Giving God's Way
Giving God’s Way
December 28, 2008
Christmas is called the season of giving, isn’t it? We all love to give and receive gifts, don’t we? Well, today we’re going to look a giving from God’s perspective. I call this message: Giving God’s Way. If it sounds familiar at all it’s because I gave a message very much like it at this time a year ago. Once a year whether we need it or not! And I believe God is saying, we need it!
In Experiencing God Day-by-Day, Henry Blackaby ends the year by speaking about our obedience: James 4:17 states So, for the person who knows to do good and doesn’t do it, it is a sin.
It is never a minor thing to know God's will and not do it. God calls this sin. We can make excuses for our lack of obedience: “I'm just not ready yet” or “I'll do it later!” or “I don't think it will make a difference” or “I can't afford to!” We rationalize, we procrastinatate; yet, in God's eyes, rationalization and procrastination are nothing more than disobedience. At times we deceive ourselves into thinking that good intentions equal obedient actions. They do not. A good intention without corresponding activity is disobedience. When we encounter God and He gives us a direction, it is not enough to write down the date in our spiritual journal, or even to tell our friends and church of our “decision.” God's call is not to “make a decision” but to obey! Deciding to obey is not equal to obeying! (Matt. 21:28–31). Loudly affirming the necessity of obedience is not the same as obeying (Luke 6:46). Making commitments, even publicly, is not the same as obeying our Lord. Substituting our own good works is not the same as obeying. You’ll soon see how giving and obeying go hand in hand.
This is the last Sunday of 2008. Many of you will be making New Years resolutions for 2009. Well, I would like to suggest a New Years resolution with a spiritual dimension – a resolution which will bless your socks off, a resolution which will be pleasing to God. The resolution I will suggest will greatly affect your spiritual life. And I call this resolution, Giving God’s Way –taking that step of obedience that God asks of each of His people.
Giving is always a difficult subject for any pastor to preach on as many will think, “ Ah-ha, he has a vested interest, doesn’t he?” Yes, I do have a vested interest, but not the way you think. My vested interest is to make your life richer – not mine. For when God blesses you – our church is blessed. And when our church is blessed, our community will be blessed. And when our community is blessed, I will be blessed. What goes around, comes around! Many of you think money is a blessing. This morning I’ll try to show you how giving is the blessing.
Many of you are not being blessed as God wants you to be. Many of you have settled for a life of unsatisfying material acquisitions. But, there’s something so much more blessed than anything the world can offer – eternal treasures and exhilarating joy.
You do want these treasures and this joy don’t you? Don’t you?
If so, keep on listening. Quite possibly you may hear answers to some of your questions about giving and learn something to help get you started.
To everyone’s amazement, Sam Houston, the colorful American soldier and politician, came to Christ. After his baptism, Houston said he wanted to pay half the local minister’s salary. When someone asked him why, he responded, “My pocketbook was baptized, too.”
Like Sam Houston, you may understand that the Christian life is inseparable from giving. But you might be wondering, Where do I start?
A logical place is where God started, with His Old Covenant children: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” (Leviticus 27:30)
The meaning of the word tithe is "a tenth part." Ten percent was to be given back to God. There were freewill offerings, too, but the 10 percent was mandatory.
Proverbs 3:9 says, "Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops". God's children give to Him first, not last. Firstfruits are the first and best of all the fruit of your labor. The cream on the top, not the sediment on the bottom. Now let’s look at our key verse this morning:
When God’s children weren't giving as they should, He said, "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, `How do we rob you?' In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house" (Malachi 3:8-9).
Jesus validated the mandatory tithe, even on small things in Matthew 23:23. But there's no mention of tithing in the Gospels. It's neither commanded nor rescinded, and there's heated debate among Christians about whether tithing is still a starting place for giving. Ray Stedman says: “Many Christians have the mistaken notion that God expects 10 percent, so we can spend the other 90 percent on ourselves. That’s not what the New Testament teaches. In fact, the Old Testament requirement of tithing isn’t taught anywhere in the New Testament. What is the New Testament’s teaching on giving? We should give more than the Old Testament tithe. If God has richly blessed you (and He has blessed all of us here), then give 20, 30, 50 percent. In fact, I have known Christians who have given away 90 percent of their income while living on the 10 percent.”
