2 Corinthians 9:9-11 “As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.’ Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God”
This chapter and the preceding one have as their central theme Christian generosity, and in this particular section the apostle is seeking to motivate the Corinthian church to increase in this grace by reminding them of the lavish kindness of God. He tells them of what they have received and all they can anticipate. Our loving Lord, Paul says, is the Sower who went forth to sow, and he has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor. We all know of certain parents laden with gifts who visit a town where their children and grandchildren live. They will target one district, and turn into a particular street, and stop outside a solitary house in the avenue, and carry through the front door to that one family living there their gifts. In other words, though a true that is a limited love.
God is very different: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor” (v.9). I can remember during the war years of 1943 and 1944 in Cardiff the capital city of Wales if we little boys spotted an American truck carrying their troops we would run alongside it and then after it waving and shouting hopefully, “Any gum chum?” Invariably those soldiers would throw out sticks of chewing gum which we would fight over. They didn’t target any child in particular. They would scatter abroad their gifts to the poor kids of Wales! That is the picture here of a generous-hearted and enduringly righteous God showing his love to the world.
I was reminded of how this concept was dealt with in a very quaint and vivid way by recently reading some extracts from an old Welsh preacher called Stephen Jenkins. He was born in south Ceredigion in a little village called Llechryd in 1815. He had been a quarryman, and a member of the local Calvinistic Methodist church. He married a widow and then they had four girls. His conversion was so very imperceptible that he could not be specific about the year in which he became a Christian. However, his determination to become a preacher was much more climactic and tragic. Coming from Llechryd it is not surprising that Stephen Jenkins was a passionate coracle fisherman, and one day he was teaching his best friend how to fish for salmon with a net slung between two fragile coracle boats (a boy can carry one on his back). Then his friend fell into the river and was drowned. A new seriousness came into Jenkins’ life and soon he became a minister and was called to a church near Haverfordwest in a village called Crundale. He adapted brilliantly to this farming community preaching to them the Word of God in a language they couldn’t fail to understand. So on this passage describing God scattering abroad his gifts to the poor he spoke thus to his congregation:
“I dare say you’ve noticed the farmer’s wife coming out of her house in the morning with a big apron full of corn for the fowls. She doesn’t need to call them, they know her step and the sound of her clogs. They know the old apron a long way off, and they come to her from every place. The old gander leads the geese and all the little goslings to her; and the old hens take their chicks to her, and the turkeys hurry to her with their young uns. Then she puts her hands into the old apron, and throws a handful here and there, this way and that way, till they are all satisfied. So our heavenly Father throws his great blessings this way to the north, that way to the south, this way to the east and that way to the west.”
That is the picture we have before us in our text. God, the enduringly righteous One, scatters abroad his gifts to the poor. Every Sunday without exception the Lord comes here and from this pulpit he scatters abroad his Word, his gospel, his invitations, his promises of life to all who believe, his offer of a Saviour, his light by the Spirit, his entreaties and encouragements. God does not target one pew and one isolated good-living, old man. He bestows his gifts to those who have nothing.
However, some of you are continuing to reject his gifts. He offers you his wonderful gifts and you continue, quite deliberately, to refuse them. Imagine how you would feel if you had saved up, and bought a fine wedding gift and when the time came for you to offer it to the bride and groom they refused to take your present. Wouldn’t you be offended? Wouldn’t you think, “So I’m not good enough for them am I?” Wouldn’t it put a great strain on your relationship? Wouldn’t you feel like having nothing to do with them ever again? But every Sunday God continues to meet with you here and he is making an offer to you of his dear Son Jesus Christ, to be your Saviour. He is offering you eternal life, and forgiveness of sins, and yet you are saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.” You might imagine that a holy and just God would soon draw the line and say, “Well, that’s it. You won’t find me there again offering them anything.” Remember the Lord Jesus tells us to brush the dust off our feet if men reject our message and move somewhere else.
Yet in wonderful grace on the next Sunday when you drag yourself here in a manner that suggests that you are doing the Almighty a favour in being at church the Lord of glory is himself in this place and he is making the same amazing offers to you. He has chosen to ignore all your boorish behaviour in rejecting his gifts a week ago. What extraordinary mercy! Will you still refuse that kindness as you hear of it once again? Remember that it is not enough to come to church. Be sure that it is not enough to hear the gospel preached. God so loved the world that he gave his Son. True. But who profits from that? Those who receive the gift by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Let me tell you what God has done for you.
