The Harvest

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Three years ago the American food giant Kraft took over Cadbury. The founder of Kraft Foods was a committed Christian who came to understand the harvest principle of giving bountifully or generously. He wrote:

"The only investments I ever made which have paid constantly increasing dividends are the monies I have given to the Lord."

The Colgate-Palmolive company was started by William Colgate. His family were very poor and he left to find work in New York. He dedicated his life to Christ and the very first thing he did with the first dollar he earned was to give 10% of it to the Lord’s work. Soon he began giving 20% of his income to the Lord, then 30%, 40%, 50% until he became so successful that he began giving cheerfully 100% of his income to the Lord, helping to fund much Christian ministry. He knew not just the harvest principle but also the treasure principle - that you can’t take it with you when you go but you can send it on ahead.

They like the very materially poor Macedonian believers of 2 Corinthians 8 had been gripped by God’s grace and had learned, not for their own selfish gain but for the sake of the gospel, that giving is sowing, as Paul reminds us in v6:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (9.6)

What about you? Are you sowing sparingly or generously? You see the relatively wealthy church at Corinth was being tight fisted. Corinth was a wealthy, decadent and selfish city and its values were in danger of infecting the church. In 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 Paul’s encouraging them to give generously to the needs of God’s people in Jerusalem, where the church was suffering persecution and a severe famine. Now a major mark of the spiritual health of a Christian and a church is bountiful or generous and joyful giving whether we're able to give a small amount or a large amount. As Billy Graham said, ‘Our cheque books have more to do with our Christian discipleship than our hymn books.’ The Corinthian church thought they were very spiritual. Well, in terms of their financial giving they were full of good intentions. Back in 2 Corinthians 8:10 we learn that they’d not only been the first to give something but were also the first to have the desire to give to that need. But in the next verse Paul has to say to them,

So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. (8.11)

They’d promised to help willingly and generously. But they’d yet to put most of their money where their mouth was and were in danger of doing so in an unplanned and grudging way.

Now I give thanks to God for his provision for us at JPC through the giving of his people but is that sometimes true of us too? We hear the needs of JPC and we hear God’s Word on giving but we don’t get round to actually giving. And then you and the church both miss out on the blessings of giving financially. Instead we are “to show the proof of our love” (8:24) by giving generously and cheerfully.

Did you know that in most churches 20% of the congregation give 80% of the church’s income? I've no idea what the percentages are here. But just imagine if everyone tithed and more, giving at least 5% of their income to JPC and at least 5% to world mission. How much more student outreach would be possible? How much more plant to enable growth to 2000 over the next 5 years and church planting. How much more world mission? RT Kendall writes:

"If every Christian tithed and more every church would be free of financial worries and could begin truly to be the salt of the earth. If every Christian would tithe and more the church would begin to make an impact on the world that would change it. The church instead is often paralysed."

And tithing – or 10% of our income is just the biblical baseline. As one apologetic church member said to his minister: "I just don’t see how I can give as much as a tenth. Would it be all right if I just gave a fourth!"

But what motivates us to give generously and cheerfully to supply the needs of God’s people, of the church and of our mission partners? Yes, the need motivated the Corinthians when they first heard about it but not for long. And indeed the Bible teaches that people don’t give to need on its own but also to vision. But here in 2 Corinthians 9 Paul reminds us of the supreme motivation for giving. So first

1. The Motivation for Giving (v15)

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (9.15)

What gift is Paul talking about? The gift of the Lord Jesus Christ who willingly gave himself up to death on a cross so that we, who turned our backs on God and deserve punishment, might live rather than face eternal death in hell. No wonder Paul says: “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” And so should we. Perhaps there’s someone here this evening who needs to say thank you for the first time and receive God’s gift. We can’t earn our way to heaven. We can’t buy a place there through giving financially. No the only way is through receiving God’s inexpressible gift. And we give financially and in other ways supremely out of gratitude for this gift which is beyond description. As v8 states, it’s God’s abounding grace to us that starts generous joyous giving.

There was a real financial need among the church in Jerusalem. So Paul encourages generous cheerful giving. And the need was pressing. But the need wasn’t the main motivation for giving. No the main motivation for giving was the Gospel. The main motivation for giving is God’s inexpressible gift in the person of His Son. Various faulty motives such as wanting to impress others might inspire us to give generously but only a real appreciation of God’s grace to us can prompt us to give cheerfully.

As a church, we have financial needs. But if our giving is simply to balance the budget, then we’re no different from a sports club. Our main motivation for giving, financial and otherwise, must be God’s inexpressible gift to us in the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. The Manner of Giving (v6-7)

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (9.6-7)

Now as I’ve already hinted, just because giving is meant to be a thankful response, it doesn’t mean it’s a spur of the moment thing. No godly giving is planned giving. So if we’re Christians, if we’ve been gripped by God's inexpressible gift, we need to sit down, pray through our budgets and plan how much we’re going to give and give decisively. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart.But godly giving is also prudent giving. God has been lavish in His gift to us. But God’s not wasteful. He wouldn’t have given up His own Son to death if it hadn’t been absolutely necessary for our salvation. God doesn’t waste his gifts. And the biblical principle of good stewardship can be applied to our giving. If you’re a tax payer, then when you give to charity, the generous if not cheerful tax man adds another 25p to every pound you give. But it only works if you sign the gift aid form. So if you’re a tax payer, and you don’t gift aid your giving, then you’re wasting an additional 25%. So, in a sense, you’re wasting God’s resources. And it’s the same with one-off as well as regular gifts. So if you’re a tax-payer make sure you sign the gift aid declaration. Because godly giving is prudent giving.

