Prepare yourself to discern what is and what is not of God today. Still yourself so you can hear how God is calling you.
2 Corinthians 9 (NRSV)
9 Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints, for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And 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. As it is written,
“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry, you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Conventional wisdom can be tricky. There are so many “facts” that we just assume we know to be true that under further examination prove to be incorrect. For instance, I’ll never forget the day I found out that shaking a recently printed Polaroid picture doesn’t increase its dry time, but instead it could even damage the picture! Unfortunately, there are many forms of Christian traditional wisdom that are likewise well intended and yet quite damaging. Our passage for today has too often been abused to perpetuate one of these Christian “truths” that is, in fact, anything but true. Many of us were taught that the more righteous we are, the more God will bless us, and many of us have unintentionally internalized that claim, even if we outwardly deny it.
This lousy attempt at theology is often called the “Prosperity Gospel,” and this passage from 2 Corinthians and other passages dealing with sowing and reaping are often poorly used as justification for it. The basic idea is that the more we invest into the service of God, perhaps by praying, or reading our Bibles, or serving the poor, or paying our tithes and offerings, the more God will give us as a return on our investment, usually meaning new cars, big houses, high paying jobs, or in short, lots and lots of money. Allow me to be clear. This theology is rotten to its core, and it is often used to exploit and prey on poor and disadvantaged people. But, then, what should we do with Paul’s words?
Paul’s “sowing and reaping” metaphor need not be interpreted in ways that perpetuate the Prosperity Gospel. What if, instead of an inspiration to earn more money and get more stuff, Paul’s words were instead intended to encourage Christians to hold each other accountable for the effort we put into living out the Gospel? In retrospect, when I think about the classes in which I did worst in college, it is obvious that those classes were the ones into which I put the least effort. What if our Christian walk was a little bit like Freshman German class? If we treat our faith like Freshman German class and only put in the least amount of effort required, we should not be surprised when the amount of good we are able to bring into the world matches the effort we gave. However, as Paul instructs us, when we are fully invested in serving God with all we have, or when we joyfully sow all the seed that God has given us, God, as the source of all good things and the giver of life, will provide us with more seeds to sow, from which we will find a depth of divine strength we thought impossible.
This season of Advent, as we prepare our hearts for Christ’s arrival, make sure you aren’t treating your faith like Freshman German class.
God of life and Giver of every good thing, help us to focus our hearts and minds on serving you with the fullness of the gifts you have given us to serve. Help us to sow our seed freely and generously, and bless our harvest to bring honor and glory not to ourselves, but only to you. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.
Go with God!