Have you ever thought about what you give God?
Not what you do give, but what you could?
Someone once shared a story about a preacher who was confronted by a visitor and wanted to talk about tithing. The visitor, looking for a new church after recently moving to the area asked the church if he was a ‘law’ church or a ‘grace’ church.
“What do you mean?” the preacher asked inquisitively.
“Oh you know those law churches, they always demand that you give ten percent of your money. Grace churches don’t do that.”
“Well, if you put it that way, I guess we are a grace church then.”
Somewhat relieved, the visitor then began to leave, but the pastor stopped him.
“Yes, we are definitely a grace church. You see, the law demands that you give ten percent, but grace… You see, grace always gives more than is needed so I’d hate to only have you give ten percent if God has blessed you with the ability to give more. I’d never put a limit on what you could give like the law does.”
The man walked, face downcast, out of the church that day and never came back.
Because money has such a special place in our lives, it’s a daily essential, like food, air, and water that we all need to live.
And it’s special because it’s the one thing I think we can all be tempted to make an idol out of. Some idolize it because they don’t have (but how sweet it would be if they did), and others idolize it because they have it, but always want more.
In fact, I’d venture to say that all of us at some point in time have to wrestle with out to treat money, will it become our god or a tool to serve Jesus? And even if we’ve dealt with that question once, or a thousand times, it is a continual battle for us to not idolize money.
Yes, money is unique, and as a pastor, scary to talk about. I wish I were as quick as the pastor in the story I told you. I could have never responded with such wit and wisdom so quickly. He was able to quickly see the landscape of this man’s heart (who wanted to keep his money, and have the pastor justify it) and to respond with both a deep serving of grace and truth.
Yes, it’s scary because as soon as I say something like, “You all need to give ten percent, it’s what God wants and I can find Bible verses to support it…” I anger half of you that either 1) idolize money too much to give it up, 2) Don’t follow God and don’t want the church to have your money, or 3) quite literally don’t have ten percent to spare, if you gave it up your family would suffer and surely God wouldn’t want your family to suffer, would he?
And the other half that I didn’t anger would nod in smug agreement, because they have the money to spare and give ten percent and want others to pull their weight.
So to avoid this, churches (and pastors) often avoid talking about what to do with your money. Studies have shown that a common critique people have about churches is that they talk too much about money, and yet similar studies have shown that the same churches talk about money less than twice a year (on average). How can a subject, talked about less than twice a year be considered ‘too much?’
Because money can divide us like nothing else. Behind every argument or decision that is made in the church, money has to come up at some point. What color are the new drapes? What kind of carpet goes in the sanctuary? How do we minister to those in our community? How do we live on mission? These can be worthwhile questions, but are all tied to money.
But not talking about money doesn’t solve the problem. All that does is create a reality where we know people struggle and idolize something, but we refuse to address it. It’s why I like the pastor’s response so much, it addressed a deeper heart issue about money and this man’s desire to hold onto it.
And so the churches that do talk about money have tried to creatively package it in a new way. They don’t talk about ‘tithing’ they talk about ‘giving until it hurts’, which I suppose is fine, but that leaves everything so vague. “Oh yes, I gave until it hurt last week, I gave up the five dollars that was going to go to my Monday morning coffee stop on the way to work.”
Hardly seems like a legitimate ‘hurt’ or sacrifice in the eyes of God.
It also doesn’t solve the problem about who gets offended. Half feel offended because they might genuinely have the ability to give more, but feel like they are being singled out, and the other half can nod in agreement and justify why they give so little, ‘because it already hurts.’
Any approach that angers only have the crowd leaves the other half feel self-righteous, which leads to being a Pharisee.
So I guess you could say then that my goal today is to equally offend everybody, because that way something just might change.
Okay, okay, not really. My real goal is to reframe the conversation about money, sacrifice, and giving in such a way that it changes and revolutionizes the way we think about giving. But I also want to talk about more than money, because this is a series on spiritual gifts after all, so I want us to talk about the way we view everything we walk, as has oft been recited “our time, talents, and treasures.”
So instead of talking ‘law’ (give 10%) or not talking about it, and not even ‘giving until it hurts’, I want us to talk about it in a way that puts service, community, and Kingdom advancement at the center of the discussion. I think that’s what’s often missing. Ten percent often isn’t about the Kingdom, but about keeping the church going. Avoiding money is more about keeping people happy than Kingdom advancement. And talking about sacrificial giving is great, as long as you have money to give.
But not all of us have money.
But I would argue that we do have something.
So instead of any of those approaches, let’s talk today about of gifts, abilities, and money in terms of the edification of others and the honoring of God.
So today, let’s talk about a garden. In this garden there are some tomato plants just starting to come up. There is also some thyme, peppers, and cilantro. A few other sprigs of things are starting to come up too.
And here I’ve got some containers. I’ve got a thimble, a measuring cup, and a plastic glass.
And each one has something to give the garden.
First, we have the thimble. And if I add the water from the thimble to the garden, it doesn’t take very long before the water is gone. A few drops really is all that the thimble has to offer.
Next, the measuring cup. A bit more to give, and for some of the seedlings, perhaps enough for a day or so.
Next, let’s add the cup. Now we are starting to see some tangible results. I was able to water a few plants well, but again the water is gone.
You see, I think we can find ourselves in the thimble, the measuring cup, and the glass. Some of us could maybe even classify ourselves as buckets. We have the ability to give enormously to the church. Maybe it is money, but maybe it is also service, hospitality, or prayer.
Because the one thing that each of these has in common, is that when it came to watering the garden, they were all willing to give everything that they had.
The Bible tells us of a story in Luke 21 that can show us something about what it means to give:
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
This woman was willing to give everything that she had and put her trust fully in God for her livelihood. This is important, because like the visitor, they can give one percent and idolize money too much to trust God. But this story shows us the Pharisees, who can give ten percent and still idolize money and not trust God. What we see revealed is that it isn’t the amount or the percentage of what we give that matters, it is the heart of when we give.
The woman gave everything. She didn’t have to. She wasn’t expected to. It wasn’t asked of her. There were no obligations, no one was checking the books to see if she had made payments, she just had a welling up of the Spirit and joy of the Lord and had to give.
And we might think of her as a thimble. She was able to give just a few drops, something that most of us might classify as insignificant. “Will my 25 cents really make a difference?” That, my friends, is the wrong question to be asking. The right questions are, “Who can I serve and bless with what I have? How can I join the mission of God with what I have?”
Maybe you’re here today and you can see that you too are a thimble, well, take heart, God sees the thimble givers and blesses them.
Maybe you know you’re a measuring cup, a glass, or even a bucket. What is important, what we should be measuring in the church, is not the amount that is given, but the heart that it is given with and the investment that we are willing to make in others.
I’m not sure what size your bucket is, but I’d challenge you to not sell yourself short, because when you do, you sell God short. What we find is that when we empty ourselves out for the sake of others, God has the ability to keep us full. As we live, work, an
d play in our families and neighborhoods, may we come to see the importance not in the amount of our gift, but our status and desire in doing so, choosing to live in a way that blesses others, and not in a way that promotes ourselves. May our hearts be a generous as this great woman faith, and in service and dedication to God, give all that we have for Christ and his Kingdom.
This is a slight adaptation of a sermon given in a series on spiritual gifts and mission.