Sowing and Reaping


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“Sowing and Reaping”
2 Corinthians 9:1-15
June 15, 2003
Rev. Dr. Robert S. Rayburn

Text Comment

We are in the midst of Paul’s discussion of the collection that the Corinthians are to make for the poor in Jerusalem. He is encouraging them to be generous. He has characterized such generosity as a grace in chapter 8, as the welling up in our lives of God’s grace in us and an inevitable response of love on our part to God’s love for us.

v.4 From one point of view there is no need for him to write, for he knows how willing they were to undertake the collection for the poor in Jerusalem; indeed, he had boasted about that willingness to the Christians in the Macedonian churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Remember, Paul knew these people well. He had lived among them for almost two years. But from another viewpoint, how embarrassing if the Macedonian brothers, who had been so encouraged by the Corinthian example a year before, should arrive in Corinth and find that Paul’s boasting in their eager generosity was premature. Remember, in the address of the letter Paul said that he was writing to the Christians in Corinth together with all the believers in the province of Achaia.

v.5 The “brothers” are Titus and the two other men mentioned in the latter part of chapter 8. What follows in the chapter is Paul’s encouragement to them to practice generosity. And, as we pointed out last week, motive is everything in Christian good works. Grudging giving, no matter how much is given, is neither pleasing to God nor likely to carry his blessing. Jesus made this point, you remember, about the Pharisees he knew. They were glad to give gifts, but they wanted everyone to know that they had given them and to receive the credit for them. That selfish motive destroyed the virtue of the gift in God’s sight.

v.9 The citation is from Psalm 112:9 and reads like an “epitaph for a [Christian] philanthropist.” [Hughes, 332] We are reminded by this citation that generosity toward the poor was a major emphasis of the Law of Moses. The righteous man in the Bible, from beginning to end, is a man who is generous to the needy. The need of other people deciphers the hypocrite.

v.15 With simple eloquence Paul brings any debate on Christian giving to an end: Given what the Lord has done for us, we cannot be otherwise than generous to others. Whatever would please the Lord must please us! John puts it more famously but makes the same point when he writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 Jn. 4:11) So Paul concludes his discussion of the collection and of the Corinthians’ stewardship where he started, with “the grace of giving.”

Now, there is no doubt that Paul is continuing his exhortation, begun in the previous chapter, to generous giving. He knows that some of the Corinthians have means and he wants them to give generously, but he wants those with limited means to give as generously as those who are better off. As he said in 8:12 it is not the amount but the desire in the heart that God measures. Jesus, as we pointed out last week, made the same point with his observations about the gift the poor widow made to the temple treasury. Paul wants the Corinthians’ gifts to come from the heart; he wants their giving to be an act of love for God and for the brethren. If it is that, the size of the gift will be what it ought to be.

And so now he argues that God will not fail to reward such gracious giving. This is Paul’s argument from v. 6 to the end of the chapter. We can summarize it briefly in three points.

1. First, Paul says, to give rightly is to sow. To sow is to plant in hopes of reaping a harvest and Paul says that Christian generosity and gracious giving is like sowing. One who gives, reaps a harvest in return and in the measure according to which he has sown. Those who give more get more in return. Paul sets this forward plainly as a motivation for us. We find it difficult to give generously because we want to keep what we have for ourselves. Among many other reasons why we should resist that temptation is that we ourselves will be the better and will enjoy the more for our generosity to others. As Calvin says, “whenever fleshly reason calls us back from doing good through fear of loss, we should immediately oppose it with this shield: ‘But the Lord declares that we are sowing’.” Paul is hardly the only one to teach this, of course. The Lord Jesus makes the same point often enough. “Give, and it will be give to you,” he said on one occasion. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” [Luke 6:37-38]
2. In the second place, Paul says that God loves a cheerful giver. Remember, that is the kind of giving and the only kind of giving that God wants. He knows what is in your heart. He himself has no need of your money or your time or your effort. And he has his helpers everywhere. If he wishes to bless someone and to provide for someone and you don’t want to give, he can easily enough meet that person’s need without you. In the ancient world people actually thought that their gods needed the gifts they brought, that they would starve without them. The prophets laughed at such thinking. The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills. As God himself says in one particularly biting passage in Psalm 50: “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.” To give rightly is to give cheerfully, willingly, for the sake of doing what is right and what love requires. It is not to gain a reputation as Ananias and Sapphira hoped; it is not out of a sense of grudging duty; not out of some calculation, by which one imagines that if he gives so much God will give him what he wants in return. And it is most certainly not to make up for what God himself is unable to supply! The old Latin adage reads: Quicquid cor non facit, not fit. Literally, it reads, “whatever the heart does not do, is not done.” It is often translated freely by “Willingness is the soul of obedience.” The giving we are talking about, the giving that is returned by God’s love is giving that comes from a heart of love. We recognize this of course, and agree with it. We who are parents know how utterly unimpressed we are with the “obedience” of our children sometimes because it is so grudging, so unwilling, so insincere. But when their obedience is from the heart, we love it and we love them! Now, to any Christian there is reward enough. Just to be told that God loves a cheerful giver. I don’t know about you, but if I knew that something would make the Almighty love me in that moment, at that time, or, perhaps better, that something would make God want to show his love for me, then I would want to do that something! And that is what Paul says.
3. And, in the third place, Paul goes on to say that God will himself reward his children when, by his grace and for his sake, they give generously to others. He will provide richly for them, as he says in v. 8; he will cause their works to prosper, he will accomplish the purposes for which they gave, in their own lives and in the lives of others, and, and this is surely the pinnacle, he will see to it that God’s people will praise him and love you because of the giving you have done.

