The Privilege of Partnership
by Jack Wald | November 15th, 2015

II Kings 4:8-38

The first year Annie and I were married we had very little money. I had graduated from seminary and Annie was finishing her final year of university. I worked doing small jobs as a carpenter, getting a house ready to be renovated, and shoveling snow during the blizzard of ‘78. After shoveling a meter of snow off of a flat roof for a local college, I got a job with them as a carpenter.

A couple months after we were married we discovered Annie was unexpectedly pregnant and that added to our expenses. Fortunately, the social system in the US helped us and we were able to participate in a low-income plan for pre-natal and birth expenses. We also received help from the state with food each month. I remember once we had only twenty-five cents to our name (about eight  dirhams adjusted for inflation). After a prayer meeting at our home one night, I discovered someone had put $5 in the egg section of our refrigerator. That was a great blessing.

The next year I began working as a pastor and did this for six and a half years. We did not earn a lot of money but made much more than we did that first year. After this I began working in business and Annie began working and our combined income rose over the following years.

From the very beginning Annie and I wanted to give what we could to support the work of Jesus in the world. Ten percent was our minimum and we tried to give more than that. We supported friends in missions, our church, and other ministries, even that first year when we had very little.

But whether we had a little to give or a lot to give, it was very much on our hearts to give wisely. We did not want to give to people or organizations that would waste our gifts. So we investigated the ministries we supported before we began to support them. We examined their public records to see what percentage of the money they received was used for administrative expenses and what percentage actually got to the people in need. We checked to see that they were approved by people who had investigated their records more throughly than we were able to do.

We were fortunate to have friends who went overseas as missionaries so we knew the character and faith of these people we supported. It has been a privilege to be part of the work they were doing in various parts of the world.

When we give money to support ministry we enter into a partnership with that ministry. Our gifts help that ministry to do what God has called it to do. This morning I want us to look at this partnership and a good place to start is in II Kings 4.

The prophet Elisha was a disciple of the prophet Elijah and when Elijah died, Elisha took over his role as prophet. In 2 Kings 4 there is an account of his interaction with a wealthy woman in Shunem.
8 One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. 9 She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”

We learn a couple of things from this Shunammite woman. The first thing we notice is that she was not focused on herself. She was not self-absorbed. She was not obsessed with accumulating wealth. This is not always the case.

In Amos 4:1 Amos speaks out in judgment against the women of Israel.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”

There are three accusations against the women of Israel in this verse. First, these women were accused of oppressing the poor. Through their husbands they took advantage of the poor in order to supply themselves with all their wealth and luxury. Second, they were accused of crushing the needy. They walked all over the “little people”. They hardly glanced at the workers who provided them with their extravagant life. They never gave a moment’s thought about their lives. They thought it was the purpose of the poor to serve the rich. And third, they said to their husbands, “Bring us some drinks!” They nagged their husbands to bring them more and more. What they had was never enough. Are there people like this in our world today? I have met some of them.

This was not how the Shunammite woman lived. She was not self-absorbed. She noticed other people and so when she saw Elisha pass by, she asked herself if there was a way for her to help him and she urged him to stay for a meal.

The second thing we notice is that the Shunammite woman wanted to use her wealth to help others. I don’t think Elisha was the only person she ever invited in for a meal. It seems that it was her character to show hospitality and help others. Elisha was a stranger to her when she first invited him to a meal, but after many meals, she began to see his character and ask what else she could do for him. She took a first step with Elisha that she took with others. After she began to see the depth of his holiness, she took a bigger step.

She went to her husband and asked him if they could build a room for him on the roof of their house so he could have a place to stay whenever he came to Shunem. She told her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God.” She knew because she had taken the time to get to know him.

Who was the giver in this relationship? Who was the receiver in this relationship? At first glance it would seem that the Shunammite woman was the giver and Elisha the receiver. The Shunammite woman provided Elisha with meals and a room in which he could stay.

What happened next?
11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him. 13 Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’ ”
She replied, “I have a home among my own people.”

Elisha asked her what he could do to help her and she said she was well taken care of. Later, in private, Elisha asked his servant, Gehazi, what he could do for the woman and Gehazi said that her husband was old and she had no son. This meant that when her husband died, she would have no way to maintain the family title to the property.
15 Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 16 “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.”
“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!”
17 But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.

Who was the giver in this relationship? Who was the receiver in this relationship? It is now clear that both the Shunammite woman and Elisha were the givers and the receivers in this relationship. Elisha received food and a room to stay when he came to Shunem and the Shunammite woman received a son and the promise she would be taken care of when her husband died.

As the story continues, the son had pain in his head and died but Elisha came and raised him back to life. Even after Elisha’s death, the Shunammite woman received the benefit of Elisha’s work in her life. Elisha had told her to move to Philistia because of a famine in Israel. She returned seven years later and came to see the king. Elisha had died during those years but Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, was talking with the king about how Elisha had healed the Shunammite woman’s son. He was delighted to see her and she received from the king her land and income that had been taken from her when she had left seven years earlier.

