Sowing and Reaping

A lot of the analogies that are used in the New Testament relate in one way or another to farming, which can be a bit difficult for us because most of us aren’t farmers.  But this morning, in 2 Corinthians 9, Paul is going to use a farming illustration that I think we can all can understand because we know that it’s true in so many areas of our lives and that is – you reap what you sow.

            It doesn’t take a farmer very long to figure out that if you want to harvest corn, you’re going to have to plant some corn seed.  Don’t put tomato seeds in the ground and expect to harvest corn.  It doesn’t work like that.  You reap what you sow.

            In Galatians 6, Paul applies this to our spiritual lives and he says that if we sow fleshly seed, then we’re going to reap some fleshly consequences, but if we sow spiritual seed, then we will reap some spiritual blessings.  Don’t sow your wild oats and then expect good things to come as a result.  It doesn’t work that way.  You reap what you sow.

            But there’s a second thing that farmers understand and that’s this — if you want to harvest lots of corn, then you’re going to have to plant lots of seed.  Don’t throw a handful of seeds into the ground and expect a bumper crop.  It doesn’t work that way.  Here in 2 Corinthians chapter 9, Paul is going to use that biblical principle to talk about how we use our money. 

            Last week, we looked at chapter 8 where Paul began discussing the topic of generosity and he’s going to continue that discussion here in chapter 9.  You may recall from last week that there was a famine in Judea and the Christians who lived there were struggling to survive.  So, the Corinthians came up with a great idea.  They wanted to take up an offering and send that money over to Judea to help those Christians out.  It was a very generous thing for them to want to do, and Paul thought it was a great idea.  In fact, Paul shared that idea with the churches of Macedonia, and they were so excited about this plan that they took up a contribution, too.  

            The problem is that now a year has passed and the Corinthians still haven’t taken up that offering, and so Paul is urging them to follow through with their plan.  They had a wonderful idea, but now they needed to make it happen.  As Paul said in chapter 8, “You need to finish what you started.”

            We pick up this morning in chapter 9, verse 1.  Paul said, “I really don’t need to write to you about this ministry of giving for the believers in Jerusalem.  For I know how eager you are to help, and I have been boasting to the churches in Macedonia that you in Greece were ready to send an offering a year ago.  In fact, it was your enthusiasm that stirred up many of the Macedonian believers to begin giving.” (2 Corinthians 9:1-2, NLT)

            Paul said, “I really don’t need to write to you about this contribution.  I know how important this is to you.  I know that you intend to help.  I know that it’s in your heart because it was your idea to begin with.  But now, it’s been over a year and it’s time for you to follow through on your commitment.” 

            Paul tells them that the Macedonian churches have already given.  We saw last week that those churches were experiencing persecution and they were in extreme poverty, but despite their poverty, they gave generously.   Paul said they gave according to their ability and even beyond their ability.   They gave so much that they had to beg Paul to take the money, because they were so excited about this opportunity to help out their brothers and sisters in Christ.  So, Paul now says that it would be good if the Corinthians did what they said they were going to do.

            Verse 3, “But I am sending these brothers to be sure you really are ready, as I have been telling them, and that your money is all collected.  I don’t want to be wrong in my boasting about you.  We would be embarrassed — not to mention your own embarrassment — if some Macedonian believers came with me and found that you weren’t ready after all I had told them!” (2 Corinthians 9:3-4, NLT)

            Paul said he boasted about the Corinthians.  One of the themes that we see in both 1 and 2 Corinthians is that Paul continually reminded the Corinthians that he boasted about them, that he was always telling other people what a wonderful church they were. 

            And, in that regard, I feel like the apostle Paul.  I’m guilty of boasting.  And what I boast about is you.  This is an absolutely incredible church.  I have never taken it for granted that God has given me the privilege of serving in a place like this.  This is the most amazing and wonderful group of people I have ever known.  And one of the things that I boast about most is the generosity of the people in this church.

