Generosity is a trait we love—in others, that is. Most of us love the idea of giving. When we do give, we don’t regret it, because it feels good to give. Sort of. Maybe. Sometimes we miss the money or time we gave and would like to have it back, or at least get something back in return. It’s easy to regret the cost of giving, but that’s not the attitude of a cheerful giver; it’s the attitude of an investor. We want dividends paid in exchange for our “gift,” or rather, our “investment.”
Today’s reading in 2 Corinthians 9 turns our attitude of investment generosity on its head. The picture it paints is that of a farmer sowing seed. In the spring he sows seed, and in the fall he harvests. How much he harvests and the quality of his harvest depends on how much he sows and the quality of his seed. If he scatters a few crummy seeds he will harvest a lean crop, but if he sows generously he will reap generously.
At first, this appears to be a similar metaphor to that of investing: you get out what you put in, plus a little extra. But Paul isn’t finished yet. Consider the farmer’s dependence on God. He puts little dead plant pods in dirt and prays God will transform it into growing, living sustenance. He hopes his seeds will bear fruit, but it isn’t up to him.
Next, notice how Paul describes what is reaped: “And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
Paul is not describing riches gained on a return investment. The harvest of generous sowing is due to “every grace,” so we can “excel in every good work.” Faithful, hopeful generosity results in abundant grace and growth in our lives, not necessarily our bank accounts. While these graces that help us do good work might include money or material gain, that is neither a guarantee nor the point. Our investment is in every good work, and that is our dividend.
Paul goes on to emphasize thanks, not reward. The fruit of generosity is thankfulness and “shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:5). That response reflects a kind of generosity I rarely see or participate in, but wouldn’t that be amazing? It would mean giving as we have received from God—lavishly, sacrificially, whole-heartedly, lovingly, and without ceasing. This kind of sowing reaps thanksgiving and praise. It is a pouring out of life, not just dollars. And the harvest is rich, beautiful, and bountiful.
Written by Barnabas Piper