tithe

Why We Do What We Do: What's The Deal With Offerings?

Listen to the audio of the sermon here. Watch the Facebook Live stream of the sermon here. 

Why do we take an offering? The obvious answer is, “To keep the lights on.” We take an offering here at the church to pay the bills, invest in our church family (a portion is set aside for that reason) and promote missional living in the community and the world, but there is so much more to it than that. I’m going to talk this morning about a biblical call stewardship and generosity, particularly when it comes to money. First, some context of how the Bible handles this issue:

  • Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions.
  • 10% of the Gospels deal directly with the subject of money.
  • There are approximately 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
  • A LOT more addressing poverty/the poor

Why does the Bible make such a big deal about money? Because money is powerful. Matthew 6 records Jesus reminding us that we will find our hearts next to our treasure. In other words, what do you love? Then he gets specific: we cannot serve God and money. In fact, the Bible treats two areas of life as exceptionally important: money (by volume of mentions) and sex (by noting how it uniquely impacts us – see 1 Corinthians 6 - I suspect because it’s the only act meant to initiate and affirm a covenant between a man and a woman.)

Both of these things can be beautiful and life-giving and be used to build the kingdom of God, and both of them can mess us up and leave a trail of destruction behind us. Because they are so powerful, we must handle them with exceptional care.

We’ve got to get money right. We must put it in its place in such a way that we are not mastered by it. How do we do this? Let’s focus first on some biblical principles, then we will talk about what God accomplishes in us through our obedience.

Money Is From God

Ecclesiastes 5:19:  Every man  to whom God has given richesand wealth,and has given him power to use it, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.

We Are Meant To Be Stewards

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then the one with the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And the one with two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money....... To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. (Matthew 25)

Notice: the man had money; he gave his servants money. There is no suggestion money was the problem. The question is how we steward what we have been given. Do we “use it well?”

We Must Never Forget Money’s Destructive Nature

Mark 10:24 “Children, how hard is it for those who trust in richesto enter into the kingdom of God!”

Matthew 13:22The seed among the thorns is like those that hear the word; but the love of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word of God, and he becomes unfruitful.

1 Timothy 6:10For the love of moneyis a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith...

Hebrews 13:5:  Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for Jesus said, “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU…”

Proverbs 11:28He that trusts in his richeswill fall: but the righteous will flourish...

Psalms 62:10...If richesincrease, don’t set your heart upon them.

Proverbs 22:1  A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.

I get nervous when I see polls where Christians rank the economy as one of their most important issues come election time. If by that we mean those 3,000 verses about the poor have sunk in and we are wanting a society where the poor can rise out of poverty, or so we have more money to give those in need, awesome. If it means we want bigger and better things, that makes me really nervous. Be wary of money. Some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith. The deceitfullness of riches will choke the Word out of our lives. Don’t set your heart on them.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1zoX2J8s6w[/embed]

We Must Also Remember Its Potential For Good

Now, my brothers, we must tell you about the grace[1]that God had given to the Macedonian churches. Somehow, in most difficult circumstances, their joy and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves produced a magnificent concern for other people. I can guarantee that they were willing to give to the limit of their means, yes and beyond their means, without the slightest urging from me or anyone else.

In fact they simply begged us to accept their gift of supporting their brothers in Christ. Nor was their gift, as I must confess I had expected, a mere cash payment. Instead they made a complete dedication of themselves first to the Lord and then to us, as God’s appointed ministers...

 I don’t want you to read this as an order. It is only my suggestion, prompted by what I have seen in others of eagerness to help, and here is a way to prove the reality of your love. Do you remember the generous grace of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he generously became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich." (2 Corinthians 8:1-9)

Generosity is a gift of grace: a blessing from God to others through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, and a way to show the reality of our love for Christ and appreciation for his generous grace. 

In the Bible, power and resources are always meant to be used for the good of those who are weak and powerless. The Macedonians could have said, "Don't talk to us about the problems in Jerusalem. We’ve got our own problems."  Paul says that their lack of resources became a motivation for giving. They understood poverty. And because they understood, they had to do something. The sense is that they determined what they could comfortably contribute -  and then went beyond this figure.

Charles Spurgeon once received an invitation to preach at his rural church as a fundraiser to pay off some church debt. The man who contacted him told Spurgeon that he could use one of the man’s three homes (he had one in the country, the town, and by the sea). Spurgeon wrote back, "Sell one of the places and pay the debt yourself."

When we realize that others are in need, and we have the resources to alleviate that need, we should generously and joyfully do so. It is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. God does not prosper us so we can indulge ourselves; He prospers us so we can extend the gift of generous grace to others.

