Duty, Scraps and Little Expectations
A friend’s dad used to come to church at Christmas – every year – he was very religious. And he thought that he should support the church. He was well off – not a Packer or Murdoch, but he had plenty. When the plate came around he would drop in 50c. He deliberately came to church without notes – he felt it was his duty to give money to the church once a year, but only what he wouldn’t miss – the scraps.
Big John was a great guy – the sort of bloke that would make a fat guy feel positively slender – big hearted too. He was a commercial banker – nicely set up with all the trappings. He said to me one day…
“God doesn’t want me to deprive my family so he doesn’t expect me to give more than I can spare. That’s right, isn’t it?”
He is a Christian, generous to his family, gifted, faithful, hardworking, and good at witnessing the gospel. I have seen him in action and especially amongst men at church he was a gifted evangelist.
Was he generous towards God – absolutely not!
- Where does generosity come into our relationship with God?
- What does it mean to be generous towards God?
- How has God been generous to us?
Malachi was the last book of the OT to be written – about 450 years before Jesus – and it summarises Israel’s relationship with God, gives God’s assessment – have they lived according to the covenant – have they been God’s people living God’s way in God’s land. That’s the question. The answer is not just a resounding NO!
Malachi 3:7 “Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
Israel simply refused to live by the covenant for any length of time. They were just ordinary people – not particularly bad, not particularly good – just like us except they were Jewish and most of us aren’t. Many of them probably wanted to serve God faithfully, to be obedient – in the same sense that we see today –Christians generally want to be faithful. But Israel had a problem.
Malachi 3:14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?”
Their problem was obedience and repentance – or rather a lack of!
They looked at the world and said…
Obedience + repentance = 0
Doing God’s will, repenting of sin – gets you nowhere. The rich get richer at the expense of the poor. The arrogant are happy, evildoers prosper and escape God’s wrath. So they followed the nations. They wanted what other people had – security in an insecure world, security they could touch, taste, hold and be sure that it was real. They wanted love, and justice, fairness, romance, health, wellbeing, prosperity, enjoyment, safety, and peace. And they decided to get them through money and by calling God a stupid fool.
See, what they said was ‘evil people prosper and get ahead’. The part they didn’t say – but obviously believed – was that God was either wrong or stupid. The world doesn’t work the way God says it does. God says ‘hang on – take a step back from your sin? Give me glory and honour – obey me, be my special possession as you agreed to be – and then you will see the difference.’
Malachi 3:18 “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”
But Israel wanted to see a difference that didn’t exist. They wanted God’s blessing even though they were exactly the same as the evildoers – there was no discernable contrast between Jew and pagan. Be mine says the Lord, be absolutely my people – be discernibly different and then you will see the difference.
In their relationship with God they had given up everything that had any meaning and were simply doing the religious bits and pieces. And one of the clearest indicators was with their money. This is so often the truth with the people of God – what you do with your money says volumes about your faith. The Jews thought that money would get them ahead. They saw the locusts devour the crops, the thieves steal and storms destroy, they saw the taxman and the banks taking more and more and their superannuation destroyed by downturns in the market and they said to themselves, “I have to stop giving to God so that my family can live.” And they did – they gave up the tithes and offerings.
What do you think God said to them?
“Look guys – sure – yeh – no worries – no problem, I understand. Times are tough, I know it’s all been a bit hard – heaven’s been a little tight too – there have been cutbacks you know – so look, that’s fine.”
You know what God says to Israel?
Malachi 3:8-98 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.”
Israel responded to God’s generosity with disobedience and a lack of generosity. They weighed up faithfulness and financial security and money won. Their interests and security had to come before God. They thought they had to provide every good thing, that they were responsible for prosperity, that they had to make a name for themselves, to protect themselves against locust, thieves, storms, disaster – have you ever tried to stop a swarm of locusts? They decided that it was up to them to provide generous blessings for themselves.
