A Dozen Ways to Give Less
Ever think like that?
Ever look at church giving as one of the areas to cut back on?
Don’t feel guilty about it. Everybody has been tempted to think about it from time to time. After all, when it comes to charitable giving, Christians definitely lead the pack.
But how do we find the courage to follow the Lord, not only in our thoughts and words, but in our actions, including in our giving?
Look at the example of the Apostle Paul. Living as a Christian was a struggle for him.
I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Romans 7.18-25
It is obvious that Paul looked to God and the work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, for forgiveness for all the times he had failed to live the Christian life. But it is also obvious that Paul struggled mightily himself, because he was forgiven, to overcome the sin within. Part of that struggle was to recognize what he was up against. Maybe it’s time for us to follow Paul’s lead and confront our fears when it comes to giving and apply God’s Word of Promise.
So, what are we afraid of when we are tempted to give less? In the next four weeks we are going to look at a dozen ways (if we listen to them) to give less to God. We are going to also look at a dozen responses God gives us to fight the temptation to let our sinful human nature call the shots. And, above all, we are going to hear repeatedly the message of God’s forgiving love to us, for we all have fallen short of what our inner being intends.
1. When I have less needs, I’ll give more.
What, exactly do we need? A lot! There’s a house, there’s food, there’s a car and gas and insurance! What about the future—don’t I have to be a wise steward of my money and put away for retirement? And the taxes seem to keep going up, always! Right now, I’m strapped! With my situation in life, I can’t keep going like this, but thankfully, the kids will be moving away pretty soon and the house should be paid off in a few more years. When I have less needs, I’ll give more.
Yes, things cost more, but we also get more. You might be surprised how steady things cost in terms of percentages.
Let’s give it a shot.
Guess how much the average percentage the following took out of an average family’s budget in the US in 1998. (DON’T PEEK ON THE NEXT PAGE)
OK. Let’s go to a high priced area of the country, 21% higher than the national baseline (Dallas TX). And, for good measure, let’s add four years to the figures. That should skew them, huh?
What would be your guesses for living in the Seattle-Tacoma area in 2002? (DON’T PEEK ON THE NEXT PAGE)
Is there any significant difference?
No, all either unchanged or only a change of 1%.
What does that say about expenses relative to income?
Expenses stay the same relative to income.
According to our sinful human nature, will we ever need less? Explain.
No, we will always want more and better. If we have more money in our pocket, we will want an expensive car. A millionaire lives in a house that takes about 1/3 of his income, the same as a middle class guy in a two-car garage.
What light does this Bible passage shed?
The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. Proverbs 30.15
There will never be a time when the sinful human nature will say its had enough.
Let’s say the Seattle couple has just paid off their house. He is 61 and she is 59. Where are they going to put that 34.4% of their weekly paycheck if they follow only their sinful human nature?
They will put that extra money to work pleasing themselves, more entertainment and clothing, perhaps.
Consider this passage—
The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. Proverbs 10.3
Where might that 34.4% of their paycheck end up going?
Hospital expenses and paying lawyers’ fees for a messy divorce.
There was a time in Paul’s life when he was absolutely needy—he was in jail in Rome (at his own expense!) and had nothing coming in! His words tell us something about needs and reveal this isn’t only an “apostolic” virtue!
Read Philippians 4.10-20
What is Paul’s secret when he is in need or when he has plenty to go around?
He’s learned to be content with whatever he has.
What does that secret weapon of his allow him to do?
He can do anything through the help of God who gives him strength.
How had Paul supported himself earlier in his life, say, when he was preaching the Word in northern Greece?
He had worked himself, as a tent-maker.
The kicker is the Philippians were the most poverty-stricken church of all the churches Paul started! Paul says so himself!
We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. (2 Corinthians 8.1-3)
Who was the gift from the Philippians really given to?
Should we really be talking about “giving to the church?” Why or why not?
No, we really should be talking about giving to the Lord. He is the one who first loved us that we respond to him in love.
If not, then what role does the church have to play in our offerings to God?
The church is only the avenue of spending that offering we have given to the Lord.
What wonderful promise does Paul make to the Philippians?
God will supply all their needs.
Do we have that promise or was it only a promise to the Philippians? Prove it from what you know about the Lord’s Prayer.
God promises to take care of us and supply all our needs, too. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That’s God’s promise that he will take care of our daily needs. We may foolishly want more, but he promises to give us what we need.
2. I’ll give what I have left over.
We’ve all done it. Got paid Friday night. Went out to dinner and other activities. Saturday was time for the week’s shopping—groceries, clothes. Maybe another night out on Saturday. We get to church and when the offering plate is two pews ahead of us, we peek into our wallet and empty it out into the plate as it goes by—one five and two ones!
Give a couple of reasons why that is not a good way to live.
We may have something unexpected pop up on us during the week before payday and we won’t have the money to cover it.
We may be tempted to spend the money on unessential things, like partying, rather than paying the essential things like rent and utilities.
It is all based on our whim rather than our reasoned planning.
It doesn’t put God first. He is the last on the list of accounts payable.
Who is coming first with that type of thinking?
Who is supposed to come first in our lives?
We’re in Philippians, so just go back a few pages.
Read Philippians 2.5-11
Give some reasons why Jesus should come first.
He is God, equal to the Father and the Spirit!
How did Jesus show he did not come first?
He humbled himself and made himself nothing, becoming a servant to his Father’s will.
Did God the Father let him needlessly suffer because of this self-sacrificing attitude? Explain.
