This 5 part study on Finances was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 1993. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.
Preachers are notorious for preaching about money. Maybe it’s because their income depends on the generosity of God’s people. But I hope it’s for a different reason, namely, that they’re preaching the Bible, which has a lot to say about money. Of the 38 recorded parables of Jesus, 16 deal with money or possessions. In the Gospels, one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
Perhaps the reason the Bible puts such an emphasis on money is because, in Jesus’ words, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). I would have thought He would have said, “Where your heart is, your treasure will be also.” But your heart follows your treasure. If you put your treasure in the things of this world, your heart will be in this world. If you put your treasure in the kingdom of God, your heart will be there. Since your heart and your money are so inextricably bound together, it is crucial to your spiritual life to study what Scripture teaches about money.
We begin today a brief series on “God, Money, and You.” In the next five weeks, I want to develop four qualities which God wants to enlarge in the life of every believer. Each quality is in opposition to the world’s perspective:
Because your attitudes toward money are closely tied in with your heart, I’ll probably offend you at some point in this series! If I do, before you stomp out mad, please stop and consider that: (1) This stuff applies to me as well as to you, so I’m struggling to apply it just as I hope you are; (2) It may be God, not me, stepping on your toes. If it’s just me, I apologize. Feel free to disagree with me. But if I’m true to Scripture, please don’t shrug it off. God calls us all to be doers of the Word, and there are few of us who don’t have room to grow on this important topic.
Today I want to talk about financial freedom. God wants us to be free from bondage to money which takes two forms:
God wants us to be free from bondage to greed and debt.
Greed and debt are two main ways we become enslaved to money. God’s answer to greed is contentment; His answer to debt is control.
Greed is a major danger whether you are rich or poor. Many who are rich got that way because the love of money was the driving force in their lives. Many who are poor love money just as much as the rich do; the problem is, they don’t have any! Of course the root problem which causes both rich and poor to be greedy is the love of self. Money (including the power, prestige, and possessions it brings) is just the means through which the person who loves himself more than God and others thinks he can live comfortably. Since we all battle the love of self, we all must be on guard against greed.
Jesus drew the line and put us all into one of two camps when He said (Matt. 6:24), “You cannot serve God and mammon.” (“Mammon” comes from an Aramaic word meaning “wealth” or “property” and refers to material riches.) If Jesus is not Lord of all your life, you are enslaved to money and greed! That sounds extreme, but Jesus didn’t allow for a middle camp, where God is sort of your Lord, where you can drop $10 in the plate whenever you feel generous, or even where you can give ten percent, but the rest is yours to spend as you please. Jesus was quite radical: “No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Either God or greed is your master; not both.
The main way greed enslaves us is through deception. If it marched up and diabolically said, “I am greed and I want to control your life,” few would fall for it. But Satan uses the desire for riches to appeal to our love of self and gradually entrap us. In the parable of the sower, Jesus explained the seed sown on the thorny ground as “the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19). The thorns of greed can choke out the seed of the Word and make you unfruitful. This deception operates in at least four ways:
(1) Greed can deceive us by gradually becoming our master. In Jesus’ parable, the thorns are different from the birds that stole the seed and the sun that scorched the plants in that thorns grow more gradually. The birds steal the seed immediately. The sun can scorch the young plants in a day or two. But it might take weeks for the thorns gradually to strangle the plant.
None of us would say, “I’m going to make money my master.” Rather, it is a gradual, subtle process. “As soon as I get the business on its feet, I’ll have more time for my family and for the Lord. But right now I need to give it some extra time.” Sure! Each one of us needs to ask ourselves honestly: Is God or is mammon my real master?
(2) Greed can deceive us by making money our focus for happiness. Paul said (1 Tim. 6:9-10), “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.” Note the deception (“snare”; “pierced themselves”; “wandered away”). Nobody deliberately steps into a snare, pierces themselves through, or gets lost. They get trapped or pierced or lost before they know it.
The delusion is based on a desire--to get rich. People often want to get rich because they think that if they just had more, they’d be happy. But how much do you need for happiness?
One of the best modern parables on this is John Steinbeck’s The Pearl [Bantam Books]. A young man on a Pacific island dreams of finding the perfect pearl and of the happiness it will bring him and his family. One day he finds it, but he discovers that instead of happiness, it makes life miserable. Everyone is after him to steal his pearl. It almost costs him his life; it does cost him his son’s life. The pearl becomes the dominating thing in his life, his master, until ... (you’ll have to read it!).
(3) Greed can deceive us if we make money our present source of trust. (See Deut. 6:10-12; 8:11-14, 17-18.) When Israel was in the wilderness, they were forced to trust God. If the manna stopped, or if God didn’t bring water from the rock, they all would have died. The spiritual danger increased when their economic danger subsided. It’s easy when you have plenty to trust your plenty instead of the Lord who can give or take away your riches.
(4) Greed can deceive us if we make money our future hope for security. “As soon as I get enough for the future, then I’ll kick back a bit,” we say. “I just want myself and my family to be financially secure.” But what is financial security? How much is enough? Those are questions every Christian must ask honestly before God and in light of His Word.
It is not wrong, and, in fact, is quite right, to save for future contingencies and needs such as retirement, illness, emergencies, and death. But how much is enough? Larry Burkett reflects the balance when he writes, “Those who make no provision for their families are clearly outside of God’s plan and suffer as a result. Those who hoard and live lavishly are also outside of God’s plan and suffer accordingly” (Christian Financial Concepts, p. 67).
Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). He then told the parable of the rich man who thought he would obtain financial security by building bigger barns to store his produce. But God required the man’s soul that very night and called him a fool because he didn’t plan for riches in heaven.
A modern version of that story is told, where a businessman had an angel visit him who promised to grant him one request. He asked for a copy of “The Wall Street Journal” one year in the future. As he was studying the stock prices and gloating over the killing he would make through his view into the future, his eye glanced across the page to the obituaries, where he saw his own name. Suddenly, that financial killing lost its significance.
The Lord is our only true source of security. With that in mind, we should prayerfully and prudently answer the question, “How much is enough?” Greed can enslave us through deceitfulness. You are either the servant of greed or of God. Be on guard!
What is God’s answer to the bondage of greed?
After warning of those who think that godliness is a means of financial gain and before warning of the danger of pursuing wealth, Paul states (1 Tim. 6:6-8), “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into this world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” In Philippians 4, Paul says that he had learned to be content in all circumstances.
I must be brief, but contentment counters each of the four ways greed can subtly enslave us:
(1) Make God the master of all you are and have. We do not have the right to use anything as if it belongs to us. All our money and everything we have belongs to the Lord; we only manage it for Him. His Word gives us the wisdom we need to be faithful in managing His resources. If we constantly reaffirm God as the owner, we will avoid the gradual encroachment of mammon as master.
(2) Make God your focus for happiness. We are to rejoice in Him whether we have much or little (Phil. 4:4, 10-13). If we think, “I’ll be happy as soon as I get ____” (fill in the blank), we’re serving mammon, not God. If we rejoice daily in the Lord, then we can be happy with much or with little.
(3) Make God your present source of trust. If you are doing well financially, be especially careful! That’s when the danger is the greatest of shifting your trust to your bank account. If God is your trust, you won’t anxiously be seeking the things the world seeks (Matt. 6:25-34) nor will you be resting comfortably in your financial security.
(4) Make God your hope for the future. Hebrews 13:5 commands us, “Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you.’” Scripture directs us to make reasonable financial plans for the future (Prov. 6:6-11). I believe that providing for our family (1 Tim. 5:8) includes carrying a moderate amount of life insurance, having a will, and enough savings or liquid investments to cover normal emergencies. But God must be our hope for the future, not our investments or financial planning.
