We give because he gives first
We give because he gives first
I don’t know when I got the bug. Maybe it was when I was flatting with a very good friend of mine who loved gardening but I really felt that I wanted a garden as well. I really wanted to grow tomatoes – even though I don’t like them. But also potatoes – there’s nothing like new potatoes for Christmas dinner. But also lettuces, cabbages, corn – aaah corn!
But one of the things for me was that – I come from Scottish descent - so I don’t like spending more than I have to. We were on a tight budget so I wanted the seeds and plants that I bought to go the farthest they could.
I figured it was a waste to plant more seed than you had room for plants – so I’d plant one seed at each spot that I wanted a plant. If the packet said the plants should be 10 cm apart as they grew that’s where I planted the seed.
Can anyone guess what happened?
It didn’t always work. I didn’t always get 1 plant for each seed I planted. Although it seemed to be different depending on what I planted though.
Lettuce was the worst – Anyone who’s planted lettuce seeds knows they are pretty small (show). I’d plant one seed where each should come up. I don’t know if you know lettuces particularly I mean I got hardly any strike – it was just huge areas of bare ground.
What was I doing wrong?
Well the problem was I was being stingy in my planting … and of course I was getting a stingy harvest – there was lots of bare ground – there was lots of area where I wasn’t actually growing much except weeds.
You see there’s a relationship between planting – what we plant and what we get back. You know I learnt that I had to – if I wanted a good harvest of my potatoes, and my tomatoes and lettuces and things I had to actually - to scatter the seeds – to put a lot more in there and then prune them back. If I was lucky and I got a lot more coming up I had to just take some out and allow others to grow.
In other words to reap a generous harvest I had to sow generously!
That’s what Paul talks about in our passage today – in 2 Cor 9:6-8. Let’s turn to that in our Bibles now.
READ THE TEXT
So why is Paul talking about sowing and reaping? Well – just a bit of context. Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth and 1 of the things he has asked them to do is to give to their fellow Christian brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. We’re talking here about Corinth, which is just outside Athens. He’s asking them to give to people who they have never ever met. To people who they will probably never ever will meet.
He’s talking to a group in Macedonia who it appears were at the very bottom of the poverty scale. I mean if they had schools they’d be decile 1a! At the bottom – they were absolutely rock bottom poverty. But what God was doing was - he was providing for them and he was actually giving them enough to be able to give to others. – To others who they didn’t even know.
I think what Paul’s trying to say here is - there is a link, a consequence, an action a reaction between sowing and reaping or harvesting. That if you sow little you’re going to get back little. If you sow a lot you’re going to get back a lot.
And there seems to be a link here that the person who sows is also the person who gets it back. That they’re the one who will reap the harvest of what they sow. But just like when I planted those seeds – what I got was not necessarily what I planted. By that I mean that when I planted a seed I didn’t get more seeds. I got lettuces eventually - or corn or tomatoes or whatever.
Some of you have had the advantage of eating feijoas from the tree I’ve got in my property at Cambridge Terrace. Let’s just think about that for a minute. You see that tree was planted I don’t know when – some time in the last 60 years. And no doubt the person who planted it got some feijoa’s from it. In the first few years there probably weren’t many but as the tree got older and got bigger more and more became available. I would think that they started to share them out – just as I did and like I know others have since. But the thing is the person who first planted that tree - no longer gets the advantage of those feijoa’s – they’ve moved on – but others do – because of what they planted - others can reap.
So when we sow – we sometimes get what we expect – well we do always get what we expect because we get what we planted – we get the fruit of what we planted – we get potatoes or whatever but we don’t necessarily get exactly the same thing we planted – we don’t get the seed back for instance. And sometimes what we plant we don’t actually get the harvest of.
At the risk of some of you nodding off on me (like I know I do sometimes) I want you to close your eyes and I want you to try and picture this for me as I try and describe it.
We’re on our way to Thames. We stop because we see a farmer planting seed. They’ve got a tractor and its just planting – its just bare ground – planting seeds. Fast-forward and we see these tiny shoots appearing out of the ground. Things are starting to grow. And as we watch the stuff is getting taller and taller until eventually what we see is these stalks of corn swaying in the wind. As far as the eye can see - you can’t see any gaps anywhere.
You smell the fresh air – that beautiful smell of earth and the countryside. As you walk over and you touch the ears of corn, your mouth starts to water at the thought of being able to take that corn and cook it and eat it fresh.