No. Jesus did suffer, for he had to suffer to pay for the sins of the world, but the Father did not let him needlessly suffer. God exalted him and gave him all glory and power, honor and might in heaven.
How can we show God comes first in our life when it comes to our offering?
Give to God a generous offering, putting his will ahead of our own.
Will a selfish person ever have anything left over to give to others?
No, he will always want to spend everything on himself. It is the nature of selfishness to know no limits.
Well, let’s say that there isn’t anything left over! We’ve got a young, married couple with no kids yet. They are trying to put together some money for a down payment (and give next to nothing to the Lord through their offerings to church). A financial consultant sits them down and they discover they are spending 25% on entertainment/personal expenses. What will he advise them?
Cut down on the frivolous spending so you can have money for what is really important.
Why would this also be great advice for getting their offerings in order?
Put God’s kingdom first and there will be enough to take care of the rest of your needs.
3. I’ll give it away later—when I’m dead!
This is perhaps the summation of the other two ways to give less. I can almost see a commercial. Hey, let’s make our own!
Scary, huh? Better not show that to some outsiders—they may think we are serious and use the ideas for their pitches for money!
It might be a better thing to regularly give offerings, generously and freely to the Lord now. Then we’ll have some living benefits, like rejoicing at our cooperation in the spread of the Gospel, discipline in our Christian lives, having a say in what areas of ministry our congregation is going in to and praising God for the results he works through those offerings.
Discuss meeting our responsibilities as Christians by waiting until we are dead to give in light of the following story.
Joseph Johanson had gotten his house in order at an early age. He wanted to do right for his children, growing up on the Lutheran plains of eastern North Dakota, so his will set up an educational trust fund for them. Upon his death, the fund would meet all tuition and expenses for their enrollment at the College of Sven and Ingrid. It was the college he had gone to (his church body, the Norwegian Lutheran Fellowship founded it in the late 1800s hoping it would be a Norwegian rival to that east coast school, William and Mary, but the demographics of eastern North Dakota just worked against it), but by the time Joseph Johanson met his maker, his children were a little old to attend college. And besides, the College of Sven and Ingrid had closed long ago.
Joseph Johanson, being a good steward of his possessions, had stipulated that, if his children could not take advantage of this generous living educational trust, his legitimate grand-children could, if they wanted to, go to Eastern North Dakota State University.
His sole grandchild, a bright boy, found himself accepted by MIT and since it was outside the scope of Joseph’s educational trust fund directions, the kid had to borrow heavily to finance his undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate education in Boston. At the end of it all, armed with his Ph.D. in multi-discipline engineering and a student loan of $450,000, he decided he couldn’t pay his bills in his chosen field. So he remembered an elective he took in his sophomore year—Statistical Understanding of Crisis Knowledge—Energy Related Systems (S.U.C.K.E.R.S) and sold his patent for cold fusion extraction of hydrogen from sea water off the Louisiana coast to provide a reliable source of hydrogen for automobiles. It was an interesting patent because of all its ramifications—he could pipe the hydrogen in existing oil and gas lines right to filing stations, it cost nothing to extract the hydrogen, $1.25 a barrel and with a 50% markup for profit and another 50% for transportation costs, it would come out to be to 4 cents a gallon at the pump and would give an average 25 miles per gallon. And the oxygen extracted from the sea water would be percolated back into the Gulf of Mexico to reoxygenate that 600 mile dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi in an effort to bring back the shrimping boats to Louisiana. Anyway, he sold that patent to the Emir of Yabbadabbadoo to cover his educational loans and buy himself a seat on the Chicago Futures Exchange where he is buying and selling oil futures and is making a killing on the speculation. He seldom makes a bad move, because he gets up in the middle of the night to listen to the morning business news on NNS, Norwegian News System, which broadcasts in Norwegian and is two hours ahead of the BBC’s English broadcasts. Because he is the only American with such head-start, exclusive knowledge, he has made so much money that he is planning on retiring at the age of 45 and buying his own, private, security-gated island somewhere in the Caribbean near Aruba.
But once in a while he wonders, how clean would the air would be, how much more money Americans would have in their pockets and how fresh the Creole shrimp would be in the French Quarter if only his grandfather’s educational trust fund had permitted him to leave MIT debt free?
Last week we looked at excuses the sinful human nature will throw in front of us to tempt us to give less to the Lord through our offerings to his church. It boiled down to one thing—doubt.
If I doubt the Lord is going to look after me, I’m going to have to look after myself. And if I am realistic about things, I have no clue what is coming my way, so I better hang on to everything I have, even finding socially acceptable ways to shirk my responsibilities to my kids if need be, until I really don’t have any more needs—when I’m dead! Then I can leave it all to the church, hoping it was just a misprint in the Bible, that love covers a multitude of sins—and that it really reads, a bequest covers all sins.
But if I know the Lord is going to look after me, I can be generous and happy in meeting all my present responsibilities.
A new set of ways to give less confronts us today. See if, at the end of this lesson, you can see the common thread in all of them.
4. I’ll give what everybody else in church is giving.
Certainly that makes sense. We expect everybody to pull their fair share. After all, in the great state of Nevada we all pay the same in sales tax—7.75% of what we buy. We all pay the same millage in property taxes—1.225% of what our homes cost. We want everyone to pitch in at home equally. Why not just give what everybody else in church is giving?
It would be easy to figure out. Just look at the church budget, divide that by the communicant membership (we’ll just assume we don’t expect the kids under 13 to give what we expect their parents to give) and you get the figure!
