MESSAGE FOR JULY 25, 2010 FROM VARIOUS TEXTS
I want to take another week away from our series in Acts to focus on something that is crucial to our spiritual health. That is—money. Money and God’s people have a very long history together and the Bible speaks a great deal about money. Randy Alcorn, in his book “The Treasure Principle” says that “15% of everything Christ said relates to this topic—more than his teachings on heaven and hell combined.” There are at least two reasons for this heavy emphasis. First—God uses money and the things it can buy to bless people, including those who possess it. Money is connected to serving others—ministry often costs money, whether it’s running a Christian Education program in the church, or feeding a hungry person on the street. Because money and ministry so often go hand in hand, believers must know how to manage it wisely. Second, money and what it can buy is one of the main allurements the adversary uses to pull us away from God as we take money and what it buys and turn them into idols. Just as money and God’s people have a long history together, so do money and idolatry. We easily create idols and money often fuels our idols.
There’s an inherent tension here, isn’t there? On the one hand, money can be good and in and of itself is not bad, but on the other, our indwelling sin is easily lured by idols that draw us away from God and many of those idols are related to money. We don’t like tensions like that—we want simplicity, not tension. We want black or white—something is either all good or all bad. Nuanced shades of gray force us to be thoughtful and thoughtfulness takes more work. It’s much easier to render a hasty judgment based on a shallow understanding of a particular issue. Because tensions are hard for us to embrace—when we find them in Scripture, we tend to try to eliminate them or reduce the tension by gravitating toward one end of the spectrum or the other.
As it relates to money, that means we can ere by holding onto the positive things the Bible teaches about money, to the exclusion of the strong Biblical truths that urge caution toward money. People who move toward this extreme really celebrate verses like Proverbs 22:4, “4 The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” These people (and this is where many American believers are) embrace this end of the spectrum—“Oh, what a great verse! Riches are not only ok, but they God gives them to those who humbly fear him. What liberty is here!” But they can easily forget the other, cautionary end of the Biblical teaching that brings in the tension. We can find this truth in places like First Timothy chapter six, “7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Some people embrace this truth to the exclusion of the other. “There, you see—love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. Therefore, I will live as frugally as possible and regard wealth as filthy lucre.” I hope you hear in these two ends of the spectrum that one of the points of tension surrounding money (and there are more than one) is that money is not evil in and of itself and can be used for much good, but we must not love it in a way that enslaves us and leads us to place the vain things of this world over God. That’s tension—it’s very hard to be balanced in the midst of that tension—in fact, it’s impossible. It requires much effort to discipline ourselves and a willingness to follow the guidance Holy Spirit while guarding our hearts against legalism and self-righteousness because our hearts are deceitful and we tend to run to the extreme that most matches our personality or at times, our income bracket.
What makes all this Biblical truth about money even harder to sort out is the fact that we live in a culture that is far more prosperous than any age in the past—by many multiples. Money and wealth are so much more prevalent and so much easier to acquire in our culture than in any other in history. Materialism and love of this world’s possessions is perhaps THE greatest sin in the North American church and people like David Wells see materialism, and the independence from God our wealth so often brings, as one of the biggest reason why the Spirit of God rests lightly on the North American church. So, we are called to try to make these judgments about managing money in a culture that is “off the charts wealthy”—even in hard economic times. We must know that as we work to find a Biblical balance here, that we live in a very imbalanced culture. Even the poorest of us are wealthy from a Biblical perspective and most of the people around us in this world are enslaved to money.
This morning, we want to look at money from a different angle and I was inspired by Pastor Erik when we visited The Water’s Edge two weeks ago. He mentioned that when he was growing up, he felt, (as many do) slightly offended during that part of the service when the church took the offering. He was like a lot of people today who see any collection of funds as inconsistent with worshipping God. This morning, I want to help us see from the Bible why giving your money to the Lord—especially in a worship service, is not only not offensive, it is in fact a blessing from God. Not only is that true, but God calls us to give in a way that honors him and that is not done by simply giving the spare change you happen to have in your purse on a Sunday morning. As we heard from Second Corinthians chapter eight, giving that most honors God is giving that, while done with great joy, will actually bring some level of sacrifice into your life. THAT kind of giving as taught in the Scripture is both a blessing to us and brings God glory—it’s not an offense. This morning we want to look at four Biblical reasons why that is true.
First, when we give sacrificially, we are magnifying God in perhaps the most powerful way possible. What I mean by “magnifying God” is to manifest his character in our lives so that it causes him to look big and glorious. We do that when we give sacrificially. How does our sacrificial giving do that? Think about it. One of the ultimate goals of the Christian life is that we would glorify God by becoming like him. Paul speaks of this in several places, one of which is Second Corinthians 3:18. There he says, “18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The final goal of the Christian life is transformation into Christ-likeness and we will reach that goal when we are glorified after we die. First John 3:2 says, “2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Both of those texts teach that Christ-likeness occurs within a believer as we gaze into the glory of Christ. Because Christ-likeness is the final goal of the Christian life, that means that for the follower of Christ, doing things and living in ways that most display his character will be intensely important.