At this point there should be big flashing neon signs saying “Danger” “Danger” “Danger”.
How different are we from Israel? We are God’s people living God’s way for eternity in God’s kingdom – by the death and resurrection of Jesus – the new covenant. We are not Israel, we don’t have a regimented lifestyle religion, we don’t live in Palestine, nor has God ever promised any such thing. But like Israel our lives are meant to conform to God’s will. We are to worship God, to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, to live by the Spirit, to grow closer to Jesus day by day, to fellowship with each other, to do specific things when we gather, to support and care for each other, to witness the truth of the gospel even to the point of death. It’s not a matter of rules and regulations but our entire lifestyle is to be a reflection of what we will be for eternity – God’s people living God’s way in God’s kingdom – by the death and resurrection of Jesus. For all eternity we will be focused solely on praising God in word and action – shining lights sharing in Christ’s glory.
But right now we live in a society obsessed with money and possessions, and the temptation for us is to see a hostile world, to see its dangers and difficulties and to bunker down – to protect our assets and build for the future. That is what the world encourages us to do – at every turn, if we are to be productive members of our society then we must strive for security, for the money and possessions that will free us – and we have bought the message so fully that we think God agrees with our aims! We think it is righteous to withhold from God – we think God agrees with the worlds view of cash!
But God says that we are in the greatest danger – danger of robbing him – danger of responding to his generosity without generosity – of being like Israel bunkered down, relying on themselves and their wealth, trusting their ability, giving glory to themselves and lacking generosity towards God.
The question is – what to do?
God says “be generous as I am generous” – but what does that mean?
I guess we could do what Israel did – look for rules – how much should I give to God in $$$ terms or % terms? The Pharisees of Jesus’ time gave 10% of everything they produced, including the herbs on their kitchen window – they had rules, hundreds of rules to regulate what generosity to God meant. I know for myself that is my temptation as well – to look for rules in my giving. I was brought up with the idea that 10% was a good starting place – I’ve hardly questioned that principle in my life. Even now as I write it bounces to the surface – if only people in the church would all give 10% the church would be loaded – ministry would progress, evangelism abound… (just leave aside the little element of self-righteousness that threatens to creep into my thoughts).
But God isn’t interested in how much! God is not interested in how much money – or time, fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, possessions, love, care – or money. There are no quantities being bandied around in the heavenly realms – quotas and targets. No – not how much… but rather God’s interest is how will we respond to God’s overwhelming and outrageous generosity?
You know what must have stuck in God’s throat with Israel? God promised them everything – their heart’s desires. In fact God was the only way they would ever have their hearts desires. And he came through – when they were obedient and repentant they received everything with abundance. Did they respond with gratitude – did they respond in kind? No! They said – “Wow, look at what we’ve done. Look at what we have built for ourselves – look at how rich I am – I did it my way – I better make sure that I protect it – that is the most important thing.”
And you thought they were different to us?!
How should they have responded?
With cheerful generosity! To say to God “You’ve given us everything we need and desire – can we give back to you.” To say to God “I will trust in you to fulfil your promises because you hold out the things I want and need.”
Look – the reality is no different for us. All the things we desire are found in Jesus – he offers us love, security, peace, hope, life, esteem – everything we really want, the things we seek. How should Israel have responded to God’s generosity? How should we respond? When we look at our little world – our home, possessions, education, superannuation, family, kids and grandkids, friends, holidays, leisure, our plans for the future, our marriage, our church and church friends here, the lifestyle that we have – do we look at all that, do we survey our domain and say “look at what I have done for myself”? Or do we say “thank you God”. Do we say, “I did it my way” – or with cheerful generosity, do we say to God “You have given us everything we need and desire. I will trust in you to fulfil your promises because you hold out the very things I want and need. How can I be generous towards you Lord?