For this year, at this time, here’s the numbers:
Total Budget $495, 766
Total Communicant Membership 540
Total Needed From Every Communicant Member $918.09
Ouch—that’s a little high! Can we lower that somewhat?
Ok, let’s take what the school contributes for our joint ministry. $42,000 per year, about 10% of their income.
That brings the figure down to $453,776, $840.30 per member, $16.15 each and every Sunday.
That seems reasonable.
But then consider these harsh realities, as presented by the people in the WELS who have looked at congregational giving patterns over the years.
- 1/3 of the communicant membership contributes nothing—will they be your “everybody else” standard?
- 1/3 of the communicant membership contributes under $200—will they be your “everybody else” standard.
- That leaves 1/3 of the congregation giving, on average, $2421, $50 per Sunday, $100 per couple each and every Sunday.
If this group decided to do their “fair share” we would have a church budget of $52,000. We could afford the rent of a small storefront, electricity and that’s about it. Maybe take turns preaching.
Is there a simpler way?
Read 2 Corinthians 9.6-15
How can each Christian “do their fair share” according to Paul?
Each man should give. Every Christian is to give to the Lord.
Who decides what to give?
What should not be a motivator of deciding what they should give?
Compulsion or reluctance.
Explain how using “what everybody else gives” can be a compulsive force in a Christian’s giving.
I feel like I have to keep up with the Joneses in my offerings. It sets an arbitrary goal for me to hit, without any relation to how the Lord has blessed me.
How can it be used to baby a sinful reluctance to give?
We can grudgingly give what everybody else is giving to avoid shame or ridicule.
Why does God love a cheerful giver?
Cheerful giving flows from a faithful and loving heart that puts God first.
What does God promise his cheerful givers?
To make them rich in every way that they can always be generous.
Is the Corinthian offering need based? If not, what is it?
Certainly there was a need—believers in Jerusalem might starve! But this is more information about an opportunity to show love and concern that has risen.
So, what are you going to give, relative to everybody else?
If we all are following God’s gracious guidelines, I will be giving exactly the same as everybody else—what I generously and cheerfully want to give my Savior!
5. The church really needs more money in the Building Fund, so I’ll put my offerings there.
It seems so harmless. It seems so natural. How can you say anything against this, because we are following this type of thinking right now!
As of July 1, 2007, we were at 93% of our budgeted offering envelope giving, $14,000 short of budget. Building Fund offerings, however, were at 191%, $30,000 above what was projected.
How did we get to this point?
1. The WELS Church Extension Fund was unwilling to rewrite a loan covering further cost overruns in our construction project. We paid our bills by not putting any money out for furniture and fixtures. That’s why we don’t have big screen TVs in the church.
2. We decided to give people a chance to donate specific items.
3. The council has decided, if there isn’t money in the general operating expenses, we can use building fund monies to pay for the mortgage, thus countering the loss of general operating revenue.
4. There are some cost cutting measures in the operating budget (salaries, outreach, youth and worship programs) that help ends meet.
We pray this is a temporary thing and we don’t get into a habit of doing this. It seems to me this is one of the biggest gripes of the public when it comes to government. They always cut the services to John Q. Public when they are short of money.
But what would a church look like if need giving was the main motivator in Christians giving? Explain how need-based giving is the main ingredient in these scenarios.
Community Church of Community, Indiana has an enormous campus and buildings. They are always building. Just last year they moved out of their 2000 seat sanctuary into a 7000 seat sanctuary just to keep one worship service a Sunday. Their deacon’s thinking is, “To keep the church growing, you’ve got to keep building.”
This church is addicted to building projects because they rely on need-based giving and the most popular need-based giving is one’s expanding church building! While it may be praiseworthy to have one service for everyone, so all can know each other, the deacon’s comments show the real motivation behind it—it is a ploy to keep the people giving.
General fund donations from congregations are failing to keep up with highly touted (and expensive) privately funded pilot programs which have now become ongoing programs of the national church body. So they decided to cut funding to highly visible and popular programs, foreign mission work, ministerial education, which people would pony up more to support directly. Each one of the arms of ministry affected hires an outreach director to hit up the people for their specific program. Just the other day, the local pastor received three urgent pleas from three separate ministerial schools, and he has been beating the drum for a unified budget to simplify giving.
The push is there to give to the schools or missions or else they will close and ministers will be put out of work. The national church body is actually working at cross-purposes with the local pastor. A unified budget helps teach people to give as they have been blessed and then the “pot” will be divided by the church leadership rather than people voting for this or that program with their dollars.
A church found that need-based giving really works, so much so that they’ve gone 100% to need-based funding. “If you want it, you’ll pay for it and we’re only going to get the programs we want!” the church president trumpeted at the voters’ meeting that started the whole process in motion four years ago. The good-looking, back slapping pastor is getting a $100,000 compensation package and the pastor in charge of evangelism and member retention is getting $40,000. The mortgage payment is three months late, but there is $25,000 in a fund to buy candles for the five eternal lights that have been donated as memorials. The congregation was, however, somewhat dismayed that the former treasurer who had just taken a job out of town, embezzled $30,000 out of the new carpet, social concerns, fellowship, church softball uniforms and school textbook replacement funds. The good news was it looked like no monies had been misappropriated out of the other 97 special funds of the church.
Need-based giving creates book-keeping nightmares for the local (volunteer) financial crews. There ends up so many special funds the congregation can’t keep track of them all. And there might be a real misappropriation of money outside the embezzler’s grasp as the congregation is “spending” offerings on non-essential things while showing favoritism and funding frivolous or superfluous things.
