2 Corinthians 8 and 9: Principles of Grace Giving

An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"

Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Section 27 –




Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).

Financial need was obviously very great for the young New Covenant church. The less time that missionaries had to spend in their trade to earn a living meant more time they could spend spreading the gospel. Those assemblies were actively participating in the most important task ever given to mankind–the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although the missionaries did need financial aid, it must be remembered that such was primarily because they chose to be poor and deserved the aid.

Acts 14:23 And when they had ordained elders in every church. . . .

Titus 1:5 For this cause I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you.

There was not just one “elder” or “overseer” but many in each city and in each house assembly where the Bible was studied and preached (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:4, 6, 23; 16:4; 20:17; Tit. 1:5; Jas. 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1, 5). It would have been impossible to pay full-time support for the many elders of house churches.

Second Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9, detail how the Apostle Paul used gospel principles to obtain sustenance for the poor saints in Jerusalem. However, there is no indication that the support was being collected for missionary salaries or for support of church officers.

ONE: Giving is Totally “of Grace” in the Church

No other chapter in the Bible uses the word “grace” more often than Second Corinthians, chapter 8! Thayer defines “grace” as “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, and loveliness. What a rich word for God to apply to giving. Therefore, those who give to God’s work actually receive of the grace of God. God gives us grace in order to give, and then God gives us more grace when we do give.

A. The GRACE that God has given” (8:1)

B. “GRACE of sharing” (Greek); “favor” (NAS); “privilege” (NIV); “gift” (KJV) (8:4)

C. “Gracious work” (NAS), “the act of GRACE” (NIV) (8:6)

D. “Gracious work” (NAS), “this GRACE of giving” (NIV) (8:7)

E. “The GRACE of our Lord Jesus Christ” (8:9)

F. “But GRACE be to God” (Greek); “thanks” (8:16)

G. “This GRACE” (Greek) (KJV); “offering” (NIV); “this gracious work” (NAS) (8:19)

H. “God is able to make all GRACE abound to you” (9:8)

I. “The surpassing GRACE God has given you” (9:14)

All of the above texts describe the Christian’s relationship to grace and giving. It is a grace from God and is based on Christ’s example. In contrast to the law which commanded giving, New Covenant giving is grace from beginning to end. It is an act that shares. It rebounds to the giver because one cannot out-give God.

TWO: Give Yourself to God First

Since an unbeliever is not motivated to give, you must first accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. “They. . . first gave their own selves to the Lord” (8:5). Until one joins the family of God through conversion, he is still under condemnation and grace cannot govern his life (John 16:9).

THREE: Give Yourself to Knowing God’s Will

A Christian must seek for, and yield to, the will of God. “First to the Lord, and, then, to us by the will of God” (8:5). Concerning the matter of giving, we must seek to know God’s will in our lives in this area as in every other area of our lives. In the context, “gave themselves to us” means that they agreed with Paul’s request for famine relief for the saints in Judea.

FOUR: Give in Response to Christ’s Giving

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich” (8:9). “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift” (9:15). Christians who are yielding to God’s will, hastening to know the Word of God, and who are filled with the Holy Spirit are being changed day by day to follow Christ’s example. This example includes every part of their lives, including giving.

FIVE: Give out of a Sincere Desire

“To prove the sincerity of your love” (v. 8). Paul reminded them that in the past they were the first “to be forward [have the desire: NAS]” to give (v. 10). “If there is first a willing mind” (v. 12), again emphasizes the desire. This principle is repeated in chapter 9, verse 7, “as he purposes in his heart.” A believer who is in God’s will should naturally have that sincere desire to give.

Under the law, a sincere desire was the motive for freewill offerings, but it did not matter concerning tithes. God commanded a tithe and expected it, whether or not it was given out of a sincere desire. The Levites and priests still had no inheritance and still deserved their portion under the terms of the Old Covenant.

