Believing In The HarvestErwin W. Lutzer | February 1, 2009
Selected highlights from this sermon
Paul encourages the Corinthians to give cheerfully to the Jewish church, understanding that giving is investing. While they were not promised a monetary reward from God for their generosity, Paul clearly states that God would provide a harvest of abounding grace, right living and thanksgiving.
Giving proportionately as we have purposed in our hearts, we too must cheerfully give, trusting in the One who provides the harvest.
Today I’m speaking on the topic of giving - giving as in offerings. And the minute I say that, I know that there are several responses that are going through your minds. Let me see if I am right. First of all, there are those of you who brought visitors today. Your friends are here and you say to yourself, “Oh no! The very day that I invite them to Moody Church what’s he doing? He’s talking about money.” Then there are those of you who say, “This is one message I am going to sit out because I lost my job recently and I have nothing to give. Thank you very much. I hope others listen.” And then there are those of you who give faithfully and regularly, and you are saying, “Yeah, it’s about time that he preached on giving because I’m giving faithfully, and it’s about time other people started to give faithfully too, because there are some people who don’t give at all, and it’s about time they started.”
Well, to begin with, I want to set you at ease and let you know that this is not going to be a harangue about “We have needs; therefore you ought to give.” This is not that kind of a message. As a matter of fact, the purpose of the message in no way is to rob you, but to enrich you, and to lead you to life abundantly. That’s where we’re headed.
You know, I need to tell you, as a pastor who has preached many messages, that my messages do me a lot more good than they could possibly do you good, because, after all, I have to live with the text. I have to pray about it. I have to figure out how to organize what I am going to say, and so in the process, God cuts me open and then sews me back together. My sermons always affect me. I hope from time to time they affect you, but as I was writing this out Friday morning, I couldn’t put the words down fast enough. The ideas were coming, and I just said, “Lord, give me these ideas a little more slowly so that I can write them down.”
Now, of course, it’s not because what I’m going to say to you today is profound. It’s really just the text of Scripture that I was meditating on for more of the week, but it is amazing. You are going to learn today things that hopefully will revolutionize your understanding of giving, and you’ll understand at the end of the message why it is that Rebecca and I spent some time last night talking about how we can give more this year than we did last year.
Let me set the context of Second Corinthians, chapter 9. The Apostle Paul is writing this to the church at Corinth. The people at Corinth decided that they were going to get an offering together to give to the needy Jewish believers in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem there was a famine; things were tight, and so what these believers did is they said, “We want to help saints that we will never meet, but we want to be generous in helping them as well.” And then there was another church called the Macedonian Church. They had given, Paul said, out of their poverty, and they came up with an offering, and so Paul is saying to the people at Corinth, “You need to come up with an offering as well,” and he used that to motivate them. Now it was the Corinthian idea to come up with the offering, and what Paul does in chapters 8 and 9 is he discusses how the offering is going to be delivered with a delegation so that nobody thinks that somebody is coffering the funds. Paul explains that, and he also explains how the two churches together are making this gift, and what a blessing it is going to be to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. So that’s the context.
So Paul has been talking about the gift that the Corinthians want to give, and he says it should be a willing gift. That’s in verse 5 of chapter 9, but now notice in verse 6 he says, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” What Paul is saying is that giving is actually sowing. Now there are some people who don’t give because they say, “The minute I give, that money is gone.” The Apostle Paul says, “No, it’s not gone. You may not see it for a while, just like a farmer who puts seed in the ground. The seed is gone after a manner of speaking, but because the farmer believes in the harvest, he knows that he will see it again. He’ll see it in another form, and if you sow sparingly, you’ll reap sparingly.”
