Sunday, June 15, 2014

MONEY AND THE GIFT OF GENEROSITY

(Note to myself: see updated version on jmm.org - especially reading list).

* Who dies rich, dies disgraced (Andrew Carnegie)


* The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10)


INTRODUCTION


Money is a very important part of our lives. Try to think of a day recently where money played no part at all. Were you deserted on an island, or in the Australian bush? Or didn't get out of bed all day? Every society has some kind of currency - even bartering economies.Today the average Western family has more than 50% of its income available for what would have been regarded as 'non-essentials' by our grandparents: in 1900 it was 4%.The hip-pocket nerve is a sensitive one. Whenever I preach about money (which is less than the proportion of the Scriptures devoted to the subject!) I get strong reactions. Last Sunday these ranged from 'Hey, that's the clearest explanation I've ever heard on this' to 'I don't know why I got out of bed and came to church this morning'! One person in a previous church said the word 'stewardship' is like the word 'blue' - it has some bad connotations ('blue movies', 'blue moods' etc.)

Some years ago, Yale University School of Medicine researched the impact of money on physical health and concluded that coronary health is actually tied into the economy. Dr. M. Harvey Brenner found strong statistical evidence linking an increase in death by heart attacks to economic recessions. As the economy drops, coronaries go up. After studying heart attack deaths and other unemployment figures from 1900 into the last part of the twentieth century, Brenner concluded, 'Economic downturns are associated with increased mortality from heart disease, and, conversely, heart mortality decreases during economic upturn.'

Let us never forget, we were born with nothing; we shall die with nothing. We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give. But humans, because of their insecurity, tend to be covetous, acquisitive. The desire to possess is very strong, and the more we have the more we want. Deficits, inflation, cutting down forests, climate change, the destruction of the ozonosphere - all are caused by greed. The Bible is clear that we should provide for our family's necessities (1 Timothy 5:8), and each person and family/community ought to figure out where the threshold is between needs and wants. It's good to have what money can buy, but most important to have what money cannot buy.In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. Paul, in most of his letters refers directly or more subtly to our responsibilities to share in the costs of ministry or the needs of the poor. Jacques Ellul suggests money is one of the 'spiritual forces' with which we struggle (Ephesians 6:12). It's the only impersonal thing to which Jesus gave a proper name - Mammon. Jesus thought of money in some sort of spiritual sense, competing with God for our allegiance. The only way to break the power of Mammon is to give money away. Money is a root of many evils: for televangelists with their millions or you and me with our thousands or hundreds! Your credit card statements are a pretty good indicator of the kind of person you are! The heroes in the Gospel stories are people like the poor widow 'who gave all she had', Mary, who was extravagantly lavish with her perfume, and Zaccheus, who promised to give back fourfold to those he'd cheated as a tax collector.

Paul mentions money in almost all of his letters - particularly the contributions to the poor, and to those who minister to others.Money, sex and power are still the most primal categories for temptation for us humans.Our little ministry - John Mark Ministries - survives on donations. A few are generous - in their hundreds. Others are also generous - widow's mite-sized! Jan and I are deeply moved each fortnight as the tithe from an invalid pensioner comes in the post. To avoid being tempted by money, I have decided, in discussions with our Board, to stay on a salary of $ 20,000 AUD per year for the last ten years. God has been very faithful: I've only had two months in eleven years I haven't been paid. We've also 'tithed' our house: rather than leaving personal savings in the bank we've put it into our home. Now we have nine bedrooms and five bathrooms, to help accommodate people who might otherwise be homeless. Last financial year we earned 56 cents interest on our bank's 'interest-bearing cheque account'! Update: we’re now on a seniors’ pension; and a guest flat has been added to our home.

BASIC PRINCIPLES

1. Money, according to classical Christian thinking, is a means, not an end, in our lives. We need some money to live; we don't live to make money. Similarly with the church. The church does not exist to be a fund-raising organisation. Churches need money (as they need other means like music, committees, constitutions, creeds, etc.) to do the only four things churches are called to do: worship, community, Spiritual formation and mission.

