As I am working towards establishing a healthy, reproducing church, one of the biggest needs we have is financial stability. So I want to quickly think through some issues that always pop up when a pastor of a church starts talking about money.
My thoughts on this will be seated in our context, directed by scripture, and applied to my own little already-but-not-yet congregation.
CONTEXT: The first thing I want to note, is our cultural context, because when we enter into a discussion of money, we carry some pretty significant baggage in with us.
I used to say that money was an idol, but I don’t think that is the case for the vast majority of people. I think most of us just use money to serve our actual idols. I think most of us, who struggle with an iron grip or a guarded heart over our money, actually idolize things like comfort, security, and authority. Some people draw their personal sense of self worth from how much money they have, but most of us just want to be comfortable and taken care of. And we instinctively, sinfully, put our hope for comfort and security in money, instead of God. People get nervous talking about money, because it paves the path to indulging our idolatry. If we turn to money for our source of comfort and hope for the future, then we will struggle to approach with honesty what the Bible teaches.
A QUICK BIBLICAL REFERENCE FOR TITHING: So, knowing that you probably love something that makes you love money, I want to offer an important Biblical frame for a discussion on money.
Money is given by God as a tool to accomplish His plan, and give Him glory.
He designated in the Old Testament, with incredible attention to detail, how his people were to use their money. For our purpose, let’s focus on the giving to the temple to support the priests and the work they were doing. God repeatedly requests 10% of the first fruits of his people’s labors. He does so regarding Melchizedek, and he applies this principle to all of Israel, including those who don’t technically get a salary, the Levites (Numbers 18:21-32). The tithe, 10%, is the base expectation for God’s people in the Old Testament, and God’s promise is to richly reward those who trust him in their tithing.
Now, we need to decide whether this Old Testament practice applies to us today, living under the new covenant of Christ. I believe it does.
LIFE IN THE NEW COVENANT: Jesus taught a principle in the Sermon on the Mount that is vital to understanding the place of the tithe: God’s commands are meant to reveal our heart. When God tells us not to commit adultery, Jesus calls us adulterers because of the lust in our hearts. When God tells us not to murder, Jesus tells us our hearts stand guilty of murder for our hatred of others. On the other side of the coin, when the Pharisees tithe everything, publicly demonstrating their faithfulness in tithing all the way down to their spices (a pretty humorous jab), the pride in their hearts leaves them condemned. There is a principle of intensification that Jesus embodies. Jesus intensifies and deepens every command he teaches. Jesus is only concerned with our actions so far as they demonstrate our hearts. The Pharisee’s public demonstration of piety showed a heart puffed up with pride. When Jesus asked the rich, young ruler to give up everything he owned, it is because Jesus wanted to be first in that guy’s heart. Jesus issued a command to reveal a heart.
For us, our generosity shows what we value: our stuff or God’s rule, our security or our faith, our comfort or our trust in God’s provision. Action reveals the heart, and the heart is where Jesus works.
Therefore, the tithe is a great way for us to analyze our hearts. Do we instinctively look for the way to get out of it? Or do we thank God he has freed us so we can obey it? When ever I hear someone ask if we have to tithe, I just hear a lustful teenager asking how far is too far. I want to shake them and tell them to stop asking the wrong questions! I want to help the teen remain close to God, not discuss how far away can he get! I want to help the conscientious church member better serve God with their money, not discuss how much they get to keep! The degree to which your money and possessions own you, is the same degree that Jesus doesn’t.
Jesus does not want or need your money, he wants your heart! Free from the shackles of misplaced hope for idolatrous comfort and security.
MONEY – FREED FROM AND FREED FOR: In conclusion, I think Christians have been freed from our idolatry, and, as a result, our money can serve God instead of our idols. Therefore, we should put our money to use in God’s kingdom. Give as much as possible regularly, and look for opportunities to give beyond that amount occasionally. Radical generosity demonstrates a confidence in God as both the provider and the purpose in our giving. I think you should give regularly to the place where God is serving you, and give beyond that occasionally, where God leads you.
For the members of our little church, you can give regularly, at the level you are able, by clicking the button below.
For those not in our congregation, begin giving regularly to yours! For everyone, let’s commit to live lives of generosity that beg those around us to ask about the confidence within us, which trusts in God, not money, to be our deliverer.