1. GOD HAS SUPPLIED ALL WE NEED.
See how the apostle describes God here: “he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food” (v.10). The farm labourer doesn’t buy the seed that he sows in his master’s field. The farmer supplies the seed to the sower. So too God supplies everything at the beginning of the process of cultivation. He begins by supplying the right climate:
“He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine
And soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above.”
It isn’t ‘nature’ that does that, it is God. There is no such thing as ‘nature’. ‘Nature’ is a classical concept. It is God who causes everything to flourish in his creation. God gives the sower the physical strength to work, to drive the tractor that ploughs the field and pulls the other implements which will sow the wheat in the furrows. He causes the seed to germinate and to put down roots and grow. He causes the flowers to blossom and start the whole process of fertilization, sending the insects, the flies and the bees, this way and that continually – they too live and move and have their being in him. He opens his hand and satisfies their desires too. Eventually fruit appears – a hundredfold greater than the bare seed sown. God supplies it all, and we are debtors to him for everything. That is why we say grace sincerely before we eat a meal. God has once again on yet another day met our need. We prayed “Give us this day our daily bread,” and he did so. “He supplies seed to the sower and bread for food” (v.10). Hasn’t God been good to you? When did you ever return home to empty cupboards and bare shelves? God has seen to it that your refrigerator has been always full, and that you have had health to enjoy his temporal mercies until today. Are you thankful to him? Do you vow from your heart, “Every day will I bless thee, and I will praise thy name for ever and ever”?
But you are not mere bodies alone. You are also souls, and those souls have needs too. They need life, because they are dead – dead to the life of God, and dead to the influence of Jesus Christ. But God can make them alive, and the consequence of that is when you hear about the Lord you don’t immediately switch off. Without God’s life in you you will turn away, but when he quickens there is a new openness and a spirit of inquiry. You will accept an invitation to come to a religious meeting and you will discuss the claims of Christianity. That is the beginning of religion for you. You have been freed from the chains of indifference to Christ. That openness has been supplied by God, but he gives more than life. He supplies justification. There has been a recent court case in which a paedophile walked free because of some technical infringement of the law at the time of his arrest. Some unauthorized person was involved and on that point the case against the man, built up so carefully by the police, had to be dropped. Now that accused paedophile’s freedom does not justify him for his guilt. That is not justification. If the High Court had found that this man had not committed the offence for which he had been charged, then he would have been justified. But it was not so. He was freed on a technical point of law. He was not justified; he was merely freed.
Donald MacDonald, the late minister at Greyfriars Free Church in Inverness, points out that there have been people in history records, who have been accused of crimes against the state, “and I refer particularly to the case in French history where a commissioned officer in the army – his name was Dreyfus – was accused of betraying his country. After several years the Republic of France offered him a pardon, but he would not take it. He said that he did not want a pardon. He claimed that there was nothing which he should be pardoned for, he had never committed the crime of which he was accused. What he wanted was justification and ultimately after many years, the case was re-tried and it was found to the satisfaction of the nation that the man had been falsely accused. When this was found out he was justified and freed. He had never committed any offence.
“But our own case is quite different from that of Dreyfus. We are indeed guilty of crimes against God. What by any stretch of the imagination can justify us? How can we be justified after committing sins without number? Only by the person and work of Christ who was made sin for us, made a curse for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ obeyed God’s law on behalf of believers; He took their sins also in his own body to the tree. It is in this way that God remains just and becomes the justifier of sinners who by grace believe in His dear Son. And when God Himself justifies his elect, ‘Who is he that condemneth’?” (Donald MacDonald, “Christian Experience,” “Receiving Christ’s Fulness,” Banner of Truth, 1988, p.35).
