Lesson 86: Epitaph Of A Truly Successful Man (Genesis 50:22-26)Related Media
A successful businessman had what he considered to be his greatest stroke of luck: an angel visited him and promised to grant him one wish. The man asked for a copy of the business news one year in the future. As he received it and began to pore over the stock market pages, he drooled as he thought of the killing he would make with his insider knowledge of the future. Then his eyes happened to glance across the page to see his own name--in the obituary column! His perspective and goals for the coming year were suddenly changed as he realized his own mortality.
Our studies of the life of Joseph have helped us define true success. Joseph succeeded in a worldly sense, with his career. But more importantly, he succeeded with God. These final verses of Genesis give us the epitaph of Joseph, a truly successful man. They help us to refine our priorities as we think about the direction of our lives.
These verses that sum up the life of this truly successful man are striking for what they include as well as for what they omit. They include mention of his family, that he lived to see his great-grandchildren. Surprisingly, they exclude any mention of Joseph’s career and position of power in Egypt. They also include Joseph’s final words of faith and hope that he left with his brothers. The book of Genesis, which began with the majestic words, “In the beginning God ...,” and with the description of man and woman enjoying the beauty of the paradise God placed them in, ends with the rather unsettling words that Joseph was “placed in a coffin in Egypt.” It reminds us that any correct definition of success has to take into account the fact of death. This text shows us that:
A truly successful man is one who succeeds spiritually with his family.
Joseph’s brothers may have outlived him, since he gives his final charge to them (although verse 24 could refer to their children). A successful life is not measured by its length. Even though Joseph lived relatively long by today’s standards, he did not live as long as his father (who complained about the shortness of his 147 years) or his grandfather, who lived to 180. But Joseph enjoyed the blessings of God with his family, and he left them with his strong faith and hope in God’s yet-to-be-fulfilled promises.
1. A truly successful man is content with the blessings of family.
In summing up the life of this great man who had fame and fortune, who saved a whole nation from starvation, Moses only mentions the rather simple fact that he lived to see his great-grandsons. The phrase, to be “born on Joseph’s knees,” here is probably a way of picturing this old man joyously holding his newborn great-grandsons on his lap. In this somewhat subtle way, Moses underscores the fact that no matter how successful a man may be, the family is one of God’s greatest blessings. As someone has said, no one ever gets to the end of his life and says, “I wish I had spent more time on my career.”
Moses has woven this theme throughout the book of Genesis. His outline is to trace the generations of various families, beginning with the first family, as seen in the recurring phrase, “These are the records of the generations of ...” (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2). God began His work in history with families. At the flood, He saved one family and began over again with them. Then He singled out Abraham and promised to give him a son and through his descendants to bless all the people on earth. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, had 12 sons, and those sons are, at the close of Genesis, in the incubation period of becoming the nation from whom God would bring the Savior. Joseph lived to witness the beginning of God’s multiplying his family in line with His earlier promises. That’s what Moses emphasizes as he closes this book.
As you know, the family in America has become increasingly fragmented. There are many factors involved--the erosion of Christian moral and family values, higher divorce rates, more mothers in the work force, and more. The most popular TV shows of the 1950’s, when I grew up--”Leave It To Beaver,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed Show”--all portrayed what then were fairly normal families: working dad, mom at home, first (and only) marriage, and kids working through the normal struggles of growing up under the wise tutelage of their parents. Now, most people viewing those shows think, “How quaint,” or “How unrealistic!”
It would be naïve to think that these cultural changes have not affected the church. We are more affected by our culture than we care to admit. As Christians, we need to fight this cultural erosion of the family by redefining success in family terms, not in career or financial terms. If I could give you some practical advice, I would say to those of you with young children, do everything you can to have the mom at home during those child-rearing years. I encourage the men to be home with your wife and children as much as possible. Play with your kids, read to them, do things together as a family. Take a yearly vacation together as a family. You will not regret it! You can’t influence your kids with the things of God if you never spend time with them.
Christian author and speaker, Gary Smalley, reports that he interviewed 30 families across the nation that he chose because they all seemed to have close relationships. Their children, though many were teenagers, all seemed to be close to their parents and happy about it. He asked them, “What do you believe is the main reason you’re all so close and happy as a family?” Without exception, each member of the family gave the same answer: “We do a lot of things together.” Even more amazing was that all 30 families had one particular activity in common. Guess what it was? Camping! After he tried it for the first time, Smalley concluded that the reason camping unites a family is that any family that faced sure death together and survived would be closer! (If Only He Knew [Zondervan], pp. 135-137.)
Let’s not forget that God didn’t design our families to be ends in themselves, so that we are simply to enjoy one another. One of the main messages of Genesis is that the godly family is to be God’s channel for blessing those who are separated from God and alienated from one another. We are to pass God’s blessings on within the family, to our own children and grandchildren, but also beyond the family to lost people. And the church is the extended family of God. We are to reach out to lonely, alienated people, showing them how to be rightly related to God and to one another. The church is to model for the world what caring, loving relationships are like.
So the first unusual thing about this epitaph of this great man is that it singles out the blessings of his family life. After all his impressive accomplishments, Joseph was content to see the births of his great-grandchildren.
The second unusual thing about this epitaph is what it omits. If an American reporter had researched and written this story, it would have told about Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and to the fact that he held onto his high government position for 80 years. He was respected by all, no small feat for a politician! But Moses completely skips what we would emphasize the most!
2. A truly successful man is unimpressed with worldly success.
It’s somewhat risky to make a point out of what the text is silent about. But it seems to me that in this case, it’s an awfully loud silence, glaring by its omission. To me it’s saying that a man who is successful in God’s sight is not impressed with what the world labels as success.
Think of who Joseph was: The Prime Minister of the most advanced, civilized nation on earth in his day. Not many men can handle that kind of power and fame for even a short while. Yet Joseph remained in his position for 80 years, through the reigns of at least three Pharaohs. And it never went to his head.
Often Christians relate to the world in one of two unbalanced extremes. Either they separate so much from the world that they are too detached to have any impact. Granted, not too many Christians are like this, but there are a few.
