A few months ago, I heard a sermon by Shane Clairborne. The sermon was great, but there was one part in an interview afterward that was just incredible. It was so good, in fact, that I want you to hear it in Shane’s own voice.
I think that what’s so exciting about giving is that … it’s beautiful. It’s life giving. It’s not just something we do out of duty, but something we do out of great joy. And there’s a lot of people who have taught me that.
I was on this radio show the other day, and the guy was telling me, he was like, “So are you saying that all suburban people have to hang out with poor folks?” I’m like “What a terrible way to say it!” I’m like: We all have an invitation to be with people that struggle and to bear those burdens with them, and there’s something healing that happens in all of us when that happens. Isaiah 58 says: “When we spend ourselves on behalf of others, our healing comes.” And so I think that’s something that I’ve learned. When we’re doing this, it begins to come naturally because it’s what we’re made for. You know, we’re made to love and to be loved.
I remember when I was in India, and there was one kid, that it was his birthday, and so I got him an ice cream cone. I figured that was a good idea, you know, it’s 120 degrees -give a kid an ice cream cone, and he gets this ice cream cone, and he’s so excited about it, he starts licking it, and he’s just shaking. And his impulse is: “I’ve gotta share it!” He rounds up all of his friends, and he’s like: “I’ve got an ice cream!” He goes around and has each one take a lick off it – you know – right around the circle, and then he gives it to me, and he’s like “Your turn.” I kind of faked this like – you know I’ve got this spit phobia thing going. But his impulse was, “This is such a beautiful gift that I can’t help but share it.”
And I think, what if that were our response – that the best things to do with the best things in life is to give them away or to share them. And people that have done that, they know the secret of that, that it’s incredible. So a lot of times, I think, when we think of blessing, we think of it just as something God is showering on us. But when so many people haven’t experienced those gifts and we get to share them, like there’s no greater joy than that, you know seeing somebody else get to experience the goodness of God.
OK, now, before I really get started talking about the joy of giving, I want to let you guys talk first. One month ago, we gave you the 5,000 Won Challenge. We gave everybody here that day 5,000 won, and we asked you to use it bless someone else. It’s time to give your reports. Turn to someone around you and answer these three questions:
- What did you do with your 5,000 won?
- How did they respond?
- How did you feel?
We’ve been talking about money and finances for a full month now. Let’s do a little review.
Week 1: The basic message of the Bible concerning money is that God wants to bless us so he can bless the whole world through us.
Week 2: God’s basic desire is that everyone everywhere will have prosperity, security, and equity, but our world isn’t going as planned.
Week 3: We live in a global culture of consumerism. As part of this culture, we are spending way too much. We need to let God slow us down and help us get out of debt.
Week 4: It’s hard to wait. But by saving and investing our resources now, we can become financially free to serve God without concern about money.
Now we’re on to week 5, The Joy of Giving. You knew it was going to come to this, right? Me asking you to give more money. Why are churches always asking for money?! Like most of you, I think some churches ask for too much money, too often, too loudly, and with too many promises of God’s blessing in return.
I certainly don’t want to be one of those pastors in one of those churches. I’ve been pastoring this church for more than 3 years now, and I have never preached a whole sermon on giving money. But we just can’t escape this. Money is an important part of the Bible’s teaching, and giving is the most important part of the Bible’s teaching on money.
Think of it like this. Look at this picture of the Triumphal Arch in Tyre, Lebanon. What is the most important stone in this large structure? It’s not at the bottom. It’s at the top. It’s the keystone. The keystone is the one at the very highest point of the actual arch. Without the keystone, the whole structure will collapse into a pile of rubble.
OK, imagine that the stones on the left side are right beliefs about money. Some of these right beliefs might be:
- God wants to bless us.
- God wants to bless the world through us.
- God owns everything. We are God’s money managers.
- God wants us to help make a more economically just world.
- God wants us to give to our church and to the poor in the world.
Now imagine that the stones on the right side are right actions concerning money. Some of these right actions might be:
- Making a budget or a plan for how to use our money.
- Spending less.
- Getting out of debt.
- Saving more.
- Investing our money wisely.
If these are stones we are using to build our Arch of Financial Peace, then the keystone is giving generously. Without giving generously, the stones on the left are just a bunch of empty religious talk. Without giving generously, the stones on the right are just an organized strategy for selfishness. From a Biblical perspective, financial peace is impossible without generous giving. Without giving, the whole structure just collapses into a pile of trash.
This is the climax of our series on Financial Peace. If we get this wrong, we’re just wasting our time, and we’ve missed the whole point of everything we’ve been talking about for the last month. If we really get this right, God will change the world through us.
OK, so what does the Bible say about giving? The Bible talks about at least 4 different kinds of giving: worship events, building projects, caring for the poor, and tithe.