I have mixed feelings on this issue. I detest legalism. I certainly don't want to impose Old Testament restrictions on Christians. Did you know, every New Testament example of giving goes far beyond the tithe. And get this, none falls short of it.
There's a timeless truth behind the concept of giving God our firstfruits. Whether or not the tithe is still the minimal 10% measure of those firstfruits, I ask myself, Does God expect His children to give less or more? Ask yourself, did Jesus raise the spiritual bar or lower it?; He never lowered it did He? (Matthew 5:27-30). It seems fair to ask, "God, do You really expect less of me than You did of the church fathers? I have Your Holy Spirit within me and live in the wealthiest society in human history — would You expect less of me than You demanded of the poorest Israelite?" Does that make sense to you?
Missionary C.T. Studd penned this wise statement, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Nearly every study indicates that Canadian Christians give on average between 2 and 3 percent of their income. A 2001 Barna Research report states:
Among born again adults, there was a 44 percent rise in those who gave nothing last year. Compared to 1999, the mean per capita donation to churches dropped by 19 percent in 2000. One-third of born again adults said they tithed in 2000, but a comparison of their actual giving and household incomes reveals that only one-eighth did so. Troubling isn’t it? Not only were most believers not tithing, they were lying to cover their shame.
Maybe you believe exclusively in "grace giving" (that is you give far above the minimum 10%. Incidentally, the Jews in Jesus day gave far more than 10% - they gave 10% to the temple, 10 % to the priests, and a further 10% every 3 years for a total of 23%) The church fathers Origen, Jerome, and Augustine taught that the tithe was the minimum giving requirement for Christians.
Isn't it troubling that in our wealthy society, "grace giving" amounts to a small fraction of the Old Testament standard? Whatever we're teaching about giving today, either it's not true to Scripture, the message isn't getting through, or we're being disobedient. I had a disturbing conversation many years ago with Gary, a neighbor and friend. Gary, a believer, claimed that since Scripture said the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing, that his giving should be done anonymously. He chose to throw is tithe in the offering plate and not be receipted. This would have been fine except that I was the church treasurer and knew that the few loose dollars in the offering plate could not be anyone’s tithe. Gary too, was living a lie. Why? Why do God’s people lie about their giving? Gary is fortunate he doesn’t live in the days of the early church. Do you remember what happened to Ananias and Sapphira? If you’ve forgotten, tak a quick trip through Acts, chapter 5. In that day lying to the Holy Spirit did’nt recur. Once was enough! What about you? Are you testing God’s goodness like Ananias and Sapphira?
Tithing isn't the ceiling of giving; it's the floor. It's not the finish line of giving; it's just the starting blocks. Tithes can be the training wheels to launch us into the mind-set, skills, and habits of giving.
The tithe is God's historical method to get us on the path of giving. In that sense, it can serve as a gateway to the joy of grace giving. It's unhealthy to view tithing as a place to stop, but it can still be a good place to start. (Even in the Old Testament it wasn't a stopping place—don't forget the freewill offerings.)
Malachi says that the Israelites robbed God by with-holding not only their mandatory tithes but also their voluntary "offerings." By giving less in their freewill offerings than He expected of them, they were robbing God. If they could rob God with insufficient freewill offerings, can't we do the same today? And if you’re tempted to say you aren’t under the law therefore not bound by the law, you are right. So how do you rationalize Jesus own words when He said He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it? Jesus did not teach contrary to Old Testament law (Matt 5:17)
Paul, too, encouraged giving. He described such giving as "obedience" (2 Corinthians 9:13). God has expectations of us, even when our offerings are voluntarily and cheerfully given. As Malachi said, to give less than God expects of us is to rob Him. Paul commended the church in Corinth for their liberal giving to the poverty-stricken church at Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1-2). And again in Second Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, Paul expounds on giving. In those two chapters of his second letter to Corinth, we find the most significant teaching of what Paul calls the grace of giving.
Of course, God doesn't expect us all to give the same amount. We're to give in proportion to how He's blessed us (Deuteronomy 16:10, 16-17).
