Generous Giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)

2 Corinthians 9v6 sowing 02

I imagine that life would have been risky for farmers in ancient times. Each year they would have harvested a certain amount of grain. Then they would have had to decide how much of the grain they were going to use during the year and how much they were going to sow for the following year’s crop. If they kept a lot to use for the coming twelves months, and planted only a little of it, they might not have a crop large enough to provide for their needs in the following year. However, if they re-planted too much of it, they might not have enough to get them through the year.

Sowing the seed the farmers had harvested was an act of faith. They had to trust God to do two things. Firstly, that God had provided them with enough grain to get them through the year to the next harvest. Secondly, that God would provide a harvest that was large enough to provide them with what they needed for the following year and into the future.

When Paul said to the Christians in Corinth that ‘a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop’ (2 Corinthians 9:6 NLT) he was describing what a life of faith in Christ is like. Every day of our lives, God provides many of us with so much that is good – in fact more than we need. It is good, then, that once a year we set aside a Sunday, traditionally known as Harvest Thanksgiving, to focus on the good that God gives us and to thank God for his goodness to us in all its forms.

As we give thanks to God for his goodness to us, Paul’s words challenge us to consider what we do with the good God gives us. God provides us with more than we need. Paul explains that God does this so that we can share with others who are in need. He writes, ‘you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous’ (v11a NLT). God doesn’t bless us with his goodness so we can be self-indulgent with it. God gives us good things so we can share the good he has given us with others who need what we have been given.

In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 Paul is talking specifically about money. He is raising funds from the churches in Greece to bring back to the Jerusalem Christians who were in need (see v12). However, he is also talking about God’s grace in all of its forms. We can see that in verses 14 where Paul uses the Greek word for grace (charis). This is the grace God gives to us in Jesus so our sins are forgiven, we are united with Christ through faith by the Holy Spirit and we receive the gift of new life. God gives us every other good thing in our lives because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for us. God doesn’t give us good because we somehow deserve it. Instead, he gives us his goodness because he favours us because of what Jesus has done for us and because he lives in us.

The main question this passage challenges us to think about is what are we doing with God’s good gifts to us? We can thank God for his gifts to us, but what happens then? Do we just take our things home and keep them safely locked away? Or do we listen to what Paul is saying and trust God by sowing what he has given to us into the lives of other people?

We need to hear what Paul says in verse 6: that if we only plant a little of what God has given us into the lives of others, then we are only going to see a little result. We can follow that through to the point where if we are sowing nothing of what God has given to us, then we are going to see nothing happen. However, God’s promise to us through Paul is that if we trust God enough to sow generously into the lives of others, then we will see a generous or plentiful result.

We need to remember this when we talk about the ministries of our congregation and the hopes we have for the future of our church. These don’t just happen by themselves. Instead, ministry only happens when people are willing to give of themselves to see those ministries grow and flourish. Our hopes won’t miraculously fall from the sky if we just sit back and wait for them. If we are sowing sparingly, we will only reap sparingly. However, if we are willing to sow our time and energy in relationships with each other, then we will see a generous harvest in our congregation.

This is critical in our ministry with young people. I think just about all of us would like to see more young people in our church. But are we willing to sow into the lives of our young people for that to happen? Maybe one of the reasons we don’t have the young people in our church that we once did is because of what we sowed into their lives. If we are sowing little to nothing into their lives, then we will see little to no result. One way we can understand the Growing Young research is that young people remain connected to congregations that are willing to sow the goodness of God into their lives. This happens when we hand over leadership responsibilities, empathise with young people, take Jesus’ message seriously, fuel a warm, relationally rich community, make our young people a priority in our lives, and be the best neighbours. If we sow nothing of God’s goodness and grace into the lives of our young people, that is exactly what we will see happen – nothing. However, as we listen to Paul’s words, if we sow generously into the lives of our young people by giving them our time, our energy, our listening ears and our supportive, caring relationships, then in time we will see a generous harvest.

