Sermon by Joshua Dykes – Preached on Sunday January 3rd, 2021
Good evening! Before I begin my lesson for this evening, I just want to thank the congregation as a whole for your hospitality and the warmness of you all. As an Alabamian, I can honestly say that I am not used to the cold weather of Michigan, but I am so thankful for all of your generosity and your warm hearts. I would also like to extend a thank you to the elders and Paul who have graciously allowed for me to be here for three weeks as part of my preparation for Romania, and also a special thank you to Steve and Sandy Atkinson who are allowing me to stay in their home during the duration of my stay up here in Michigan. Again, thank you to all of you, and my appreciation for your hospitality cannot be described in words. Every single one of you has made this visit so much easier.
I am going to ask that you turn in your Bibles this evening to Ecclesiastes 11, we’ll begin in Ecclesiastes 11:1 and we will read down to verse 6. I will be reading from the New English Translation.
“Send your grain overseas, for after many days you will get a return. Divide your merchandise among seven or eight investments, for you do not know what calamity may happen on earth. If the clouds are full of rain, they will empty themselves on the earth, and whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, the tree will lie wherever it falls. He who watches the wind will not sow, and he who observes the clouds will not reap. Just as you do not know the path of the wind, or how the bones form in the womb of a pregnant woman, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. Sow your seed in the morning, and do not stop working until the evening; for you do not know which activity will succeed – whether this one or that one, or whether both will prosper equally.”
The title of my lesson this morning is Sending Grain Overseas. As I was thinking weeks in advance of what verse I should use for this Sunday evening lesson, this verse was not even on my radar. It wasn’t until about a week and a half ago when I was reading Ecclesiastes from cover to cover that I came across this passage. And let me tell you, this is definitely something that can be applied to missions and the mission field.
This sermon is going to be divided into three parts. The first part of this lesson will be exegetical. All that means is that we are simply going to look at this passage, its context, and simply just try to find out what this passage means. The second part of this lesson will be practical. We will look at ways we can apply this passage to our every day lives. And the last part of this lesson will be an examination. We will all try to examine our own lives and we will determine if we are doing what the Bible is telling us to do.
So let us begin with the exegetical section of our lesson for this evening. King Solomon, near the end of his life after he is already advanced in age, is the author of the book we call Ecclesiastes. The word Ecclesiastes is a greek word transliterated from Hebrew. It comes from the Hebrew word Qoheleth which simply means well-lived earthly life. The entire book is Solomon, the teacher, giving advice to his reader who is likely in their younger years. Solomon bases most of his work on lessons he has learned from past experiences in his life. King Solomon had made many mistakes in his life. Even after he had received the gift of wisdom from God, which we read about in 1 Kings 3, he still fell into the snares of sin and he indulged himself in many pleasures, most of which God was not pleased with. Solomon stated his many regrets over the years, and we often see the phrases everything is futile, a pursuit of the wind, and nothing is new under the sun. If you ever read for Ecclesiastes on your own time, which I highly recommend, Solomon is referring to the emptiness of life’s pleasures, which pale in comparison to the eternity that we all face down the road.
In Chapter 11, Solomon reflects on his past experiences and he recognizes the importance of investing now in order to reap a reward in the future. Look at verses 1 and 2:
“Send your grain overseas, for after many days you will get a return. Divide your merchandise among seven or eight investments, for you do not know what calamity may happen on earth.”
In this passage, we might say that Solomon is looking forward to the future. He is not only thinking back on the past, he is thinking about preparation for the future. In a sense, we can say that this is very similar to what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. If you are able, please turn in your Bibles to that passage.
“So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away – look, what is new has come! And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making his plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God!’ God made the one who did not know sins to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.”
I’d like to think that in the passage that we just read, Paul is reflecting upon the past, but is also thinking about preparation for the future. He had been reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, and because of that reconciliation, he had been given the charge to take that ministry of reconciliation to the whole world. I am going to ask that all of you mark 2 Corinthians 5, or at least put something in the page, because we will be visiting this passage again.
Let us turn back to Ecclesiastes 11:1-2. I want us to really grasp the meaning of this passage. Most of your Bibles probably begin this passage with “cast your bread upon the surface of the waters.” Although that is the more literal and correct rendering of this passage, we have to understand the idiomatic language of the Hebrews at the time. This act of sending or casting your bread upon the waters is referring to generosity and the reward that comes from it. It is also idiomatic language referring to commercial business ventures and investments. Regardless of what your interpretation of this idiom may be, Solomon wants us to understand that investing or giving now will reap rewards or profits in the future. Look at verses 3 and 4.
