What’s In The Box?, II Corinthians 9:6-9, 11/4/12

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Nov 042012
 

Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church

Our passage this morning is part of a letter that Paul, a leader in the early church, wrote to the church in the city ofCorinth.  He says a lot of things in the letter to encourage these new Christians in their faith.  We are going to read a part where Paul is talking to them about generosity.  Because God has first been so generous, Paul encourages them to be generous in return.

 

These words were written a long time ago but I believe God wants to use them to speak to us today.  So listen carefully, expecting God to speak.  Listen and expect to be encouraged in your faith.

 

 

6The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  8And 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.  9As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures for ever.’ (II Corinthians 9:6-9, NRSV)

 

 

Some time ago I bought this bucket of grass seed.  Too much grass seed, as it turns out.  It was springtime and I wanted to over-seed my lawn and try to fill in a few of the bare patches.  I did, and within a few weeks the new grass shot up and my lawn looked fabulous.

 

I had a lot of seed left over and so I stored it in the shed.  Grass seed isn’t cheap and so I tried to only use what I needed, saving the rest for another day.

 

Well, fast forward a year to the following spring.  Once again my lawn needed some attention.  So I pulled out my bucket and planted more seed in all the bare patches.  I watered it and I waited.  And I waited.  And I waited. A few meager blades of grass sprouted, but nothing like I’d seen a year ago.  So a week or two later I planted some more seed and went through the same process.  But once again, nothing much happened.  A few blades and that was it.

 

I learned something last spring the hard way.  How many of you knew that grass seed doesn’t last forever?  You know, it might have been helpful if even one of you had let me in on the secret.  A bucket of seed like this can cost thirty or forty bucks.  That’s a lot of money.  This seed is valuable.  And what I learned the hard ways is that if you don’t put it in the dirt, if you keep it in the bucket, this valuable seed loses its value.  Unless you happen to be a bird, this seed, in and of itself, is worthless.  The only value seed really has is the value of potential.

 

This morning I want this bucket of seed represent your money.  Some of you here have quite a bit of money.  You’ve got a lot of seed.  Others of you, not so much.  You’ve just got a few seeds.  Either way, I want you to think of this seed as your money.  This seed is all the material wealth God has placed into your hands.

 

It’s a good comparison because money is a lot like seed.  If you keep seeds to yourself, eventually they won’t be worth anything.  It’s only when you sow seeds in the ground that they show their worth by growing into something of value – a new lawn, an apple tree, beautiful flowers, a field of corn.  Your money is like seed.  It’s exactly like seed.  Its only value is in the potential, in what it can produce.

 

This is how the Bible puts it.  Talking about money in II Corinthians 9:6 Paul says, “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  Here’s what he is saying.  If you are generous with your money, freely giving it away to do God’s work in the world, you will see it produce great things.  On the other hand, if you are stingy with your money, keeping most of it for yourself, your money will, in the end, produce little, if anything, of value.[1]

 

This is a promise that God makes to us.  I’ll put it as simply as I can.  God says to us, “If you give your money away generously it will produce great things of great value.  If you keep it all for yourself, it will not.”

 

Now, right away this promise makes us anxious.  And the promise makes us anxious because it takes direct aim at the issue of security, and security is very, very important to all of us.

 

You all know what security is.  When you are secure it means that you are safe and protected.  A secure person is standing on a foundation they can trust will not give way beneath them.  I know people who are afraid of flying.  When they are in a plane 30,000 feet up in the air, they don’t feel safe.  It’s only when they land and step back on solid ground that they feel secure again.

 

Security is so important to us.  So much so that if you feel constantly insecure or vulnerable it will eat you up.  You can’t sleep.  You can’t relax.  Some people become physically sick with the stress of it all.  And this is understandable.  We were made to be secure, to know that our lives our on solid ground.  So when we’re not secure it makes us very anxious.

 

God’s promise here makes us anxious because we live in a world where security is all tied up in money.  Financial security is very, very important to people these days.  In general, people who have enough money for today and plenty of money saved up for tomorrow imagine themselves to be secure.  On the other hand, people who might have enough money for today but aren’t sure they will have enough for tomorrow often times feel very insecure.