So now imagine that as you look you see some corn – but you also see some rows where there is nothing there. It’s just bare ground and in that ground as you look more closely you see that there is something growing – lots of bare ground but lot’s of weeds too
Ok open you can open your eyes now. Has anyone got any reaction to that – what’s the difference, how does it make you feel?
The thing is that the farmer has planted but if they don’t plant properly they aren’t going to reap properly. They are going to have huge patches of ground, areas where they aren’t going get the return back that they need to and if they don’t plant properly they aren’t going to get the return on their investment. In order to reap bountifully they must sow bountifully.
Verse 7 - One, which many of us know well. If we don’t know the exact wording we know the words that we should give as a cheerful giver – that God loves a cheerful giver - don’t give under compulsion or pressure. The more I look at this the more I think that sometimes we actually abuse what this is saying – that in fact we use it for our own ends.
But let’s go back a bit before we even get to that cheerful giver bit. Let’s go back a little bit to the start of this verse. You see I think that what Paul is describing is a process for discerning how much we should give and when.
We read – “You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give.” The NRSV says –“ each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give. “
Giving from the mind – implies a logical decision.
Giving from the heart – implies an emotional decision
I think it’s both. It’s a logical and it’s an emotional decision. What’s being said here is that we need to decide before the issue arises. It means thinking about and praying about how much we should give in whatever situation is coming up.
Now ok there are times when we get to church and we find there’s a new or another offering or something – that in lots of ways is sprung us – like we’re going to take up an offering for a missionary or whatever. How can we make a decision about how much we are going to give and think about and pray about it and make up our mind beforehand?
Well this is where I think there is a responsibility on the church leadership - on the elders – to actually make sure people are aware of these things beforehand so they do have time to think about and pray about them.
Our responsibility as individuals is to pray, to make up our minds beforehand what we are going to give so we don’t give under pressure and I’ll come to that later.
But as elders, as church leaders we have to give people the opportunity to be able to do that. And that means thinking about it beforehand and planning for it.
Now some of you may say well what about spontaneous giving – what about the leading of the Holy Spirit. Well yeah obviously there is a place for that - but – we have to make sure it is the leading of the Holy Spirit. Its not like the old Telethons that some of us can remember where there was millions pledged but my understanding is a lot of those never came in because people got caught up in the emotion of the moment and said this is what they’ll give – but then in the cold hard light of day decided they didn’t want to give that much – or didn’t want to give at all.
Now that doesn’t quite happen when you’re actually in the church building – give emotionally -> regrets – but I also believe that the Holy Spirit - and God is a God of order and He knows when these things are coming up, he can and does enable us to say to you, any church to say to you – hey this is going to happen next week – we want you to go away and pray about it so that next week when you come back here then you know how much you are going to give – for these special offerings.
You see I don’t think there is anything that is absolutely so urgent that it has to happen there and then on the spot in terms of our giving. There is always time. You know if we think about the Tsunami or the hurricanes in the US – yea its on our minds straightaway because its in the papers & on TV but – if we put it out there and say we’re going to think about our giving and we’re going to give something next week then does it not actually mean it stays on our mind rather than being forgotten because we’ve done our bit very quickly on the day.
Don’t give reluctantly or under compulsion - or under pressure or in response to pressure - says Paul. I think – we do that by ensuring – particularly the bit in terms of not under compulsion or under pressure – we avoid this by deciding beforehand – by thinking about it and praying about it and having a real conviction that the amount we should give is … X and then sticking to that. No matter what’s said when you get to the point of actually giving -actually sticking to it – not allowing the thoughts that are put in your mind by others to influence that.
So I suppose what I’m saying is – think about it – plan it - pray about it – and then - give – but don’t change your mind about how much you’re going to give when you walk through that door.
Before I leave that though there is one thing I need to say – That is I think what Paul is saying here is don’t give into pressure from man. We must give in to the pressure from God. We must give into the compulsion that God places on our heart no matter what that actually may mean. We must do so cheerfully and I’ll come to that again shortly – but when God calls us to give – that compulsion must be followed because its God who’s calling us and he knows how much we can afford to give because after all he has given it to us. He knows what he wants to see happen with that money and he needs us to do what he’s calling us to do.