The other extreme is Christians who buy into the world completely. They seek after the money and status symbols the world offers. They live for the same goals the world lives for. There’s no observable difference between them and the world, except that sometimes they go to church on Sunday mornings.
But Joseph maintained that fine balance of being in the world, but not of it. He held a difficult and important position in a pagan government and did his job well without compromising his faith in the one true God. He was married to an Egyptian wife whose father was a well-known priest in the Egyptian religion. He had to interact socially with the upper crust of Egyptian social circles. Yet when God blessed him with sons, Joseph named them with Hebrew names which gave testimony to his God. And when it came time to die, he did not want to be buried in a fine Egyptian tomb but, rather, he chose to be identified with the unsophisticated, unimpressive covenant people of God. It would have been so easy for Joseph to have groomed his sons for worldly success. But instead, by his dying wish, he communicated that the things of God are far more important than the things of this fleeting world. Joseph was unimpressed with worldly success and acclaim.
George Washington Carver stated rightly that the only advantage of fame is that it gives you a platform for service. The same is true of money for the Christian. If God grants you either fame or money, you have an increased responsibility as His steward. But don’t fall into the common trap of being impressed with worldly success. Instead, like Joseph, identify yourself with God’s people and use any fame or fortune God gives you as a platform for greater influence for His kingdom. Joseph’s epitaph shows us that a successful man is content with the blessings of family and unimpressed with worldly success. Finally,
3. A truly successful man leaves his family faith and hope in God’s promises.
As Joseph was about to die, he left his family the greatest inheritance any man can leave--not money, but faith and hope in God’s promises: “‘I am about to die, but God will surely take care of [or, visit] you, and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.’ Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here’“ (50:24-25).
That’s a remarkable final charge to his family in light of Joseph's position in Egypt and the fact that he had lived there for the last 93 of his 110 years! The author of Hebrews thought so, because out of all that he could have chosen from Joseph's godly life, he chose this incident to commend Joseph: "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones" (Heb. 11:22). In light of all the space allotted to Joseph in Genesis, it seems a bit strange that this is the only thing for which the New Testament remembers and praises him. It focuses us on the fact that Joseph was a man of faith and hope.
A. A truly successful man leaves his family faith in God’s promises.
Two little words in verse 24 reveal Joseph’s faith. They are words that almost always reveal faith, the words, “but God.” Jacob, from his deathbed, had said the same thing to Joseph over 50 years before: “I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers” (48:21). Joseph could have thought, “That wasn’t true. God didn’t bring me back, as my father said.” But rather than doubting God’s promise, which is not always fulfilled in our timetable, Joseph, from his deathbed, by faith assured his family, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you [the Hebrew is emphatic], and bring you up from this land to the land which he promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.”
As a proof of that faith, Joseph gave the unusual instructions that he was not to be put into one of the pyramids or some Egyptian tomb. But instead, his body was to be kept accessible enough that when Israel went back to Canaan, they were to carry Joseph’s bones with them! Bible scholars are divided on the chronology, but it was between 200 to 400 years later when Moses finally led Israel out of Egypt. They had to leave in haste, two million people heading out through the desert with all their belongings and livestock.
Yet in all that confusion, after all those years, we read in Exodus 13:19 that Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. During all those years of slavery and oppression in Egypt, Joseph’s bones stood as a witness of faith in God’s promises to Israel: “We’re not going to stay in Egypt forever. Remember Joseph’s bones!”
Who do you suppose got the job of carrying Joseph’s mummy out of Egypt? If their wagons were like our car when we leave on vacation, I can’t imagine anyone telling Moses, “Sure, we have some extra room. Just stuff that mummy right here by the sleeping bags!” Do you suppose some Hebrew family was grumbling, “Here we are taking off across the desert with everything we own, and Moses insists that we haul along this mummy!”
But the significance of that mummy was that it said to Israel, many of whom were unbelieving grumblers, “God can be trusted to keep His promises.” It may take 400 years, but you can count on it. If God promised, that should be enough for our trust. But when God promises on oath, then what excuse do we have for not believing Him?
Joseph’s family had leaned on him for support. But he taught them to look beyond himself to the living God who would support them after he was gone: “I am about to die, but God ....” That’s a great thing to leave to your family—”but God!” Teach your family that in the little problems as well as in the major crises of life, we have the God of Jacob as our refuge and strength (Ps. 46). We can go to His Word for wisdom and go to Him in prayer to make our requests known to Him. Leave your family faith in God’s promises.
B. A truly successful man leaves his family hope in God’s promises.
Faith and hope are closely related. As Hebrews 11:1 [NIV] puts it, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hope is not an uncertain, vague wish. It is certain because God promised, but it’s not yet realized. Hope involves an attitude of patient expectancy as we wait for God to do what He has promised.
Hope is often displayed against the backdrop of severe trials. Joseph’s descendants would be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years before God visited them with deliverance in Moses. Even then, God seemed to be in no hurry, from a human perspective. He set Moses aside in the desert for 40 years of additional training before he was ready to lead Israel out of bondage. During those 400 years there is no record of the Lord appearing to any of Israel’s descendants. It’s interesting, by the way, that in spite of Joseph’s godliness, there is no record of God appearing to him as He had done to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So during all those years of oppression, when God was silent, His people had to hang on to the hope of God’s promise made to their fathers hundreds of years before.
The book of Genesis ends on this note of hope, that God will surely visit His people. He did, as the book of Exodus makes clear. But that wasn’t a final visitation. The Old Testament ends with the Lord giving the hope of the coming of “Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” ... (Mal. 4:5-6). But then there were 400 more silent years, when God’s people languished under the oppression of foreign rule, with no word from God. Then Zecharias, the father of that second Elijah, John the Baptist, prophesied, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people” (Luke 1:68).
