Most times when a pastor preaches on financial stewardship, he or she gives some rules to follow. Many will tell you to give 10% of your gross income. 10% of your income is the baseline and giving begins after that. I too want to give you a rule to follow this morning. If you want to know the New Testament rule for giving, here it is. Figure out how much you have. Add up what you have in the bank, what you have in the coin jar in the kitchen, the money in your pocket, the value of all your possessions, all you have, and then take out a checkbook and write a check for that amount. Give all you have to Jesus. That is the New Testament rule.
The problem is that when you give all you have to Jesus, he tells you to keep hold of it for him. You give all you have to Jesus and he tells you he wants you to take care of it for him and then you have to decide what to do with the money Jesus has given you to take care of. How much do you give to the church and the concerns of Jesus and how much do you keep for your own needs – and wants. All we have belongs to Jesus and we are stewards of what God has intrusted to us. Are you being a good steward? Are you using the resources you have in a way that pleases your master?
I mentioned last week that there are three tithes in the Old Testament. There is the tithe for the Levites, the priests, a tithe used to pay for traveling to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts and the food and drink while there, and then a tithe every third year to be used for the poor, the widows, and the orphans.
The spirit that lay under these rules of how much to give and to whom to give was that the money and possessions God has given us are to be used to care for those who are on his heart. The spirit that underlay these rules about tithing is that God wants us to use our money for his purposes. We are stewards of his money given to us. On the day of judgment we will be asked to give an account of how we used the resources God put in our charge.
Our human nature likes rules because it makes it easier for us to know when we are doing right or wrong, but I don’t want you to leave church this morning with a set of rules of how to obey God and please him. That is the task of other religions. Christians have a far more demanding task and that is to discern the heart of God for the world and use our resources accordingly.
Christians are no longer under the law but have been set free in Christ. Our call is to grow in our experience of the intimacy of being loved by God and then to take on his heart for the world. The money and possessions God has given us are to be used as Jesus would want us to use them.
I don’t want us to give because we are supposed to. I want us to love Jesus so much that our heart and pocketbook open up. I want us to be in such a vital, living relationship with God that we want to give. Because there are no longer any rules for us to live up to, we need increasingly to take on the heart of Jesus for the world and then we will know how to use what he has given us.
This is such a difficult part of our Christian lives because money and possessions have such a powerful pull on us.
My father took movies of us as we were growing up. There is one of me in what was a daily ritual. I had a crib with a screen side and I would throw out all my stuffed animals and then climb out of the crib in the morning. I was still in diapers and wore blue pajamas, the kind with no opening for your toes that your feet fit into. What was filmed was my nighttime ritual. I threw all my stuffed animals into the crib, climbed up the side and then did a flip into the bed.
I don’t remember them now but I was attached to those stuffed toys. They were among the first things I picked up in my journey through this life. They were my toys, not my two older sisters’ toys.
At some point, I dropped them or lost them or they were thrown away but by then I had picked up other things. I remember a black bicycle with wide tires. I used to ride that up and down the hills around our house. At the age of 8 my grandmother bought me a pony and I had a cowboy hat, chaps, and boots that I could wear when I went riding in the hills around us.
I began at an early age collecting rocks. My interest was not scientific. I was not interested in categorizing them but I collected rocks that were interesting to me. Many years later when I was a pastor in Ohio, a neighbor who made jewelry from agates picked out all the agates I had collected in my years of picking up rocks and put them in his stone polisher and revealed the inner beauty of these rocks I had collected. I have amassed a number of polished stone rocks while living in Morocco.
I became interested in collecting coins and would go to the bank and exchange dollars for pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters and then would go home and spread the coins out on the table looking for a year or a mint mark on a coin I did not have in my collection.
The older I became, the more things I picked up in my journey through life. I’ve always loved books and I have some treasured books I received as gifts as a young boy. Even though we have sold or given away many of our books when we have moved from place to place, they keep accumulating.
I love music and so have a collection of vinyl LPs sitting in my motner-in-law’s garage and a growing collection of CDs. Digital music is ok but I want the physical CD with case in my hand.
As I sit at my desk working on this sermon, I see Makonde carvings from Tanzania, a beer glass from Germany that I use for pens and pencils, a little brass duck I have had since I was a kid, a horse and rider my grandmother brought me back from Mexico, glass marbles my cousin made, a medal and a series of photos of when I ran the Boston Marathon. I have a lot of things I have picked up on my journey through life thus far. And there are still years of collecting in front of me.