Being brought up on a farm in Canada I remember that we used to plant wheat, and I think it was about a bushel per acre. That’s the way we would seed, and then we’d get maybe 25 or 30 bushels per acre in the fall as we harvested, so every kernel multiplied itself 25 or 30 times. But let’s suppose we didn’t use a full bushel. Let’s suppose we used a half-bushel. Then we’d get only 15 bushels in response to our half bushel. So the Apostle Paul is saying, “Now look, when it comes to giving (and he is talking about giving), if you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly. If you want a great harvest then you sow bountifully, and you will reap bountifully.
You say, “Well, how much should I give? How much should I sow?” Paul answers that. He says this in verse 7. “Each one (and notice everybody should be involved) must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” He says we should give as we have made up our mind. He’s saying that we should get on our knees and say, “Lord, what is it that you want me to give?” and once we decide what God wants us to give, we should follow through consistently. Now there are many Christians who don’t do that, and the way in which we know they don’t do that is here at the church we know, for example, that during the summer we have less income. Our offerings go down. Now why should that happen? It’s because there are some Christians who, when they are present say, “Well, you know, I’ve got twenty bucks, or I’ve got a hundred bucks. I’ll give this week, but next week I’m gone, so out of sight, out of mind.” It shouldn’t be that way.
When my wife and I bought a house and we signed a lease and had a mortgage, we didn’t say to the mortgage company, “Well, what we’re going to do is we’re going to skip July and August, because that is summer and we’re on vacation and we’ll pick up the payments later on when we come back in the fall in September.” No, no, we are committed to it. We’ve purposed in our mind that this is what we’re going to contribute. This is what the mortgage says, and we follow through. Paul says that we should give as we purpose in our hearts in accordance with our blessing (a portion of God’s blessing toward us). That’s the way in which we should give, and how should we give? He says we should give not out of compulsion or reluctantly. Notice it there in verse 7. God loves a cheerful giver.
How can I illustrate this? I would say that most of us, when we pay our taxes, pay them reluctantly, and under compulsion. Isn’t that true? What we do is we say, “Every dime that I can save, I’m going to save. Every law that I can faithfully keep I’m going to use to my advantage because every tax man will tell you that you never pay the government more than you absolutely have to. In fact, we pay people to help us pay as little as we can to the government. Right? Isn’t that what the tax brokers are all about? We pay them reluctantly and under compulsion.
You know, as a farm boy, after I pay my taxes (thinking back to the farm), now I think I’m beginning to understand how a cow feels after she’s been milked. Okay? That’s the way we feel when we’ve paid our taxes. But that’s not the way we’re supposed to give. We’re supposed to give cheerfully with no reluctance and no compulsion. Why is cheerfulness so important to God? It’s because, you see, money was not made to be given away. Money was made to save, and by the way, it is wise to save a portion of your money. It is wise. It was made to save. It was made also to buy things so that we can exist. That was the purpose of money. To give money away is so counter to our nature. It is so contrary to who we are as people that when it happens, and when it happens cheerfully, that is a mark of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Joy in giving can only be the fruit of the Spirit, and God loves a cheerful giver.
Now if you’re not a cheerful giver, let me tell you something about you. First of all, I would think that you probably have some low-grade anger. You may have anger against the church, against God, resentment of rich people, or resentment because of the hand that you have been dealt, or you may have a spirit of greed. Any one of those things may apply, and so you can’t give cheerfully. You may even give but it’s because of guilt or because of necessity. You do not give cheerfully, hilariously. I like to emphasize that because that’s the root word here. It doesn’t mean that you hold your head back and you laugh. It means simply that you are glad to give and wish you could give more, and have such a sense of freedom when it comes to giving. That’s what it means to give cheerfully. And if you are in that category where you can’t do that I have a good assignment for you. Get on your knees and just let it all out before God. Confess how you feel about money, about how you feel about life, about how you feel about your past experiences which have hampered you, and get it all out there and leave it before the Lord, because God loves cheerful givers.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, all right, you said that giving is sowing, but where do we get the seed? Well, I’m glad you asked. As in most instances, you’ll notice that the Bible always has answers to questions that we ask. Notice what it says in verse 10. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing.” You get it from God. When you get paid at the end of a two-week period, or the end of the month, that is a gift of God that God has supplied. Remember, giving is sowing. You will see it again.