What is the role of church leadership in determining ministry priorities for the body of believers and how is this role abandoned when money talks?
The church leadership should match programs with available resources and prioritize programs so that the most essential get funded and more iffy programs may get funded if there is enough money. When money talks, leadership simply asks, “is the money there?” and if it is, well, don’t be surprised if the youth group takes a spring break in Aruba to investigate the role of reggae on the Lutheran liturgy while the congregation’s offering to the national church body is slashed.
6. I give to meet the budget
Most of us understand the budgeting process. If Mr. College Student living in an apartment with a $50 per week budget on groceries is walking to the checkout stand and sees a special display of Sugar Bombs cereal for $6.47 a box, it will be easy for him to say no, especially because groceries are the last thing he is buying this month and he’s got $25.82 in his pocket to last him until Friday and the groceries in his cart, hamburger, buns, gallon of milk, 12 pack of beer, toilet paper and a bottle of Motrin are going to come up to $24.17.
A budget, whether we think of it this way or not, is a way to ration our spending. It creates an artificial shortage (albeit a wise shortage) of money to spend on what we might, caught in a whim, want to buy.
A budget deals with shortages and creates shortages.
When I reach my budget I stop spending on that item. When I reach my budgeted bill and pay it, I don’t sock any more money into it. Southwest Gas gets $38.00 from me on its level pay plan every month and I’m not giving them a cent more.
When we look at giving in terms of the church budget, we are putting God in the same category as Southwest Gas. We are creating an artificial shortage in our giving to the Lord.
What if, in the December church newsletter, the Finance Chairman’s report tells everybody that the church budget is really hurting—we are 25% behind budget. What, probably, will that information do to giving in the month of December?
People will give more to meet the budget.
What if, in the December church newsletter, the Finance Chairman thanks everyone in his report for giving so much that this year the church is actually 4% ahead of its budget?
They will give less, if they are giving to meet the budget. The “bill has been paid, the budget has been met.”
Is that really how the Lord works? In terms of a budget that he needs our offerings?
Read Psalm 50.9-15
I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
For every animal of the forest is mine,
And the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
And the creatures of the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
For the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
Fulfill your vows to the Most High,
And call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me.
Does God need our offerings?
Everything belongs to him. To insinuate that he needs material things is to imply he is something less than God.
What does the Lord desire to see?
Thank offerings and vows fulfilled.
What is a thank offering?
A gift given to the Lord in appreciation of what he has done for us.
Why would people take a vow?
A gift to the Lord in appreciation for something we prayed for and promised God a gift if he gave us what we prayed for.
Are either of these types of offerings, a thank offering or a vow, subject to a budget?
No. They are subject to what God has given. The more he gives, the more thankful I am.
Look at the last verse. What is the Lord more interested in than offerings?
The honor of a believing heart and the chance to show his ability to rescue us.
Read Malachi 3.6-12
"I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty.
"But you ask, 'How are we to return?'
"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
"In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse-the whole nation of you-because you are robbing me. 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. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.
What did the Jews learn when they tried to ration their offerings to the Lord?
He rationed his blessings to them.
Does this mean we have to give ten percent to the church?
We’ll postpone the answer to that until our last meeting.
What is the lesson of this reading for us Christians who enjoy the freedom of the New Testament?
If we ration God, he will ration us. If I ration the time I spend in church listening to his Word, he’s going to ration the blessings I am able to receive from him, such as the ability to discern if something is praiseworthy or if something is dubious and should be avoided. If I ration my giving to the church, he will probably give me the church I deserve.
What is the purpose of a budget, then?
The budget is to serve as a restraint on the church leadership. It will prevent them from buying something the church absolutely does not need, and then, since it was such a good deal, get two of them! There are so many good things to do with the offerings of the Lord’s people—fund a school, support world missions, help a daughter congregation get started, send a son of the congregation through to become a minister, pay the electric and water bills and buy new hymnals and the new Sunday School material. The council makes a promise to the congregation that it will ration the spending of the congregation to keep in step with its offerings. To see the budget as a way to motivate the giver is to turn the process topsy-turvy.
What if the budget again isn’t being met?
Maybe it’s time to get new church leadership who can spend money more wisely.
Did you catch the common denominator in these three reasons to give less?
Give according to the needs of the church.
What reason should dominate our giving?
Last week we looked at more excuses the sinful human nature will throw in front of us to tempt us to give less to the Lord through our offerings to his church. It boiled down to one thing—giving to a need. That was the prime motivator for Christian giving, need based giving. If there’s a demonstrable need, I’ll give. If there isn’t a demonstrable need, I won’t give.
Ouch! We are setting ourselves up for some real cat-and-mouse games with that one. Unscrupulous people can always create needs. The one who screams the loudest and whines the longest gets his yearly January sabbaticals in Rio to study the effects of longer days on the ratio of Law/Gospel applications in preaching on the Epiphany texts. Selfishness can and does cross the boundary into squabbles over church turf and funding.
And that brings us to this week’s theme: selfishness!
7. I’ll give God my time—I don’t have to give him my money, too.
Time is money, isn’t it? Why not give our time instead of our money, to God?
There are different scenarios to this thinking. What strikes you as odd with each of them?
- “Pastor, we on fixed incomes can’t give to the church like we used to, so we’ll make cakes and crafts for sale at the church fund-raiser bazaar instead.”