Let’s talk about worship events first. In the Bible all giving is a worship event, and almost all worship involves some form of giving. Nearly every kind of worship event has a special kind of offering that goes with it. Worship is giving. Giving is worship. (See Leviticus 1-7.)
There are also a few special building projects in the Bible, and God’s people usually respond by giving generously. I love the story of when the people are preparing to build the first tabernacle (or tent) to worship God in the desert. God has given Moses instructions to build the tabernacle, and Moses asks the people to give the materials. Listen to how the people respond:
So the whole community of Israel left Moses and returned to their tents. All whose hearts were stirred and whose spirits were moved came and brought their sacred offerings to the Lord. They brought all the materials needed for the Tabernacle, for the performance of its rituals, and for the sacred garments. Both men and women came, all whose hearts were willing. They brought to the Lord their offerings … (Exodus 35:20-22)
But the people continued to bring additional gifts each morning. Finally the craftsmen who were working on the sanctuary left their work. They went to Moses and reported, “The people have given more than enough materials to complete the job the Lord has commanded us to do!”
So Moses gave the command, and this message was sent throughout the camp: “Men and women, don’t prepare any more gifts for the sanctuary. We have enough!” So the people stopped bringing their sacred offerings. (Exodus 36:3-6)
Have you ever heard of a leader saying that? “Stop giving! We have enough!” The people gave with great joy, and they gave in abundance.
The Old Testament talks a lot about giving to the poor, but the most famous passage about this is probably Jesus’ story about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.
But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-46)
The last type of giving discussed in the Bible is the tithe (ship il jo). A tithe is giving 10% of our income to God. One of the best passages to explain tithing is Deuteronomy 14:
Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 14:22-29)
This passage shows us the 4 basic purposes of tithing:
1. Tithing teaches us to honor God. “Be sure to set aside a tenth” of your earnings “so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.” Tithing is a spiritual practice. It reminds us every time we do it that everything we are and have comes from God. It also teaches us to honor God in everyday life. Giving helps to heal our selfishness and materialism. Giving money away breaks money’s hold on us. Giving actually gives us the freedom to honor God more fully in our every day lives.
2. Tithing is a worship act of celebration. Did you notice what the Israelites were supposed to do with their tithe? They were supposed to get their families together and have a feast in the presence of the Lord. Our weekly worship services are acts of celebration. Our gifts come together to pay the rent, buy the equipment, and gather the food. This is our family celebration in the presence of the Lord.
3. Tithing provides for the religious leaders. Some people (like Levites, full-time pastors, or missionaries) devote all their time to helping others worship God. Giving a tithe makes it possible for these leaders to focus on helping the people of God instead of on making a living. The New Testament carries this principle forward:
Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
4. Tithing provides for the poor. Part of the tithe was stored up so that the people of God could always meet the needs of the migrant workers, the fatherless, and the widows.
About a year ago, my Mom said that I need to preach on tithing more. I said that everybody hates to hear churches talk about money, and I said, “Besides, tithing is an Old Testament idea. Tithing is not even talked about in the New Testament, not one time.” Sarah is always telling me that I should not make such drastic statements. I was wrong.
Tithing is in the New Testament also. In fact, Jesus himself says we should tithe. Jesus was really mad at the Pharisees for missing the point of tithing (and religion in general):
You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over. What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. (Luke 11:39-42).
The Pharisees were careful at tithing, but for Jesus giving 10% of our income is just the minimum standard. We need to go beyond that to the more important things of love and justice and caring for the poor.
The New Testament doesn’t say we don’t have to tithe. The New Testament actually says that giving 10% is probably not enough for most of us. The point is not meeting some minimum standard of giving: “OK, I’ve given 10%. That’s enough. Now I can do what I want with the rest.” The point is responding to the hurting world around us with the love of God. The point is remembering that we are all God’s children and that every poor person is part of our family. The point is loving God and loving people with everything we have.
Here’s the thing. If you have a problem with giving, you have a spiritual problem. God asks us to give him 10% of our income as a starting point, a regular act of worship. Then, he asks us to respond to the world around us with his love and our resources. If you have a problem with that, then you have a problem with God. If you have a problem with that, then you have a problem with Jesus because that’s what Jesus taught.
But here’s the other thing. If you have a problem with giving, then you are missing out on the great joy of giving. Giving is an act of celebration! God has provided for us! We get to be partners in God’s mission of blessing the whole world! Our giving changes the world! That is worth celebrating!
Give freely. Give regularly. Give joyfully. Give out of worship. Give out of thanks. Give and be glad! Give and be free!
 Shane Clairborne, “Finding Your Calcutta,” sermon at Mars Hill Bible Church, March 21, 2007, http://www.marshill.org/teaching/index.php, downloaded on 9.6.07. From 45:50-48:08.