I have picked up a lot but I have not yet arrived at the time when I will put everything down. That time will come and it helps me to remember that there will come a time when I will put down all that I picked up in my journey through life.
When I was a young pastor we lived in Ohio and we went to auctions. Someone would die and because they were the last of the family, all the contents of their house would be sold. Chairs and tables and other furniture, jewelry and dishes and silverware, rugs and lamps, everything was sold. The auctioneers would come in and go through all the drawers and closets, the attic and basement and collect all the couple had picked up in their life and organize the sale. On the day of the auction the auctioneer would lift up an object or point to it if it was too large to pick up and the bidding would begin. $25 for this chair. $15 for a stack of dishes. An especially nice table might go for more money but these sales were a good place to find bargains. We have a number of things we picked up at these auctions.
There was a bit of sadness for me at these auctions. The things for sale had memories connected with them that were now lost. Box after box of things this couple loved were sold as junk for $5 or $10. Boxes of little knickknacks like those in my office were sold to strangers who would never appreciate the value those objects held for the ones who had died. Boxes of photographs that brought back memories of wonderful days were sold to someone who would salvage the frames and throw away the photographs.
Someday the things I look at and treasure will likely be put on a table at a yard sale and be sold to some stranger for a few cents. This is the way of life. We begin our journey picking up and discarding but gradually accumulating more and more until at the end we set everything down. We set everything down, we end our journey through life, and begin a new journey that passes through death and enters into eternity.
When we moved to Morocco our sea container had a more difficult time getting to Rabat than we did. In fact, it took six months for our container to arrive in Rabat. The container traveled from New York, down the eastern coast of the US, to Houston in the Gulf of Mexico, back up to New York, across the Atlantic to Algeciras, to Genoa, Italy, through the Suez Canal to Malaysia to Madras, India, and then back.
In those six months we were told our container had been lost, then that it was found but was discovered to be empty, then that it was found to be full when it arrived in Madras.
When we heard our container had been lost and then that it had been found but was empty, we grieved at the loss of all the precious things in that container and when it arrived with no damage and nothing missing, we rejoiced. But someday all that we grieved for will be put down when we end our journey in life. Here is important truth: everything in that container is someday going to be lost to us, it is only a matter of time.
In Peter’s second letter he wrote about the coming Day of the Lord and said this: (II Peter 3:10-11) (The Message)
But when the Day of God’s Judgment does come, it will be unannounced, like a thief. The sky will collapse with a thunderous bang, everything disintegrating in a huge conflagration, earth and all its works exposed to the scrutiny of Judgment.
Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?
We need to know about this and we need to be reminded of this truth because if we do not know this about the world and the part of its wealth we possess, our possessions will own us. They will have power over us and deprive us of the blessing of God.
In Mark 10:17-22 there is the story of a rich young ruler who came up to Jesus.
As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”
Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”
He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”
Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”
The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.
I like the Message translation of this last line, He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go. I hope you never read this passage without having great sympathy for the rich young ruler. He was a wonderful young man, full of piety and eager to draw close to Jesus. If only Jesus had asked him for 10% or 20% or 30% or even 50% of all he had, I think he might have done it. But Jesus asked him for everything.
What do you think happened when he came home to his wife that day?
“Hi honey. I met this teacher we’ve been hearing about. Jesus, you know. It’s one thing to hear about him and another to see him. He has a wonderful charisma. He is an amazing teacher. I was so taken by him that I said I wanted to follow him.”
“Oh no! What did he say?”
“He told me to sell everything I have and give it away to the poor and then follow him.”
“He said, what?! Is he out of his mind?! You didn’t tell him you would do that did you?”
“What a relief. Try to avoid people like that. They’re just going to get you into trouble.”
Carry a lot of sympathy for this young man because his is our most likely reaction to Jesus’ request. If Jesus asked me to sell all I had and give it to the poor, first of all I would have to convince my wife that this was really what Jesus had said to me. Then we would have to make a very difficult decision. I hope we would be able to choose to be obedient.
How did the rich young ruler feel after his encounter with Jesus? (Mark 10:22)
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
The Message translations says,
The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.
Contrast this with Zacchaeus the tax collector. Jesus was coming by but Zacchaeus was short, and he was not liked by the Jews because he collaborated with the Romans by collecting taxes for them. Because he could not see over the crowd and he could not push his way through the crowd, he climbed a tree to see Jesus as he passed. (Luke 19:5–10)
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
How did Zacchaeus feel after his encounter with Jesus? He welcomed Jesus gladly and then in his exuberance he volunteered half his possessions to be given to the poor and if he had cheated anyone he would pay them four times the amount.
