A Sermon by Coty Pinckney, preached at Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, 10/15/95
Three weeks ago we began talking about money and finances. We read the well-known passage in 1 Timothy where Paul is writing and talking about the problem of the love of money, saying that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. So that week we asked ourselves the question, Why do we love money? What is it about money that causes us to love it and put it first, above God, in our hearts? And I suggested that there are at least 3 reasons, 3 myths that our society and the world around us try to convince us are true: Money brings happiness; Money brings status and a positive self-image; and that money brings security. So we looked at the biblical reasons for why each of those myths is false. And then two weeks ago we asked the question, if money is none of those things, what is money for? Why do we have it? How does God want us to use it? And so we saw that money is for meeting our needs -- our needs for covering, our needs for sustenance -- and it should be used for meeting our needs and the needs of our close relatives -- thatís a biblical concept. Secondly, that money is for our enjoyment -- that God provides us richly with these material blessings for us to enjoy. A truly biblical Christianity is not asceticism, it is not trying to make yourself poor simply in order to be poor, for God gives us material blessings for our enjoyment. Then most of our time two weeks ago was spent discussing the third and primary reason that God gives us these resources: that we might give them away. Money is only one example of the kind of gifts that God gives us -- God gives us spiritual gifts of teaching, of hospitality, of encouragement, so that we might use them and give them to others. And God gives us material blessings for other reasons but also so that we might use them and give them to others -- and at the same time build up for ourselves treasures in heaven.
During the course of these first two lessons, I brought out several principles concerning money and finances. First, everything we have comes from God. All of our material blessings come from God, and even the ability to earn money, the ability to have a job or profession that will provide us with some income, all of that comes from God. Also, God is faithful. God is faithful to provide us with everything we need to accomplish his purposes for us in this world. He will provide us with everything -- whether thatís food, covering, whether its boldness -- he will provide us with everything we need to accomplish his purposes. And it is by depending on him that we are able to fulfill those purposes. In terms of giving we noted that giving is to be universal -- every single Christian is to take part in this, no matter age, no matter how many resources they have, all of us are to be involved in giving. Also, giving should be regular, it should be planned; furthermore, the motivation for giving should be love, love that acknowledges the tremendous privilege of giving, of participating in Godís work elsewhere, of being Godís agent in the world. And finally, when we give we get a return. Thatís not a motivation for giving, but as in so many other parts of Christianity when we give of ourselves what we reap back is much greater than what we give. There is a false teaching going around that when we give materially we always reap more materially -- God does do that some times but what is guaranteed to us is that when we give, what we reap in return is much greater than what we give, and much much more valuable than money. What we reap in return is love.
Well, many of you have spoken to me since that time two weeks ago, and partly in response to Steveís sermon last week. This wasnít originally planned, but it worked out very well to have one of the missionaries we support, one of the missions in which we participate by giving, here sharing with us last week, in the middle of this series on money and finances. But many of you have said, "Yes, Coty, I understand what you are saying and I agree with these principles, but I donít know how much to give. You said two weeks ago that Christians do not have to tithe, that our motivation should not be obeying a command but operating out of his presence inside us, spurring us on to participate in Godís work and to share his love. OK I agree with that, but if 10% is not a rule, how much do I give? How do I decide how much to give?" Or others have said, "you know I really want to share in this privilege, I have a burden to help other people, and I want to participate in these other ministries, but I just donít see where the money would come from. I look and see the money that comes in and the bills that go out and have to be paid, and there is hardly anything left over." Or a twist on that, "Iím really burdened with debt, Iíve made some bad decisions managing money in the past, and there is all this debt hanging over my head. Doesnít God want me to fulfill my obligations to these people prior to giving any money to the church or giving any money to Godís other purposes?" Or, "My children need X, Y, or Z. Donít I have an obligation to fulfill these needs of my children prior to giving to Godís work?" Or another statement, "I agree intellectually that God will supply all my needs. But I find myself in the middle of this really difficult financial situation. If God is supplying all my needs, why am I in the middle of this mess?" Well, all of these questions have to do with the practical questions of how do we manage our money. We have these principles that are clearly taught in Godís word - but when push comes to shove, how do we apply them in our daily lives? Now as you know, biblical morality, the acting out of biblical principles in the world, is not cut and dried. God does not tell us in the Bible exactly what to do in every situation. But the principles are clear, and today what I would like to do is to draw out five principles that tell us a bit more about how to manage the resources that we have in a way that is consistent with the Bible. Let us pray.
