The day the church treasurer resigned, the Elders asked the local grain elevator manager to take the position. He had been a member of the church for years and was one of the most respected men in the community, as well as the church. He agreed to take the position under two conditions: First, no treasurer’s report would be given for the first year. Secondly, no questions were to be asked about the finances of the church for the first year. The Elders were surprised at the man’s request, but most of them had done business with him for years and had never found him to lack in integrity. The Elders discussed his request and decided that they still wanted him to take the position as church treasurer. At the end of the year the man came to the Board meeting and stood before the church leaders, then he gave his report.
· The church indebtedness of $228, 000 had been paid in full.
· The minister’s salary had been increased by 8%.
· The Cooperative Mission Program with other churches in the community had been funded at 200% of the commitment made at the first of the year.
· There were presently no outstanding bills at the church.
· At the end of the year there was a cash balance of $11,252.00!
Immediately, the shocked board members looked at one another in disbelief. One of the Elders spoke up and asked, “How did you do it? Where did the money come from?” The treasurer quietly answered, “Most of you bring your grain to my elevator during harvest. Throughout the year I simply withheld ten percent on your behalf and gave it to the Lord’s work here at the church in your name. You didn’t even miss it! Do you see what we could do for the Lord if we were all willing to give at least a tithe, ten percent to God, the One who really owns it?” So the new treasurer had made his point.
For some odd reason the most uncomfortable moments that take place in a church happen when the Bible speaks about money. Any talk of money in the church automatically drives people away and gives them their needed justification to make the outlandish claim that, “all the church ever asks for is money.” That is a ludicrous statement. It amazes me that we don’t sit around and talk about the electric company, the gas company, cable TV company, or the sanitation department in the same cynical way that we talk about the church.
I have noticed something interesting in the time that I have been here at Britton Christian Church. When was the last time you had someone from OG&E make a pastoral visit to the hospital to see your loved one when they have been sick? You might not have received a visit at the hospital, but you sure got your bill on time didn’t you? When was the last time you had your garbage man bring food by the house when your loved one passed away? When was the last time someone from your cable company called to check on your family? The only phone call you will receive is if you don’t pay your bill isn’t it? When one of my kids is going through a tough time and getting their heart broken at school, I never hear from the mortgage company except to tell me my payment is due at the first of the month.
We get bills in the mail everyday at my house and I am sure most of you experience the same, but at Britton Christian Church we don’t put the squeeze on anyone. The Lord has called us to be educators in stewardship, not debt collectors. By teaching what God’s Word has to say about what we are to do with what He has entrusted to us we can witness flint-rock hard hearts turn into sweet overflowing honeycombs.
There are three kinds of people among us today. It doesn’t matter whether they are believers or unbelievers, community leaders or those who are misled in the community; educated or uneducated—there are three kinds of folks among us. All people are either like the flint, the sponge, or the honeycomb. Let me explain to you what I mean. To get anything out of the flint you must hammer it. When you hammer it, the only by-product you will get is chips and sparks. To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it. The more you squeeze it, the more you apply pressure, the more you will get. Different than the flint or the sponge is the honeycomb—it just overflows with its own sweetness. Our goal is to teach God’s Word, not hammer or squeeze, so that each of our lives will overflow with the abundance that God has poured into our lives so that God’s goodness will overflow into the lives of others.
This morning we are going to take a look at 2 Corinthians 9:6-8. As we study this powerful truth of God we must realize that far too many of us give lip service to our being followers of Jesus, but far too few of us are willing to follow His teachings and thus live as He has called us to live. We’ve always got an excuse why we can’t do whatever it is that He wants us to do. We can’t teach a Children’s class because we don’t have the time or because we don’t know God’s Word well enough. We can’t volunteer to visit shut-ins or people in the hospital because “those” places make us feel uncomfortable. We can’t give any more of our money than what we are already giving because…well, in January our Christmas bills are due. In February our heating bills go up and we’ve got to think about Valentine’s Day. In March we are preoccupied with taxes. In April our taxes are due and we’ve got Easter clothes to buy. In May too much rain threatens the crops. In June we’ve got to think about our upcoming family vacation. In July we’ve got to pay all of the bills that we accumulated on our family vacation. In August we’ve got to think about buying school clothes for the kids. In September we’ve got to make our payments for our kid’s college tuition. In October we’ve got to buy winter clothes and pay doctor bills. November brings about Thanksgiving and December has us overwhelmed with Christmas shopping and maxing out our VISA card. There is always an excuse why we can’t give more of our time, more of our money, and more of our talents to be used for God’s glory through the ministry of the local church.