SIX: Give, Not Because of a Commandment

“I speak not by commandment” (8:8); “I am not commanding you” (NIV). “And herein I give my advice” (8:10). “Let every man give . . . not grudgingly or of necessity,” “not grudgingly, or under compulsion” (NAS) (9:7); “as God has prospered him.” It is clear from these references that there is no hint of any compulsion, demand, or commandment to give under the grace principle.

Scofield wrote at Second Corinthians 8 and 9, “In contrast with the law, which imposed giving as a divine requirement, Christian giving is voluntary, and a test of sincerity and love.” Chafer agreed, “The grace principle contrasts with the Old Testament legal system of tithing. . . . Tithing has been superseded by a new system of giving which is adapted to the teachings of grace. . . . Under grace, God is not seeking the gift, but an expression of devotion from the giver. Under grace no law is imposed and no proportion to be given is stipulated.”

Under the New Covenant the Christian obeys God because he has a new nature, is a new creation, and the Holy Spirit is his teacher. “When he said ‘a New Covenant,’ he has made the first obsolete; but whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (Heb. 8:13). The “commandment” to give has now been replaced by a “sincere desire” of a new creation. The Christian gives spontaneously because the desire to give is part of the new creation.

SEVEN: Give as Much as You Are Able, or Even Beyond Your Ability

“For to their power [ability], I bear record, yes, and beyond their power [ability] they were willing of themselves” (8:3). “Now therefore perform [finish] the doing of it . . . so there may be a performance also out of that which you have [an actual doing from your ability]” (8:11). “. . . it is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not” (8:12). “Let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him” (1 Cor. 16:2).

Rhodes Thompson remarks in his book, Stewards Shaped by Grace, “Another discovery is now revealed: God’s grace shown in those churches [in India] was complemented by people’s voluntary response [quotes 8:3]. Exactly! No legalistic response to the amazing grace of God is appropriate. That is why Paul wrote [quotes 9:7]. God’s grace obviously encourages, but does not force, the decision to be made. However, when faith responds to grace, God’s power at work within that life . . . or within the churches . . . is able to do far more abundantly than all that people can ask or think (Eph. 3:20). What we cannot do or cannot even imagine being done, God’s grace working through our faith does.”

EIGHT: Give in Order That There Might Be an Equality

2 Cor. 8:13 For I do not mean that other men should be eased, and you burdened,

2 Cor. 8:14 But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their need, that their abundance also may be a supply for your need, that there may be equality.

1 Tim. 6:17 Command them that are rich in this world, that they should not be high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy;

1 Tim. 6:18 That they do good, that they become rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.

While others are simply not able to give much at all, some can afford to give much more than the Old Covenant ten percent. Circumstances are different from household to household. God understands. Let us not forget the saying “little is much if God is in it.” God can do more with the widow’s mite or the grain of mustard seed given sincerely than with millions given to purchase his favor.

The grace principle of “equality giving” refers to giving as much as one is able. This does not mean that everybody is to give the same percentage. It means that those who are prosperous should give a lot more–until they actually notice a crimp in their checkbook–“Give until it hurts!” When those who are prosperous give more, and those who are poor give less (but still as much as they can), the results are an “equality” according to what each was able to give.

New Covenant grace-giving principles are fair; they are not set at the same legalistic level for everybody. While some families have good incomes and few bills, others have low incomes and many bills. Example One: A family giving ten percent of $200,000 would have much more remaining than the same size family giving ten percent of $20,000. Under the modern definitions of “tithing,” this is an unfair legalistic burden. Example Two: If two families both earned $40,000 and only one had free housing, paid expenses, and insurance, should both give the same amount? What would be a burden for one to give would not be felt by another. Example Three: If two families had the same income and one had oppressive medical bills, does God expect them both to give the same amount? Under grace giving principles, the answer is ‘no.” Yet the tithing law made no exceptions to land owners and did not require non-landowners and craftsmen to tithe at all!. These examples illustrate why grace principles are superior to tithing. Tithing was never the “superior” principle which produced most of the income in the Old Testament.