If we will develop contentment in the Lord, we can remain free from the bondage of greed. But there’s a second form of financial bondage:
Proverbs 22:7 states, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” First Corinthians 7:23 instructs us not to become slaves of men. Romans 13:8 states, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” Going into debt puts you in bondage to pay off those debts. It makes you the tail, not the head (Deut. 28:43-44). While it would be too strong to say that the Bible forbids all debt, it does strongly caution against it.
There are a lot of definitions of debt (take your pick). I’m referring to spending more than you are taking in. If you are paying monthly installment interest on credit cards (half of American families do), in my book you’re in debt. A 1980 survey disclosed that the average American family in the 25-35 year-old bracket was spending $397 a month more than they earned. A 1975 Reader’s Digest article stated that one-sixth of married couples in the U.S. owed (apart from home mortgages) more than they earned in a year.
Debt goes hand-in-hand with greed, because it feeds off greed and self-gratification by giving us what we want now, rather than making us wait for it or work for it in advance. It reflects impulsiveness and hinders the development of discipline and self control (a fruit of the Spirit). Debt runs counter to waiting on the Lord in prayer and faith to provide what we need, reflecting a lack of pa-tience. Debt presumes on the future (our ability to repay), which the Bible says is arrogance, since we don’t control the future (James 4:13-16). Debt often reflects mismanagement and irresponsibility with the Lord’s resources. And debt creates unnecessary tension in your life and marriage. It truly is a form of bondage!
Debt also prevents us from giving generously to the Lord’s work. Ten years ago Larry Burkett stated that the average American family paid $1,000 a year in interest (not counting their house mortgage). If they were out of debt, they could give that money to the church. If only 40 families in this church gave $1,000 more per year, we could pay off the mortgage on the property next door the first year and then have more for ministry and mission needs every year after that!
If you get so far in debt that you can’t repay what you owe, it’s a bad testimony (Ps. 37:21). How can you default on your debt and tell your creditor about your Savior? Bankruptcy may be the easy way out (due to our legal system), but it doesn’t honor the Lord. What is God’s answer to debt?
Here’s a simple principle: You won’t get into debt if you don’t borrow! Control your spending habits so that you live within your means. I can’t go into detail on the pros and cons of borrowing for a home mortgage or other expensive purchases, such as a car. But on home loans, be very careful; on cars, avoid borrowing unless it’s absolutely necessary (which it seldom is). A lot of things we think are necessities are really luxuries. Christian financial counselor Ron Blue states, “Getting in debt is as easy as getting down an ice-covered mountain. Getting out of debt is just as difficult as climbing that same mountain” (Master Your Money [Thomas Nelson Publishers], p. 59).
If you’re already in debt, the only way out is to discipline yourself to spend less than you make and to use the difference to systematically meet your obligations until you’re free from debt. You can also sell off needless items and use the money to pay down your debts. Then you must continue living with self-control so that you can build up a surplus for expected future needs. If you can’t control credit card spending, do plastic surgery: Cut all your cards in half and throw them in separate trash cans so they can’t spontaneously reunite!
If you can get free from the bondage of greed and debt by developing contentment and control, you will realize a number of benefits. Here are three:
(1) Personally, you will be free from anxiety and pressure over money matters. Jesus showed the anxiety that results from living for things--worry about moths, rust, and thieves (Matt. 6:19-33). Debt and the pressure of how to hold off your creditors also causes anxiety. You don’t need that! It’s great to be free from money worries.
(2) Maritally, you will be free from strife and tension over money matters. Money is one of the leading causes of domestic unhappiness and divorce. There are enough pressures in marriage and the family without having money pressures.
(3) Spiritually, you will know that you are pleasing the Lord as His faithful steward. Pleasing God (not the other benefits) should be the primary motive for developing contentment and control in the financial realm. Also, you are free to give generously to the Lord’s work. There is the satisfaction of knowing that you are laying up treasures in heaven as you give. God promises to bless the effectual doer of the Word (James 1:25).
Are you financially free from the bondage of greed and debt? Do contentment and control characterize your financial life? If not, the only way to please God is to confess your sins, turn to His way, and begin to walk in obedience. It may take a long time and a lot of work, but you can commit yourself to begin the journey today.
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
A story is told about a not-too-honest judge who was trying a case involving two railroads. When he received the briefs from the two lawyers, they both contained bribes. The first lawyer had sent a check for $10,000. The second lawyer’s check was for $15,000. The judge looked at the two checks, thought a moment, then called his secretary. “Make out a check for $5,000 and send it to the second lawyer,” he said. “We’re going to decide this case on its own merits.”
Integrity in money matters is a rare thing. But God wants His people marked by financial integrity. The English have a saying, “A gentleman is one who uses the butter knife when he is alone.” In other words, what someone does when no one is looking indicates their true character. Integrity in money matters has to do with being honest and upright when no one is looking. It means acting according to biblical principles, even if you think you’ll never get caught, because you know that God is watching and you want to please Him.
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary ([Merriam-Webster], p. 589) states, “Integrity implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge.” If you take that definition strictly, no one has integrity, because no one is incapable of being corrupted. We’re all susceptible to temptation. But we don’t need to yield. God’s Word is clear:
A Christian must act with integrity in financial dealings.
We live in a dishonest, corrupt world. In 1980, the IRS estimated that it lost up to $26 billion a year in unreported taxes. When I worked as a room service waiter, the other waiters told me not to report all my tips or it would tip off the IRS that all the other waiters were cheating! On more than one occasion I’ve been urged to falsify loan information on real estate deals, being assured, “Everyone does it.” Since we live in that kind of world, our financial integrity as Christians will stand out and give us opportunities to testify to the transforming power of the gospel.
I would like to share four aspects of financial integrity:
This is foundational to all of life, including finances. Note Paul’s testimony (Acts 24:16): “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.” In view of what? Verse 15: In view of having a hope in God and in view of the fact of the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked! Because Paul kept in view the certainty of standing before God, he maintained a clear conscience.
The conscience is our inner warning system (“faults” alarm) that goes off when we violate our standards. A mother helping her son with his spelling words asked if he knew the difference between “conscious” and “conscience.” He said, “Sure, Mom, ‘conscious’ is when you’re aware of something; ‘conscience’ is when you wish you weren’t.”
The popular saying, “Let your conscience be your guide,” is not completely sound advice, because the conscience must be shaped by knowledge of and obedience to Scripture. If you vio-late your conscience and don’t repent, your conscience becomes hardened or calloused. If this continues unchecked, you reach a point where your conscience is seared--insensitive to right and wrong (1 Tim. 4:2). I read of a mafia hit man who said that he didn’t have the slightest twinge of conscience when he shot a man in the face at point blank range. And, although it is rare in our day, some people are on the other end of the spectrum with an over-sensitive conscience.
My associate pastor in California was standing in line at the 7-11 convenience store behind a man who had recently started attending our church. This guy was buying a six-pack of beer and $5 worth of lottery tickets. The cashier only charged him $1 for the lottery tickets. He told her that she had undercharged him and then turned and said to my associate, “After Steve’s sermon, what else could I do? I have to be honest!” His conscience wasn’t totally shaped by Scripture yet (with regard to drinking and gambling), but at least he’s was growing!
You can see Paul’s conscience in money matters in 2 Corinthians 8:19-21. He was appealing to the churches in Greece and Macedonia to raise money for the Christians in Judea who were hard hit by a famine. There were a lot of religious hucksters in Paul’s day (as in ours). It would have been much easier then than it is now to get away with unscrupulous practices. There were no laws governing contributions for charitable causes nor agencies to track down fraudulent operators. Paul easily could have skimmed from the collection for personal expenses.
But he was scrupulous to avoid any charge of profiteering from the gospel. He had the church appoint several respected men to travel with him and help administer the funds so that no one could accuse him of impropriety. He was concerned not only about what is honorable “in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (v. 21).