I am saying that your soul needs pardon and justification, and this is supplied to sinners by Christ alone. That life in Christ, and that status of justification, is an eternal seed planted by God in every new covenant heart. It is the food which strengthens the novice and it is supplied by the heavenly Quartermaster as he sets out on the journey of following the Lamb of God whithersoever he goes. For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. In fact at this very moment he is in the business of supplying seed to the sower and bread for food. He opens the doors of his great storehouse here each Sunday and he calls to his customers to come and buy, “Without money and without price. Come and take and eat and live!” he cries. That is why he has brought you here today. You have come here like Jacob’s sons went down to Egypt’s storehouse for seed, but are unaware what treasure you might find. Let me tell you of the experience of the great Wesleyan evangelist of the early 19th century, John Chapman. As a young man the life of God began to work in this working man’s heart so that Chapman came under deep conviction of his sin and his need to be forgiven. He had little assurance of being delivered into the liberty of Christ. He stumbled on without God, and was utterly unhappy for months. Then one day at work verging on despair he dolefully sat down at his lunch-break. As he was eating a piece of bread a robin came hopping towards him. John offered some crumbs on his fingers to the bird, but it shied away. Then it hopped nearer again, and John put our his hand with a piece of cake on it, but the robin was still nervous and hopped away. Again Chapman stretched out his hand, “Come to me,” he said to the nervous bird, “you don’t know how much good I can do you,” and it was in saying those words that he saw the living Christ and his great invitation to John to come to him at that moment just as he was. “If you tarry till you’re better you will never come at all.” The Lord supplies provisions so that we can start the journey – “seed to the sower and bread for food.”
2. GOD WILL MAKE US RICH IN EVERY WAY.
He “will supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way” (vv. 10&11). As I have said, at the beginning of our pilgrimage he supplies seed so that we have strength to take our first steps following him, but those are merely the first-fruits of his gifts to us. He promises much more, an “increase” and an “enlargement”. As our days so shall our strength be, and on and on to heaven. Stores of food greater and greater. Larger and larger harvests. These are the promises our Father makes to us. Every Christian faces the prospect of receiving from an inexhaustible Supplier. This fulness of Christ is not like the flood in Noah’s time. Remember how it rained for forty days and nights the waters roaring and covering the tops of the mountains. But even that deluge subsided and the ground became dry again. What God promises here is an immeasurable supply. No droughts. No famines. The waters never ceasing supplying all the Christian needs to glorify and enjoy God. There is no waste involved; there is no end to it because it is the fulness of the Godhead. “There was an end to the storehouses of Joseph in Egypt; there was plenty for all, even for outsiders like Jacob’s sons; plenty for the years of famine; but after all there was a limit to it. But there is no limit to God’s fulness. There was a limit to the riches of Boaz as contrasted with the poverty of Ruth. But there is no limit to the riches of Jesus Christ” (Donald MacDonald, “Christian Experience,” “Receiving of Christ’s Fulness”, Banner of Truth, 1988, p.37).
Part of the reality of the Fatherhood of God is that he provides for his children. That great fact is built into the Lord’s Prayer as we come and cry, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and we are taught by the Lord Jesus to ask God for that with a confidence that he will answer and supply our needs. Think again of the word spoken by Paul to the church at Philippi: “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phils. 4:19). “All your need” – how utterly wonderful that is. All that you will ever need God will supply and increase. Not all your desires, but your needs – of which God himself will be the Judge. He will do it according to his glorious riches in Christ. Paul, with his mighty intellect, often stretches language to the very limit of its resources, and he does so here. How great must be the provision of God – infinite provision, eternal provision, unchangeable provision. What riches God has – the fulness of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control. All these graces are found in the fulness of God.
But Paul goes beyond that, referring to “the glorious riches of God.” When the Son of God was on this earth his glory was hidden in his status as a servant in a fallen world. No such restrictions are on him in heaven. All authority in heaven and earth is given to Christ. His name is above every name. He sits in heaven and does whatsoever he pleases. He is the centre of heaven’s glories. What riches Father, Son and Holy Spirit have as Sovereign Creator and gracious Redeemer of the cosmos. Those divine riches are the reservoir which God is constantly tapping to irrigate and refresh his people in their need. But the apostle goes further and says that God will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory “in Christ Jesus.” Through our being joined in living union with the Son of God, his life in us and we in him, like branches in the true vine, we are blessed. But even greater than that: the supply will match the extraordinary price Christ paid on the cross. God will meet the needs of his people not only according to the intrinsic glory of the God-man but according to the incalculable nature of the achievement of Christ on Golgotha. God will so meet our needs that he will completely discharge his debt to the Son who rendered to his Father such tremendous service.