Zecharias was prophesying of Jesus Christ, born in fulfillment of God’s promises that had gone unfulfilled for almost 2,000 years. Jesus Christ provided salvation from God’s judgment for all who will accept His death on the cross as God’s free gift. But after His death and resurrection, He did not remain to set up His kingdom on this earth, but returned to heaven. As He ascended, the angel told the apostles, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
And so the final book of the Bible ends by looking forward in hope to that great event: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). And now, almost 2,000 years later, we know that His return is near. We are to be looking for His coming in holy conduct and godliness, with expectant hope (see 2 Pet. 3:3-13).
Are you leaving your family a legacy of faith and hope in the promises of God? So often, as adults we grow cynical, negative, and unbelieving. Let’s face it, there’s a lot in life to shove us in that direction. But if you’re always grumbling, if you have a cynical attitude, you’ll poison your family toward God.
A six-year-old boy found a penny and excitedly showed it to his grandmother. Like many adults who have lost the simple perspective of children, she said, “What’s so great about finding a penny? You can’t buy anything with it.”
“Oh yes, you can!” the boy shot back. “You can buy a dream in a wishing well.”
There’s a big difference, of course, between a dream in a wishing well and the sure promises of God. But the boy’s spirit of expectancy was right. As men, ordained by God to lead our families and to pass on to them the legacy of God’s promises, we need to convey to them that even after we’re gone, they can trust and hope in the living God and He will not disappoint them.
Put yourself in the place of that businessman who saw his own name in the obituary column. You’ve only got a year to live. What do you want to leave your family: a successful career or faith and hope in the promises of God? True success is succeeding spiritually with your family.
- What are some forces that have served to tear apart the American family? How can we fight against them?
- Is it wrong for a man to strive for career success? If so, how can he endure work? If not, how can he keep his priorities straight?
- Is it wrong for a Christian mother to pursue a career? Why/ why not?
- What are some practical ways Christian parents can instill faith and hope in their children?
Copyright Steven J. Cole, 1997, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 87: From The Garden To A Coffin (Genesis Recap)Related Media
Our family does a lot of hiking when we’re on vacation. Sometimes you take a hike that meanders through the forest and you begin to wonder where you’re going. Then, you finally come out on a high point, where you can look back and see the way you came. Suddenly the whole thing fits together in a way it hadn’t before as you see the relationship between the parts and the whole.
We’ve spent the better part of two years hiking through Genesis, enjoying the details as we’ve gone from chapter to chapter. Many of you have started attending this church since that time, so you didn’t have the benefit of the first message, when I gave an overview of the book and some of its themes. The rest of you have probably long since forgotten that overview. So I thought it would be profitable, now that we’ve walked through the book, to give a final recap of this first book of the Bible, to look back from the summit and see where we’ve come.
In broad outline, Genesis answers the question, “How did it all begin?” It starts with the creation and the first man and woman, without sin, in the Garden of Eden. It ends with Joseph in a coffin in Egypt. Of course the pivotal event, which led from that glorious beginning to that disturbing conclusion, was the fall of the human race into sin. Genesis graphically portrays the effects of sin on the human race. But it also shows God’s great mercy in redeeming fallen man and calling out a people for His purpose, a channel for His blessing to all nations. Moses, the author, is supplying the historical basis for God’s covenant with His people, Israel. He wanted them to know where they had come from and where they were going. God had promised Canaan to them; thus there was no future for them in Egypt or in the wilderness. Moses wrote Genesis to show Israel that they must, by faith and obedience, go forward to conquer the land God had promised to give them.
Genesis hinges at the call of Abraham in chapter 12 into two major sections, each with four subsections:
1. Human history from Adam to Abraham: The beginnings of the human race (chap. 1-11).
A. Creation (1-2)
B. Fall (3)
C. Flood: Increase of sin culminating in judgment at the flood (4-9)
D. Dispersion: Sin after the flood, culminating in the judgment at Babel (10-11)
2. Human history from Abraham to Joseph: The beginnings of the chosen race (12-50).
A. Abraham (12-24)
B. Isaac (25-26)
C. Jacob (27-36)
D. Joseph (37-50)
The sovereign hand of God over human history is a major emphasis in all of these events. By reading Genesis, God’s people can see that He is behind all their history. He is the one who has brought them to where they are, and He has promised many blessings regarding their future. And yet God’s sovereignty doesn’t negate human responsibility, as is demonstrated in the lives of the characters of Genesis. God confronted Cain with his anger, but Cain disregarded God’s warning and went on to murder his brother. Noah, on the other hand, refused to go along with his godless contemporaries and was delivered from God’s judgment through his obedient faith in building the ark. Throughout the book there are marked contrasts between those who obeyed God and were blessed and those who disobeyed and suffered the consequences: Abraham and Lot; Ishmael and Isaac; Esau and Jacob; Joseph and his brothers.
Genesis is rich in theology. As I mentioned in my first message, someone has said, “The roots of all subsequent revelation are planted deep in Genesis, and whoever would truly comprehend that revelation must begin here.” I am not going to attempt to go through the many doctrines and topics treated in Genesis nor to mention all the beginnings that are covered. But I’d like to point out some of the fundamental teachings about God and man as we look at the central theme of Genesis.
God has graciously redeemed us from the curse of sin so that we may be His channel for blessing all people.
1. Genesis tells us who God is.
The book begins by bringing the reader face to face with the awesome reality of God as the creator of all that is: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” There is no introduction to lead up to the point, no argument to prove His existence, no room for speculation or curiosity. By revelation, not speculation, we are brought face to face with the eternal God who spoke the universe into existence. There’s not even time to duck. You must either accept God as the source of all or reject Him. The Bible begins with an authoritative declaration that demands a response to the Creator of the universe.
The revelation of God’s awesome power in creation might tend to put us off, to make us feel like we can’t approach such an omnipotent God. Yet the early chapters of Genesis show that the omnipotent God is also a personal God who communicates with the people He has created. He talks with Adam and gives him meaningful work to do in the garden. He knows Adam’s need for a helper and creates Eve for his wife. The first couple communes with God each day in the garden.
But just when we’re starting to relax and feel like we might be able to approach this awesome, but personal God, sin enters the picture and we see God pronouncing curses on the serpent, the woman, the man, and the ground. We learn that God does not take sin lightly as He expels the fallen couple from the garden. Then, as sin spreads through the fallen human race, we recoil at God’s terrible judgments in the flood and again at the tower of Babel. We see that God is a holy God who must judge all sin.
