Giving vs. Tithing: A Fresh Exegesis of II Corinthians 8 and 9


II Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 are often used to argue that Christians are no longer required to tithe, that is, give one tenth of their income to the house of God for the maintenance of worship facilities and for the costs of ministry, which include salaries for paid ministers. The apostle Paul, however, makes no mention of tithing in this discourse. Rather, he clearly lays out the principles of giving to meet the needs of the members of the Body of Christ, which is the thesis of this paper. Tithing is a separate matter with which Paul does not deal in this passage.

Paul begins by introducing the example of the Macedonian churches, who gave out of their poverty to meet the needs of the saints at Jerusalem (8:1-6).[1] Paul follows the example of the Macedonians with the example of Christ, who gave up His heavenly riches to condescend to the lowly condition of humanity in order that He might save them and bless them with His riches (8:7-9). Paul then urges the Corinthians to complete their gift (8:10-15). He makes provision for the collection of the gift by Titus and several others who will scrupulously handle the funds (8:16-9:5). Paul establishes the proper attitude in giving, namely that of generosity (9:6-7), which is the central idea of the text. Paul is not just concerned with how they give (generously), but he is also concerned with the spiritual benefits they gain through so giving (completeness in Christ). He concludes with a description of the benefits with which God blesses those who give in the proper spirit (9:8-15).

The Example of the Macedonians

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. II Corinthians 8:1-6

Paul held up the example of the Macedonian churches who participated in the “grace of God” as vessels through whom He desired to bless the Jerusalem church. The Macedonian churches were very poor. Yet, they were motivated by God’s grace toward the Jerusalem saints. Their spiritual example to the Corinthian church was their obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It was a work of God in the hearts of the faithful that was most honorable.

The Macedonians did not shrink from God’s leading but whole-heartedly applied themselves to the task. They did not give out of a sense of their own righteousness, and thus God was glorified, it being His work in them. And this in the extreme, for the Macedonian churches had endured the ravages of war and were themselves in difficult financial straits. Yet, they overflowed in their liberality. The word translated as overflowed is the Greek verb, perissueo.[2] This word is used in Scripture to describe “God’s saving grace that abounds to sinners.”[3] The word may also refer to the “simplicity or singleness” of their motive.[4] The attitude of the Macedonians reflected the activity of the Holy Spirit. They not only gave, but gave liberally and with a spirit of joy. For the Corinthians to yield to the Spirit of God in this grace and give liberally to the needs of the saints as did the Macedonians, the Corinthians, too, will have gained the approval of God for their heart attitude.

The Macedonians gave not only liberally, but beyond their ability to give. They gave sacrificially. This is the way God expects the church to give to the needs of the body of Christ. God desires giving that is “from inward resolve, not from impulsive or casual decision.”[5]

The Example of Christ

But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. II Corinthians 8:7-9

The Corinthians abound in everything, having “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,”[6] as do all Christians. The everything to which Paul refers is the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. These gifts and fruits are present in some measure in every Christian because. They resulted from Christ’s having divested Himself of His position and privileges as God’s Son, and His supernatural glory[7] so that we might gain them through faith in his work on the cross. These blessings (faith and utterance and knowledge and…earnestness and…love) have accrued to all believers as a work of God’s grace.

Paul’s use of the Greek word charis in the phrase abound in this gracious work encourages the Corinthians to respond to the grace, spiritual gifts and fruit of the Spirit they have received in Christ by living it out through giving to the Jerusalem church. “Already excelling in Christian virtues and gifts of the Spirit, the Corinthians were to make sure they exhibited the grace of liberal giving.”[8] Paul desires more than just the mere act of giving for the benefit of the Jerusalem saints. He also desires that the Corinthian church become more complete in the spiritual gifts and blessings they have received through Christ.

Christ has given us every spiritual blessing. These blessings reach their fullest potential through liberal giving. Grace is not only present in the life of the Christian, but through liberal giving, that grace is manifestly expressed in the body of Christ. Through this liberal giving the body is edified, God is glorified and the church gives witness to the world of the love and mercy and power of God.