This story illustrates the relationship of giving. Both giver and receiver are blessed and the giver becomes the receiver and the receiver becomes the giver. This relationship is a partnership. When everything works well in a partnership, both are blessed to be able to give and both are blessed to be able to receive.

Unfortunately, it does not always work so well.

I don’t know how it works in other parts of the world, but in the US if you give money to some charitable organization you get put on a mailing list for that organization and receive frequent letters asking for more contributions. These organizations can make money by selling their list to other organizations so your name gets passed on and soon you are receiving appeals for funds from these other organizations. If you also give to some of those, pretty soon your mailbox will burst with fund-raising appeals.

Our mailbox in the US was full each day with appeals for funds to help and I knew that among the appeals we received were attempts to defraud us by putting a needy child’s face on the envelope and including heart-wrenching stories about some child’s life somewhere in the world. But despite the heart-wrenching appeals, little or none of the money sent to that organization would get to the child in need. Whenever there is a disaster and the world mobilizes to send aid, there will be some who take advantage of the desire to help and create fraudulent appeals that fatten only their own pocketbook.

It is not easy to give money wisely. The more money we have to give the more appeals we will receive to help and then how do we sort out the good from the bad? This is particularly difficult for followers of Jesus because the stakes are higher. We want our financial gifts to be used to build the kingdom of God, to advance the work of Jesus.

Some of the most creative thinking in the church, again unfortunately, is focused on how to get people to give more money to the ministry. There are tithes and then there are offerings. There is seed money. Some make a distinction between tithing, giving, sowing, and reaping. There are many sites on the internet advising how to make fund raising more effective.

I have preached other sermons on giving but this morning want to focus more on the partnership of giving and receiving, so let me give a quick summary of a New Testament view of giving. The Old Testament has three tithes. 10% to be given to the priests and Levites. 10% to be used for the annual pilgrimages to the Temple. And then 10% to be given every third year for the support of widows and orphans.

The New Testament is much simpler. There is no percentage. What the New Testament teaches is summarized by what John Wesley said, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” The question becomes not what percentage of my money do I have to give to God to satisfy my obligations, the question is how much can I give from the money that God has entrusted me with.

Try to earn as much money as you can, see how little of it you need, and then give the rest away. That is the radical challenge of the New Testament.

I believe we will be dismayed when we get to heaven and realize how much more we could have supported Jesus in his work with our finances if only we had not been so preoccupied with our own wants.

This is what lies behind our giving in the church. It is not building up an organization or erecting a beautiful building that should preoccupy us. Buildings and organizations will fall into ruins. They are earthly, material, temporal and will be left behind when we move into our heavenly home. Buildings and organizations are nothing more than tools that can be used for God’s kingdom. We may be led by God to give to support buildings and organizations so they can be effective tools for Jesus to use, but the focus always has to be on the work of Jesus, not the building or organization.

Sometimes churches and ministries are able to be used by Jesus and sometimes they are difficult tools for Jesus to work with. Our focus should be on how we can use the funds we have to help Jesus as he builds his kingdom.

When we give we need to investigate before giving. Is the ministry or person working for God’s heavenly kingdom? or an earthly kingdom? Are the funds they receive being used well? Is the ministry or person doing what they say they are doing in their reports? The Shunammite woman sat down with Elisha for meals and got to know him before she offered to build a room for him on their roof.

We need to pray and be wise in our giving. This is God’s money we are giving, not ours, and we need to be good stewards of what God has intrusted to us.

When you give you need to understand that you have become a partner in the ministry you support. Giving is far more than writing a check. You need to take the time to read the reports that are sent back to you. You need to take time to pray for the needs of that ministry.

Over the years Annie and I have helped the Bible to be translated into the Quechuan language in Peru. We never had the opportunity to visit this area of Peru, but someday we will meet people who benefitted from the work that was done there. We will meet people in heaven who were blessed by the partnership between Annie and I and the couple we supported in Peru.

We have helped to plant churches in Sicily and Milan in Italy. We have helped with churches in France and Indonesia. We have helped friends to love people in the name of Jesus in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and the West Bank of Palestine.

Our part in this has been very small. We sent funds to support the ministries and we prayed. That is all we did. Those we supported were the ones who made the greater sacrifice. But it has been a privilege to support these people in their work.

When we read the Bible we need to realize that God has used partnerships to bless people over and over again. We have looked at the Shunammite woman. Do any other partnerships come to mind?

I talked about Mary Magdalene a few weeks ago and quoted this passage. Let me read it again: (Luke 8:1–3)
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

If you had the chance to go back in time, would you want to be able to give Jesus money to support him in his work? Imagine how it feels now for Mary, Joanna, Susanna, and the others who used their funds to support the ministry of Jesus. They were in a privileged position and I imagine they are grateful they were able to do what they did.