They still have some money coming in from their fixed incomes. They could give a portion of that income. If they are ruling that out, they are really shifting their offering responsibilities onto someone else’s shoulders. Maybe they could make their crafts or cakes and sell them at a store off-site of the church and donate the money to the church. A lot of times (especially with quilters) you will get a lot more money for your goods on the market “out there” than selling it in the church.
- The pastor works out a deal with the church treasurer that his church offering is deducted from his monthly pay. He doesn’t even have an offering envelope anymore! And it puts him in a lower tax bracket!
The example of not putting anything in the plate week after week will have to be explained and it is hard to imagine that anyone wants to reveal their personal finances to that extent to everybody in the congregation. And one wonders how much the lower tax bracket is playing a part. Is the pastor doing well by doing good?
- I run my own lawn business so I’ll do the church property and the parsonage, too, in lieu of my offering.
Maybe there is somebody else who is volunteering to do the lawn and is doing a good job! What if the guy with the lawn business is blessed so much he could give a lot more than what he would charge for mowing the church lawn? What if he does a bad job? Can you fire him—after all, he’s doing it for free, umm, I mean, it’s his donation to the Lord!
What does God say about our money?
Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops. Proverbs 3.9
What is the crop we produce with our efforts at work?
How do we honor God with that money?
We give a portion of it to him.
In the Old Testament God required the tithe from his people, a tenth of what they produced. Certainly these were non-monetary offerings. But never did he specify that the people were to give him time in lieu of these offerings. Other religions did. Egyptian temples had slaves who were devoted to the cult of this or that false god. The same in Babylon. But not in Israel. They were free men, tending to their own affairs, and rendering their God a portion of the wealth they had created. If they would withhold the offerings of their crops, God would act in kind and withhold the plenty of harvests (Malachi 3.6ff).
As the nation of Israel moved from a farming (barter) economy to a money economy, monetary offerings became the norm. But even before that transition, money, gold, silver and precious metals, were often specially ear-marked for the Lord.
Look at Joshua’s instruction for the attack on Jericho.
Read Joshua 6.15-19
On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury.
What were the Hebrews to do with the inhabitants of Jericho?
Destroy them completely.
Who was the exception and why?
They were to spare Rahab the prostitute and all her family because she had received and helped the spies.
What were the Hebrews to do with the possessions of the inhabitants of Jericho?
Destroy it all completely.
What was the exception and why?
The gold, silver and other precious metals (bronze and iron) were to go towards the Lord’s treasury. God, evidently in his earlier commands to Joshua, had demanded it.
In the later monarchy, the transition to a money economy had been made. Look how Joash financed the restoration of Jerusalem’s temple.
Joash said to the priests, “Collect all the money that is brought as sacred offerings to the temple of the Lord—the money collected in the census, the money received from personal vows and the money brought voluntarily to the temple. Let every priest receive the money from one of the treasurers, and let it be used to repair whatever damage is found in the temple.” 1 Kings 12.4-5
Discuss the shortfalls of a barter system in handling this type of work.
If people gave foodstuffs, a bureaucracy would have to sell it, turning it into money. It would be cumbersome and duplicate what the people could have done to begin with. If time were given, another bureaucracy would have to be established to coordinate task and skills. This way, with money being given, contracts could be let and workers hired for the specific jobs at hand and paid with the money the people had earned from their efforts.
This giving of money is so obviously understood as the currency of offering that the New Testament treats it as a given.
Consider these incidents and show how giving of your time instead of your money is not proper.
Ø Temple officials come to Peter and ask him if Jesus pays the Temple tax. Peter is troubled by it, goes and asks Jesus about it, and is given the task of fishing. In the fish’s mouth is a coin worth enough for both Jesus and Peter to pay the Temple tax.
Imagine what Jesus could have done with just a few hours of volunteer labor in the Temple!
Ø Temple officials come to Jesus and ask him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. He asks for a coin. “Whose inscription is this? Who’s image?” Caesar’s, they replied. “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
What is to be given to God by us Christians?
Our hearts, our devotion, our efforts and our money.
Still not convinced? Let Paul come right out and say it.
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 1 Corinthians 16.2
What words of Paul prove we should give our money to the Lord?
Each one. Sum of money. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.
Can you think of a better way that guy who is in the lawn business can donate to the church? And then what happens if he is doing a rotten job?
Better to be paid by the church to mow the lawn, if no one else is interested in doing it for free. And then he can take the money and give it to the church as part of his offering. And, if he gets lazy or doesn’t do the job he should be doing—fire him! It’s a contract, just like the service we get from the phone company, internet provider or copy repair company.
8. I’ll give more when it makes sense tax-wise for me to give more.
Certainly one of the benefits we enjoy living in America is that our government extends generous tax benefits to churches, really any house of faith, and those who support those houses of faith. Religious property that is used for religious purposes is exempt from property taxes in almost every locale, for we believe that the power to tax is the power to control and/or destroy! And the donations we give towards our churches are deductible from our taxes.
I’m not real good at tax issues. I usually get a letter back from the IRS telling me there’s an addition mistake on my return and I’ve paid them a little more than I owe. But there’s some real sharp cookies out there when it comes to charitable donations and tax law.
Here’s the question:
Should tax law determine how much I should give to my church or should tax law guide how I should give what I have determined to give to my church?
A self-employed guy is doing his taxes ahead of time! December 27. He discovers he did not send in enough money to cover his tax bill. He is way short and is going to receive a fine. But wait! If he gives $1000 to church, that will put him in, no, wait, if he gives $949.51 to church, that will put him in a lower tax bracket that will shove him just below the threshold of paying a fine! So he cuts a check to his church for $949.51 and drops it off at the pastor’s house, because he has to get ready for a party later on New Year’s Eve and won’t be a the 7 pm church service that night.
