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Ten Principles of Christian Giving
It is well known that the apostle Paul
organized a collection from the Greek churches of
Achaia and Macedonia for the benefit of the
impoverished churches of Judea. It may seem
extraordinary that he should have devoted so much
space in his letters to this mundane matter,
referring to it in Romans 15, 1 Corinthians 16, and 2
Corinthians 8-9. But Paul did not see it as a
mundane matter. On the contrary, he saw it as
relating to the grace of God, the cross of Christ and
the unity of the Spirit. In fact, it is very moving to
grasp this combination of profound Trinitarian
theology and practical common sense.
John R.W. Stott is rector emeritus of All Souls
Langham Place, London, and founder and honorary
president of the London Institute for
Moreover, Christian giving is an extremely
important topic on the contemporary church’s
agenda. For I doubt of there is a single Christian
enterprise in the world which is not currently hindered
and hampered by lack of funds. Only this past week
I heard of two Christian organizations both of which
are threatened with closure unless their income
In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 the apostle
develops 10 principles of Christian giving.
1. Christian giving is an expression of
the grace of God (8:1-6).
And now, brothers we want you to know
about the grace that God has given the Macedonian
churches. Out of the most severe trial, their
overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up
in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as
much as they were able, and even beyond their
ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently
pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this
service to the saints. And they did not do as we
expected, but gave themselves first to the Lord and
then to us in keeping with God’s will.6So we urges
Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to
bring also to completion this act of grace on your
You will notice that the apostle Paul does
not begin by referring to the generosity of the
churches of Macedonia in Northern Greece. He refers
instead to the generosity of God, to ‘the grace which
God has given to the Macedonian churches’ (v.1). In
other words, behind the generosity of Macedonia,
Paul saw the generosity of God. For grace is another
word for generosity. Our gracious God is a generous
God, and he is at work within his people to make
them generous too.
More remarkable still is the fact that three
tributaries contributed to the river of Macedonian
generosity, namely (v.2) their severe trial, their
overflowing joy and their extreme poverty. In
consequence, the Macedonians gave even beyond
their ability (v.3). And they pleaded for the privilege
of sharing in this service to God’s people in Judea
(v.4). Indeed, they gave themselves first to the
Lord and then to Paul and his apostolic band (v.5).
Also Paul had urged Titus to complete what he had
begun in Corinth, the capital of Achaia, a little while
ago (v.6). What was this? It was this same ‘act of
This then is where Paul begins–with the
grace of God in the Macedonian churches of Northern
Greece and with the same grace of God in the
Achaean churches of Southern Greece. Christian
generosity is fundamentally an outflow of the
generosity of God.
2. Christian giving can be a charisma,
that is a gift of the Spirit (8:7).
But just as you excel in everything –
faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete
earnestness and in your love for us – see that you
also excel in this grace of giving.
Thus, as they excel in the spiritual gifts of
faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness and love, the
apostle urges them to excel also ‘in this grace of
giving’. Similarly in Romans 12:8 Paul includes
among another list of charismata ‘contributing to the
needs of others’.
Why is it important to draw attention to
this? It is because many of God’s endowments are
both a generous gift given to all believers and a
particular gift (charisma) given to some. For
example, all Christians are called to share the
gospel with others, but some have the gift of an
evangelist. Again, all Christians are called to
exercise pastoral care for others, but some are
called to be pastors. Just so, all Christians are
called to be generous, but some are given the
particular ‘gift of giving’. Because they have been
entrusted with significant financial resources, they
have a special responsibility to be good stewards for
the common good.
3. Christian giving is inspired by the
cross of Christ (8:8, 9).
I am not commanding you, but I
test the sincerity of you love by comparing it with the
earnestness of others. For you know the grace of
our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet
for your sakes he became poor, so that you through
his poverty might become rich.
The Corinthians were not being
commanded, still less browbeaten, to give
generously. Rather the sincerity of their love was
being put to the test by comparison with others and
especially (it is implied) by comparison with Christ.
For they knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We take note of this further reference to
divine grace. Not only is the grace of God at work in
us (v.1), but the grace of Christ challenges our
Here are two references to poverty and two
references to wealth. Because of our poverty Christ
renounced his riches, so that through his poverty we
might become rich. We must not misunderstand
this by supposing that material poverty and wealth
are in mind. No, the ‘poverty’ of Christ is seen in his
incarnation and especially his cross, while
the ‘wealth’ he gives us is salvation with all its rich
4. Christian giving is proportionate
And here is my advice about what is
best for you in this matter: Last year you were the
not only to give but also to have the desire to do
so. Now finish the work, so that your eager
willingness to do it may be matched by your
completion of it, according to your means. For if
the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable
according to what one has, not according to what he
does not have.