The Bible teaches that we are seldom, if ever more like Christ than when we with joy are giving sacrificially. We saw that in the text we read earlier from Second Corinthians. Let’s very briefly examine how that teaches that sacrificial giving powerfully magnifies Christ. Paul is writing to the Corinthians to encourage them to collect an offering to be used for the famine-stricken saints in and around Jerusalem. He uses the example of the Macedonian believers to encourage and inspire them in their giving and says, “1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Leave this up on the screen for awhile
Notice in verse one he says that the Macedonians showed “the grace of God” in their giving. Then he explains how profoundly sacrificial they were—they were in the midst of “a severe test of affliction” and “extreme poverty.” These people were dirt poor, barely able to keep themselves alive, yet out of that great deprivation, they gave in a way that “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” They gave “beyond their means” and their attitude as they gave this way was “abundantly joyful “… begging us for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” Paul says—that’s God’s grace—you can’t do that without God. In verse six he again calls this giving an “act of grace” and again in verse eight he calls the Corinthians to “excel in this act of grace also.” Then, he ties all those references to grace together in verse nine where he says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Paul implies that the Macedonians, when they were showing this grace of sacrificial giving, were powerfully magnifying Christ because this is the way he gave—sacrificially and with great joy. He impoverished himself to make others rich. “God so loved the world that HE GAVE...” Sacrificial giving with joy is what God does and the more joyfully sacrificial it is, the more it magnifies God. This is why Jesus praises the widow who gave only two mites--because it was all she had! Paul calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. How? “by giving themselves up for them.” To give yourself up is to sacrifice for them. So if the highest goal of the Christian life is Christ-likeness and sacrificial giving is perhaps the clearest indicator of Christ-likeness, then how could sacrificial giving NOT be a blessing to the follower of Christ? We are never more like our Father than when we, with a joyful heart, are giving away something that costs us. We have every right to encourage ourselves when we feel the pain of self-sacrifice during a Sunday morning offering (or in any venue) by telling ourselves, “This is my chance to show in my life what God is like—what a blessing!”
A second way sacrificial giving is a blessing and not an offense is sacrificial giving strengthens our faith. It’s difficult to over-emphasize how crucial faith is for the believer. Paul says it this way in Romans chapter one. “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” That means that having a right standing with God comes only through faith—it is from faith from the first to the last as we trust solely and completely in all that God has done for us in Christ. Being positionally or legally right with God is all about faith, but faith isn’t just important for us to be positionally or legally right with God. Faith is also indispensible for what we do in life as we seek to please God. Hebrews 11:6 says, “6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” The author here says that without faith, you cannot live a life that pleases God and then he illustrates the importance of faith by citing example after example of saints who did God-pleasing things—and he attributes all of them to their faith. If you want do things that please God like Moses or Abraham or all the other Old Testament heroes did, you must have faith.
Because being right with God and doing things that please God are dependent upon our faith, then things that strengthen our faith are good things. We read and study the Bible in part because “...faith comes from hearing and hearing by through the Word of Christ.” Faith is seen in the choices we make where we trust God and his promises more than what we can see at the moment. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” For us to exhibit faith, we must choose to believe something—it is an act of our will to decide to trust what God has promised over what we see or sense or perceive in the circumstances on a natural level. We must choose to do that. As we make those choices to trust God, our faith is strengthened. George Muller—the great man of faith was strong in faith in part because he had seen God miraculously provide for his needs time and time again. He had learned to trust God by repeatedly placing his trust in God and seeing God abundantly honor that. Faith grows and our knowledge of God’s goodness and faithfulness grows as we choose to trust him. As we choose to say, “I don’t know how God will provide, but I believe he is faithful to honor his promises so I choose to believe him and will sacrificially extend myself here.”—our faith grows. Joyful, sacrificial giving is both an expression of faith and therefore pleases God, AND it strengthens faith. We could sum this point up in a syllogism. First premise: A genuine believer in Jesus wants to live a life that pleases his heavenly Father. Second premise: Expressing faith pleases God according to Hebrews 11:6. Conclusion: Therefore, sacrificial giving, which both expresses God-pleasing faith and strengthens it, is something a genuine believer in Jesus will want to do. A second reason why sacrificial giving is a blessing is because it strengthens our faith.
