With this posting, I knowingly enter into what could be classified as “a lion’s den!”
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” This old adage applies to 2 Corinthians 9:8. In materialistic terms this verse appears to mean: (1) God can give grace which translates into money, (2) the money is enough to supply all my needs, and (3) I will have extra money to give towards the advancement of God’s kingdom. This sounds like a great plan. Why doesn’t it work? At least two reasons can be given.
First, God is able to give “financial grace” but for some reason He usually chooses not to do so. He alone, therefore, must bear the responsibility for the economic shortfall of His kingdom. This, of course, is too harsh to accept!
Second, this materialistic understanding of the verse that seems to leap out of the various translations, though possible, may be faulty. Does “sufficiency” refer to money or material possessions? This is the central question, but there is an alternative suggested by the ESV footnote.
The word “sufficiency” (αὐτάρκεια), a favorite word of the Stoics and Cynics and not alien to the Apostle Paul, refers to an internal state of contentment in one’s circumstances. This virtue is not dependent upon “having enough of everything,” but upon “being content with what one has,” whether much or little. In this light, perhaps a slight paraphrase can capture the essence.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that [because you] have all [contentment] in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
Psychologically, a foreboding sense of personal need coupled to financial insecurity limits one’s emotional freedom to give. This holds true for both rich and poor. Conversely, freedom from anxiety about one’s economic status by maintaining faith in God’s providential care, coupled with contentment about one’s God-given material bounty, can open the heart and pocketbook. This God-supplied “sufficiency” can enable God’s people to give like the Macedonian church about whom Paul writes:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5, ESV)
This illustration epitomizes the meaning of “sufficiency” in our passage. The Macedonians didn’t have much but they were emotionally free to give out of what little they did have. Furthermore, they exhibited the ideal spiritual state for givers found in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (ESV)
While a materialistic dimension does exist in the broader context of this passage providing the possibility that the translations are on target, the probabilities are aligned against them in 2 Corinthians 9:8. On the negative side, the “accusation” mentioned in view #1 above is hard if not impossible to erase. On the positive side, “inward contentment” appears to be a prerequisite both psychologically and biblically for cheerful and abundant giving.
What 2 Corinthians 9:8 promises is not all the material possessions we may need and more, but the freedom to give out of what we have without fearful preoccupation about our present and future economic well-being. Understood in this light, the translations could reflect this sense as seen in the ESV footnote, and surely sermons must not seek to create an unrealistic and unbiblical faith in something God never promised and rarely provides!
For more on this "Money Matters" topic, see my book, Shekels, Dollars & Sense, available at Amazon in paperback and e-book formats.