What does this verse mean?
The point is this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
Phony prosperity preachers love this verse, pushing the poorest to give to what little they have–or credit card debt that they don’t have–to add to their millions. This spiritual and financial abuse is disgusting, and it makes the actual Church of Jesus Christ look bad.
On the other hand, this verse is also a promise from God, in the Scripture that we trust and attest as the Word of God. So what does it mean?
The surrounding verses give us some clues:
- God does not promise to give us what we want; He does promise to give us what we need to honor Him and love others.
- “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (9:8).
- “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (9:10).
- “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (9:11).
- “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (9:12).
- Christian leaders are responsible to lead the Church in financial practices that are self-evidently honorable.
- “Now concerning the collection for the saints: …when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem [where there is a famine]” (1 Cor 16:1,3).
- “With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man” (8:18-21).
- “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction” (9:5).
- Money should move in the Church, not to make anyone rich, but to save brothers and sisters from suffering under poverty.
- “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (8:10-12).
- “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack'” (8:13-15).
These points in the surrounding verses help us understand what 2 Corinthians means when it says, “whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” They unfold for us the true prosperity gospel: Not that we should give another $1000 on our credit card in faith so that our credit card debt would disappear–by no means! Not that we should keep mailing in money until the cancer goes away–not at all! Rather, that God richly provides for His Church to be His body in this time and place. God provides His people with what we need to honor Him and care for our brothers and sisters.
We are failing to do so, yes. We look around our world and do not see a bountiful harvest for all the people of God. Ironically, these phony prosperity preachers are the epitome of why we do not. They extort by faith in their own ability and superiority. The Church–our family–around the world will flourish when we share and sacrifice by faith in God’s power and glory.
There is a true prosperity gospel. It has nothing to do with private jets. Rather, it is centered on God’s promise to provide us with what we need to honor Him and love our brothers and sisters. It is only rightly administered by leaders who transparently employ honorable financial practices. It is not to make us rich; rather, it is to combat the famines and wars and whatever else would lay a burden of poverty on our brothers and sisters.
This is the true prosperity gospel: “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he become poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (8:9). “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (9:11). “Thanks be to God for this inexpressible gift!” (9:15)