            So, Paul had been boasting about the church in Corinth.  And then Paul said that he’s getting ready to pay a visit to Corinth and some of the members of the Macedonian churches may be with him.  And if they arrive in Corinth and find out that they gave generously, in the midst of their persecution and poverty, and now they find out that the Corinthians — who have experienced no persecution and they’re rather well-to-do — haven’t contributed a penny, Paul says, “That’s going to be embarrassing.”

            Paul said, “I’m going to be embarrassed because I’ve been bragging about how generous you guys are.  And you Corinthians are going to be embarrassed because you failed to contribute what you said you would contribute.” 

            Now, people may argue about whether or not this is a good motive for trying to get someone to give, but Paul is just stating it like it is.  The Corinthians made a promise.  Paul believed them.  He shared what they planned to do with the Macedonians and they’ve been very generous but now the Corinthians haven’t followed through on what they said they were going to do, and Paul just lays it out there.  He says, “Hey, for your sake and mine, let’s just do what we said we were going to do or this is going to get embarrassing for all of us.” 

            Verse 5, “So I thought I should send these brothers ahead of me to make sure the gift you promised is ready. But I want it to be a willing gift, not one given grudgingly.” (2 Corinthians 9:5, NLT)

            He continues this thought in verse 7, “And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NLT)

            Time and time again, Paul has made it clear that he doesn’t want the Corinthians to give because they feel like they have to, he wants them to give because they want to.  And Paul knows they truly do want to give because this was their idea to give in the first place.

            Don’t give grudgingly, don’t give reluctantly.  Tax season is here. I don’t know anybody who goes, “I can’t wait for tax season. I really have a willing heart. I want to give my government more of my money.”  I don’t think I’ve ever heard that, and I certainly have never felt that.  On April 15th, I don’t give because I want to, I give because I have to.

            But that’s not how I want people to give to me.  If somebody gives me a Christmas present and I find out later that they didn’t really want to, that somebody forced them to do it or they did it grudgingly, that present loses all its meaning.  I don’t want to receive a present like that.  If you don’t want to give it to me, then I don’t want to receive it.  Why would it be any different with God?   God loves a cheerful giver.

            Now we need to be careful with that.  Imagine, before church, a mother gives her son a $1 bill and a $10 bill, and she tells him to give whatever he thinks is best when the collection basket comes around.  So, he thinks carefully and then he puts the $1 bill in the basket.  His reasoning is this, “God loves a cheerful giver, and I can be a whole lot more cheerful giving the $1 bill than I can giving the $10 bill.”  It’s humorous when a kid thinks like that.  It’s not so funny when adults think the same way.

            Perhaps Paul was afraid somebody might reason that way, so he says in the next verse, in case you’re thinking of decreasing your contribution so that you can be more cheerful about it, “Remember this — a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.” (2 Corinthians 9:6, NLT)

            Every farmer understands this concept.  If you only plant a little bit of seed, then that means you’re only going to get a little bit of harvest.  If you want a big harvest, then you’re going to have to plant a lot of seed.

            I can’t begin to imagine the fear that farmers must experience when they plant their seed.   It costs a lot of money to buy the seed, to buy the necessary equipment, the fertilizer.  And there has to be this fear that, “What if I put all this out there and I don’t get anything back?”  And there must be a temptation for the farmer to want to hold back and not put so much out there.

            But every spring, farmers take a step of faith and they sow the seed and it costs them a lot of money to do that, but they do it with the belief that it will eventually bring a return.  But they have to have faith that when they sow the seed, there’s going to be a harvest.  So, they can either sow a little and get back a little, or they can sow a lot and get back a lot.  That’s just a basic principle of farming.

            There’s something else that’s implied in Paul’s illustration and that’s this — when you give to God, you’re not giving it away.  This is an important concept.  Whenever a farmer puts their seed in the ground, they’re not throwing their seed away.  They’re sowing it with the expectation that they will reap a harvest.  And God says, “Whenever you give to me, you’re not throwing your money away; you’re sowing it and you can expect a harvest.”  It is a true statement that whatever you give to God, you ultimately get to keep.  But whatever you keep, you ultimately lose, and that’s a difficult thing for most of us to understand.

