By Pastor Glenn Pease
It is almost impossible to get through life in America without falling for some get rich quick scheme. The lotteries across the land keep this dream before the American people constantly. The heroes of our day are people who have demonstrated that it can be done. People in New York come up and touch Donald Trump in hopes that his good luck will rub off on them. He has the knack of buying things cheap and selling them for a fortune. He bought a vacant rail yard in Manhattan, and then lobbied to have the New York City Convention Center built there. He then sold the city the land for 12 million. He buys hotels for a few million, and then sells them for many millions. In building his famous 68 story skyscraper called the Trump tower he got the largest tax break in New York history. You can get a one bedroom condo there for a mere half of million. Most of them go for a cool million. Trump lives in the triplex penthouse worth 10 million.
In a culture which worships wealth Trump is a high priest. The religion of riches is popular among all classes. Ten per cent of America's richest people hold 68 per cent of the nations wealth. But the dream of many of the rest of the population is to figure out how to get rich quick, and to get into this club of the wealthy. They feel that Mark Twain was right when he said, "The lack of money is the root of all evil." What they do not realize is that being rich does not necessarily make you feel rich. Lewis Lapham wrote the book Money And Class In America. He was educated at Yale and Cambridge, and is one of the elite himself, and so he knows of what he is writing when he says, "Never in the history of the world have so many people been so rich; never in the history of the world have so many of those same people felt themselves so poor."
Lapham lives and works with these rich people, and he knows their frustrations when they cannot afford to buy 15 thousand dollar dresses and ear rings. Rich people live in a world where you feel poor when you cannot have everything you want or desire. He has friends who make 250 thousand a year, but they feel worthless and stressed because they need 300 thousand to meet expenses. It is hard for us to grasp, but many half-millionaires live in depression because they are not full millionaires. In 1987 the New York Times had an articles titled, "Feeling poor on 600,000 a year." Studies show that most rich people feel they would be happy if they could double their income.
Lapham has been asking people for 30 years to name the figure that would make them happy, and invariably people with one million say the secret number is 2 million. He sums up what he has learned about rich people in four words, "Nobody ever has enough." He tells stories of people making 5 million a year who are full of anxiety, and who become crooks on Wall Street and fall in disgrace because they plot illegal get rich schemes. We read much of the objectively deprived who have no job, but the more you read about the rich the more you realize the tragic reality of the subjectively deprived. Rich people feeling pressured to commit white-collar crime because they cannot become content even in the state of plenty. They are addicted to money, and they are obsessed with it. Seek ye first the kingdom of money is their first commandment.
A sign in the window of Merrill Lynch in New York says, "It is 2 P. M. Do you know where your money is?" Most rich people do, for in 1982 for the first time in history money earned from capital equaled that earned by wages. In other words, people made as much money for doing nothing as was made by all labor. Christians cannot escape the impact of living in a wealth worshiping culture. We are a part of the culture, and we all play the same games to some degree. We buy stocks and bonds, and everything we do gets us into the whole world of wealth in one way or another. It is important that we listen to the Word of God and learn to march to the beat of a different drummer, or we too can become captives to our culture and live for its values only. The culture is not always wrong, and there are many valid values, but they must be balanced with Christian values or they become enemies of our soul.
Paul's image of an ideal Christian is not one who is always getting, but one who is always giving. He gives a hand to a fallen brother. He gives of all good things to his instructor. He gives of his resources to please God and do good to all men. The godly man and the good man is a giving man according to Paul. It is not that he is opposed to getting, for if you never get you have nothing to give. Getting is all right when it is a means to being a better giver. Many of the richest people in American history were Christians who gave fortunes to build Christian ministries. The giver also has a different perspective. The get rich quick scheme is not his primary goal, but it is the get rich slow scheme. This means the giver is one who looks at the long-range goals of life, which go beyond materialism to values, which are eternal.
Those who sow to please their sinful nature reap destruction. No matter how rapidly their investments pay off, and no matter how wealthy they become, they go from riches to rags because they lose all in judgment. Their narrow vision is limited to time and so their physical wealth makes them penny wise and pound foolish. Paul says that the really wise investor is the one who sows to the spirit. He is a giver of his time, talent, and treasure to that which pleases God and meets the needs of men. He is a man or woman who lays up treasure in heaven which will be eternal, and so they will be rich forever and not just for the fleeting years of this life.