Lord, we thank you that we have all been thinking about this issue in the last month, and that many people have been touched and felt that you have been speaking to them through your word on this issue of finances and money. And Lord we pray today that you would help me, and that you would help every one here to listen to your word, and to question how we might apply it more diligently to our lives. Lord help us to see the joy which is ours when we follow you, and when we act as your agents of love in this world. Lord, help us to get just a glimpse of that, and to hold it before us as we try day by day in our actions to live out these principles. Help me as I speak, in Jesus name, Amen.
What are these principles, then? First of all:
Principle 1: We are stewards of Godís resources.
As stewards we are held accountable for how we use them. Four years ago I was given a grant from a US government agency to go to Kenya and Tanzania to conduct some research. This was a pretty major grant, and for Williams College it was an unusual grant in that I had to spend much of the money when I was 8,000 miles away from the campus. And so I had to make up my own accounting rules, and at the same time to be accountable for every dollar that I spent. Now, you can ask Sandy Connors about this if you like, because it was her responsibility to act as the go-between between Williams and the agency that gave the grant, and she can tell you that this agency was pretty tough to deal with. But I had to be careful -- I had to do two things. First, I had make sure that the project went forward, that it accomplished its purposes, and that had to be my major goal. But at the same time I had to make sure that, even though I had to be somewhat creative in the way I managed this, that I could account for every dollar that was spent.
Now that is the same idea that we have to apply in our lives. God is giving us a big grant. Everything we have is part of this grant that we receive from God. And we are accountable to him for how we use that grant. This is brought out in the parable of the talents. Now the parable of the talents is not only about money, it is about much more than that. But it can be applied to money also. You remember the story -- Jesus says that there was a man who had servants, and he was going away for a long time. So he gave to each of his servants an amount of money -- a large amount of money, different amounts to different servants. And he said to manage it well, and he would be returning, and they would have to give an account of it. And he goes away and most of them invest it in a particular way, and the money doubles while the master is away, but one person doesnít. He just hides it, and the master then throws him out upon his return. But the main idea I want you to get from the parable is contained in this verse: He came back and he had to settle account with those to whom he had given resources. And God will settle accounts with us on how we manage the resources -- the spiritual gifts but also the material gifts -- that he has entrusted to us. We are responsible for using them for his glory in our lives.
Well, what does this mean, that we are going to be accountable? Well, when I managed my grant I had to keep track of every dollar I spent. I couldnít at the end of the grant period say, "OK, Iíve spent all of the money and Iíve accomplished the goals of the project, so everything is all right. " I couldnít do that. I had to write down all of my expenses. It is the same way with us as we manage the money God has entrusted to us as his stewards. If we donít know how we are spending our money, if we donít have good records of what we are spending money on, there is no way that we can be accountable for it. So if we are going to be stewards, we have to take the time and effort to keep accounts, to keep track of how we spend the resources that God gives us. That is the first part of it, that is looking back.
We also need to look forward, to look at our expected income, and plan how much to spend on different items -- we need to budget. And I believe this is a very strong biblical concept. Without budgeting, it is impossible to manage our giving correctly. Remember, it is a biblical principle that we are to use our material resources for our enjoyment. And so it is not that these other expenditures are necessarily in and of themselves wrong. But if we donít budget our money, we are very likely to end up spending too much on our personal pleasures and on frivolous expenditures. There may be nothing wrong with any one expenditure. But when you add them all up, the allocation does not make sense. So I strongly urge you to take the time -- and it does take time -- to keep track of what you spend, and then to plan ahead on how you intend to spend your income in the future, category by category. Let me just make a brief statement about the use of credit cards here. Credit cards can be budget killers. If you only spend cash, you can never spend more than you have. But with a credit card you can, for a brief period, live the fiction that there is much more income than there really is. Now credit cards are very convenient if you pay them off in full each month, but I would suggest if you have a problem with this -- if your credit card leads you into sin, rip it up and throw it in the trash. Jesus said that about eyes -- I think he would say that about credit cards today. If you canít pay off your credit card bill at the end of the month, I suggest that you get rid of it.
We are stewards and we must be accountable -- this leads necessarily to our keeping track of what we spend and budgeting what we have.
Principle 2 In our budget, giving must be the first item.
