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Lesson 15: The Church and Money (Various Scriptures)

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August 6, 2017

One of the most common complaints of non-churchgoers against the church is that the church is always after their money. The complaint is often justified. In many churches, every Sunday the pastor pressures people to give more. Every fall, many churches launch a “stewardship” campaign, where members are asked to pledge how much they will give in the coming year. I received an email recently from a man who was kicked out of his church because he did not tithe! And, as we know, many TV preachers openly flaunt their lavish lifestyles and promise people that if they will give to their ministries, God will repay them abundantly.

But, putting all of the abuses aside, churches do need money to function. And so in this series on the church, we need to consider what the Bible says about the church and money. If I were to pick two key words that should govern the church’s use of money, they would be integrity and stewardship. To sum it up:

The church should model godly financial integrity as good stewards of God’s resources.

By integrity, I mean honesty and uprightness before God in the way funds are handled. When the apostle Paul was collecting a large gift from the churches in Macedonia and Greece to help the poor believers in Jerusalem, he said (2 Cor. 8:20-21), “taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” That’s integrity!

By stewardship, I’m referring to the fact that all of our resources, both personally and as a church, do not belong to us, but to the Lord. We will give an account to Him of how we used the resources He entrusted to us, both personally and as a church. The topic of money is not a minor one in the Bible. The Book of Proverbs has much to say about it. Jesus spoke about money and possessions in 16 of his 38 recorded parables. In the Gospels, no less than one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions (Howard L. Dayton, Leadership Journal [Spring, 1981], p. 62). So I can only skim the surface in this message.

Basically, there are three areas to consider about money: How you get it; how you spend it; and how you save it for future anticipated needs. Let’s look at how these pertain to the church:

1. Godly financial integrity means raising money in a biblical way.

There are four positive considerations and one negative:

A. The church should raise money by teaching biblical principles of personal financial management.

Sadly, many Christians base their handling of money more on how the world does it than on what the Bible teaches. They spend more than they earn, going further and further in debt to support a lifestyle that is shaped by advertising, the media, and how they see their neighbors living. While many evangelicals are very generous in giving to the Lord’s work, the statistics I’ve read show that overall American evangelicals give about 2-3 percent of their income to Christian causes. Some give ten percent under the mistaken notion that if they do that, they have met the biblical requirement (more on that in a moment). A major part of the problem is that if you’re in debt, you can’t afford to give generously.

In 1993, I preached five messages on “God, Money, and You” (they’re on the church website). In the first one, I argued that God wants us to be free from bondage to greed and debt. The two go together: Greed tells us that we need more to be happy and we need it now. So we borrow to get what we think we need now to be happy, but end up enslaved to the lender. Debt often creates strife in our marriages, sometimes leading to divorce. And, debt prevents us from giving generously to the Lord’s work.

Here’s a simple principle: If you don’t borrow money, you won’t get into debt! A related principle is, if you’re in a hole and want to get out, stop digging. In other words, stop spending money that you don’t have to support a lifestyle that you can’t afford. If you want some practical and often entertaining (although sometimes painfully pointed) counsel on how to manage the funds that God entrusts to you and, especially, how to get out of debt, I recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, which Pastor Dan Barton leads here. The next class begins September 20th.

Also, biblical financial management requires that you develop and maintain the mindset that your money is not your own. Rather, you manage what God has entrusted to you in line with His kingdom purposes because you will give an account to Him someday. This includes working hard to provide adequately for your family (1 Tim. 5:8). It also requires that you don’t spend impulsively, but follow an orderly plan. For most people, this means following a budget; keeping good records; having a will; budgeting savings for future needs; and disciplined, planned giving off the top, not just giving what’s left over at the end of the month.

B. The church should raise money through the generous grace giving of its members.

One of the messages I preached in the 1993 series was, “Why You Should Not Tithe.” I still get many emails from people who read that message. My main point is that you should not tithe because God wants us to give generously and tithing is the bare minimum for generous giving. Also, Christians fallaciously think if they give ten percent, the rest is theirs to spend as they please. But that denies the biblical principle of stewardship, which is that everything belongs to the Lord; we only manage it for His kingdom purposes.

The New Testament epistles never mention tithing, although much is said about giving. Rather, regarding the collection for the poor saints in Judea, Paul instructed (1 Cor. 16:2), “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.” The amount is, “as he may prosper.” Paul also wrote (1 Tim. 6:17-19),

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

Before you think, “Whew! That doesn’t apply to me because I’m not rich!” you need to realize that if you live in America, you are rich by worldly standards. Paul states that God “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” We don’t need to feel guilty about enjoying the material comforts that He provides. But there is also the principle that we should “be rich in good works” and “be generous and ready to share.”