But in all of this, there is hope. Rather than striking the fallen couple in the garden dead on the spot, God graciously offered them hope in the promise of the seed of the woman. He would bruise the serpent’s head, although the serpent would bruise him on the heel (3:15). This is the earliest promise in the Bible of the coming of Christ the Savior, born of a woman (not a man, through the virgin birth). In His death, He was bruised on the heel, and it seemed as if Satan had triumphed. But Christ’s resurrection turned what seemed like Satan’s victory into his defeat, as the seed of the woman bruised the serpent’s head.
Then God graciously provided animal skins to clothe the fallen couple (3:21). This provided for their physical nakedness, but obviously it went far beyond that. Just as man’s nakedness goes beyond the physical and points to the exposure of the soul resulting from sin (3:7), so God’s provision of clothing went beyond the physical need for garments. It is a beautiful illustration of what God would do through the Lord Jesus Christ to provide salvation for all who stand shamefully exposed before Him in their sin. God’s provision of the animal skins shows us four things:
First, we need a covering for our sin. The thought of standing with my sin exposed in the light of God’s holy presence is more intolerable than the thought of showing up for a job interview at the White House stark naked. I need some sort of covering.
Second, our attempts at covering ourselves are inadequate. Adam and Eve made fig leaves, but that wouldn’t do. Modern man tries the fig leaves of good works to cover his sin and to make himself presentable to God, but God cannot accept that.
Third, only God can provide the covering we need for our sin. He takes the initiative in properly covering our sin and guilt. Adam and Eve were passive; God did it all. We cannot receive God’s salvation as long as we offer Him our fig leaves. We must let Him provide everything, as He has in fact done in Christ.
Fourth, the covering God provided required the death of an innocent substitute. An animal had to be slaughtered to provide this covering for Adam and Eve. If, as we can probably assume, Adam and Eve witnessed this slaughter, it must have shocked them. This was the first time they had witnessed death. As they saw the animals (lambs?) having their throats slit and writhing in the throes of death, they must have gained a new awareness both of the seriousness of their sin and of the greatness of God’s grace in not requiring their own immediate death for their sin. They learned that without the shedding of blood, there is no adequate covering for sin, but that God would accept the death of an acceptable substitute. In light of subsequent revelation, we know that that substitute is Jesus Christ, to whom these animals pointed as a type.
So Genesis shows God as the Almighty Creator who yet can be known personally. It shows Him as the Holy Judge of all sin, yet the Savior who Himself provided the payment of the penalty for our sin.
Genesis also shows God as the Sovereign Covenant God, who works all human history according to His purposes. He calls Abraham, a pagan man, and promises to bless him by making him into a mighty nation and by blessing all the families of the earth in him (12:1-3). In spite of the foul-ups of Abraham in taking Hagar and fathering Ishmael; of Isaac in favoring Esau; of Jacob in scheming to secure the birthright; and, of Jacob’s sons in selling their brother into slavery; God’s purpose for His people moves forward. As Joseph told his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (50:20).
We see God’s sovereign grace in choosing men. He chose Abraham over his older brother Nahor, Isaac over the older Ishmael, Jacob the schemer over his older twin Esau, and the younger Ephraim over Manasseh. But Messiah would not come through Joseph’s descendants at all, but through the tribe of Judah, again demonstrating that it is God’s grace, not human merit, that matters. In all this we learn that our salvation depends upon our sovereign, gracious God, not upon our merit and good works.
If I had time, I could develop much more fully this theme of who God is as revealed in Genesis. We could study the names of God as revealed throughout the book: Elohim; Yahweh; the angel of the Lord; El Roi, the God who sees; El Shaddai, God Almighty; El Elyon, God Most High; the fear of Isaac; the God of Jacob; etc.
But before I move on, let me apply this by saying that we need to submit personally to God as He has revealed Himself rather than create a God of our own liking. The God who reveals Himself in the book of Genesis isn’t necessarily to our liking. Modern science tells us that everything has evolved through random chance. Genesis says that God created the heavens and the earth. Either you create your own god out of science, which is ultimately to make fallible man your god; or, you submit to God the Almighty Creator revealed in Genesis.
Genesis reveals God as a holy God who judges sin. That’s not popular in our day. We’d rather have a nice god who is tolerant of sin. But either you create a false god of your own liking, or you submit to the God revealed in Genesis. The God of Genesis is one who provides salvation from His judgment apart from man’s efforts. You may not like that, since human nature wants to earn salvation. But you must either submit to the God of Genesis or create your own false god.
Genesis reveals a sovereign God who works all things after the counsel of His will, who chooses His servants according to grace, not human merit. Again, you may not like that, since human nature likes to think in terms of man’s freedom to determine his own destiny. But you must either submit to the sovereign God of Genesis or make a god who fits your fancy, who is not God at all. Genesis tells us who God is, which confronts us with our need to submit to Him.
2. Genesis tells us who we are.
The British skeptic, George Bernard Shaw, in response to the German concentration camps, reluctantly concluded, “There is only one empirically verifiable doctrine of theology--original sin.” While that doctrine looms large in Genesis, it is not the first picture of man. The first statement about man is God saying, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). While the image of God in man was marred by the fall, it was not obliterated. We know this because after the flood, God establishes the death penalty for murder, basing it on the fact that man was created in God’s image, a truth that still applied (Gen. 9:6).
That great truth lies behind the proper Christian view that every human being should be treated with respect. It lies behind Christian opposition to the slaughter of unwanted children through abortion and infanticide. It is the basis for respect and care for the elderly and dying. It is the motivation behind Christian hospitals and health care. It lies behind Christian charity toward the poor and underprivileged. It lies behind a proper Christian respect of men for women and of women for men, since Genesis 1:27 distinctly states that God created man in His image as male and female. It hints at what the second chapter confirms, the basis for Christian marriage and family relationships. It forms the basis for the proper understanding of one’s self, showing that we each have a unique role in God’s purpose.