Paul does not tell us to get rich quick, but how to get rich slow. It may be in eternity before you reap what you sow and collect the interest on your investment. It was so for Paul himself and all of the Apostles. One of the most important things we can learn is how to be the ideal giver, which is the giver who gets rich slowly but surely. Paul gives us some characteristics of this ideal giver that we want to explore in this text. The first characteristic of the ideal giver is-
I. HE GIVES FREELY.
In the Old Testament God's people had no choice. The tithe was like a tax and you had to pay it. In the New Testament Christians are not forced to give, but are urged to do it freely. Just as you have the freedom to plant corn or radishes, so you have the freedom to give what you will and not what anyone sets as what is right for you. People complain at times that the church is always asking for money, but the fact is, that is the beauty of the church compared to the government. They do not ask for money, but they demand it. The bank does not send you a letter each month asking you to give some money for your car or your house payment. They demand that you pay or suffer the penalty. It is the same with the utility companies. When you go anywhere for service you are billed for that service. You are not free to set the cost for that service. It is a legalistic setup all completed without your input. You pay up or else.
The church is the only major institution which provides a service of instruction, worship, fellowship, encouragement, counseling, and a host of other services without sending a bill. You can utilize these services for months and years and nobody ever says, "Pay up or get out." The church has to ask for money because that is its only means of support. It is the freely given offerings of people who can choose to keep it going. The ideal giver does not give because of law, but because he chooses to be part of the answer rather than part of the problem. Giving is the foundation for every value in the Christian life. Christianity begins with the giving heart of God. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Nobody held a gun to God's head demanding that He do it or else. Jesus did not go to the cross out of necessity. He could have backed out at any time. He laid down His life freely, and He said to His disciples, "As you have freely received so freely give."
Ideal giving is giving by choice. God loves a cheerful giver Paul says in
II Cor. 9:7. You can't really be a cheerful giver unless your giving is your choice. A father gave his little boy a quarter and a nickel and told him to put one in the offering and keep the other. He put in the nickel and after church dad asked him why he chose the nickel? He said "The pastor told us God loves a cheerful giver and I knew I could be more cheerful giving the nickel and keeping the quarter, and so that is what I did." We might think he was greedy and materialistic, but the fact is, he was given the choice, and if that is what he felt free to give, that was the best gift, for the freely given gift is the one that pleases God.
What is of interest to note is that in a system like this where all are free to give as they choose studies reveal that poor people choose to give a higher percentage of their income than rich people. A study in 1987 of American households showed that low to moderate income families gave almost twice the percentage as those making 75 to 100 thousand a year. The higher the income the less generous people become. A survey in Bangalore, a large city in South India, showed that poor Christians gave a larger share of their income than did rich Christians.
I do not feel that tithing is a New Testament law, but one of the main reasons I believe it is a good thing to teach young people is because it gives Christians a good solid habit that will guide them through their stages of life as they move to higher levels of income. Without this standard as Christians get richer they become less committed to giving, and more committed to getting. Their very success in this life robs them of the riches they might have forever if they would only choose to be generous with what God has given them. Generally speaking, the very wealthy will not be the richest in eternity, for they tend to sow more to the flesh than to the spirit.
Many a poor Christian in this life will be rich beyond his dreams, for he has sown his little for the kingdom of God. From what we know in Scripture about the rich man and Lazarus the poor beggar at his gate, the law Paul lays down that we will reap as we sow means that the status of millions will be reversed in eternity, and many who freely choose to be generous with their little will be the richest people in that kingdom where the get rich slow people will be rewarded for their choice. Next we see-
II. HE GIVES FAITHFULLY.
The people who really keep a church going are the people who are consistent regardless of the situation. Naturally if you lose income your giving may vary, and obviously if a ministry is doing foolish or irresponsible things with your money, you have a right to withhold it in protest. But ideal givers are people who do not become weary in well doing. These are the givers that have helped the church survive over the centuries. Paul makes it clear that doing good does not always pay immediate dividends. It is often hard for people to give of their time, talent and treasure, and to be consistent when there is no quick payoff. They become weary in well doing because they cannot see the long-range picture and the promise of God to those who persist in tough times. He promises that they will reap a harvest if they don't give up.