During the previous year the Corinthian
Christians had been the first not only in giving but in
desiring to give (v.10). So now Paul urges them to
finish the task they had begun, so that their doing
will keep pace with their desiring. And this must be
according to their means (v11). Thus Christian
giving is proportionate giving. The eager willingness
comes first. So long as that is there, the gift is
acceptable according to what the giver has, not
according to what he has not (v.12).
This expression "according to his means"
reminds us of two similar expressions which occur in
the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 11:29 members of
the church in Antioch gave to the famine-stricken
Judean Christians "each according to his ability." In
Acts 2 and 4 members of the church in Jerusalem
gave "to each according to his need."
Does this ring a bell in our memories? In
his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) Marx
called for a society which could "inscribe on its
banners 'from each according to his ability' and 'to
each according to his need' ”. I have often
if Marx knew these two verses in Acts and if he
deliberately borrowed them. Whatever our politics
and economics may be, these are certainly biblical
principles to which we should hold fast. Christian
giving is proportionate giving.
5. Christian giving contributes to
Our desire is not that others might
relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there
might be equality. At the present time your plenty
will supply what they need, so that in turn their
plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be
equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much
did not have too much, and he who gathered little
did not have too little’.
Paul’s desire he explains to his Corinthian
readers, is not that others may be relieved while
they are hard pressed, for that would merely reverse
the situation, solving one problem by creating
another, but rather that there might be equality
(v.13). He goes on to repeat his argument. Now at
present Corinthian plenty will supply the needs of
others, so that in turn Paul illustrates the principle
from the supply of manna in the desert. God
provided enough for everybody. Larger families
gathered a lot, but not too much, for nothing was
left over. Smaller families gathered little, but not
too little, for they had no lack (v.15).
Thus Paul put the affluence of some
alongside the want of others, and then called for an
adjustment, that is, an easing of want by affluence.
Twice he concluded that this was with a view to
isoles, which can mean either ‘equality’ or ‘justice’.
What is this ‘equality’ for which Paul calls?
It may be said to have three aspects.
First, equality is not egalitarianism. God’s
purpose is not that everybody receives an identical
wage, lives in an identical house, equipped with
identical furniture, wears identical clothing and eats
identical food – as if we had all been mass produced
in some celestial factory! No. Our doctrine of
creation should protect us from any vision of
colorless uniformity. For God the Creator has not
cloned us. True, we are equal in worth and dignity,
equally made in God’s image. True, God gives rain
and sunshine indiscriminately to both the evil and
the good. But God has made us different, and has
given his creation a colorful diversity in physique,
appearance, temperament, personality and
Secondly, the equality we seek begins with
equality of educational opportunity. Christians have
always been in the forefront of those demanding
literacy and education for all. For to educate
(educare) is to lead people out into their fullest
created potential, so that they may become
everything God intends them to be. For example,
equal educational opportunity means not that every
child is sent to college, but that every child capable
of benefiting from a college education will be able to
have one. No child should be disadvantaged. It is
a question of justice.
Thirdly, equality abolishes extreme social
disparity. Julius Nyerere, ex-President of Tanzania,
said in his Arusha Declaration that he wanted to
build a nation in which ‘no man is ashamed of his
poverty in the light of another’s affluence, and no
man has to be ashamed of his affluence in the light
of another’s poverty.’
The same dilemma confronts
missionaries. Should they ‘go bush’, becoming in all
things like the nationals they work among? Or
should they continue to enjoy western affluence
without any modification of their lifestyle? Probably
neither. The Willowbank Report on ‘Gospel and
Culture’ (1978) suggests that they should rather
develop a standard of living ‘which finds it natural to
exchange hospitality with others on a basis of
reciprocity, without embarrassment’ (Making Christ
Known. Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1996, p. 82.
In other words, if we are embarrassed
either to visit other people in their home, or to invite
them into ours, because of the disparity of our
economic lifestyles, - something is wrong. The
inequality is too great. It has broken the
fellowship. There needs to be a measure of
equalization in one or other direction or in both.
And Christian giving contributes to this equality.
6. Christian giving must be carefully
I thank God, who put into the heart
Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus
not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to
you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.
And we are sending along with him the brother
who is praised by all the churches for his service to
the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the
churches to accompany us as we carry the offering,
which we administer in order to honor the Lord
himself and to show our eagerness to help. We
want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer
this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do
what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but
also in the eyes of men.
The handling of money is a risky
business. Throughout church history religion has too
often been commercialized. Paul is evidently aware
of the dangers. So he writes both that ‘we want to
avoid any criticism of the way we administer this
liberal gift’ (v.20) and that ‘we are taking pains to
do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but
also in the eyes of men’ (v.21). That is, he was
determined not only to do right, but also to be seen
to do right.
