“For God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) is foundational and is used in some way in almost every sermon or lesson on giving, tithing or generosity.
The entire verse is:

2 Corinthians 9:7
7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

However, one verse, out of the overall context, is subject to abuse. So, better still, consider the entire verse in a bit more context:

2 Corinthians 9:6-8
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Better yet, read all of 2 Corinthians and get the full context of Paul writing to faithful and generous people who are struggling with their Christian walk as they are surrounded by sinners and false teachers. Does that sound familiar? That context makes 2 Corinthians a book that is very applicable to our world today.

Paul gave a theology lesson on giving and generosity in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 that is unmatched anywhere is the Bible except perhaps in John 3:16. He wanted their generosity to be genuine and from the heart, not out of obligation. However, he wanted Christians to be encouraged by the example of Jesus Christ and he most certainly wanted them to give.

2 Corinthians 8:8-9
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
9 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.

As we look a bit closer, it is still important to read every verse in the book in context. In chapter 8, Paul showed that he knew that an authentic life required genuine generosity, generosity to the point of sacrifice. 2 Corinthians 8:3. Paul then made it clear that he sought a balance in people’s wealth and blessings, a lesson badly needed in a country with dramatic disparity. 2 Corinthians 8:13-15. He made it clear that he knew he was writing to the right people, a people who excelled in many things but especially in the grace of giving. 2 Corinthians 8:7. He showed in chapter 8 that generosity is a matter of the heart.

Paul then continued in chapter 9, giving encouragement to his church in the Greek city of Corinth. Chapter 9 encourages generosity repeatedly, with the message flowing from the law of reaping and sowing, 2 Corinthians 9:6, to reminders of how they have been richly blessed by God with all that they need and more. 2 Corinthians 9:8. Paul emphasizes that as generous people they will reap blessings from their generous God, 2 Corinthians 9:11, and he repeatedly states that the ultimate benefactor of this generosity is God who will receive thanksgiving and praise. 2 Corinthians 9:11-15.

It is striking that in this overall context there is a small part of 2 Corinthians 9:7 that has been used as an excuse for not being generous. That is the partial verse where Paul wrote,

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion,

If that is viewed as a passage to excuse stinginess, it is out of place. On the other hand, that passage should most accurately be viewed as encouragement to a reluctant giver to engage in a heart examination, because something may be wrong. Clearly, if God loves a cheerful giver, He wants people to be cheerful givers.

Now, leap forward to the 21st century. You might be encouraged to know that modern psychology is trying to catch up to the wisdom of the Bible. In 2014 a Baylor professor did an examination of generosity. The results are completely supportive of the core concepts of stewardship and Paul’s teachings on generosity that promote and encourage generosity. They also contain an important truth about generosity that is easily overlooked. See Resolving to Be More Generous in the New Year – Baylor Philanthropy Expert Offers Four Ways to Develop Spirit of Generosity in 2015 by Andy Hogue, Ph.D.

Andy Hogue at Baylor University teaches the Baylor Philanthropy Lab course entitled, “Philanthropy and the Public Good.” He examined generosity, especially among college students who had little money with which they could demonstrate generosity. His conclusion matched Paul’s, “Whatever our station, however much money or resources we have, we all have something to share and something to give.” He offered four ideas on generosity, ideas I expand upon a bit in the boxes below his ideas.

1) Generosity starts with gratitude. “That is the very first step, just being grateful for what we have, but also realizing that to those given much, much is expected, and to begin thinking about not possessing things but stewarding things,” Hogue said. “Think of the many things we have that might benefit others, whether that is our time, our talents or our finances. There are so many things that we have at our disposal to be able to enrich communities and to help other people. Being able to think in those ways leads us down the path toward generosity and toward sharing.”

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In truth, generosity is a Christian response to the grace of God.

2 Corinthians 9:8
8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

We love because He first loved us, 1 John 4:19, and likewise we can give because He first gave generously to us. John 3:16. Perhaps even more importantly, we have been given so much not so that we can enjoy the blessings and hoard what we have, but so we can be generous to those in need. The ultimate result is that God will be given thanks.

2 Corinthians 9:11
11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 

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2) Generosity is more than just a transaction. “Think of philanthropy, generosity and giving as more than writing a check. Think of it as something that can be transformative and realize that there is no such thing as an unhappy generous person. It’s difficult to be unhappy when we are giving of ourselves.”

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Generosity is so much more than money. Even people without money can be generous with their time and talents. Often the gift of time, attention and love is more important and brings about better results. 

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3) Generosity is a muscle you have to exercise. “If we can’t give of ourselves when we have limited means, what makes us expect that we would do it when we have more means?” Hogue said. “We all, in some way, are privileged and blessed and have resources that can be put to use for the benefit of someone else.”

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Here is the point Dr. Hogue makes that is somewhat surprising. Many use the excuse that they are not naturally generous as a justification to not even try. “It’s not my spiritual gift.” Dr. Hogue would likely respond and say, “So what?” Generosity is something you can learn and grow into – it just means you have to exercise that generosity muscle a bit.

The results would be startling if more tried that form of exercise. Americans are overwhelmingly blessed. Even the poorest of the poor in this country has access to more social and life resources than many peoples around the world. If we express that blessing through generosity, we become like the people of Corinth who were written to by Paul.

2 Corinthians 8:8-9
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
9 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.

Paul knew that they needed encouragement and practice. Then, as now, it is easy to get comfortable and start to enjoy the blessings. Instead, Paul wanted to test them, stretch them, and make them exercise their generosity muscle.

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4) Generosity can be creative. There are inspired ways to give birthday or Christmas gifts in honor of a family member or friend that bring about a beautiful thing Hogue likes to call the “philanthropy of collaboration.”

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That creativity is part of the fact that the people of Corinth had come to “excel in this grace of giving.” 2 Corinthians 8:7. Giving is a grace. There is no grace more creative than that of God. Just look around at the amazing diversity of His creation from aardvarks to zebras.

At the Idlewild Foundation we have had the blessing to be the beneficiaries of creative grace, such as our scholarship program, begun by an anonymous couple because they wanted all glory to go to the God who blessed them with wealth.

We have tried to live out that creativity by giving a $100 bill to each of our Pastors shortly before Christmas with a simple set of instructions:

1. Make a gift between now and December 25th.
2. Make the entire gift to one person.
3. Make the gift outside the Idlewild family.
4. Make the gift to someone you have not met prior to today.

The results were fascinating and generally a blessing. Some people, when handed a crisp $100 bill, asked “Why are you giving that to me?” Ask a Baptist Pastor why he is being generous and you can be assured that the gospel rang out loud and clear. The gratitude was overwhelming and on several occasions the responses were tearful as the Holy Spirit made the timing perfect.

We are equipped and called to be creative with our stuff in our generosity. More important, we are equipped and called to be generous. What makes it work even better is if the beneficiary of a gift gets the message and then becomes a giver, paying it forward to others in need. As I have heard it said, “generosity begets generosity.”

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Hogue’s real goal with his Philanthropy Lab was to encourage students to have a growing interest and participation in philanthropy. That sounds a lot like Paul in his letter to his church in Corinth. It has been one goal of true Christianity for 2,000 years and should remain a goal for each of us.

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.