As we look today at our own problems, the mountains of difficulties and the gulfs of disappointments that lie all around us we ask ourselves how is it possible that we can make any advance. Which way can we paupers travel? There are obstacles at every side and we are so poor. Then we read these words of our text: “you will be made rich in every way” (v.11). Let me say it to every single Christian here: “You will be made rich in every way.” You will! The Holy Spirit has said it. Many of us have been at times on the floor of despondency with one great longing desire in our hearts, and as we’ve asked God to grant it to us there’s been a voice welling up within us saying, “That’s too wonderful to happen to us.” But many of us could speak up now and we could tell you that there have been times in our lives when we have cried to God, and he in his mercy has heard us and in his power answered us gloriously.
It is obvious that too many of the Lord’s people are sinfully pessimistic. For them the glass is always half empty and never half full. They are expecting the worst. They always see trouble ahead, and are bracing themselves with resignation for the dark future. It is all so desperately unbelieving. One thing we know about the future is that it is going to be far more wonderful than our fears suggest. We are forgetting the glory of God’s promises: “You will be made rich in every way.” We should be expecting a rich future, rich blessings, rich mercies, rich provision.
Let me tell you a simple story of God’s provision. There was a poor believer who lived day by day trusting in God. The money he received was barely enough to pay for his food and to warm his house in the winter. His shoes fell apart and he had no money to purchase new ones so he brought this matter to God in prayer. Some days later a neighbour called. “Friend, I’ve bought these shoes but they don’t fit me. Would you like them?” “Thank you,” he said, “Set ’em down.” “Don’t you want to try them on to see if they fit?” “Nope. He knows my size too,” the man replied. That’s it. In the simplest needs of our life God will provide for us richly – a new pair of shoes absolutely free of charge. But also he will provide the greatest things of life.
When Spurgeon became the talk of London and thousands flocked to hear him wherever he preached he became attacked with discouragements and doubts. “I might as well give up,” he thought. “How can I keep on feeding this tremendous crowd? I shall run out of wisdom and strength.” Then the word came to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” and he imagined a mouse on top of a mountain holding its breath until it was almost bursting. “What are you doing that for?” asks another mouse. “I am afraid I will use up all the oxygen on the planet if I keep breathing,” the mouse gasped. Breathe on, little mouse, there is more than enough oxygen for ten million times all the creatures living here now. Or imagine a little fish in the middle of the Pacific ocean keeping its gills closed, afraid it will use up all the oxygen in the mighty sea. “Open your gills wide, little fish, old Neptune has enough oxygen for all who live in its depths, and vast resources to spare.” For the spread of the gospel and the building of the kingdom of God he will make us rich.
How foolish for a Christian to keep dwelling on the fear that God is going to put us in a place where we will know terrible spiritual destitution. No! “You will be made rich in every way,” God promises. He says he will supply and increase our store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of our righteousness. Bigger and bigger barns. Greater and greater provision. The harvest of righteousness will be record-breaking. When God makes a gift out of the super-abundance of his grace then the infinite fulness that is in him never grows less. God has supplied our seed and he will increase our store of seed and enlarge our harvest of righteousness.
The very first act of going to Christ in our need creates within us an attitude of dependence on God and anticipation of what he can do for us which is enormously valuable. You must never lose that. Think back to that day, when you confessed to the Lord that you needed him, you had come to see you couldn’t live any longer without him. You had been running on ‘Empty’ for miles, and the light indicating that the tank had nothing left had been flashing for too long. How relieved you were to see this wonderful filling station called ‘The Lord Jesus Christ’ and you brought your emptiness to him to be filled. Now you cannot fill what is not empty. You can add to what is half full, but to be filled you must first be conscious that you have nothing. When you came to the crucified Lord Jesus you came with a vessel empty of righteousness and good works. God emptied you of morality and taught you that all fulness was found in Christ alone. That is always the condition to being filled again, and again, and again – as the early disciples were. Sometimes we ourselves are the hindrance to receiving more of the fulness of Christ because we have a spirit of self-sufficiency.