It is important not only what God thinks about your financial dealings, but also what people think, because it affects your testimony of the gospel. It saddens me, but I often hear comments like, “If a guy claims to be a Christian businessman, I take my business elsewhere!” Or, I’ll hear about Christians who don’t pay their bills. Integrity involves having a clear conscience before God and man in financial dealings. If you’ve done something wrong, you need to get it cleared up first with God, then by making it right with the ones you’ve wronged.
Note Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore [because you are a new person in Christ, created in righteousness and holiness of the truth], laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” Technically you could argue that this verse only applies to relationships between Christians. But in our relationships with the world, we represent the Lord Jesus who is the Truth (John 14:6); therefore we must be honest in all our financial dealings. Those in the world may never read the Gospel of John, but they read the gospel according to you!
There are at least three factors in total honesty:
I’ll tell you from personal experience, “It hurts!” It will cost you financially to be totally honest. It has cost me many times. Once I had some car repairs done and was charged for the parts but not the labor. I had to argue with the cashier to get her to see how she had undercharged me! But when she saw it, she thanked me profusely, because she would have been fired. Sometimes it will be just a few dollars you’ve been undercharged; sometimes it will be substantial. In each case it not only costs the money, but it’s inconvenient and time-consuming to have to go back and make it right. You’ll be tempted to think, “The Lord has provided this extra money for me!” But total honesty involves telling the truth, even when it costs you.
I try to use such occasions as opportunities to bear witness for Christ. People will often say, “My, you are an honest person!” I could say, “Aw, shucks, it’s nothing” and take the glory for myself. But I come back with, “No, I’m a greedy crook. But Jesus Christ is my Lord and He’s the reason I’m honest!” If I can I leave them with a gospel tract.
It’s easy to make true statements, but to omit part of the truth that would damage your cause. For example, you are selling a used car. The mechanic has informed you that a major transmission overhaul is imminent, and you have decided to unload it. The person who has come to look at it doesn’t know much about cars, and innocently asks, “Does it run well?” You reply, “The engine’s in great shape. It was rebuilt just 10,000 miles ago. And it has new tires!” But you don’t mention the transmission.
I’m not saying that you have to go out of your way to point out every minor flaw on the car. But it seems to me that Christian honesty would mean telling the prospective buyer, “Most likely the transmission is going to need an overhaul soon.”
(See Eph. 4:28). It’s easy, even for Christians, to cheat and steal. The opportunity to cheat brings out the “best” in the human ability to rationalize: At tax time we excuse our dishonesty with, “The government is so wasteful. And besides they’re ripping us off because inflation has pushed me into a higher tax bracket. And no one else reports everything, so why should I?” Or at work we think, “The company is so big, they won’t miss this little item. Besides, I work hard and they don’t pay me what I’m worth.” Or when we shop, if the checker fails to ring up an item, we excuse it by thinking, “I shop here a lot and give them a lot of business. And besides, their prices are too high anyway.”
With regard to taxes, I believe in taking every legitimate deduction. Otherwise you’re giving the Lord’s money to the government. But that does not mean knowingly cheating the government out of taxes we owe. The Bible is clear that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. And stealing pencils from work or small items from the store is still stealing. If you cheat or steal in little things, chances are you would succumb to bigger temptations if you thought you wouldn’t get caught.
It is wrong to take or make bribes. This may not be a problem for many of us because we’re not in a place where this sort of thing goes on. But some of you may be in such a place. In some jobs, bribery is almost standard operating procedure. It’s a problem for missionaries who live in countries where bribes to government official are expected.
God’s Word acknowledges that bribery often works (Prov. 17:8; 18:16; 21:14), but in the same context condemns it as evil (Prov. 15:27; 17:23; see also, Ex. 23:8; Ps. 15:5; Dan. 6:4). Integrity means maintaining a clear conscience and total honesty in all our financial dealings.
This point stems from the many biblical injunctions to love our neighbor. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:10). It also flows out of the quality of contentment regarding material things. If we are content with what we have, we will be less likely to take advantage of someone to make a profit than if we are greedy for gain. A godly man even “swears to his own hurt, and does not change” (Ps. 15:4). This principle means that if you can make a killing on a business deal, but you know that someone will be taken advantage of, you don’t do it. You can’t disregard the command to love others just because you can make a profit.
One way the modern church violates this principle (in my estimation) is by giving special honor or power to those who are large donors (see James 2:1-4). This passage means that if someone offered to give the church $500,000 to purchase a building, it would be wrong to treat him differently than anyone else in the church. That’s why I’m against naming buildings or rooms in honor of a donor. It’s wrong to cater to a big donor’s preferences so that he won’t take his money elsewhere. To do so would be to take advantage of him and to despise a poor donor, who may be just as faithful and generous in the Lord’s sight. I deliberately do not know what anybody gives to the church because I don’t want to play favorites. Each person should give as to the Lord, not to gain prestige or influence in the church.
Thus being a person of integrity in the financial realm means having a clear conscience, being totally honest, and not taking advantage of anyone.
The Bible does not directly say much about gambling. But gambling violates a number of Scriptural principles and must, therefore, be avoided by Christians. According to a 1989 poll, 63 percent said they had placed at least one be in the past year; 23 percent reported playing the lottery weekly. More than half of all Protestants and nearly half of those who said religion is very important to them reported having gambled at least once in the last year (Christianity Today [7/14/89], p. 54). Here are five reasons gambling is wrong:
The lure is, “Get something for almost nothing! Strike it rich! Today may be your lucky day!” This is opposed to the contentment which is to mark the Christian and it makes money the focus. But whenever material gain becomes uppermost in our minds, Jesus Christ has been dethroned.
Gambling feeds greed. You see somebody hit the jackpot at the slot machines or you hear about the guy who wins $1,000,000 in the lottery and you think, “That could be me! Think what I could do with all that money!” Your thoughts are seldom, “Think of all the missionaries I could support.” But Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
There is a principle in the Scriptures of work and of being rewarded for honest labor (1 Tim. 5:18). Gambling is the idea of getting something for nothing. It treats money lightly (“Easy come, easy go”) instead of attaching the value of labor and the responsibility of stewardship to money.
Our money is not ours. All we have is entrusted to us by God, to be managed for Him. We must give an account to Him someday of how we have used the things He has entrusted to us. If I entrusted my funds to you to manage for me while I was on a lengthy trip, would you be a good steward if you gambled with it? Hopefully, you would take good care of it because it did not belong to you. Gambling is opposed to good stewardship.
Our God is not a God of chance. Evolutionists believe that we are the product of chance, but we believe that we are the product of divine choice. There is no such thing as luck for the Christian. To gamble is to deify luck and chance above the sovereign God and thus fall into idolatry.
It takes advantage of those who lose. To attempt to make a profit out of somebody else’s loss is the antithesis of loving our neighbor. And gambling takes advantage of those who become enslaved to it. In 1980 there were already over 500 chapters of Gamblers Anonymous in our country. To be involved in a practice which enslaves so many and which potentially could enslave you is dangerous at best.
Thus for these reasons I believe that Christians, as people of financial integrity, should be opposed to all forms of gambling.
God wants us to be people of integrity in our financial dealings. Following God’s way will cost you financially. But it will give you a clear conscience before God and men. Your family will respect you because of your convictions and will follow your leadership in other areas as well because of that respect. Your children will see the reality of your faith and follow your example. And you will have true joy which money cannot buy.
Here are some practical steps of action:
An evangelist preached with great zeal on the text, “Thou shalt not steal.” He pressed upon his audience the necessity of absolute integrity in all things. The next morning he boarded a bus and gave the driver a dollar bill for his fare. Counting his change, he found that he had received an extra dime. He could have said, “No big deal, I’ll just forget it; anyway, it wasn’t my fault.”