In his folksy manner, the late J. Vernon McGee used to say, “If you eat in a restaurant, you should pay for your meal. And if you get fed by a ministry, you should give to that ministry.” And so those who are committed to a local church should help support the ministries of that church through generous grace giving.

C. The church should raise money by informing its members of financial needs.

One of the main points I argued in my master’s thesis (available on the church website) is that there is no example in the New Testament of a Christian worker making his financial needs known to prospective donors. It’s largely an argument from silence, but it is a significant silence in light of the importance of the subject. Paul informed churches of others’ needs, but he never appealed for funds for his own needs. I don’t view it as a biblical command, but rather as an example to follow. Only once in 40 years of ministry, have I told the elders that if I did not get a raise, I would need to seek part time outside employment to meet our family’s needs. I had gone several years without a pay increase, and inflation was then running in double digits, which meant that my pay was decreasing significantly each year. A pastor friend of mine used to tell me that I needed to negotiate for a higher salary, but I was never comfortable doing that. God has graciously met all our needs.

But I see a difference when it comes to the local church. The church is the family of God. Families ought to communicate openly about where they’re at financially. If things are tight, they should not spend money on non-essentials. If they’re struggling to meet their monthly expenses, families need to sit down and work out a plan for how to meet their obligations. And the family of God should communicate openly about how things are going financially.

Right now, due to a generous recent gift (by the way, I do not know who gives or how much anyone gives to this church), we are slightly ahead of our annual budget. But without that gift, we would already be just under $24,000 behind in giving towards our budget just two months into our fiscal year. If that trend continues, we will need to cut either staff salaries or missions giving. We put the current budgeted need, actual giving, and expenses in our weekly bulletin so that you can be informed.

D. The church should raise money through prayer.

In the context of urging the Corinthians to give to the needs of the poor saints in Judea, Paul wrote (2 Cor. 9:8), “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” The way God supplies our needs so that we can have an abundance to give is through our asking Him in prayer. Jesus instructed us to pray (Matt. 6:11): “Give us this day our daily bread.” He added (Matt. 7:7), “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Those verses apply both individually and to us as the church.

E. The church should not raise money through annual pledge drives, through promoting tithing, or through any worldly, high-pressure methods.

As I mentioned, many churches do annual pledge drives where they ask each member to promise to give a certain amount in the coming year. Others teach what they call “storehouse giving,” based on a faulty application of Malachi 3:10, urging members to give 10 percent to the church with the promise that if they do, God will abundantly meet their needs. This often appeals to greed: “Give more and you’ll get more!” And, churches often use worldly, high-pressure fundraising methods. Sometimes churches hire professional fundraisers, who promise to raise large donations for a percentage of the take. But in my opinion, all of these methods are based on worldly techniques, not on the biblical principles which I just mentioned. Godly financial integrity means that churches should raise money in a biblical way.

2. Godly financial integrity means spending money in a biblical way.

How should a church spend the funds it receives? I’m going to give three ways churches should spend money and one way that is permissible (but not mandatory) to spend money.

A. Churches should support those who labor in preaching and teaching God’s Word.

Paul wrote (1 Tim. 5:17), “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” While scholars differ over the meaning of “double honor,” the context and Paul’s other writings on the subject support the view that the term includes both respect and financial remuneration (see my thesis, p. 41). In Galatians 6:6 Paul wrote, “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.” “All good things” includes financial support. And, although Paul denied himself the right of receiving financial support from churches that he was currently ministering to, he argued that workers are worthy of support (1 Cor. 9:1-18). In that discussion, he stated (1 Cor. 9:14), “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”

B. Churches should help support those who take the gospel to other places.

In addition to the verse which we just read, Paul’s letter to the Philippians makes it clear that he received support from that church while he was ministering in Corinth (Phil. 1:5; 4:15-18; 2 Cor. 11:8-9; Acts 18:3-5). Also, the apostle John states (3 John 5-8):

Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

Of course the needs of missions and missionaries are enormous, so it’s difficult to determine how to allocate limited funds. We have a missions policy that gives some guidance in this process, but it’s not always easy to apply the policy. Generally, though, we try to support those who are focused on reaching people groups that have yet to hear the gospel. And we put a priority on those from our own congregation who go out to serve in missions.

C. Churches should wisely help the needy, both in the local church and through Christian missions worldwide.

According to Bob Deffinbaugh (bible.org/seriespage/7-new-testament-church-its-finances), 90 percent of the references to giving in the New Testament are related to helping poor believers. In his usual blunt style, the apostle John asks rhetorically (1 John 3:17), “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” He was reflecting the words of Jesus, who said that to the extent that we help even the least of His brothers, we do it to Him (Matt. 25:34-40).

