Today we are going to continue our annual focus on stewardship by looking at our resources and our responsibility to manage those resources well. Last week we talked about our first principle: management. We acknowledged that God owns it all and we are just the managers as we looked to answer the questions, “what do we have in our hand to use?” and “how will we use it?”.
With that foundation in mind from last week, I want to move on today towards the second principle of giving in God’s Stewardship Plan, investment. Today we’re going to focus on some of the reasons why we should give, why we “need” to give, and a couple of “how-to” principles to keep in mind when thinking about giving.
Stewardship of Resources
Some friends of ours were once faced with a great financial need as they prepared to return to the mission field. Their plan had been to sell their car and all their household goods prior to departure, but they felt strongly impressed by the Lord to give away everything instead. With great joy, they handed over their car keys to a needy couple, and to a local church they gave all their belongings to furnish a house for visiting missionaries. As a result, and as an expression of love, that same church took up a surprise offering for my friends and presented them with a check that amounted to more than double what they could have received from selling their car and furnishings. God blessed them, they blessed others, and then God blessed them again.
The stewardship of resources is a serious business; and God’s will is that we give it serious attention. This demands that we have the right perspective on our resources, and that is possible only if we have the right focus on our source. Everything that we have – every earthly resource – comes from a heavenly source. God is our faithful supplier and His plan is that we be His faithful stewards.
The Whys of Giving
Scripture is anything but silent on this topic, so I want to share with you some of what we find as an answer to the question, “what are some reasons why we should give?”
From our first Gospel lesson this morning we are given the understanding that giving keeps our hearts in the right place (Luke 21:1-4). The Pharisees picked on this widow’s gift because all they saw was the amount that she was giving. But Jesus saw and understood her heart. He knew that her heart was in the right place, that she had been motivated for the right reasons to give, and that though her gift was small, she had given all she could.
Jesus talked about money over and over again. He never discourages being thrifty or saving money. But he does discourage hoarding, burying our stuff and piling up more and more. He talked about money in the context of keeping our priorities and perspectives straight – the heavenly above the earthly. He links our hearts and treasures and tells us how to keep our hearts in the right place.
The simple inescapable truth is that whatever we are interested in, think about, and keep our hearts in touch with, that is what we invest in. Money has a magnetic power to draw our hearts wherever it goes. As a sunflower turns to face the sun, out hearts are inclined to go where we place our money. It is more blessed to give than receive because it keeps our hearts in the right place. But there is another reason:
Giving benefits the needy and serves as a witness (2 Corinthians 9:12; Matthew 25:31-46). The most obvious reason for our giving is it benefits those in need. According to 2 Corinthians the giving of benevolent gifts “supplies the needs of the saints.” Giving of time, talent and treasure keep the work of the church going both inside and outside the walls of this building. Congregations wouldn’t be able to conduct ministry within the community without the generous support of members and friends in all of these areas.
Jesus also discussed in Matthew 25 that those who give unto the least of these - whether the gift be food or shelter or clothes or a visit – are giving as if to Jesus himself. It’s a witness. And likewise when we refuse to give in Jesus’ name, that says something about us as well. When our hearts are in the right place, our giving to others and those in need is motivated by love. There is a truth that we ought not miss: You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving. Giving is as natural a byproduct of love as smoke is of fire.
The Hows of Giving
So far we’ve explored some reasons to give – the whys. Now I want us to turn our attention to some actual principles of giving – the hows.
Sowing and Reaping (Galatians 6:7-9)
From our second Scripture lesson this morning, Galatians 6:7-9, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” There’s a correlation between sowing and reaping. Little sown, little produced. But if much is sown, much is produced. This principle holds true in every aspect of life. Consider the “secular” parts of life, marriage, job, school, athletics, little invested, little dividend in returns. Consider the “spiritual” parts of life worship, fellowship, prayer, Bible study, giving, little in, little out, much in and much out.
There’s a major difference between Jesus’ way and the world’s way. The world says, “Get all you can, in any way you can, and keep what you get.” Jesus says, “Give and it will be given to you.” He also says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The world says, “Hoard it, store it, bank it, grasp it.” Jesus says “Lay up treasures in heaven by laying them down on earth.” The world says, “Use it first for you and donate left-overs.” Jesus says, “Give the first and best to God.”
Give and it will be given to you (Luke 6:38), should be continual, for this is how our needs will be met:
- God’s blessings will be met with “good measure.” There will be plenty. God does not hand out His blessings in a miserly fashion.
- God’s blessings will be “pressed down, shaken together.” Have you ever bought a box of cereal or bag of potato chips and found you had more air than product? Jesus says God’s blessings are firmly packed.