But without hesitation he went to the driver and said, “You gave me a dime too much.” “Yes, I know,” was the reply. “I did it on purpose to see what you would do! Last night I was in your audience and heard your sermon. I’ve always been suspicious of Christians. So when I recognized you this morning, I said, ‘If he practices what he preaches, I’ll go hear him again, but if he keeps the dime, I’ll know he’s a fake.’” That man did go back to the meetings and yielded his life to Christ as Savior and Lord. He was won by a ten-cent testimony! (From “Our Daily Bread,” Fall, 1978.)
The world is often looking, even when we aren’t aware of it. And God always is looking. That’s why we must be people of integrity in all our financial dealings.
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Around the turn of the century a magazine editor needed a bit more copy for an issue. So the night before the deadline, he sat down and typed out an article. He ran it on the back page, without a title.
He didn’t think much more about it until a few weeks later, when requests for that issue of the magazine started to pour in. When he checked as to why that issue was so popular, he discovered that people wanted that titleless article he had hastily banged out the night before his deadline.
The trickle of requests turned into a stream and then a flood. He got requests for 10, 100, 1,000 copies. He was just a small-time operator, and soon it looked as if he would have to be running full-time just to meet the demands for the back issue with that particular article. Then he got a request for 100,000 copies from the president of a large railroad. The editor replied that it would take him two years to fill that order. The railroad president persisted until he obtained permission to have the article printed at his own expense.
Somehow the article found its way into the hands of a Russian army officer, who ordered copies for every member of the Russian army. The Russians were at war with the Japanese at the time, and the article found its way into the Japanese army, where again it was printed for every soldier. In the final analysis, millions of copies of this article were distributed around the world.
What subject could possibly elicit that kind of response? Why did so many leaders want that article for those who served under them?
The article subsequently gained the title, “A Message to Garcia.” It concerned an incident in the Spanish-American War. The President had wanted a particular message delivered personally to a general named Garcia who was in the interior of Cuba. A man under the President had just taken the message from the President and, without fanfare, without questioning why, without procrastination or complaining, had taken the message through enemy lines, into the difficult mountainous terrain, had found Garcia, and delivered the message. The article was simply an essay extolling the faithfulness of that unnamed man who did his job well without anyone needing to harangue him about it.
The reason there was such an overwhelming demand for the article on the part of leaders in business and in the military was because there is such a lack of people who are faithful enough to pick up a task they have been assigned, to do it well, and to follow through without complaint or harassment.
This rare quality--faithfulness-should not be rare among God’s people. It is, in fact, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22); and, it applies directly to our handling of money. Not only do we need to trust in God; He should be able to trust in us because we have proven ourselves to be faithful. The testing ground for faithfulness is money:
Christians must be faithful in financial matters.
Here are four biblical facets of financial faithfulness:
The psalmist proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1). Jesus pointedly said that our money is not ours, but “that which is another’s” (Luke 16:12 in context), namely, God’s. God is the true owner of everything and everyone. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (= material possessions, riches; Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13). He clearly means that either God or money is our master, but not both. There is no middle ground.
Thus one of the fundamental biblical principles in the realm of money is: I do not own anything; I only manage the money and possessions that God has entrusted to me. God does not own just ten percent, so that I’m free to spend the rest as I please. He owns it all, money and possessions. This concept has several ramifications:
Paul said that it is required of stewards (managers) that one be found trustworthy (1 Cor. 4:2). I was taught that if I borrow or use something belonging to someone else, I should treat it more carefully than even my own things, so that I can return it to the owner in good condition. That is especially true if the owner is God!
Proverbs 27:23-24 exhorts us, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations.” In other words, possessions do not manage themselves. You must take care of your money and possessions, even if you are a king, or you will lose them. To be irresponsible with money or things is to be an unfaithful manager.
I’m often shocked by the way that Christian parents fail to teach their children to respect both their own and others’ property. We built a new church building in California, and I once saw some boys having a contest to see who could put a scuff mark with their shoes the highest on the wall! Someone gave me several large bags full of “gummy bears” candy, which I thought the kids would enjoy. I ended up throwing most of it away, because instead of eating it, the kids used them for ammunition (so that they got trampled into the carpet) and for sticking to the walls.
One couple, who graciously let the high school group meet in their home, told me that the kids would often step onto their couch to climb over it in order to get to another part of the living room, rather than walk around! Why aren’t parents teaching kids respect for property? Church buildings and property as well as personal possessions and money do not belong to us, but to the Lord. We need to treat these things responsibly. The fact that we are not to live for money or things does not imply that we are free to be negligent or irresponsible.
As long as I’m being responsible and careful with what God has entrusted to me, when something beyond my control happens, it is not my problem. It’s God’s “problem”!
Many years ago, my office was at home. A woman from the church had been to see me. I watched out the window as she backed up her big car, and I winced as I saw my beautiful Mustang get bumped. Apparently she didn’t even realize what happened, because she just drove off. I went out and looked, and sure enough, there was a fresh crease in my fender. This woman had enough problems that I didn’t feel I should talk to her about what she had done. I remember feeling more grief than anger, because I thought, “Lord, this is Your car, and if that’s how You want to treat it, that’s Your business!” If it had been my car, I would have been a lot more bothered! Seeing it as God’s car relieved the pressure.
Note Luke 16:10-12. Jesus’ point is not, if you’re faithful with a little money, God will give you more money to manage. Neither is His point that if you’re faithful in some trivial job, God will give you a more important job (although both statements may be true). To interpret this passage correctly you must see that money is the “little thing” and that the “much” is the “true riches,” namely, heavenly riches which can’t be taken away. In the context of the parable, true riches are the souls of people who have been won to Christ through your faithful and wise use of money.
In other words, God views our faithfulness in managing the money He entrusts to us as the practice game. Money is a “little thing” to God, although it’s not to us! If we goof off in the practice game with the little thing (money), God isn’t going to put us in the big game (entrusting us with spiritual oversight of the souls which Jesus purchased with His blood). That’s why one requirement for elders is that they be good managers of their households, which includes finances (1 Tim. 3:1-7). If they aren’t faithful with the little matter of money, they won’t be faithful with the big matter of souls.
This means that if you desire to be used of God in evangelism and discipling others, you need to get your financial life in order. It also means that God will not bless our church with converts and solid growth unless we, the members, get our financial houses in order. If you want to advance in terms of responsibility in God’s service, prove yourself faithful in money matters and the Lord will give you true riches. To be faithful in finances, I must operate as the manager of God’s resources, not as the owner.
Managers must know and carry out the will of the owner. Managers are not free to take a business any way they choose, unless the owner has given them that prerogative. They must work closely with the owner, under his direction, to find out how he wants his business managed and then to carry out his purpose.
In Luke 16:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of the unrighteous manager (or steward). Many have puzzled over this story in that, at first glance, it seems that Jesus is praising a crook. But Jesus explains the point in verse 9: “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” In other words, use your money to win souls.
Jesus praised the shrewdness (not the crookedness) of the steward because he took the long-range view. He saw that his stewardship was quickly coming to an end. Thus he used what had been entrusted to him in the present to secure a comfortable living for himself in the future. Even so, our stewardship of this life is temporary; “unrighteous mammon” will fail. We will soon give an account of our stewardship. If we (“sons of light”) were as shrewd as the “sons of this age,” we would use “unrighteous mammon” (money and possessions), entrusted to us in the present, to win people to Jesus Christ, so that in the future when this earthly stewardship ends, we will be welcomed into heaven by all those who have been won through our wise use of money.
This means that a primary way that the Owner wants His managers to use their money is to further His kingdom. Years ago, Billy Graham received a copy of a letter sent by a young man to his fiancee, breaking off their engagement because he had become a Communist. It said in part:
We Communists ... live in virtual poverty. We turn back to the party every penny we make above what is absolutely necessary to keep us alive.