But Genesis also shows us as fallen in sin, alienated from God. The devastating effects of sin are displayed in full view throughout the book. The beauty of the first couple, innocent in the garden, is destroyed as they are expelled because of their sin. Their oldest son, the first man born into the first family on the earth, jealously murders his younger brother. In Noah’s time, the sinful condition of the human race is summed up: “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5).
So our view of self has to be molded not only by the encouraging truth that we have been created in God’s image, but also by the sober reality that our hearts are inclined against God and toward sin. While it may not be a pleasant thing to look into the mirror that Genesis holds before us, it bears witness with reality. You read the book of Genesis and come away saying, “Yes, that is what human nature is like. Even more, that is what I’m like!” It’s an accurate picture of the human condition. But Genesis doesn’t leave us there. That would be hopeless.
3. Genesis tells us what we must do.
Genesis shows us, as we’ve already seen, that God offers us redemption and how we must respond. I could illustrate this from the great passage in Genesis 15:6, where Moses writes that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. The apostle Paul uses that text to demonstrate that salvation is by grace through faith apart from human works (Galatians 3; Romans 4). But instead, I’d like to illustrate it from the first instance of faith, when Adam believed God’s promise of redemption.
After God pronounced the curse for man’s sin (3:14-19), there is a verse that at first seems to be out of context. Genesis 3:20 reads, “Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.” Then the text goes on to tell of God’s provision of animal skins and of His expelling the couple from the garden. But after the grim words of verse 19, which inflict toil and death upon the human race, you would not expect verse 20. At best, you would think that it would read, “Now Adam called his wife ‘the Grim Reaper,’ because she was the mother of all the dying.” It was ultimately because of her sin that death came to the human race. Yet Adam calls her “Eve,” which means life-giver or mother. And, remember, this was before she had any children.
What does Genesis 3:20 mean? It is Adam’s response of faith to God’s promise to send a Savior through the seed of the woman (3:15). Adam heard and submitted to God’s penalty of death (3:19), but he also grabbed on to God’s promise that there would come forth from the woman a descendent who would bruise the serpent’s head. And so by faith, before his wife had conceived, Adam named her Eve, the mother of all living.
Salvation is now and always has been by faith in God’s promise. Before Jesus Christ came into the world, a person’s faith had to look forward to the promised Savior. Since Christ, faith looks back to the Savior who has come. Salvation has never been based on keeping the commandments or on a person’s good works balancing out his sins. We are made right with God by trusting what He has said concerning His Son, Jesus Christ, the only Savior, who took our penalty on Himself on the cross.
Saving faith always results in obedience. Noah didn’t just say, “I believe You, God, that You’re going to send a flood to destroy the earth.” His faith resulted in 100 years of hard work and ridicule as he built the ark and got on board when God told him to. Saving faith always affects our behavior in this evil world. If we believe God concerning His promise of salvation from judgment through Christ, we will turn from our sin and seek to live in accordance with God’s purposes.
That means that we will commit ourselves and all the resources God has graciously entrusted to us to His great purpose of blessing all the families on earth through the seed of Abraham, who is Jesus Christ. If we really believe what Genesis teaches about God’s judgment on sin and about His provision in Christ, we cannot be complacent as billions go into eternity without Christ. Rather, we will do all we can to be channels of God’s blessing to those who are lost and perishing.
An old man, walking along the beach at dawn, noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the youth, he asked what he was doing. The young man answered that the stranded starfish would die if left until the morning sun.
“But the beach goes on for miles, and there are millions of starfish,” countered the old man. “How can your effort make any difference?” The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves. “It makes a difference to this one,” he said.
Paul tells us that the Lord is “abounding in riches for all who will call upon Him; for ‘whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:12-15). God wants those beautiful feet to be your feet!
Genesis tells us who God is, who we are, and what we must do. God has graciously redeemed us from the curse of sin so that we may be His channel for blessing all people. Let’s obey the message of Genesis!
- Which is emphasized more in our day: God as loving Redeemer or God as righteous judge? How can we restore the biblical balance?
- Which view of man is most emphasized today: Man as created in God’s image or man as fallen hopelessly in sin? How do we find the biblical balance?
- Some emphasize God’s sovereignty to the neglect of human responsibility. Others focus on “free will” to the detriment of God’s sovereignty. Where is the biblical balance?
- Why is proper theology about God and man the necessary basis for world missions?
Copyright Steven J. Cole, 1997, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
God, Money, and You
This 5 part study on Finances was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 1993. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.
For permission to reproduce/distribute these resources from Steve Cole (including the Word document and audio files found on the individual lesson pages below) please see Bible.org's ministry friendly copyright and permissions page. Likewise, to reproduce/distribute PDF/audio versions of his messages which may be found on Flagstaff Christian Fellowship's website see their permission statement.
Lesson 1: Financial Freedom (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
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:
- Freedom (from bondage to greed and debt). The world says, “I want more and I’ll go in debt to get it.”
- Integrity. The world winks at cheating and dishonesty.
- Faithfulness. The world is marked by irresponsibility.
- Generosity. The world says, “Hang onto it!”
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.
1. God wants us to be free from bondage to greed.
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.
A. Greed enslaves all who do not master it.
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?
B. God wants us to develop contentment in Him.
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:
2. God wants us to be free from bondage to debt.
A. Debt enslaves us to the lender and hinders the development of key Christian character qualities.
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?
B. God’s answer to debt is control.
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.
- Does being content mean that I shouldn’t work toward improving my financial condition? What does it mean?
- How much is enough? At what point do we violate Jesus’ command not to lay up treasures on earth?
- Is it wrong for Christians to live in luxury? How can we tell if we have a problem with greed?
- Since God is to be our security, are things like insurance or investments wrong?
- How can an impulsive spender develop self control?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 2: When No One Is Looking— Integrity in Money Matters (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
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:
1. Integrity means having a clear conscience in all finan-cial dealings.
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.
2. Integrity means total honesty in financial dealings.
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:
A. Total honesty means telling the truth, even when it hurts.
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.”