            Now I will admit that prosperity preachers have grossly abused this concept.  If you listen to them — and I do not recommend that you do — they will talk a lot about sowing and reaping.  And because they have abused this passage, we want to react to that and try to stay so far away from it as we can, and if we’re not careful, so we end up ignoring what the text clearly says. 

            What it says is this — “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  So, what’s the difference between what Paul is saying and what prosperity preachers are saying?  Let’s let the text itself answer that question.

            Verse 7, “You must each decide in your heart how much to give.  And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NLT)

            First of all, “you must each decide”, which means this is an individual choice.  You’ve got to decide in your heart how much you’re going to give, which means this is something we think about; it’s something we pray about; it’s something that we decide to do.  Our giving is not based on manipulation or the emotion of the moment.  It’s something that is very carefully and prayerfully done. 

            Verse 8, “And God will generously provide all you need.  Then you will always have everything you need….” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NLT)

            I want you to listen to what God says.  If you are generous with what you have, God will generously provide everything you need.   This morning, I want to know if you really believe that.  And I know that there are some Christians who don’t believe it, because I hear them say, “I’d really like to be giving more than I am, but I’m afraid that if I do, I won’t be able to make ends meet.”  We need to understand that God means what he says and he always keeps his promises, and I can tell you that from personal experience.

            There have been many times over our years of marriage when Sueanne and I have struggled to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck.  But we made a commitment from the very beginning of our marriage that God always comes first.  We will give to him like we ought to give and we will trust that God will take care of us.  There was a time when our health insurance company went bankrupt and left us holding a pile of medical bills that we couldn’t afford to pay.  We were on the verge of filing for bankruptcy.  But we trusted what God said.  We always put God first in our giving, and God has generously provided everything we have ever needed.  Without fail. 

            And I want you to know that God has made the same promise to all of us.  If you will put God first, “God will generously provide all you need and you will always have everything you need.”

            That’s a promise from God – “I will take care of you no matter what happens, no matter what the need, no matter what the world throws at you. I want you to know, if you trust me, I will be there for you and I will make sure that all your needs are met.”

            So, if you are a Christian who sows sparingly, if you’re hesitant to let go of your money, it’s because you don’t trust God.  And what you’re saying to God is, “You can’t be trusted to do what you said you would do, so I’m going to have to take care of myself.  I don’t believe that you’re going to meet all my needs, so I’ve got to do it myself.”

            Jesus talked about this in the Sermon on the Mount.  He said if you trust God, he will provide for all of your needs.  He will take care of your food; He will take care of your clothing.  There is no reason for you to be anxious, no reason for you to worry, because God will take care of you. 

            And then Jesus closed out that section with these words – “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”  If you put God first, he will take care of the rest.  It’s the same thing that Paul is saying here.  The question is, ― Do we believe that?   And that’s the question I want to pose to you this morning ― Do you believe that God is telling the truth when he says that when you give generously, he will take care of all of your needs?

            But we’ve got a tendency when things get difficult, when the economy starts to get shaky, when things start falling apart, to pull back and hold on tighter to what we have.  Because we’re driven by our fear.  But you need to understand that what you’re saying when you do that is, “God, things are getting a little bit rough, so I think I better trust myself, because I don’t think you can be trusted.” 

            In an economy like this, with all of the things out there right now that could go wrong, are you sure that’s the decision you want to be making?  Those who truly trust God will demonstrate their trust through their generosity.  Because they believe that God has promised to “generously provide all you need and you will always have everything you need.” 

            But I want you to notice the last part of verse 8, God will generously provide all you need.  Then you will always have everything you need and have… plenty of money to buy more stuff.”  No, that’s not what it says.  It says we will have “plenty left over to share with others.”

            This is where we part ways with the prosperity preachers.  The prosperity preacher teaches, “You need to give so that you can get” —so that you can buy bigger houses, have nicer cars, and wear nicer jewelry.  Which is nothing but pure selfishness.  It’s just the materialism of the world with a Christian veneer. 

