Healthy Heart, Healthy Hands (Matthew 6:19-24)
We are going to take a break from Acts today, but not from the series. We have been studying about what it means to be a healthy church. Next week Steve will take us through the next portion in Acts, Lord willing. This week, I want us to do some teaching on the Gospel and giving. I am not doing this because the Servant Team asked me or TM asked me or because we are not giving enough financially (I actually think we are a very generous church) or because there is a campaign, but as someone once said, “Christians need to be reminded more than instructed.” We need to have a robust theology of giving and stewarding our money well.
Did you know that the Bible devotes “twice as many verses to money (about 2,350 of them) than to faith and prayer combined? How could Jesus say more about money than about both heaven and hell? Didn’t he know what was really important? My point here is not to guilt trip you or threaten you that if you don’t give, God is going to get you. Rather to ask this question: How does believing the Gospel affect our understanding of generosity and giving?
I. What is a tithe? And is it for us today?
Before we ask that, we need to back up. First of all:
- God owns it all. We need to have a theology of stewardship. So the question is not “how much should I give?” When you ask that, are you really saying, “God, this is mine and I’m willing to share with you”? However, it is God who says, “This is mine and I’m willing to share with you.” Everything belongs to God and he’s willing to share with me, so my car belongs to God, my house belongs to God, my money belongs to God, my stuff belongs to God, my TV belongs to God, and every day I should say, “Thank you, God, for sharing your stuff.” Basically all of life is a stewardship. We are each servants of God who will be held accountable for the way we have used our stewardship. So do not think like an owner. Start thinking like a manager.
- Tithe means “tenth.” In the Old Testament, there is good evidence that the believer would give two, possibly even three tithes. The first was ten percent of all one’s possessions (Lev. 27:30-33). This was given to the Levites for the temple ministry (Numb. 18:20-21). A second tithe was taken from whatever produce was left after the first tithe was given. Another tithe was taken every third year for the welfare of the Levites, strangers, orphans and widows (Deut. 14:26-29). This third tithe may have been separate from the second, though we are not certain. At any rate, each Jewish family was responsible to give not ten percent, but approximately 19 percent. Some have said it was close to 25%. Nevertheless, it was way more than 10%. So if you want to go by the Old Testament, giving 10% is definitely under giving.
- Believers voluntarily gave their best by faith. They also gave first fruits in the OT apart from tithing. Pastor Kent Hughes notes, “There were firstfruits offerings in which an Israelite, out of love for God, brought the firstfruits of his crop or livestock to God (Numbers 18:11–13). The beautiful thing about this was that he did so when he had not yet harvested the rest of the crop and did not know what he would ultimately reap. He gave the best to God, trusting He would bring in the rest. It was faith giving and was totally voluntary.”
II. What does the NT teach about giving?
- The NT teaches: “proportionate grace giving.” The following list is from J. Hampton Keathley in bible.org’s article called, “Financial Faithfulness.” Look at 2 Cor. 9:7. I will explain what this in a second, but notice the emphasis from the heart.
- Grace giving is in faith: He has promised to supply all our needs; our giving will not be our lack (2 Cor. 9:8; Phil. 4:19).
- Grace giving is purposeful: We are to give from careful and prayerful planning. “Let each one do just as he has purposed (planned beforehand) in his heart” (2 Cor. 9:7). Let it not be a ritual or something mindless. Write your checks out at home. Pray as you write it and bring it and offer it as worship.
- Grace Giving is regular: “On the first day of every week” helps promote diligence and disciplined giving. This creates a consistency and regularity that translates good intentions into actions (1 Cor. 16:2).
- Grace Giving is personal: “Let each one of you” brings out the need for every believer to take giving as a personal responsibility for which God holds us each responsible (1 Cor. 16:2). For some, 10% is very sacrificial, but for others it is not. For some 2% is sacrificial.
- Grace Giving is systematic: “Put aside and save” brings out the need to have a method or system whereby money for the Lord’s work is specifically set aside, stored up for giving, so that it is not used for other things (1 Cor. 16:2).
- Grace Giving is proportionate: In the New Testament, set amounts of compulsory giving (as in the tithe) have been replaced by the grace principle of voluntary, purposeful, and proportionate giving. The new standard for today is “as He may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2), “they gave of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:3) and “let each one do…not under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7).
Keathley uses this illustration to demonstrate giving proportionately:
Believer A has an income of $20,000 per year and he gives ten percent, which is $2,000. Believer B has an income of $50,000 per year and he gives ten percent, which is $5,000. Believer B has given $3,000 more per year but this is not proportionately more because Believer A has $18,000 left to live on and Believer B still has $45,000 left, over twice as much. Believer B could give 20 percent ($10,000) and still have $40,000 left to live on which is still over twice as much as Believer A. Believer B would then be giving not only more, but proportionately more as well.