I think its too easy sometimes to say – “you know Paul says don’t give under compulsion and make sure we do it cheerfully, well I don’t feel right about what God’s telling me to do so I’m not going to give.” That’s wrong – pure and simple it’s wrong. We must give in to the compulsion and pressure form God and we must learn to discern when what is being said – by man – by the person up front, by the elders or whoever – is actually as a voice piece of God and follow that conviction for without it we will not have that peace that we know we should have.
And if we do that then we’re not going to fall into the trap that I have this feeling a lot of people fall into – not saying anyone here does – but that people fall into of not giving, of using this as an excuse to not tithe. It’s true that the New Testament does not actually tell us anywhere that we should tithe, as it does in Malachi for instance but –it also doesn’t say that we shouldn’t. So often I think we can look at this and say this gives me an excuse to give less than 10%. Maybe that IS what God is calling you to do – but maybe he’s actually calling us to give more.
You see it’s not how much we give that’s important - it’s how freely we give that money not knowing what if anything we will get in return that’s important.
We’re also called here to be – cheerful givers. Now how can we do that? Well in lots of ways how can we not do it? I mean, everything we have comes from God – we say that. And God will provide for us. I mean – in Matthew we’re told God will look after us, he will provide all that we need – and this is said in this passage as well, we’re going to come to that shortly. But again the point is that - here – you know if we truly believe that God will provide for us and we have faith and trust that God will provide ALL our needs then why wouldn’t we give generously. Why wouldn’t we give joyfully? Why wouldn’t we be cheerful in giving because – hey - it doesn’t matter - God’s going to provide what I need? He may not provide what I want but he WILL provide what I need.
Giving – and giving joyfully is an expression - its the ultimate expression of our faith in God. It gives us an opportunity to show that we really trust in God’s grace – that we really trust that he will provide for us. If we stop and think, everyone of us can look back and see where God has provided for us so – we can give because we are grateful – and knowing he has done it in the past we can be assured that he will do it in the future and so we can cheerfully give to him knowing he WILL meet our needs in the future.
When we give – if we think about being grateful for what God has done and being aware and trusting him to complete and to do what he has promised to do - then is that not a reason to be joyful and to be cheerful givers.
Close your eyes again for me. I want you to try and imagine something
It’s Christmas. You’re across at the Manukau mall and in the middle there’s a line of people. This line of people is long – there’s lots & lots of kids – there’s a lot of noise, a lot of chatter, a lot of laughter amongst this line of people. There’s a lot of people talking to each other.
And you think – it must be Santa – Santa’s obviously coming, we know he’s here – its that time of the year – kids waiting to tell Santa what they want for Christmas.
As you walk through the mall – and as you look along – you look along that line you realise that each person is actually carrying something. – It’s an X-box, it’s a cake, it’s a teddy bear, its some clothes, someone’s got car keys in their hand - another has their house keys. And so you wander down the line and you realise each person – adult, child has something in their hand.
Your eyes go to the front of the line and you see that people are actually giving these things to a man. And No it’s not what you thought – it’s not Santa in that red suit – there is no red suit, there’s no white beard. And as you look at that man – you look behind and you see a cross – an empty cross. And you see him laying each of these things that people are bringing at the foot of that cross.
Your heart jumps for joy and you realise that that man is not Santa Claus – but it’s that other man that came at Christmas – it’s Jesus.
And each of these people are giving these things with a smile on their face. They’re going away pleased and happy because to each person he’s saying Thank You. He’s saying – that’s great – I know what that means to give that and I am so pleased that you are giving it.
Each person is cheerful and the smiles broaden as Jesus talks to each person no matter how old or how young they are. Each person – gets a special word from Jesus.
That’s how I imagine us giving cheerfully. Taking what we have - no matter how much or how little and laying it in the hands of Jesus – for him to do with what he wants to do – and doing it with a smile on our face – doing it joyfully.
Ok – you can open your eyes.
The key part for me out of this passage though is this next verse. I love the way that the NIV puts it “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
It’s like Paul is saying that I believe that believers are going to give all they can, to meet as many needs as they can, in order to glorify God, as much as they can.
And why should we glorify God. Well I mean why shouldn’t we? You see to me this is where we’re being assured that God’s going to provide our needs – we’ve talked about that – but that he is going to give us everything that we need – and then there’s no excuse for us not to give to others because we have all we need in order that we can be generous in giving to others.
