I am convinced that our attitudes and actions toward money/possessions reveal our genuine beliefs about God. As crazy as it may seem, our finances are often a marker of our spiritual journey. Our attitude toward money reveals a lot about us as Christ followers. Our values, hopes, fears, etc. are all presented before us each month in black and white when we open up our bank statements. Money is a source of conflict in families and the church. Often, that conflict is rooted in priorities. I want to challenge you to consider your priorities in financial decisions.
Being a faithful steward is about priorities.
Who is first in your financial stewardship decisions? Do you honor God first in money matters? Many well-intentioned believers have ignored a serious examination of biblical teaching on finances. I want to challenge you to study the Bible and to examine your own priorities. To deliberately ignore the teaching of the Bible on any issue is rebellion! Don’t be rebellious in financial matters. It is so easy to mess this up! To illustrate the issue, let’s look at the parable of the jar…
A philosophy professor stood before her class with some items on the table in front of her. When the class began, wordlessly she picked up a large, empty jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, about 2 inches in diameter. She then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. She shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. She then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. She then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.” She then poured in water, filling the jar to the top and announced, “It is full!” “Now,” challenged the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your health, your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car. The sand and water is everything else; the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,” she continued “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life.”
When it comes to being faithful to God in giving, this parable speaks volumes! Imagine your “budget” as the jar. Now, every line item in your budget is a rock, a pebble, sand, or water. For many Christians giving to God is not a big rock! So, if God isn’t first in the jar, what does that say about our relationship with Him? God must be the first rock we place into our jar! Always! This is particularly true with regards to finances. Solomon said, “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce” (Proverbs 3:9, NLT). The FIRST rock in the jar of our budget should be our gift to Him!
Author Dave Ramsey has said that those who cannot live on 90 percent of their income will not be able to do so on 100 percent. He also asserts that typical Americans who examine their budgets can still give “at least” 10 percent, regardless of their circumstances. I believe him! Many who struggle with giving believe that they cannot afford to live on 90% of their income. I would guess that if God allowed your pay to be cut by 10% you would find a way.
Being a faithful steward is about honoring biblical teaching.
I have heard developing Christians assert, “If tithing is an Old Testament concept, why would a person in the New Covenant need to tithe? Surely ten-percent isn’t binding on the church today!” I am sympathetic to any attempt to understand the Bible. Yet, I have never (to my knowledge) had anyone challenge the biblical tithe on the basis that they wanted to give more. Usually, and pardon my frankness, the individual is trying to ratchet down the baseline of biblical stewardship instead of ramping it up. The problem with that line of thinking was addressed by Randy Alcorn in his excellent book “The Treasure Principle.” Alcorn affirmed that every single example of New Testament giving goes beyond the tithe (ten percent). I am not a seminary professor, but after reading the Bible over and over again many times in the course of 25 years, I believe that Alcorn is absolutely correct!
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church basic principles for giving. Here they are (along with some other Bible references)…
· Your giving should be routine, income-based and proportionate to God’s blessings in your life (1 Corinthians 16:2, 2 Corinthians 8:3, 12).
· Giving should also be a response to needs (1 Corinthians 9:1-14, 2 Corinthians 8:13-14,9:12).
· Giving should be generous (2 Corinthians 8:2-3, Philippians 4:17-18) and from the heart (Exodus 25:1, 35:5, 21-22, 36:6, 2 Corinthians 9:7).
The Holy Spirit’s instructions to the church through Paul’s writing were that believers must give in a proportionate way, just as God had instructed the Jews. God has never said, “Give as you feel led.” Paul did say to give as determined from the heart based upon biblical guidelines. God’s Word instructs us to give a definite portion as He has prospered us! “Okay,” you may say. . . “but, is that portion ten percent?” Good question! It is unthinkable in light of the cross of Jesus Christ that anyone would want to give less than a Jew under the law. Why would we want to give less? Didn’t God promise to His people who give that He would “pour out for us such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10-12)?
In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Paul told the church to “lay in store” the gifts. The phrase “lay in store” points back to Malachi 3:10 which told the people of God to “bring all the tithes into the storehouse.” The local church, not the Red Cross or “Race for the Cure” or The Billy Graham Association, etc. (as wonderful as these organizations may be), is the storehouse for our tithe.
What is a tithe?