For most of us, myself included, we indulge ourselves and our families to the exclusion of the family of faith. You may ask, “What do you mean?” I mean that Connie and I can pour all of our resources upon our own house and forget the House of God. We can indulge our every whim, our every want, and spend ourselves into oblivion while never giving God a thought, except when we get in debt up to our eyeballs and cry out to him for help. We can lavish our kids with much more than they need, by breaking our necks to give them everything that they want. Will the latest fashion trend really make them better people? Will the latest toy or trinket help mold their character? Will a new car really satisfy them and teach them to be content? Will Nike’s latest shoe, the “LeBron James,” help them to grow in their walk with the Lord? I doubt it.
What our kids really need, and what Connie and I really need, are things that don’t cost a dime, but which are the most costly of all: we need one another’s time, love, devotion, forgiveness, mercy, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge of God’s Word. We need to know how to trust God, how to be generous to a fault with what God has so freely given to us, and we need to know how to care more about blessing the lives of others than filling our own lives with more stuff. Connie and I can reduce our expenditures on ourselves and our children and increase our investment in God’s Kingdom to the benefit of both if we will keep our priorities in order.
Many of us are simply not aware. We have been hoodwinked into believing that our kids, and ourselves, need every latest thing that hits the market. We have also been led to believe that the mission of our Lord doesn’t cost a thing. We want to share God’s Word with others, but we never give a thought to the fact that it costs money to carry on the Lord’s work. We amble into the church and participate in the things that are offered as if it is government funded. The Church is the one place in the world where we have this mentality. We would never think to go to the movie and waltz right in without buying a ticket, stop by the concession stand and stroll behind the counter to pick up a bucket of popcorn and a Coke before we take our seat, and never once think of paying. We would never expect to go to a concert, play a round of golf at Lake Hefner, or pick up a new Honda without first paying someone.
When it comes to Church many are appalled that finances, expenses, and budgets are ever talked about. Isn’t that interesting? I will tell you what is really interesting. When your marriage is in trouble you can receive counseling, but never a bill. When your loved one dies you can receive help, hope, and encouragement, but never a bill. When you hunger to seek God you can receive direction, but never a bill. Isn’t that interesting!
Many of us are like the deacon in the little country church who, when the minister was exhorting the congregation to give more liberally said, “Preacher, you told us salvation is free—as free as the air we breath and the water in the river. If that’s true, why are you asking us to increase our giving?” The elderly preacher said, “Brother you are right. Salvation is free—as free as the water you drink, but if you want that water in the kitchen, somebody has to pay for the pump.”
I don’t want to be like the old preacher and “ask” for money and I don’t want any of us to be like the cynical member of the church. I want us to be like the honeycomb which overflows with the abundance of God’s blessings. We can only be like the honeycomb when we learn that we must “sow on” in gratitude and appreciation for all that God has done in our lives. Don’t stop, sow on! During hard times—sow on! In times of plenty—sow on! We can learn about sowing from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 we read,
6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And 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. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NIV)
Paul’s challenge in writing to the Corinthian believers was to motivate them to see two things: they needed to see how the Lord had blessed them and they needed to see the need of those around them, specifically, those in Jerusalem. Paul’s challenge was not unlike the present-day challenge that the Lord has presented to us. Our mission at this point in the life of Britton Christian Church is to motivate each and every one of us to see the blessings, to see the need, and to respond. Our response is not out of compulsion, but out of compassion and an overflowing gratitude for the blessings the Lord has showered upon each of us.
Paul begins his challenge by communicating to the Corinthian believers a very appropriate illustration from the fields of the farmers. Paul writes, 6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. (2 Corinthians 9:6 NIV)
Paul is talking about two distinct groups who share two commonalities: sowing and reaping. Even though the activity is the same, the outcome of one is far removed from the other because of the attitude possessed at the time of planting. Paul uses two words to describe the manner in which the sowing and reaping were taking place: “sparingly” and “generously.” The word Paul uses for “sparingly,” is the Greek word, “feidome,nwj” (pheidomenos). It means, “sparingly, miserly, parsimoniously, or just plain ol’ stingy.” Some folks out there in the field were too busy counting their seeds instead of sowing their seeds. How many of us would fit into that category? Are we too busy looking over our shoulders, guarding what we’ve got, making sure that nobody gets ours to do any planting? Are we too busy counting our seeds to do any planting? Are we holding so tightly to what we have that the only time we do any planting is when our tight grip forces some seed out of our hands? Are we too busy amassing our abundance, rather than busying ourselves with scattering seed and expecting the Lord to bring about a rich harvest of blessing?