Those of you who are employed have some figure for your annual salary, but you never see that much money -- it never shows up in your checking account. Why donít you see all of that money? Because by the time you get it the government has already taken out most of the taxes you are going to have to pay -- social security taxes, federal and state income taxes. Why do they do that? Why donít they just say, after you receive your paycheck every month, you send your money in? Well, actually there is a proposal in Congress now that would get rid of withholding -- the idea being for us to be more conscious of the proportion of our income going to taxes, leading to yet more impetus for the reduction in taxation. But the reason the government withholds is so that we think of our paycheck -- rather than our income -- as what we have to spend, and that we donít ever consider the money taken out by the government as ours. Well, that is the attitude we need to have about what we give to Godís purposes. -- that this comes out before anything else. That this money is gone -- it is not available for other purposes. In the Bible this idea is very clearly taught from the Old Testament through the New. The Hebrew people were told to give their firstfruits to God. The idea in an agricultural society is that as soon as the harvest comes in, you give the first amount that you bring in as an offering to God. Only after that has been given do you meet your own needs or sell your produce. There is a very wonderful picture of this in 1 Kings 17. Let me read to you beginning in the 10th verse. This is about Elijah, during the drought. Remember Elijah had said there would be no rain in the land for 3 years, and the rivers had dried up. There was a terrible famine in the land. So Elijah goes to Zarepheth.
When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?" 11 As she was going to get it, he called, "And bring me, please, a piece of bread." 12 "As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "I don't have any bread-- only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it-- and die." 13 Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.'"
So that is what happens. She goes, she bakes the bread, she brings it to Elijah - it must have been small -- she gives the rest to her family, they eat it. Elijah stays with them, and God miraculously supplies the flour and the oil. The jar does not get empty. This is the way it should be with us too. We need to be like that woman. That woman looked at her resources, and she said, "There arenít enough! I have one meal left and that is it! There is no way to earn any more!" And Elijah said, "You have only one meal left -- but give half of it to me." And she did it. We can be in that same situation. We look around and we donít know how our bills can be paid. But we need to give that first part of what we have to God. And then he promises that he will supply everything we need to fulfill his purposes in this world.
Right. Giving should be first. But that still does not answer the question of how much. We might budget, and we might say, "OK, whatever I give to God is going to be first, Iím not going to touch it -- but how much should I give? And if a tithe is not held up as a goal, how much should I give?" So our third principle:
Principle 3: Our giving should be generous and selfless, but the exact amount of that giving is between us and God.
Two weeks ago we read a well known verse from 2 Corinthians 9: Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Some of you may say, "That still doesnít answer the question, how much should I give?" Letís think about this a bit more. In the 1 Timothy 6 passage Paul tells Timothy with regard to the rich, "to instruct them to be generous and willing to share." Now this was for the rich, but I contended a few weeks ago that all of us here this morning on any scale are indeed rich. Certainly we are much richer than the people to whom Paul was writing; certainly we are much richer than 80% of the Christians in this world; by any scale except comparing ourselves to others in the US, every one of us here today is rich. So these commands to be generous and willing to share unquestionably apply to us. Let me read to you also from 1 John chapter 3, beginning in verse 16:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
You see the idea behind that? Again, as in many other passages Jesusí giving is held up as an example to us. Remember we sang two weeks ago, "Lord you were rich beyond all splendor yet for loveís sake became so poor." Jesus gave of himself; he is our example. We need to love with his love. Furthermore, right at the end John says "This then is how we know that we belong to the truth." This is part of the evidence that we see in ourselves that we belong to God, when we give selflessly to others. So if we want to give selflessly, and generously, and willingly, again, how do we do it? How do we decide how much to give? Let me suggest the following: That you go to God and pray about how much you need to allocate to God and his purposes. In some cases you may come away with a strong sense of "Yes, this is the percent of my income I feel called upon to give." Other times you may not. But determine how much you plan to give, and then stick to it. Do that for a few months, then reconsider it. And see if God doesnít build in your heart the desire to give even more. Then increase it bit by bit, at each point being a steward, not responding to an emotional appeal, but reflecting on it, praying about it, planning on it, allocating the rest of your budget so that you can do it. One other item: when you budget for giving you may have certain ministries that you know you want to participate in. And you can budget for those. But I encourage you also to have a budget for contingent giving, for needs that come up unexpectedly. The particular needs are unexpected, but we can know that there are going to be needs that are genuine, that we will want to participate in that we should budget and plan ahead for. So I encourage you in your budgeting for giving to include a category for needs that will surprise you. In the Old Testament, God said this: "bring the whole tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord, 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." Now God is talking about the tithe, but the principle that the giver receives in return genuine blessings still holds. God promises us that whatever we give, we are going to reap in return much, much more. So try it . DO it. Test him. You will not be disappointed.
Principle 4: Giving is personal, and not institutional.