Now maybe you think that the rich young ruler might have had a similar response if only Jesus had asked him to give away half rather than all he had, but this misses the point. The rich young ruler held on to what he had but Zacchaeus released what he had. As soon as we start negotiating with God about what percentage of what we have goes to his work in the world, we are stuck, trapped by our wealth and possessions. Giving needs to come from the heart.
Zacchaeus gave exuberantly from his heart; the rich young ruler held on tightly to what he owned. The wealth of the rich young ruler had power over him and he went away sad. Zacchaeus gave away what had power over him and went away rejoicing.
I met a man during the years when I was in business. He was a follower of Jesus and he was a descendant of the first English pilgrims who came to the US in 1620 on the ship The Mayflower. His ancestors were wealthy and their furniture had been passed down from generation to generation and it was now his responsibility to care for these heirlooms. We met in his large house for a Bible study but the furniture was not very comfortable. The furniture belonged in a museum, not a home. In fact, his home was a museum. He was not a happy man. He was not free and at ease. He was filled with anxiety that he would not earn enough money to continue to have a home that could protect all this furniture. I went away feeling sad for him. His family possessions made him a prisoner in his own house. I thought how much better he would feel if he donated all the furniture to a museum and then started to live.
Giving away the money we possess and sharing what we own sets us free. It liberates us.
Richard J. Foster writes in his book, The Challenge of the Disciplined Life.
When we let go of money we are letting go of part of ourselves and part of our security. But this is precisely why it is important to do it. It is one way to obey Jesus’ command to deny ourselves … When we give money we are releasing a little more of our egocentric selves and a little more of our false security … Giving frees us to care. It produces an air of expectancy as we anticipate what God will lead us to give. It makes life with God an adventure in the world, and that is worth living for and giving for.
Giving is a spiritual discipline and it is one of the great joys of my life. For the 40+ years that Annie and I have been married, we have been blessed by being part of the work people have been doing all over the world. Month after month, we sent out checks to friends we knew working in other parts of the world and when we received their letters, we were blessed to know we were, in a small way, partners with them.
Because of our giving, we did not take vacations as elaborate as we might have taken. We did not buy everything we could have bought. We made sacrifices to give, but we never suffered. In fact we were blessed. As time went on, we were able to give more and more as our income increased. We did not cut back on our giving and still were able to pay for our daughters’ college educations. Giving has been an important part of our Christian experience over the years of our marriage.
As we have given, we have grown in our spiritual life. We did not ask how much we have to give to please God, we explored how it could be possible to give more so we can be partners with God in what he is doing in the world.
Why did God demand a tithe in the Old Testament as part of obedience to him? Why does the New Testament teach us that all we have belongs to God and we are to be good stewards of what we have been given? Is God one more fund raiser in a world of fund raisers? Too many church leaders spend too much time trying to figure out how they can convince people to give more money to their church or ministry. Did Jesus spend so much time talking about money and possessions because he wanted the ministry of churches to be funded?
Elliot and I decided to preach about stewardship this January because RIC did not receive money sufficient to meet its budget this past fiscal year. The giving to RIC is still short of what is required for our full budget. But I need you to know that I view the time for preaching at RIC as precious time and I would not waste that time by talking about the financial needs of RIC. That can be done as an announcement. We are taking the time to teach and preach about stewardship because it is evident to us that this is a spiritual discipline that needs to be encouraged in our church.
A. W. Tozer wrote in his book, Christ the Eternal Son.
I do not think I exaggerate when I say that some of us put our offering in the plate with a kind of triumphant bounce as much as to say: “There – now God will feel better.” … I am obliged to tell you that God does not need anything you have. He does not need a dime of your money. It is your own spiritual welfare at stake in church matters as these … You have the right to keep what you have all to yourself – but it will rust and decay, and ultimately ruin you.
The spiritual discipline of giving is designed to set us free to grow in our faith and grow in our experience of the love of Jesus for us. God does not need your money to do what he wants to accomplish. If you do not give, he will find another way to accomplish what he is doing to rescue people in this generation and bring them safely into his eternal kingdom.
I am convinced that God will provide for RIC, AMEP (the church association RIC is a member of), the children of the Village of Hope and all other projects he has led Christians to undertake in this country and I agree with Tozer that this will happen with or without your or my help.