So godly giving is planned and prudent. But maybe you’re asking how much. Well if we were a sports club, then we’d say we’ve got so many regular members, so to balance the JPC budget for 2013 that works out at about £25 a week each for everyone aged 18 and over. But we’re not a sports club. And the Bible encourages us to be generous. Because godly giving is generous giving. For some of us generous giving might be less than £25 a week. For others of us it will be much more. God’s grace towards us is infinite and not measured out, so we who receive it are to show generosity without measurement or calculation. Look again at v6. As a thankful response to the Gospel, we’re called to be bountiful or generous. So what does bountiful or generous mean? According to 1 Corinthians 16 whenever we’re paid or receive our pension or allowance or loan, each of us should set aside a proportion in keeping with our income. So what kind of proportion? Well the OT set God’s people the target of 10%, and Christians have often used this target as a starting point. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus commends tithing. But in the Bible giving doesn’t stop at tithing. Here Paul simply reminds us to be generous. Some Christians I know increase their giving by 1% each year as they trust God and learn the blessings of giving. And v6 also begs the question: How big a harvest do we want? Not for selfish materialistic gain but for the sake of others, of our spiritual growth and the growth of the Kingdom of God. Do you want to grow in Christ? Do you want others to grow in Christ? Do you want this church to grow to 2000 over the next 5 years? Do we want to influence this nation and other nations for Christ? Then don't sow sparingly but generously.

Now look at V7:

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (v7)

Maybe this week you’ll sit down and prayerfully plan your giving, it’s a generous amount, maybe even a sacrificial amount; you’ve signed the gift aid form so you’re a prudent giver. But what if, during the week, your mind starts thinking about all the other things you could have spent the money on. A better smart phone; a better holiday. It’s not that smartphones and holidays are necessarily wrong in themselves. But if your giving is half-hearted, if you start to resent your giving, then it won’t be cheerful or joyful. And if you’re not cheerful or joyful about your giving, then no matter how much you give, it still won’t be godly. Because godly giving is cheerful giving. Indeed God loves a cheerful giver because he’s himself a cheerful giver (v15).

3. The Results of Giving (v8-14)

a) The first result of generous giving is that the giver is blessed.
Well to go back to v6, a farmer could expect from wheat seed sown a harvest of 30, 60 or even 100 seeds sown. Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. From such a harvest Paul, in v8, teaches that 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. What does that mean? Well just as the God of the harvest gives the sower enough harvest to supply seed next season, his daily bread, and some surplus beyond that, so God the fruitful provider will bless the generous giver with enough for his needs and will also enlarge the harvest of his righteousness (v10) ie multiply his resources for good works. So this is not about giving to get, it’s about giving to give, about God providing the giver with enough for his needs and with more than enough to continue sharing with others. Do you believe that? You can’t out give God. And God will continue to bless the generous giver with both the means and opportunity for giving. V11:

You will be enriched in every way [Note in every way – spiritual fruitfulness as well as enough materially. Why – so you can have just what you want? So that we might live in wealth, showing the world how much God blesses those who love him as those who peddle a prosperity gospel might finish the verse. No. Paul writes] to be generous in every way.

God prospers us not to raise our standard of living, but to raise our standard of giving. And giving is the antidote to materialism. What is promised to the generous giver is not wealth-in-return but all that you need and also sufficient for every good work.

b) In v12-13, we see the second result of generous giving. Needs are met, God is praised and genuineness of faith is proved. Paul writes:

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... (v12-13)

So not only are practical needs met, but the recipients are driven to thank the Lord for His provision. Normally the Lord provides for the needs of His people through the giving of His people. So your giving will supply the needs of God’s people here and beyond. When they’re in need they pray. And when the Lord’s provides, they say thank you. So if we opt out of giving, we opt out of the privilege of meeting human needs and also deny ourselves the honour of promoting God’s glory.

But there’s more. What will they say thank you for in v13? It’s not only for the material provision they’ll receive. No, they will also thank God for your faith. Because your generous giving will be a demonstration of the reality of your faith. It will be a demonstration that, when push comes to shove, your faith isn’t some private religious experience that comes and goes. No, you’re prepared to put your money where your mouth is. Or, in other words, when you say you believe the Gospel, you’re prepared to back it up with hard cash. And so those receiving the cash give thanks, not only for the cash, but for the reality of the Gospel being worked out in the givers’ lives.

c) But there’s even more. Thirdly ministry is multiplied. V14:

...while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. (14)

What else happens when the poor Christians in Jerusalem receive the money? They not only thank the Lord. They pray for the givers just as our partner church in Mburi, Kenya pray for us. They get out the Corinthians' prayer letter which came with the gift and start praying for the ministry back in Corinth. What’s the result of generous giving? Not only are the givers blessed and needs met, but ministry is multiplied. So it could be that, in years to come, people here give thanks to the Lord for your giving; giving that led to an expansion of the ministry, giving which partly helped them to know Jesus. Ministry which saved them from eternal death. Ministry that led to God’s people being blessed and God being glorified.

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