How about Paul? Would you like to have been able to support him in his ministry? Luke writes about Paul’s arrival to Philippi in Acts 16:11–15.
From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

The relationship of Paul to Lydia and the others in the church in Philippi was unique. Of all the churches Paul visited, only the church in Philippi supported him in his work. They sent him financial gifts when he was in Thessalonica so he could spend his time preaching and teaching rather than making tents.

The letter he sent the Philippians is the warmest of the New Testament letters. It is a delightful letter that has encouraged followers of Jesus over the centuries. I think part of this is because of the sense of partnership that developed between Paul and the Philippian church.

When Luke finished his gospel, the story did not end. He wrote about the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but then he continued in part two of his story with Acts. Acts tells the continuing story of the ministry of Jesus through his followers as they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Did this story end with Acts 28?

We don’t know from the book of Acts whether Paul went to the Iberian peninsula (Spain) or stayed in Rome. We don’t know when or how Paul died. We don’t know about what happened when Barnabas and Mark set out on their missionary journey. We don’t know about the missionary efforts of Peter and the other disciples.

The story of Jesus’ continuing work is much larger than what we read in Acts and it has continued after Acts 28. If Luke has continued to write over the past two thousand years, there are millions of chapters and in 2015 we are creating more stories about how Jesus is at work and how he is using us in his work.

All through the centuries there have been partnerships as people have worked together to love people in the name of Jesus, bringing them the good news that we are loved by God and that Jesus came to rescue us.

Let me finish by talking about what it is like to receive financial support. For most of our married life Annie and I were the ones who sent money to support those in ministry and we continue to do that. We consider it a privilege to support those in ministry.

In January 2000 I came to Rabat and Annie arrived six months later. For the first ten years of my time here in Rabat I was able to support ourselves with the proceeds of the sale of my business. But then, in 2010, our financial advisor told me that because the stock market had fallen and because the value of the dollar had dropped, I needed to come back to the US and begin earning an income, or I had to raise funds to support ourselves. Over our first ten years we had been eating into our retirement funds and they were seriously depleted.

So I entered into the other side of the partnership. I began going to the US each year to visit friends and churches to see if I could raise support for my ministry in Rabat.

The first time I traveled to visit churches and friends I was very uncomfortable. I discovered that I was looking at people as though they were ATMs and if I punched in the right numbers, if I said the right things, they would dispense cash to me.

So I stopped worrying about fund-raising and began to care for the people I met. I shared what was happening in Morocco. I shared the joys and challenges of ministry in an international church in Rabat. And I relaxed, not worrying about raising funds.

And then we began receiving support from people who thought our ministry at RIC deserved support. I was humbled by the gifts people gave. It was a very different experience receiving a gift of financial support than sending a check to someone. It was very humbling to receive support from people who I admired. It was hugely encouraging to receive support from people who knew the world of missions and ministry well and considered my ministry worthy of support.

The funding that supports us here in Rabat has increased each year and this year will be the first year we have not had to dig into our retirement funds. That is great news.

But one of the things I have learned is that giving is a partnership. I approached people and churches in the first two or three years as though giving was a one-way street. They gave and I received. But then I began to understand that to give someone an opportunity to wisely invest funds is a gift to those who have funds to give.

Followers of Jesus who have money are looking for good ways to invest the money they have in ministries being used by God in his work. When there is a ministry that does that, then it allows people to use the wealth they have in good and wise ways. In the partnership that develops, I am blessed and encouraged by the gifts given to me and those who give are blessed because they have the opportunity to support me as I work with Jesus.

I am not Jesus and I am not Paul, but I am using my gifts as best I can and that makes it possible to have a blessed partnership with those who support us.

RIC is a great church. This is why I wrote my thesis on international church ministry. My experience at RIC has been so rich, I wanted to analyze it and make it available to others interested in international church ministry. (The book form of this should be available by Christmas.)

People who attend RIC experience growth in their relationship with Jesus out of proportion to the time they spend in Rabat. The ministry that takes place at RIC deserves to be written about. Churches around the world can learn from what we have experienced.

When we meet later this morning for our Semi-Annual General Meeting (SAGM) we will vote on a budget that will allow us to continue our work in Morocco. It is a challenging budget but we have great opportunities ahead of us.

The AUSF student ministry is experiencing a revival and there is great excitement as the students are reaching out to students at the universities all around this country. It is a privilege for RIC to support this ministry. The explosion of ministry AUSF has experienced this year carries with it some financial implications. We will have the opportunity to consider how we can support this ministry. There are many churches in the US and elsewhere that would love to have the opportunity we have to partner with AUSF.

I want you to be encouraged this morning that Jesus is still at work. In this world mountains fall into the heart of the sea and waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. But Jesus steadily moves into the lives of people and encourages them to turn to him.

We have the privilege of working with him. We may be people who are receiving funds to support our ministry and we may be people who are supporting others who are working in a way that we cannot. This is a privileged partnership that produces joy and blessing.

Giving is not an obligation; it is a privilege. Serving is not a duty; it is an honor.

I pray that in your serving you will see God’s pleasure in your service. I pray that in your giving you will see the privilege God has given you to be partners in ministry.