Abundance isn’t God’s provision for me to live in luxury. It’s his provision for me to help others live. God entrusts me with his money not to build my kingdom on earth, but to build his kingdom in heaven. -Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions and Eternity
“I can quit anytime I want.” We’ve all heard these words, and many of us have spoken them. That phrase can be said of almost anything, from cigarettes, TV, or alcohol, to speeding, gambling, or eating fast food. How do we know if that statement is sincere? When do those words become believable?
The only want to know the statement is true is when the person actually quits. The veracity of the statement is found in the resulting action, not in empty words. The power to stop is demonstrated in the doing, in the changing behavior. The only way we can know that we can stop our behavior at anytime is to stop, to exercise power over the behavior. Instead, we often believe our own words when there is no credible action to verify them. We overestimate our own will and the deceitfulness of our hearts.
It is the same in our relationship with money – money and what it represents can exercise a power over us unlike any other thing. The lure of money is deceitful, and few will admit that money controls them or could possibly control them. We never have enough money and always want more money, no matter how much we have. Some individuals work long days, sacrificing their family and health to gain more money; others use unethical means in business or cheat on taxes or keep the cash from a wallet they found on the street. We’ve heard stories of misers who hoard money under their beds in boxes, thinking they control their money when in actuality, their money controls them.
John D. Rockefeller co-founded Standard Oil Company and was the first American billionaire. To this day, he is still considered one of the richest men in modern history. A reporter once asked him, “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.” Did he have money or did money have him?
This is similar to the story of the rich young man who desperately wanted to secure his salvation (Mark 10:17-21). He had kept all the commandments from youth, but realized that something was still lacking. He asked Jesus, “What else must I do?” Jesus replied, “Go and sell all that you have.” The man walked away sad because he was very wealthy. He loved money and his money controlled him. Although he wanted salvation, he could not bring himself to part with his money. He put his trust in money and money owned his heart, so he could not give his heart to Jesus.
Contrast the rich young man with the widow that gave two mites, a penny (Mark 12:41-44). Jesus said that she gave more than all the others, who had put a considerable amount in the offering. Why? Because the widow gave out of her heart, not out of her excess like the others. She was led by her devotion to God, not by her love of money. The others who gave that day were not giving generously and sacrificially out of devotion to God, but gave out of surplus to gain status and influence.
How do we know that Jesus has our heart and not something else like money? Acts 19 records the story of many who believed on Jesus and repented from their previous practices in the occult. These individuals wanted to demonstrate that their lives now belonged to Jesus, so they denounced all of the things that previously controlled them. They brought all of their books to the square and burned them publicly. These individuals no longer wanted their hearts to be distracted by their previous lifestyle and beliefs. We need to do the same with money – it does not matter if we have a little or too much; money can still control us. Money can keep Jesus from playing His rightful role in our lives.
What do we do? We renounce the role of money in our lives, just like the widow and those who repented from the practices of the occult. There is only one way to do it, and that is to do it. We need to give. We need to give enough money away that it impacts our life at some level. We need to feel the impact…perhaps we eat out less or we don’t upgrade our cars or we eat generic cereal instead of name brand. It is not about the amount, but about the impact on the heart.
Some poor working families give very sacrificially and their giving costs them basic comforts – they may walk to the store instead of drive to save on gas. Others may give more money but out of excess, and it would take far more than a tithe (10%) before their giving would begin to cut into the way they live, where they eat, and how much they travel.
In order to give as God calls us to give, we need to know grace in our lives. We need to understand that God has generously given us the greatest gift, His Son. All other good things in our lives come from Him. We need to understand and trust in the basic promises of God to provide for us what we need (Matthew 6). Giving is a response to grace. Grace changes our hearts and our loyalties, and breaks the power of money in our lives. Giving is an act that confirms and cements the changes of grace in our lives.
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:1-9
The churches in Macedonia were in poverty yet they begged Paul to let them participate in giving to others. They begged to give in their poverty. Why? Because they had first given themselves to the Lord and experienced His generosity. How much we give reflects our understanding of God’s grace. We can reread the above scripture and do some self-inventory. When was the last time we begged to give to anyone or anything? Oh God, help our hardened hearts to see your great grace and love!
Giving is not simply a response to demand; giving is a response to the grace of God. Giving is the opportunity to express gratitude for all that has been given to us. We accept salvation by grace, not works. We know we were saved by Jesus’ radical generosity on the cross. Ultimately, our giving must be in response, an instantaneous “yes!” because of grace. If you’ve been given everything freely, then you will give everything freely.
The Basics of Giving
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2
Regularity: On the first day of every week – This speaks to orderliness and faithfulness, two characteristics we see in our God. “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). There was a regular habit of giving. We must develop the same.
Planned: Let each of you put aside and save – Giving is not less spiritual if it is planned. It is wise to pray, plan, and give with intention instead of giving based on what is left in the checkbook or your wallet at the time.
Personal: Let each of you – Everyone is responsible to listen and respond to the Spirit’s leading. Everyone will give differently, “as he may prosper.” You are not too poor or too broke to give. A gift, no matter how small, will make a difference in your heart and in the lives of others.
No coercion: So that no collections be made when I come – Paul wanted the collection to be done before he arrived. He did not want giving to be done in response to him, but in response to Jesus and His grace. This blog series is not intended to convince you to give, but an attempt to shepherd you in a difficult area that most of us struggle with much of the time. This is about your heart and Jesus.
Don’t wait until the new year or next month to give, start now. It may take a month or two to get in a rhythm of giving so set a goal.
There is no defined amount we must give. The question is not, “How much should I give?” but “How much should I keep?” All of our money belongs to Jesus because we belong to Him. Pray and set a goal (10% is a good base for giving).