This is message #2 in our Ground for Grace sermon series.
The flat, rich soil and long growing season of south Georgia make it prime planting ground. Some of you who grew up in south Georgia understand the difference between planting and farming. Although the terms famer and planter are somewhat interchangeable, the farmer grows and tends livestock, while the planter grows and harvests crops. And in order to grow crops, you have to plant seed. Thus, he is a planter. In ancient times, planters were called sowers.
Now, many planters have to take out a huge loan at the beginning of the year in order to pay for rented land, equipment, hired hands, and seed. Then, they take the seed and put it in the ground, trusting that with the proper watering conditions, sunlight, fertilization and pest control, that the seeds will grow into plants, which will produce a harvest of cotton, or corn, or beans or wheat or whatever. They are able to sell the crop, pay off the loan and have some profit so that they can plant more seed the next year, yielding an even greater harvest.
Today, many planters can rely on irrigation systems to for consistent watering and most purchase crop insurance just in case. But in the old days, planters put their seed in the ground and prayed against pests and for the right balance of rain and sunshine in order to reap a harvest.
Can you see why planting, especially back then, could be an unusually stressful venture? What if it didn’t rain? What if the seed didn’t grow? What if pests destroyed the crop?
Even though most of us are not planters by vocation, we understand the fear involved in planting seed. We understand the tension between holding on and letting go, especially when the letting go involves money, investments, or possessions. Yet many of us recognize the importance of investing. In order to provide for retirement, many of us invest a portion of our incomes into stocks, expecting that over time our investment will produce a return that substantially exceeds our investment. We trust that our financial investment will grow, producing dividends. Just like the planter.
What if I could offer you a no-brainer investment that is guaranteed to yield substantial dividends? We are talking guaranteed growth. And yes, we are also talking about a monetary investment. Money.
This is the investment that God himself is offering us today.
But in order to make this investment, we have to understand the Planting Principle that we discover in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, where Paul is providing instructions to the Christians in ancient Corinth concerning how they can help meet a one-time need with a special offering, in much the same way as we are doing this summer with our Ground for Grace initiative. There was a famine in Israel and the Jewish Christians there were suffering. Paul’s plan was to visit churches in the region that he had planted to see if they would be able to help relieve the need with financial gifts. At this point, originally for believers living in Corinth, today for us, Paul lays out the Planting Principle in 2 Cor. 9:6-15. I am going to read this for us, then highlight 3 practical implications.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows [plants] sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful [hilaros] giver [not duty driven, but grace-fueled, joy-filled giving]. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed [money] and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
The first practical implication of the Planting Principle is that…
I. Giving leads to gaining, which leads to more giving.
Since we naturally think that giving leads to losing, let me say that again. Giving leads to gaining, which leads to more giving. This is the planting principle, which represents an ongoing cycle of how God has designed us to steward the funds which he provides.
Those who attended one of our Ground for Grace information coffees at the beginning of June may remember that I outlined how we should go about making our pledges. I mentioned that I wanted us to take a card and figure out what giving level felt comfortable for us. Then I wanted us to pray about going a level or two higher. The purpose is to challenge what we believe God can do in re-supplying our gifts. If this principle is true, why does my heart push back against generosity? Why do I make excuses as why I can’t or even shouldn’t give? Why do I give as little as I can versus giving as much as I can?
I can tell you why I struggle with giving. I fear losing my seed. We already tithe on our income, which is to give 10%. What if I gave more? What if I sold a chunk of stock to give to Ground for Grace? Since we all tend to put trust in material wealth, to give away a portion of our reserves seems foolish. But God is able to re-supply. If I give $10,000 in stocks to help buy this property, God is able to increase the value of my portfolio overnight. Some may fear that if we give and the market crashes, we’ll have made a very unwise decision. According to God’s wisdom, to hold the seed is the unwise decision. If the market loses value, we lose it anyway! Why not trust God with the planting principle? Why not invest it in the Kingdom and trust God to be the ultimate manager of my portfolio, the one who is able to supply seed to those who plant? To those who give generously.
Now, I realize that some of us have been negatively influenced by prosperity preachers, or health and wealth gospel. Sadly, the motive of many of these ministries is greed. However, their abuse of the principle does not negate the truth of the principle. [More on this topic is on the audio version of this message.]