We Communists don’t have the time or the money for many movies or concerts or T-bone steaks or decent homes or new cars. We’ve been described as fanatics. We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one great overshadowing factor--the struggle for world Communism. We Communists have a philosophy of life, which no amount of money could buy. We have a cause to fight for, a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty, personal selves into a great movement of humanity, and if our personal lives seem hard or our egos appear to suffer through subordination to the Party, then we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us in his small way is contributing to something new and true and better for mankind. (Billy Graham, Call to Commitment [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association], pp. 1-2, cited in Teacher’s Manual for the Ten Basic Steps Toward Christian Maturity [Campus Crusade for Christ], p. 389).
I wonder, could somebody tell by looking at your checkbook and the way you spend your money that are a manager for the Owner who is not willing that any should perish, but wants some from every tongue and tribe and nation to come to faith in Jesus Christ? A faithful manager keeps the owner’s objectives in mind.
No owner is pleased with a lazy manager who doesn’t follow directions. To please our Owner, we must work hard and follow the instructions He gives us in His Word about money. I touch briefly on four areas:
See 2 Thess. 3:8, 10-12; Acts 20:34-35; Prov. 6:6-11; 24:30-34. Hard work should not be mistaken for overwork! The Bible extols working hard; it condemns making a god out of your work. But so many people have never learned to work hard when they work. They play at their work, wasting time with unproductive things; and then they feel guilty when they take time off, so they don’t enjoy that.
See 2 Thess. 3:6-12; Acts 20:34-35; 1 Tim. 5:8. We are responsible before God to work hard to provide for personal and family needs and to have extra for someone unable to work due to physical inability. If we do not provide for our families, Paul says that we’re worse than unbelievers, since even those who have never heard of Christ work to provide for their families.
See 2 Thess. 3:7, 11 (“undisciplined”); Luke 14:28-30 (building a tower, count the cost in advance); Prov. 27:23 (“know well”; “pay attention”). If you owned a company and your manager didn’t keep good records of business transactions, everything would soon be utter chaos. You wouldn’t know whether you were making a profit or a loss, whether money had been set aside for taxes, whether employees’ paychecks would bounce, or what inventory you had.
Yet many Christians are disorganized when it comes to personal finances. If they had to give account to the Owner, they’d get fired! Being orderly means having some sort of family budget, so that you’re not wondering where the money went; you’re telling it where to go. It means having a filing system for records (not a piling system!), so that you can give an account to the government at tax time. It means having a current will, so that your family is cared for in case of your death. It means giving in a systematic, planned way, not just when the impulse grabs you. It means saving for needs that will arise (like car repairs).
The principle of not wasting God’s resources runs throughout the Bible, but is personified in the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 (esp. vv. 13, 14, 16, 19, 24). By resourcefulness, I mean being thrifty and efficient, not wasting things, shopping carefully, getting the most for your money, and fixing things rather than throwing them away whenever you can. While it can be carried to extremes, Christians should be concerned about ecology. Wasting the earth is a violation of good management.
Thus financial faithfulness means operating as the manager, not the owner; keeping the owner’s objectives in mind; being hard-working and obedient.
See Matt. 24:45-46. It doesn’t do any good to start as good managers if we get sloppy and don’t follow through. Setting up a budget is a start; sticking to it and making it work is financial faithfulness. Promising to give systematically is wonderful; doing it is faithfulness to the Owner. Jesus said that the faithful servant is the one whom his master found doing his job when he returned.
A pastor was asked to define “faithful church involvement.” He replied: All I ask is that we apply the same standards to our church activities that we apply to other areas of life. If your car started three out of four times, would you call it a faithful car? If your paper boy skipped Mondays and Thursdays, would you call him faithful? If you didn’t show up at work two or three times a month, would your boss call you faithful? If your refrigerator quit a day every now and then, would you say, “Oh well, it works most of the time”? If your water heater greeted you with cold water one or two mornings a week when you were in the shower, would you say it was faithful? If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year’s time, would your mortgage company say, “Ten out of twelve isn’t bad”? And yet we’re hit and miss about our giving, our involvement in ministry and worship, and we somehow think we’re being faithful!
When we talk about giving our life for Christ, it sounds glamorous. We think of something big, something dramatic, maybe like Corrie ten Boom’s story, or some adventurous missionary saga, maybe even martyrdom. Someone put it this way, “We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table: Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.”
But the reality for most of us is that He sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there: Listen to the hurting person’s troubles, rather than saying, “I’m too busy.” Going to a committee meeting when you’d rather stay home. Giving a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory. Its harder to live faithfully little by little over the long haul (from Leadership [Fall, 1984], p. 47).
Your response to this message may be to feel overwhelmed. Your management of the finances God has entrusted to you is so bad that you don’t know where to begin. Don’t let the enormity of the task make you procrastinate. Ask God to help you pick the most important area first, and begin there. Perhaps you’ve been acting as the owner, squandering everything on yourself; you need to turn your finances over to the true Owner and start managing it for Him. Maybe you need to work on a budget that is in line with the Owner’s priorities. Perhaps you need to set up a filing system or a will. Maybe you’re sloppy about giving to the Owner’s cause.
Whatever the area, start being faithful there. Remember, if you’re not faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, God will not entrust the true riches to you (Luke 16:11)! If you are faithful, you will someday hear the joyous words, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
“It would be political suicide to give that speech,” said an aide to his boss. “He’s right, Senator,” chimed in another aide. “It’s just one clear-cut statement after another” (Morrie Brickman, Reader’s Digest [4/83]).
It’s probably suicidal for a pastor to preach on why you should not tithe! It’s risky at best, because some may hear the part about not tithing and block out the rest of the message! I would guess that if everyone who came regularly to this church gave ten percent to the church, our income would probably triple, at least! So why am I not preaching instead on why you should tithe?
The answer is that tithing is not the New Testament standard for giving. Perhaps more than any other factor, giving reflects the condition of our hearts: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). You can fake some things, but you can’t fake giving your money! You may get mad at me, but I’m going to give it to you straight: If you give ten percent or less of your income to the Lord’s work, in most cases it reflects a lukewarm heart toward God. I used to give ten percent and thought I was doing fine. Then I made the mistake of preaching on giving! I discovered that God’s Word teaches that ...
We should not tithe because God wants us to give generously, and tithing is the bare minimum.
Our God is a generous, giving God who so loved the world that He gave that most precious gift, His only begotten Son. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). As God’s people who are to be like Jesus, we are to be generous givers.
The Bible teaches that God, who richly has supplied us with all good things, wants us “to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18). But what does generosity mean? Isn’t giving 10 percent of my income to the Lord’s work being generous? If not 10 percent, how much should I give?
Many churches promote a concept called “storehouse” tithing, based on Malachi 3:10, where God tells Israel to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” They teach that the local church is the storehouse, the tithe belongs to God, and His blessing is conditioned upon faithfulness in tithing. One pastor in a church near me in California preached that if his people weren’t giving ten percent to that church, they were in sin and needed to go home and repent!
Before I critique this view, let me point out that there are some commendable points regarding tithing: (1) Those who tithe are often acting in obedience to what they believe God has commanded. (2) Tithing gets some to increase what they give. (3) Tithing helps consistency and discipline in giving. But consider these seven reasons why tithing is not God’s standard for Christians:
Romans, Galatians, and other New Testament passages make it clear that Christians are not under the law of Moses. That does not mean that we are lawless, because we are under the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:20-21; James 1:25; 2:8, 12; Rom. 13:8-10). Those aspects of the Mosaic law that reflect the moral character of God are valid under the New Covenant and are repeated as commands in the New Testament. But the church is never commanded to tithe.
