If the pastor of my home church as a young boy wanted to get the attention of the congregation and make the hair stand up on the back of their heads, he would quote from Galatians 6:7. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Usually the sermon topic was about hell, and this verse made you feel as though you were dangling over the flames and were holding on by a thread.
If our pastor wanted to get our attention and motivate us to reach for our wallet, the sermon topic was on giving, as in money, and the text was 2 Corinthians 9:5-7. Here are St. Paul’s words to the Corinthian church. “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you beforehand and make arrangements for the bountiful gift you had promised. This way, your gift will be prepared generously and not begrudgingly. Consider this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not out of regret or compulsion. For God loves a cheerful giver.” Notice the use of the word sow?
Often this message on giving, as in money, was also tied to Christ’s teaching on the Sower and the Seed from Luke 8:5-15. How does the passage begin? “A sower went out to sow….” The gist of the message as used in this particular context was when you sow your SEED, money, in good soil, meaning the church or the evangelist’s garden, God will fertilize it with heavenly “Miracle-Gro,” and you will reap a bountiful harvest. This became known as “seed faith,” and Oral Roberts, a healing evangelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, made this phrase famous.
Although the principle of giving and being generous is biblically sound, the “health and wealth gospel,” or application of this principle, is not sound because too often seed faith becomes what I call GREED FAITH. Over 48 years of ministry I have seen this biblical principle convoluted and abused. I wouldn’t want to be standing in the shoes of ministers who have preyed upon vulnerable people when they stand one day before a Holy God. What they have done under the guise of the “prosperity gospel” is use the name of God, tied to these verses, as a means to a very self-serving end.
Let me introduce to you, Dr. Robert Ray Courtney. This former pharmacist is infamous for diluting chemotherapy drugs and was sent to prison for 30 years due to his greedy scheme. What made this story so tragic is that cancer patients were negatively impacted but so was the church where Dr. Courtney worshiped. I know the church well- Northland Cathedral in Kansas City, Missouri. One of its former pastors was one of 5 men who most shaped my life when I was a young pastor in the late 70’s.
The man who was pastor at the time this greedy tragedy took place was Rev. J Lowell Harrup, an amazing preacher with impeccable integrity. Northland Cathedral was negatively impacted because Dr. Courtney was a Board Member in that congregation as well as a choir member. The community was outraged at the church when Dr. Courtney defended his inexcusable behavior by revealing his motive was in order to “make good” on a $1,000,000 pledge to the church’s building program.
When Dr. Harrup and the leadership of Northland discovered this shameful gift, they sold church property in order to repay the money Dr. Courtney had given toward his pledge, which at the time amounted to $600,000. I can assure you that Dr. Courtney did not make that million dollar “faith promise” due to pressure from Dr. Harrup’s preaching. That was absolutely not his style. In 2008 Dr. Courtney’s story was featured in an episode of a television show, whose title explains exactly why he did this dastardly deed. The name of the show? American Greed.
So, what’s my point? Yes, there are ministers who use God’s name in vain by telling people God will bless them if they sow their financial seed in their miracle garden. But, there are also minsters like Dr. Harrup who recently retired and was celebrated by Northland Cathedral after 29 years of pastoral ministry. Because of Dr. Harrup’s and the church leadership’s integrity, Northland’s reputation is highly revered in North Kansas City.
As believers we should give out of an overflowing, an outpouring of gratitude for all we have been given. God does indeed love a cheerful giver, but we are also cautioned to be wise as serpents. Invest your seed in the kingdom, but be careful where you invest. Just because a leader is flashy and speaks well isn’t an indication they have the heart of Jesus. Sow into churches and ministries that will take your seed and multiply it to help the hurting and bring the light of the gospel into a dark world.
Yes, Paul’s words are true. “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption…” but it is also true, “…he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” Yes, it is true, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly…” but it is also true that “…whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” This principle, known as “seed time and harvest,” is much more reliable than Rev. So and Sow’s “Miracle-Gro” drivel. And you can take that to the (seed) bank!