There came a time in the nineteenth century when the Spirit who had been working so powerfully amongst the fathers of Calvinistic Methodism was not present as he had been at the time of Rowland and Harris and Pantycelyn. The harvests of righteousness were poorer. It was a day of spiritual declension. Such an condition was evident in some ‘big meetings’ in Haverfordwest. There was evidence of lukewarmness about those days, and none of the speakers was able to lift the people out of that Laodicean spirit. Then it was the turn of Stephen Jenkins, this man I have spoken of, to address the gathering. He looked kindly at them and he said, “Some time ago, my friends, the visiting preacher came to Crundale on the Saturday afternoon earlier than expected. He got off his horse and tied it up and knocked on the door of the farm where he was staying. Both the farmer and his wife were busy and unprepared for his arrival. ‘Come in, and sit down,’ said the farmer’s wife, and she sent the maid to the well to draw some water for the kettle. When the maid returned with the tin can she put it on the kitchen table. The farmer’s wife picked it up and it seemed very light. When she attempted to pour the contents of the can into the kettle no more than a drop or two came out. What was the matter?” asked Stephen Jenkins. “Was the well dry? No Plenty of water in the well. Was the tin can leaking? Not at all. What then was wrong? The foolish maid had dropped the can on the rope into the well without taking its lid off!”
Stephen Jenkins went on to analyse the absence of the workings of the Spirit of God from the church in their day. He based it on this factor, that Christians were neglecting to go as those who were empty to the wells of salvation imploring God to fill them anew with his grace. They were keeping a lid clamped down over their emptiness. Had they not eloquent preachers, and large congregations, and buildings across the principality? They had lost the awareness that they utterly lacked the power to raise the dead. So they were not going to the throne of the universe as those conscious of their great need crying to God to fill them from the immensity of his fulness. But in earlier days that sense of spiritual emptiness has been the foundation of the strength of the Calvinistic Methodists: “When I am empty then I am full!” (cp. 2 Corinthians 12:10).
“But though I cannot sing, or tell, or know
The fulness of Thy love, while here below.
My empty vessel I may freely bring;
O Thou, who art of love the living spring My vessel fill.” (Mary Shekleton, 1827-1883).
Sometimes you hear people saying: “I really have nothing”. Then praise God for that. If people have nothing then they are ready for Christ to fill them; if they are really poverty stricken then they are in the best state for the Lord to make them rich. Who goes to the doctor’s office? The people who believe they are sick. Who goes to Christ? Those who know they are ignorant go to him for wisdom. Those who are weak go to him for strength. Those who are dying go to him for life. Those who are empty go to him for fulness. “You say, ‘this fulness is the very thing for me; it is enough for me.’ It is given to you for nothing, and if you receive it, you receive all that your Lord can give you. Sometimes you may receive it with a trembling hand; the hand that takes it may be weak but the supply itself is rich and pure and life-enhancing. I compare it to the case of people who have Parkinson’s disease; they get shaky if you give them a cup of tea; you can only half-fill the cup, because they will spill it. Similarly, sometimes we may be so weak in faith that our hands tremble, as if we had a spiritual disease. But even then, although faith is rather weak and you can take only one mouthful of the fulness of his grace, you will be strengthened more and more to drink richly and to your strengthening” (Donald MacDonald, op cit, p.39).
Consider what happened to Fyodor Dostoevsky when he failed to keep going to Christ to take of his fulness. When he was 25 he had already captured the hearts of Russia with his novel “Poor Folk.” Fame went to his head. He drank immoderately and partied wildly. He carelessly criticized the Czarist regime. You did not to that in Czarist Russia. He was arrested in St. Petersburg and sentenced to death by the firing squad along with several other dissidents. It was a cold December morning. Dressed in a white execution gown, he was led to the wall of the prison courtyard with the others. Blindfolded, he waited for the last sound he would hear, the crack of a pistol. Instead he heard fast paced footsteps; then the announcement that the Czar had commuted his sentence to ten years of hard labor. So intense was that moment that he suffered an epileptic seizure. He would live with epilepsy for the rest of his life.
In a Siberian prison Fyodor Dostoevsky was allowed only a New Testament to read. In the word of God he discovered something more wonderful, more real than his political ideals. He met Christ, and his heart was changed. Upon leaving prison he wrote to a friend who had helped him grow in Christ, “To believe that there is nothing more beautiful, more profound, more sympathetic, more reasonable, more manly and more perfect than Christ. And not only is there nothing but I tell myself with jealous love that there can be nothing. Besides, if anyone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth and it really was so that the truth was outside Christ, then I would prefer to remain with Christ, than with the truth.”