“If the clouds are full of rain, they will empty themselves on the earth, and whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, the tree will lie wherever it falls. He who watches the wind will not sow, and he who observes the clouds will not reap.”
Several months ago, at Central church of Christ in Decaturville, TN (where I preach while I am at Freed-Hardeman), I did a sermon entitled It Happens. The sermon was based off of a passage from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians; the passage is 1 Thessalonians 3:4. I will read this passage to you, and you are all more than welcome to follow along.
“For in fact when we were with you, we were telling you in advance that we would suffer affliction, and so it happened, as you well know.”
Paul and his associates were facing afflictions for spreading the gospel. His afflictions were something that was beyond his control. What happened, happened; and he was not going to let the afflictions get the best of him or stop his ministry. King Solomon, back in Ecclesiastes 11, is saying that there will be things that happen that are beyond our control. We can send our grain overseas, and we do so that we can hope for a reward. But whatever happens happens, and sometimes things are beyond our control. But we see in v. 4 that it is far better to invest, send, and cast our bread upon the water than to worry about what the future may hold. Read again with me verse 4 of Ecclesiastes 11:
“He who watches the wind will not sow, and he who observes the clouds will not reap.”
In order to hope for any reward in the future, diligent work and investment must be made in the present. Jesus had many parables on this, and we will look at one of these parables in just a minute. But before I give his parable, I want us to consider one of my own parables which applies to the 21st century.
There was a kicker on a high school football team. He tried out in the spring and made the varsity team. Before trying out for varsity, he talked to all the coaches and all the kickers about to graduate and asked what he must do in order to make varsity. They told him that he needed to practice and invest in the right cleats. He practiced and practiced and borrowed some soccer cleats from his neighbor that were really good for kicking. This kicker was so excited to finally be a part of the High School varsity team and his coach had already assured him that he would have the starting position as long as he continued to practice and take care of his feet. Well, the neighbor that was lending him the cleats moved to a different state and he had taken the cleats with him. Rather than continue to practice kicking and invest in good kicking cleats, he decided that he was just going to sit back and wait for someone to give him their pair of cleats. Well, when summer training came around, he was practicing kicks and the coaches were surprised at how bad his kicking now was compared to the spring try outs. When summer training had come to an end, the coach had decided that someone else was going to take his spot on varsity. He had lost his reward. This kicker did not invest, he did not make preparations for the future. And as a result, he lost what he had hardly worked for. Ironically this kicker did end up signing to the University of Alabama. I’m sorry Paul.
Now consider this parable from Jesus that can be found in Matthew 25 beginning in v.14:
“For it (the Kingdom of Heaven) is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.”
Now I want you to listen to the actions of each one of the servants given talents. I want you to listen to what they did with them.
“The one who had received five talents right away and put his money to work and gained five more. In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and his his master’s money in it.”
So we see here that two of the servants invested the talents given to them and they reaped a reward. However, the third servant did not invest his master’s money. And we read later that the two servants who invested their master’s money received rewards for their labor. However, let’s read about what happens to the third servant.
“Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten.”
Now let’s skip down to verse 30.
“And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So we see here the reward of someone who refuses to invest in the future. There is no excuse. Paul could have given the excuse that mission work is difficult (which it is), and he could have quit because of all the pain it had caused him both mentally and physically. But he didn’t. He understood that to quit on growing the kingdom because of circumstances or trials would be putting his faith somewhere that was not God. And that brings me now to Ecclesiastes 11:5-6. If you would, please turn there with me.
“Just as you do not know the path of the wind, or how the bones form in the womb of a pregnant woman, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. Sow your seed in the morning, and do not stop working until the evening; for you do not know which activity will succeed – whether this one or that one, or whether both will prosper equally.”
The slave who was given the talent didn’t know the ways of his master. He claimed he knew, but even still, he did nothing with the talent that he was given. Likewise, Solomon is saying that no-one knows the work of God and what the future holds. God has the future in his hands, so ultimately it is up to him. However, it is up to us to invest now and leave the success and reward up to God.