Those who argue for tithing point out that Abraham and Jacob both tithed prior to the Mosaic law (Gen. 14:20; 28:22). Thus tithing supersedes the law, they argue. If the New Testament gave no further guidelines, that might be a valid point. But it does, as I will show. But there are other practices, such as circumcision and sabbath-keeping which pre-date the Law and yet are not binding on us.
If you examine the references to Abraham’s and Jacob’s tithing, you will see that God did not command them to tithe and there is no indication that this was their regular practice. On one occasion after a victory in battle, Abraham tithed the spoils from that battle, but nothing is said regarding his other possessions or his regular income (Gen. 14:20). To follow Jacob’s example would be wrong, because he was making a conditional vow before God, promising that if God would keep him safe and provide for him, then he would give God a tenth (Gen. 28:20-22). That’s hardly a good example to follow in giving! Tithing was required under the Mosaic Law, but believers are not under the Law.
In the Old Testament, there was both required and voluntary giving. The tithe was required. It was commanded for every Israelite to fund national worship and help the poor. In actuality, there was not just one tithe, but rather two or three ( Lev. 27:30-33, Num. 18:20-21;  Deut. 12:17-18;  Deut. 14:28-29), so that the total was not 10 percent, but more like 22 percent (see Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life [Moody Press], p. 86). Thus if we are required to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse today, we had better up the percentage from 10 to 22 percent!
G. F. Hawthorne writes (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [Zondervan], 3:854:
Since the tithe played such an important part in the OT and in Judaism contemporary with early Christianity, it is surprising to discover that never once is tithing mentioned in any instructions given to the church. Jesus mentions scribes and Pharisees who tithe ..., but he never commanded his disciples to tithe. The writer to the Hebrews refers to Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek and Levi paying his tithe to Melchizedek through Abraham ..., but he never taught his readers to follow their example. Paul writes about sharing material possessions to care for the needs of the poor ... and to sustain the Christian ministry .... He urges and commends generosity ... but never once does he demand, as a command from God, that any specific amount be given.
If tithing is to be practiced by the Christian church, it seems strange that Paul did not mention it when he wrote of giving, especially to the predominately Gentile churches which would not be familiar with the Old Testament.
By itself this is not decisive, but it lends weight to the biblical arguments. If the early church practiced tithing, then the concept should surface somewhere in the writings of the church fathers of the second and third centuries. But it does not, even though giving was an important part of early Christian worship (see Hawthorne, pp. 854-855).
Tithing emphasizes your obligation to God; New Testament giving, as we shall see, emphasizes your willing, loving response to God’s grace. Furthermore, tithing limits giving by making a person feel that he has paid his dues (so to speak) and thus nothing more is required, when, in fact, much more could be done. Tithing has a tendency to put a person on a legal basis with God, rather than a love relationship. It’s the wrong emphasis.
It leads to the notion that 10 percent is God’s money and 90 percent is my money. In reality, 100 percent is God’s money, and He may want me to channel 90 percent into His work and live on 10 percent. Tithing can be a bad rut.
If a man with a family of five makes $20,000 a year and tithes, he has $18,000 (apart from taxes) to support five people. If a childless couple makes $100,000 a year and tithes, they have $90,000 (apart from taxes) to support two people. That would be burdensome to the man with five mouths to feed, but ridiculously easy for the couple.
There are seven reasons that argue against tithing. Then what is God’s standard for giving?
When you say “grace,” a lot of people, unfortunately, connect it with hang-loose, undisciplined living. But that is not grace! Nor is grace the balance point between legalism and licentiousness. Rather grace (as a system) is totally opposed both to legalism and licentiousness, which are two sides of the same coin.
Legalism and licentiousness both operate on the principle of the flesh. Legalism is an attempt to earn standing with God through human effort and leads to pride or condemnation, depending on how well you do. Licentiousness casts off restraint and lives to gratify the flesh.
But God’s grace is His unmerited favor based on Christ’s sacrifice. The motivating power in grace is the indwelling Spirit of God. The person under grace responds out of love and gratitude to God and depends upon the indwelling Holy Spirit to conform his life to what God requires. With that basic understanding of grace, let me spell out some things that grace giving is not, and then some things that grace giving is.
(1) Random and irresponsible. It does not mean that you give every now and then, hit and miss; rather (as we shall see next week), it is planned and systematic (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7).
(2) Based on feelings. Being under grace does not mean living by feelings. Living under grace means walking by faith and obedience in response to God’s love. There are many commands under grace.
(3) Usually less than the requirement of the law. God’s grace should motivate us to excel far more than the minimum under the law (1 Cor. 15:10).
(4) Giving God the leftovers. God deserves the best, not just what is convenient. If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then we won’t just give Him what’s left over after the bills are paid. He deserves first place.
Thus grace giving is not sloppy, irresponsible, haphazard giving whenever we feel like it.
(1) God’s example in Christ (2 Cor. 8:9). Aren’t you glad that God did not just give a tenth! He gave all. The Lord Jesus Christ was infinitely rich. He dwelled in the unimaginable splendor of heaven, apart from the sin and corruption of this world. But He gave that up, laid aside His privileges, and took on human flesh. He could have chosen to be born as a prince in palatial splendor. But instead He was born and lived in poverty. He ultimately impoverished Himself to the maximum by taking upon Himself the sin of the human race in order that we might become rich (2 Cor. 5:21).
Grace giving looks to the nail-pierced hands of the Lord Jesus, who gave Himself so that we might be rescued from the wrath of God, and says, “Lord, You gave all for me! What can I give back to You?”
(2) The concept of stewardship. “You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price ...” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). All that we are and have belongs to God, not just a tenth. I am merely the manager of His resources. As a good manager, I use the Owner’s resources to further His work (see Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 11:27-30 for some examples).
(3) Inner motivation, not outward compulsion (2 Cor. 8:3-5; 9:7). Motive and attitude are crucial. It is better to give a small amount based on a loving response to God’s grace than it is to give a large amount based on outward pressure or pride. Note the attitude of the Macedonian believers: they had an abundance of joy (2 Cor. 8:2); they gave of their own accord (8:3); they begged with much entreaty for the favor (8:4!); first they gave themselves to the Lord (8:5); they had both the readiness and desire (8:10-12, 9:2); they gave cheerfully, not grudgingly or under compulsion (9:7).
We should not think, “How much do I have to give?” but rather, “How much can I give?” We should not wait for someone to pressure us with a need; we should look for needs that we can meet (8:4). I look for and give to Christian organizations or workers that do not pressure donors with desperate appeals for funds. You almost don’t notice these workers because there are so many pleading for your money so that they “won’t go off the air next week.” May I say, “Let them go off the air!” Christians ought to give based upon inner motivation, not outward pressure. Grace giving is based on ...
(4) A new relationship with the Holy Spirit, not the old dispensation of the Law. Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Galatians 5:18 says, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” The context of both passages shows that Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit leading the believer into righteous, godly living. In Galatians, such righteous living is spelled out in the context, in part, as sharing financial resources (6:6, 10).
It’s easier in some ways to follow a set of rules. Just give your 10 percent and that takes care of the matter. But God wants us to be led by the Holy Spirit. That’s kind of scary! The Holy Spirit might want me to give 35 percent or who knows how much! But the point is, I am not living by rules, but in a relationship with the living God.
(5) How much God has prospered you. How much should you give? How much has God prospered you? (Note 1 Cor. 16:2, “as he may prosper”; Acts 11:29, “in the proportion that [they] had means”; 2 Cor. 8:3, 11, 12). Generally, they gave according to their ability, and in some cases beyond their ability. Sometimes you should give sacrificially. (We will look at that next week.) But the general principle is, give as God has prospered you.
