February 13, 2011 | Brian Bill
You can relax because I am not preaching in order to get you to give more. Our budget is doing fine. My concern is not so much whether we meet budget as it is whether each of us are honoring God with our finances because how we manage our money is directly linked to our discipleship. In fact, there are more verses in the Bible regarding our resources than about Heaven and Hell combined. Of the 38 parables Jesus told, 16 of them are about money. The Bible has fewer than 300 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith and over 2,000 verses that deal with wealth and possessions! The inescapable conclusion is that how we deal with finances in general, and what we give in particular, is a big deal to God. And so we need to focus on our funds, no matter how uncomfortable we may feel because there is no way to separate faith and finances.
According to a new study on Christian giving called, “Passing the Plate,” more than one out of four American Protestants give no money at all. Of all Christian groups, evangelicals score best: only 10% give nothing and 36% report that they give less than 2% of their income. I was surprised to learn that the median giving for an American Christian is just $200 a year. One sermon title I came across captures the state of Christian giving: “Cirrhosis of the Giver.”
To be biblically generous is to recognize God’s generosity to us in Christ and to give extravagantly in worship to Him, relative to what one has
The word “generous” as used in the Bible means, “To show mercy or favor, to be freely gracious.” Someone with a generous heart is “ready to give with grace and liberality,” while a stingy hearted person is often filled with revenge and a desire for payback. To be biblically generous is to recognize God’s generosity to us in Christ and to give extravagantly in worship to Him, relative to what one has. For it is impossible to out give God.
To help us get into our topic of generosity, let’s consider a brief survey of some Scripture passages. Let’s start with Psalm 37:25-26 – “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.”
Did you catch that? When parents bust out with generosity, their children end up being blessed. I want to pause here to comment on a video that has gone viral and has been shown all over the country from CNN to WLS to Fox News Channel. During the blizzard in Chicago a woman apparently stole a neighbor’s shovel in order to dig out her car. Unfortunately for her, this was caught on video tape and the shovel owner decided to do some payback. The next day, he found her car and decided to use his snow blower and bury it with an avalanche of snow. It took her four hours to dig her car out – and he videotaped this as well. Commenting on the video, he said, “It felt really good. I’m not gonna lie. It felt really good.” When asked why he did all this, he said, “I did it for my two-year-old.” Apparently, he couldn’t finish building her an igloo without the shovel so he decided to seek revenge.
There is a principle involved. While there are parts to this story that make us laugh, wouldn’t it have been a better teachable moment for his daughter if he would have helped the woman get her car out of the snow bank or bought her a coffee or a sandwich? Or he could have just given her the shovel and bought another one. What would he have taught his daughter had he called a tow truck to help her? Instead he decided to be stingy instead of generous, and in the process passed along that malice is better than mercy.
He missed out on the promise of Psalm 112:5 – “Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely…” and Proverbs 11:25 – “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
Here are two other passages on generosity.
- 2 Corinthians 9:5-6 – “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
- 1 Timothy 6:17-19 – “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
I’m going to make an assumption today that most of us want to grow in generosity. But some of us may really struggle in this area because we find ourselves holding back instead of giving away. Let’s look at two verses from Proverbs 3:9-10 because they’ll help us grow in our generosity: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” The big idea this morning is that we can’t out give God. We’re told what to do, how to do it and finally why we should give to God.
Before we dive in, notice that the word “your” is used four times in this brief text. That reminds us that this topic is deeply personal and for many of us it’s also deeply private. We don’t really want anyone, even God, putting their nose in our money matters. I see three ways that you and I can generate some generosity from this passage.
1. Make God weightier than your wealth.
Notice in the first part of verse 9 what we’re to do: “Honor the Lord with your wealth.” Our view of God determines everything else about us. If we consider Him weighty, we will live and give accordingly. If we see God as out to get us, then we’ll be afraid and give only to appease His anger. And, if we don’t think much of God at all, chances are we won’t give much either.
It’s interesting that we’re told to “honor” the Lord. To honor someone is to consider him to be weighty or heavy. The name “Lord” here is Yahweh, the self-existent One as seen in Exodus 3:14: “I AM WHO I AM.” Yahweh is the covenant-keeping God and He is absolutely independent and totally constant. Our “wealth” refers to all that we have. The Bible is very clear that the way to honor God is by caring for the needy as seen in Proverbs 14:31: “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”
An example of a time when God’s people did not honor God with their wealth is found in Haggai 1. They were all hurrying to build their own homes while God’s house was in ruins. God told them that they would not be fulfilled until they put Him first. Check out verses 7-8, listening for the word “honored.” “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.”