2. Everything is God's. 'The silver is mine; the gold is mine, says the Lord of Hosts' (through the Old Testament prophet Haggai, 2:7). All we have – our money, time, bodies, minds, talents, possessions, homes - has been loaned to us. We are stewards, custodians, of these things, for God. It is a great privilege to share these with others. We have a responsibility to manage the resources entrusted to us by God. Freely we have received, so freely we give (Matthew 10:8). 'Stewardship' is everything we do with everything we have. Again, God owns all things - so we're not giving to God what is ours, but releasing what is already his. Stewardship is ministry. (So 'if God ever gives anything to you get rid of it quickly' said one person who realized he became covetous for more if he hung on to it too long). A steward (eg. a banker) manages someone else's money or property (Luke 16:1). Christian stewardship is all about responsibility, loyalty, and commitment - being trustworthy (2 Corinthians 4:2) rather than merely raising money.

3. God has given us a practical and workable way to share our resources with others. It's called the 'Tithe'. Tithing is the Lord's tax for the use of the earth, because it's his - is a fundamental requirement for all of us. At this point I hear some objections, like:

== 'But do you have to take that literally?' It's interesting that many Christians who say they take the Bible literally, don't do it for Jesus' command to the rich man, 'Go sell all you have and give to the poor, and come, follow me.' Rather, they interpret that command as being 'for some, but not for others'. Our daughter Lindy worked for some years with a Christian missionary order, and one of her vows in that order was to live below the poverty-line. I have a hunch more are called to such a ministry than we imagine!

== 'The tithe is in the Old Testament. We are now living in an age of grace.' Not quite. Jesus, in his diatribes against the Pharisees (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42) said they should continue tithing, but, yes, there were more important commitments - to justice, mercy, faith, love for God. These Gospel documents were the early church's instructions to the new Christian converts. Jesus did not revoke any of the Ten Commandments. There are eternal principles embedded there. Abraham, before Moses' law, tithed (Genesis 14:20). And the last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, reinforced God's will in this matter: 'Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, "How are we robbing you?" In your tithes and offerings. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing' (Malachi 3: 8-10).

== 'We mustn't be legalistic'. Fair enough - and legalism is one of the marks of a sect/cult. But to be less generous 'under grace' than 'under law' is surely disgraceful!== 'But how am I supposed to calculate the tithe - before or after tax?' A church stewardship visitor encountered this question and suggested the church member imagine an angel sitting next to him in the car driving to work the following day. The angel says: I'd like to give you a gift from God of 10% of your income. You compute the amount, and the gift is yours!' What amount would you come up with?

== 'O.K. But what about all those extra offerings, first fruits etc.'? Gifts above the tenth are 'freewill offerings' Deuteronomy 16:10-11, Exodus 36:7, Leviticus 22:21), 'festival tithes' (Deuteronomy 14:22-27, 16:3, 13, 16) and 'charity tithes' (levied every third year for the poor, Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 26:12-15). My father had a good habit: the differential in every pay rise would first be given to God, in addition to his tithe. Not a bad way of interpreting the notion of 'first fruits'!

== 'I can't afford to tithe'. You can't afford not to tithe! It is the minimal responsibility that God entrusts to you and me. You only truly keep what you give away (see Proverbs 11:24, 25).

Actually, tithing is relatively painless after a time. Have you heard the story (I think it's true!) of the treasurer in a rural Anglican parish in Australia about 40 years ago. The treasurer of the parish resigned, so the vestry asked another man to take the position, a man who managed the local grain elevator. He accepted the appointment with two conditions:

1. That no report from the treasurer should be required for the whole year.

2. That nobody ask him any questions about parish finances during the year. 

Members of the vestry gulped, but finally agreed; after all, he was a trusted member of the community, and well known, because most of them did business with his elevator.At the end of the year he gave his report at the parish meeting. The $25,000 indebtedness on the church was paid; the priest's stipend had been increased; the mission quote was paid 200 per cent; there were no outstanding bills; and there was a cash balance of $12,500.The people were stunned, but somebody managed to ask 'How come?'Quietly he answered, 'Most of you bring grain to my elevator. As you did so, I simply withheld 10 per cent on your behalf and gave it to the church in your name. You have not missed it, and you have been tithing for a whole year. See how easy it is?'

COMMON ATTITUDES

In my pastoral experience people have four approaches to tithing. Here they are from the least to the most noble.

1. 'IF I TITHE I AND MY FAMILY WILL BE BLESSED.' The televangelists use this approach. Sure: we will be blessed. 'Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each should give what they have decided in their hearts to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.' (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 'The generous prosper and are satisfied; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.' (Proverbs 11:25). 'Honor the Lord by giving him the first part of all your income, and he will fill your barns with wheat and barley and overflow your wine vats with the finest wines.' (Proverbs 3:9-10). But should 'being blessed' be the primary motive for giving to God?