Completion of the Gift

I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality — at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK.” II Corinthians 8:10-15

Apparently, the Corinthians were the first church to begin the task of preparing a gift for Jerusalem. Paul’s concern is that they remain steadfast in their urgency and conviction to give to this need.  He clarifies that he does not seek what the Corinthians do not have. Only what they do have.

Paul explains that he desires not that they suffer for the Jerusalem church per se, but that their financial ability to give to Jerusalem’s physical need and the benefits that Jerusalem receives through the gift may be counterbalanced by the spiritual benefits the Corinthians will receive from helping to meet Jerusalem’s need. Jerusalem’s abundance is physical need which supplies the opportunity for Corinth’s spiritual growth. Corinth’s abundance is money which supplies Jerusalem’s physical need. Jerusalem’s physical benefit is to receive the gift. Corinth’s spiritual benefit is to supply the need in obedience and joy. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”[9]

Paul’s use of the word equality, however, implies that there should be no material lack of necessity among the saints where there is resource to meet it. The Greek word isotes, which is translated as equality, suggests that Paul is arguing for minimal equity in the body insofar as basic needs are concerned.[10] Paul underscores his point by quoting Exodus 16:18. The implication is that in the economy of God’s kingdom all toil and all needs are met without regard either to the amount of need or the amount of contribution.

The manna that God provided to Israel during her wilderness wanderings were provided through God’s grace. So too is the abundance of those who have sufficient and excess means for daily living provided through the grace of God. Such grace should not be considered as God’s blessing merely for one’s own needs. On the contrary, God’s grace is intended to provide for the needs of others in the church as well.[11] God expects the saints to look after the needs of their brethren.[12]

God has provided every need of the body of Christ. He has provided for the spiritual needs of the church through the work of Christ and through the indwelling presence, gifts and fruit of His Spirit. He has provided for the physical needs through physical blessings He bestows upon the church. Through both the spiritual and the physical blessings God provides, He makes it possible for even greater blessing when Christians respond in the spiritual blessing of the grace He has given them to meet the physical needs in the body. In this way there is equity and greater blessing for all; spiritual blessing for the giver and physical blessing for the receiver.

The liberality with which God desires Christians give to the needs of the saints supplies the physical needs of the receiver and the spiritual needs of the giver. God desires that the church not be in need. Liberal giving is His means for meeting the needs of the church.

The Scrupulous Collection of the Gift

But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord. We have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness, taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. We have sent with them our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things, but now even more diligent because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ. Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you. For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints; for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, so that, as I was saying, you may be prepared; otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to speak of you—will be put to shame by this confidence. So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness. II Corinthians 8:16-9:5

Titus, the only one mentioned by name, and several others are being sent to collect the gift. Paul highlights Titus’s attitude of earnestness regarding the collection of the gift as mirroring the attitude he desires in the Corinthians’ giving of it. Moreover, Paul’s giving of the credentials of those collecting the gift and of those administering it, himself included, shows their attitude of obedience. Accountability is important to spiritual growth. Accountability ensures obedience and obedience glorifies God. Paul not only holds the Corinthians accountable, but himself and those responsible for collecting and administering the gift as well.

At the center of this entire discourse is Paul’s concern for the spiritual attitudes of everyone involved. The need of Jerusalem is merely the opportunity for spiritual growth through obedience which ultimately glorifies God.

Generosity is the Proper Attitude in Giving

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. II Corinthians 9:6-7

Now here is the central idea. Giving to the needs of the saints should be liberal and free. Paul’s use of an agricultural equation illustrates for the Corinthians the valuable lesson that the best practice is to give liberally. Liberal giving is a reflection of a willing and joyous heart. Giving with a willing and joyous heart reaps bountifully to the giver. Giving to the needs of the body is in a sense a sowing of seed, which will produce fruit for the sower and for those needs which God desires to meet through him. Giving which reflects the activity of God’s grace is that which comes from the heart of the giver.

