Sacrificial Giving Smells Good To God: A Biblical Perspective on Money
By Jocelyn Hu
There are over 2,300 references to finance and money in Scripture. Many would prefer that the Bible say nothing at all on the subject because any mention of it makes them feel uncomfortable. Some are uncomfortable because they feel guilty for not being generous and for having fallen far short in financial stewardship. Others feel uncomfortable because they think the only reason why a preacher would ever bring it up is when he wants to elevate his own personal standard of living.
Then there are those who are uncomfortable because they believe that among the topics you never talk about in public, such as politics and religion, money and how we spend it is right up there at the top of the list. In other words, for these people, it's uncouth and undignified and a violation of personal boundaries to talk about finances.
There's actually another sort of Christian who gets uncomfortable when money is mentioned. They aren't necessarily derelict in their stewardship of money. They aren't necessarily stingy or suspicious of leadership in the church. Their discomfort comes from a conviction that to speak of money is evidence of a lack of faith. If we simply had enough trust in God to provide, we wouldn't need to consider those hundreds and hundreds of Bible verses that talk about money. Whatever the church needs to thrive would simply flow in effortlessly and without fanfare.
Then, of course, there are a few people in the local church who aren't bothered at all or for any reason when money is mentioned. Their response is to say: "Bring it, brother! Preach it! Why have you waited so long and been so reluctant to speak on something so essential to Christian living?"
And that in itself raises a crucial question we need to address: Is the subject of financial stewardship an essential element of Christian living? Not optional, but essential. I can't imagine anyone who takes the Bible seriously saying: "No, it isn't." Let me pursue this point a bit further.
If you discovered that a close friend of yours, who professed to be a Christian, rarely if ever read the Bible and considered memorizing Scripture to be a waste of time, I take it for granted you would be concerned for them and would at the right time call them to account. Or perhaps they simply refused to share their faith with a non-Christian when given the opportunity. My hope is that you would challenge them regarding their overt disobedience to God's Word.
Would you not do the same thing if you discovered they were habitually lying and deceiving people? Would you not be concerned if it came to light that they were developing an emotional affair with a co-worker or if you heard them use profanity on a regular basis? What would be your response if it became evident they had largely stagnated in their relationship with Christ and had simply stopped growing, perhaps even reverting spiritually to old ways of sin and selfishness? Or maybe they've fallen prey to false doctrine and are espousing some novel idea that has no basis in the Bible.
I trust that all of us agree that these are matters of great concern and that they should be addressed. So why do we put financial stewardship in a separate category and treat it as if it were an unmentionable topic? Why does one's use of material resources get a free pass when these other issues, which are collectively referred to far less in Scripture than is money, are so openly talked about?
I suppose some may argue that there's something uniquely and intimately personal about money that puts it in a category unto itself. Really? More intimately personal than one's sex life or the way they speak about their spouse, or more personal and intimate than their prayer life or any other aspect of Christian experience?
The intriguing fact is that most men will more readily talk with other men about their struggles with sex than they will their battle with materialism. My goodness! If that doesn't shed some light on the nature of what we're dealing with today, nothing will.
Now, if I were going to address this subject in another context, perhaps in a third-world country, or in a church in downtown Manhattan, or in an Eastern European socialist setting, I might say things a bit differently. But here in Oklahoma in 2014, I'm convinced that we approach the subject of financial stewardship in the Christian life the way we do, for two primary reasons. There are undoubtedly others, but let me highlight two.
First, our understanding of what we call "tithing" has a major impact on whether and how much we give as well as whether or not we believe giving is a biblical responsibility for every Christian. Let me explain.
Most of you know that I was raised as a Southern Baptist, and in the SBC nothing is more sacred than the concept of the "tithe" or the giving of 10% of one's income. I was taught this from my childhood and my parents were faithful tithers and thus, so too, were my sister and I.
But as I studied the Scriptures I came to the conclusion that with the coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant, under which Christians live, no specific percentage is mandated as the minimum or maximum of giving.
The problem is that many conclude that if no specific percentage is mandated then giving itself isn't mandated. In other words, many, and I mean many, Christians have taken this truth and greatly, though quietly, rejoiced, using it as an excuse to give very little or nothing at all. You can almost hear them say: "Whew! That's a relief. God doesn't require a specific amount of my income. I guess that means we can buy that new house and go on that expensive vacation and I can finally purchase that new set of golf clubs."
Or they think: "Well, I guess this means giving isn't that important. If it were, God would have told us precisely how much to give. So, if I choose to give very little or perhaps even nothing at all, that's part of my freedom as a Christian who is no longer bound by OT law."
Tragically, that is precisely how people think. That is precisely how they rationalize their stinginess. That is precisely why throughout evangelical churches in America, the average Christian gives on average around 2.8% of their income to the local church. 2.8%!
People often ask me, "O.K., Sam; how much then should I give?" My response is two-fold.
I first ask, how much do you want to give? In light of what you know about the cross of Christ, in light of what you know about saving grace and heaven and the Holy Spirit and forgiveness and the beauty of Christ, in light of what you know about the reality of hell and the fact that people without Jesus Christ are going there, how much do you want to give?
If my first answer isn't adequate, I say: "Why don't you start with 10% and see where it might lead?" There's nothing especially sacred about 10%, but I think it's a great place to begin. "But Sam, I thought you said we don't have to give 10%." That's right, you don't. You actually have the tremendous privilege of giving more!
Second, our approach to financial stewardship has been warped and badly shaped by the flourishing in our churches of the prosperity gospel. The excessive self-indulgent lifestyle of certain so-called Christian leaders has put a sour taste in our souls when it comes to the subject of money and ministry in the local church.
Many are so offended by the shameless appeals for more and the endless round of offerings and the opulent lifestyle of those to whom the money is given that they find it almost impossible to think about the subject, much less speak about it. And thus they are upset when someone actually tries to present a biblical perspective on the issue of financial stewardship.
My dad was a banker for the first 35 years of his working life. He often said to me, "Give me five minutes in a man's check book and I'll tell you everything you need to know about him. I'll tell you whether or not he loves God, his wife, and his children. I'll tell you whether or not he really believes the Bible. I'll tell you what he values and what he hates, what he believes and how he spends his time. I'll tell you whether he can be trusted or whether he lies; how he'll respond in a crisis and in times of ease." I use to think my dad was exaggerating, but no more.
When I asked him how he could be so certain of all this, he quoted to me Matthew 6:21 - "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." His point was spot on target. Jesus is telling us that how one uses one's money and material resources will tell you everything you need to know about the character and conduct of the person, be they male or female, young or old.
To be continued . . .