Generous Gospel Obedience
By their approval of this service,they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. (2 Corinthians 9:13–14)
Are you obedient to the gospel? At first glance, that may seem like an odd question. Typically, we don’t speak in such terms, but the Apostle Paul did. In his letters, we come across phrases similar to the one we encounter in 2 Corinthians 9:13, wherein Paul speaks of submitting to or obeying the gospel of Christ (e.g. Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8). In most cases, Paul speaks of those who do not obey the gospel; however, in this instance, he praises the Corinthian church for their submission to their gospel confession.
Paul’s relationship with the money-loving, self-loving, and world-loving Corinthians was one that abounded with admonition and rebuke. Nevertheless, throughout his letters, Paul makes every effort to lovingly encourage the Corinthians in every possible way. Having already explained why he is rejoicing in their godly grief that has led to their repentance, their earnest faith, and their genuine love, he now more fully explains the reason for his “boasting” because of their “readiness” and “zeal” in the work of the gospel (vv. 1–3).
Authentic generosity becomes the man whose heart is established in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In obedience to their confession of the gospel, the Corinthians, who were known throughout the world for their wealth and immorality, had given financially to support the church at Jerusalem, a people whom they had never met and with whom they had little in common except for their common confession in the gospel of Jesus Christ. What’s more, their gift didn’t simply help the struggling Jerusalem church but “fully supplied” all they needed.
In being obedient to the gospel, they sought to extend a helping hand of mercy just as Christ had extended His to them. A self-sufficient people who previously thought they needed nothing had come to recognize their spiritual destitution and their need for Christ who fully supplies all their needs. Perhaps taking clues from Jesus’ story of the rich young ruler, they understood that for them following Christ meant giving what they had to the poor. Although they struggled in many ways, many at Corinth understood, loved, and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ. And although the Jerusalem believers had nothing in their hands that they could offer the Corinthians, they could offer their prayers and praises to God in their behalf.
As Martin Luther said, “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbors do.” So it could also be said that although God doesn’t need our money, our neighbors do—across the street and around the world. Our Lord gives us our time, talents, and treasures not simply that we would feel good about ourselves but so that we would glorify and enjoy Him by living for and serving Him and His people. Living generous lives and living with a little less is much easier said than done, even for Christians. However, what the self-centered man finds impossible, we find possible through the Holy Spirit, who is always working to transform our self-centered, self-infatuated, and self-seeking ways. As He transforms us, He transforms others by His grace. As we are obedient to the gospel, the Spirit makes others obedient to the gospel by His grace. Our gospel-motivated generosity in coming to the end of ourselves brings others to the end of themselves in repentance, faith, and generous living by God’s grace. These are the sorts of secondary means that God has ordained as He brings about His primary ends in His world and for His church—by His grace and for His glory through the gospel proclamation and gospel obedience of His people.
We are often only concerned about our own little kingdoms rather than the kingdom of God, monuments to our own names rather than glory to the name of our God, glory from men rather than glory to God. When we give, let’s never ask: What will this do for me? What returns will it bring me? Will I get a pat on the back? Will I be adoringly recognized? How little can I give to make a good impression? How much should I give in order to get the necessary deductions? Rather, let us pray that God would help us ask those questions that serve to advance His kingdom, not our own. Authentic generosity becomes the man whose heart is established in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who generously sacrificially came and lived and died and lives and prays and reigns and will come again and give us all things.