Almost every Christian goes through the giving up feeling at times. They give and even sacrifice but they see so little fruit that they want to give up and give their time and money to something else that seems more satisfying. Because Christians are like this the whole Christian world has had to follow the way of our culture and deny the reality of failure. Paul never did this, nor did Jesus. Jesus gave His all and yet people often did not respond. He healed 10 lepers and 9 never even said thanks. Paul had churches fail him, and leaders who forsook him, and all of his letters deal with the reality of Christian failure. But you won't find this in our culture, which is captivated by the success syndrome. In our pride we cannot admit that doing good ever leads to weariness and frustration, and that giving does not always pay off.
No Christian college would dare admit that a percentage of their students do not turn out as successful leaders in the community. No evangelism organization would dare to send out literature telling that over 90 percent of the decisions they get are of people who, after the emotion wears off, go back into their worldly life-style. The promotional literature of all Christian ministries does not face up to the reality of failure because they know American Christians are not equipped to handle it. They want success only or they will cease to support the effort, for they cannot tolerate doing what does not have an immediate payoff. They get weary in well doing, and they give up.
Christian fund-raisers have to hide the realities of the New Testament and pretend that success is all there is. Failure is not even in their vocabulary. The health and wealth gospel is popular because it is all about success with no failure, and that is what people want. Christians who give based on success are not different than those who play the stock market and shift their allegiance every time they see a better deal. It sound noble and like good investing, but the fact is, doing good calls for long range consistency, and if you pull out because it is not fast enough, you could be letting a long range plan fail. The ideal giver is into giving to do good, and he is in it for the long haul knowing that his reward is from God even if his investments fail in time.
Nobody wants to read the story of the Christian who has been plodding along for 20 years teaching a Sunday school class of boys and girls, and the class is the same size this year as when it began 20 years ago. There are, of course, thousands of such classes all across America, but these givers of their lives and resources are not the heroes we want to read about in America. But the fact is, these are the givers who will reap the great harvest in God's get rich slow scheme of faithful giving.
It is not that the teacher who goes like a ball of fire from ten to a class of a thousand is not a great Christian worthy of great reward, but he is the exception, and he never had to conquer the getting weary in well doing temptation. His harvest may not be as impressive as the faithful giver of his life who had many battles to win, but who never quit giving. Faithful giving is the key to every large church, for in our success syndrome society millions of dollars monthly are going to organizations that tell of the big results, or in some other way appeal to the get rich quick spirit in all of us. If there were not armies of faithful givers to the local church, all the money would flow to the get rich now ministries, and the whole church would suffer in the long run. Next we see-
III. HE GIVES FONDLY.
He gives with an affectionate caring spirit for all people, but especially those of the family of God. The ideal giver sees his giving as an investment in people. It is not just a tax deduction and an obligation, but it is a way of doing good to people. The surprising thing about this passage is that Paul stresses doing good to those who are already in the family of God. You would expect Paul, as the great missionary and evangelist, to say we should give our best to reach the lost world, but he says to share all good things with your instructor and the family of believers. This seems rather self-centered to focus inward on the church as the primary object of our giving, but if you think about it, it makes great sense.
How is the world going to be impressed with the church if it does not care for its own? "Behold how they love one another," is to be the response of the world as they look at the church. This means Christians need to be especially concerned to meet the needs of all in the body. A spirit of fondness or affection is to characterize our giving as we seek to express love. Giving is never at its best unless it is an expression of love.
Adeline Patti was a famous opera singer. A little street girl once asked her for a coin, and she asked the girl, "Do you sing?" She responded, "Yes, sometimes." "Come to my house and let me hear you," said Patti. The girl came and showed evidence of ability. Patti gave her lessons and helped this girl become a gifted singer. She gave more than money, for she gave herself, and her gift to help another became a blessing to many. Here is where Christians should shine, and with a spirit of fondness for other people be willing to invest their lives as well as their money in lifting the family of God to greater heights.
The robber may say, "Your money or your life," but God says, "Your money and your life." He wants you to be a giver of all good things for the sake of the family. We often stress that we are to love those for whom Christ died, but we need to also stress we need to love those in whom Christ lives. The family of God is to have priority, and when you give to help another believer it is, according to Paul, first rate giving. This is the key to being successful in God's get rich slow scheme.