By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist
January 22, 2023
We have been spending the last number of weeks talking about generosity. We have talked about generosity of time and talent. This week I want to talk about the Generosity of Treasure.
It is a great week to talk about giving. I just received the year-end report from the treasurer on Friday. We ended the year with a surplus of 7450 dollars. When we had our Society meeting in early December, it looked like we were going to have a $15000 deficit. This makes me very aware that as I speak on generosity, I am already speaking to generous people.
I have a number of purposes for this morning’s sermon, and I want to state them upfront so that you don’t feel like there is a hidden agenda going on.
In Exodus 35, the story of Moses collecting for the temple is told. The emphasis in that story is that it was the willing who gave. God loves a cheerful giver. So I want you to know upfront that this sermon will not be some manipulative pressure to make you give more.
I detest manipulation, especially when it comes to church and money issues. I know that some people`s view of the church is that it is always asking for money, and their vision of the church is some manipulative tv evangelist. If you have been here for a while, you will know that we don’t spend much time talking about money. But money is a discipleship issue.
There is a Christian view of money. Billy Graham said, “Your chequebook is a theological document.” How you use your money and how you give your money says a lot about your spiritual life. This morning I want to help you think Christianly about money.
This morning I also want to be very practical in answering a number of questions about giving, about tithing and about how much I should consider giving. I even want to get into the mechanics of giving.
Cartoon – Not my intention
Not long after we were married, Lynda had a car accident. Those are the kind of things you don’t plan for in your household budget. After finding out that Lynda was all right after the accident, my next thought was about how we were going to pay for this. My next thought, because I was still on the phone with Lynda, was how can I speak comfort into her. I told her, “Don’t worry, It’s only money.”
On my better days, I believe that. But of course, I, like you, have a lot of days that are not my better days. The top three reasons for martial break up are money, sex and in-laws. If it is “only money,” why does it cause so much marital disharmony.
The answer is, of course, many times, it’s not just money. Sometimes it’s not just money; it is comfort. I have had a bad day, and I want to feel better; I can buy a pizza, new clothes, or, if it’s been a really bad day, a speed boat. We save money so we can have a better house or we can go on a better vacation. We try to make sure that we can have a comfortable retirement. Money becomes comfort.
Sometimes it’s not just money; it’s security. I like being able to know that I can retire well. I like to know that I am not going to be homeless. I like to know that if a problem comes that I have enough money to deal with it. In some ways, our bank accounts act like a personal social safety net. Money becomes security.
Sometimes it’s not just money; it’s Significance. This shows up in designer labels, on what we wear, or the kind of car we drive, or the neighbourhood we live in, or the kind of gadgets we sport. Money becomes Significance.
Sometimes it’s not just money; it’s power. If you pay, you have a say. That seems to be true whether it be parents, government lobbying, or in some places, church politics. Money buys influence.
But these things, Comfort, Security, Significance, Power, these things are profoundly spiritual concepts. They are profoundly spiritual issues. In fact, comfort, security, Significance and power are amongst the most potent idols of our age. They are things that many have a tendency to prioritize above God.
As a Christian, where is your primary source of comfort supposed to come from? Your comfort is to be found in Jesus. As a Christian, where is your security to be found? Your security is to be found in Jesus. As a Christian, where is your Significance supposed to be found? You Significance is to be found in what God thinks of you. As a Christian, how are you to view power? Power is found in God’s strength and our weakness. Power is always to be used for God’s glory.
Does that mean that having a comfortable house or going on a nice vacation is wrong? Does that mean that having a secure retirement is wrong? Does that mean that buying a nice cell phone is wrong? The answer is, of course, it depends. It depends on whether they are primary values or secondary values in your life. They can be idols; in which case they are wrong. Comfort, Security, Significance, and Power, can be what we try to make our lives revolve around. That’s wrong. On the other hand, they can be just a part of life. In which case, we take them as a blessing, and we give thanks.
But make no mistake, these things are really difficult for our souls to navigate.