'Expect nothing, and you'll never be disappointed' is the motto of the saints. Giving-to-receive is not the worthiest of motives. I remember an essay by Charles Lamb I had to study in high school. His greatest joy, he wrote, was to do good for people and have its source discovered by accident. I remember thinking as a teenager, that he should have mastered the art of covering his tracks! We don't tithe to be 'blessed', although we will be; nor to avoid God's curse: though the Bible is up-front about that too (we have no option to give or not to give, 1 Samuel 8, Malachi 3:8-10); nor to secure our salvation. (Remember John Tetzel, who even promised pardon for the sins you intend to commit' if one bought his indulgences?).

2. 'I TITHE OUT OF DISCIPLINE / DUTY'. It is required of stewards that they be trustworthy (1 Corinthians 4:2). Tithes and offerings should be put aside, regularly, on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2) . The tithe comes out of our pay-packet first. A missionary heard a knock on the front door of his hut. When he opened the door, he saw a young boy who was holding a large fish in his hands. The boy looked up at the man and said, "You taught us what tithing is, so here.I've brought you my tithe." As the missionary took the fish, he asked the young man where the other nine fish were. The boy flashed a radiant smile and said, "Oh, they're still in the river. I'm going back to catch them now." He caught both the importance and the ecstasy of giving, didn't he?

3. 'I TITHE FROM A MOTIVE OF OBEDIENCE' . The generous Macedonians 'first gave themselves to the Lord' (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

4. 'I TITHE FROM GRATITUDE FOR ALL OF GOD'S LOVE TOWARDS ME'. The motivation to tithe should come from love not law (Romans 13:10).

FINALLY, SOME SUGGESTIONS.

1. Why not consider a 'graduated tithe'? You start by budgeting for the basic necessities, give 10% of that, then 15% of the next, say, $5000 you earn, 20% of the next $5000, and so on.

2. While there may be nothing wrong with 'stewardship campaigns' as such, the need for them is in many cases a sign of the church's lack of on-going commitment. The church should not need to 'drum up business' for its general budget this way. However, a 'faith-promise' scheme has proved effective in many evangelical churches for special missionary giving: the vast majority of these churches then find their 'home-base' needs are more than met anyway when our sights are lifted to God's world-wide mission. Churches should not be overloaded with either bequests or debt! But in most churches there are millions of dollars lying around in assets and savings: let's use them for the kingdom! Money is important for the church, but the church does not exist to raise money. It's a pity that many churches are often seen by the community-at-large to be preoccupied with raising funds. The public exposures they have are geared most often towards this end. One survey among a group of 'nominal' church-people found that most believed the pastor's main job was raising money for the church! (Surveys among pastors show them to be generous givers, but they rate the financial management of the church low on their list of professional priorities).

3. Matthew 10:9-15 suggests that mission enterprises ought to quickly become indigenous: the worker supported by those he or she serves (see also 1 Timothy 5:17). We give 'seed money' then the young church or enterprise takes over. Giving too much for too long is paternalistic: many younger churches throughout the two-thirds world have not been taught to be self-reliant. So new Christians everywhere should be taught the necessity of regular, proportional giving.

4. Churches should honour both accounting-types, and faith-filled entrepreneurs. See here and here for more on that.

5. Church Treasurers: Most denominations have a system for guiding local church treasurers, and systems vary. However, here's a check-list: # Always present finance reports that a child of 13 with normal intelligence can understand! # Church budgets should be realistic but with a touch of optimism; present the budget to the church with last year's income and expenditure. # Prepare a cash-flow/liquidity plan to prevent large amounts lying idle: short-term overnight investments can earn interest! # Make sure your record systems are simple - and a few people should know them well. # Insurances OK? # The pastor should be paid, even if the church has to go into overdraft to do it (though that situation should not go on for too long!).

6. The Idea of a Church Bank. At Blackburn Baptist Church we figured people had millions of dollars tied up in their real estate or savings which could be used for ministry. So we started a church-bank, invited people to lend any amount for any length of time, nominate the rate of interest (up to State Savings Bank interest - many lent money interest-free). It worked on a pass-book system: they could draw out any amount up to $5000 at call, or larger amounts with 7 days' notice. The finance board of the church figured how much of the total should be readily available in liquid funds, how much invested at higher interest in a carefully balanced investment portfolio, and how much released for various projects. We had access to more than $300,000 through this means. But be careful it's managed properly, and within the law!