III. Who should we give to?
- The church. Some would say 10% of your income should go to the local church alone and then give above and beyond that to other ministries. We do not have that as a requirement here at Living Hope. But we sure hope you would see that the church is important for God’s mission in the world (cf. 2 Cor. 8:1; Gal. 6:6, 1 Tim. 5:17-18) and give accordingly. By the way, all monies given here in the offering bag or in a joint service are separated according to the ministry. We have our own budget here at Living Hope and all money given by any one of you goes there, if you were wondering. However, for tax purposes, please write the checks to “EFCC.”
- Para-church organizations and individuals. This means missions and others serving the Lord in ministry (2 John 5-8). There are plenty of organizations and individual missionaries who need help. As a church, we support Sophia for IV, Jenny Hawn (former LHoper) in Vietnam and other organizations like Bombay Teen Challenge. Did you know that the American church gives 2 cents of every dollar for overseas missions.
- Believers in need. Those unable to support themselves or who have faced serious problems are to be helped as we are able. Those who refuse to work are not to be supported (1 John 3:17; Jam. 2:15-16; Gal. 6:10; Heb. 10:33-34; 13:1-3 with 2 Thess. 3:6-10). We do have a benevolence fund for people in trouble financially.
- Unbelievers in need. Our first priority is to the household of faith, but we can use our wealth to help others in need (Gal. 6:10).
Let us be careful here. Though I believe in “Proportionate Grace Giving,” I do not think we can then say, “Well, it’s all about how much I feel like giving and sometimes I don’t feel like giving anything!” Pastor and Author Randy Alcorn says, “We must examine our hearts to discover whether when we say, ‘Tithing isn’t for today,’ we are using grace as a license to clutch tighter to material wealth.” Sadly, do you know that the two groups in the United States that give the highest percentages of their income are the poor (those making less than $20,000 per year) and the rich (those making more than $100,000 per year). Middle-class Americans (those making between $40,000 and $100,000 per year) are the smallest percentage givers. People generally give more as they make more, but they often give a lower percentage of their income. Only one-third to one-half of U.S. church members financially support their churches. In addition, Christians worldwide had personal income totaling more than $16 trillion in 2007 but gave only 2 percent, or $370 billion, to Christian causes. Overall, only 3 to 5 percent of those who donate money to a church tithe (give 10 percent of) their incomes. This last stat is troubling.
Alcorn puts it well: “…the Israelites’ triple tithes amounted to 23 percent of their income—in contrast to the average 2.5 percent giving of American Christians. This statistic suggests that the law was about ten times more effective than grace! Even using 10 percent as a measure, the Israelites were four times more responsive to the Law of Moses than the average American Christian is to the grace of Christ.” That is sad. As Malachi says, we are robbing God (Mal. 3:8).
If we look at giving as “paying back” or words like, “Minimum,” “Requirement” and “Command” fill your mind, something is wrong. Jesus has saved you. He forgave your sins you. He has promised heaven. How do words like minimum requirement fit into that?
We don’t talk like this about other areas of our life. What would you say if a new husband asked, “What’s the minimum times I should talk to my wife in the first year of marriage?” You would go, “What That doesn’t make sense. Something’s wrong.” Or if someone said, “I want to be a great father. How often should I read to my daughter? How many books a day?” Here, benchmarks could be helpful (ex: 5 books, 20 minutes a day). But obviously there’s no law here. And if the dad responded by saying, “Well if there’s no law, then 1 book a week is fine” you would know something is wrong with his heart. He’s missing the point. You don’t have to read to your daughter. You get to read to your daughter. Benchmarks are fine. But if you are shooting for a minimum, something is wrong with your heart.
IV. The Gospel and Giving
My point here is not to put us on a guilt trip. However, we cannot be greedy and stingy followers of a generous Savior. How do we become generous? Jesus tells us here in Mat. 6. Our treasure and our hearts are connected.
What we do with our possessions is a sure indicator of what’s in our hearts. Jesus is saying, “Show me your checkbook, your credit card statement, and your receipts for cash expenditures, and I’ll show you where your heart is.” What we do with our money doesn’t lie. It is a bold statement to God of what we truly value.
But what we do with our money doesn’t simply indicate where our heart is. According to Jesus, it determines where our heart goes. This is an amazing and exciting truth. If I want my heart to be in one particular place and not in another, then I need to put my money in that place and not in the other.
I’ve heard people say, “I want more of a heart for missions.” I always respond, “Jesus tells you exactly how to get it. Put your money in missions, and your heart will follow.”
Do you wish you had a greater heart for the poor and lost? Then give your money to help the poor and reach the lost. Do you want your heart to be in your church? Put your money there. Your heart will always be where your money is and not where your money isn’t. If most of your money is in mutual funds, retirement, your house, or your hobby, that’s where your heart’s going to be.
