Two men were marooned on a tiny island. One man paced back and forth worried and frightened, while the other man sat back, whistling and sunning himself. The first man said, “Aren’t you afraid we’re going to die here?” “Nope,” said the second man. “How can you be so sure?” the first man asked. “Well, you see…” said the second man, “I make R100 000 a month and I tithe 10% faithfully to my church. My priest will find me anywhere in the world.”
This story identifies one of the key reasons why many ministers and some churches avoid saying very much about financial giving. There is a perception (and a reality in many cases) where it appears we need to chase the bucks.
However, in terms of spiritual growth, I have come to realize that to become a mature disciple you – and me – have to embrace the reality that materially we are stewards instead of owners. And that’s quite a mind shift.
Listen to what Paul says in the Message: (Rom 12:1-3): So here’s what I want you to do: Take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life — and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. …Fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
Placing before God as an offering. What does that mean? You see Stewardship is not fund-raising (although we’ve being doing plenty of that of late); Stewardship is basic discipleship. Each believer needs to understand that giving is not just about “doing their duty.” Giving is actually a deeply personal indicator of our spiritual maturity, #1, as well as our love for God, #2.
If we understand Jesus’ words that our “treasure” is an indication of our “heart,” how can churches and ministers avoid teaching on the important issue of giving?
And I am talking something totally different from giving to the beggar at the traffic light. For the most part charitable giving is giving some of what we have to help out people who are needy or suffering.
And of course there has been a wonderful outpouring of giving in the last few weeks as we have witnessed the natural disasters from Thornhill to Cape Town and in between. We have been overwhelmed at the generosity and outpouring of bedding and clothing. Well done! It shows the human spirit is resilient and a core value remains – to help others in need.
But natural disasters and once-off giving aside: On an ongoing basis giving is spiritual. Why? Because it puts me into a rightful relationship with God. Why? Because God is the Owner and I am the steward of his earth, the animal and plant kingdom, and the stuff we have as humans.
By giving something to Him – towards the furthering of the Kingdom of God – I am stating that I understand His ownership of all things.
You know Moses (Deut 26:8-10) describes it this way: He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the First-fruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me. Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.”
Giving here of the First Fruits is how Israel expressed their humble thanks to God for what He let them enjoy.
So, how should we give? Just as we decide on what we will spend on a new toaster or kettle – or how much we will put into a savings account for a car we need – or what we are having for Sunday lunch. We must also decide how we will give. Think about it: Even to give nothing is a decision.
Sure, it may be too much to give a big amount overnight. You may be on pension. You may be a single parent. You may just not have a lot of moola. But the important thing is find something that you can give.
It may be your talent, it may be your time and it may be your treasure – but do it regularly. And by that we mean in the modern era monthly.
You see an amazing benefit of giving as stewards is that we learn to trust God through giving, we can live confidently on what is left, because we know that God is taking care of that.
Giving is a freeing experience as it connects us more closely to God relationally. Ultimately, giving becomes an act of worship. Giving becomes a way of saying thanks to God for His grace and provision. Giving taps into a deep part of our personal connection to God.
And as I have already said: Giving is not just about money – we give our time, our talents as well. The 3 T’s – time, talent and tithe. On a deeper level it is about trusting God.
Remember the story of when Jesus saw the widow at the Temple (Mark 12:41-44). She gave the smallest of all imaginable gifts. It was 2 tiny coins. These coins – lepta – were little bronze pieces. Smaller than the old half cent piece. These 2 coins equalled 1/16th of a denarius. We know that a labourer could earn a denarius per day, so what a labourer would earn in about 30 minutes.
So on one hand what made her gift remarkable was how small it was. But ironically, what made her gift remarkable to Jesus was how large it was! What made this gift so large was that it was all the money she had. She emptied her bank account that day.
She had every reason not to give. But she wanted to give. The gifts given by others were expendable income. It didn’t cause them much angst. But her gift was essential income.
You see this is how God views giving. God always sees the sacrifice of giving. That’s where the worship of giving really happens. It costs. King David once said as he negotiated the threshing floor on which the Temple would one day be built by his son, Solomon: I will not sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing. (1 Chron 21:24 ).
Jesus pointed the widow out because He recognized the sincerity of her heart. This woman has stood through the ages as a model for giving, not simply because her giving ratio exceeded the gifts of others, but because the sacrifice indicated her deep love for God. Love for God is the goal. Sacrificial giving is a means of establishing and expressing that closeness with Him.
Again, let’s learn some basic lessons from this incident:
- We are never too poor to give.
- Giving generously means trusting God for the future.
- God is honoured by our degree of sacrifice, not the amount.
- Giving is worship that expresses our relationship to God.
These stories pull back the curtain on God’s desire to connect relationally with us. The widow who fed Elijah believed God’s promise and got to know and enjoy God because she trusted Him.
The widow at the temple already was a worshipper. She didn’t come to the temple that day the way we often come to church – asking, what will I get out of it? She came to give as worship.
Giving was the crucial element that connected each of them to God as they stretched out to Him. Giving connects us relationally with God. Giving is not about us; giving is about our relationship to God. Giving connects us to God.
So remember: GIVING IS AN ACT OF WORSHIP.