Today we focus in on something that is often seen as a bad thing for a pastor to preach on. Even among those who love the Word of God, and value it highly, for some reason, for a pastor to talk about money is just a little weird, or even inappropriate. And I have to confess that I’ve fallen into this line of thinking myself in the past: “We should never bring up money and giving of our finances unless the text just happens to bring it up as we’re working through a book of the Bible.” That’s often the mentality. And even when the text brings it up, do what you have to, but then move on. Maybe our money is one area of idolatry that we have actually painted as a kind of piety.
It might even be seen as noble for a pastor to say, “Oh, I don’t talk about money. There’s too many other more important things to talk about.” Again, even a few years ago I probably would have said that. But, I was thinking recently about the “Why Church” series that we went through back in September and October, and I realized that we skipped a big part of what we do when we gather together. If you recall, we covered Why Preach, Why Pray, Why Equip, Why Sing, Why Disciple, Why Fellowship, and Why Send. But, Giving, specifically of our finances, is a way we can worship God. And it is part of what we do every week. And it shouldn’t be the part that we have to include because if we didn’t do it we’d be strapped for cash, and we just have to do it. No, we should look at it as part of our worship. A joyful, glad overflow of the heart, in response to how gracious and giving our God is toward us. That’s what it is.
What I’d like to do today is a bit more topical of a sermon, but we are going to start with one primary text. Turn with me to Mark chapter 12. We’re only going to read 4 verses in Mark chapter 12. Jesus has been teaching in the temple courts, and he sits down and sees people giving offerings to the temple. Read with me, Mark 12:41-44:
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
To structure our time, very simply, we’ll see Three Godly Goals for Giving. And yes, I did alliterate, for you vocabulary-nerds who like that. Three Godly goals for Giving. They each overlap with the other two a little bit, and yet they each are worth spending a unique bit of time on them. Number One, the first Goal of Godly Giving. What are we aiming for?
1. Sacrificial Giving from a Heart Overflowing with Gratitude
Just a quick summary, in case you got distracted: Jesus sees wealthy people giving out of their wealth, and then he sees this poor widow, who isn’t able to give much, come and give everything she had. So then he calls his disciples over to him, and tells them that this poor widow has given more than anyone else.
The important point Jesus is making is pretty straightforward: how much we give matters so much less to God than why we give. Or, turned around: Why you give matters much more to God than what you give. God is not more impressed with those who are able to give large amounts of money and resources. And this is very different from how the Jews thought about giving in the first century. In the treasury that Jesus was watching, the boxes that you were to put your money in were made so that they would make a lot of noise if someone put in a lot of money. It would just clang around a whole lot. So, the more money you put in, the more obvious it was, and the more attention you’d likely receive from those nearby: “Oooohhh, wooow, look at you!”
But God is a lot less interested in the amount than he is interested in your heart. Why you give matters much more than what you give. Although why you give will likely affect what you give, right? Sure! So Jesus, here, sees this poor widow come and put in two small copper coins. Without getting into conversion rates, just to keep it simple, this is a very small amount of money. And, I am sure, that the box she put the money into didn’t make much noise. Two small copper coins worth so little, likely made almost no noise at all. So the people didn’t notice. But who noticed? Jesus did. Jesus noticed that what she had given was greater than what everyone else had given. And this isn’t only percentage-wise—she gave a higher percentage of her money than anyone else, though certainly that was the case, because she gave everything.