Well then, the Apostle Paul goes on to talk about the fact that there will be a harvest. There’s going to be reaping. Now I need to say some things here to clear the decks and to clarify. If you’ve ever watched much television you know that there are T.V. evangelists who teach something like this – that you are to sow a seed, and the way in which you sow a seed is to send money to them, and then what will happen is God will give it all back to you, and then they have story after story about a person who gave a hundred dollars, and within two weeks God gave him a thousand, and on and on these stories go. That’s manipulative, and it’s intended to simply be a high-octane fund raising phenomenon, and it is. My friend, they have taken an excellent principle but they have high-jacked it, and let me explain to you why.
In the Bible there is no guarantee that there is a one-to-one correspondence, a tight connection between what you give and what God is going to give back to you in financial return. Years ago I read a book entitled How to Give Your Way to Prosperity, and I say, if you’re talking about material prosperity, no, no, no. These evangelists don’t believe themselves what they are saying. Can you imagine that if it was a guarantee that if you give money to their organization it’s all going to come back to you they would be mortgaging their houses to invest in their own organization, knowing then that they would have tons of money coming back. But they don’t do that, do they? And they don’t tell you the stories of the people who give a thousand dollars or a hundred dollars who never get any of it back, and so that is deception. But they do have a principle that is Biblical, and the Biblical principle is that there is not a tight connection between “I give ten dollars and now God owes me a hundred.” That’s not the connection, but there is a connection between sowing and reaping, and the harvest, according to this passage, is nothing less than abounding abundant grace poured upon your life if you are a cheerful giver.
Now your Bible is open because this promise is so wonderful you have to see it in the text with your own eyes. Notice it says this. “God Loves a cheerful giver,” and in verse 8 is says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” Let’s look at that phrase by phrase. “And God is able (shows you the power of it) too make all grace abound (that’s the measure of it) toward you (that’s the direction of it) so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times (the extent of it) that you may abound in every good work (that’s the ministry of it).” If you are a cheerful giver God is going to give back to you and the harvest is going to be this abounding grace that is promised here in the text. It may include money. Sometimes it remarkably includes money. Sometimes it doesn’t, but the grace of God will be upon your life. I noticed it just this morning in re-reading the text. It’s amazing how you see things. It says, “God is able to make all grace abound” in verse 8 and you’ll notice at the end of the verse it says, “that you may abound.” So God abounds in our lives in grace, and we in turn, abound. It’s all about abounding and a plentiful harvest.
Now, the question is this. Exactly what does this mean so far as the text is concerned? What does it look like to receive this very special harvest? Well, let’s look at the text. It says first of all that we will receive righteousness. It says in verse 9, “As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor….’” By the way, in the Psalms this is a description of a generous man. “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever,” and now here’s the promise in verse 10, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” One of the fruits that you will receive is the harvest of righteousness. This is not the righteousness of God, which is received by faith. This isn’t a matter of saying that the way we are saved is through giving. No, that’s not the way it happens. That comes through faith in Jesus Christ. The righteousness that is referred to here is right living, so that as you have a generous heart, as you take all that God has given to you, and as you lift it up to God with open hands, you say, “God, this truly is yours. It really does belong to you. Now give me wisdom as to what to do with it.” When we do that, there is a righteous kind of living with an open heart that permeates all of our lives. And I wouldn’t doubt but that a part of the bountiful harvest that is talked about is the impact in the lives of our children, in the lives of our grandchildren, in the lives of our relatives, in the impact in the church, because God says, “I will give you the harvest of righteousness. I’ll give you the harvest of right living.”
And then there’s another harvest that is coming, and that is glory to God. Now here I’m going to have to read the text. Remember, Paul is going to be talking about the saints that live in Jerusalem, and how glad they are going to be by this very special gift given by these two churches, and now let’s look at it very carefully. You’ll notice it says in verse 11, “You will be enriched in every way for all of your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you (grace that has come because you were a cheerful giver).”