There is no commandment after Calvary concerning how much” to give. God has no desire to cause some to be “hard pressed” or “burdened” (KJV) because of any guilt about how much they must give (8:13). The greater burden of giving falls on those who are able to pay more (1 Tim. 6:17-18.)

NINE: Give Because of a Burden for Lost Souls

Although not mentioned specifically in these two chapters, this was, and should be, the reason for all spiritual giving. When Paul said “woe is me if I preach not the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16),” he was referring to his calling and burden for souls. Every Christian needs a vision of lost and dying relatives, friends, and the world on its way to hell without Christ. Yet, the Old Covenant tithing principle from law had no evangelistic outreach to the lost world and non-Hebrews around it. How can it, therefore, be called a superior principle when it produced no burden for the lost?

TEN: Give Joyfully

2 Cor. 8:2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality [rich generosity: NIV].

The secret of the Macedonian churches’ abundant generosity in giving included: (1) a great trial of affliction, (2) abundant joy, and (3) deep poverty. “In Christ” they had abundant joy which could not be erased through any amount of persecution or poverty. It was this great joy in the gospel which provoked them to give over and above that which was expected by mortal man. “God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). Happy and joyful Christians are also “giving” Christians. When the gospel is preached, the forgiveness of sins is realized, and the assurance of salvation is known, God’s peace and joy transform lives and giving practices.

ELEVEN: Giving Is the Result of Spiritual Growth

Not only did they give “to their power,” that is, all they could spare, but they gave “beyond their power,” that is, they did without some necessities for a while (8:3). “Praying [begging] us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (8:4). This is true New Covenant giving at its best!

What more could a pastor ask for from his church when money is needed? The church was actually “begging” (NAS) for Paul to let them give beyond their means! “Therefore, as you abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that you abound in this grace [of giving] also” (8:7). Giving is the normal result of spiritual growth. The Christian who is fed the right spiritual food grows spiritually and gives in accordance with his new nature.

TWELVE: Giving Produces More Spiritual Growth

“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (9:8). God will also “both supply bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness; being enriched in every thing to [for the purpose of] all [even more] bountifulness [to others], which produces through us thanksgiving to God” (9:10-11).

When we give to God’s work, he promises to supply our “sufficiency.” This means that he will make us “contented” in what we “need,” as compared to what we “want.” The purpose of this sufficiency is that we may then, in turn, “abound in every good deed,” that is, keep right on performing God’s work with that sufficiency.

Phil. 4:15 Now you Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but only you.Phil. 4:19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

The wonderful promise of Philippians 4:19 is not an unconditional promise to be claimed by all believers. We cannot ignore the context of verses 14-18. Paul made that particular promise only to those in Philippi because they had supplied his needs. Christians who refuse to contribute to the needs of God’s people have no claim to the promised blessings in verse 19!

Giving is a circle: God gives first, we give second, then God gives more, so we can give more. God’s spiritual blessings stop flowing into us when we stop becoming a spiritual blessing to others. Since we cannot out-give God, the circle should keep on expanding to include more and more people! Our needs (not our wants) will be met on earth and givers will accumulate spiritual blessings both here on earth and in heaven. God will continue to enrich the believer throughout eternity with him in heaven.

THIRTEEN: Giving Results from Preaching the Gospel

“. . . they glorify God for your professed subjection to the gospel of Christ (NAS): for your obedience to your confession, and for your liberal distribution to them, and to all men” (9:13). The circle returns to its beginning at the grace of God and the gospel. The text does NOT say “obedience that accompanies your preaching and the practicing of tithing.” A church that obeys the grace principles of giving will be blessed. When Christ is preached (which is God’s great gift to us), we give ourselves, and then keep on giving as we become burdened for lost souls. Again, preaching Christ grows his church! Preaching tithing is preaching an “unprofitable” Old Covenant principle which has been abolished (Heb. 7:5, 12, 18). Whereas churches that preach tithing regularly without preaching Christ will not grow, churches that preach Christ regularly without teaching tithing will grow. It is that simple!