B. Total honesty means no cheating or stealing, even in small things.
(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.
C. Total honesty means resisting all bribery.
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.
3. Integrity means not taking advantage of anyone in 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.
4. Integrity means not being involved in gambling.
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:
A. Gambling appeals to and feeds greed.
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).
B. Gambling is opposed to the Christian work ethic.
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.
C. Gambling denies the principle of stewardship.
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.
D. Gambling glorifies risk and chance and denies God’s sovereignty.
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.
E. Gambling takes advantage of people.
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:
- Clear your conscience of any wrongs in this area. Confess your sin before God and appropriate His power to obey Him.
- Discontinue any corrupt practices you are now engaged in. You can’t pray for God’s blessing and continue to do wrong.
- Seek forgiveness and make restitution to any you have wronged. If you have stolen, you need to pay it back. Use your confession as an opportunity for witness.
- Make a prior commitment to total honesty. You cannot wait until the situation arises to decide whether or not you’ll be honest. You must weigh in advance the cost of discipleship and commit yourself to it because you believe in the living God and His Word.
- Make a prior commitment to abstain from gambling. You need to be ready when the office football pool hits you up for your share. If it’s a raffle for a good cause, then buy the ticket and view it as a donation. But I can’t understand why a committed Christian would want to go to a place like Las Vegas to gamble.
- Develop a testimony to share when opportunities arise. Think it through in advance so that you aren’t tongue-tied when you take a stand for your convictions. Let people know that Jesus Christ is the reason for your behavior. People may be shocked and they may ridicule. They may test you to see whether you are true to your convictions. But if they see you as a person with convictions, they will ultimately respect you and perhaps be open to hearing about the God you serve.
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.
- How can I know if my conscience on money matters is rightly “tuned” to God’s Word?
- Is dishonesty always a sin? What about covering a friend’s wrong? What about lying for the boss?
- If it’s okay to smuggle Bibles why isn’t it okay to bribe officials if it leads to the spread of the gospel?
- What is the difference between gambling and playing the stock market (if any)?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 3: Financial Faithfulness— Can God Trust in You? (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
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:
1. To be faithful in finances, I must operate as the manager, not the owner.
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:
A. As manager of God’s assets, I should be responsible.
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.
B. As manager of God’s assets, I am relieved from pressure.
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.
C. As manager of God’s assets, I have the opportunity for advancement.
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.
2. To be faithful in finances, I must keep the Owner’s objectives in mind.
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.
3. To be faithful in finances, I must be hard-working and obedient to the Owner.
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:
A. To be faithful, I must be industrious, not lazy.
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.
B. To be faithful, I must provide for my family and have extra to give to those in need.
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.
C. To be faithful, I must be orderly with finances.
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).
D. To be faithful, I must be resourceful.
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.
4. To be faithful in finances, I must follow through with the Owner’s plan.
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).
- 1. How can we know where to draw the line on personal things, such as homes, cars, entertainment, etc.?
- 2. When does hard work become overwork? Is it wrong for Christians to aim at financial success?
- 3. If a Christian is financially successful, is it wrong to live “well”? Must he give away everything above basic needs to the cause of Christ?
- 4. In view of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, is welfare right? Should the church help those who don’t work?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 4: Why You Should NOT Tithe (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
“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?
1. Tithing is not the New Testament standard for giving.
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:
A. Tithing was a part of the law of Moses; believers are not under the law.
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.
B. Tithing was an involuntary tax to support Israel; believers are not a part of the theocratic nation.
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!
C. Tithing is not mentioned in any instructions to the church, although much is said about giving.
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.
D. Tithing is not mentioned in any writings of the early church fathers.
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).
E. Tithing puts the wrong emphasis upon giving.
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.
F. Tithing leads to a false concept of stewardship.
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.
G. Tithing is burdensome for some and too easy for others.
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?
2. Generous grace giving is the New Testament standard.
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.
A. Grace giving is not ...
(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.
B. Grace giving is based on ...
(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.
- Agree/disagree: In most cases, not giving more than 10 percent reflects a lukewarm heart toward God?
- What is the biggest hindrance to generous giving among Christians? In your own life?
- Should we give out of obedience even if we don’t feel like it? Isn’t that legalism?
- If 10 percent isn’t the standard for giving, how do we know when our giving pleases God?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 5: Giving God’s Way (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
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?
1. Who should give? All believers, but not unbelievers, should give to the Lord.
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).
2. Why should I give? I should give because God has first given to me and I want to please Him.
In giving, motivation is crucial. There are many ...
A. Wrong motives for giving:
(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).
B. Right motives for giving:
(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.
3. How should I give? I should give in accordance with biblical principles.
There are several basic principles of giving:
A. I should give in a pre-planned, systematic way.
(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.
B. I should give in secret to the Lord, not in public before men.
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.
C. I should give sacrificially at times.
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.
4. To whom should I give? I should give to destitute family members, to spiritual ministries, and to the needy.
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:
A. Give to destitute family members.
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.
B. Give to spiritual ministries.
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?
C. Give to needy persons.
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).
5. What will happen when I give? When I give, God will bless with His results.
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!
- Should a Christian who is in debt give?
- Is it wrong for a church or Christian organization to accept money from unbelievers (including foundations)?
- Since the world has now become our neighbor, how can we know which needs to meet and which to ignore?
- Is it wrong for American Christians to live in luxury when there are so many needy people around the world?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Contend Earnestly For The FaithRelated Media
Three years ago I sat on a short bench in a small stone church on the outskirts of Oxford. In a tiny graveyard outside was a flat tombstone with the name “Clive Staples Lewis” etched into the granite.
The pew my wife and I were sitting in was the same place C.S. Lewis occupied with his brother Warnie every Sunday morning for decades as they worshipped together at Trinity Church.
This man, C.S. Lewis, probably more than anyone else in the 20th century, lived out the admonition of a passage I want you to think about. Here it is:
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
Never before in my lifetime has this verse been more important for Christians to hear, consider, and heed.