A third reason why sacrificial giving is a blessing is because sacrificial giving focuses our eyes on God and eternity and therefore helps kills the greed and materialism that can chain us to this fallen world. We see this most clearly in places like Matthew chapter 6:19. Jesus says, “19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Jesus says that we must not have as a goal—the accumulation of material wealth, but instead seek to be wealthy in heaven and we do that by putting our money to work in ways that will bring heavenly treasure, not earthly treasure.
There are several reasons for this in this text. First, because earthly treasures don’t last. “…Moths and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal”—worldly treasures imply don’t last. You can put your treasure—your money, your energy, your time into looking beautiful or handsome, but someday if you live long enough your skin will wrinkle, your muscles will atrophy and the only way to prevent that from happening is by dying young. The same is true with our money. There is no guarantee that the money we have today won’t vanish tomorrow. As we know, recessions and depressions come to a fallen world—there is no sure fire way to keep your money and even if you manage to have wealth at the end of your life, you surrender every penny the moment you die. A second reason we should give sacrificially in ways that will pile up treasure in heaven is—because our efforts in doing this reveal the spiritual condition of our hearts. That’s what Jesus means when he says in verse 21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
As believers, we are aliens here in this world on a short term mission trip. This is not our home and if we have a Biblical attitude about ourselves, then we will see ourselves as pilgrims on a journey that will eventually lead us home. Our home is heaven. Jesus is our treasure and he is in heaven, so our treasure is in heaven. That truth means that it is foolish to invest our hearts in the things of this earth—money, possessions, status, position and appearance. That is not what a heaven-bound believer is to treasure because it’s of this world. If our treasure is in heaven, that means that we will put our earthly treasure—our money and resources—our time, our energies, our lives to work in ways that will be a blessing to Jesus—our ultimate Treasure. If we proclaim with the loudest cries that our treasure is in heaven, but we are not sacrificial in our giving—piling up heavenly treasure, then we’re deceived. Because Jesus says, “where your treasure is—there your heart will be also.”
This is what he is getting at in verse 24. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” God has designed our hearts in such a way that they cannot multi-task. Our minds may be able to do that—our hearts are not able. As much as we would like to believe otherwise—they cannot run on two tracks—only one. If you find yourself increasingly drawn to the treasures of this world and what it has to offer—money, possessions, power, position—then you will, at one and the same time, find yourself pulling away from God because you cannot treasure both God and money. You can’t serve them—that is, you can’t look to money for help and comfort and significance and at the same time look to God for those things. God hasn’t wired us that way. It’s either one or the other—not both. You will either worship God or the things of this world—you can’t worship both.
It’s as we give sacrificially—joyfully surrendering our worldly treasure for the sake of what awaits us in heaven--that we discipline our hearts to prize heavenly treasure. When we choose to live more modestly and simply in this world for the sake of Christ and the next world, that acts to kill the sin of greed and materialism in us. It works to cut the steel chain that wants to fasten us to this world and its treasures. This is a very important weapon in our ongoing fight against the ever-present pull of greed and materialism because it powerfully places our focus on heaven and Christ and not the things of this world.
A final reason why giving sacrificially is a blessing and not an offense speaks directly to the issue of taking an offering during a worship service. That is—sacrificial giving is a form of worship to God. To worship God means literally means to ascribe worth to him. Because of who God is in his holiness and his majesty and his goodness and all his other attributes and because he alone has mercifully saved us from our sin and the spiritual emptiness and judgment that sin brings, he is worthy of our highest devotion or worth. He is worth more to us than anything and worship is any way that we express that truth. Part of our maturity in Christ is seen as we consistently place God at the very apex of our life--not just in theory, but in practice. We give God first place—seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That profoundly impacts the way we manage our money. We place God first by giving God our first portion—a tenth of our income is a Biblical starting point—we tithe at the very least. We ascribe the highest worth to God—we worship him by joyfully devoting the first and best of our income to God. When we do that as the offering plate is passed, we are just as surely worshipping God as when we loudly sing a hymn or chorus—or when we listen to a sermon with a willing and submissive heart.
When we offer to God our first and best during the offering-we are ascribing worth to him—we are publicly declaring that “You God mean more to me that anything I could have purchased with this money—you God are worth far more to me than what this money could have bought for me.” As we joyfully do this, God is worshipped and honored. Sacrificially giving money to God in the form of an offering is intensely appropriate to do in the context of a worship service because as we do it together in a corporate offering, we are saying to God and the angels in heaven, “You oh God are recognized as worthy among this people—Be blessed oh God as we give to you—you are worthy of more than we could ever give, but take this now as a expression of your supreme worth in our lives.” That’s worship and it should be a time of blessing, not offense to us. May God give us the grace magnify God, strengthen our faith, kill our greed and worship him as we give sacrificially for his glory and our joy.
Page last modified on 7/25/2010
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