Check out this sermon by Rev. Tony Meyer on why we shouldn't feel uncomfortable talking about money.
Pastor Tony Meyer
When you go to the doctor for your annual check-up, he or she will begin to poke and prod and press in various places and will either ask you right out front, “Does this hurt?” or will be watching for you to flinch. And if you flinch or say that it hurts, either the doctor has pushed too hard without the right sensitivity, or, more likely, there’s something wrong. Because it isn’t supposed to hurt when you get poked there. That is when more tests are done because there must be something wrong on the inside if a little bit of pressure hurts.
Well, this morning we are going to apply a little bit of pressure and my guess is that some of you will flinch. We are going to be talking about money and giving in the church. And if the pressure hurts a little bit, then either one of two things had happened. Either I’ve pushed too hard. Or perhaps there is something wrong on our inside. Because it isn’t supposed to hurt when God talks to us about our money and our giving.
Yet, giving and money is a topic that we dance around again and again. If there is any topic that we are careful not to push too hard, it is on this one. We don’t want to offend anybody and people are easily offended when it comes to their money. For Christians and non-Christians alike, money is a volatile topic. How we treat it, how we value it, how we give it…we consider those to be personal, private issues – top secret, none of your business. The offering time is one of the greatest excuses for not coming to church. That plate being passed around each week is proof enough to them that the church is simply out to get their money. So why do we keep on talking about money here in the church?
Why do we keep on poking and prodding people on this issue if we know that it is going to hurt, if we know that they will probably be offended? Well, we keep talking about it because God talked about it. The Bible has a lot to say to us about our money so we keep on talking about it – probably not even as often as we should! Probably the passage that most people think about and turns them off from church is Acts chapter 5. Turn with me to Acts 5:1-11. It is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. And this story has given the church a bad reputation when it comes to money because it is so misunderstood. The story goes like this. Read Acts 5:1-11. Wow. That’s pretty drastic. If you don’t give enough you get struck down immediately. I’d stay away too! But in order to really understand this story you’ve got to go back and read the context within which it is told. Look back at the end of chapter 4 with me starting in verse 32. It talks about how this newly born church dealt with money. Read Acts 4:32-37. It was a community of generosity. Was this church interested in money? Yes it was. They probably didn’t pass around nicely polished plates like we do today, but giving money was an important part of worship. But we’ve got to recognize here that the church wasn’t interested in getting money for it’s own purposes.
The church encouraged generous giving because it recognized that generous giving opens kingdom opportunities. When people complain that the church is always after their money, it is because they are missing the right perspective on who is after their money. It isn’t the church that wants the money, it is God. God has kingdom plans that he wants to work out through us, and the way those plans will be worked out is through us giving our time, our abilities and our money for God’s kingdom purposes. Look at what opportunities the people’s generous giving opened up in Acts 4. Verse 32 makes it clear that these new believers gave generously. They shared all of their possessions with each other. And as a result, verse 33 tells us that “with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Generous giving empowered the apostles to tell the story. It made it possible for them to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world around them. The apostles get the credit. They get the spotlight. They are the ones who are remembered for their powerful witness and the sacrifices they made. But behind the scenes were their fellow believers who generously gave to make that witness possible. Behind the apostles were generous givers who sacrificed first in order to make their sacrifice possible. It was their generosity that empowered the apostles to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ.
And then, secondly, their generosity also helped those who were in need. Verse 34 says that “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” God used their generous giving to meet the needs of people in their community. And then later on, that same generosity was used to meet the needs of people outside the community of the church. Generous giving was an expression of love – love for each other and love for the community around them.
When we complain that the church wants our money, we are missing the point that these early believers understood. It isn’t the church that wants our money – it is God. Because God still uses our generosity in the same way today. God has designs to tell the story of Jesus Christ around our community and around the world and he has decided to tell it through us. God has designs to meet people’s needs in amazing ways and he has decided to meet them through us. It is God who has designs for your money, not the church. Last Tuesday evening I went to the airport to welcome the team back from Guatemala. If you ever want a fun experience, go and greet these teams when they come back. I hope you followed their week on the web page. But their trip is the perfect example of how God uses our generous giving for his kingdom purposes. They gave their time, they gave their money to pay there way to Guatemala, many of you gave generously for their trip as well. And as a result they were able to help people who were in need. They gave people homes who otherwise would never be able to have a home. They gave people hope when they didn’t have hope. They gave people medicines when they were sick. They gave kids their love. They met their needs, and as a result they were empowered to tell the story of Jesus. For hundreds of people they were one more link on the chain that God is using to bring them home, but for the 10 of them who accepted Jesus on that last night, they were the final link. Praise God! And what made that possible? Generous giving that opened kingdom opportunities.
