Holy Things: Giving
We are continuing our series called Holy Things and we have 3 weeks left. Last week we talked about the first practice of holy people which was prayer. Today we are going to be talking about giving.
But, before we get there, we just need to talk about money in general. As humans, especially us living in the particular place and time in history that we do, I would wager to say that we all have a misunderstanding of what money even is about.
At worst you might believe that your money is your own and you have no obligation to use your money in any way other than pleases you. Or on the other side of the spectrum, you might live by a biblical perspective on money handling by giving to the church and being a good steward of the rest. And that’s a good start, but there’s more to it than that.
Let me give you the punch line of this message upfront. The story of the Bible is a story about generosity. No words capture the essence of the Bible’s story better than
- John 3:16 (CSB) — For God loved the world in this way: He gave…
Having money in the proper place in your heart and life is not just about good budgeting and freedom from debt.
You actually know you have money in the right place in your heart when the desire to gain money has been replaced with a desire to give. As love for God and man grows in your heart, your desire to be a giver increases.
Could it be that the primary purpose for money in your life is not that you would live but that you would give?
Could it be that we need something richer than a commitment to a good budget and reasonable spending?
Could it be that true transformation of our view of money begins with the gospel of Jesus Christ who is the ultimate giver and not with a few isolated money passages taken out of the wider gospel context of John 3:16?
We need to understand the purpose of …
… within the wider Gospel story if we are ever going to understand giving and generosity.
So, I have 3 principles about money that are informed by the story of God, the Gospel. The first is that…
Money Can’t Do What You Think It Can
Just think with me for a moment. Why do you even want money?
We want to have money for a number of different reasons.
• We want money to spend on needs of life—food, shelter, clean water, clothing and things of that sort.
• We want money to spend on common luxuries—cars, televisions, landscaping, things that are not basic human needs, but so common to most people in the United States that you treat them like needs.
• We want money to spend on pleasures—vacations, eating out, going to the movies, and stuff like that.
• And a big one: we want money to save and invest so we have a sense of security for the future.
Now, none of these reasons for having money are intrinsically evil all on their own. But, what all of these things have in common is a trust that money can provide these things—that money meets needs, that money produces pleasure, that money produces security.
But, nowhere does the Bible teach that the pursuit of wealth is the means to fulfilling the needs of life. Nowhere does the Bible teach that you get the blessing of common luxurious or the pleasures of life from the pursuit of money. And nowhere does the Bible teach that you get safety and security from the pursuit of money.
In fact the scriptures teach the opposite. Let’s look at three verses regarding needs, luxuries or pleasures, and security.
In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul made this famous statement about our needs. He wrote,
- Philippians 4:19 (CSB) — And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
The principle is this: God intends to supply every one of our needs, as Christians, according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
God wants to provide for your needs so that your provision brings glory to Jesus Christ. But, read the whole passage one of these days, because Paul promises that their needs will be met right after praising the Philippian church for their sacrificial generosity. They sent money and food and clothing to Paul while he traveled in great abundance so that they themselves must have been suffering for the sake of the Gospel and thus Paul promises that their sacrifice and suffering will be returned in abundant provision from God.
See your needs are not to be met by money. In your heart and mind, do not seek money to fulfill the basic needs of life. Rather, seek God. And as you seek God, God promises to provide for every need according to His riches in Christ Jesus. You sacrifice and God provides. That’s the biblical paradigm.
Your needs are not to be met by the pursuit of money, but by God. So, stop asking money to provide for your needs. God never intended it to do that.
And second, your pleasure does not come from money, but from God.
King David, while King of Israel wrote,
- Psalm 16:11 (CSB) — You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.
Notice the context. David was not a poor man finding pleasure in God. He was a rich man who found pleasure in God. We look at a poor person as if God is all they have and it makes sense for the poor person to be thankful for life and provision and thus to cry out, “at your right hand are eternal pleasures.”
But, for a wealthy king to say such a thing is telling. That David’s wealth did not provide the pleasure he sought tells us that money on it’s own cannot give pleasure. In fact, if you’ve ever had money and you tried to get pleasure with it, you probably found that money complicates your ability to get pleasure out of life quite a bit.
Money cannot do what you think it can do. Pleasure comes from God alone. Stop asking money to provide something that God never intended it to do.
And the final one is safety and security. The reality is, the Bible does not promise you safety and security, anyway. The calling of the Christian is to radical generosity, radical sacrifice, radical obedience to Jesus, not to safety and security.
