The Tomato Man

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People remember you more for what you give away than for what you keep.

I learned that lesson pretty early in life.

There weren’t a lot of gardens in the neighborhood that I grew up in. I left the land of soybean fields and cotton when I was five for the land of cul-de-sacs and quarter acre lots. Every so often my grandparents would leave behind the agrarian world I once knew to come and visit us in the suburbs.

They never came empty-handed.

When they pulled into our driveway, my grandfather would step out of his Caprice Classic, open up the trunk and pull out huge grocery bags filled with tomatoes. One day the lady across the street was outside and he gave one of those grocery bags to her. In return, she gave him a nickname.

The Tomato Man.

Every time she saw us she would ask how the Tomato Man was doing. It was like he was some kind of superhero. To her, I guess that he was.

TV preachers like to talk a lot about sowing seeds and reaping a harvest. By that, they mean that we need to send them a check for $25 (that’s the sowing part) and that God in turn will give us a check for $25,000 (that’s the reaping part). It’s all a lie.

Paul does a much better job of breaking it down for us.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 2 Corinthians 9:6 (ESV)

In a way, it’s like Paul was talking about my grandfather, the Tomato Man.

Imagine a man who was blessed with a lot of tomato seeds. He kept thousands, even millions of those tomato seeds stored up in barns. They were his security. They would be there for him if disaster struck. The man takes great pride in the wealth of tomato seeds that he has accumulated for himself.

But he never considers that he’s doing it all wrong. Parting ways with those seeds and putting them in the dirt seemed foolish to him. He preferred the false security that came with having those seeds stored away over the actual benefit of using those seeds for their intended purpose.

Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 9:11 that we will be “enriched in every way.” That’s the favorite verse of most the health and wealth hucksters on television. But it’s only part of the story.

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 2 Corinthians 9:11 (ESV)

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. But he never gives gifts just to make us feel special. The gifts he gives are never fully enjoyed until they are used for the good of others and the glory of Jesus Christ. In order to fully enjoy what God has given to us, we have to let it go. We have to put it in the ground. And we have to trust him with the harvest.

This should never be seen as a chore.

“I have to give to another missionary”

“I have to write a check to the church.”

Instead, generous giving should be something that makes us happy. Just like it makes the farmer happy to put seed in the ground. He knows that the really good part is just getting started. He delights in seeing that seed fall from his hand and into the ground because he knows that something better will come from it.

Paul goes on to say that God loves this kind of giving. You’ve probably heard it said before.

“God loves a cheerful giver.”

But why?

God loves the cheerful giver because he is The Cheerful Giver. It pleased him to give away his Son in order to set his people free from their sins. It pleased him to place his Son in the ground. He knew that better things would come.

God loves the cheerful giver because our gospel motivated generosity serves as an example of God’s grace and a vehicle for God’s glory. Generosity is a small picture of the cross.

The lady across the street never called my grandfather the Seed Man.

She called him the Tomato Man.

That’s because people remember you more for what you give away than for what you keep.

It was true for my grandfather.

It’s certainly true of our Heavenly Father.

And it should be true of us as well.

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