Sermon for November 21st, 2021

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2 Corinthians 9:1-8 (NT p.183)

1 Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints, 2 for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; 4 otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.

6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Harald Bonneville was a generous man. His wife was much more, shall we say...frugal.

When the offering plate was passed each Sunday at church, Harald would reach into his wallet and pull out a one-hundred dollar bill. But before he could put it in the plate, his wife would snatch it from his hand and whisper to him, "Harald! A hundred dollars is a lot of money!" Then she would take a 20 dollar bill from his wallet and put it in the plate instead.

One day when the cub scouts were selling popcorn, Harald came home with one hundred dollars worth of popcorn. Sure enough, his wife chided him severely: "What were you thinking, Harald? A hundred dollars is a lot of money!"

On Harald's 80th birthday, he went with his wife to the county fair. One of the attractions was a fundraiser for the local VFW: A restored World War I Bi-plane that would take a passenger up in the air for a thirty-minute ride through the clouds. The price? You guessed hundred dollars. Harald really, really wanted to take that ride. But his wife was dead-set against it. "A hundred dollars is a lot of money, Harald!"

The pilot of the airplane grew tired of listening their argument, and said, "Listen, you two, I'll make you a deal. I'll give you both a ride for free if you'll just shut up, and stay quiet for the whole flight. But if you speak even a single word, I'll charge you the $100."

Harald was elated, and this time his wife could hardly object on monetary grounds, so off they went. The pilot took his plane through banks and spins and loop-the-loops, and then did the whole thing over again. Amazingly, he never heard a single word. When the plane landed he looked back at Harald and said, "I'll have to admit I'm impressed. You never spoke once."

"Well," said Harald, "I was going to say something when my wife fell out of the plane, but... A hundred dollars is a lot of money!"

We are talking about money today, and so I sincerely hope none of you fall out of the plane, or your pew, for that matter. Seriously, though, this story illustrates the point that money is entirely relative. $100 may seem like a whole lot of money when it comes to something as trivial as a plane ride, an impulse purchase, or perhaps what you put in the offering plate in church. And yet, when it comes to big picture things like life or death, personal safety, the cost of an education, or the well-being of our children...most of us would spend $100 or a hundred times that without even blinking an eye.

Incidentally (in case you were wondering), you don't even have to be a member to contribute! If you enjoy sitting here in this nice air-conditioned room on Sunday mornings, listening to some great music and some half-way decent preaching, or if you have benefitted in any way from the programs, the services, and the fellowship that our church provides, please know that those things all have a cost, and are made possible by your donations.

So last week and this week, we are talking about money, generosity, and our commitment to give.

In the Bible, there is perhaps no better advice on this subject than the words of the Apostle Paul in 2nd Corinthians. Paul is writing a letter to the church he founded in the city of Corinth, which is in modern day Greece. Corinth, at the time when Paul writes his letter, is a growing, thriving and prosperous city. By all accounts, the church Paul founded there was also growing, thriving, and eager to demonstrate their generosity. So much so that Paul brags about them in his travels to other churches he has founded, and holds them up as an example of generous giving.

The Corinthians have filled out their pledge cards, as it were, and now it's time to turn them in. So Paul writes to them, praising their commitment, and subtly (or not so subtly) encouraging them to make good on their promises so that he (and they) will not be embarrassed when all of the churches tally the final fundraising results.

It is in this context that Paul lays out three fundamental principles for them to keep in mind as they make their commitment. Beginning in verse 6, he says:

6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

The first principle is simple, and it's found throughout the Bible: You reap what you sow. It's an agricultural metaphor, but today we might understand it best in terms of investment. If you only invest the minimum amount of time money and effort in your work, or your children, or your education--your results will be minimal. The opposite is true as well: If you invest significantly in those things, your results will be significant as well. Ask yourself, why am I here? What is it that I'm hoping to gain or accomplish by being part of a church community? And then see if your giving, your investment, is in line with your expectations.

The second principle Paul articulates is in verse 7:

7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

There is a balance here between freedom and obligation: Each of you must give (there's the obligation) but when it comes to how much, or when, or in what way--that's entirely between you and God. There are two important components of a good gift implied in this verse: Mindfulness and attitude. Put careful thought into what you give, and then once you have made a decision, put your whole heart into it as well. We all know how it feels to receive a gift that feels hasty, like the person giving the gift didn't really think it through, or doesn't know you too well. Worse yet, imagine if that person said, "You know, I didn't really want to give you anything, but I felt like I had to." And yet how often do we approach our giving to God in that same way?

The third and final principle for giving is in verse 8:

8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

We talked a little bit about this last week, and the false teaching in some churches today that if you give money to God, he will make you rich. That's not the promise in verse 8 (or anywhere in the Bible). Reading carefully, God is ABLE to provide you with every blessing in abundance, but that doesn't always mean that it's good idea. My children would love to be blessed with an abundance of candy to eat all day everyday for every meal. But it's my job as a parent to decide when that special blessing is in order, and when their desires would, in fact, be detrimental to their health. Instead, what God promises in this verse is that, if we do what God asks of us, we will always have ENOUGH of everything.

There's more to this promise, though: Why does God blessing us at all, ever? It's for a specific reason: So that you may share abundantly in every good work. We are blessed in order to be a blessing to others. We are blessed with enough, precisely so that we can participate in and contribute to the work that God is doing in the world, in our community, and in our church.

There's a story about a young couple, who, when they first got married, made a promise to God and their church that they would always give 10% of everything they had. Well, at first, that wasn't much, really only a few dollars each week. They were happy to do it. But God blessed them, and their fortune grew. Soon, that 10% was hundreds of dollars per week, and then thousands. When it got to be tens of thousands each week, they met with their pastor and said, "You've got to help us, we just can't do it anymore!" The pastor immediately got down on his knees and prayed to God. After he was finished, they asked, "Did you pray that God would let us off the hook?" "No," said the pastor. "I prayed that God would reduce your income back down to what it was when you were still comfortable giving 10%.

I want to be very clear on something, so that there is no confusion about this: In all of his writings and letters, the Apostle Paul maintains that our salvation, our forgiveness, our status as God's beloved and redeemed children is NOT dependent on us--on our works, our good deeds, our giving, or anything else. It is the 100% free gift of God. It is completely one sided, and there's nothing we can ever do to earn it.

But when it comes to God's blessing and God's provision for us--the material resources and tools that God gives us in this life in order to do the work he has called us to do, this IS a two-way promise. Again, I like to use a parenting analogy to make the point. If the "good work" I want to do in my household is to have all the weeds in the front yard pulled, and I offer to "bless" my children with $20 to do the job, and one of them works long and hard, investing time and energy to do it right, while the other one pulls a few weeds, and quickly calls it a day--I'm still going to love them both. I'm still going to feed them both. But which one am I going to "bless" with the opportunity to earn some extra spending money the next time around?

So it is with God. He will be faithful to do his part. Will you be faithful to do yours?