When God entrusts you with more money, instead of spending it on more junk that you have to protect from moths, rust, and thieves, you should ask, “Lord, how do you want this money used in Your kingdom?” As God gives you more, you should increase the percentage you give, not just the amount. If you have enough to live comfortably, then invest the rest where God pays guaranteed, eternal dividends.
But here’s the catch: we need to start giving where we’re at, and not put it off until someday when we’re rich. The Macedonians gave in the midst of a great ordeal of affliction, out of deep poverty (2 Cor. 8:2). Jesus commended the poor widow who gave all she had to live on, but He was not impressed with the large gifts of the rich, because they had much left over (Mark 12:41-44).
George Muller is remembered as a man who received millions of dollars to support his orphanage, in response to secret prayer, without making any needs known to others. What many don’t know is that Muller gave away vast amounts to the Lord’s work out of funds that were given for his personal support. From 1870 on, he personally contributed the full support for about 20 missionaries with the China Inland Mission. From 1831-1885, he gave away 86 percent of his personal income! As the Lord prospered him, he could have lived in style. But he lived simply and gave away the rest.
Generosity and grace giving are built on the qualities we have already studied. If you’re free from bondage to greed and debt, you won’t be enslaved to money. If you’re a person of integrity and if you’re faithful as a manager, not the owner, of your money, then when God supplies you with more, you will prayerfully channel anything above personal and family needs into His kingdom.
In this church, we don’t use pressure or gimmicks to get people to give. I want your giving to be between you and God, based on your response to the love He has shown you at the cross. Also, I want to encourage each of you to refuse to give to any organization that uses pressure and fund-raising gimmicks. If you believe in the work of this church, then give generously as God has prospered you, out of love for Him.
Don’t assume that because we don’t use pressure we don’t have needs. I believe it is legitimate to inform the church family about needs so they can give wisely. We have needs: to meet our monthly budget; to get some better office equipment; to pay off the mortgage on the house next door so that we can use it and the house across the street for ministry; to buy more property for adequate parking; to pave the lot behind the church. We have to turn away missionaries who need support. I believe the way to meet these needs is to help God’s people get their hearts right before Him and to teach what His Word says about money and giving. As we respond to God’s grace by giving generously, the needs will be met.
A farmer who was not much concerned with spiritual matters once went to hear John Wesley preach. Wesley was preaching about money and he soon had the farmer’s attention, because his first point was, “Get all you can.” The farmer nudged his neighbor and said, “This is unusual preaching! I’ve never heard the likes of this before. This is good!” Wesley talked about hard work and purposeful living.
His second main point was, “Save all you can.” The farmer became more excited. “Did you ever hear anything like this?” he exclaimed. Wesley denounced waste and extravagance. The farmer was quite happy, thinking, “I do all this.”
But then Wesley advanced to his third point, which was, “Give all you can.” “Oh, dear! Oh, dear!” moaned the farmer. “He has gone and spoiled his sermon.”
I hope you don’t think that I have spoiled this series on money by saying, “Give all you can.” God has given all for us; He wants us to be cheerful, generous givers who respond to His grace.
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
In 1987, Chet Atkins and Margaret Archer wrote a song that was sung by country star, Ray Stevens, which went in part: “If he came back tomorrow, there’s something I’d like to know. Would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?”
That same year, a well-known religious personality told his TV audience that if they didn’t give $8 million to his fund-raising campaign, God would call him home. Folk singer Arlo Guthrie commented wisely on this when he said, “I firmly believe we shouldn’t negotiate with any terrorist on any level” (both of above in Newsweek [5/4/87], p. 17).
TV religious hucksters have given a bad name to Christian giving. Because of such abuse, pastors may be afraid to deal with this important subject. But we need to be clear on what Scripture teaches about giving. Last week I answered the question, “How much should I give?” by saying that only giving a tenth is, in most cases, to fall short; rather, God wants us to give generously as He has prospered us.
This week I want to conclude our series by answering five other questions that will help us give God’s way: (1) Who should give? (2) Why should I give? (3) How should I give? (4) To whom should I give? (5) What will happen when I give?
Giving is a privilege and responsibility for those who have received from God the gift of eternal life. But it is wrong for churches or other Christian ministries to appeal to unbelievers for funds. Third John 7 mentions Christian workers who “went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.” Unbelievers cannot offer good works to God. It is wrong to give an unbeliever any basis for thinking that he can gain merit before God by giving or any other good deed.
Unbelievers frequently gripe that the church is always after their money. They are right in one sense: God is after their money, because their hearts are bound up with their treasure, and God wants their hearts to be devoted to Him. The fact that they resent giving shows the condition of their hearts. But we need to make it clear that if a person has not given his heart to God in response to God’s giving His Son on the cross to pay the penalty for his sins (2 Cor. 8:5), then we do not want him to give to the Lord’s work. Giving should be a thank offering to God, and a person outside of Christ cannot properly give such an offering (Heb. 13:16).
Giving is for believers, and it should be done by all believers. Poor Christians as well as rich should give to the Lord (2 Cor. 8:2; Luke 21:1-4). That is one reason it is wrong to be in debt, because you aren’t free to give generously when you owe creditors. But even if you can’t give much, you aren’t exempt from giving. Those who are supported in Christian ministry are not exempt either. In fact, they should set the example (Acts 20:35).
In giving, motivation is crucial. There are many ...
(1) Pride. If you give to be honored by men for your great generosity, you are giving for the wrong reason. Giving is to be done in secret before God (Matt. 6:1-4). Naming buildings or putting up plaques in honor of donors violates this principle.
(2) Guilt. We should not give because we feel guilty about having so much. If we’re not being good stewards of what God has entrusted to us, then we should repent and give from the right motivation.
(3) Greed. Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you,” is wrongly used to motivate people to give so that they will get. Jesus is not promising that if you give, God will give you more in return. He is stating the principle that if you are a generous person, others will be generous toward you. But you may give and be impoverished because you gave.
(4) Pressure. Responding to high-pressure tactics of Christian fund-raisers is another wrong motive. We are not to give “under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7).
(5) Gimmicks. This is related both to greed and pressure. All sorts of gimmicks are used to get people to give: “For your donation, I’ll send you my latest book.” I get fund-raising phone calls, where I’m told I can charge it on my Visa! I’ve been told that if I will give, the names of my loved ones will be entered in a special book to be placed in the lobby of the new building! Or, the worst is, “We’ll send you a special prayer cloth, blessed by brother so-and-so.” These are all worldly gimmicks, opposed to biblical giv-ing.
(6) Power. Money is power. Some people threaten to take their large gifts elsewhere if you don’t do what they want. That may be how politics operates, but that isn’t how God’s church operates. It’s wrong to show preference to the wealthy (James 2:1-9). It’s sin to use your money to try to buy spiritual influence (Acts 8:18-24).
(1) I give because God has given to me. I mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating because it is the prime motive in grace giving. God has given us everything (James 1:17). He gave His Son to provide for our salvation. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). He “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Because He has given so abundantly to us, we should respond by giving generously back to Him.
(2) I give because I want to please God. Out of response to God’s grace in my life, I will want to please God by pursuing various spiritual goals:
*I want God to be glorified. God is glorified when we give from the right motives and in the right way (2 Cor. 9:13). God’s glory is the overarching goal of the Christian life.
*I want my heart to be right before God. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). Your heart follows your treasure. If I want my heart concerned with the things of God, then I must invest in His work.
*I want God to be my master. “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). Generous giving loosens your grasp on money.
*I want my life to be used by God (2 Cor. 9:10). God could have chosen to work apart from us, but He did not. He could have used angels or loudspeakers from heaven to spread the gospel, but He chose to use us. And it takes money to further God’s work. If you don’t give, God will use someone else and you’ll miss the blessing of being used of God.