There were two brothers who were fighting over property. And one of the brothers went to Jesus to ask Him to divide their property to settle the dispute. Jesus refused, but told this story to illustrate the greed in both men’s hearts.
- Luke 12:16–21 (CSB) — “A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops?
I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there.
Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?’
“That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
I know it’s normal in our society to save for retirement so that at some point you can relax and enjoy life a little more than you did on the front side.
You can be confident if you have a good pension or enough money in your 401k that you will be able to continue to live comfortably beyond your retirement years. But, notice the folly of this practice.
Why would you spend all your life saving, building storehouses, when you don’t know when you will die? Or, when you don’t know when God will decide your time is up? I mean, aren’t the promises of God’s provision for every need applicable to the elderly and retiree? Aren’t the promises of joy and pleasure applicable to the elderly and retiree? Why do we spend our lives building storehouses, instead of generously pursuing the mission and purposes of God?
I don’t condemn the practice because of a lack of frugality or a lack of prudence. But, don’t waste your time building storehouses when the mission of God is now. Those storehouses cannot give you security if security comes from the one who gives and takes life. You are trusting money for something only God can provide and we must not ask money to do something that only God can do.
Second principle about money, and this one is quicker.
- Money Isn’t About You
Your life is not your own if you are in Christ and so, even your money isn’t about you.
Read these words from Paul in Ephesians 4:
- Ephesians 4:28 (CSB) — Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.
Here’s what this verse doesn’t say. It doesn’t say that the thief should stop steeling so that he can make an honest wage and provide for his own needs. Now, that is true. A thief who comes to Christ needs to stop steeling.
Paul and Jesus both emphasize in other places that the laborer deserves his agreed upon wages. But, here Paul goes deeper and says that the thief is not to steal, but to earn an honest wage, not so that money can provide for his needs, but so that he has something to share with anyone who is in need.
The self-centered thief is not supposed to become a white-collar self-centered worker. God’s grace is so radically transformative that the self-centered thief is supposed to become a God-centered giver. God’s purpose in money is not the provision of your own needs.
God’s got your back.
He has you covered.
Use your paycheck to buy groceries, for sure, but don’t spend all your time, money, and energy on yourself and neglect to do what God intended you to do, which is to use your time, money, and energy to give to others.
And this only makes sense, because of what we already observed from John 3:16.
‘God loves’ results in ‘God gives.’
So, if my direction as a Christian is to be like God then that means ‘Anthony loves’ must result in ‘Anthony gives.’ And likewise for you or else you ought to be concerned if you love at all.
Your love must result in the sacrifice of time, money, and energy—but don’t miss this— not from compulsion, but because of this:
- 2 Corinthians 9:6–7 (CSB) — The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver.
If you have planned to give of your time, money, and energy sparingly, then expect to reap God’s blessing sparingly. But, if you have decided to give generously, then do so, but however you give, do so out of love, Paul says, not reluctantly or out of compulsion—not because the Pastor made me feel bad—but because I love God and that overflows as a love for people so that when I give my time, my money, and my energy, I am pleased to do so. God loves a cheerful giver.
And I just grieve in my heart for those of you who lack the love to give generously. That’s really the culmination of this teaching from the scriptures. The person who does not give generously does not love in abundance. Giving without love is so painful. If you give without love, that’s giving by compulsion. I don’t want you to give because of guilt or because you think you have to. But, I pray your heart would overflow in love for people so much that you would desire to give with reckless abandon. If you don’t like that wording, I’m sorry, but that’s how Jesus gave for us, so I see no better model for giving than that.
And that leads us to our third principle of money, because if you feel like you have to give or you are guilted to give, then there’s a problem. And I believe that …
- Money Problems are Worship Problems
Money problems are not a budgeting issue or a lack of self control or credit card debt or anything like that; money problems are worship problems.
Fundamentally, worship has to do with who or what you bow to. What gets your ultimate allegiance? Or if that language is too strong What get’s priority in your life?
I stopped saying this so often, but I used to say ‘Money is fake.’ And I meant a lot of things by that. I used to say it because I just don’t believe money should ever stand in the way of doing what it is that you believe you are supposed to do in life—whether that is serve God or anything else. I counsel kids who want to go to college to take out student loans if they can’t afford the tuition and can’t get enough financial aid—not to be careless, but to take what they need to make it happen. Money can’t stand in the way of calling.
I’m no hypocrite here. I’ve left multiple paychecks, promotions, houses, and cars, behind to pursue God’s calling for my life. Money just doesn’t get to be part of the equation. It’s fake. God has tons of it, so why should I be so concerned about it? When money becomes the deciding factor in how you pursue God’s purpose for you, then money takes priority over God’s calling.