This leads me to our second word, “euvlogi,a” (eulogia). The word means, “blessing, praise, a favor conferred, benefit, or celebration.” Oh the joy of the celebration of those who plant seeds in blessing, in praise, in celebration, for the benefit of the Kingdom and His mission! These folks are a different breed. You see no blood vessels bulging from their necks while they hold on to everything they’ve got. You don’t see looks of misery on their faces as you do on the faces of the miserly. You see joy. These people understand that if you sow generously you reap abundantly. Sow reconciliation, reap peace! Sow love, reap relationships! Sow forgiveness, reap pardon. Sow grace, reap kindness. Sow fidelity, reap commitment. Sow, sow, sow! Sow love, not hate. Build up, don’t berate, Sow faith, not doubt. Speak gently, don’t shout.
There are people who sow generously and they reap generously in so many important ways. Have you ever known someone who sowed liberally from the abundance God had granted them? My life has been touched by dozens of such folks, but some of the most memorable are the little silver-haired saints in the Golden Rule Sunday school class at First Christian Church in Duncan, OK.
When I graduated from college, Connie and I loaded up a U-Haul, got in the car with our newborn baby, and left for Ft. Worth, Texas where I was to begin seminary. As I began classes Connie and I had three jobs between us and we were still barely making our rent and paying for school. Back in those days we spent many late night hours figuring out how we were going to pay the bills that stared us in the face. One day we received a letter from the Golden Rule Class. In the letter was a check and a note telling us how proud they were that we were being obedient to the Lord. Connie and I could not believe the blessing that had arrived in our mailbox, a blessing that continued to come for the next four years. Like clockwork, every month the check would arrive with a note, and we would give thanks for the little silver-haired saints. My family has been blessed in so many ways throughout the years, but I will never forget those special ladies. They didn’t have the money to send to us each month, most of them barely had the money to pay their own bills, but they were willing to sow blessings into our lives.
Something happened because of those ladies and their generosity towards us. Connie and I decided that we had to do something for someone else so that we might sow generously as well. I had spent the night at the Presbyterian Night Shelter for a class project during my first semester in seminary. While I was there they fed us sandwiches from a crumpled trash bag and I drank coffee that to this day I am convinced that it was Pennzoil 40 weight. I slept on the cold concrete with a blanket which was two feet too short. After I left the homeless shelter, I could not get the experience out of my mind. Connie and I decided that maybe this was where the Lord wanted us to sow with our lives.
I called the shelter and told the man that we would like to go to work. He said the greatest need they had was for people who would be willing to make 250 sandwiches one night a month. We accepted the challenge. Connie would go to Mrs. Baird’s thrift shop and buy the bread, I would go to Sam’s and buy bologna, mayonnaise, and mustard, and then we would turn our little apartment kitchen into a five star restaurant one night a month. We had so much fun making those sandwiches during those slim days. Because of my experience of eating from that nasty trash bag we took the time to individually wrap each sandwich in plastic baggies so that others wouldn’t have to eat from a trash bag. None of the residents at the night shelter were more blessed than Connie and me. Because someone had sown freely into our lives we in turn were compelled to sow into the lives of others.
Now I’m no farm boy, but my grandfather was a farmer and I have seen him till the ground and prepare the land for planting. When it came time to sow the wheat into the ground he didn’t walk the furrows and lay one seed down by another, he sowed generously, he sowed abundantly so that when the harvest was ripe he had enough wheat to feed his own family plus dozens, if not hundreds, of other families as well. The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly! The axiom is a universal truth, not just isolated to the biblical text, but also showing up in the writings of great thinkers spanning the spectrum of time. Aristotle wrote, “You sowed these things shamefully, but you reaped them in evil.” (Aristotle, Rhetoric III.3.4) In the book of Proverbs we read, “”He who sows injustice will reap calamity.” (Proverbs 22:8 NIV) Some great modern mind came up with a variation of the wisdom of the ages when he said, “What goes around comes around.” The underlying fact of all of these sayings is this: “Every generous soul receives a blessing.” (Proverbs 11:25 NIV)
What rule of thumb can we use to measure how generous we are in our sowing? You ask such good questions. If we accept the biblical tithe as the beginning point of financial sowing then we can easily come to the conclusion of how sparingly or how generously we are sowing. The biblical tithe for those of us who are unfamiliar with the word, “Tithe,” means, “10%.” The Bible teaches that 10% of our earnings are God’s, the first 10%. They are not to be used for essentials or nonessentials, but to go to the mission of our King. If we accept this as the starting point for you and me in understanding how generously we are sowing then we can easily see that most Americans are staring at an empty bushel basket. The average American family gives 2.86% of their income to the mission of the Lord. 2.86% — go figure. In the most blessed nation which has ever existed on the face of the earth, the most blessed people who have ever existed on the face of the earth are responding to God’s abundant blessing to the tune of 2.86% of their income.