*I want to lay up treasures in heaven. Investments on earth are insecure and transitory. Investments in heaven are secure and eternal. There is no more sound investment than that of reaching people with the good news of Christ. God credits money which we give to further His kingdom as fruit to our account, and He will reward us for it someday (Matt. 6:4; 19-20; 1 Tim. 6:19).
*I want my faith to grow (2 Cor. 9:8-11). God will provide money for you to give if you will trust Him for it. If you are willing to be a channel for God’s resources, He will give you money to give. But if you bottle it up and keep it for your own comforts, the flow will dry up. Ask God to give you money to give. Then make sure you give it!
*I want to be a compassionate person (1 John 3:17; James 2:15-16). In a day like ours, when we’re hit with so many needs from all over the world, it’s easy to close up your heart and not give at all. I know we can’t respond to every poor person around the world, but we need to do all we can to show compassion in the name of Christ (Matt. 25:31-46).
*I want to be a worshiper of God. Giving is a sacrifice that pleases God (Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:16). King David knew the connection between giving and worship. He said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). I like to give enough that it pinches our lifestyle. If it’s convenient, it’s not worship. Worship is costly.
Thus because God has given so abundantly to me, and because I want to please Him, I am motivated to give cheerfully and generously to His work.
There are several basic principles of giving:
(1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7). “As he may prosper” implies that whenever I receive income, I should give. “The first day of the week” implies regular giving as an act of worship. “Just as he has purposed” implies advance planning, not giving on impulse. In response to God’s grace, each household ought to sit down and determine a fixed amount they believe God wants them to give, and then follow through systematically. You should not wait until the offering plate is coming down the aisle and then think, “Oh no! I haven’t given for a while. I’d better drop something in.”
How do you arrive at the percentage? Pray about it and start with something above ten percent. Then trust God by increasing the percentage each year, especially if you get a raise. Warning: You’ll be tempted to spend the extra on yourself! Give it as the firstfruits, off the top, and trust God to meet your other needs.
As I already mentioned, giving because of pride, power, or human recognition are wrong. Jesus says that we are to give in secret, but with the awareness that God is watching (Matt. 6:1-4). Every time you give, do it before the Lord.
The norm is, “as God has prospered.” But at times God wants us to give more than we think we can afford (2 Cor. 8:2-3, “beyond their ability”). Perhaps you systematically give 15% of your income. An opportunity to give comes along and the Lord says, “I want you to dip into your savings and give $2,000.” Or some extra money comes your way, and the Lord says, “Instead of 15%, I want you to give it all.”
I read of a church of 400 members in Thailand where every member tithes. In their case, tithing is sacrificial giving, because the members all make only the U.S. equivalent of 20 cents a week, plus their rice! But because they give sacrificially, they support their own pastor, they have sent two missionary families to other hard-to-reach areas, and they generously help other poor. One other fact: each member of this church has leprosy!
Thus all believers are to give from biblical motives in line with biblical principles.
We’re all inundated with so many requests for giving. How do we sort them out and determine which ones to give to and which ones to ignore? I can’t answer that question completely, but I can give some guidelines:
This is your first priority in giving, since to fail to do it makes you worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). “Your own” refers to your immediate family: children, aged parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters. This does not include a lazy, irresponsible family member who doesn’t work and who squanders money on alcohol and drugs (2 Thess. 3:10). A “widow indeed” (1 Tim. 5:3-16) refers to a godly woman without any family members to look after her. The church must help these, but widows with families were to be cared for by their families. It is not right to deprive your own family of the necessities of life in order to give to others.
Since the local church is God’s ordained means for evangelism and discipleship, it ought to be next in priority for giving after destitute family members are cared for. Those who labor at preaching the Word are worthy of financial remuneration (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). The church is also to support workers sent out to evangelize and plant new churches in places where the gospel has not penetrated (3 John 7; 1 Cor. 9:3-14).
You need to be wise about giving to Christian organizations. Here are some questions you can ask to get maximum effectiveness from your giving:
What does the organization believe? Do you know and agree with their statement of faith, their objectives, program, and methods? Is it strategic in completing the Great Commission?
Financial questions: Is there an audited financial statement available? Is the organization a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability? How much do they spend on program versus overhead? (More than 25% on administration and fund-raising is suspect.) Does your gift go where you intended? Is your gift tax-deductible? (This may affect the amount you can give.) Does the organization have a standard of excellence along with freedom from waste and extravagance?
What do you know about the people involved with the organization or the person you may support? Are they people of biblical conviction and integrity? Do they depend on the Lord for their ministry and support or do they use high-pressure appeals for money? Are they clear in their objectives? Are they accountable for their ministries?
We should give to help meet physical needs: food, shelter, medicine, etc. (Matt. 25:35-40; Luke 10:30-37; Rom. 12:13; 15:26-27; 1 John 3:17-18). There is an order of priority here (Gal 6:10): First we help believers, locally and in other areas. Second, we help others (“all men”) as a part of our witness, offering assistance in the name of Christ. If you want, you may designate part or all of your offering to our church “SOS” fund, which goes to help the needy. We use this fund almost every week.
Thus the general priority for giving moves outward from your immediate family, to your extended family, to the local church (including needy saints), to the outreach of the church through missions (including helping needy unbelievers).
I cannot be exhaustive, but let me mention five results:
A. I and my family will be blessed. God blesses faith and obedience which are at the heart of biblical giving. If you give, God promises to supply your needs (not your wants!--Phil. 4:17-19).
B. Others’ needs will be met (Phil. 4:16, 18; 2 Cor. 8:13-14; 9:12). God’s work and workers will not be hindered. The needs of the poor will be met.
C. God will be thanked and glorified (2 Cor. 9:11-13, 15). He will get the praise if we give His way.
D. The Body of Christ will be united in prayer and fellow-ship (2 Cor. 9:14). Since your heart follows your treasure, you will be concerned about and will pray for those to whom you give.
E. People will spend eternity with God because of your giving. How can you put a price tag on that? What could possibly be more important?
If believers will give from biblical motives, in line with biblical principles and priorities, God will bless with His results.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells the story of a farmer who reported happily to his wife that their best cow had given birth to twin calves, one red and one white. He said, “You know, I think we should dedicate one of these calves to the Lord. We’ll bring them up together, and when the time comes we’ll sell one and keep the proceeds and we’ll sell the other and give the proceeds to the Lord’s work.”
His wife asked him which one he was going to dedicate to the Lord’s work. “There’s no need to bother with that now,” he replied. “We’ll treat them both the same and when the time comes we’ll do as I say.” And off he went.
A few months later, the farmer came into the kitchen looking miserable and unhappy. When his wife asked what was wrong, he sadly said, “I have some bad news. The Lord’s calf died.” “But,” she said, “you had not decided which one was to be the Lord’s calf.” “Oh, yes,” he said, “I had always decided it was to be the white one and that’s the one that died. The Lord’s calf is dead.”
Lloyd-Jones observes, “It’s always the Lord’s calf that dies!” (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount [Eerdmans] 2:95-96). That story shows how easy it is to have good intentions about giving to the Lord’s work, but also how easy it is not to follow through.
There’s a story about a stingy Scotsman who accidentally tossed a crown into the collection plate thinking it was a penny. When he saw his mistake, he asked to have it back. The deacon refused, so the Scotsman consoled himself by saying, “Aweel, aweel, I’ll get credit for it in heaven.” The deacon responded, “Na, na, ye’ll get credit for the penny.”
May I ask, “How is your account in heaven?” Are you storing up many treasures there, so that you are rich toward God? Or, are you storing up treasures here on earth? If your account in heaven is meager, there’s still time. Begin now, even today, to sit down as God’s steward and get your financial house in order. Purpose to begin giving God’s way. And don’t let God’s calf die!
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.