Now think about this for a moment. What Paul is saying is that when these believers receive the gift, they are going to give thanksgiving to God. I mean, imagine this. They are receiving a gift from Gentiles, from people whom they’ve never met and never will meet (because we’re talking about cities that were hundreds of miles apart in the ancient world), and they are going to receive these funds (the saints are) and they are going to give thanks, and they are going to say, “Glory to God because of your gift.” So Paul says, “God will get glory because of what you’ve done in the lives of these saints.”
You know, it’s something like giving today, isn’t it? As you know, we recently took an offering for some orphans in an orphanage in Africa, and a very generous offering, I might add. And I can imagine that when that gift comes (and apparently it’s enough to sustain them for a whole year), they offer glory to God, and praise to God, and they in turn pray for us, which is what the text says.
As a matter of fact, this happens with our orphanage in India that we help supply and aid. When I was going through some problems with my eye, I was so humbled when I was told that those little girls were praying for me, and rejoicing with the gifts that we have given and the help that we have supplied. And they give thanksgiving and they give glory to God, and that’s part of the harvest that God is talking about here. And I can imagine here at the Moody Church part of the harvest is not just in the far-flung mission fields of the world, but there are families that are giving glory to God because of the ministry of our family ministries here at the church. There are people who are giving glory to God. There are students – university students and college students – who come here, and they are giving glory to God because our generosity enables them to have a place to worship and to learn. And all the way down the line - our children, our families, our singles, our college students – all of them and all of us together are giving glory to God because of our generosity and because we are committed to the needs of the saints.
And this is a good place for me to mention something. When you look at an offering envelope, you’ll see things on it like General Fund, and under that you have Missions and a number of other different categories. You know there are some people who say this. They say, “I will give. I will give to the orphans. I will give to the missionaries, but I’ll never give to that general fund because it keeps the lights on and it pays salaries, and I don’t want my money to go to something that mundane. I want it to go to the missionaries, and to the orphans. I’ll give to them, but I won’t give to the church.” I smile when I hear that. That’s like saying, “You know, we have this tree that is bearing fruit, and I am willing to pay for someone to pick the fruit of the tree, but I will not give a dime to the root of the tree. I’m not going to give anything to it. Let it rot. All that I’m interested in is the fruit.”
My dear friend, you cannot have fruit unless you have a strong root, and the stronger the root, the more important it is to realize the more fruit that will be borne. May I speak candidly? (I will whether you give me permission or not, by the way.) Unless we have a strong base, we can’t have the ministries that we have. We won’t be taking offerings for other kinds of ministries. The stronger the home base, the more we can branch out and bear fruit in many, many different ways. We have other ways that we have in mind to bear fruit, but our lack of funds hinder us. That’s why when Rebecca and I fill out that offering envelope, we always give the majority of our money to the general fund. It’s the engine that keeps everything else going.
Well, the Apostle Paul says, “God is able to make all grace abound.” It isn’t just for the poor saints in Jerusalem. It’s for the saints in Chicago in our instance, and the ministries that God has given us. Now, we must understand that cheerful giving brings about a blessed life. That’s what the text says, and we have to believe the text. In a third world country – this is a true story that I read – a man went into a hut and took a large bowl of corn, and took it with him out to the field and began to plant it in the ground. His little daughter who was five or six years old actually began to cry because she knew how poor the family was. And her big question was this. Why would Daddy take corn that might feed us for several days and put it in the ground? That seemed to be very, very unwise. Well the answer to the question, of course, is her daddy put it in the ground because he believed in the harvest. He could have chosen to take that bowl of corn and use it for lunch and for dinner that week, but then there’d be no harvest, and there are times when you have to simply believe in the harvest, and you plant in faith because you believe that in the harvest God is able to make all grace abound.