But again, that misses the point here. That’s still comparing mere numbers. Yes, she gave a higher percentage, but if you recall, it’s not about numbers: Why you give matters so much more than what you give. So, what makes her offering so different? Implicit in verse 44 is a trust unto God with her very sustenance. Out of her poverty she put in everything she had, everything she had to live on. For you and me to follow in her footsteps, the goal here—not just from this text, but more broadly from all of Scripture—is sacrificial giving from a heart overflowing with gratitude. Just listen to Paul’s language from 2 Corinthians chapter 9. I’m going to read verses 11-15. Be listening specifically for the place of gratitude and thanksgiving when it comes to giving:
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
Did you hear the language of gratitude over and over again? Right off the bat, “You will be enriched in every way, why?! To be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” Over and over we see that giving is to be a natural overflow of our gratitude. The point of giving sacrificially, in every way, is to do so out of gratitude to God. Number 2, Three Goals for Godly Giving, similarly but differently—the 2nd goal:
2. Honored to Give Out of What God Has Given
This is our goal, as followers of Jesus. That we are honored to give out of what God has given. And this one is perhaps implicit with the widow in Mark 12, but let me take you to the most explicit example of this that I’ve found in Scripture. In 1 Chronicles chapter 29, David is speaking of the gifts he and his people are giving in order for God’s temple to be built, and in the middle of one his prayers, He says this (and this is just remarkable, David’s mentality here): “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?” Already you see him speaking of the honor it is to give to God, right? An honor that he doesn’t even feel worthy of! But then he goes on: “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” Ha!
The mentality is this: “This is all yours anyways! I’m not worthy of the honor of giving back to you.” In other words, he saw it as the deepest and most significant privilege to give to God. What a counter-cultural thought. Think about this for a moment: have you ever thought of giving of your own finances as a grace from God? Because think about this: Grace is receiving that which we do not deserve, yes? Isn’t that what grace is? So, according to David here, we do not deserve to be able to give back to God, and yet God has graciously allowed us to give generously! This is worth writing down: Generous giving is a grace from God! Let that blow your mind for a moment. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think this is how I think of tithes and offerings. Certainly not. And yet that’s how David saw it.
Again, why you give matters much more than what you give. If you give because it is an honor to give. Because you consider it a privilege, that’s how God wants us to give. It’s a privilege because none of this stuff is ours! None of it!
That might be the most basic definition of “biblical stewardship.” Or at least this is the most basic premise of biblical stewardship. We must start with this: “Nothing is mine. It’s all God’s.” This means you and I are merely managers of God’s stuff! In fact, that’s what the word “steward” means: “manager,” or someone that looks after something. None of this that we’re managing or looking after is actually ours! Charles Bugg gives this definition for Biblical stewardship, which I find very helpful: “Utilizing and managing all resources God provides for the glory of God and the betterment of His creation.”
If you think about biblical support for this, It really all starts with the very first verse in the entire Bible, right? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We could stop right there. Perhaps even more explicit is Psalm 24:1- “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” None of it is mine; it’s all his! Listen, biblical stewardship is not giving to God some of what is yours. It’s not even giving to God all that is yours. God’s not taking anything away from us; he’s actually bestowing upon us everything we have. The heart of Godly generosity starts with realizing that it’s all His anyway. Instead of, “Oh, God really expects this of me, to be generous?” It’s, “Wow, look at what God has let me use for my living and my family and providing for me! And look at the privilege I have to give it away!”
So why is this such a difficult mindset to have about money and possessions, especially nowadays? Well, I think the concept of real dependence upon someone other than myself is not as easy to remember since Industrialization began. We’ve actually talked about this before, but I think it’s worth bringing up again. Within the world economy, it wasn’t always the case that there was widespread manufacturing of anything and everything you could possibly need. I’m sure we all know this, but sometimes we forget just how much this has changed everything!
It used to be that particular farmers would go to other farmers and trade their crops to be able to feed their families. They’d have to go to other people to find candles to use for light at night. Not everyone could skin their own sheep and make clothing, so you’d have to go to someone else to find that! There were so many things for which people had to depend upon others. In that type of society, maybe it’s at least a little easier to remember that we depend upon others, and ultimately God, for our sustenance.
Nowadays, you don’t even have to go to a grocery store. You can order groceries online and have them delivered. Obviously, there are still hundreds and even thousands of people involved in getting those groceries to your door, if you think about the entire process from planting seeds in a field, to arriving on your doorstep in the form of groceries.