What is wonderful about this is that the promise of these kinds of rewards produces a completely different kind of giving as a result. When it is God’s blessing that is sought, one gives very differently and with utterly different expectations. The giver gives in the same spirit as God has given to him. He gives with the same hope, the same purpose, the same intention.

The giving that Paul is imagining here and that Christians learn from him here is not the giving of a Santa Claus, rewarding the virtuous, seeing if someone has been naughty or nice and then loading him down with more presents than he needs or are good for him. No, the giving that Paul is talking about is giving in the spirit of St. Nicholas. There is a story about the 4th century saint. After the death of his well-to-do parents, he decided to use his wealth for works of charity. It seems a man in his town had lost all his money. This man had three daughters for whom he could not find husbands because of his poverty. He was going to give them over to prostitution. But Nicholas heard of it and came to the house at night and threw a bag of gold into the eldest daughter’s window. Here was a dowry for her and she was soon married. He did the same for the other two. It was only at the last that the father, who was by now keeping watch, learned who his benefactor was and showered him with his gratitude. You see the parallel with the Santa Claus legend easily enough: the secret giving, the staying up at night to discover the giver in the act, etc; but see how different the purpose of the giving has become. Nicholas gives, in the Christian legend, to bless, not simply to please. [cf. The Sermons of the Curé of Ars, 40]

This is a generous congregation in many ways. I know it is and am thankful to God for it. We have a reputation for that generosity in the community. There are a number of social service agencies in our city and other churches that tell people to call Faith Presbyterian Church if they can’t pay their rent or their light bill. Only the deacons can tell you how many difficulties attach to that work of charity on your behalf, distributing the money you have given them for that purpose. But, the difficulty is nothing when, as happened two weeks ago, a man called the church twice, a man whom the deacons had helped with a financial problem, called twice to say “thank you from the bottom of my heart.” We feel the Lord’s pleasure when we give, we feel that we are serving him, that we are bearing witness to others of his love and goodness, and that we are, in some small way, repaying him for his great love and mercy to us.

Now I fully understand why a non-Christian, an unbeliever, would struggle to understand why Christians part as easily as they do with their money and with many other things for the sake of the work of the gospel and the blessing of other people. They don’t see the return. Look, if every time a Christian put money in the offering or gave it to someone in need, he got twice as much back in the mail, or suddenly and mysteriously a larger amount would appear in his bank account, that would be something to take note of, that would be a reason to give that made sense. And, very sadly, there are so-called Christian preachers who make such ridiculous promises and who turn what is so pure and noble in Paul’s doctrine of giving and receiving into something very crass and very un-Christian. But, of course, Paul is not talking about anything like that.

No one gave more generously of his life than did the Apostle Paul and far from enjoying the life of a wealthy man, we are going to read in chapter 11 that hardly anyone has lived a harder life. It is clear enough in the verses that follow the promise of verse six, the promise that we will reap generously if we sow generously – a promise made in connection with the collection of money remember – that Paul is not promising money for money. He is promising rather God’s blessing and favor for money. He is promising things that matter more to a Christian, much more, than money. He is promising a fruitful life. He is promising the favor of the Lord. He is promising the high regard of other believers. He is promising the Lord’s blessing upon one’s work. That is what he says.

