and taking practice midterms and going to office hours, there is high likelihood I’ll do better on the midterm, I will get a better grade.  The more effort I put into piano, the hours of practicing, the numerous recitals and concerts will make me a much better pianist that is probably able to enjoy music on a much higher level and be able to lose oneself in playing.  And this can be applied to so many different areas.  Yet to sow bountifully means also there’s a lot more follow up work that must be done.  Sure more seeds are needed at the outset, but the more bountifully I sow the more land I must tend to in order for them to grow. More resources—time, money, work—will be asked of me.  It is not just tossing seeds everywhere and just seeing what happens, but it’s tossing seeds and putting it to work—tending the field.

  • What are the areas in which I have sown sparingly and areas in which I have sown bountifully?  

One area that I see God’s direct hand at work as I went from sowing sparingly to sowing bountifully is relationships and people of God.  All throughout undergraduate I never thought it worth investing in relationships—I really did not have any strong peer relationships.  I had no one I could confidently claim this is my brother in Christ that I want to run the race together with.  No, instead the people I aligned myself with were ones that shared in my desire for a watered down Christianity (so in this sense a rebellion against God’s lordship did abound in my life).  Whether it was freshmen year where I thought I was too cool for my peers and could never be close with them or senior year where I had that sinner’s pride and didn’t think they could understand my struggles, I sowed sparingly.  Despite coming regularly, I closed up my heart towards my leaders and if I shared it was often vague.  Indeed my life shrank to me—all I cared about was me.  I didn’t allow anyone into my life to be able to talk truth in my life, to teach, correct and rebuke me with God’s word, to be a mirror or to just turn to when I was struggling and needed prayers.  I sowed sparingly and thus could not fathom or experience what the Body of Christ meant.

So it wasn’t until after graduation when I was living with more of my peers, doing life with them, and serving alongside them that I began sowing bountifully in my relationships with my peers.  And as I was in my first year in college ministry and working, my life and values became exposed before my leaders.  I remember that time being filled with a lot of drama and difficulty as I tried for the first time to actually grow close with others, to take the initiative and confessing to others, to praying for others, to have my character flaws and sins exposed.  It was painful at times, it required a lot of work and effort on my part.  But I made a commitment to my peers and leaders and they made a commitment to me, and so I didn’t want to give up.  So it was making that effort to confess, to go on Cambodia Mission trip together, to spend nights at my leaders’ house just talking with them and seeing their lives, to ask for prayers, living together with my peers, doing ministry side by side and so on. But more than my peers and leaders I have the rest of this rich community—people I have co-labored with, lived with, ministered to or just gotten to know somehow through the years. I am a rich man.  The relationships I have today are bountiful and richer than I could have imagined or done on my own, and I know it’s because of God at work in my life.

Submitted by Shara S. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

2 Corinthians 9:1-7

  • What can I learn from the fact that Apostle Paul, after saying that he knew about their readiness to help, still sent the brothers to the Corinthians to ensure that his boasting about them would not prove to be empty?

Apostle Paul was confident in the Corinthian’s readiness to give to the saints in Jerusalem so much so that he boasted to the Macedonians about the Corinthians. But having willingness and readiness is one thing, and backing it up with actions is another. Often we have good intentions and may even be passionate about something but often we fail to follow through. How many times have we made a commitment to do something to only later look back on it with regret or doubt? The longer we wait to act the more doubt or hesitancy starts to set in and thus prevents us from being able to fulfill our commitments or our pledges. We start to count the costs more and comb through every what-if scenario looking for reasons as to why we cannot fulfill our commitment. Apostle Paul is not ignorant of the fickleness of the human heart. In fact he knows that people have the tendency to do this and this is the reason why he is sending the brother ahead of him to Corinth to collect the money. Often we need encouragement or a reminder or even a little coaxing to act on the commitments that we made.