You may not make radical life changes to the degree that Jami, the kids, and I have over the years. But, maybe you should. Maybe God is calling you to loosen your grasp on money so that you can tighten your grasp on Him, whatever that needs to look like in your life. Even people with no money hold very tightly to it. But, Jesus said,
- Matthew 6:24 (CSB) — No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
When God and money conflict, who get’s priority? who’s the master?
When work and church keep coming up in conflict, week after week, who get’s your time?
When you are asked to work late and you have to miss an opportunity to serve people, who get’s your time?
What if something big comes up, like your boss at work decides he isn’t going to employ Christians? Who is going to win that battle?
Money problems aren’t money problems at the root; money problems are worship problems. And until you sort out the worship problem, giving full allegiance to Christ, you will never see any resolution or have any understanding of your money problems.
So, that’s the money talk. Money might be a part of the world we live in, but money can’t do what you think it can, money isn’t about you and any problem you have with money is not fundamentally a problem with money, it is a problem with your worship.
So, if you understand that, then we can finally begin to talk about…
… and there are three areas of giving I want to address, but we only have time for two. The first is…
Giving to the Lord’s Workers
In the Old Testament, in the book of Malachi, there was a time when the Israelites were not giving the tithe to the temple. The tithe is a word which means a 10th, but the Israelites were really supposed to give closer to a quarter or a third of their produce to the temple for the work of the temple. But, they weren’t doing it. So Malachi preached to them,
- Malachi 3:9–12 (CSB) — “You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing me. Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this way,” says the Lord of Armies. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not ruin the produce of your land and your vine in your field will not fail to produce fruit,” says the Lord of Armies. “Then all the nations will consider you fortunate, for you will be a delightful land,” says the Lord of Armies.
The principles of this text are that the priesthood should receive the necessary support from the nation to carry out the practices of worship that God requires of them as a nation. And God promised that if they were faithful to give, then He would provide, not just needs, but pleasures and security in abundance. Notice where we said needs, pleasure, and security comes from.
There were many priests and Levites that were needed throughout the year to perform all the rites and rituals of worship required in the Old Testament. The tithe was not just a paycheck for the priests. They had to raise animals and employ shepherds and farmers. They had to maintain the temple and the temple grounds. That all took a lot of money and supplies. And so God designed it that the workers and the work would be supported by the people of Israel as they give to the temple.
Now some people would say that the tithe was for the people of the Old Testament and not for us today. Others would equate the tithe with paying taxes since Israel was a theocratic nation—that is, it was ruled directly by God. But, I reject those notions, because in the New Testament, Paul pointed directly to the tithe and the temple system in order to inform the churches that they should be providing for the needs of their pastors. He wrote,
- 1 Corinthians 9:13–14 (CSB) — Don’t you know that those who perform the temple services eat the food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the offerings of the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel.
And this isn’t just about pastors, because, it goes by natural inference that the entire function of the church should be supported by the church family.
There are building costs, administrative costs, legal costs, and lots of other things that are necessary to operate a church and the church family is responsible to give to support those needs. The primary functions of the church are the organized communication of the Gospel and the organization of the worship of the church and both of those things require the time, money, and energy of those who attend in order for them to be carried out properly.
And on that point, you know, I am often told by people that they are just not able to give financially, and I get that. But, I would still ask you, if you are in that position to begin to give in some way. Consider those three things I just mentioned: time, money, and energy. And give all three, but in appropriate proportion to your circumstances.
• There are some who can give lots of time, but don’t have tons of energy. So give lots of time and the energy and money that is reasonable.
• There are some who have money, but not a lot of time. So, give more money and give less time and energy.
You’re all in a little different spot, but I’d just encourage you to use discernment to figure out the balance that is right for you. But, give all three in some proportion and give all three as generously as possible, to make sure that you are bringing into the storehouse a full share of all that you have to offer so that we can continue to do the work that God has called us to do as the church.
The second area of giving I’d like to address is…
Giving to the Lord’s People
There’s a difference, when we look at various passages about giving, between giving to bless unbelievers out in the world and caring for those who are with us in the church. One of the biggest mistakes Christians make is that they prioritize missions work—outside the church—to the detriment of the care for their own people. But, the priority of the scriptures is actually that we care for each other first and foremost.
- John 13:34–35 (CSB) — I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Our love, care, and provision for each other demonstrates to the world around us that we are following Christ. We are called to love each other supernaturally, far beyond anything that is evident in the world. Jesus said elsewhere,
- Luke 11:11 (CSB) — What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish?