Dostoevsky returned to civilian life. He wrote feverishly and produced his prison memories, “The House of the Dead,” and then “Crime and Punishment,” followed by many other major works. Yet his church attendance became less and less frequent, and he made no progress as a Christian. He neglected the Bible and ignored other believers. He began to drink. He gambled. They both helped to unravel his life, as they always do, and finally he died penniless and wasted. He had started with a confident profession of faith in Christ, and that discovery had set him alight. But in the choice between fame and the Saviour it was the Lord who came second. Fyodor Dostoevsky died with nothing more than the memory of one religious period in his life. His tragedy is not so much what he became but what he could have become for Christ. In the words of the poet, “of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.'”
Men and women, what a great privilege it is to be a Christian! God supplying and increasing our store of seed, enlarging the harvest of our righteousness, making us rich in every way. Little wonder that the apostle tells the Philippian church to rejoice in the Lord always. But learn from the fall of Dostoevsky, and be taking from the Lord’s riches frequently, daily and hourly. When did you last go to God as an hungry Christian? When did I stoop low enough to cry, “I am as empty as a drum without your filling me.” Go to the one who promises, “You will be made rich in every way” and cry, “Make me truly rich!” He is there for you, and he will make you richer than ever before, richer than you can imagine. Never fail in your faith. Trust his word, and although you do not receive as much as you would like, you will always receive as much as you need. In a day to come you will receive far more than you receive now. There is another world to which we are going and there it will be manifest that we are the sons of God, joint heirs with Christ of an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us.
“The streams on earth I’ve tasted,
More deep I’ll drink above.
There, to an ocean fulness,
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.”
One day we shall be made rich in every way, rich in body, soul and spirit; rich in mind and understanding; rich in our relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; rich in our relationship with one another; rich in our relationship with angels; rich as a member of the new heavens and the new earth. That richness is reserved for glory; it is not for this world. You will never be as rich as you want in this life, but you will always get as much as you need.
3. OUR RICHES WILL MAKE US GENEROUS TO OTHERS.
“so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (v.11). Christians are people made rich by God’s constant generosity in every way. How then can they cling to their possessions? How can we mortify this strange phenomenon of Christian niggardliness? It is a real problem teaching godly generosity in a culture where suspicion and self have ruled for centuries. For example, for the past forty years Eunice Pike has worked with the Mazatec Indians in south-western Mexico. During this time she has discovered one thing about these beautiful people. They seldom wished someone well. Not only that, they were hesitant to teach one another. If asked, “Who taught you to bake bread?” the village baker answers evasively, “I just know,” meaning that he had acquired the knowledge without anyone’s help. Eunice Pike said that this odd behavior stemmed from the Indian’s concept of “a limited supply of good.” They believed there was only so much good, so much knowledge, so much love to go around. To give money to another was to have less money yourself. To teach another meant you drained yourself of knowledge. To love a second child meant you have to love the first child less. To wish someone well -“Every blessing for today” – meant you have just given away some of your own happiness, which cannot be reacquired.
You see how crucially important these truths from our passage would be for the Mazatec church? It is God who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food. He increases your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion. You can give and give – and give yet again. There will still be an infinite reservoir of wisdom and strength and love in Christ to supply all that you have given away.
What is the purpose of Christians being enriched by God? Not to indulge ourselves in every kind of luxury but to be generous to others. Paul’s searching words here are, “you can be generous on every occasion.” When your children are getting married then it is easy to be generous. When your annuity finally matures then it is easy to be generous. When a person is utterly reliable, and believes everything you believe then it is easy to be generous to that man. But Paul is speaking of those occasions when we are not sure whether this month our bank statement is going to get out of the red, or of the time when we cannot check up on every detail of this person’s story of need, or when we are not sure whether they are as sound as we’d like. Then, on such occasions, to be generous is surpassing hard.