In addition, we are sending with them
our brother who has often proved to us in many
ways that he is zealous, and now even more so
because of his great confidence in you. As for
Titus, he is my partner and fellow-worker among
you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of
the churches and an honor to Christ. Therefore
show these men the proof of your love and the
reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can
So what steps did Paul take? First, he did
not handle the financial arrangement himself, but
put Titus in charge of them (vv.16, 17) and
expressed his full confidence in him (v.23).
Secondly, Paul added that he was sending along with
Titus another brother, who was ‘praised by all the
churches for his service to the gospel’ (v.18).
Thirdly, this second brother had been ‘chosen by the
churches to accompany’ Paul and carry the gift
(v.19;cf. 1 Cor. 16:3). Thus the people who carried
the offering to Jerusalem had been elected by the
churches because they had confidence in them.
In our day it is wise to take similar
precautions against possible criticism. In this
connection we have reason to be profoundly grateful
for the wisdom and integrity of Billy Graham for
declining to handle his organization’s finances, for
accepting a fixed salary and refusing all ‘love
offerings’, and for ensuring that audited accounts
are published after every crusade. Similarly, we are
grateful for the formation of ECFA (the Evangelical
Council for Financial Accountability) which sets
standards of financial accountability for Christian
7. Christian giving can be stimulated
by a little friendly competition (9:1-5).
There is no need for me to write to you
about this service to the saints. For I know your
eagerness to help and I have been boasting about
it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last
year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your
enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.
But I am sending the brothers in order that our
boasting about you in this matter should not prove
hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you
would be. For if any Macedonians come with me
and find you unprepared, we – not to say anything
about you – would be ashamed of having been so
confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the
brothers to visit you in advance and finish the
arrangements for the generous gift you had
promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift,
not as one grudgingly given.
Paul had been boasting to the Macedonian
churches of Northern Greece (e.g. Philippi) about the
eagerness of the Achaean churches of Southern
Greece (e.g. Corinth) to give, and the South’s
enthusiasm has stirred the North to action (v.2).
Now Paul is sending the brothers already mentioned
to the South (especially Corinth) in order to ensure
that his boasting about the South will not prove
hollow but that the South will be ready as he had
said they would be (v.3).
For if some northerners were to come
south with Paul, and were to find the south
unprepared, it would be a huge embarrassment to
Paul, and even a public humiliation for him (v.11).
That is why Paul was sending the brothers in
advance, in order to finish the arrangements for
their promised gift. Then they would be ready and
their gift would be generous and not grudging (v. 5)
First Paul has boasted of southern generosity, so
that the northerners will give generously. Now he
urges the southerners to give generously, so that
the northerners will not be disappointed in them.
It is rather delightful to see how Paul plays
off the north and the south against each other. He
boasts of each to the other, in order to stimulate the
generosity of both. True, competition is a
dangerous game to play, especially if it involves the
publication of the names of donors and the amount
they have donated. But at least these verses
provide a biblical base for the concept of matching
grants. We can all be stimulated to greater
generosity by the known generosity of others.
8. Christian giving resembles a harvest
Remember this: Whoever sows
will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows
generously will also reap generously. Each man
should give what he has decided in his heart to give,
not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a
cheerful giver. 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. As it is written:
Two harvest principles are here applied to
‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the
his righteousness endures for ever.’
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. You will be made rich in every
way so that you can be generous on every occasion,
First, we reap what we sow. Whoever sows
sparingly reaps sparingly, and whoever sows
generously reaps generously (v.6). ‘Sowing’ is an
obvious picture of giving. What then can we expect
to ‘reap’? We should not interpret Paul’s point with
excessive literalism, as if he were saying that the
more we give the more we will get, and that our
income will keep pace with our expenditure. No.
Each donor should give ‘what he has decided in hi
heart to give’. Neither reluctantly, nor under
compulsion, nor for that matter calculating what he
will receive in return (Luke 6:34, 35), but rather
ungrudgingly, because ‘God loves a cheerful giver’
If then we give in this spirit, what will
happen? What harvest can we expect to reap?
Answer: ‘God is able to make all grace abound to
you’ so that ‘in all things’ (not necessarily in
material things) on the one hand you may have all
you need, and on the other you may ‘abound in
every good work’ because your opportunities for
further service will increase (v.8). As Scripture says,
the consequence of giving to the poor is to have a
righteousness which endures for ever (v. 9; Ps.
The second harvest principle is that what
we reap has a double purpose. It is both for eating
and for further sowing. For the God of the harvest is
concerned not only to alleviate our present hunger,
but also to make provision for the future. So he
supplies both ‘bread for food’ (immediate
consumption) and ‘seed to the sower’ (to plant when
the next season comes round). In the same way
God will ‘supply and increase your store of seed and
will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness’ (v.10).