Jesus says we cannot serve Him and money (Luke 16:13-15). Interestingly, Jesus warns us in Luke 12:15, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (NIV). Why? He doesn’t ever say, “Watch out! Be careful that you are not committing adultery!” Because when you are in bed with someone that is not your spouse, you know it. As Tim Keller says, “Halfway through you don’t say—‘Wait a minute! I think this is adultery!’ You know it.” Jesus warns us about greed because it is a sin that no one thinks they have, because they are blind to it. Keller adds, “Money is one of the most counterfeit gods there is. When it takes hold of your heart it blinds you to what is happening, it controls you through anxieties and lusts, and it brings you to put it ahead of all other things.”
We love, trust in and serve money. Wait a minute, what is something we love, trust and serve? A god. It is idolatry. We are lovers of money when we are thinking excessively about it whether in anxiety or daydreaming about it. We are trusters of money when we feel like we have control of our lives because we have wealth. We find our security in it, so we serve it because it serves us, instead of using it to serve the Lord. So really the idol is not money, but money reveals where the idols are.
For me, it is an effort to give money away to something, but when it comes to books and/or bible software, it is effortless. I can do it without thinking. Why? Because I get approval from people: “Look how smart you are. Look at how much you read. Look at how much you know.” For others, it is effortless for us to buy clothes, why? It is because we find our identity in how we look and how others see us—fashionable, sleek or pretty or handsome or whatever. Still for others, money gives you security. It is your way to control your uncontrollable world. You hoard it and keep it and you think you need more and more of it. It still makes you anxious and you never feel secure.
So here are some questions to think about: Has money become your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, fear and delight? Do you think having more money will make you happy? Do you think having more money will make you an acceptable person? Do you look to money to define you or make you powerful or successful? Look at your spending habits (checkbook). What message will it convey? Do I envy the rich (people with more money than me)? Or do I look down on them? Do I feel superior to those who have less money than me? All of these questions can reveal our idolatry and false savior. This is why we are not more generous.
In the end, it is not that we treasure money too much, but that we treasure Christ too little. Where our treasure is, there our heart will be (Matt. 6:21) and where our treasure isn’t, shows us where our hearts aren’t right? Every other treasure but Jesus will enslave you. Jesus Christ is the one treasure who died to purchase you. Other treasures make you pay for it.
How do we treasure Christ? We treasure Him when we remember what He has done for us. Paul says, Christ, though He was rich, became poor for us so that we by His poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). Why would Jesus come? HE was rich. He had everything. He had all approval. He had the universe. There was one thing He didn’t have: us. If He hadn’t come to earth, be born in a manger and died on the cross, He couldn’t get us and would have lost us. He came to earth and lost His glory. He went to the cross and lost His Father. He lost it all. Why? Because we were more valuable to Him than the universe itself. More valuable than anything. You die for what you treasure.
Jesus had ultimate wealth, but if He held on to it, we would die bankrupt in our sin. If He stayed rich, we would become poor. But if He died poor, we could become rich. Jesus gave up all His treasure in Heaven, in order to make us His treasure (1 Pet. 2:9-10 says we are a treasured people). When you see Him dying to make you His ultimate treasure that will make Him your ultimate treasure. 
And all these things that are treasure to me, money is free, free to be used to heal the world. When we see that God has poured out His wealth on us, we know He cares for us and gives us ultimate security that money can never give. And Jesus didn’t just tithe Himself did He? He gave Himself completely for us, so we can now give ourselves completely to Him. We have a generous God. It is hard to be a stingy follower of a generous God.
So I have no rules to place upon you here, but if you don’t know where to start, start at giving 10% of your gross income and continue to increase in giving. So think increasingly and think proportionately and trust God for His best. Think simplification more than accumulation. Think of ways to use money to invest in others for the advance of the gospel. Never resist a generous impulse. Let’s not simply remove this idol of money, but replace it with the Lord, who became poor to make us truly rich!
Alcorn, R. (2003). Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale.
Driscoll, M. “Abraham rescues Lot and meets Melchizedek,” http://marshill.com/files/2004/12/19/20041219_abraham-rescues-lot-meets-melchizedek_en_transcript.pdf accessed 2 February 2012.
Hughes, R. K. (2001). Disciplines of a Godly Man (10th anniversary ed.; rev. ed.) (193–194). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
Keathley III, Hampton J.
Alcorn, R. (2003). Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale.
Stafford, T. The Anatomy of a Giver: American Christians Are the Nation’s Most Generous Givers, but We Aren’t Exactly Sacrificing, Christianity Today, May 19, 1997. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1997/may19/7t620a.html?start=2 accessed 3 February 2012.
Alcorn, R. Ibid.
Alcorn, R. (2003). Money, ossessions, and eternity. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale.
Keller, T. (58).
Keller, T. (2009). Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power and the Only Hope that Matters (57). New York: Riverhead Books.
From the blog http://www.redeemingriches.com/2010/02/27/is-money-your-functional-savior/ accessed 3 February 2012.
Keller, T. (67).