But this is precisely what a Christian craves. When you come to know the Lord, other things become much more important than money or the comforts or pleasures that money can buy. If you are not persuaded of that, we can understand that, but we say to you, if you only knew the Lord your opinion would change immediately and dramatically. When someone becomes a Christian his life has a different purpose and his desires change profoundly. It is always so. That is why when someone who is a professing Christian, someone who has lived in the Christian church, begins to make money, real money, God either gains a fortune or loses a man. You can’t love God and mammon. It will be one or the other. But, when you love God, money is a means by which to love and serve him. That is what Paul is counting on the Corinthians understanding. We sang this morning at the offering:

“We lose what on ourselves we spend,
We have as treasure without end,
Whatever Lord to thee we lend, Giver of all.”

And what Paul is encouraging us all to believe more firmly and then to put into practice is the conviction that though the seed we sow may be small, because of God’s intention to bless that seed its potential is very great.

Let me illustrate this with a true story. It is not so much about giving money, though there was some of that. It is more about the spirit of giving in every way, the giving of money and the giving of ourselves and our homes and our time and our effort in the spirit that Paul is urging upon us here.

Many of you know the ministry of Spiritual Counterfeits Project. It is a ministry of apologetics and evangelism located in Berkeley, located on purpose right near the University of California at Berkeley. Its founder is a man named Tal Brooke. And the ministry, from its beginnings in the 1970s, has helped a great many people find their feet amid the shifting sands of modern pluralism. Its special emphasis has been the tracking and exposing of the teaching of various cults and new age philosophies.

Brooke went to India in 1969 as a young man in search of the meaning of life. In that day of rebellion many young people from the West sought to find a new paradigm in the religions of the East, the Beatles included as you remember. Brooke made the grand tour of the well-known Ashrams, those being visited by the spiritual tourists from the West and then met and was mastered by Sai Baba, at the time India’s most revered and influential spiritual master. Brooke entered Sai Baba’ inner circle and the guru, impressed by Tal Brook’s gifts, made prophesies about how Tal would be instrumental in bringing Eastern enlightenment to the West. Read Brooke’s spiritual autobiography, Avatar of Night, and you will appreciate how far into Eastern philosophy and Hindu religious practice he had gone. He, of course, had no interest in or sympathy with evangelical Christianity and, like many of his age and experience, thought it an outworn and irrelevant dinosaur.

On one occasion, however, he met two older American missionaries, Ivan and Winona Carroll who had been in India for 35 years. They met Tal Brooke first when he was staying with a friend near the Carroll’s home and they had stopped by to invite everyone in the house to come over to their home for Christmas carols and refreshments. They had told them then that if they ever were in need to come and see them. Then, some time later, when Tal and a friend needed a place to stay, he knocked on the Carroll’s door. They were given hospitality, good food – which Tal ate guiltily but greedily; the Ashram food was supposed to aid inner enlightenment! – and always a welcoming and listening ear. They talked for long hours on several occasions about truth and life and Christ and Hinduism and, though Tal came greatly to respect these people, he wasn’t tempted by their message.

Tal was working on a book about Sai Baba, a book that would introduce his wisdom and light to the Western world, would bring to the West the possibility of deification through inner consciousness. To make a long story short, he came to discover things about Sai Baba that completely disillusioned him. The holy man wasn’t so holy. He wasn’t very kind to others either. He didn’t tell the truth and didn’t seem really to live by the message he was preaching to others. He was selfish and sinful. It was through his growing disillusionment with Eastern religious ideas that Tal returned to the Carrolls and eventually to faith in Christ. It was a radical step for this son of the 60s to make and all the more to make it there in India, in the community of people among whom he made it. And, as he makes clear, one of the reasons he was persuaded to make it was the life of the Carrolls themselves. He writes of them this way:

“[My friends and I] discussed those on earth who really have managed to lead lives closest to true grace, perfection, love, joy, hope, and contentment. Lives that speak of a goodness that only comes from God. Foremost in my mind were the Carrolls, for they had lived by a standard I had never really seen, and they had done it by living under the lordship of Christ as faithful servants, humbly carrying the lamp of love and service with qualities of character that no psychoanalytic couch or LSD trip could create in a million years. There were God-touched lives that came from deep purity that no devil could counterfeit, that only God could do.”