In what ways do you need to make God weightier than your wealth?
2. Give God your first and your best.
The second half of verse 9 tells us how to do that: “…with the firstfruits of all your crops.” God is not interested in our lame leftovers. Instead, He wants our first and our best. God’s people were to give:
- The firstborn of their flocks (Exodus 13:1-2)
- The firstfruits of their fields (Leviticus 23:9-14)
Incidentally, it was not easy to hand over a healthy animal to be physically sacrificed. No doubt this was an economic sacrifice but it was a way to express gratitude for God leading them out of slavery. When we give first we show that we are placing Him ahead of everything else and when we give our best it’s an act of respect and a declaration of trust that He will take care of us.
Biblical giving isn’t waiting till the end of the month or the close of the year to see if there is anything left. God belongs first. One pastor put it like this: “God is the source of every morning I wake, every dollar I make, every liberty I take.”
Turn over to Malachi 3:8: “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings.” The word “rob” here means to “take forcibly.” How could they be stealing from God? They had begun to take what belonged to Him and kept it for themselves.
As a way to recognize God’s rightful rule and omnipotent ownership of all things, God’s people in the Old Testament were instructed to give tithes and offerings. This word literally means “a tenth,” or 10%. While some would say that this teaching is based on the Law, let me remind you that Abraham practiced tithing 400 years before the Law was even established.
When we grovel about giving or withhold what is His, we are robbing God of His right to use us to propel His purposes in the world. Look at the first part of verse 10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house…” The storehouse was the chamber in the Temple where the tithes and offerings were kept. Here are some summary statements about the application of tithing for today:
- While we are no longer under the Law, tithing is a good benchmark for believers. In other words, it’s a good place to start, sort of like a “minimum guide” for giving. Tithing is God’s historical method to get us on the path of giving; it’s a gateway to the joy of grace giving.
- It’s easy to tithe and yet miss out on what’s really important. Jesus took the Pharisees to task not because they didn’t tithe, but because they had become so legalistic that they no longer cared about their love for God or for their neighbor (Luke 11:42).
- The practice of tithing is a good reminder of who’s in charge of my life. When I give at least 10%, it’s a way to be reminded that God owns everything that I have.
When we first give ourselves to the Lord, all other giving is easy
When we give at least 10% of our income to God, we’re saying that we trust Him to enable us to live on the other 90%. Malachi 3:10 is the only place in the Bible where God tells us to test Him. To “test” means to investigate or prove something as true. We’re warned about not putting God to the test and yet when it comes to giving, God invites us to test Him because the real issue is not money, but trust. Or, we could put it like this: When we first give ourselves to the Lord, all other giving is easy.
I don’t have time to give a full picture of what the entire Bible teaches about giving but let me quickly draw three more principles from 1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…” Giving should be punctual, personal and proportional. It’s not an obligation but an opportunity. In one sense, every payday should be payback day. When I receive my paycheck, the first two checks we write are made out to this church. We drop one in the offering one week and then the other the following week. That way when we miss a Sunday, the check is already made out and then we just put two in the offering the following week.
3. When you give you’ll really live.
Proverbs 3:10 answers the why question: “Then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” When we follow God’s precepts we will then experience God’s promises. When we give, we’ll have more than we need so we can give even more. Did you notice that the barns will be filled to “overflowing” and the vats will brim “over”? We should give expectantly.
Check out Proverbs 19:17: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.” It’s a pretty good idea to lend to the Lord because He pays outstanding interest! I’ve always been intrigued by what Jesus said in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” This reminds me of the principle found in 1 Samuel 2:30: “Those who honor me I will honor.”
Let’s return to Malachi 3 where we read of a similar promise in verses 10-12: “…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it…Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land, says the LORD Almighty.” God says that He will open wide the river of heaven and will blow us away with His blessings. The word, “pour” means to “to make empty.” When we trust God with our giving, He will empty His bucket of blessings on us and we’ll barely be able to stand it! We’ll feel like we don’t have any more room to hold everything that God gives us. God is saying, “I dare you to try and exhaust me with your giving. Just try and outgive me.”
The Treasure Principle
Randy Alcorn has written one of the best (and shortest) books on how to generate generosity called The Treasure Principle. Three of his main points correlate with what we’ve learned this morning.