Note three elements in this verse that are essential to Jude’s entreaty.
First, Jude makes reference to a specific message with specific content, the “faith once and for all delivered”—the foundation of “our common salvation.” Second is the admonition to “contend earnestly” for that faith—to proclaim it, guard it, and defend it. Finally, Jude reminds us that it had been “delivered” to the saints—passed on from the disciples to the next generation in the church.
Here’s why those three elements of Jude’s admonition are critical for you and I right now. At the beginning of the 21st century we are in the cultural and theological fight of our lives. The attack is coming from many directions, but we are facing serious challenges on two broad fronts. Simply put, we have trouble in the world and trouble in the church.
Trouble in the World
Currently, the Christian worldview is facing assault on multiple fronts.
Our story starts, “In the beginning, God,” yet a host of dedicated writers—collectively known as the “new atheists” 1—have been doing their best to ensure our story never gets off the ground. There are also attacks on the integrity of our authority base, the Bible,2 and a myriad of assaults on the historicity of the central player in our drama—Jesus of Nazareth.
In the midst of this academic attack, there is an increasingly pervasive godlessness and a militant relativism in the culture. The 21st century began as an era of radical skepticism, especially in the area of morality and religion. As a result, the moral rulebook is being rewritten. Right has become wrong and wrong right.
In addition, there is an increasing hostility towards those who take Jesus seriously regarding the Great Commission. Jesus said he came, “To seek to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10), “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28), and “to call sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:32). That was the way He described His own mission.
Yet when we proclaim this message—Jesus’ central message—we court conflict. Indeed, to be faithful to Jesus’ claim that He is the only Savior is increasingly considered an example of “spreading hate.”
For example, a number of years ago the Southern Baptists planned to evangelize Jews during a summer outreach in Chicago. A consortium of religious groups in that city—including Christian denominations, amazingly—demanded that the Baptists stay home. They warned that evangelism in their city would encourage hate crimes. In fact, a Jewish group claimed it invited “theological hatred.”3
This tendency to see the Gospel as a message of hate gained momentum after 9/11. As the smoke still billowed from the wreckage of World Trade I & II, Thomas Friedman wrote a column in the New York Times titled “The Real War” warning of what he termed “religious totalitarianism”:
If 9/11 was indeed the onset of World War III, we have to understand what this war is about. We’re not fighting to eradicate “terrorism.” Terrorism is just a tool. We’re fighting to defeat an ideology: religious totalitarianism….a view of the world that my faith must reign supreme and can be affirmed and held passionately only if all others are negated. That’s bin Ladenism. But unlike Nazism, religious totalitarianism can’t be fought by armies alone. It has to be fought in schools, mosques, churches and synagogues, and can be defeated only with the help of imams, rabbis and priests.4 [emphasis added]
He then applauded a rabbi who “…set up his own schools in Israel to compete with fundamentalist Jews, Muslims, and Christians, who used their schools to preach exclusivist religious visions.”5
This same theme keeps popping up everywhere I go: We are the enemy. Last fall on the radio I heard Chris Matthews of “Hardball” fame say the people in America most like the Taliban were the Evangelical Christians.
This puts any church committed to fulfilling the Great Commission directly in the crosshairs of the culture wars.
Trouble in the Church
There’s not only trouble in the world—trouble from the outside—but there is serious trouble on the inside. Sadly, in spite of the plethora of materials available to believers, there is still a profound biblical illiteracy in Christian circles.
In 2005, researchers Christian Smith and Melinda Denton conducted a “National Study of Youth and Religion” and recorded their finding in their book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Here’s what they discovered.
First, they learned there is no generation gap with young people when it comes to religion. Teens were not “spiritual seekers,” but rather were at home in church circles with 75% identifying with some form of Christianity.
The second thing they discovered, however, was not comforting. When these same committed Christian teenagers were interviewed one-on-one about the specifics of their convictions, almost none from any religious background could articulate the most basic beliefs of the faith.
Smith and Denton summed up their theology as “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” To these teens, religion was about being nice and enjoying a relationship with a God who mostly wanted them to be happy and feel good about themselves—which was, as it turned out, the very same religious view of their parents.
But the picture gets worse.
In September of 2009, I was a guest at an interfaith dialog in Los Angeles with Roman Catholic priest Gregory Coiro before a large Jewish audience on Rosh Hashanah.
When asked why Jesus was the only way of salvation, I offered a lucid account of the Gospel. Father Coiro then affirmed the importance of Jesus, but assured the audience that their honest and sincere pursuit of Judaism counted as saving faith in God’s eyes. These Jews were safe, beneficiaries of the cross even though they rejected Jesus.
Surprisingly, large numbers of Protestants agree. God doesn’t really care what faith you follow since they all teach basically the same life lessons. In the midst of this theological confusion, Christians of all stripes are falling away from the truth en masse, becoming casualties of a culture that celebrates pluralism.
With trouble in the world and trouble in the church, what do we do to fulfill Jude’s exhortation? Paul’s last letter gives the answer.
Paul’s Swan Song
If you visit Rome and take the right tour, you will be shown an ancient cistern northwest of the city. Originally meant to hold water, it later served as a dungeon. Mamertine prison is a circular, low-ceilinged, underground room of rock where prisoners were lowered in on a rope.
I’ve seen pictures of the dank, dismal interior. Against one wall there is a low, protruding rock shelf of sorts. It’s the only flat place in the cell, the only surface someone could write on. This is likely the very spot—this small ledge of rock—where the apostle Paul wrote his spiritual last will and testament. We know it as 2 Timothy.
Of all the New Testament books, 2 Timothy is my favorite. It was Paul’s final message, his swan song, the last thing he ever wrote. It is clear, uncomplicated, and to the point, speaking forcefully and practically to the challenges of the 21st century.
2 Timothy gives the answer to our question about guarding the Gospel, because that is the book’s theme, found explicitly in 1:14: “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” Paul’s message is absolutely vital to each one of us today because he tells us exactly what it looks like in any century to contend earnestly for the faith.
You see, the early church was also facing trouble on two fronts.