Each year, ancient farmers faced a decision – how much would they use for themselves and how much would they sow for next year’s crop? Paul didn’t tell his readers how much he wanted them to give because it was up to each of them to decide, depending on their circumstances. I’m not going to tell our congregation how much they need to give to the ministries of this congregation or to our young people either. Instead, like Paul, I want us to remember that if we sow little to nothing of God’s goodness into the lives of the people around us, that’s exactly what we will see in the future. However, in the faith that God gives us every good thing we need, and he gives us more than we need, we can show our thanks to God for his goodness to us by sowing his goodness and grace, love and hope generously into the lives of the people around us. That’s when we will see a generous harvest in our church.

What will you sow into the lives of the people around you?

Growing (Ephesians 1:15-23)

growing 01

I’m not the world’s most dedicated or skillful gardener. However, I like to have plants around our home that are healthy and look good. At times, some plants don’t seem to be doing as well as I had hoped, so I’m faced with a question: is this plant still alive or is it time to take it out and put something else in its place?

My way of trying to work out if a plant is still living is to look for signs of growth. If it is growing, I will continue to look after it and try to help it grow. If it isn’t growing, however, then it’s time to take it out so something else can grow in its place.

It’s a simple idea: growth is a sign of life.

Maybe that’s why the Apostle Paul prays that the early Christians is Ephesus ‘might grow in (their) knowledge of God’ (v17 NLT). Just like the plants in my garden, growth is a sign of life. He prays for them, and as we hear these words also for us, because when we are growing in our ‘knowledge of God’ then something is alive in us that is producing that growth.

It’s important to understand, though, that when Paul talks about ‘knowledge’ he isn’t talking about something that is primarily intellectual or academic. In this information age, we usually understand ‘knowledge’ as facts, figures or data about any given person or topic.

For pre-modern people, however, ‘knowledge’ was much more relational. It is the difference between knowing a whole lot of information about a person and actually having a relationship with them. For example, I can know everything there is to know about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but that won’t get me an invitation to their wedding. For that to happen, I would need to know them and be in relationship with them. This is how the Bible understands ‘knowledge.’ It is much more a relationship with people than just information about them.

What Paul is praying for, then, is that we are growing in relationship with God. Essentially, the Christian faith is relational. God welcomes us into relationship with him as his children and he asks us to call him ‘Father.’ Jesus, the Son of the Father, became one with us, died and is risen from the dead to restore the broken relationship with God. Jesus’ command to love others in the same way he has loved us is at its heart relational – we can only love God or other people when we are in relationship with them.

My relationship with my wife, children, other family members and friends will grow and change over time as we go through life’s challenges and joys together. In the same way, Paul is praying that our relationship with God will continue to grow as we journey through life in relationship with him. As we go through the ups and downs of life with God, giving thanks for the good times and looking for his grace in the tough times, we will be growing in our relationship with him as we learn to trust him in all circumstances of life.

Paul continues his prayer by asking that this growing knowledge of God would show itself in the lives of God’s people in two ways. The first is hope (v18). In a world where people are struggling for a lot of different reasons, we could all benefit from a greater sense of hope. Paul’s prayer is that we might grow in hope through a growing relationship with God.

The second is understanding ‘the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him’ (v19 NLT). Paul describes this as the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and raised him up to share in God’s authority in his ascension. This is the power of God to bring light into dark places, to lift us up when we are at our lowest points, to bring us out of isolation into restored relationships with others, and to give us life when everything around us is trying to rob life from us. This power of God can show itself in lots of different ways, depending on what’s happening in our lives. It makes me wonder how God might display this power in your life…

We grow in our relationship with God the same way that we grow in any other relationship. We grow in our knowledge of God by making time for him in our busy lives, as we listen to his words of promise and grace in the Bible, as we talk honestly with him in prayer, and as we grow in our relationships with other Christians in community and especially in worship together. As we exercise these and other spiritual disciplines, and as we learn to love brothers and sisters in the faith and be loved by them, our relationship with God will grow as we participate in the body of Christ, which is the church (Ephesians 1:23), and journey through life together.

Our growth in knowing God is vital to our life as his people, so we included it as the second element of our congregation’s discipling plan. Because growing is a sign of life, we want to help people grow in their relationship with God. I pray, along with the Apostle Paul, that the members and friends of our community of faith, along with all who read these words, would be growing in their knowledge of and relationship with God, so that together we might also understand more and more the hope to which he has called us, and the incredible greatness of his power for us who trust him.
So, how can we help you grow?