I am not at all interested in making you feel guilty for not giving more or manipulating you so you feel obligated to empty your pockets into the offering plate. What I want to do is make you aware of the blessing and joy that comes from giving and participating in what God is doing.
Where did the money come from that Jesus and his disciples needed to buy food to eat? In Luke 8 we read
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
If you were alive and living in Palestine at the time of Jesus and he came through your village one day, would you want to offer to him money for his ministry? Would you have liked to have helped Paul and the disciples as they took the gospel to new cities?
When you give to the work of Jesus in the world, you are giving to him. When you give to RIC you are helping to pay Elliot’s and my expenses for living in Morocco and preaching week by week. You are helping to pay for the work of FCI that encourages students to grow not just in their academic studies but in their spiritual life as well. You are helping to pay for the spiritual education of young children. You are helping to pay for the expenses of the Village of Hope children. You are paying for Villa 91 and the related expenses that come with it. You are helping to support the ministry that encourages the members of RIC as they move out of RIC Sunday mornings to love people in the name of Jesus.
It has been easier for Annie and I to give because we began from the first weeks of our marriage to put 10% of what we earned into our tithe account. As our income increased over the years, the amount we put into the tithe account increased. Over time we were able to significantly increase the percentage of what we earned into the tithe account.
It is much more difficult for people in mid-life who have never exercised the spiritual discipline of giving. Many people live from paycheck to paycheck and to ask them to set aside 10% or more of what they earn seems impossible. What do they cut back to make it possible to give this money to the work of Jesus in the world? So I am sympathetic to those who think giving 10% or more of what they earn is too difficult.
But I know from personal experience that it is possible to make cuts. When I was in business and I lost a big customer, I would cut my salary rather than lay people off who worked for me. It was my responsibility to find another customer and I did not want to lose the people who worked for me. When I talked with Annie and said we would have to make some cuts, we had to find ways to reduce our expenditures. There were times we had to cut the percentage of what we put into our tithe account but it never went below 10%. That was our baseline. I know from my own experience that it is possible to make cuts.
So I encourage you to take a step of obedience, a step of faith, and begin setting aside 10% or more of what you earn to be given to the work of Jesus in the world.
You don’t have to give everything to the church. You can use your money to support other Christian ministries as well. If you want to take this step but don’t know where to give your money, pray and ask God to reveal to you who he would like you to support.
This is what has happened to me over the years. I get to know someone, meet someone, and am impressed with who they are and the calling they have to work with Jesus. I do not have the funds to support everyone I meet whose work I appreciate. I wish I had more funds to give. But my heart tries to find ways to give more. My money follows my heart.
This life is a very short passage, shorter for some than others, and I ask myself often how I will feel from an eternal perspective about my actions when I was here on earth.
It will not be to our credit in heaven that we hoarded our money and possessions for our own use when God had other desires for us.
I am absolutely convinced that when I come into the Kingdom of God, I will regret that I used too much of what I earned for my own earthly pleasures. I will meet brothers and sisters in Christ and hear about their life on earth and wish I had found some way to support them financially.
Jesus said in Matthew 25, in the parable of the sheep and goats, that when we feed the hungry, welcome strangers, clothe the poor, care for the sick, and visit those in prison, we are caring for him.
We would love to have had the privilege of being one of those who supported the ministry of Jesus as he walked with his disciples from town to town in Palestine. We would love to have been the one who placed a pillow under the head of Jesus when he was sleeping in a boat in the Sea of Galilee. We would love to have been the family that invited Mary and Joseph to come into their home when Mary gave birth to Jesus.
These ways of caring for Jesus are not possible for me because I was born 2,000 years too late. But I am grateful that Annie and I have been able to support work in Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, the West Bank, Peru, and Italy. I am grateful that we have been able to support ministries that seek justice in this world that is full of suffering. I am grateful that we have been able to support ministries that care for the poor in the name of Jesus. As I look back on my life, I regret some ways in which I used and wasted the money entrusted to me. But I have no regrets about the privilege that has been mine to support and encourage friends who are working with Jesus to build his kingdom. I have no regrets for having used the assets from the sale of my company to live and work in Morocco as pastor of RIC.
Over these three weeks I have talked about money, tithing, and the liberation of giving. My prayer and deep desire is that you will open yourself to the joy of giving, the liberation of being set free from the power wealth has on us. My fear is that you will feel obligated to do this. Let your response be a response that comes from the heart. Let your giving come out of the overflow of your experience of being loved by Jesus.