I don’t know how God can take the wishes of a six-year old boy who is making some play money during an offering time that adds up to more than $3,000 (wishing that he could give it to the children), and how weeks later, his mother can receive several checks (on the same day) that match exactly the total. I don’t know how that works, but the text says, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” I’d say that’s quite a blessing to cheerful givers, and there’s the promise right there.
My wife and I know some missionaries very well because he actually served with me on a staff at a church (not this church but a previous one). They were missionaries in Argentina, and then in the Middle East, and they told us a very interesting story about money. Now you know missionaries have very little to go on. They decided that they would faithfully give a percentage of their money to the Lord’s work, no matter how tough it got, but knowing that God sometimes leads us through money. They decided something else, and that was that the fewer their funds (the worse it got), they would give a higher percentage to God. See what they were doing is this. God says in the book of Malachi, “Test me.” Now you’re not supposed to test God. Only once in the Bible does it say, “Test me,” and that had to do with money. God says, “You bring the tithes into the storehouse and then see whether or not I’m not going to open the heavens and bless you.” Now in those Old Testament promises, of course, the tithe was required. Today, of course, there is no requirement. It is simply proportionate giving based on cheerfulness, but they decided to test God, and what they would do whenever things got tough is they would give more – a greater percentage of what they had.
A number of years ago we were in Regina, Canada, visiting them in their home (catch this now) that is fully paid for and that they now own. How many of us have homes that are fully paid for? Probably not very many of us, because we’re all making mortgage payments. I remember sitting there listening to how it happened. This happened, that happened, then this fell into place. It was like a chess game. I don’t know how God did it, but the text says, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency, and all things at all times, you may abound in every good work if you are a cheerful giver.” And they were and they proved in their need that God actually responds to cheerful givers and blesses them. Now I’m not saying that that will happen to you or to me every time we give. Remember, we’re not saying that you get back monetarily what you have given, but I do say though that if you give cheerfully, God will bless you. There are marriages that are in trouble today because the couple does not give, and they do not give with any cheerfulness, and so there’s no abounding grace in their relationship. God is able to make all grace abound.
Something else that’s very critical about this passage is that the motivation of cheerful giving is God’s gift to us. Notice it says, “The grace of God,” and then it says in verse 15, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.” What makes believers in Corinth generous to Jewish believers in Jerusalem? The bottom line is having been radically blessed by God, having been radically loved by God, these believers, in turn, love. It opens the floodgates of their hearts towards those who are in need because they are now loved of God, and therefore they love. We love him because he first loved us. They’ve experienced the grace of God (Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt. Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, there where the blood of the lamb was spilled.) because they have received his inexpressible gift, and when we do, we become givers – cheerful givers.
In a few moments we are going to be remembering our Lord’s death, and I do need to say that there are some of you who are here today, who when the offering baskets are passed you shouldn’t give. I’ll tell you why. It’s because you may think that somehow you can get on God’s good side, or you can rectify your relationship with God. If you are not a believer in Jesus, and if you’ve not received his inexpressible gift, don’t give. It could confuse matters for you. But if you’ve received that gift, let us be cheerful givers. Now you can understand why Rebecca and I had a talk about how we can give more than this year than last, but we’re going to be having communion. We’re going to be passing the elements and the cup represents the blood of Jesus Christ. The bread represents his body. This is a reminder of this inexpressible gift, and we say, “Thank you, Lord, for forgiveness and abounding grace toward us (grace greater than our sins) and because of that, we are going to be givers, and we are going to give back to you in thanksgiving and praise, and in whatever way you speak to us, your bountiful love and grace. Having been radically loved we radically love and give.
Join me as we pray.
Our Father, we ask today in Jesus’ name that you will help all of us to answer the question of what you would have us do with what you’ve given to us. We thank you for the opportunity of what we can call investing for eternity, but Father, we’ve come now because we want to come to your table. We want to be reminded of the grace that you have given to us, and therefore we pray that these moments shall be holy moments in your presence. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.