But, even though there are thousands of people involved in that process, it still seems far removed. We don’t actually have to interact with anyone face-to-face to make this happen. I’m not saying this is a bad thing at all (I’m a proud Amazon Prime member); but I am saying we need to be aware of how easy it is to forget that we depend upon God, ultimately, but then also, we depend upon other managers of God’s stuff! We depend upon all these other stewards of God’s stuff. What a humbling thought: Nothing is mine; it’s all God’s. And we are HONORED to give out of what He has given us in the first place. The 3rd Goal for Godly Giving. The 3rd goal for followers of Jesus:
3. Generosity that reflects the magnitude of our Heavenly Father’s Generosity
Now, I know we’re stepping out a bit from the widow and her two copper coins, but I have to point something out here that maybe you didn’t first notice when we read through these four voices. I don’t think we can know if Mark had this in mind when he wrote the Gospel of Mark, but I can’t help but point it out anyway. I think the poor widow’s offering, her sacrificial offering, was a foreshadowing of sorts of Jesus’ own offering to come. Think about the big parallel here: she gave everything she had. All of it. Jesus, too, would give all of himself for you and for me.
The truth of the matter is that we’re to give no matter what we get in return—no matter how much we may think something will benefit us—we’re to give no matter what we get in return, because Jesus gave himself for us when we could give nothing in return. The goal with our money, and certainly this includes our time and energy and any and all other resources or life skills—the goal with all of it, is that our generosity reflects the magnitude of our Heavenly Father’s Generosity. In our giving, we demonstrate the gospel. That is the goal. Let me say it again: we give no matter what we get in return because Christ gave when we could give nothing in return.
Now, obviously one of the manifestations of God’s calling on us to live lives of generosity—one of the applications is giving to the ministry of the church. So I have to turn now, at least briefly, to a question I get at least a few times each year. And the question is this:
Is tithing biblical?
Is tithing biblical? Sure, it’s biblical. In the sense that we find it in the Bible. However, we find it as part of the Mosaic Law, which was given to the Israelites. In the New Testament, we don’t find any sort of command for followers of Jesus to tithe, as in give 10% of everything they earn to the church. However, giving of your finances is certainly found in the New Testament. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 16 in particular, tells followers of Jesus to set aside a portion for the church, meaning the people of God. That’s actually different than a tithe.
So that might surprise you, my answer to this question. But it seems pretty clear that, in the New Testament, a 10% tithe not part of following Jesus. In fact, I think there’s more evidence, with the language and examples used for financial giving—there’s more evidence not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New, that followers of Jesus gave more, maybe far more, than 10% of what they earned to the church, meaning to God’s people. I think of Acts chapter 4, the early church, all these people voluntarily selling their homes and being bigtime generous with their possessions.
Now, just for clarity, not everything agrees with what Dr. Schreiner said in that video. In fact, there are a good number of scholars who think that Jesus did have in mind tithing being normative for the church. But, no matter your opinion on this exact subject, there is NO doubt that the Bible calls us to sacrificial giving from a heart overflowing with gratitude! And ultimately, that sacrificial generosity demonstrates the gospel—it demonstrates our Heavenly Father’s sacrificial generosity in sending his son.
Why spend a Sunday talking about money, specifically? Because our job as pastors here at Raintree is to do what we can to foster spiritual growth. We can’t grow you, we can’t even grow ourselves, spiritually. GOD does this. But we can facilitate open and frank conversation about idols. And I am convinced, if you’ve been uncomfortable today, that’s ok. If you’re angry or annoyed that we’re talking about this, perhaps there is a reason this is such a sensitive topic for you.
Ultimately, the question for us is: Do we see the big picture here? Do we see our money and possessions as tools for good works that will bring God glory, or do we see our money and possessions as things to be treasured? N.T. Wright puts it like this:
“In the normal and healthy Christian life, everything proceeds from God’s generosity, and everything returns to God in thanksgiving. Grace, generosity and gratitude: these are not optional extras of Christian living, but are the very heart of it all.”
Perhaps the most pertinent question we can ask ourselves as we close is this: Are we living our lives, when it comes to our money and possessions, in such a way that the people around us have no possible earthly or human explanation for our generosity? This goes for those of us who make $15,000 a year as well as those of us who make $100,000 or more a year. Do we treat our money and possessions in such a way that those around us might just have nothing else to attribute our generosity to other than the Holy Spirit of God?
Again I want to say: Let our generosity reflect the inexpressible magnitude of our Father’s generosity. He gave us His Son; thus, we’ll never be able to out-give God.