Some may say, "We'll take this gradually. We're starting with 5 percent." But that’s like saying, “I used to rob six convenience stores a year. This year, by His grace, I’m going to rob only three.” The point is not to rob God less – it’s not to rob God at all.
True, some would be sacrificing more by giving five percent of their income than others would be by tithing or even giving 50 or 90 percent. Certainly the affluent should never "check off the box," as if giving 10 percent automatically fulfills their obligation. The 90 percent belongs to God, too. He doesn't look at just what we give. He also looks at what we keep. God is always looking at our heart.
I've had the privilege of talking to many about giving. In the great majority of cases they mention tithing as the practice that first stretched them to give more. They tithed and then watched God open the floodgates. They saw their hearts move deeper into His kingdom. Now, years later, they're giving far more than they’re keeping! But it was tithing that set them on the road to giving. Marcy and I started tithing when we were living on welfare. It was 1982 and the recession hit Calgary where we were living. It was the first time in my life that I couldn’t find work. Accepting welfare was humbling. But we knew if we were ever going to be blessed, we had to be faithful in the little before he would trust us with more.(Luke 16:10)
When God's people were robbing Him by withholding tithes and offerings, He said, "Test me in this...and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" (Malachi 3:10).
Ironically, many people can't afford to give precisely because they're not giving (Haggai 1:9—11). If we pay our debt to God first, then we will incur His blessing to help us pay our debts to men. But when we rob God to pay men, we rob ourselves of God's blessing. No wonder we don't have enough. It's a vicious cycle, and it takes obedient faith to break out of it.
When people tell me they can't afford to tithe, I ask them, "If your income was reduced by 10 percent would you die?" They say, "No." And I say, "Then you've admitted that you can afford to tithe. It's just that you don't want to."
I'm not saying that it's easy to give. I'm saying—and there are thousands who will agree—that it's much easier to live on 90 percent of your income inside the will of God than it is to live on 100 percent outside it.
I have no problem with people who say "we're not under the tithe," just as long as they're not using that as justification for giving less. But the current giving statistics among Christians clearly indicate most of us need a giving jump-start. If you find a gateway to giving that's better than the tithe, wonderful. But if not, why not start where God started with His Old Testament children?
Paul said, "See that you also excel in this grace of giving" (2 Corinthians 8:7). To pursue excellence in any endeavor we practice, we must commit time and effort. Giving is no different. Commit yourself to 10% right off the top of your paycheque. With practice, it will feel good – very good. And I guarantee that if you do it first, you won’t miss it but if you wait until the end of the month, it won’t be there! It’s weird how that works. It has nothing to do with your banking or budgeting. God blesses those who are faithful in their giving to the church they attend
Here is another point about giving; the Macedonian believers practiced it. They gave "as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability" (2 Corinthians 8:3). What does it mean to give beyond our ability? It means pushing our giving past the point where the bottom line says we can't.
Scott Lewis attended a conference where Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade) challenged people to give one million dollars to help fulfill the great commission. This amount was laughable to Scott – far beyond anything he could imagine since his machinery business was generating an income of under fifty thousand dollars a year.
Bill asked, "How much did you give last year?" Scott felt pretty good about his answer: "We gave seventeen thousand dollars, about 35 percent of our income."
Without blinking an eye, Bill responded, "Over the next year, why don't you make a goal of giving fifty thousand dollars?"
Scott thought Bill hadn't understood. That was more than he had made all year! But Scott and his wife decided to trust God with Bill's challenge, asking Him to do the impossible. God provided in amazing ways. With a miraculous December 31 provision, the Lewises were able to give the fifty thousand dollars. The next year they set a goal of giving one hundred thousand dollars. Again, God provided.
In 2001, the Lewises passed the one-million-dollar mark in their giving. The best part is that they aren't stopping. That's what it means to excel at giving, giving beyond what you are able.
People ask, "Should I give now, or should I hang on to it, hoping my investments will do well and I'll have more to give in a year or two?"
I respond with two questions of my own: "How soon do you want to experience God's blessing?" and "Do you want to be sure the money goes to God's kingdom, or are you willing to risk that it won't?"
When we stand before God, I don't believe He'll say, "You blew it when you gave Me all that money before the stock market peaked."
