John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church once said,
‘The last part of a man to be converted is his wallet.’
We would disagree with some of his theology, but I doubt many of us would take issue with this point. And it’s probably truer now than it was in his day. If the Western world is monotheistic, money is our God. And if there’s one thing the history of Israel teaches us, it’s that when people meet the true and living God, they often hang on to their old, false gods for a very long time. How many Christians wax eloquent about the sovereignty of God, but cling fiercely to sovereignty over their bank balance? How many urge the world to trust God, but put their own trust in bricks and mortar, salary, pension schemes, insurance and their savings? It’s not hard to tell what passions a man has if you get your hands on his bank and credit card statements. If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence in your finances to convict you?
I don’t think any of us here at Cornerstone would claim to have yet achieved the level of sacrificial giving that Jesus displayed, so we’ve all got some way to go. I think we’d all agree on that. So here are eight biblical truths that help you to give like Jesus:
1. As a steward, nothing you own is truly yours. It is God’s; you must use it for his purposes. (Matt 25:14)
2. What you give is not the measure of your faith; it’s how much you keep for yourself. (Mark 12:43-44)
3. Giving to God never leaves you with less. (Matt 19:29, Mal 3:8-10, Matt 25:21)
4. Giving to God stores up the only lasting treasure. (Matt 25:14-29, Luke 12:33, Luke 16:9)
5. Your heart will come to value whatever you invest your money into. (Matt 6:21)
6. God doesn’t need our giving; he wants us to give for our sake, not His. (Rom 11:35, Psalm 50, Mal 3:10)
7. All of the riches of God are already yours. (1 Cor 3:21-23, Romans 8:16-17, Luke 12:32)
8. God has already given his Son for you. Your work is to seek him and his kingdom; it is his work to give you everything you need—indeed, everything. (Matt 6:33, Romans 8:32)
God owns and provides to us all we have – food to eat, air to breath, homes to live in, families and friends to love, jobs and fruitful labour, our health, our minds, our strength, and all our possessions and wealth. They are entrusted to us to use for his purposes, not ours – to display his glory, to advance his kingdom, to love his people.
When a man who has much gives much, it’s no sign of faith, or generosity, because he has a good deal left to spend on his own needs and wants. What you give is not the measure Jesus is interested in; what Christ asks is how much will you keep? Since it all belongs to God, you should keep for yourself only what you need. A steward who spends his master’s money on himself, not his master’s purposes, is stealing. Do you give only what you won’t miss? Or do you give sacrificially, like Christ, our example, leaving the sapphire-paved courts of glory to become poor, so his beloved might one day inherit his riches? Do you trust God enough to give him everything, however little you may have, like the widow in the parable, knowing that the God who kept you all of your yesterdays will keep you today, and all of your tomorrows?
God delights to bless us when we give freely and generously. We sometimes hear his commands as burdensome, laying a duty on us; but in truth, every command of God is an opportunity for blessing, and a prospect of joy. In Malachi 3 we see God’s people holding back their tithe, and failing to keep his law. What is God’s response? He commands them to give the tithe so that he can prosper them. He doesn’t threaten punishment for disobedience; he promises extravagant blessing for obedience. His heart is entirely for their blessing.
We can’t hold on to any of our possessions for long; and most of them don’t, in truth, really satisfy us. A new car might bring you some utility and happiness for a few years. But a cheaper car, with the rest of the money to missions – that may bring you brothers and sisters you can rejoice with forever. It certainly will give you a sense of partnering with God that is incomparably greater than the meagre joy of leather seats, a sunroof and a bigger boot. Your retirement will be a few decades, at best. Glory will be forever. Make sure you have riches in heaven, therefore. Jesus commands you to store up treasure; but not the kind you have to leave behind. The kind you can’t lose.
You might think you spend your money on whatever you value in your heart. Well, there’s certainly some truth in that. But there’s another, deeper truth that Jesus tells us – when you invest yourself in something or someone, your heart will come to treasure that. You can decide what you treasure by deciding what you give to. When a friend of mine was preparing for missions, he was told not to ask people to take his prayer letter and support him that way, but instead to give money to support him. It wasn’t that prayer was less valuable; on the contrary. But you know who prays for a missionary most? The people who give him or her money. What causes do you most want to support with prayer in 2017? Give them your money; and you will pray for them. And what do you want your heart to treasure in 2017? If it’s Christ, and heaven, and glory, invest your time and your possessions there, store up riches there, and your delight and joy will follow. Use your money to direct your heart.
The shocking truth is, God doesn’t need our giving at all – and that isn’t why he asks for it. He spoke the universe into being, and he commands the stars; if he needs £1,000,000,000 tomorrow, it’s not a problem for him. God calls us to give not for His sake, but for ours. He’s already given us everything we possess, and more than that, he’s given us Jesus, and in Jesus he’s given us himself, and in God we have all things. All the money in the world, even the world itself – the entire creation – is ours.
You might be waiting for the next iPhone, or saving up for a place with another bedroom, or putting money aside so you can have a longed-for holiday. If I say, forget that, God says you must give him that money – that sounds like a tough command, doesn’t it? Like an onerous duty. It sounds hard. It sounds unwelcome. And it doesn’t sound like love. But suppose I say this, instead: God says, give me that money now, and very shortly, I will release to you the several trillions of pounds I have in trust for you. That changes your perspective, doesn’t it? Slumming it for a bit, going without, forsaking luxuries – that isn’t really hard at all, if you know that in a couple of years you’re going to get a fortune that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and Croesus and Solomon and Donald Trump couldn’t even count. But you do know that. If the Holy Spirit of Jesus lives in you, he guarantees you will inherit all things in Christ. Whether you feel it or not, you are staggeringly rich. It is merely a question of time.
But it’s also a question of perspective. Because we want to cling to as much as we can of the world’s riches right now, and have God’s riches, now and later, as well. And Jesus says tells us: you cannot do that. It is astonishingly hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom (Mark 10:23-25). Blessed are the poor; not so the rich (Luke 6:20, James 2:5, 5:1). Those who desire to acquire this world’s riches cause themselves many griefs (1 Tim 6:9). You cannot – because it is impossible – pursue God, and pursue worldly wealth (Matthew 6:24). Money is a powerful temptation, riches are treacherous, and you must put to death your love of them if you are to inherit eternal life. So God commands us to give – to the body of Christ, to his kingdom, to the poor and to one another. Only when we have proven that God will provide for us by trusting him to do so can we let go of the need to trust money. Only when we have cleansed our palate of the sickly-sweet confection of wealth can we taste the riches we have in Christ. Only when we let go of this world’s treasure – all of it – can we take hold of glory.
Why does God command us to give? Because he wants us to know for sure how much we love him, as Abram knew only after he offered Isaac. He wants us to share in the joy of doing his work with him. He wants us to see that we don’t have to take care of ourselves, hoarding and storing up – because he will always take care of us. He wants us to be free of the lust of our hearts for more and more stuff, because that doesn’t bring happiness and life, it brings misery and death. He wants us to let go of the things that will be gone in the new heavens and the new earth, so we can take hold of the things that won’t, and will bring us gladness for all eternity. He wants us to get the best possible rate of return for ourselves, investing for a hundredfold yield (see Matthew 19:29). Most of all, he wants us to let go of everything else so that our hands and our hearts are empty. Only then can he fill them with the best treasure of all; himself.