A member has held on to some stock for a while. It has gone bonkers. Time to cash in his chips. When he bought the stock he had the idea to give 10% of it to the church. But if he sells the stock and gives the church the money, he’ll have to pay 10% more in capital gains and he figures that should be included in what he gives the church, so instead, he simply gifts 10% of his stock to the church and tells them he is selling his shares and they might be wise to unload their shares after the big run-up in price.
What is the motivation in each case?
The first guy is doing it just to keep more money for himself. It shows because he’s not even going to the worship service to drop his offering off!
The second guy gives what he has intended to give, 10%, but does it in such a way that the church actually receives more than the amount it would have gotten. His advice to the church shows this is an offering and not a chance for the church to dabble in the casinos, um, stock market.
How does this passage play a role in your thinking?
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Matthew 10.16
We should make the most of the opportunities we have to fund the Lord’s work with the wise gifts we give, but we are to be innocent. Others may bend laws or do things that “technically aren’t illegal,” but as Christians, showing God our honor, love and respect, we are going to hold ourselves to a much higher standard.
Now let’s go back to the question:
Should tax law determine how much I should give to my church or should tax law guide how I should give what I have determined to give to my church?
What if the big selling point for that big estate endowment gift is the tax money you will be saving?
The motivation is bad and the gift may backfire on the church. Certainly the pitch will, for when the tax laws change the gifts sucked in by that pitch will dry up, too. After all, we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. The government spends good time and money making sure your heirs are going to actually get your estate and the government also protected you while you were acquiring that wealth. Even worse are gifts to the church that will reduce the status of the giver to an indigent becoming a ward of the state in a nursing home.
9. Something bad could happen to me, so I’m not just going to give what I have away.
Ah! Here we have it! This is exactly the point I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to make all along. Our monetary offerings to the Lord through his church are a sign of our faith, not a response from our doubt and uncertainty.
Once in a while we say this prayer as we place the offering upon the altar.
Heavenly Father, trusting in your continued blessings of faith, of health, and of employment, we bring our offering to you.1 Grant us your Spirit that whatever we receive as income, as a gift, as an inheritance, we shall regard as your blessing and be moved to give you your share.2 May we never forget that as your redeemed children we are your stewards.3 May we resolve never to fail you. We ask all of this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
I think this is a great prayer. It makes three very important points (I’ve marked them).
What do these points say to you.
1. Nobody can know what the future brings. Everything we do is done in trust and faith that God will care for us. So, too, our offerings reflect that trust. We literally give away our money to God, trusting that he will give more to us tomorrow.
Can you think of something in the Lord’s prayer that shows this trust in God is not presumptuous?
Give us this day our daily bread.
2. God shares our daily life with us. He is there for the bad times, he is there for the good times. He carries our worries and cares. He shares in our wealth as well when we return to him a portion of our earnings as offerings.
3. We are stewards, simply entrusted by God with what we have. We are to use our possessions as he has directed us to.
We are called to live selfless lives. That will also include how we use our money. Part of the use of our money is for everyone to give back to the Lord a thank offering from a free and willing heart full of love for what the Lord has done for us and given to us, both in the spiritual and in the material realms.
If we still think we can be great Christians and be selfish with our money, only giving to God at the expense of the government, short-changing the Lord by giving him our “worthless” time or a scant amount of our over-valued time, then we should consider Jesus’ words.
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. Mark 8.34-38.
What words does Jesus use that make us think about how we use our money?
Gain the whole world
Give in exchange for his soul
How might Christians deny themselves for the sake of showing their love to Jesus through their offerings?
One less meal out, another year on the car before trading it in, putting off that dream vacation—indefinitely, watching how we are throwing our money away on things that really don’t matter, like the twice-daily Starbucks Frappaccino or the Slurpies at the 7-Eleven or even on how often we get in the car to run a single errand.
Jesus certainly is not saying what monetary offerings we give to him will earn heaven or help keep us in the faith. That is solely the role of God working through his Gospel. But what does a heart that puts money ahead of Jesus show about itself?
It loves money more than Jesus, so it is ashamed of Jesus. It has no faith in Jesus and this will be revealed in the judgment on the Last Day
Conversely, what does a heart that isn’t ashamed to give money to Jesus show about itself?
That it has a living and active faith in Jesus which extends also to the money it gives Jesus.
Last week we looked at excuses the sinful human nature throws in front of us to tempt us to give less to the Lord through our offerings to his church. It boiled down to one word—selfishness. We as Christians can expose that selfishness in our life through God’s Law and shame it into silence that our New Man can step up to the plate and direct what we want to give to the Lord.
Ironically, our last look at “A Dozen Ways to Give Less” takes a look at something people are proud of—pulling their “fair share.” The motivation comes not from the Gospel, not from God’s love for us and the loving response he calls forth from us. The motivating factors in today’s ”ways to give less” are Law motivation and they are very deceptive. Initially, this motivation may actually cause the person to give more to the Lord, to the praise and admiration of all around that person (for he or she will surely let others know what they are giving—to the penny!), but in the long term, offerings motivated by the Law will either drop off or cause a person to begrudge God, to their spiritual harm.
10. I was very disappointed that my church went ahead and changed the worship service times on me, so I’m cutting back on my offerings from now on.