7. Why not put your personal or family savings into a mission-oriented fund? In Australia, many denominations, Steer Incorporated, and the Bible Society, have funds which earn better than bank interest, and the profits are used for the mission.

8. Stop shopping as a recreational activity! Live simply. After your children reach adulthood, you should be giving away more stuff than you collect! Have a family project to help the poor. 'I have wept in the night/ For the shortness of sight/ That to somebody's need made me blind;/ But I never have yet/ Felt a tinge of regret/ For being a little too kind.' God's work done in God's way will not lack God's supply. Churches where people have truly 'first given themselves to the Lord' (2 Corinthians 8:5) are more likely to meet their financial commitments! Ultimately the truest gift is the gift of self. When our hearts are right with God, generosity follows.

When John Wesley was earning 30 pounds a year, he could only afford to give 2 pounds. He needed 28 pounds on which to live. He meticulously worked out his budget and determined that amount was needed. So he gave the 2 pounds. When John Wesley was earning 60 pounds a year, he reckoned he still needed 28 pounds on which to live. So he gave 32 pounds to God.

  Were the whole realm of nature mine,  That were an offering far too small.  Love so amazing, so divine  Demands my life, my soul, my all.

~~~

Here's an abridged version of John Wesley's Sermon No. 44 "The Use of Money":

"I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." Luke 16:9The right use of money is of the utmost importance to the Christian, yet it is a subject given too little attention. Wealth has often been regarded by poets and philosophers as a source of evil and yet the fault lies, not with money, but with those who use it. Indeed, money should be regarded as a gift of God for the benefits that it brings in ordering the affairs of civilisation and the opportunities it offers for doing good. In the hands of God's children, money is food for the hungry, clothing for the naked and shelter for the stranger. With money we can care for the widow and the fatherless, defend the oppressed, meet the need of those who are sick or in pain.

It is therefore most urgent that God's people know how to make use of their money for his glory. All the necessary instructions can be condensed into 3 simple rules:

GAIN ALL YOU CANSAVE ALL YOU CANGIVE ALL YOU CAN
  1. Gain All You Can 
With this first rule, we sound like children of the world, and it is our bounden duty to do this. There are, however, limits to this rule. We should not gain money at the expense of life or health. No sum of money, however large, should induce us to accept employment which would injure our bodies. Neither should we begin (or continue in) any business which deprives us of the food and sleep that we need. We may draw a distinction between businesses which are absolutely unhealthy, such as those that deal directly with dangerous materials, and those employments which would be harmful to those of a weak constitution. If our reason or experience shows that a job is unhealthy for us, then we should leave it as soon as possible even if this means that our income is reduced.

The rule is further limited by the necessity not to undertake any employment which might injure our minds. This includes the pursuit of any trade which is against the law of God or the law of the land. It is just as wrong to defraud the king of taxes as it is to steal from our fellow citizens. There are businesses which might be innocent in themselves but which, at least in England at this time require cheating, lying or other customs which are contrary to good conscience, to provide an adequate income. These, too, we should avoid. There are other trades which many may pursue with complete innocence but which you may not because of some peculiarity of your nature. For example, I am convinced that I could not study mathematics without losing my faith, yet many others pursue a lifetime study in that field without harm. Everyone must judge for themselves and refrain from whatever may harm their mind and soul.

What is true of ourselves is equally true of our neighbour. We should not "gain all we can" by causing injury to another, whether to his trade, his body or his soul. We should not sell our goods below their market price nor should we entice away, or receive, the workers' that a brother has need of. It is quite wrong to make a living from selling those things which would harm a neighbour's health and physicians should not deliberately prolong a patient's illness in order to improve his own income.

With these restrictions, it is every Christian's duty to observe this first rule: 'Gain all you can'. Gain all you can by honest work with all diligence. Lose no time in silly diversions and do not put off until tomorrow what may be done today. Do nothing by halves; use all the common sense that God has given you and study continually that you may improve on those who have gone before you. Make the best of all that is in your hands.
  1. Save All You Can 
This is the second rule. Money is a precious gift. It should not be wasted on trivialities. Do not spend money on luxury foods, but be content with simple things that your body needs. Ornaments too, whether of the body, house or garden are a waste and should be avoided. Do not spend in order to gratify your vanity or to gain the admiration of others. The more you feed your pride in this way, the more it will grow within you.

And why should you spoil your children in this way? Fine clothes and luxury are a snare to them as they are to you. Why would you want to provide them with more pride and vanity? They have enough already! If you have good reason to believe that they would waste your wealth then do not leave it to them. Do not tempt them in this way. I am amazed at those parents who think that they can never leave their children enough. Have they no fear of hell? If there is only one child in the family who knows the value of money and there is a fortune to be inherited, then it is that one who should receive the bulk of it. If no child can be trusted in this way then it is the Christian's duty to leave them only what will keep them from being in need.

The rest should be distributed in order to bring glory to God.
  1. Give All You Can
Observing the first two rules is far from enough. Storing away money without using it is to throw it away. You might just as well cast your money into the sea as keep it in the bank. Having gained and saved all you can, then give all you can.

If you wish to be a good steward of that which God has given to you on loan the rules are simple enough. First provide sufficient food and clothing for yourself and your household. If there is a surplus after this is done, then use what remains for the good of your Christian brothers and sisters. If there is still a surplus, then do good to all people, as you have the opportunity. If at any time you have a doubt about any particular expenditure, ask yourself honestly:Will I be acting, not as an owner, but as a steward of the Lord's goods?Am I acting in obedience to the word of God?

Is this expense a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ?

Do I believe that this expense will bring reward at the day of resurrection?

If you are still in doubt, put these questions as statements to God in prayer: "Lord, you see that I am going to spend this money on ... and you know that I am acting as your trusted steward according to your design." If you can make this prayer with a good conscience then you will know that your expense is right and good.

These, then, are the simple rules for the Christian use of money. Gain all you can, without bringing harm to yourself or neighbour. Save all you can by avoiding waste and unnecessary luxuries. Finally, give all you can. Do not limit yourself to a proportion. Do not give God a tenth or even half what he already owns, but give all that is his by using your wealth to preserve yourself and family, the Church of God and the rest of humanity. In this way you will be able to give a good account of your stewardship when the Lord comes with all his saints.I plead with you in the name of the Lord Jesus, no more delay! Whatever task is before you, do it with all your strength. No more waste or luxury or envy. Use whatever God has loaned to you to do good to your fellow Christians and to all people. Give all that you have, as well as all that you are, to him who did not even withhold his own Son for your sake.