1. God owns everything and I am his money manager.
Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” When I honor God with my wealth I am declaring that He owns me, and everything that I have. When you talk about money, instead of saying “my money,” change the wording to, “God’s money.” Abraham Kuyper put it like this: “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!’”
Question: Are you ready to transfer the ownership of everything you have to Him right now?
2. My heart always goes where I put God’s money.
We tend to think that our money follows our heart but Jesus said it’s the other way around in Matthew 6:21 – “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Money leads; hearts follow. By giving to God first and by giving him my best, I make sure my heart is focused on heavenly things. Every time you drop something in the plate you should whisper something like this to your check: “See you in heaven.” Luther captured it well when he said, “What a man loves, that is his God.” We show what we love by what we do with what we have. S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A restaurants adds, “It’s OK to have wealth. But keep it in your hands, not in your heart.”
Question: Will you determine right now to come up with a plan to give to God out of your best before you spend your money on the rest?
3. God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.
This ties in to why God blesses us financially. When we get more we can give more.
The church at Corinth experienced this in 2 Corinthians 9:11 – “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” John Bunyan offered this insight: “A man there was, and they called him mad; the more he gave, the more he had.”
Question: Will you take God up on His dare to become more generous? When He blesses, will you use that blessing to be a blessing?
Living Out a Giving Lifestyle
I read an article in USA Today last week called, “Unraveling the mystery of why we give, or don’t.” Apparently the “Science of Generosity Initiative” has discovered a “generosity gene” that is found in the brain, not in the heart. Here are some things they’ve unearthed:
- Religious people tend to give more.
- People who have more money don’t necessarily donate more.
- People who plan donations give more than those who don’t.
- Guilt isn’t a great motivator.
So far, so good. But then the article takes a weird turn. Some researchers believe that there’s a hormone produced in the pituitary gland and in one experiment, a team of scientists used a nasal spray of this hormone and found that generosity increased by 80% when it was inhaled by the subjects! We’re not going to spray this today but I do know that our generosity increases when we inhale the Word of God and get plugged in to His ways.
Here are some practical ways that you and I can generate some more generosity in our lives.
1. Audit your giving.
Take some time to sit down and determine how much you’ve been giving to the Lord. While you’re doing your taxes is a good time to do this. Some of you may read your giving statements and rejoice that you were able to give as much as you did while others of you may need to bump it up this year.
2. Study God’s generosity.
Randy Alcorn adds, “Gaze upon Christ long enough and you’ll become more of a giver. Give long enough and you’ll become more of a giver.” Giving is a reaction to the action of grace in our lives so if you’re not giving much then maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve been overwhelmed by God’s amazing grace.
3. Take the tithing challenge.
I wonder if some of you are ready to take God up on His tithing test. Give like you’ve never given before. Ask God to prove Himself. I believe God will pour out His blessings in ways you have never experienced before. I dare you to try and out give God.
4. If your finances are causing some friction, get some help.
5. Develop a spirit of contentment.
Remember that contentment is not having everything you want but wanting everything you already have. I love these two verses from Proverbs 30:8-9 – “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. “
6. Decide to serve one Master.
There are many things that God will put up with in the human heart but second place is not one of them. It’s not what God wants from you (more) but what God wants for you (devotion to one Master). If you haven’t fully surrendered to the Lord, do so right now. One pastor nailed it when he wrote these words: “It is an anomaly of modern life that many find giving to be a burden. Such persons have omitted a preliminary giving. If one first gives himself to the Lord, all other giving is easy.”
7. Teach your children the joy of generosity instead of revenge or stinginess.
The beauty of the tithe is that it’s pretty easy to figure out even for those who are young, or for people like me who are not very good at math.
In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. “How much is a hot fudge sundae?” he asked. “Fifty cents,” replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it.
“Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?” he inquired. By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient. “Thirty-five cents,” she brusquely replied. The little boy again counted his coins. “I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said.
The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies. You see, he couldn’t have the hot fudge sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.
Is there anything more glorious than someone who is generous with their money? I dare you to try and out give God. Let’s do it and see what will happen.
There’s a church like ours in the Bible. It’s not a powerful church like the church in Rome nor is it an affluent assembly like the church in Ephesus. It’s a group known simply as the Macedonians who had very little money. Check out how generous they were in 2 Corinthians 8:2-5 – “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”
Giving should be a delight, not a duty. You will be tempted to resist these truths, to rationalize and come up with reasons why none of this applies to you. But God is trustworthy.