Paul instructs the Corinthians to do just as he has purposed in his heart. “Christian giving is strictly voluntary.”[13] Paul carried great weight and authority with the Corinthian church, and could have commanded the giving of the gift. Instead he encouraged the church to live for Christ through their willing obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

Paul uses the Greek word lupe which is translated as grudgingly. He is warning against excessive greediness, and even fraud.[14] Gifts offered grudgingly or under compulsion are not the sorts which are pleasing to God. Such giving has no reward with Him. It is the willingly obedient gifts that please Him.

God Rewards Generous Giving

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, “HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER.” Now 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; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! II Corinthians 9:8-15

The rewards of liberal giving are many. The Corinthians are made more spiritually complete in their obedience through giving. They are supplied with ever more abundance with which to serve God. The phrase “having all sufficiency in everything” includes the idea of being self-sufficient in “moral quality…which renders the new self in Christ independent of external circumstances.” [15] Others see their “good works, and glorify [their] Father who is in heaven.”[16] God’s grace manifested through liberal giving results in thanksgiving to Him. Christians who give liberally become vessels for thanksgiving and glory to God. Such grace is itself the “surpassing gift of grace that God imparts” through the gift of Christ, God’s indescribable and greatest gift of all.[17]

Liberal giving produces the greatest benefit to all concerned. The one in need has his need met. The giver grows spiritually. God is glorified.


Paul’s instructions in this passage regard giving to the needs of the body of Christ. Indeed, the central idea in this text is that Christians should give liberally to the needs of the body of Christ. Such giving produces many benefits for both the beneficiary and the benefactor. Paul does not argue or even suggest that such giving replaces tithing for the support of ministry. His aim is to see that both the physical and spiritual needs of the body are met through faithful obedience to God.

Paul explained through the example of the Macedonians that liberal giving is evidence of the grace of God and results in His praise and glory. Paul gave Christ as the ultimate example of liberal giving. Through Christ’s gift of Himself at Calvary, the Corinthian church abounded in spiritual blessings.

Paul urged the Corinthians to become complete in their spiritual blessings through liberal giving. Giving becomes a channel by which the giver reaches greater spiritual maturity and fruitfulness in Christ. The physical need of the Jerusalem saints became the opportunity to meet the spiritual need of the Corinthian church, which was to grow into greater spiritual maturity. The occasion of the collection of the gift allows Paul to offer yet another example of virtue, that of Titus’s earnestness and obedience in handling financial affairs.

Giving is sowing, and God blesses the liberal giver so that his needs may be met, and also the needs of others. Giving must be free of selfish concern. Rather, the giver should seek the pleasure and approval of God in his giving. This may only be done through cheerful and generous giving. Christ is the true gift which makes liberal giving possible, for through the grace given in Christ, Christians may bless the body of Christ and God Himself.


A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments: Part Three – I Corinthians – Revelation. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1997.

Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries: Volume XX. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2003.

Vincent, Marvin R., D. D. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament: Romans – Philemon, Volume III. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1886.

Harris, Murray J. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version: Romans Through Galatians – Volume 10. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976.

MacArthur, John, Jr. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: II Corinthians. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003.

[1] Romans 15:16

[2] John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: II Corinthians (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 276.

[3] Romans 5:15, Ephesians 1:7-8

[4] Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments: Part Three – I Corinthians – Revelation (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1997), 357.

[5] Murray J. Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version: Romans Through Galatians – Volume 10 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976), 376.

[6] Ephesians 1:3

[7] John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: II Corinthians (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 289.

[8] Murray J. Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version: Romans Through Galatians – Volume 10 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976), 368.

[9] Acts 20:35

[10] Marvin R. Vincent, D. D, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament: Romans – Philemon, Volume III (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1886), 332.

[11] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: Volume XX (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2003), 297.

[12] Philippians 2:4

[13] John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: II Corinthians (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 315.

[14] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: Volume XX (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2003), 308.

[15] Marvin R. Vincent, D. D, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament: Romans – Philemon, Volume III (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1886), 335.

[16] Matthew 5:16

[17] Murray J. Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version: Romans Through Galatians – Volume 10 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976), 378.

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