We do this all the time as consumers. If the waiter gives us lousy service at the restaurant, we give him less of (or no) tip. If we feel we are being charged way too much for what we are getting, we change phone companies, clothing stores, makes of automobiles. It is supply and demand. If they want my business, they’ll take care of me and give me what I want at a price I am willing to pay.
Should we bring a consumer attitude into church?
Let’s redo our church, giving it a better business plan that might make it “sell” better to the consumer mentality.
Handsome, young ushers
Shorter sermons or No sermon
If you have to have a sermon, no mention of what terrible sinners we are
Banish the teaching of hell
Convenient worship times
People care that I’m there
People don’t care if I skip
People who recognize my contributions
People who praise me when I do right
People who overlook my faults
People who do what I want them to do
Don’t demand too much of the people in worship, either in what they know or how much they participate
Does such a church exist?
We’ve probably just described the “mega-church” (Baptist or non-denominational) down the street!
What part of our spiritual nature has been active in this “consumer survey?”
The sinful human nature.
What part of our spiritual side do we want to be active in our life of stewardship?
Our Christian nature.
Who decides what happens in the church, especially when things aren’t specifically commanded or forbidden in the Bible?
All the time?
Most of the time.
When might the majority be overridden?
When the elected church leadership thinks a certain path is the way to go or when they are concerned for the “weak.”
What does membership in a church mean?
That we will continue to join together in the worship and work, even if we don’t necessarily agree with everything the church has decided to do.
If anybody belonged to a cruddy, non-responsive and downright wrong-teaching church, it was Jesus!
List some ways his church was bad.
False teaching about how to earn your way to heaven.
Over-rule the Word of God
Trying to kill him
Hypocrisy among leaders
Oppress the people
Money-oriented (use of Temple for merchants)
What was Jesus, as an Old Testament believer, required to do for this church?
Support it with his tithes and offerings.
Yes! Otherwise he could not have been our sinless Savior.
What if your church did change its worship times and you don’t particularly like it?
Keep giving as the Lord has blessed you. Offerings are not a vote for or against some church policy or a reward or punishment for some church leader. To view offerings in this way is to sink to a Law motivation, that you can force your way on others by what you give.
11. I’ll give what the synod tells me to give, 10% or 10% more than I’m giving now.
When all else fails—resort to the LAW! That seems to be the upshot of this attitude. This is exactly what the synod is encouraging congregations to consider for what they give to the synod, our national church body, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, located in every one of our churches and headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The synod carries on activities that we as an individual congregation absolutely could not do ourselves, like
Start and fund missions
Fund church construction
Start, fund and loan money for construction of mission churches in foreign countries
Train pastors, teachers, home and world missionaries
Provide Christian curriculum for congregations
Supervise doctrine and practice in the congregations
Secure pastors and teachers for congregations and missions
The synod does a lot of other things, but these things are the heart and core of the synod’s work for us and it takes money! Lots of it.
Recently the money hasn’t been coming in, so the synod is asking congregations to give either 10% of their annual income or, if they are at that level or cannot get to that level, to give 10% more than they are currently giving.
From what we’ve seen up to this point, how can this course of action on the synod’s part be counter-productive?
We abrogate our responsibility to decide what we want to give to the Lord and how we want to direct those offerings.
“The synod says, so that’s what we’ll do” makes the synod the new law-giver. It also robs the Christian of the freedom we have to decide. Other people might deliberately misunderstand the synod and, if they are giving more than 10%, cut back to 10% because that’s all the synod asks.
Others might strive to give that amount “demanded” because they fear repercussions to their reputations as a church or a clergyman if they don’t toe the line.
Others might strive to give that amount so they can boast over others who do not live up to their standards.
Is there a way the synod’s pleas can be taken properly?
One could see the synod’s plea as a call to repentance. Are we supporting our synod for the work we are asking her to do or are we looking for someone else to support it while we get a free ride? Wake up, smell the coffee and see what you can do!
One could also see a church’s relationship to the synod is somewhat different than a member’s relationship to his local church. The local congregation might think the Lord is calling them to channel more of their offerings into a certain aspect of the ministry, to the detriment of some long-term goals of the Gospel which can only be achieved through the work we jointly carry on through the synod.
You do the juggling. A congregation—ours!—has a $500,000 budget. What do you want to spend that money on in the Lord’s ministry.
|Pastor A Support
|Pastor B Support
|Plant Operations and Maintenance
Now, what if you were going to get 3% more in offerings next year and all the Building FF&E’s were funded, but your second pastor needed a church-owned parsonage (standard size is 4 bedrooms)?
You could use the $46,000 as a down payment and then extra $15,000 would have to go towards salary increases and increases in utilities and supplies. (If there were a 10% jump in those two items, you’d be looking at $10,000 of that $15,000 gone with little expansion in ministry, which would leave the rest for the synod. But oh, what of the parsonage mortgage?
Budgeting is not so easy, especially for a church! Every budget is a gift from God’s grace, every budget met or exceeded is a miracle from Jesus’ hands.
12. I’ll give what God commands me to give—10% of my taxable income.
Hmm. Answer these questions (circle your answers):
Are you Jewish? Yes No
Are you living before the year 33 AD? Yes No
If you answered yes to both of these questions, then God does command you to give 10% of your taxable income to the Levitical priesthood and the support of the Temple in Jerusalem!
(Sorry, I can’t give you any PO Box or nifty dot.com address to direct your offerings to. Some are in the habit of finding a man whose last name is Cohen and giving him a gift when they have their first child, but that is another issue!)
If you answered “No” to either of the questions above, please answer the following.