~~~

FURTHER READING: Richard Foster, Money, Sex and Power, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1987; Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1981; Daniel McDiarmid, The gospel of good giving: stewardship in Australian churches, JBCE, 1990; Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, 2000; Craig Blomberg, Christians in an Age of Wealth: A Biblical Theology of Stewardship, 2013; Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, 2005.

Bible Study: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15. Look at verses 8 & 10. Why 'advice' rather than a 'commandment'? (see chapter 9:7-12). The only obligation they are put under is the Lordship of Christ. Why? Is it true that the poor are generally more faithful givers than the rich? What is the point of the reference to Jesus (8:9)? Can you figure out how verse 15 can apply to your community/ church?

1. 'Churches should not be overloaded with either bequests or debt!' Why/not?

2. 'You and I all have money personalities. You may be a spendthrift. You just can't hold on to money. It slips through your fingers like water. As quickly as you get a hold of it, you spend it. You may be a miser. No, it's not good to be so tight that you can't let go of your money. Or you may be somewhere in-between these two. Most sophisticated books on marital problems note that differences in money personalities can be a major cause of marital unhappiness. Practically every couple I counsel has, among their varied issues, the matter of money. Too much? Too little?' Why is money so volatile an issue in many/most marriages?

3. What do you think of this: People ought to give thoughtfully - to people and programs, not because there's a fund-raising effort - and faithfully (1 Corinthians 4:2).

4. Why is 'greed' mentioned in some of Paul's lists of those who will not 'inherit the kingdom'? Is greed not a lesser sin, than, say, adultery?

5. Discuss: How can we learn to give up shopping as a form of recreation? 'If you don't really need it don't buy it! Get by with less.' Our grandparents had the slogan 'Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.'

6. Fast foods are very expensive in relation to their nutritional value. What’s your / your family’s plan there?

7. In a NEWSWEEK article, Jane Bryant Quinn gave seven tips for financial health. They included things like lower your spending, get out of debt and have an emergency fund on hand-basic money management principles., etc. "What you do with your money shows where your values lie." Share some wisdom about how to handle money.

8. What do you think of church 'Stewardship Campaigns'? 'If people are encouraged to be utterly committed to Christ they won't need to be cajoled by special campaigns.' True?

Rowland Croucher, August 2002. Updated June 2014 

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