- God’s blessings are “running over.” They are so abundant that you will have all you need and more to spare.
- God’s blessings will be “put into your bosom.” A. T. Robertson says this refers to the “fold of the upper garment” in the tunics of Jesus’ day that “made a pocket.”
The heart of this principle is this: “For with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” What you sow is what you reap. This is true in every aspect of life.
Another how of giving is tithing. Giving a tenth of all one makes or has to God is an ancient practice. The first tither mentioned in the Bible is Abraham. After defeating a pagan army, he gave God a tenth of everything (Gen 14:18-20). The next tither we read about is Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. In gratitude for God’s promised blessings, Jacob vowed, “Of all that you give me I will give you a tenth (Gen 28:10-22). Then the people of Israel were given the law and instructed that “a tithe of everything…belongs to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30). Remember we already established that everything belongs to God and we are just the managers. So not to tithe, not to give, not only robbed God of what was rightfully God's, but it also robbed us of a blessing in the process.
Tithing is God’s most basic financial plan and it cannot be improved upon. Biblically understood and practiced, tithing is human response to diving grace. We give to God because he has already given to us. We bless God because he has already blessed us. He is no poorer if we fail to tithe, but we are impoverished. He is no richer if we do tithe, but we are enriched. Tithing is rewarded, for God rewards all obedience to His Word. But we do not give in order to get; we give because we have received.
Look, I know that giving in this economic climate can and is very hard at times. A great many of us are barely hanging on to a job. Others of us are looking for a job. Some of you are living on a fixed income from the government or from your pensions that have not seen a cost of living increase in at least three years while over those last three years the cost of living has definitely increased! But what I am telling you, what God is telling us, is that the amount does not matter. It is the act. It is the act of giving back a portion of what we have, in gratitude for what God gave us. When you trust God, rely on God, and allow God to bless you...it is truly amazing! God will never fail you. So the question now becomes not can you afford to tithe, but can you afford not to tithe?
Debbie and I both grew up in homes where tithing was practiced and when we got married we decided to do the same. We had both witnessed numerous occasions in our own families where God had provided in difficult circumstances when our parents had been faithfully giving. That didn’t mean it is always easy for us. For our entire married life, prior to our move here to Ocala, we have lived on one income. Either I was working while Debbie was in seminary or Debbie was working while I was in seminary. There have been many times when we have struggled financially and times when we wrote that tithe check knowing that it left us little to nothing for things like gas and food. But we have always given our tithe. And God always been faithful to provide for our needs – notice I said needs, not wants.
One particular time we wrote the tithe check to the church, knowing that it would leave us no money till I got paid again two weeks later. Also knowing that we did not have enough gas in the car or groceries in the pantry to last those two weeks. I panicked and I worried all day that Sunday. However, the very next day Debbie and I received a wedding card in the mail with a $60 check in it. Plenty of money for us to get by for two weeks. That in and of itself is wonderful, but what was divine about it was that we received it 18 months after we got married. My 2nd cousin and his wife had written when we got married, intended to mail it from their home in California, when we got married. But it had gotten lost on their desk and they had just found it. They did not know of our financial situation, but God did. They did not intend to misplace it, but I believe God intended for them to. The timing was too perfect. The need to great, for God not to be involved. We have tithed for 12 years, God has blessed us and provided for us, consistently, for 12 years. Not one time have we ever been without what we needed. Have we been without what we want? All the time. But never what we needed.
A good pastor friend of mine goes so far as to offer a money-back guarantee on tithing, encouraging people to take the step of tithing - giving 10% of their income – for at least 90 days. If at the end of the 90 days, the people regret their decision for any reason, they can ask the church to refund their giving. Pastor Roy’s church isn’t made up of wealthy families - mostly young blue-collar folks in which both parents work to support the family – they don’t have to do a lot of fundraisers because their regular giving covers their expenses – and the church itself tithes – giving 10% of its income away into community missions and outreach. If you’ve been wondering about how to incorporate this level of giving into your own life, let me encourage you to try it for 90 days as a demonstration of faith.
God’s stewardship plan is about management and investment to help free us from being weighed down by our possessions and our finances. We need to give to keep our hearts in the right place. We need to give to benefit those in need and witness to Jesus. We need to give to glorify God. And as we give some good principles to keep in mind are the idea of sowing and reaping as well as the challenge of tithing.
God gives you a chance to invest in what will be untouched by the ups and downs of this world’s economy. He pays back, with interest, what you invest in His work. You can never out-give God. We only need to give and the giving starts with surrender. What will you surrender to Him today?