Yet our Lord Jesus Christ was so generous on every occasion, in the time he spent with Judas, and the pastoring care he gave to Simon Peter. He gave thirty years of his life to his mother and father in Nazareth. He healed nine lepers whom he knew wouldn’t even thank him for what he had done for them. Think of the effort it was to him to multiply the loaves and fishes and feed five thousand men. How much ‘virtue went out of him’ as he gave himself to satisfy their pangs of hunger? He was generous even to the men who had crucified him. Throughout his life he was generous on every single occasion, and he has left us an example that we should walk in his steps.
I have many little grandsons and one grand-daughter, and I could take them out into my back yard and I could point them to a tree and say to them, “What sort of tree is that?” Immediately they would say to me, “An apple tree, Taid,” because this year it has been covered with red apples. They know nothing much about trees, but they can tell an apple tree. By their fruit you shall know them, said Jesus.
The true Christian, made rich in every way by God, shows it by a life of generosity. It is so much better to have your gold in your hand than in your heart, said a Puritan. I am told that there are three kinds of giving: grudge giving, duty giving and thanksgiving. Grudge giving says, ‘I have to.’ Duty giving says, ‘I ought to.’ Thanksgiving says, ‘I want to,’ and says it on every occasion. When we took offerings at our mid-week meeting for missionary speakers I would have no shame about giving all the proceeds to those visitors who had told us of their work for the Lord. I knew it would not be a miserly amount because there were one or two people present who would put generous amounts in the wooden dish at the door, on every occasion, to the servants of Christ. Now that such people are unable to be present at the mid-week meetings I have to make sure that I myself give more generously. That is good for me. Their example has stirred me.
A Christian is a generous man. No one is saved by generosity, but no man is saved without it. Generous on every occasion, says the apostle, your money to the poor, your counsels to the needy, your inheritance to your children, your taxes to the government, but your heart to God. Consider the benefits that will come from a generous life. It will save you from materialism. You will draw nearer to God to ask him to fill your emptiness when you have given sacrificially. You will explore the riches of God’s provision. Your faith will be strengthened. You will invest for eternity. You remember Christ’s commendation to the sheep on his right hand when he welcomes them on the great day of judgment, how all of his sheep had been generous people. You will be blessed in return. You will sense more love from others in Christ. You will be a channel of God’s love to others.
In “Run with the Horses,” Eugene Peterson tells how he saw a family of birds teaching their young to fly. Three young swallows were perched on a dead branch that stretched out over a lake. One adult swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end of the branch, pushing, pushing, pushing. The end one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water four feet below, the wings started working, and the fledgling was off flying on its own. Then the second one. The third was not to be bullied. At the last possible moment his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, then tightened again, hanging upside down, bulldog tenacious. The parent was without sentiment. He pecked at the desperately clinging talons until it was more painful for the poor chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. The grip was released, and the inexperienced wings began pumping. It flew! The mature swallow knew what the chick did not, that it could fly, that there was no danger in forcing it to do what it was perfectly designed to do. Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can grasp a branch securely. They can hop; they can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully and beautifully.
Generous and kind is what Christians are meant to be, and saved to be. It is the air into which we were born from above. These were the good works we were destined beforehand to do. Some Christians take a long time to learn this lesson. They try desperately to hold on to themselves, to live for themselves. They look so bedraggled and pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of a bank account for dear life, afraid to risk themselves on the untried wings of giving. They don’t think they can live in a generous spirit, but they have never tried. But the sooner we start, the better, for we are going to have to give up our lives finally, and the longer we wait, the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace. (David B. Jackson. “Leadership”- Vol. 16, #2.). Guilt, grace and generosity. Those are the three marks of a Christian.
Paul concludes with the great fruit of generosity, gratitude to God. “Thank you God for saving and changing these men and women.” That is what the Christians in Judea would say when the wonderful gift arrived there from Corinth. Of course they thanked the messengers who bore the gift there, and they made sure that the Greeks know how grateful they were, but most of all they raised their voices in thanksgiving to God, that to the Gentiles he had supplied seed to the sower and bread for food. God had supplied and increased their store of seed and enlarged the harvest of their righteousness. They had been made rich by God in every way so that they could be generous on every occasion. Thank you Lord, they said, and God was honoured through that generosity which had been encouraged and inspired by the teaching of the apostle Paul. The New Testament stirs us up to be generous to others that God be praised, which is our chief end.
25th November 2001 GEOFF THOMAS