These verses are the origin of the concept
of ‘seed-money’, expecting God to multiply a
donor’s gift. But it has been much abused by some
TV evangelists. Paul is not preaching the false
prosperity gospel. True, he promises that ‘you will
be made rich in every way’, but he adds at once that
this is ‘so that you can be generous on every
occasion’ (v.11a) and so increase your giving.
Wealth is with a view to generosity. This is the
second principle of the harvest.
9. Christian giving has symbolic
There is more in Christian giving than
meets the eye. Paul is quite clear about this. In
the case of the Greek churches, their giving
symbolized their ‘confession of the gospel of Christ’
(v.13). How is that?
Paul looks beyond the mere transfer of
cash from the Greek churches to the Judean
churches to what it represented or symbolized. The
significance of his collection was not just
geographical (from Greece to Judea), nor just
economical (from the rich to the poor), but in
particular theological (from Gentile Christians to
Jewish Christians). His collection was a deliberate,
self-conscious symbol of Jewish-Gentile solidarity in
the body of Christ.
Indeed, this truth (that Jews and Gentiles
are admitted to the body of Christ on the same
terms, so that in Christ they are heirs together,
members together and sharers together) was
the ‘mystery’ which had been revealed to Paul (e.g.
Eph.3:1-9). This was the essence for his distinctive
gospel. It was the truth he lived for, was imprisoned
for and died for. It is hinted at here, but elaborated
in Romans 15:25-28.
Paul writes there that the Gentile churches
of Greece had been ‘pleased’ to make a contribution
for the impoverished Christians of Judea. “They
were pleased to do it’, he repeated. Indeed ‘they
owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in
the Jews’ spiritual blessings (culminating in the
Messiah himself), they owe it to the Jews to share
with them their material blessings’ (Romans
15:27). It was a striking example of solidarity in
the Christian fellowship.
In similar ways, our Christian giving can
express our theology, because our gift symbolizes
our support of the cause to which we are giving. For
example, when we contribute to evangelistic
enterprises, we are expressing our confidence that
the gospel is God’s power for salvation, and that
everybody had a right to hear it. When we
contribute to economic development, we express our
belief that every man, woman, and child bears God’s
image and should not be obliged to live in
dehumanizing circumstances. When we give to the
maturing of the church, we acknowledge its centrality
in God’s purpose and his desire for its maturity.
10. Christian giving promotes
thanksgiving to God (9:11b-15).
Through us your generosity will
thanksgiving to God.
Four times in the concluding paragraph of
these two chapters, Paul states his confidence that
the ultimate result of his collection will be the
increase of thanksgiving and praise to God.
This service that you perform is not only
supplying the needs of God’s people but is also
overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
Because of the service by which you have proved
yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience
that accompanies your confession of the gospel of
Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them
and with everyone else. And in their prayers for
you their hearts will go out to you, because of the
surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be
to God for his indescribable gift!
v. 11 ‘your generosity will
result in thanksgiving to God’
Here is a crucial test as to whether our giving is
authentically Christian or not. Truly Christian giving
leads people not only to thank us the donors, but to
thank God, and to see our gift in the light of his –
the indescribable gift of his Son.
v. 12 ‘this service that you
perform…is…overflowing in many expressions of
thanks to God’
v. 13 ‘men will praise God for
the obedience that accompanies your confession of
the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity…’
v. 14 ‘Thanks be to God for
his indescribable gift!’
To recapitulate, here are ten principles of
Christian giving as enunciated in 2 Corinthians 8 and
9. Christian giving:
It is truly amazing that so much is involved in
what may seem to be a straightforward transfer of
money. On the one hand, the doctrine of the Trinity
is involved – the grace of God, the cross of Christ
and the unity of the Holy Spirit. On the other, we
see the practical wisdom of an apostle of Christ.
- is an expression of the grace of God
- can be charisma
- is inspired by the cross of Christ
- should be proportionate to our wealth
- contributes to equality
- should be carefully supervised
- can be stimulated by competition
- resembles a harvest
- has symbolic significance
- promotes thanksgiving to God
I hope that our study of these chapters will
help to raise our giving to a higher level, and will
persuade us to give more thoughtfully, more
systematically and more sacrificially. I for one
(having preached this sermon to myself before
preaching it to you) have already reviewed and
raised my giving. I venture to hope that you may
Copyright © 2002 John Stott. All rights reserved.
This exposition was first given at The
Gathering in San Diego, Calif., in 1998 and
subsequently repeated in All Souls
Church, Langham Place, London. Distributed by
permission by Generous Giving, Inc.