I worship a god different than the Triune God of the Bible Yes No
Because the only true God, the Triune God, has not commanded you to give 10% of your taxable income to the church!
Here are the pertinent passages:
A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. If a man redeems any of his tithe, he must add a fifth of the value to it. The entire tithe of the herd and flock--every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd's rod--will be holy to the LORD. He must not pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If he does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed. Leviticus 27:30-33
How much does God demand from the people?
One-tenth, the tithe.
What if they have to “borrow against” the tithe? What is the interest owed God?
What if the tenth sheep to go under the shepherd’s staff is the best ram in the flock?
Too bad. He’s the tenth. No substitutions. If a guy does try to substitute a lesser animal, both the original animal AND its substitution goes to the Lord.
Who is supposed to tithe?
All the Old Testament Jews.
Who are they to give the tithe to?
The Levites (Old Testament priests)
The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Levites and say to them: 'When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering. Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. In this way you also will present an offering to the LORD from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the Lord’s portion to Aaron the priest. You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.'
"Say to the Levites: 'When you present the best part, it will be reckoned to you as the product of the threshing floor or the winepress. You and your households may eat the rest of it anywhere, for it is your wages for your work at the Tent of Meeting. By presenting the best part of it you will not be guilty in this matter; then you will not defile the holy offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die.'" Numbers 18:25-32
How much do the priests have to give to the Lord?
One-tenth, the tithe, just like the other people.
What part of their wages go to the Lord?
The best part.
Who do the Levites give their tithe to?
The high priestly family of Aaron.
How serious is this tithe for the priests?
Very—the Lord promises to put them to death if they do not give the tithe.
Unfortunately the Old Testament believers did not observe the tithe. Look at this challenge from the prophet Malachi.
"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
"In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse-the whole nation of you-because you are robbing me. 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. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. Malachi 3:8-11
What was the people’s sin?
They had not given God one-tenth of everything
What had the results of their sin been?
The Lord had withheld bountiful harvests.
Were the people only at fault? Look at this other charge of Malachi.
"You priests show contempt for my name.
“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’
“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you?” Malachi 1.6-8
How had the priests been sinning?
They had offered the worst, not the best, to the Lord.
Here’s the end result of this priestly disobedience, some 430 years later.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23:23-24
The priests of Jesus’ day had kept the tithe, hadn’t they? Explain.
Yes—they even tithed their herbs!
No—they had made the tithe a matter of work righteousness and they wanted to account for everything so that they could boast before God.
Yet they showed their hearts were unbelieving because they forgot about mercy and faithfulness. No tithe is acceptable without faith.
When were these people living?
Before Jesus died on the cross.
Was that Old Testament times or New Testament times?
Old Testament times.
Did Jesus keep the tithe?
Yes, because he kept all the laws God required of his Old Testament believers perfectly.
Explain from the following passage why don’t we have to keep those Old Testament Laws.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Colossians 2.16-17
All the things Paul mentions are part of the Old Testament Laws for God’s Jewish people. We are not Old Testament Jews.
Why should no one judge us by these laws?
They don’t apply to us any longer.
What is the deal with a shadow?--Look at this picture and tell me who cast it.
Paul says the Old Testament laws were a shadow of Jesus. What did they show about Jesus?
Jesus is worthy of our worship. He gives us rest for our souls. Because of his great love for us we want to give him something back in return.
When Jesus came, did we need the shadows any more?
Does this passage mention the tithe explicitly?
Then how do you know the tithe is abolished also?
It is assumed as part of these laws which stand for the whole Old Testament law.
Isn’t there something firmer?
Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. Galatians 3.25
Do we need the Old Testament law once “faith has come” (i.e. Jesus has completed our salvation)?
No. we are no longer under the supervision of the Law.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. Galatians 5.1-3
So, if I insist on any part of the Old Testament Law as necessary for salvation, I have to insist on keeping all of it! I better know what is OK and what is forbidden, because the stakes are so high! (cross out the forbidden stuff)
Wearing fur ok
Nylon-cotton blends NOPE!
Sunday worship NOPE!
Saturday part-time job NOPE!
Driving the car ok, but not on Saturday
Run five miles every day ok, but not on Saturday!
Giving 10% of everything I get to the Lord ok
Sell mom and dad’s house after they pass NOPE!
Having friends over to eat ok, but not Gentiles!
Drinking coffee ok
Eating raised bread ok, except a week before Passover
But what if I can’t keep all these Old Testament laws?
I will end up in hell. The soul that sins, it shall die.
How then could any of the Old Testament Jews be saved?
They trusted in the Savior to come, the one we know as Jesus. They were saved just like we are, by faith alone.
There IS something that specifically says I don’t have to tithe—Explain how this passage specifically says I don’t have to tithe
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 9.6
What he has decided, not what the tithe has decided for him.
Not under compulsion—the law is compulsion; it compels us to keep it or else. We are free from compulsion (law) in our Christian giving.
Should—this is a morally-binding word. We should be free to give what we as Christians want. Anyone who takes that freedom away from us is sinning.
But I heard a Lutheran preacher speak eloquently about the tithe.
A lot of churches teach the tithe.
They’re wrong. Some of the same churches that teach the tithe teach you can choose to become a believer, deny infant baptism and also deny the real presence of Jesus body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.
So, I’m really free to give what I want to give, in proportion to how God has blessed me. And I’ll do this out of love for the love Jesus has shown me by his suffering and death on the cross and nobody can tell me otherwise! And that’s all there is to it!!
But how is the church going to raise that $500,000?
By telling every one of our members the very things we’ve been talking about here.