There was trouble for Christians in the world. They were under tremendous attack in that culture. In A.D. 64, a fire broke out in Rome that raged for six days and seven nights, totally destroying a great part of the city. Emperor Nero falsely charged the Christians and punished them with “the most exquisite tortures,” as the historian, Tacitus, records in his Annals:
They were covered with the hides of wild beasts and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and, when day declined, burned to serve for nocturnal lights. Nero offered his own gardens for that spectacle.6
In the midst of this extreme physical persecution of the church, Paul warned of a pervasive godlessness coming in the culture:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2 Tim. 3:1-4)
Timothy would also be facing trouble in the church:
The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
Paul’s Simple Solution
What is Paul’s answer to Timothy’s challenge, which is the same challenge we face? It’s refreshingly simple and the heart of it can be captured in three words: “You, however, continue…” (3:14).
Paul does not tell Timothy to look forward to any new movements of the Spirit, any fresh word from God, or any insider’s spiritual fad. He points not to future, but rather to the past. “Timothy, don’t look forward,” he says. “Look backward.” Here is the full citation, part of which I’m sure is familiar to you:
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:14-17)
Then Paul amps it up another notch. At the beginning of chapter four he challenges Timothy with the most sober language he can muster:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His Kingdom: Preach the Word. Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction. Be sober in all things. Endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:1-2, 5).
Simply put, Paul tells Timothy to guard the Gospel by continuing in the truth already revealed. In other words, when all else fails, read—and follow—the directions.
But that is not enough.
Passing the Baton
I want you to notice something about 2 Timothy. Paul wrote his final letter to a person, not a group. He passed the baton of the Gospel to a faithful individual, a young man named Timothy, and then told him to do the same: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
Note the four generations in this passage: Paul, Timothy, faithful disciples, and “others”—the baton being handed down from one individual person to the next. Paul knew it would not be enough for any Christian to continue in the truth. It also needed to be handed down. Indeed, guarding the Gospel is not complete until it has been passed on effectively.
When I became a follower of Christ at UCLA in 1973, I was a loud, opinionated, obnoxious, long-haired hippie. Now, 39 years later, I am no longer a long-haired hippie. I’m also not nearly as obnoxious as I used to be. I owe that transformation largely to one man: Craig Englert.
For two years—at great risk to life and limb—Craig took me under his wing. I’ve had other mentors since then, but I know with certainty that without Craig I would not be in the position I’m in today.
Craig Englert and others who followed him in my life were not content to guard the truth. They needed to entrust it to others—even me, as unlikely as it seemed at the time—in order for the Gospel to go forward. They passed the baton to me, as Paul had done with Timothy. Indeed, they were passing the same baton Paul passed to Timothy that was then passed down for two thousand years—from one, to another, to another until it was mine to carry.
In the summer Olympics of 2008 in Beijing, American runners suffered a humiliating defeat in the 4 X 100 relays. In the anchor leg, Darvis Patton handed the baton to Tyson Gay, but Gay never got it. In the middle of the handoff, they dropped the baton.
Tyson Gay was our best sprinter. We had the fastest team. It didn’t matter. They dropped the baton, so we lost the race. In fact, we never even finished that race.
Paul told Timothy, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules” (2:5). “Timothy,” Paul said, “you cannot drop the baton.”
And we cannot drop the baton, either. If we do, we lose.
So how do we guard the Gospel? Two ways. First, we continue in the things already delivered to us. Second, we pass the baton. Those are the rules.
If we disregard Paul’s solution, we should not be surprised when we remain children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14).
If we don’t guard the Gospel, we should not be surprised when we are taken captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Col. 2:8).
If we don’t pass the baton, we should not be surprised when we will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have our ears tickled, we accumulate for ourselves teachers in accordance to our own desires, and turn away our ears from the truth, and turn aside to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
I asked Father Coiro at that meeting on Rosh Hashanah if there were any New Testament evidence for the assurances he offered our Jewish audience. He cited Jesus’ comment, “For he who is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:40). The Jews in our company, he pointed out, were not against Jesus. They must then, by default, be for Him, the priest reasoned.
Yet Jesus also said, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Matt. 12:30). So what do we make of this apparent contradiction in Jesus’ teaching? Check the context. When we do, we discover that Jesus was referring to entirely different groups.
In the first case, Jesus was speaking of those who had been performing miracles in His name, but were not part of His core group of disciples—Christians, in other words, not unbelieving Jews. In the second case, Jesus was speaking to Jews who had rejected his Messianic claim.
The question for us, then, is, What kind of group were Father Coiro and I talking to at our event? People who were working miracles in the name of Jesus, or people who were rejecting Jesus’ messianic claim? Father Coiro had applied the wrong passage to our Jewish listeners.
When Jesus was speaking to a group like we had been that day, He said, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). When Peter was speaking to a group like we had been that day, he said, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). When Paul was writing about a group like we had been speaking to that day he wrote:
I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:2-4)
Finishing the Race
The key to contending for the faith—to surviving the spiritual onslaught of the 21st century—is to guard the Gospel. The key to that is found in two simple phrases. One, “Continue in the things you have learned.” Back to the basics. Back to the Word as it has been entrusted to us. And two, entrust it to faithful disciples who will be able to teach others also.
That’s it. Guard the Gospel by continuing in the truth already revealed, then pass the baton. Proclaim the truth faithfully, guard it diligently, and pass it on carefully. That is how we contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. That is how we guard the Gospel Paul entrusted to Timothy, now entrusted to us.
And not until we do that can we say what Paul said at the end of his magnificent letter: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”7
1 Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great—How Religion Poisons Everything; Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion; Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell; and Sam Harris, The End of Faith.
2 E.g., authors like Bart Ehrman with his best seller, Misquoting Jesus.
3 Jeffery L. Sheler, “Unwelcome Prayers,” U.S. News & World Report, 9/20/99.
4 Thomas Friedman, “The Real War,” New York Times, November, 27, 2001.
6 Tacitus, Annals, xv. 44.
7 2 Tim. 4:6.
This 9 part study on Evangelism was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 2010. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.
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