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The chaos of Christmas is over. Presents exchanged. Gold, frankincense and myrrh sung about. We’ve celebrated the staggering gift of God’s son given to us. All that’s left is settling the credit card bill.

But as you start the new year, it may be a good time to review your finances, and consider your giving to God in 2016. Here are some biblical principles to help you.

  1. As a steward, nothing you own is truly yours. It is God’s; 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. Put your money where you want your heart to be. (Matt 6:21)
  6. God doesn’t need our giving; he wants us give for our sake, not His. (Rom 11:35, Psalm 50, Mal 3:10)

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 2016? Give them your money; and you will pray for them. And what do you want your heart to treasure in 2016? 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 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.

14 January 2016