This is not where I guilt you into giving more to CLG or any other cause in the Kingdom of God. First, God wants us to give joyfully, and guilt does not lead to joy. Second, the tithe is not a New Testament teaching. The tithe in the Old Testament functioned much like a tax on the Jewish people (as much as 20% tithe some years, and perhaps higher). There is no tax in the New Testament.

This does not mean our money is ours.The opposite is true. God is no longer laying claim to 10% (which is what tithe literally means – a tenth); He is laying claim to all of it. We are stewards of what we have, not owners. 10% is too simple. It allows us to pay our tax to God and then do whatever we want with the rest. When we do that, we miss the point.

See, the Macedonians gave entirely on their own, by a free choice. They were not pressured into giving. They gave willingly – they begged for the privilege of being involved. Paul did not use guilt to motivate them.

Generosity is meant to be genuine expression of our financial commitment to God as an act of worship, not a legalistic transaction followed by angry, begrudging givers. The actual amount they gave not mentioned. That’s because it wasn’t about the amount; it was about the heart. God cares about motives more than amount (though the amount might speak to your motives).

God does not want you to be generous out of guilt or fear. You can’t buy favor with God, and you shouldn’t try to buy favor with others. These Macedonians gave because their hearts were moved by the generous grace of God.  If I don’t have a generous mindset or a generous heart, what do I have yet to learn about the grace of God?

The question isn’t, “How much do I get to keep after I give God his tax?”  The question is, “How much am I able to give back into the service of the Kingdom of God?[2]

A 10% tithe lets us off the hook.There is no need to analyze the thoughts and intents of our heart, to see if money is an idol, to be honest about if we have placed our trust in material things rather than God.

A 10% tithe lets us avoid how we think about money in our souls.  Jesus constantly moved The Law inside. It’s not just, “Do you kill people or cheat on your spouse?”  It’s, “What do you desire in your heart? What do you want to have happen? What are you really thinking?”

God cares about motives.

We are to give generously and voluntarily as we understand and are moved by the grace and generosity of God

So how can we get to that point? I think Paul tells us: the Macedonians gave themselvesfirst to the Lordand then gave their thingsto the cause of Paul (on behalf of the Kingdom of God).

Jesus was once asked whether people should pay taxes or not. He held up a coin and said:

"Whose image is on this coin?" They answered, "Caesar's." Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that have Caesar's picture on them, but give to God the things that have the image of God upon them..." (Matthew 22:20-21, Mark 12:16-17, Luke 20:24-25).

What has the image of God? We do. God wants us. When we truly give ourselves to Christ, everything else will follow, and that includes our money.  The trail of our things will lead us to our god. The testimony of our checkbook will do the same. [3]

I don’t just mean money. Paul said that the Macedonians did not give “a mere cash payment.”I mean time, resources, energy, friendship, free time, priorities… Many people are impoverished in many different ways. Who gets what you have to give?

So what happens in us when we do this? What is God’s plan for how giving an offering to him of what He has given to us is meant to do a work in us?

  1. In giving back to God, we are reminded that our trust is in God.When we give away our financial cushion, we are going to hit hard against life. Aren’t those places of lack and need where trust in God is built? An offering is an opportunity to build trust in God.
  2. In giving back to God, we are reminded that we are part of a community that needs our contribution.“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions were all his own, but they shared everything they had...it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:32-35) An offering gives the opportunity to participate in the community of brothers and sisters in Christ.
  3. In giving back to God, we reorient our hearts.When we give our treasure to God, our heart follows, right? Where our treasure is, there is our heart. This can happen in a lot of ways: Money; Time (pro bono work, volunteerism): Resources (lending): Presence (listening, investing relationally)

An offering, then, is the opportunity to worship God, to realign our heart, soul, mind and strength so that we think God’s thoughts first, not ours.

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[1]It’s worth noting that the word for "grace" or “gift” (charis) is also found in 1 Corinthians in the classic passage on spiritual gifts. Maybe the ability to use money generously should be added to our list of spiritual gifts?

[2]Some passages on generosity: Acts 2:43–47; 4:32–37; 11:27–30; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8:1–9:15

[3]This must be biblically balanced with the responsibilities God has given to us for the people and things entrusted to our care. Proverbs is full of advice about how to handle money wisely; that includes saving, taking care of your family, etc. Don’t neglect the necessities of life unless God has clearly called you to a radical lifestyle of poverty. I’m talking more about where our heart is. Do we desire to be generous and constantly look for opportunities within the framework of the other obligations God has given us? Do we hold our money loosely or tightly?