One incident that illustrates this point for me occurred last summer when we had a retreat. After the retreat I felt like the Corinthians—filled with a readiness and eagerness to share the gospel with the students on campus. I was fired up and looking forward to welcome week and the fall which was still months away. But as the time got closer I felt a sense of hesitancy pulling at my heart. Work got busy, I was in the middle of applying for grad school, and planning for welcome week was stressful. I started to feel really insecure as a minister. That readiness and fire that I had initially was starting to wane and I could feel myself wanting to hold back a little bit. It wasn’t like I no longer wanted to serve, but I just didn’t want to go all out like I had initially wanted to. I wanted to save a little bit of time and energy for myself because I knew that there were other things that needed my attention—work, school, applications etc. But through times of reflection and the word of God, I was reminded of why I wanted to do ministry in the first place and I was taken back to the point of my initial commitment to want to be sold out for God and to give it my all to reach the campus. If left to myself I know that I would never be able to live up to the commitments that I make no matter how zealous I am because I know that my heart is fickle. But that is why I am so thankful to be part of a community of believer where we can hold each other accountable and where we can not only be reminded of our commitments but also be spurred on to keep them even when the feelings die away.

  • Does this contradict v. 7?

2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” I don’t think the fact that Apostle Paul sent the brothers to Corinth to collect the money beforehand contradicts verse 7. In this verse it says that “each one must give as he has decided in his heart…” meaning that each person had already decided how much they wanted to give beforehand. In fact the Corinthians were more than ready to give, so much so that Apostle Paul was willing to boast about them to the Macedonians. But by sending the brothers to collect, Apostle Paul was just ensuring that they would fulfill what they had already set out in their heart to do.

2 Corinthians 9:6-10

  • Are there things I am doing “reluctantly or under compulsion?”  How can I move towards being a cheerful giver?

I think one area that I have been struggling with lately is being reluctant with giving up my time. As a graduate student, I find myself battling that same anxiety as an undergrad about my time being not enough. But what has helped me to overcome my reluctance and reservation has been to hold on to the truth that my time is really not my own. That ultimately God is in control and that my time is actually his time. I’ve also been holding on to the truth that God was the one that has led me this whole way and I have never lacked anything and thus I can trust that he will continue to lead me. Remember that all that I have is from God allows me to be a cheerful giver because I know that I whatever I give or pour out comes from an unlimited resource and that ultimately these things are not mine to hold on to.

  • Reflect on the promise of v. 8.  Pray that I will experience sufficiency in God’s grace in all things at all times, so that I can abound in every good work.  Pray this prayer of blessing for someone else.

What is it that makes me hold back from being able to give myself fully to God? Isn’t it my fears, my insecurities, my feeling like I don’t have that much to give? It is when I try to draw from my own well of energy or competence or ability that I am overwhelmed by my feeling of lack and thus paralyzed from being able to do anything that is of worth to the kingdom. It is when I give into my fears of missing out or fears of not having enough for myself that I find myself withholding from God what is already rightfully His. But what does 2 Corinthians 9:8 say? It says “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” This verse says that it is God who is able to make all grace abound in us so that we may have sufficiency in all things at all time. To have sufficiency means to have enough and this verse is saying that God will give us just enough of what we need whenever we need it. And what is our greatest need? Our greatest need is God’s grace and this he gives us abundantly! It is this grace that overrides any of my fears, my insecurities, my sense of being lame or of lacking anything. Knowing that my greatest need is met gives me the freedom to do good work and to give freely to others.

Personal Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

I thank you that you are a God who is able to make all grace abound in us and that you give us all sufficiency in all things at all times. Father I thank you that you have met my greatest need and that I no longer need to look to myself or to this world to fill those needs. No longer do I need to try to put up an image or to seek approval from people to feel sufficient or competent to do your good work. I now have the freedom to love others and to give myself freely to your work because my fear of missing out or lacking anything is wiped away. I pray that you would please continue to stand firm in your grace that I can continue to abound in your good work.  I pray all this in the name of your son.

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