The Faith It Takes to Farm
About fifteen years ago, when I lived in a farming community in Mississippi, an older man once quipped that he couldn’t be a row crop farmer if he were not a Christian. I asked him why. He said it was because farming is such a faith venture where you have to trust a process that is largely beyond your control.
To grow crops, you have to let go of your seed by burying it in the ground, trusting that investing the seed in the soil would result in a harvest that would enable him to make enough money so that he could plant again the following year, hopefully with enough income to live on and some profit that could expand the farm for even larger harvests in the future.
Farming is a faith venture.
A lot of folks don’t realize that most private farmers borrow money every year to purchase seed and rent equipment — many even rent the land upon which they plant their crops.
If there is a hard freeze after the seed goes into the ground in the spring, the seed may be damaged and produce a weak crop, or no crop at all.
With no crop, there isn’t any return on the investment of seed in the ground and they are unable to pay off the loan. This is the farm that goes belly up as they say, like a dead fish in the water.
Farming really is a faith venture.
In addition to post-planting freezes, there is the threat of drought which can prevent the seeds from property germinating. The threat of insect infestations can destroy even a healthy crop in the midst of the growing season. Storms can also ruin a crop with hail and high winds, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which leveled the entire corn crop in my community — literally leveled it to the ground — right before the harvest was to take place.
All of these factors contributed to my elder friend sharing about how he couldn’t farm unless he was a Christian. It just takes too much faith in God’s sovereignty over the entire process. Without knowing that God was in control of all the variables of seed growth and harvest production, he would die of anxiety overload.
Every Christian is a Farmer
What living in the Mississippi Delta taught me is that every Christian is a farmer who has been given seed — not seed to plant in the ground, but tithes and offerings to invest in the Kingdom.
In the last post, we discussed how tithing, giving 10% of one’s total income (seed), is like wearing training wheels when it comes to giving. It helps gives us a place to start.
If the tithe, as the baseline standard for giving, is seed designed to support the work of the local church, offerings go beyond the tithe, sowing financial resources into specific needs.
2 Corinthians 9:6–15 is an example of one such specific need. In this passage, Paul is asking the church in Corinth to help relieve famine-stricken Jewish Christians in Jerusalem by providing a one-time gift of financial assistance.
What we learn from Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians is how to be Christian farmers who learn to trust the process of sowing seed, not only as tithes to support the local church but offerings to meet special needs.
We start in verse 6 with…
1. The Farming Principle Underlying Generosity
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
The principle is simple.
If we plant seed, we should expect to reap a harvest. As anyone who has seen a stalk of wheat, an ear of corn, or a soybean plant knows, each individual seed has the potential to multiply itself in extraordinary ways, because each seed produces an entire plant that is filled with more seeds.
Generosity works like that.
While some televangelists may have exploited this principle for personal gain, their abuse of the principle does not negate the principle itself.
- Invest nothing, get nothing in return.
- Invest a little, get a little.
- Invest a lot, get a lot.
Even with the risks and fears that go into planting, an exponential return should be the expected result of planting seed. That is how God has designed planting to work — even as a metaphor for generosity.
The key lesson from the farming principle is trusting the process.
Where the health and wealth prosperity preachers mislead their followers is in the area of motivation. The why of generosity. In the health and wealth, prosperity gospel, the motivation for giving is not to have more in order to give more away but to have more for myself.
In the next verse, Paul actually addresses…
2. The Motivation for Generosity
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 giver.
Once we have moved beyond the generosity training wheels that we learned about in the last post, the first question is not how much should I give but why am I giving? What is my motive for generosity?
Am I giving out of duty or guilt or fear, what Paul calls “reluctantly or under compulsion?” Or am I giving cheerfully, with a sense of joy and gratitude?
The Greek word Paul uses for “cheerful” in verse 7 is hilaros, the word from which we get the English word hilarious. In the first century, hilarios did not mean funny as much as joyful, free, and unburdened.
Also, let’s remember that Paul wasn’t asking the Corinthians to give in the moment but was allowing them time to decide how the Lord was leading them to give to this special need. I think he wanted them to pray and process this request so that they could decide in their hearts what they wanted to give.
There was no obligation for them to give.
But if they did give, they could know that they were activating the re-supplying grace of God that would be coming their way if they invested God’s seed in a kingdom need.
But like my old farmer friend, the real issue at stake is not so much giving as it is trusting.
The way we let go of seed is to hold on to Jesus, or better, know that he is holding on to us and is ready to restock our supply so that we can continue to give and give and give.
So that we can reflect the heart of our Father to the world — our giving God.
This is what we see in verses 8–11, where Paul emphasizes…
3. The Grace in Generosity
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 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.
Let’s not miss the first words of verse 8: “God is able.” Able to what? “To bless you abundantly.” When? “In all things at all times.”
The result is that you will have “all that you need,” even abounding with resources in order to continue to be generous with God’s resources.
Paul is showing us how generosity is about grace from first to last. We receive seed from God. That is grace — a gift. After all, it is his seed and his land. Remember the first post in this series: God is the owner, we are the managers.
So, we receive from God. Then, we plant (invest) the seed by letting it go through generosity. We receive, then we give. Grace begins the process and our giving keeps the grace process flowing to others.
What happens next? In verses 10 and 11 Paul says that God promises to “enrich” us by resupplying our storehouse of seed.
Do you see the cycle?
- God gives seed. That is grace.
- We invest the seed through generosity. That is grace.
- God resupplies our seed. That is more grace.
Author Randy Alcorn wrote a small but profoundly helpful little book called The Treasure Principle, where he says, “God does not proper me primarily to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.”