The answer is no father gives a snake instead of a fish. Most fathers provide good food for their sons.
Certainly, God’s love goes far further than simply providing needs. Our care for each other should be greater or at least as great as the care we experience in our immediate families.
It’s not an overflow thing. It’s not that you give time, money, and energy to your brothers and sister in the church only if you happen to have something extra. It’s that you give, even when it hurts, because your love supersedes the love apparent in the rest of the world as a testimony of the extravagant love of God offered through Jesus Christ.
And you say, well what if I give to others and my family suffers?
And I have two answers for that. The first is, bring your family with you when you give. If you give food or money, allow your kids a share in the blessing of giving. Don’t take time away from them. Bring them. What better way to train your family up in the love of the Lord than to bring them with you as you give? If you’re helping fix a roof, if you’re preparing a meal, if you’re visiting the sick, bring your spouse and sons and daughters.
And the second answer to what if my family suffers is that they shouldn’t suffer if everyone in the church is living sacrificially. There is more than enough time, energy, and money to go around. American Christians just tend not to share it. But, the early church in Jerusalem understood this. Look at Acts 2:
- Acts 2:44–47 (CSB) — Now all the believers were together and held [shared] all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
They shared time together, they shared pooled their money, they shared food together, they were joyful and sincere in heart, worshiping together in each others homes.
And because of that incredible sacrificial love, the Lord blessed them, not just by providing for every need, but he blessed them by adding to their number daily those who were being saved. People were getting saved and joining the church because of the extravagant love that the people had for each other.
You are to give to the Lord’s workers and you also are to give to the Lord’s people. Giving to the Lord’s workers allows the church to take care of the organizational needs of the church. And giving to the Lord’s people allows the peripheral needs of the church to be taken care of—that is, the day to day needs of the church. And each one of you, if you are in Christ, and if you see your money the way God sees it, you must be involved in both.
Remember money problems are worship problems. If you just think you can’t give or you shouldn’t have to give, then that’s a worship problem. We have a giving God who gave us all things and thus we prove ourselves to be His disciples when we are giving people, when we give sacrificially to support the work of the church and to love each other.
I want to close with a story that I think illustrates this problem of worship in our giving. I’ll read from the book of Acts.
- Acts 4:32–5:11 (CSB) — Now the entire group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. For there was not a needy person among them because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of what was sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed to each person as any had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus by birth, the one the apostles called Barnabas (which is translated Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. However, he kept back part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge, and brought a portion of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds of the land? Wasn’t it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God.” When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard. The young men got up, wrapped his body, carried him out, and buried him. About three hours later, his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. “Tell me,” Peter asked her, “did you sell the land for this price?” “Yes,” she said, “for that price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Instantly she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men came in, they found her dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things.
I read this story, not to guilt you. In fact, Peter clearly said that the money was theirs to do with what they wanted. They didn’t have to give it to the church. There was no guilt, no compulsion.
The problem was with their worship. Ananias and Sapphira both died—listen carefully—because they wanted both their money and the praise of men. They wanted the church to see their generosity, but they had selfishness and greed in their hearts. They weren’t willing to repent of their bondage to money, but they also wanted to be recognized for their charity, and so they tried to deceive the disciples, they lied to them. This is a fundamental worship problem, for they loved their wealth and the commendation of men more than they loved Christ.
So, if I can leave you with anything it is this. Make sure that you are right in your heart and that you love Christ and His people above all, or else it is evident based on the testimony of scripture that you have a worship problem. And all other problems in life stem from there.
And if that is where you are at today—no matter how deep the deceit—I beg you to come to Christ for forgiveness and I beg you to repent. Christ, your Savior will not mock your foolishness. He will not tell you that you’re getting just what you deserve. He won’t tire of your mistakes or get irritated with your stubbornness. He won’t say that you are wasting his time. He won’t quit on you, turn his back on you, or walk away from you.
Rather, he is ready to lavish grace on you and on those who are lost, on rebels, on liars, and on cheaters. He pours mercy on the proud and the selfish. He doesn’t ask us to clean ourselves before we come. He wraps arms of love around broken and messed-up people. There are no hopeless cases with Christ. There is no problem that he cannot solve and no addiction that he cannot break.
Christ knows that when it comes to money, your problem is you. But, when you come to him, he will not condemn you but he will make you new as only he can. He will empower you to see money like He sees money and He will empower you to live a life of worship towards Him.
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