What if I really believed this? What if I really trusted in the planting principle… and made a pledge that accurately reflected that faith? What would happen?
On the one hand, my pledge will be far greater than I originally planned. After all, giving leads to gaining, which leads to more giving.
On the other hand, the most glorious implication of believing and acting on the planting principle is not that my desire to give will increase, but that my faith will grow. This means that…
II. Through generosity, we not only put ourselves in a position to prosper financially, but also to grow spiritually.
This is why opportunities like Ground for Grace serve not only to raise funds for property, but also serve as opportunities for spiritual renewal. After all, what does it take to be an un-reluctant, glad, cheerful giver? It means that something deep and significant has taken place at the soul level.
In 2 Corinthians 8:2-4, Paul shared about the overwhelming generosity of the Macedonians to this same need of helping those in the famine. He writes, “2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.”
How did they give that way? What moved them to such unexpected generosity? In verse 9 Paul reveals the secret, saying, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you—through his poverty—might become rich.”
According to Paul, when we “know the grace” everything changes. Everything. In verse 10, he says that God will increase the harvest of our righteousness “in every way.” This righteousness is the change that takes place from within and affects every area of our lives. Paul is teaching us that when we really get it—when we look to the cross and get it—we not only will be set free to give, but we will have a desire to obey Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus in everything!
This means that even if we had no promise of return and no expectation of a federal tax-credit, those “who know the grace”— who have experienced the grace— would still give.
Through generosity, we not only put ourselves in a position to prosper financially, but also and primarily we put ourselves in a position to grow spiritually.
This leads to our final implication of the planting principle, which is that…
III. Giving confirms my profession of faith.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “Put your money where your mouth is.” If you really believe something, you will put your money on it or in it. You think a new start up business is a good investment. Prove it by investing in it yourself.
This is what Paul is saying in verse 13 when he writes, “13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves [confirmed, authenticated your faith], others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ.”
I suppose this may be what our pledges are really about. They serve as an opportunity to express in a practical, tangible way that we believe that Jesus really is risen and reigning Savior, and that he is able to continue to provide for us materially as he has provided spiritually in our redemption.
We can also say that as I pledge, I am activating my confidence in the planting principle. Confident that what is given will not be lost or wasted. It is being planted in the most reliable, no-brainer investment opportunity on the planet. God has promised to re-supply the seed we sow. If I will believe and act upon that, I will open myself up to material and spiritual dividends that I can achieve in no other way.
Of course the seeds we plant are small shadows compared to the seed God planted. Even in the beginning of Genesis, when God promised a sin-bearer to Adam and Eve, he was called the seed of the woman. That seed line continued through the Old Testament until the promised seed was born and named Jesus. Yet, in order for God’s seed to result in the intended harvest, it had to be planted, which he was. Through his crucifixion, Jesus was planted in death, but like a seed coming from its own grave, Jesus burst forth from the tomb, the fruit of which is the assurance of our salvation. This happy result of the planting of God’s seed is why the author of Hebrews says in chapter 12, verse 2, that “It was for the joy set before Jesus that he endured the cross!”
Therefore, the disciple’s confession is that he or she has consciously received “God’s indescribable gift” of grace in Jesus as a sin bearer and righteousness provider. Our confession is that this gift has been given, not earned or deserved. It is pure grace. The kind of pure grace that enables us to be cheerful, joyful financial investors in the kingdom of God.
As some of you may know by now, Martha and Pete Anderson’s grandson, Noah, prayed to receive Jesus as his Savior a few weeks ago. I was at Pete’s home the day after this had taken place and was moved by Noah’s joy-filled spirit. It wasn’t long after my arrival that Noah brought me a red coffee tub filled with coins. He said that he was a Christian and wanted to give to Jesus. When I looked inside, I could tell that this was not a bucket of pennies, but largely of quarters. So I asked, “Noah, how much of this do you want to give?” With a smile from ear to ear, “All of it.” And with that, he began dancing around the room.
It was as if Noah realized that Jesus had poured himself out for us. Jesus gave us all of it. All of his mercy, all of his grace, all of his righteousness. In a response of thankfulness, Noah wanted to pour out what he could for Jesus. Like Jesus for us, Noah poured out all of it.
As we make our pledges, may it be that a child will lead us. The faith of a child. The generosity of a child. The joy of a child.