            But that’s not what Paul is saying here.  The reason God gives you a bountiful harvest is so that you can take that harvest and sow it generously some more, so that you can reap another generous harvest, so that you can sow it generously some more.  God gives you more so that you can give more away.  God loves to give to those who love to give.  I don’t know how you can possibly read this text and justify stockpiling more and more stuff.  Do you really believe that’s why God gave it to you?  He gave it to you so you could give to others!  Paul is very clear about this.  

            In verse 9, he quotes Psalm 112, “As the Scriptures say, ‘They share freely and give generously to the poor.  Their good deeds will be remembered forever.’” (2 Corinthians 9:9, NLT)

            Throughout both the Old and New Testament, God places a lot of emphasis on the importance of being generous to those who are poor.  If we do that, we will have a reward that will be remembered forever.

            Verse 10, “For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat.  In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.” (2 Corinthians 9:10, NLT)

            To those who give generously, God will both “provide” for your needs and he will “increase your resources.”  In other words, if you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully. That is a spiritual law as well as a physical law.

            Jesus said the same thing in Luke chapter 6.  In fact, maybe that’s where Paul got it from.  Jesus said, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full — pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” (Luke 6:38)   Now, we read that and it doesn’t seem to make any sense. You’re saying that the more I give, the more I’ll have?  That’s not logical.  What seems to make sense is — the more I give, the less I have.

            But Jesus’s point is this — you can’t out-give God.  God will always figure a way to get it back to you.  I heard about one Christian who was known for being very generous with his money, and somebody asked him, “How is it that you give so much of your money away and yet you still seem to have so much?”  And he said, “It’s simple. I scoop it out and God scoops it back in…. and God has the bigger scoop.”

            This is a principle found even in the Old Testament.  In Proverbs 11, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” (Proverbs 11:24, NIV)

            God told the Jews to give him their first fruits, and when they didn’t, God said, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’.” (Malachi 3:10).   God says, “If you don’t believe that I will do what I said I would do, then test me.  Try me.

            And again, I will speak from personal experience.  Over my almost 50 years of preaching, I have never once heard a Christian say, “I put God first, and now I regret it because I don’t have the things that I need.”  But I have heard many, many Christians say, “The more I try to put God first, the more blessed I am.”  If you don’t believe that, test him and see what God does.

            We serve a God who always keeps his promises.  But again, remember that Paul said the reason God gives us more is so that we will have more to be able to help even more people.  God blesses us to give us the opportunity to be even more generous. 

            Verse 11, “Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.  So two good things will result from this ministry of giving — the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

            “As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God.  For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ.  And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you.” (2 Corinthians 9:11-14, NLT)

            Paul says whenever we are generous with what God has given us, it not only results in those who are in need having their needs met, but it ultimately results in God getting the glory.  And Paul says that people will know that we truly do believe the gospel, because it has been demonstrated through our actions. 

            One of the greatest ways that we can witness to a materialistic culture is through our generosity.  It is so out-of-step with the culture in which we live that it is a powerful witness to the world.  We serve a Savior who gave up everything for our sake.   And so, because we want to be like Jesus, we want to be a generous people.

            Paul closes out this chapter with these words – “Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!” (2 Corinthians 9:15, NLT)

            I know, in this congregation, there are many, very generous people.  You believe what Paul said and you live it out every day.  But I also know there may be some here who are struggling with fear and with selfishness, as they try to break away from the value system of this world. 

            I understand that what I’ve had to say last week and today may not have been very pleasant to hear.  I would be the first to say that I’ve tried to push you out of your comfort zone a bit.  But I don’t apologize for that, because part of my job is to call us to a higher standard.  We’re to encourage one another to step outside of the value system of our culture and to live differently and to devote ourselves into a higher way of living.

            And so, I pray that each of us will grow to be more and more generous with what God has given us, so that God can bless us with even more, so that we will have even more to share with others.  Because “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 

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