 

The recent economic challenges in our nation show this to be true.  There is a great deal more insecurity among us these days because many more of us are not sure we have enough money for tomorrow.  This is why God’s promise makes us anxious.  God is urging us to give more of our money away and to us that feels like God trying to get us to let go of our security.

 

As we prepare for Stewardship Commitment Sunday next Sunday, many of us have been reading the book Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley.  This is how he puts it, “By nature, the concept of generosity is in direct conflict with the concept of self-preservation.  There’s a point at which your own generosity will pose a direct threat to your well-being…Your heart wants to be generous, but your emotions register fear.”[2]  I think he’s right.  Most of us, I’m convinced, really do want to be generous with our seed.  But we’re afraid that if we give too much of our seed away, we give away our security along with it.

 

Jesus knows this fear in us.  This is why Jesus, who was the greatest teacher of all time, spent more time teaching about money than almost anything else.  Did you know that Jesus talked more to us about money than he talked to us about love?  And do you know why?  Jesus knows that the only true security we have in life is God.[3]  God is the only foundation we can trust to be there tomorrow to hold us up.  Jesus also knows that money, more than anything else in this world, has the unique ability to get us to believe that it, rather than God, is our security.  Nothing else has the power to corrupt the human heart like money.

 

If you don’t believe me, try this.  Imagine you suddenly lose everything.  You wake up tomorrow morning and discover that all your material wealth has been taken away.  Your life savings, gone.  Your house, gone.  All your stuff, gone.  There is no more seed in the bucket.  If that happened, if you found yourself without a penny to your name, would you still feel secure?  Some of us would, because wealth is not our security.  But others of us, if we’re honest, we would feel very insecure, very anxious, very afraid.  And that would be a sign to us that our security, at least to some extent, has been in our wealth.  That would tell us we have not been depending entirely on God for our well-being.

 

Jesus promised, remember, “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat drink, or about your body, what you will wear…Your heavenly Father knows that you need these things.  Strive first for the kingdomof Godand his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”[4]  Jesus assures us that God is our security, not money, and so if the thought of losing our money makes us afraid, that means we don’t believe him.

 

This is why God urges us to be generous.  It’s not that God needs our money.  He doesn’t.  It all belongs to Him in anyway.[5]  It’s not our money God really wants, it’s our hearts.  God wants us to trust Him, and Him alone, as our security in this life and the next.  And so when we give generously, in ways that force us to depend upon God to provide for us, we discover the great joy that comes in knowing that God truly is our security in ways that material wealth can never be.

 

Once again, this is the promise God puts before us.  “If you trust me as your security and give your money away in generous portions, you will see me do great things with it.”  We’ve got this expensive seed and God is saying, “Trust me.  Spread it around generously and see what sort of harvest I will produce.”  And the question, of course– and this is always the question – the question is, do we trust God?  Will we take God at his word?

 

Bob Buford is aTexasbusinessman who, in the first part of his life, made millions of dollars growing a wildly successful cable television company.  At one point in his life he reached all the goals he had set for himself.  Not only was he very wealthy, he had a great marriage, great kids, great church, was widely respected, had so much going for him.  And yet, he longed for more.  He found himself unsettled in his spirit about the ultimate direction and purpose of his life.

 

So Bob hired a strategic planning consultant named Mike to meet with him and his wife, Linda.  Mike was not a Christian himself, but was nonetheless a brilliant consultant who had earned a stellar reputation for helping companies like IBM and Xerox get back on track.

 

After talking with Bob and Linda for some time, Mike stopped at one point and drew on a piece of paper a box and asked them both this simple question, “What’s in the box for you?”  Bob asked Mike, “What do you mean?”

 

So Mike told the Bufords about a time when he worked for the Coca Cola Company.  The corporate leaders at Coke had decided that the main thing they were about was “great taste.”  That’s what was in the box for them, and that led them to create a product called New Coke.  Anybody here remember New Coke? It was one of the biggest marketing disasters of all time.

