30th January 2002
As always, I want to answer the question right up front, and then explain why the answer is the way it is. Are we just after your money? No. We want much more than that. We want you to give God your whole lives - which certainly includes your money, but also much, much more: your time, your thoughts, your attitudes, your commitment, where you live, what you do for a job ... Everything!
There's a lot to get through in this session: lots of practicalities to do with how we organise and administrate funds in North Central. But if you take one thing away, let it not be any of those details but an attitude: whatever the details, God wants us to have generous hearts. It's one of the defining characteristics of God himself, and of his people. When you think what Christians should be like, you think things like: loving, quick to forgive, open and vulnerable - and, I hope, generous.
This subject can be a minefield, because many churches have exploited people, and others have been misunderstood. But three principles will guide us through that minefield. They are:
And just so that you don't doubt our motives in preaching on this subject, let me give you a sneak preview of a point I'll be making later: giving doesn't have to be to the church in order to bless God.
In the end, God is more interested in what your heart is than in how much money you give. His own heart is overflowing with generosity, which we see most clearly in his giving Jesus, but also in our everyday lives, and in special intervention (about which see below.)
You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.- 2 Corinthians 8:9
When God looks at us, some attitudes that we have are a blessing to him: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Others pain him: hatred, discord, jealously, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissention, factions (Galatians 5:20). We need to understand that when we are generous in a way that reflect God's own nature, that delights him; and when we are greedy, grasping, selfish, it pains him: we are not thinking or behaving like his sons and daughters; the family likeness is not evident.
Radical generosity is totally alien to our culture, in which people feel good about themselves if they give £10 a month to charity. The attitude of ``I earned it, it's mine'', ``I work hard for the money'' and even ``God helps those who help themselves'' (not in the book of Proverbs!) are totally prevalent. They are taken-as-read assumptions, understood to apply universally. This worldly attitude of selfishness underlies the plots of sitcoms and soaps and daytime TV. It takes a conscious decision not to allow that ``background-noise'' attitude to seep into our own thinking (``Don't let the world squeeze you into its mould'' - Romans 12:2, J.B. Phillips translation.)
But here's what God really loves to see:
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.- 2 Corinthians 9:7
A heart that loves to give. An attitude that make a game of it. I'm not talking about some manipulated event like dancing down to the front of a big meeting to throw your money in the bucket; I'm talking about being creative in finding ways to bless people.
I'd almost say, if you don't have a generous heart, then don't give: it will only make you miserable. But I don't quite feel at liberty to say that for two reasons:
We have a book at home called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. I've never read it, and maybe never will. I don't need to: just the occasional glimpse of the title peeping out from the bookshelf is enough to remind me of some of the very practical uses that our money can be put to.
The biblical principle is that your heart is wherever you put your treasure.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.- Matthew 6:19-21
What are you trying to build with your life? Really? What motivates you? Are you looking to build up a nice pension fund so you can retire comfortably? Are you looking for respect in your profession? A nice car? A big house with a garden? Or are you looking to leave something to ``posterity''? (``Why should I care about posterity? What's posterity ever done for me?'' - Groucho Marx.) Forget it all: I want treasures in heaven!
That's why Jesus says:
The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ``What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'' Then he said, ``This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, `You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry'.'' But God said to him, ``You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'' This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.- Luke 12:16-21
Do you understand that Jesus is not telling us here that we should be self-denying? He is telling us very straightforwardly that it is in our own best interests to be generous! It's the most effective strategy for accumulating blessing for ourselves!
Jesus goes on to say:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear [...] And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.- Luke 12:22, 29-31
This is so important. The decisions we make about priorities don't only reflect our values: they also help to shape them, for good or ill. Every time you decide to be either generous or selfish, that act changes you. You're not just deciding what you're going to do, but who you're going to be.
Let's not get drawn off the path that God has marked out for us, instead running after pagan gods. Paul warns how serious it can be:
For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.- 1 Timothy 6:7-10
Incidentally, we're mostly talking about money here, but these principles apply equally to generosity with all our other resources: in the church, those with money should help out those who don't have so much; those with spare time should help those who are rushed off their feet; those with cars should help those without when they need transport. You can make up your own examples.
Now we need to be careful when we talk about the idea that you can't out-give God, because of the way that this doctrine has been distorted by some churches into a ``prosperity gospel'' that is totally alien to the New Testament and totally repugnant to Jesus.
Nevertheless, you can't read the bible with an open mind and not reach the conclusion that God promises to bless people for their generosity.
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.- Luke 6:38
And Paul writes:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.- 2 Corinthians 9:6
And at the very end of the Old Testament, God says:
``Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this'', says the LORD Almighty, ``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.''- Malachi 3:10
I believe that this last section is the only place in the Bible where we are invited to test God. So what can we make of this? Can we draw any other conclusion but that God wants to motivate us to generosity by offering us yet more of his own generosity in return? I don't think there is any other interpretation for these passages.
This comes down to a very simple question. Just this: Do we believe the words of Jesus or not?
Do you stop giving when things are tight financially? For me, the answer has to be ``only if you want God to stop blessing you when things are tight financially''!
Apart from anything else, this is an opportunity to develop faith and trust in God.
In the popular Questions-and-Answers format:
Another right-back-at-you question would be: does your asking this question suggest that you have a generous spirit? We don't want to get into a mindset where we're basically thinking, how little can we get away with?
I would much rather have all of our people giving regularly, with the church getting only half of it, than have three quarters of our people giving, with the church getting all of it. That's because we want to have a church full of generous-hearted people.
``North Central - We don't want your stinking money.''
The way we want to do this is for individuals, when they decide they want to give to us, to initiate it. We don't want anyone to feel badgered into giving anything they don't want to. If you want to give to North Central, the person to talk to is Beryl, our treasurer. You can either give her cheques made out to North Central Church, or she can help you set up a standing order.
[### Talk about payroll giving - allows the church to recover an additional 10% on top of what tax is usually recovered: I think this is the employer's N.I. contribution or something similar.]
We've not been good in sticking with the 50% mark up til now, largely on account of the complexities of having had Bermondsey helping us with tax recovery. We will do better this year!
Of the 50% that we spend on North Central, the main expenses are Nick's part-time salary, venue hire (All Bar One every week), hardware (piano, PA, video projector to come), publicity materials for Alpha and other events, food for events and stationery.
We plan to publish an account of our outgoings every year, so those who are interested can see in more detail how this works out.
After all those boring practicalities, let's finish in the Bible.
It all comes down to this: do we actually believe Acts 20:35 when Paul quotes the words of Jesus, ``It's more blessed to give than to receive''?
In giving us money, God has given us a means to be a blessing to others. Let's not waste it.
If you're reading a paper copy of this document, the soft-copy can be found at www.miketaylor.org.uk/xian/money.html.