I don't believe its ever wrong to give now. God can produce far greater returns on money invested in heaven today than Wall Street or real estate ever can.
If we don't give now we run some real risks:
- The economy may change and we'll have less to give.
God says we don't know what's going to happen
tomorrow (James 4:13-17). Countless investors have
been "absolutely sure" about getting great returns on
money that disappeared overnight. That’s what happened in the recession of 1980. It happened again, for many, in 2008. Do you think that could happen again? You bet it can! Regardless of whether the economy is on the rocks or sinking sand, we know our God is in control of all things. God never changes; we do! How do we change?
- Our hearts may change and we may not follow
through with giving. Zaccheus said, "Here and now I
give my possessions." If you procrastinate, the
same heart that's prompting you to give today may
later persuade you not to. Why? Because as a
result of postponing giving, your heart's vested
interests increase on earth and decrease in heaven.
- Our lives may end before we've given what we
You may think, No problem there. I'm putting my church and ministries in my will. By all means, do your estate planning and give generously to God's kingdom. But what kind of trust does it take to part with your money once you die? You don't have any choice!
Death isn't your best opportunity to give; it's the end of your opportunity to give. God rewards acts of faith done while we're still living.
We also need to examine the present worthiness of any organization we give to. I agree with financial advisor Ron Blue, who says, "Do your givin' while you're livin', so you're knowin' where it's goin'."
John Wesley said, "Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way into my heart." Wesley earned significant book royalties during his life—yet his goal was to give so generously as to leave virtually nothing behind when he died. He achieved his goal. While it still had value, he traded in his "Confederate" currency for treasures in heaven.
When the Lord returns, what will happen to all the money sitting in bank accounts, retirement programs, estates, and foundations? It will burn like wood, hay, and straw, when it could have been given in exchange for gold, silver, and precious stones. Money that could have been used to feed the hungry and fulfill the great commission will go up in smoke.
"What about our children?" you may ask. "Aren't we supposed to leave them all our money?" The answer is no.
Marcy and I will leave to our children only enough to be of modest assistance, but not enough to change their lifestyles or undercut their need to plan and pray with and depend on hard work. We've communicated this, and they understand and agree with our plan to give most of our estate to God's work here and now: we support Gospel for Asia missionaries and Evangelical Free Church Missionaries. And we encourage others to do so also.
Leaving a large inheritance to children is not just a missed opportunity to invest in God's kingdom. It's also rarely in the children's best interests.
I've read countless inheritance horror stories over the years. Study the lives of people who have inherited significant wealth and you'll find that in the vast majority of cases, it's made them more unhappy, greedy, and cynical. Who needs to work hard when you've got all that money? Money funds new temptations, including addictions. Giving money to a careless spender is throwing gasoline on a fire. And nothing divides siblings more quickly than a large inheritance. Leaving more to God's kingdom and less to financially independent children is not just an act of love toward God, but toward them. We had a godly man in our church in Vanderhoof who decided to leave all of his estate to Christian organizations. But his children, who had already received much from him, contested his will. They were able to force those organizations to return what they had been given. These children selfishly spent it all satisfying their own evil desires. Why do you think the Bible says money is a root of all sorts of evil (1Tim. 6:10)?
In Old Testament times, leaving an inheritance was critical (Proverbs 13:22), because children couldn't afford to buy their own land and could end up enslaved or unable to care for their parents. But today, inheritances are often windfalls coming to people who are financially independent and already have more than they need. We all know people who live their lives waiting for a parent to die! Is that sad, or what?
Andrew Carnegie said, "The almighty dollar bequeathed to a child is an almighty curse. No man has the right to handicap his son with such a burden as great wealth."
Your children should love the Lord, work hard, and experience the joy of trusting God as you have. More important than leaving your children an inheritance is leaving them a spiritual heritage. If you left your children money they didn't need, and if they were thinking correctly, wouldn't they give it to God anyway? Then why not give it to God yourself, since He entrusted it to you?
Let God decide how much to provide for your adult children. Once they're on their own, the money you've generated under God's provision doesn't belong to your children—it belongs to God.
Jesus said, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38).