Matthew 19:23–26 (NIV)
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why is that? Because it is hard for a rich man not to find his comfort, his security, his Significance, his power in his money. In fact, it is right down impossible. If these things are left in front of our hearts, our hearts will bow down and worship them. When that happens, money becomes our master, not God. You can’t serve two masters.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. Now some people have tried to interpret this verse to mean there was a gate called the needle gate, which, in order for a camel to go through it, they had to unpack the camel, and the camel had to go through on its knees. That is a totally bogus interpretation of this passage. Jesus means exactly what he says. We are talking about the eye of a needle which you use to sew with and a real camel. How do you get a camel through the eye of a needle? The answer is – you don’t. It is not merely difficult. It is impossible.
So is Jesus saying that it is impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. The answer is yes and no. Yes it is impossible, yet, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
In other words, it is going to take a miracle of God to get a rich person into the kingdom of heaven. It is a good thing that God is a miracle-working God. It is especially good for those of us who live in North America, especially middle-class North America, where even though we may feel poor, we are richer than most of the rest of the world. If you take your poor, middle-class existence and place it in Africa, or South America, or India, or some parts of Asia, you will classify as rich. You are the rich person Jesus is talking about. It is a good thing for us that God is a miracle-working God. It is impossible for us to get into the kingdom of heaven unless God does a miracle. But God is a miracle-working God.
It is not wrong to be rich. You don’t need to walk around feeling guilty about having more than other people. You just need God to perform a miracle in your heart.
God needs to transform your heart in regard to what you possess, in regards to comfort, security, significance, and power, in order for you to fully enter the kingdom of God.
When you became a Christian, God made you a new creation. He has done the initial transformation. He has allowed you to enter into the door of the kingdom. But if you are going to fully enter in, you will have to deal with the issue around money in your life. Money is going to have to become for you “Only Money.”
If you don’t deal with these issues in your life, you will experience a lot more death in your soul than you should. Anxiety will replace faith. Worry will replace joy. Unless your attitude is altered, the more you have, the more you have to worry about.
Security and Significance are at the basis of your self-image. How you think about yourself depends on how secure you feel and how significant you feel. If those feelings are being informed by your bank account, you are in trouble. If you don’t deal with the money issue, you will either become proud or self-hating, and neither is a good place to be.
If you don’t deal with these issues, greed tends to rear its head. Greed has a way of ushering in a truckload of evil. Money is not the root of evil. But the love of money is. Materialism and idolatry are just around the corner if you don’t deal with these things.
I have watched money issues destroy people’s lives, and I have watched people who have allowed God to deal with their heart experience joy and grace in many areas of their life because of it.
So how does that happen? How does God do the impossible in us? It happens like the rest of the transformations in our life. It comes through connection with God: transforming our thinking and changing our behaviour.
You cannot deal with issues of comfort, security, significance and power without getting God’s perspective on your life and engaging in the discipline of giving.
We talk a lot about a connection with God around here. So I am not going to spend a lot of time on it today. Only to say this, let your financial decisions into your prayer life. Let how you spend and how you save be a part of what you talk to God about.
The transformation of our thinking is more than we have time to deal with today. But let me give you one quick passage.
1 Timothy 6:17–19 (NLT)
17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.
You will notice that Paul doesn`t condemn the rich for being rich. But he says if you are going to be rich, then you are going to have to watch out for pride. You are going to have to trust God more. You are going to have to watch that you trust God and not money.
He also tells them that they need to be rich in good works. He instructs them to be generous.
Transformation happens through a change of behaviour. Paul says 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others
I promised I would get very practical on this. John Wesley once preached a sermon on money. It had three points. Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can. That is not bad advice.
Let me walk you through the ways in which God transforms our hearts through what we do. The last couple of weeks we talked about being generous with time and talent. In other words, be rich in good works. Now he goes on to say, “be generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others….” Let me give you a few behaviours that help combat our temptation to make comfort, security, Significance and power into idols and how to be generous…
Tithing is an Old Testament Concept which teaches that we should give 10% of what we make to the Lord. Some people think that because it is an Old Testament concept that it doesn’t apply to Christians. That is true, and it isn’t true.
As a Christian, you gave your life to Christ. In other words, everything that you have, you gave to him. The New Testament model is not 10% belongs to God, and 90% belongs to us. No, the New Testament teaches that all that we have belongs to God. So it is not 10% it is 100% of what we have belongs to God. We are not the owner of our stuff – we are the stewards, the managers of God’s stuff that he has entrusted to us.