What Randy Alcorn is doing is explaining the “so that” of verse 11. We are enriched “so that” we may be generous.
In 2 Corinthians 8:7, Paul challenged the believers to “excel in the grace of giving.” Of all spiritual proficiencies, he desires for them to be known as generous people.
I suppose proficiency in anything takes intentionality. For them, famine relief for their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem gave the Corinthians the opportunity to be intentional.
We have opportunities all the time, don’t we? Here are some simple ideas.
- Give to a single mom or a senior member who needs handyman help.
- Give an unexpectedly large tip for your waitress.
- Contribute to someone who needs a replacement appliance as someone did for my family when I mentioned we had been without a dishwasher for a year.
- Give to someone on the streetcorner. I’ll admit that when I see someone on with a cardboard sign asking for monetary help, I tend to look the other way. We’re told that folks begging for cash often use those funds to feed an addiction. And we know that there are places in the community to get help with food and clothing. But when it comes to spontaneous generosity, I’m not responsible for how someone uses the gift. My calling is not to do an extensive soil analysis but to plant the seed as an act of trusting the process. Otherwise, if I give based on the worthiness of the soil, I may use what appears to be poor soil quality as an excuse not to give — hardening my heart to the needs of others. Thankfully, God didn’t base sowing the seed of grace into my life because of the quality of my soil. Of course, you don’t have to just give money. If someone is asking for money to buy food, go buy them a couple of number ones at Chic-Fil-A and hand them the bag instead of the cash.
- Just look for a need and meet it. If you start looking, it will not take long before plenty of opportunities for generosity present themselves.
We noted that with a “so that” Paul mentions the purpose of God’s providing us seed. It is “so that” we can give. But just being generous is not the ultimate goal of our giving.
This is where, in verses 12–15, Paul highlights…
4. The Glory in Generosity
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. 13 Because 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!
When we give, there is “not only” a horizontal, practical benefit where we meet practical needs, but also there is a vertical implication.
The vertical implication is God being glorified as the one who has provided the seed and motivated the heart of the giver — not with fear and guilt, but with the very message of the gospel.
You see, when we give generously, we prove the authenticity of our trust in God’s generosity. In verse 13, Paul says their giving proved their faith and that planting financial resources to meet practical needs is evidence that their “confession of the gospel of Christ” is genuine.
By their confession of Jesus as their Savior, the Corinthians have received what Paul calls “surpassing grace” — a gift beyond what can adequately be calculated in monetary terms.
The Greek word for “surpassing” is huperballó, a combination of two words, hyper (from which we get “hyper” — it literally means “beyond”) and ballo (which means to throw or cast).
When these words are put together, they mean “to throw something far beyond a boundary marker, to exceed, surpass, and transcend.”
The Greatest Home Run of All Time
In baseball, when someone hits a home run, we know that the ball has sailed beyond the boundary of the field. A home run is great. But a walk-off homer is the greatest homer, taking place in the bottom of the last inning. When someone hits a walk-off homer, the game is over and the celebration begins.
A walk-off home run has happened only once in the seventh and final game of a World Series. On October 13, 1960, before a home crowd, Bill “Maz” Mazeroski of the Pitsburg Pirates walked to the plate as the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied nine to nine. It was game 7 — win this game and you are World Champions.
Ralph Terry was pitching for the New York Yankees. After his first pitch was a ball, his second was heat right down the middle. As Maz swung for the fence, the ball rocketed off of his bat out of the infield and over the head of left fielder Yogi Berra and over the fence into an orchard of cherry trees beyond the borders of Forbes field.
As the crowd erupted with roars of joy, Maz circled the bases pumping his fist in the air. Spectators flooded onto the field to join the team as a throng of celebrants welcoming Maz down the line from third, knowing that when he stepped on home plate, the game would be over and the Pirates would be World Champions for the first time since 1925.
ESPN ranked that dramatic walk-off as the greatest home-run in the history of baseball, a stroke of the bat that gives us a word picture for the kind of grace God has given to sinners in the person of Jesus, who didn’t just step up to a plate to win a baseball game. He stepped up to a cross to save our souls — not by crushing a ball over a fence but by being crushed himself.
With his last words, “It is finished,” he was saying “Game over. Let the celebration begin!”
This is not just grace — it is huperballó grace — exceeding grace, surpassing grace, transcending grace. It is out of the park grace.
In verse 15, Paul calls it indescribable.
Maybe describing the gift of God in the victory of Jesus is a lot like how someone who was at game 7 in 1960 would describe the event, as the hopes and dreams of Pirates’ fans were realized as the ball sailed over the wall. Joy, joy, joy — on every man, woman, and child’s face!
The game was over. They were champions. And Maz was their hero.
If you are a Christian, Jesus is your hero — the one through whom our hopes and dreams have come true.
We are not just forgiven to a certain extent. No, there is no boundary that is able to contain the love and mercy of God that far, far exceeds the field of our guilt and shame.
Yes, Jesus is the hero. We are just spectators who get to join in the celebration of what he has done. Though his victory over sin and death, we are now fully forgiven and clothed in the perfect righteousness of the Savior who, with a huperballó generosity, gave himself for us.
- In your own words, describe the principle of sowing and reaping when it comes to investing financial resources in meeting special needs.
- What might cause us to push back against this principle? What fears? What doubts?
- Where do the “prosperity preachers” mislead their followers?
- Why is generosity grace from first to last?
- How does Jesus show us what true generosity looks like?
- How does grace present a different and more powerful motivation for generosity than guilt, duty, or fear?
Dr. McKay Caston is a writer/pastor/professor/husband/dad whose passion is to help people come alive to the wonder, beauty, and transforming power of God’s grace in Jesus by tethering all of life to the cross.