Here’s the thing – I know lots of churches struggle to exist. But I do wonder why? Why are finances always an issue? It makes sense if there is real growth and the money just keeps outstripping the demand for ministry – that’s a nice problem to have. But for lots of churches that’s not the case. Why are the finances in constant trouble? Is it that there are not enough people earning enough money? Is it that we don’t give enough as individuals? Is it that churches spend the money unwisely? Is it that budgets are too adventurous or simply wrong?
As I look back at Israel it strikes me that when they did not prosper it was because as individuals and as a nation they refused to be generous to God!
There could be all sorts of reasons why churches lack sufficient funds – but if what the Bible says is true about money and generosity… if we will respond to God’s generosity with generosity then we will lack nothing – God will provide far above our desires and even our imaginations.
It’s a hard question isn’t it – it hits home pretty hard, right into every aspect of our lives and our families. But hear me on this – it’s not a matter of how much we give, or don’t give. Rather it’s a matter of living by God’s principles as we deal with money.
Principles of Generosity
I’d like to suggest three Biblical principles about money and possessions. This is not everything – just a part.
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. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
Paul says… don’t be arrogant about wealth, don’t put your hope in wealth, do hope in God (the provider), do good with the cash, be rich and generous towards others (probably speaking about those in the church), lay up heavenly not earthly treasures, take hold of real life not the falsehood of money. And… it’s also ok to enjoy what God has provided.
- Be generous.
- Don’t assume responsibility for what God has done.
- Set your hopes on God.
We can bunker down all we like in the face of trouble. We can fear for our financial security and hoard and store and protect OUR assets for all we are worth. But none of it matters an ounce should God decide to alter our perspective. None of it’s worth a drop should we be found in the end to have been trusting in riches. It’s true for individuals and for churches.
God is the one who provides. God is the one who gives us generously out of his great wealth – if you have wealth of any sort – in fact if you have anything at all, it has come from his generosity. We falsely assume responsibility for our position in the world and in society when God is the one who gives and can take away. If you are hoping in your riches – your hope is entirely misplaced.
God says… don’t hoard and protect – don’t bunker down in the face of trouble.
He says “Try and beat me at being generous.”
Try and be more generous to me…
than I can be towards you…
and see who wins!
Money & Church
Christians don’t like it when ministers talk about money and generosity. Maybe you feel churches should focus elsewhere rather than on money and giving. I’d say the opposite – I can’t think of a more appropriate place than church gatherings to be asking myself (again and again) “How am I responding to God’s generosity?” If I am God’s person, living God’s way in God’s kingdom for all eternity because of the tragic death and the incredible resurrection of Jesus Christ then how will that affect my cash? For no other reason than God’s gracious love, he gave his son to take my place in death so that I might live.
We talk about the wonder and joy of Christmas – do you know the truly amazing thing about Christmas?
It’s not that Jesus was born as a baby boy!
But that he was born at all – that God acted generously towards me and you by providing his one and only Son as the sacrifice for our sins.
Do you think there will ever be a day that you can be more generous than God has been towards us? Out of that outrageous act of kindness God gave us life – life that is without limit, life that is full of every good thing, life full of everything I need and all my hearts true desires. How can we respond to God’s generosity by living generous lives towards God?
Some Questions for Thought and Discussion
- What is your attitude towards money? Especially – what is your attitude towards giving money to God?
- How did you decide what to give?
- Where did your understanding about God and money come from?
Read 1 Timothy 6:17-19
- Is your hope in God or your wealth and financial standing?
- How would your friends and family answer that question about you?
- What does hope in wealth look like in day to day life?
- How are you using your money to lay up treasures in heaven?
Read: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11
- Can a lack of growth in maturity, converts and the church be linked to a lack of generosity towards God?
- If the harvest is small – does that mean we have put too little in?
- If we lack anything we need does that mean we have not been generous to God?
Think & Pray: How can my church use the money God has given to proclaim the gospel? What will it take to convert those we live amongst?
Action: What actions do you need to take regarding money? Who do you need to speak to this week about Jesus?