It was the kindness and generosity of the Carrolls, their selflessness toward others, as well as their clear account of how Christ’s sacrifice makes up for our sins and carries them away that broke down the opposition of this bright and interested seeker after inner-consciousness. The simple things they said from the Bible he found he couldn’t get out of his mind. In Hinduism the goal is to become god. It was the Carrolls, by their explanations of the good news of salvation in Christ and also by the kindness and generosity of their lives, who persuaded Tal that not only was he no god and not ever going to become one, but that the only way to know the only true and Living God was through faith in his Son.

“I knew…that these missionaries of the gospel, these deep and
genuine saints, had been considerable agents in my salvation.
to them, they were only faithfully serving their Lord, the simple
duty expected of a servant. To me, this was a cause for
eternal gratitude. I knew that in the height of heaven, I would
at some point look into their radiant faces and wash their feet
with my tears.” [380]

The Carrolls proved what Jesus taught regarding money, money as it stands for all kinds of generosity and kindness in Jesus’ name: You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead. The Carrolls were rewarded, then, just as Paul said they would be in v. 13. Then, this young Christian returned to the United States and began to live a completely different life with a completely different purpose. He began to make use of his own fascinating experience in talking to others about Christ and salvation and a great many have found Jesus Christ through his ministry.

Now, that is precisely what Paul is talking about. The Lord is not interested in your money. He is not interested in your time or talents for themselves. He is interested in your having a heart like his and in your living for others as he lived and died for you. He wants you freely to give to others as he has freely given to you. And, to help you become such a person and to live such a life, he assures you that the generosity you show to others in his name will not go unnoticed or unrewarded. Not that you do it only for the reward. You do it cheerfully out of love and gratitude. But as a loving father, he will delight to reward his children when they do what is right for his sake. And what will be the rewards? Well, you will be made rich in every way and others will praise God for you.

For a Christian to think that his kindness to others would please the Lord himself – that is enough. But, to have others in the world who have come to Christ or been encouraged in their faith because of your kindness, your generosity, your simple interest in their lives, your wanting to help, that is blessing on top of blessing.

In our day, there are many ways you can pose the question Paul poses here, many ways to distinguish two views of life and happiness and fulfillment. You could ask: “Who do you think has the deepest, most satisfying joy in life, the man who pays $140 for a fortieth-floor suite downtown and spends his evening in the half-lit smoke-filled lounge trying to impress strange women with ten-dollar cocktails, or the man who chooses the Motel 6 by a vacant lot of sunflowers and spends his evening watching the sunset and writing a love letter to his wife?” [Piper, Desiring God, 157]

But you can also put it this way: Who do you think has the deepest, most satisfying life? The man who accumulates money and what it buys and spends his free time enjoying the pleasures of the well-to-do, or the man who gives freely and generously, who lives in the knowledge of God’s favor and has many who love him and thank God for him because of the kindness he has shown to them? The man who, for all he might say, is clearly living for this world and only this world, or the man who is going to have many in heaven point him out as the one who so helped them and, by his Christian love, enriched their lives when they were in the world together?

I want to close with this prayer taken from Philip Doddridge’s 18th century spiritual classic, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, 258-259:

“I adore you, O…God of all grace! If, while I am thus speaking to you, I feel the love of your creatures arising in my soul; if I feel my heart opening to embrace my brethren of mankind; O make me your faithful almoner, in distributing to them all that you have lodged in my hand for their relief. And in determining what is my own share, may I hold the balance with an equal hand, and judge impartially between myself and them. The proportion you allow, may I thankfully take for myself and those who are immediately mine. The rest may I distribute with wisdom, and fidelity, and cheerfulness. Guide my hand, O ever merciful Father while you do me the honor to make me your instrument in dealing out a few of your bounties, that I may bestow them where they are most needed, and where they will answer the best end. And if it be your gracious will, ‘multiply the seed sown,’ (2 Cor. ix. 10), prosper me in my worldly affairs, that I may have more to impart to them that need it; and thus lead me on to the region of everlasting plenty, and everlasting benevolence. There may I meet with many to whom I have been an affectionate benefactor on earth; and if it be your blessed will, with many, whom I have also been the means of conducting into the path to that blissful abode. There may they entertain me in their habitations of glory.”