As far as helping poor unbelievers, the church’s main job is to preach the gospel. But often ministry to the poor can open doors for evangelism. Practicing the Golden Rule means acting with wise compassion toward the needy. Galatians 6:10 commands, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

But giving to those in need is not as easy as just doling out money to anyone who asks. We need to be careful to give genuine help and not enable the person to continue with irresponsible behavior or to create dependency. R. C. Sproul (Christianity Today [3/5/82], p. 94) points out that there are different categories of poor in the Bible, each requiring different responses: (1) The poor because of laziness or disobedience. This group receives God’s judgment. (2) The poor because of disease, famine, or other catastrophe. This group receives the compassion of God and His people. (3) The poor because of exploitation. This group receives the protection of God through justice. (4) The poor for righteousness’ sake. This group endures voluntary poverty owing to their decision to choose less affluent endeavors or vocations.

So we must be discerning when we give to help the poor. The question is, do people truly want help to become financially responsible and independent or are they just looking for an enabler? Two helpful books on this subject are, When Helping Hurts [Moody Publishers], by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert; and, Giving Wisely [Last Chapter Publishing], by Jonathan Martin. Our church has an “SOS” fund (“Serving Others Sharing”) that is not part of our budget. You may give to it by designating your donation to that fund. By IRS regulations, the elders have the final authority on how to distribute those funds.

So, churches are required to support those who labor in preaching and teaching; help support those who take the gospel to other places; and help the poor and needy, both locally and around the world. The final point is optional:

D. Churches may acquire and maintain adequate facilities.

In the Old Testament, we have the example of the tabernacle and the temple as places for worship, but there are no New Testament verses to support church buildings. As you may know, there were no church buildings until the fourth century, when Constantine lifted persecution against the church. Historically, the Roman Catholic Church often has erected costly, magnificent cathedrals. We visited one in Brno, Czech Republic, that had large, costly gemstones set in the walls. Since the Reformation, Protestant churches have been simpler and less ornate. In the U. S. many churches meet in storefronts or remodeled industrial buildings.

But there is also a movement, especially among those who are turned off by spending millions of dollars on buildings, to meet in house churches. How should we evaluate this trend? Positively, house churches avoid the costs of leasing, purchasing, or maintaining facilities and usually of supporting staff pastors. Also, members experience more intimate fellowship and community with one another. Potentially, there can be closer shepherding of members. And, house churches do better under persecution.

But there are downsides: By not supporting those who preach and teach the Word, house churches may be subject to inferior biblical instruction. If they multiply without adequately trained leadership, they will be weak and prone to heresy. For example, I’ve heard that the Chinese house church movement is rife with false teaching. House churches are also prone to become ingrown and too homogeneous (all one age group or all of the same social group). House churches are not able to provide ministries for children or teens and they will not be as capable of supporting mission endeavors as larger churches are.

Obviously, we have a facility here that requires maintenance and upkeep. And we could use more room for offices and classrooms, as well as parking. That leads to the final point:

3. Godly financial integrity means saving money in a biblical way.

With regard to personal finances, it is wise to save in advance for foreseen future needs (Prov. 6:6-11; 2 Cor. 12:14; 1 Tim. 5:8). The same applies to the church. Whenever possible, a church should prudently save in advance for foreseen needs. That’s why we have built into our budget planned savings toward purchasing the parking lot across the street (which we currently rent) if it should come on the market. And we have budgeted savings toward replacing our roof, which is now over 25 years old. It’s not in our budget, but we need new carpet in the Fireside Room and some other maintenance needs.

That brings up the question, “Should a church avoid all debt?” As with personal finances, incurring debt is risky and should be avoided if possible. But, few of us could own a home if we did not take out a mortgage. And, owning a home can be a wise investment. And there are situations where taking on reasonable debt for an emergency or legitimate need is necessary. For example, if the parking lot came on the market this month, in my opinion we would be unwise to let someone else buy it if we did not have the cash on hand. Saving in advance for such a need is preferable, but taking on reasonable debt to secure that property for our use would be better than letting a business buy it.

Conclusion

When people were asked in a national survey to rank professions for honesty and integrity, they placed TV evangelists near the bottom of 73 occupations, right between prostitutes and organized crime bosses (cited by Lee Stroebel, Inside the Mind of the Unchurched Harry & Mary [Zondervan], p. 201). The local church should not be that way! Rather, we should be a model of godly financial integrity as good stewards of God’s resources.

Application Questions

  1. Do you agree that believers should avoid debt if at all possible? What about churches? Is it wrong to borrow for property or buildings?
  2. How can we know where to draw the line on material possessions and spending on entertainment? Should churches spend more to make facilities attractive?
  3. How can the church meet the needs of the poor without enabling them or creating dependence?
  4. Do you agree that tithing is not the standard for New Testament believers? Give biblical support for your answer.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2017, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Finance, Tithing