The money that you give is for God and for his kingdom, not for the church itself. The church is simply a means to a greater end for our giving, not the end itself. I wish so much that I could tell you the stories of lives that are being changed here through your generous giving. It isn’t just around the world, it is right here in our own community and our own church. The 11 high schoolers who made profession of faith a few weeks ago was because of your generous giving. The father that accepted Jesus for the first time last month was because of your generous giving. The family that is going to be able to make it through the financial challenges of unemployment is because of your generous giving. The Coffee Break ministry that is transforming lives is because of your generous giving. The hungry people who are being fed are because of your generous giving. The children who are getting surgeries they need are because of your generous giving. And the stories could go on and on. We as staff get to hear them every week. God is using your generosity to make a kingdom impact.
And when we give with that perspective, we can’t help but give generously. That is why we as a church shouldn’t afraid to ask people to give. We know we aren’t asking for ourselves – we are asking on behalf of God. We ask you to give to the budget of the church because that opens up kingdom opportunities. It is so much more than paying bills – it is providing the avenue for effective ministry to happen. We ask you to give to the faith promise because that opens up kingdom opportunities. It empowers our modern day apostles – our missionaries – to tell the story. We ask you to give to Christian Education because that opens up kingdom opportunities. It helps to raise children who are hopefully eager and equipped to serve Jesus in their lives. We ask you to give to the building project not because we want to have a shiny new building, but because it opens up kingdom opportunities. There are ministry opportunities that we are missing right now because we don’t have the facilities to accomplish them. We ask you to give because God asks you to give because God has kingdom plans that can be opened up when we open up our hearts and give generously.
But we’d better spend a moment understanding God’s definition of generous giving. You see, God’s definition of generosity differs greatly from our definition of generosity. Generous giving means going beyond what is required. And God makes it pretty clear to us what is required when it comes to giving. He talks often about our tithe. The tithe was an Old Testament requirement that became a New Testament joy. The Old Testament design was that a minimum of 10% of all that we own goes back to God. The Israelites actually ended up giving about 23% of their income back to God. But it is this simple tithe that simply brings us in line with God’s commands. Giving a tithe shows simple obedience. That 10% that we give back to God is our very tangible way of declaring to others and reminding ourselves that God is God and everything is his. The new season of American Idol on FOX has begun as thousands of people try to become the next star. But the true American Idol isn’t a singer. Money is the American Idol which controls our lives and becomes our god. That is why so many people hurt when the church pokes them in their wallet or purse. We are poking their god.
But God commands us to give 10% back to him not because he needs our 20-dollar bills so badly. He commands us to tithe because we need to give in order to keep our hearts and lives away from the temptation of making money our god. And he commands us to tithe because he knows that when we keep the idol of money in its right place, submitted to God himself, then we will find true blessing from God that money can’t buy. Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “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.” (Malachi 3:10) Tithing is the pathway of obedience that leads to blessing.
It is tempting for me to tip-toe around tithing when I’m talking with a new believer or when I’m teaching a new members class. I used to suggest starting at a smaller percentage and then work your way up to 10% as soon as you can. But I’m convinced that that isn’t right. Would I give permission for someone struggling with pornography to simply cut down to 1 hour a week on the X-rated web page and one trip to the strip bar until they can do better? No. I’d challenge them to get their lives in line with God’s command for sexual purity. Well, tithing is a command from God just like sexual purity is. So I challenge every single person here to tithe – give 10% back to God – start right now. God says to test him, so do it. Prove that God is first in your life by obeying his command to put your money in second place. And he promises that he will bless you.
It is obvious that most believers don’t tithe. Most Christians have decided to ignore this command from God. What were the numbers we used a couple weeks ago – 17% of Americans claim to tithe but only 3% actually do. Many of us here today have decided to ignore this command. If everyone simply tithed as God commanded, no church would have any budget worries and Kingdom opportunities. If all of us simply tithed, we’d have more kingdom opportunities than we could imagine.