There is a lot of misunderstanding about the word “tithe.” A “tithe” is not an offering that you give to God, regardless of the amount. The “tithe” is a very specific biblical concept. The word simply means “a tenth.” Actually, to the dismay of those who wish to consider the tithe a part of the Old Testament law, the tithe predates the law. We read of Abraham (long before Moses) modeling the tithe by giving to the priest Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:4).
The tithe was so essential to worship that the prophet Malachi delivered this charge from God:
“…You have gone away from my ordinances and have not kept them…you have robbed me!” What a staggering word from God! Those who had withheld the tithe in Malachi’s day were called thieves. When anyone fails to be generous they rob themselves. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). God’s Word tells us that to keep back what belongs to Him is to rob Him. That is scary!
How did the people rob God in Malachi’s day? Malachi told the people that they had robbed God “in tithes AND offerings” (Malachi 3:8). The standard of giving (even under the law) was not just a “tithe.” God called upon the people to give a portion (a tithe) and to come before Him with offerings.
Some believe that the tithe was just an Old Testament concept and not a part of the church’s program today. The reality is that the tithe existed before the law was given as we have seen in Abraham. Also, Jacob gave a tenth unto the Lord (Genesis 28:19-22). When the law was handed down through Moses, the tithe was incorporated into the law: “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30).
The Jews, as God instructed in His Word, revered the “tithe” as being holy to the Lord (Leviticus 27:30). This means specifically that God marks one-tenth of what He gives to us (and God owns it all) as being holy. Holy, in essence, means “set aside.” If something is holy unto God, using it for another purpose is profane. So, the Jew could not afford not to tithe because this was robbery of what was set apart for God’s purpose! The results of not tithing would be disobedience to a holy God! We would be wise to have such reverence for what belongs to God. If, as Paul wrote, “the law is our teacher” (Galatians 3:24), this lesson may save us from the peril of withholding what belongs to God.
Jesus taught that giving was essential. He said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). I would never recommend that you evade your taxes. You should pay (render) what you owe to the government! In relationship to our stewardship to God, we should be even more diligent!
Jesus told the Pharisees that they should have tithed on their little herb gardens, just as they diligently tithed on everything else with which God had blessed them. However, they shouldn’t just tithe! They shouldn’t be faithful tithers who act unjustly and without grace! The Pharisees should have been just, gracious, faithful men who also tithed! The word Jesus used when addressing the Pharisees for “ought” makes it clear that the tithe was viewed as an imperative from God.
It’s time to rearrange the rocks in the jar.
Carol and I have tithed since before we were married. When we were married in 1995 we made $250 a week of combined income. And, yes, we lived on that and gave a tithe! Years later, when we fell into a financial crunch during our first stewardship campaign at North Valley Church, Carol took on a second job as a server in a restaurant. I sold a few things. However, we did not spend the tithe on our own needs or wants. I can say without a doubt—through thick and thin—that God has provided our every need.
The tithe to God through the local church is a great place to begin biblical stewardship. Ten percent is not the place we should stop giving to the Lord’s work!
Let’s talk about practical things for a moment. For you, to get started with biblical giving, you may need to rearrange some of the rocks in the jar. I would encourage you to do this immediately. For instance, why would you have satellite television, an expensive cellphone plan, a late-model car and a fashionable wardrobe and not give at least a tithe? Give biblical stewardship a priority in your spiritual development! If you have children, teach them that giving to God is to be the priority in financial decision-making. Following Jesus is not only our priority in time and effort, but also in finances and possessions.
I am not promising you that you will become rich in material possessions. I can promise you that you will be counted as faithful if you give according to the teachings of the Bible. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). Whether you are “rich” or “poor,” God is not looking for your financial ability, He is looking for your availability. Without Jesus Christ, demands always exceed supply. With Jesus, all things are possible!
What do you do when you have been unfaithful in giving? How do you get the jar of your
budget in the right order? Become a faithful steward! Sometimes that will mean receiving
wisdom from other believers who can come alongside you and show you how to better manage the little that God has given to you. Don’t be too embarrassed to get help. Read books. Take a seminar. Do whatever it takes to reorder the rocks in your stewardship jar!
As in any other failure, God is gracious. He accepts us just as we are. Yet, God loves us too much to leave us the way He found us! God challenges us to grow in grace and to become all that He has created us to be (2 Peter 3:18).