 

That’s when Coca Cola hired Mike and asked him to help them figure out what went wrong.  The first thing he did was ask them this same question, “What’s in the box for you?”  Then he told them, “You put the wrong words in the box.  ‘Great taste’ is not really what you’re about.  So what is it then that you are about?  What is it that really drives Coca Cola?  What’s in the box?”

 

After several hours back at the drawing board they eventually found the answer.  They discovered that what really belonged in the box was not “great taste” but “American tradition.”  That’s what they were really about, and it led to the re-introduction of “Classic Coke” and an almost instantaneous recovery of the company.

 

After telling this story, Mike turned back to Bob and said, “Listen, I’ve talked with you long enough to know that for you, there is either one of two things in the box.  For you, it is either money or Jesus Christ.  It’s one or the other.  And you must decide what it is before you take one step in figuring out where your life is headed from here. If you oscillate between the two, you’ll never move forward.”

 

Even though Mike was not a Christian he had said exactly what Jesus would say.  Remember how Jesus put it?  “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and wealth.”[6]  Either your security is God or your security is money.  It can’t be both.

 

The question stunned Bob Buford.  Listen to what he says in his own words.  He writes, “No one had had ever put such a significant question to me so directly.  I sat there stunned by the implications of this decision.  Linda appeared no less stunned.  I could see the stereotypical images of ministers, missionaries and monks passing through her mind.  Would we have to give away all our money?  Would we be required to dress like a minister and his spouse?”  I mean, can you imagine?  To have to dress like a pastor for the rest of your life!  There’s a fate worse than death![7]

 

Bob had grown up in the church and it took a non-believing business consultant to finally put the question to him which ultimately changed the direction of his whole life.  This morning I do not want to miss the opportunity to directly put the same significant question to you.  For you, today, what’s in the box?  What is the ultimate security for you in life?  Is it Christ or is it money?

 

If it’s money, be honest about it.  If the thought of losing your money makes you anxious, at least call it what it is.  At least then you’ll know.  And if money has been your security in life, ask yourself if that’s a good idea.  Do I really want to rely on wealth?  Is that really what I want in the box?  Would losing everything I have really be the worst thing in life?

 

If, like Bob Buford, the question wakes you up enough to realize that you really desire Jesus Christ to be in the box, then there is one very clear step you can take in that direction.  Give.  Give generously.  That is God’s recipe for overcoming the fear we have when it comes to losing our money.  Give it away.  Not all of it.  But give enough of it away so that we are forced to depend, in some significant way, on God, rather than on our wealth.  When we do, and only when we do, we will discover that God is, in fact, a security upon which we can depend.

 

I heard it put this way recently.  Money has the unique ability to corrupt the human heart but also has the unique ability to transform the human heart.[8]  If you are stingy with your wealth, it will trick you into thinking you depend upon it.  It will corrupt your heart.  On the other hand, if you are generous with that same wealth, you will quickly discover how little you actually depend upon it.  Money, when generously given, transforms the human heart.

 

It just so happens that we have an excellent opportunity before us to put this all to the test.  All of us will be asked this next week to consider how much seed God is going to give us this coming year and then how much of that seed we want to sow into the ministry of this church.  Stewardship Commitment Sunday is one of many opportunities we have each year as a community to ask ourselves, “What’s in the box?”

 

Please take time this week to pray about this and talk about this with your families.  It’s a decision that deserves to be made prayerfully, and only after careful thought.  We’re not all called to give the same.  There is no one-size-fits-all prescription here.  For some of us, we’d have to give away tens of thousands of dollars next year for it to be any kind of sacrifice.  For others of us, giving a few hundred dollars would be a huge sacrifice.

 

That’s what I love about the Fields of Gold book, which I hope you have been reading.  Andy Stanley is right on when he talks about the “Three P’s of Giving.”  Priority giving: give to God first.  Percentage giving: give a percentage, not just an amount.  And progressive giving: over time try to increase the percentage you give.  When we give according to these guidelines, it levels the playing field.  When we all give with priority, percentage and progress in mind, our gifts are all equal in value in God’s eyes because it’s not the amount that’s important.  It’s never a question of amount.  It’s always a question of generosity.  Once again, am I giving at a level that to some significant extent forces me to depend upon God rather than my wealth?  As I do, I begin to place Jesus Christ, rather than money, in the box.