Some of us might think that this figure is brought low by the poor people of our population who are unable to give to the extent that wealthier people can, but you are wrong. Statistics have shown time and time again that poor people give a greater percentage of their income than those who have more to give. Another interesting finding is that when America is going through a recession period, the giving per family increases. When we are hurting, when we are struggling, we tend to be more generous.
Whether it is a “bear market” or “bull market,” time of recession or economic progress, the truth of Paul’s statement always holds true. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Paul is not preaching the forerunner of the “name-it-claim-it theology,” or some get rich quick scheme, but he is simply reflecting the character the God who has sown generously, with rich blessings, into each of our lives.
Generous sowing doesn’t simply encompass the financial aspect of life, it encompasses every aspect of life. How are you sowing when it comes to your prayer life, your time, the gifts and abilities you’ve been given by God. Are you interceding for your brothers and sisters? Are you teaching others in the faith? Are you using your abilities to further the mission of our King? We need to stop and consider how we have been sowing lately.
It is important for us to understand that the methodology of sowing should never include being squeezed to sow. A farmer who is made to go out and labor in the fields is not an effective farmer. The farmer must decide what he is going to plant and how much he is going to plant or his heart will not be in the process. Paul writes it another way, (7) Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV) There is a very important lesson here for us which is not heeded by church leaders oftentimes. There are many in the Body of Christ who have played on the emotions of people to press them into giving before they have even had the time to “decide in their heart what to give.” Church leaders can jump before a congregation and make all kinds of pleas and eek out all kinds of money from unsuspecting believers who are determined to be faithful to their walk with the Lord. We can cloak our appeals in urgent rhetoric, but we do more harm than good by doing so.
The leaders of Britton Christian Church do not want anyone to give reluctantly or under compulsion. “Reluctantly” really doesn’t do justice to the word Paul uses to describe giving under pressure. The Greek word, “luphs” (lupes) means, “sadness, grief, pain, or sorrow.” The person who gives reluctantly or under the heavy hand of sadness or sorrow is a person who gives for the wrong reason. The Lord does not want us to approach the offering of our time, talents, and money with downcast eyes and a sad heart. If you are serving in one of the ministries of the church or you are giving financially and you are full of grief in “having” to serve then you need to take a step back and reevaluate why you are serving or giving.
On the other hand, neither are we to give under compulsion. The Greek word, “anagke” (anagke) means “necessity” or “distress.” I’ve heard of church leaders who have put the squeeze on members by saying, “Have you heard the news? The church is going to close if we can’t make our mortgage payment this month! That’s right, we are in dire straits and if the money doesn’t come in then it is all over with, right here and right now. Everything we’ve worked for, every dream we’ve ever had, every challenge the Lord has presented to us—it’s over if we don’t come up with the money.” With a plea like that you and I would scrape and skimp to come up with every disposable dime we have to help in the crisis. Out of necessity and under insurmountable distress we would reach down deep and come up with the money, but we would be giving for the wrong reason.
Our modus operandi, our methodology, our motivation for giving, our way of being fiscally responsible with what the Lord has given us is to be based on a cheerful heart. You and I are to give with a cheerful heart, a merry heart, a hilarious spirit. We ought to be excited about giving our gifts of time and money to support what the Lord is doing in this place. If our motivation is anything short of joy and unbridled enthusiasm then we need to reexamine our motive for giving.
Knowing that we should have a cheerful heart and having a cheerful heart are two different things. I declare to you today that there is one reason and one reason only why you and I should have a cheerful heart and that is stated by the Apostle Paul in verse 8. 8And 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. (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV) He is able! When you and I are faithful with the manifold blessings He has entrusted to us, He is able. When we give of our time when we don’t have it to give, He is able. When we tithe of the resources that He has entrusted to us, He is able. He is able. Able to make all grace abound. Not some grace, but all grace. You will never know that He is able until you allow Him to bring you to the brink of dependence and you decide to step off into His able arms. Every year since I have been here there have been those who have doubted that He is able, but we keep pressing on, sowing on, trusting that He is able. Won’t you ask the Lord to show you how you are sowing today? He will show you and when He does I pray that you will respond to His revelation in faithfulness.