With all of this in mind, I would now like for us to move into the practical aspect of our lesson for this evening. We spent a lot of time in the exegetical portion, and we will not spend nearly as much time in the practical. Nonetheless, we need to know how we are to Send Grain Overseas. As I may have mentioned earlier, this lesson was going to be dealing mostly with missions. However, I think there are many more practical ways we can invest our talents and our resources. But this evening, I want us to talk about missions.
I do not mean to come across as harsh, but I feel as if many of the churches of Christ in America have been indifferent or complacent when it comes to missions and mission work. I am not just talking about overseas long-term mission work, I am also talking about mission work that could be done here in the United States. All of us see the state of the United States and the world as a whole, and we should know about and see the evidence of Satan working around us. The need for missionaries who are willing and able to go and teach the gospel to those around them, both foreign, domestic, and here in your very community is as urgent as ever.
Rather than give you the same sermon on the great commission that you have all received or heard a million times before, I would like for all of you to go back in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 5. Let us read just the 18th verse.
“And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
We need to understand that being in the mission field is not something that originated with the apostles or with those who came after the apostles. There are many who consider Paul to be the great missionary of the New Testament. But it is important to understand that Christ was the first missionary and He will always be the greatest missionary. He came into this world on a mission to reconcile the entire world to Himself. In John 1:14 states “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.” When we read that description of Christ, we come to understand that he is the one full of grace and truth. We live in a world and in an age today that says that no-one can possess absolute truth that applies to everyone. Unfortunately, there are those in the denominational spectrum that also claim this. But Jesus is full of truth, and he is full of grace.
Continuing in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes in verses 19 and 20 the following:
“In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making his plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!”
Because Jesus came into this world to reconcile everyone to God, then that means that we too have been given this ministry. We have been called to teach those around us about the Christ and how reconciliation can be gained through him. When we decide to walk in faith and then go and teach others how to walk in faith, we are essentially casting and sending grain overseas. We are trusting God that no matter what happens to us, there will be a reward.
In the early 1900s, there was a man by the name of William Borden. His family was very wealthy, and as a result of their great wealth, he got to see and travel the world. One place that young William was always amazed by was the middle east. William was also a Christian, and he was a very zealous one at that. He decided that he was going to combine his love for God, people, and travel and he was going to be a missionary. After making this decision, he wrote in the back of his Bible: “No Reserves”. In 1905, he became a college student at Yale and he figured that this needed to be the first place to start. He started college prayer groups that would meet every single morning. At the time, Yale only had around 1,300 students. By the time William Borden was a senior at Yale, around 1,000 of the 1,300 had associated themselves with a prayer group. After graduating, he received many high paying job offers. After all, he did graduate from one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. He wrote two more words in the back of his Bible: “No Retreats”. He did graduate work at Princeton Seminary, and after graduating there sailed for Egypt to learn Arabic. He was fully dedicating himself to the work abroad. While he was in Egypt, he grew very ill. He had contracted spinal meningitis, and not long after the diagnosis, young William passed away at 25 years old. In his Bible, shortly before he passed, he reportedly wrote these last two words in his Bible: “No Regrets”.
No Reserves, No Retreats, No Regrets. I am not asking each one of you to turn down a good paying job, and I am not asking you to sell everything you have and move abroad. But William Borden realized that the ministry of reconciliation was more important than all of these things. And this brings me to the last part of my sermon.
I am now going to ask that we examine ourselves. Typically for self-examination, I ask a series of questions. And these questions are not to be answered out loud, but I would ask that you seriously ponder the answers to these questions in your head and determine if you are really giving the ministry of reconciliation the attention it deserves.
- Do you invest in good cleats? In other words, do you give your money, resources, or time to missions or missionaries.
- Are you burying a talent or are you making the most of it? In other words, are you wasting your time by worrying about what the future MAY hold, or are you trusting that God will give the increase and that the future is in His hands.
- Do you consider yourself an ambassador for Christ? Does the Gospel drive you to bring others to Christ?
- Do you have any reserves, retreats, or regrets? In other words, is there anything holding you back from taking part in the ministry of reconciliation.
Tonight, I am going to offer an invitation. If you feel as though the answers in your mind are inadequate or do not match with what the scriptures say about sending our grain overseas, only you can change that. Maybe tonight, you have struggled in this arena and you would just like the prayers of the Saints. Or maybe you would like to join the ministry of reconciliation, but you have not yet obeyed the Gospel. The best way to begin is by obeying Christ by putting him on in baptism, reconciling yourself with God. And we could do that tonight. If you have any need, any need at all, please come as we stand and sing.