Sometimes I know that people will not give or not give a lot because they are concerned they won’t have enough for themselves – But 1 of the basic foundations of our faith and the focus of our faith is that God is able and has the power to do what he has promised to do. And here Paul’s reminding us that he is able to provide us with everything we need. - But more than that – he’s able to do it and he will do it because he wants us to give to others. If we believe that he’s going to give us what we need - surely we must be able to believe that he will provide for us what we need to be able to give to others, - what is needed to meet the needs of others from his provision to us.
But let’s get this in context. This is not a case of God saying “If you will do this for me, if you will give generously, if you will give to the church, if you will give to others then I will do this for you.” No his providing us with blessings, his providing our needs is not contingent on us giving. He can and is able to provide for us but he doesn’t have to. He chooses to bless us with or without our giving because he wants us to give to others. He requires us to give to others.
But I think it’s true to say also that he will give back blessings to those who cheerfully give as a matter of blessing for others. In other words for cheerfully giving to bless others God will bless us because those blessings are flowing out. And it’s more likely, I think, he’s going to withhold his blessings from people who are not going to pass them on because why should he bless us if we’re not going to do what he requires us to do – to bless other people.
So that blows away the excuse doesn’t it – that I don’t want to increase my giving because I don’t want it to be seen that I’m doing it to get more back - because that’s not the way it works. This verse is telling us that we can be happy, that we can be assured that we know that God is going to provide and that what he has promised to do he is faithful to do - and he will give us all we need. But the only reason he does that - is because he places a further requirement on us. He wants us, he requires us to actually go out and give that to others – to bless others.
Remember when I said that the NIV says that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Well there are a lot of commas in there and I think you could also just say that in a shorter way – its one of the things I have to do in my college essays to keep within the word count. I think you could say, without losing any meaning - And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that you will abound in every good work.”
This is not a “may” situation – this is – “you will”. We are required to do all these good works, to do things and provide and to be generous in our giving. And the key to that generosity is caring less about what we have - and caring more about what God’s purposes are in granting us his gifts. If we understand why he has given us what he’s given us – then it makes it much easier to give and we are able to do what he calls us to do.
It becomes particularly practical here with us at the church at the moment. I mean we know – every week we’ve talked about the church building – we’ve talked about the costs and so forth. But our giving should not be a decision to take part in the projects of the church, - the building of the church property – but it should be an expression of the fact that we’re not taking part in something but an expression of the fact we ARE the church. We as individuals are the church. We belong to God and hence to each other and therefore we give to each other.
A few years ago the kids & I went to a place in Marton where they had the Amazing Maize. This was a maze (maze) made of maize (maize). The thing about that though was that in order for it to be like it was in summer when we went there the people who put it together had to plan beforehand where they were going to plant and what areas they were going to leave as bare ground for people to walk through.
And that’s what God has done. God has planned beforehand what is needed where. – And he needs us to do the planting so to speak. He needs us to be generous. He needs us to give so that his plan of what needs to happen can come to fruition, can actually do what he wants it to do.
Why all this talk about giving? As I say it’s important that you review your giving regularly. I’m not going to tell you how often – that’s up to you – but do so regularly. But – the church has a responsibility here as well. We must give you opportunities, to remind you. We must give you opportunities to review. And - today – is one of those opportunities.
Now I’m not saying we have to think about it every week – maybe we do – that’s between you and God. But we should at least review it regularly and not just fall into default mode. We shouldn’t just get to church and think I’ll just give X amount because that’s what I always give. Don’t fall into default mode. WE MUST think about what God is calling us to give and to give THAT amount and THAT amount only.
I don’t want you making a decision today about how much you should give – unless you have been praying about it and thinking about it. But I do want you to go away – I want you to pray about and think about how much you should give from here on in – and come with that decision and do it.
If you’re married then this is a joint decision. You pray separately I suggest but you come together to make the decision as to how much to give.
This passage is telling us that we need to give. We need to give generously. We need to give in a way such that we are joyful and cheerful. We need to give without the thought of getting back but knowing that we will be provided for and that we will receive back. It may be we get money back. We maybe get back what we gave. It may be we get things back in a different way but we will get things back & we will have all we need in order to give.
And even if we don’t think we have enough to give we have to rely on God – to trust him to be true to his word – that he will provide all we need that we can give generously.
For did not God give to us first – He gave us the gift of life. He gave us his only Son. That’s how much he loves us. Can we do less than to show him how much we love him by giving back some of what he has given us?