The more you give, the more comes back to you, because God is the greatest giver in the universe, and He won’t let you outgive Him. Go ahead and try. See what happens.
R. G. LeTourneau invented earthmoving machines. He gave, but the money came in faster than he could give it away. LeTourneau said, "I shovel it out and God shovels it back—but God has a bigger shovel!"
God has given you considerable material blessings, hasn’t He? Have you ever asked yourself, Why has He provided so much? You don't need to wonder. Paul tells us exactly why He provides us with more money than we need: ‘Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that...” (2 Corinthians 9:10–11)
So that what? How will he finish this sentence? Health and wealth theology would finish it, "so that we might live in wealth, showing the world how much God blesses those who love Him."
But that isn't how Paul finishes it. He says, "You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion" (v. 11,).
God comes right out and tells us why He gives us more money than we need. It's not so we can find more ways to spend it. It's not so we can indulge ourselves and spoil our children. It's not so we can insulate ourselves from needing God's provision.
It's so we can give—generously.
The Owner of the cattle on a thousand hills is generous — He doesn't demand that His stewards live in poverty, and He doesn't resent our making reason-able expenditures for ourselves.
But suppose the Owner sees us living luxuriously in a mansion, driving only the best cars, and flying first-class? Or buying only expensive clothes and electronic gadgets and eating at the best restaurants? Isn't there a point when, as His stewards, we can cross the line of reasonable expenses? Won't the Owner call us to account for squandering money that's not ours?
We're called God's servants, and we're told it's required of us that we "prove faithful" or be found trustworthy (1 Corinthians 4:2). We’re God's errand boys and delivery girls. We should keep that in mind when we spend our salaries. We don't own the store. We just work here!
Just because God puts His money in our hands doesn't mean He intends for it to stay there!
That's what Paul told the Corinthians, encouraging them to give to the needy in Jerusalem:
At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little." (2 Corinthians 8:14—15)
So, here is another answer to the question, why does God give some of His children more than they need and others less than they need? So that He may use His children to help one another. He doesn't want us to have too little or too much (Proverbs 30:8—9). When those with too much give to those with too little, two problems are solved. When they don't, two problems are perpetuated.
God distributes wealth unevenly not because He loves some of His children more than others, but so His children can distribute it to their brothers and sisters on His behalf. When Marcy and I lived in Cochrane, we often visited with a missionary couple who lived in a beautiful home on the ridge overlooking the river valley. We often wondered how they could afford this magnificent home. We found out later that they didn’t own it. It, and two other similar homes, were owned by a Calgary businessman. He purchased them for the express purpose of “loaning them” to missionaries or needy Christian families. This was the first person I knew of who lived on the 10% and gave the 90%.
Paul said that the God who supplies seed to the sower will increase our store of seed. Why? So we can stockpile seed or eat it? No, so we can scatter it and spread it out that it might bear fruit. Abundance isn't God's provision for me to live in luxury. It's His provision for me to help others live. God entrusts me with this money not to build my kingdom on earth, but to build His kingdom in heaven.
Are you eager to plant God's money in the field of a world that needs Christ? Does the thought of giving to what will count for eternity make your spine tingle? Does storing up treasures in heaven make your heart leap with joy? I sure hope so!
If we understood the out-of-this-world returns, we'd join the Philippians and beg for the privilege of giving.
We need to decide to be content with what we have. Phil. 4:11) That means we don't need a higher standard of living. We don't need a better house or car. We don't need a better retirement pro-gram or more insurance. So, with joy in our hearts, we can say, "No thanks to more toys, entertainment, and any other form of self-indulgence."
God provides for us faithfully. And we get to experience one of life's greatest thrills—the joy of giving. So, ask yourself this question: Five minutes after I die, what will I wish I would have given away while I still had the chance? When you come up with an answer, why not give it away now?
Let’s close now with these words of wisdom from Jim Elliot (one of the missionaries martyred by the Auca Indians in Ecuador): “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Meditate on those words, they could change your life – they changed Jim Elliot’s life. Every one of those Auca’s who participated in his murder was later saved. Jim Elliot gave up what he could not keep in order to gain what he could not lose. Let’s begin the New Year by resolving to follow his example.