“Who Owns Your Success?”
November 19, 2017
By John Partridge*
Deuteronomy 8:7-18 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 Luke 17:11-19
Have you ever owned your own home?
The process for applying for a mortgage is intimidating but the feeling of home ownership is a pretty good one. But unless you’ve owned your home for a long time, and made a lot of payments to the bank, we are reminded, at least once a month when our payment is due, that the real owner of our home is the bank.
When we have been employees, no matter how much we love our jobs and take pride in our work, and care for the facilities as if they were our very own, we are constantly reminded that they belong to someone else.
If you buy a new car, you have to have insurance, but if you wreck the car, the majority of the insurance money will go to the bank that owns most of the car.
In an episode of The Big Bang Theory (Application Deterioration), several of the characters, Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard, come up with an idea that is patentable and could make them millions of dollars. But when they go to their employer’s legal office to ask about pursuing a patent, they get that same sort of stunning reminder. The patent attorney declares that they
“Just need you to review and sign this document acknowledging that you understand the university will own 75% of the patent.
Sheldon: That’s outrageous. This is our idea based on our research. How can you possibly justify owning a majority share?
Patent Attorney: It’s university policy.
Leonard: Hold on, hold on. So the three of us do all the work and only end up with 25%?
Patent Attorney: Dr. Hofstadter, this university has been paying your salaries for over ten years. Did you think we do that out of the goodness of our hearts?
Leonard: Well, until you just said that mean thing, kinda.
Three of the four men are reminded that because their research and knowledge grow out of work that their employer has already paid for, 75 percent of any profits belong to the employer. Even worse, since Howard is already an employee of the Federal government, he isn’t entitled to anything at all.
All of these types of stories remind us that we often fool ourselves into believing that we own things that rightly belong to someone else. We are also prone to take too much credit for work that we did as a group, or pass along too much blame to others for mistakes that we made for ourselves. And in Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Joshua reminds the people of Israel that they must be careful not to take credit for the work that was done by someone else.
7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
Joshua emphasizes that God has already given them much, and is about to give them even more. Their blessings will be wonderful and the land will be abundantly good to them in many ways. But they must be careful to remember that God has given all these things to them as a gift. Joshua warns that it is all too easy to forget the giver and allow our pride to fool ourselves into believing that we did it, that “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But that, Joshua says, is a lie because it is God who gives us the ability to produce, wealth. Ultimately, it is God who has given us everything that we have, and it is God to whom we should be grateful.
In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, the Apostle Paul goes a step further. He reminds the people of God that not only should we be grateful for what we have been given, our thankfulness should be demonstrated through our generosity.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 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. 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.
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!
Paul has several points that are neatly sewn together. First, if our mission is to grow the church, then we must be generous in what we plant. When we garden, we plant seed in proportion to the harvest that we expect in the fall, and our ministry is no different. If our goal is to bring many people to faith in Jesus Christ, then we must plant seeds toward that end with the same generous abundance as the harvest for which we pray. But, at the same time, our trust must remain in God as we remember that the God who provides seeds to plant and bread to eat, is the same God who will lead us toward bountiful harvests of both rescued souls and personal righteousness. We cannot be stingy with the things that God has given to us, we must use them for our mission and ministry, and we must share what we have been given with those in need.
And of course, as we consider our success and the gifts that we have been given, we would be foolish to skip over the words of Jesus found in Luke 17:11-19, where we hear this:
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Ten men begged for pity, for compassion, for help, and for healing. They begged that the lives that had been stolen from them by their incurable disease might be given back to them. And Jesus cures them all of an incurable disease. And yet, of the ten, only one, and he a foreigner who would have commonly been hated and mocked, only this one man returns to Jesus to gives thanks for the invaluable gift that he had been given.
These words of Jesus remind us all that our lives are a gift. As we celebrate our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday, let us never forget that our success doesn’t belong to us. Our lives do not belong to us. Our possessions do not belong to us. All that we have has been given to us as a gift from God.
Let us give thanks to God, and may we always be generous with what we have been given so that our harvest, both for the Kingdom of God, and for our own righteousness, might be equally generous.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.