2 Corinthians 9:6-11
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 18, 2018 – Stewardship Dedication Sunday
Every command from God is coupled with a promise from God. Thus, every act of obedience is also an act of enlightened self-interest.
In her book Amazing Grace, writer and poet Kathleen Norris shares what she calls “the scariest story” she’s ever heard about the Bible.
Norris and her husband paid a neighborly call on a man named Arlo – a rugged, self-made man who was fighting cancer. During their visit, Arlo spoke about his grandfather, a devout and loving Christian.
The grandfather gave Arlo and his bride a wedding present: an expensive leather Bible with their names engraved in gold lettering on its cover. Arlo left it in the box and never opened the book.
For months after their wedding, grandfather kept asking how he and his wife liked the Bible. She had written a nice note, and they had both thanked him in person; but somehow he couldn’t let it lie – he always had to ask about how they liked it.
Finally, Arlo grew curious enough to take the Bible out of the closet and open it. “The joke was on me,” Arlo said. “I found out that grandfather had placed a twenty-dollar bill at the start of the book of Genesis, and at the start of every other book of the Bible…over $1300 in all. He feared I’d never find it – and I almost didn’t.”
I fear that we might leave riches from God in the box, and fail to find and claim blessings that could be ours just for the believing and the obeying. God links His blessings to be enjoyed and His commandments to be kept. By the obeying of His words of command, we obtain the fulfillment of His promises.
Jesus said, “Give and it will be given to you.” There it is – command and promise. Paul reiterated the promise when he said, “The one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity.”
Because of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises, we can trust that our obeying His will about our giving will result in our receiving great reward. Obedience is the means by which we take hold of the promised blessings.
And that is true even when our generosity is so great as to involve sacrifice in our lifestyle – as Paul said, in the previous chapter of this letter to the Corinthians, it did for their Christian neighbors to the north who gave “in a wealth of generosity” despite their “extreme poverty” and who were begging to give even more regardless of their further diminishment in wealth by doing so. Though those northern neighbors were not enriched in terms of material well-being, they were so enriched in terms of emotional and spiritual happiness, that they counted the loss as nothing worth bothering about. They were experiencing the truth that, when given in obedience to God’s command, our gifts are always to ourselves as well as to others – and that, though there may be some short-term sacrifice in being generous, in the end it puts a person way ahead. The long-term and soul-deep benefits more than compensate for the passing costs of living like Jesus.
Then there is also this: Our giving is a test of our value system, not the value system we profess, but the one we actually live by. Does closeness to God, brought about by following His will, matter more to us than our having top-of-the-line clothes, food, furniture, cars and vacations? Does our character matter more than our comfort? Our witness more than our pleasure?
Sacrificial giving does in fact smart in the short-run; but it is a smart choice for those who are smart enough to take the long view, to take God at His word, and to take to heart His wisdom about what makes for the best life. Smart people are willing to endure deprivations and difficulties for a while in the faith that they will thereby gain life at its best. The payoffs make up for all the prices paid.
It makes sense to take the next step up in sacrificial giving if you value what God values, and if you trust God enough to bank on God’s promises.
Some charities and churches say, “Give until it hurts.” Actually, the dare of scripture is: “Give until it helps, until it helps you grow in joy, godliness and soul satisfaction.”
It is scary to take up that dare, to take the risk of following the path of generous, even sacrificial giving. For all you have to hang on to are the promises of Jesus – such as the one He made when He challenged His disciples, saying, “Give and it will be given to you…and, with the same measure with which you have given, it will be measured out back to you.” Is Jesus challenging you today to give more than you have in the past and to count on Him as never before to make good on His promise to bless you in your faithful following of His will? Are you willing in hope and faith to take that gamble?
Late in World War II, American bombers were sent on dangerous missions over southern Europe to cripple the Nazis’ oil supplies. Many American planes were shot to pieces over occupied Yugoslavia, and their airmen had to bail out and parachute to the ground – where they had every reason to expect they’d be captured and killed.
But Serbian allies were tracking their descent and picked them up as soon as they landed to whisk them away before the Nazis arrived, and to bring them to safe shelter, medical care and food.
But that wasn’t the end of their rescue. The Americans had been saved from death, but they still had to be saved for the life to which they belonged.
The Serbians had built a secret landing strip from which hidden aircraft could transport their allies away. The Serbians told the Americans that they could lead them there, but that they would have to trust them with their lives. For the journey often would be brutally hard, expose them to all kinds of dangers, and make no sense as they traveled through unknown territory by circuitous routes meant to throw off those attempting to track them down.
Each American had to decide whether he would gamble his life by putting his faith in the Serbians and following their lead. Over five hundred did, and all of them found their way into the life where they belonged.
For us to enter life at its best, we have to entrust our lives to Jesus and follow His lead even when doing so is scary and hard and makes no sense to us. He saves us from death, but that is only the beginning of His rescue work. He wants to guide us on a journey that sometimes imperils us, sometimes hurts us, and frequently scares us, but that will in the end bring us into our best life.
Is Jesus today asking you to do something smart that may smart a while? Is He inviting you to take the next step in following His example of sacrificial generosity? Will you trust His promises and follow His command, sowing bountifully that you might reap bountifully? The decision is yours!