And until we get tithing straight, we can’t even talk about giving our offerings. Tithes show our obedience to God but our offerings show our love for God. When we go beyond what is required and give even more, that demonstrates and love and a passion for God and for his purposes in our lives and in our world. As a child, when I cleared the table after dinner I was obeying because that was my responsibility. But when I also put the dishes away and cleaned off the table and swept the floor, that was a demonstration of my love because I didn’t have to do that. Most of us can’t claim to be giving offerings of love because we haven’t fulfilled our responsibility of obedience yet in our giving. Our love is shown when we give over and above.
And when we begin to understand God’s purpose in asking us to give and the church’s role in developing those kingdom opportunities and the motivation of love behind it all – love for God first of all and love for the people he loves as well – then giving over and above won’t be so difficult because we will have the right heart. Generous giving must be freely given. Ananias and Sapphira missed the whole point of giving. Their desire wasn’t to give, but to see how much they could keep while still looking as generous and holy as everyone else – sounds a lot like the hypocrisy that we talked about last week.
How we give demonstrates a lot about our relationship with Jesus. If we give selfishly like Ananias and Sapphira, we prove that we are living a self-centered life and Jesus isn’t truly most important. If we give reluctantly, we are probably in a reluctant relationship with Jesus. If we give too little, our relationship with Jesus probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to us. If we hold back our giving out of fear, then we probably aren’t living a life of faith. If we only give what is easy to give, we are probably living a pretty safe spiritual life as well – one with little sacrifice. But when we give generously – when we bring our tithes and then our offerings to God – it shows a spiritual health in our relationship with our God.
Our generosity demonstrates a life of gratitude. These early Christians recognized that all that they owned was a gift from God to begin with so it made sense to give it back to God. And when we have truly given God ownership of all we have, then we will have a heart of gratitude for all that he has given us.
Our generosity then demonstrates a life submitted to God. Ananias could have given just 10% of what he got for the sale of the land and God would have been pleased. That other 90% was God’s gift to Ananias. Think about that. God lets us keep 90%. He could demand it all. But he doesn’t. He lets us keep it. But when we choose to give it back to God, we show who is in control of our lives. It isn’t our money. It isn’t our stuff. It isn’t our desire to retire early. It isn’t our financial or recreational dreams. It is God. If we can’t submit our finances to the designs of God, then we aren’t fully committed followers of Jesus Christ.
And finally, our generosity demonstrates a life that trusts God. God challenges us to test him to see if he is trustworthy. “Start tithing, start giving generously, and just see if I won’t take care of you.” It is the only time God invites us to test him. But so many of us don’t because we don’t trust God. We trust in our checkbook instead. We trust in our credit cards and our bank accounts and our retirement funds. “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from 5/3 bank. Holder of my money and my wealth.” That’s the Psalm many of our lives are singing today. When we choose to give generously, though, we proclaim, “My help comes from the Lord – Maker of heaven and earth. I trust in him.”
We already took the offering this morning. We probably should have taken it after the sermon. I didn’t see anyone drop dead when the offering plate went by this morning. The most we have to fear from the offering plate is the embarrassment of dropping the plate as it goes by. I don’t believe that any of us have to fear being struck down like Ananias and Sapphira. The offering is a pretty mundane part of the service.
But maybe it’s about time we recognize it as pretty powerful and pretty dangerous. What you do as that offering plate goes by speaks volumes about your true relationship with Jesus. It speaks volumes about your gratitude and your submission and your trust. It probably speaks more clearly than how loud you sing or how long you pray or how often you come to church. Only a few elders and deacons may know what you give, but it isn’t what they think that matters first of all. It is God who matters and he sees your giving. He sees your obedience or your disobedience. He sees your generosity or your selfishness. He sees your heart through your giving. And if talking about generous giving hurt a little bit today, either God poked a little too hard or more likely, there’s something not quite right on the inside and something needs to change if we are going to get healthy again. OUTLINE All Church Wants is My Money Acts 4:32-5:11 Pastor Tony Meyer Generous Giving opens Kingdom Opportunities 1. Empowered apostles to tell the story