We are giving to persons, we are giving to the body of Christ, we are not giving to a nameless, faceless institution. Now in the last few months as my family has gone through some financial stress, I have felt Satanís temptation, saying "If you hadnít given so much to the church, you could have done such and such with this money - you could have invested it, you could have bought a better car, you could have had blah blah blah. " But I donít give to an institution, I donít give to something that is nameless and faceless. I give to Godís work here and abroad. And because of that I can see the results of that work. I give to people who do the work that I am not gifted to do, that I do not have time to do. And I am able to participate in their actions through giving; all of us can participate in the ministries of others through giving. Remember a few years ago, for those of you who were around, when we called Doug as pastor, we were not certain where all the money was going to come from to pay him. And yet we felt convinced that God would have us bring someone full-time into the ministry here, to serve the body in ways that the elders with full-time jobs could not. And think about all the various ministries that God has been involved in, and that we have been privileged to participate in also through his work, through our giving. Think of the Reids who were just here last week. Not many of us have the opportunity to go to the Philippines and work, but we can participate in that ministry through our giving. Think of the Gearins and the Johnsons and the Williams, and all the various people we support. Think of those in this community who are aided by work that we accomplish here, in part through the money that we give. Well this is a biblical concept too. Paul in writing to the Philippians in chapter 4, thanks them for a gift that they have given, and writes this, beginning in verse 14:
It was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. 17 Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Well, finally the question about financial stress. Why do we have this problem of financial stress in our lives. The final principle:
Principle 5: God uses financial stress for our growth and for our benefit.
Now last May, I was applying for a number of very interesting jobs, and knew I had been shortlisted for five of them. Everything seemed set. Then, in the course of one week, my three most likely job opportunities all come up empty. I began to think, "My last paycheck is the third week in June. God is not going to let me be unemployed! That canít happen! That canít be Godís plan for us! My God will supply all my needs." But God didnít see it that way. God saw that there was a purpose in my going through a period of unemployment and some financial stress, and God planned to use that in part to make this series of sermons somewhat different than it would have been had I preached it last May. In part, God wanted me to live out what I knew was true. And thatís a danger of preaching and teaching, by the way: in my experience, if I havenít already lived it out when I preach it, God puts me in a circumstance sometime in the next few years when I have to live out what I preach.
In our home group weíve been studying James: James begins with these verses: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers -- (unmixed joy) -- whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (another way to translate that, "that you may have it all together -- that you may see how everything works together in your life.") When we are in stress, we are able to see for ourselves Godís faithfulness. We are able to test for ourselves whether or not our giving does indeed result in blessings for us. We are able to have the opportunity to apply the truths that we have learned; we are able to understand and comfort those who go through similar trials.
Well, let me conclude with this. The basic theme of all Christianity, the way we live out Christianity in the world, is that we live it out through selfless love, through selfless giving of ourselves, our time, our money. And Jesus is the example for us in this as in so many other ways. Jesus says, "If any one would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for me will save it." It is only in giving of ourselves that we find true happiness. And when we do give of ourselves, what we get in return is much greater than what we give up. Even the resources that we have will give us more pleasure than the more abundant resources we had prior to giving. So the way we manage our money is a key test -- a key test -- of whether or not Christís love is dwelling in us richly.
So I challenge you, and I challenge myself, to be accountable with the resources that God gives you. Treat it as a grant to be used for Godís purposes. Those purposes include you enjoying it -- but remember where it comes from -- keep track of it, budget carefully. I challenge you and myself to put giving first in your budget, and then donít touch it. Take it out, just like tax withholding. Third, I challenge you to sincerely offer everything to God. Determine what he would have you give, prayerfully, generously, willingly. And then I challenge you to hold to this determination, knowing that the good that is accomplished is worked out in the lives of real people -- itís not going to a nameless institution, itís going into the lives of real people. And then when financial stress does come -- for it will come, it comes to everyone in one way or another, -- donít let it move you, but lean back on the principles that we have found in Godís word and we have applied, and thank him that he will use that stress even in your own life. Our money provides us with the opportunity and the privilege of taking part in Godís work. It also provides us with temptation leading to destruction if instead we make it our master -- and many people do make it their master. Jesus says we cannot love both God and money. So ask yourself, Whom do I serve? Who is my master?
Iíd like us to close by singing the last two verses of Be Thou my Vision. These two verses talk to us about this very point:
Riches I heed not nor manís empty praise
Thou mine inheritance now and always
Thou and thou only first in my heart
High king of heaven my treasure thou art.
High king of heaven, my victory won
May I reach heavenís joy O bright Heavenís son.
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.
Let us pray.
Riches we heed not, Lord, you are our inheritance now and always. You are our treasure. Help us to see that, Lord. Help us to run towards you and not to be distracted by the myths that draw us one way or another, what our society tells us is the way to happiness or security, but let us trust in you, Lord. We pray that you would carry us through whatever stresses we may have financially, and give us the wisdom to know how you would have us best use the resources you have given us. Thank you, Lord, for the great privilege of being part of your body. In Jesusí name, Amen.
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 10/15/95.
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