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. 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.
On British television, the BBC regularly shows repeats of Dad’s Army – a sitcom first broadcast from 1968 to 1977 about the Home Guard (local defence volunteers) during the Second World War. An episode that I watched last night had a scene in which we saw Corporal Jones going about his daily business as the local butcher in Walmington-on-Sea. There was a long queue of women in his shop and the woman at the front handed over her ration books.
‘Oh dear, Mrs Peters,’ says Jones, ‘You haven’t got much there. Only a shilling on each.’
‘Is that all I’ve got?’ she asks.
‘I’m afraid so,’ says Jones. ‘I can let you have three little lamb chops and a bit of corned beef.’
Mrs Fox, the lady next in the queue, fares a little better, but none of them get all that they need, for those were days of great hardship and austerity. Food was in short supply and by 1942 almost everything apart from vegetables and bread was being rationed.
Back then, in the UK, you lived out of the insufficiency of your ration book.
Well that little episode must still have been in my mind this morning, I suppose, when I read the passage set out above from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians; for its last sentence really made me sit up with a jolt. What was it that Paul was saying? God is able to provide me with every blessing in abundance? He can see to it that I always have enough of everything? Really? Well if that is so, why do I so often live out of what I see as the insufficiency of my ration book?
I began to think of the kind of things I say that betray my ‘poverty’ mentality:
I’m running out of sympathy.
My patience is exhausted.
It’s way beyond my means.
My compassion’s wearing a bit thin.
I simply don’t have the time.
I’ve nothing left to give.
The trouble is that in church on Sunday I pay lip service to a very different way of going on. I happily sing Don Moen’s lovely song (based on Joel 3.10 KJV) ‘Give thanks with a grateful heart’ and bellow out along with the rest:
And now let the weak say “I am strong.”
Let the poor say “I am rich
because of what the Lord has done for us.”
But the reality is that I live as if I am weak and poor and incapable of meeting most of the needs I would encounter if I truly engaged with those around me. If what Paul says is true, however, then I can afford to be generous with time, with money, with grace, mercy, compassion, patience … everything.
There really is no ration book. I’m not going to run out of anything.
For the fact is that I am no longer living in the pig sty of the far country where I have nothing. I am now in the Father’s house. I have the best robe on me. I have a ring on my finger and shoes on my feet. And my Father is rich beyond all imagining. Psalm 50:10 says he owns the cattle on a thousand hills (so forget about meat rationing, Mr Jones.) And the promise is that he will ‘fully satisfy every need’ of mine according to those riches – ‘his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:9).
It has ever been so for those who belong to God and recognise his ownership. ‘The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want,’ said David. Or as the hymn puts it:
The King of Love my shepherd is;
his goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am his
and he is mine for ever.
That is the truth. The truth I need to be living in and living out of today. The truth that I will ‘always have enough of everything.’ Wow!
And this, of course, finally makes sense of a verse that has often puzzled me: Luke 8:18 ‘For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.’ In other words; when I recognise the abundance that is mine in Christ and begin to live out of that abundance, the well will never run dry. The five loaves and two fishes will continue to multiply. But if I choose to deny the abundance I have and resolve to live as one who has nothing to spare and nothing to give, the abundance itself that truly was mine will, sadly, be lost to me.