 

 

C.S. Lewis has been helpful to me as he writes,

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.  In other words, if our expenditures on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., are up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving too little away.  If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.[9]

 

How much should we give next week?  Give generously.  Give as if Jesus Christ, rather than money, is in the box.

 

Now, when I preach this sort of message, there are always a few skeptics in the crowd who are fully aware that next week we’re being asked to give to the church and so they see a message like this as a marketing tool just to fund the church budget.  I know most of you don’t think like that, but there might be a few.

 

If that’s you, here’s my challenge.  Don’t give anything to the church next year.  If you think sermons in church about money are for the benefit of the budget rather than for the people, don’t give to the church.  But don’t ignore God’s promise either.  Instead, test God.  Take a generous portion of your seed and give it away somewhere else.  Give enough of it away that it makes you have to sacrifice.  Give it to World Vision to build wells inEthiopia.  Give it to Habitat for Humanity to build houses for the poor.  Give it to hurricane relief on the East Coast.  If you’re skeptical about my intentions this morning, then sow your seed generously somewhere else so that at least you won’t miss out on the joy which awaits those who finally discover that their true security is not found in their wealth.

 

Having said that, Esther and I plan to do our best to give generously first to the ministry of this church because we believe that God is doing remarkable things in this place.  We will do this week exactly what I hope you will do.  We’re going to take time as a family to think carefully about how much seed God has put in our bucket and then ask God to help us give a generous portion of that seed to His work here at Faith in the year to come, trusting that as we sow a bountiful crop we will see God, in this place, continue to reap a bountiful harvest.

 

In our passage this morning Paul encourages us all, “Give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  Why does God love a cheerful giver?  It’s simple really.  God loves us.  And God knows what is best for us, which is to make Him the security of our lives, to put Him in the box.  When we do, we give with great intention.  We give generously.  We give cheerfully.  And God loves that.  Because then he gets to take the seed we sow and bring, in His time, a harvest of bountiful proportions.

 

Amen.

 



 

 

The Next Step

A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application

 

Read II Corinthians 9:6-9.  What’s the main thing you notice here?

 

Have you ever thought of your money as seed which produces a harvest only when it is sown?  What do you think about this idea?

 

Consider the promise made in verse 8: “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.”  Do you believe this to be true?

 

If you lost all your material wealth tomorrow, how anxious would you be?  What does this tell you?

 

What’s in the box for you?  Money or Jesus?  (Read how Jesus poses the question in Matthew 6:24.)

 

Think of a time when you went without so that somebody else wouldn’t have to?  What was that like for you?

 

Have you ever thought about downsizing so that you could give more “seed” away to others?  What if God is calling you to give beyond your comfort level?

 

What is one way you hear God speaking personally to you through this message?

 

 

Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:

 

Monday:               II Corinthians 8:1-15 – Encouragement to be generous

Tuesday:               Psalm 46 – God is our security

Wednesday:         Matthew 6:19-34 – Jesus talks about money

Thursday:             Proverbs 11:24, 22:9 – Wisdom on generosity

Friday:                   Galatians 6:1-10 – Bear each other’s burdens

Saturday:              In preparation for worship tomorrow, read Mark 12:41-44.

 

 



[1] This is a principle we see all through scripture.  Proverbs 11:24 represents many passages when it teaches us, “Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.”

[2] Andy Stanley, Fields of Gold, (Carol Stream,Illinois: Tyndale, 2004), p. 30.

[3] Psalm 46:1 beautifully states, “God is our refuge and our strength.”

[4] Matthew 6:25,32-33.

[5] See Psalm 24:1.

[6] Matthew 6:24 (NRSV).

[7] Story adapted from Bob Buford, Halftime, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), p. 62-66.  I also relied heavily on a retelling of this story by John Ortberg in a message from the 2005 Resource Challenge Conference 2005 at Willow Creek called, “Integrating the Bible, Your Wallet, and Your Life”

[8] John Ortberg, “Integrating the Bible, Your Wallet, and Your Life.”

[9] Referenced by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2005), p. 196.