So, what do we do with tithing? Well, Tithing isn’t a law on the level of, let’s say, forgiveness. But tithing is a way of dealing with the question, how should I be generous? I’ve been in church, where being generous meant throwing a 20-dollar bill on the collection plate. But people, that kind of gift doesn’t deal with the comfort, security, Significance, and power issues in our hearts. So the tradition of the church has been to recommend 10% of your income as a starting point for generosity.
There are many of you here who have made this your practice already. That is a wonderful start. There are those of you who haven’t made this a practice. You think 10% – I don’t know if I can afford to do that. Here is what I know, you cannot deal with the idols of your own heart if you don’t give in a way that costs you something significant. That is why the church has recommended giving 10%. Is tithing a challenge? Of course. But it is the start of moving into freedom.
For those of you who haven’t practiced tithing, and the 10% and you just don’t have the faith to make the leap, then start at 3% or 5% and watch what God does with that, and move your way up. A giving plan is a good thing.
Here are the usual questions that come up in tithing. Should I tithe on my net or my gross? Remember, we are dealing with issues of your heart, not with the law. I recommend tithing on your net – and going from there. I know that some of you do a lot more than that.
But I would remind you of what Jesus said.
Luke 6:38 (NIV)
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 is about generosity. It is not about law. But God has a way of giving back to those who give. I don`t subscribe to the prosperity gospel, where you give 100 dollars, and God will give you a 1000 dollars. God doesn`t tend to work in a linear way like that. But I do believe that you cannot out-give God. Note that it says that if you are stingy, what comes back will be sparse. If you are generous what comes back to you will be plentiful.
But here is something, just to confuse things more. For those of you who tithe, the government gives you back around 40% of what you give. So if you were to make 100000 dollars and you were to give 10000 dollars to the Lord, the government would give you back around 4000 dollars. So in reality, while the church has received 10000 dollars, you have only given 6000 dollars. So have you tithed on what you have made? I don’t know. I go back to what I said before, this is not about law. This is about your heart and generosity.
The next question that usually comes up is, should I give all the 10% to the church, or should I spread it around to different ministries and charities. I don’t like answering this question because it feels like I am being self-serving. So, I am going to give you a quick answer and then tell you that you will have to work this out before God. The quick answer is that the church is God’s primary vehicle of transformation, and so it should be your primary place of giving. But it shouldn’t be the only place you give.
The next question is, should I give more than a tithe? Generally, the answer to that question is yes over time. Ezra 2:69 says, According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work. Some of what you give will depend on your ability to give. I would urge you to be wise and open-hearted. You cannot give to everyone who has a need. But you can do for one what you wish you could do for them all. Not all your giving is going to show up on a tax receipt.
So how else does one approach this question of giving? I believe you pray about it first. If you are married, you talk to your spouse about it. Get them praying as well.
The reality is that for most of us, that giving happens as we start to get the rest of our finances under control. You have to ask, is there a place where I save so that I can give. The other is, what can I trust God for. The other is, do I have surpluses.
Let me talk to you about some of the logistics of giving to Asbury. You can give your offering in the box at the back of the church. If you plan to give that way consistently, ask for envelopes. It will help the people who count the money.
You can choose to give online either through PayPal or your credit card. If you want help with consistency, you can have that automated, so you give every month. You can also give through e-transfer. Give@asbury.ca is the email you can send it to.
This morning, I have tried to talk to you about being a Christian and money. Prayer, attitude and giving is the only way to protect our hearts from making money into an idol.
So I urge you to give, but I leave you with this reminder from the apostle Paul.
2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)
You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”
Sermon Question – Generosity of Treasure
1. What are you celebrating today?
2. What are you praying for this week?
3. Why is money a spiritual issue? How does relying on money to bring comfort, security, significance, and power affect us spiritually?
4. Read Matthew 19:23-26. What does this say about rich people? What does this say about God? Would you classify yourself as rich? Do these verses apply to you?
5. For money not to become an idol, we need three things: a strong connection with God, transformed thinking, and changed behaviour.
Read 1 Timothy 6:17-19. How does this passage exhort us to view money? How does the passage tell us to behave?
6. What is tithing? How does it apply to Christians?
7. Read Luke 6:38. What does this say about giving? How does this relate to “you reap what you sow?”
8. Read 2 Corinthians 9:7 – What does this say about how we are to give?