It's been said there are just two problems with money: one is having too little and the other is having too much.
And when it comes to giving you'd have thought it's those of us who have too little – or at least think we do – who have the problem. After all, if that's you, the natural worry is that giving will leave you (and any dependents) less provided for and secure. So you may be thinking, 'I've got mouths to feed; my job's not secure; I haven't started proper saving – and here we are being told about giving.' And you feel a conflict in that way.
But actually, it's those of us with too much – or let's say 'more than enough' – who have the bigger problem, because all the surveys show that on average, as peoples' income goes up, the percentage of it they give goes down. Ie, the more we have, the more we want to keep it or spend it on ourselves. So you may be thinking, 'I've got plans for a new kitchen or a one-off holiday – and here we are being told about giving.' And you feel a conflict in that way.
But the truth is that the problem doesn't lie in the amount of money we have, but in our hearts. Because it's in our hearts that we worry about not having enough. And it's in our hearts that we want more or want better. And you can do both of those at the same time – whether you're on £10,000 a year or £100,000.
So it's what's in our hearts, rather than in our bank accounts, that will most affect what we give to God's work. Which is why we're going to listen this morning to some teaching from the Lord Jesus himself, which deals with those issues of the heart. So we're looking from Luke chapter 12, verse 13.
"Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." (v13)
So he's just inherited jointly with his brother, and wants his share. We're not told what he wanted it for. But what Jesus says next implies he's in the 'got more than enough' category, with all the spiritual danger that brings. Look at v14:
"Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (vv14-15)
And that's the first of the three things Jesus says to us in this passage to free up our hearts to give:
1. Don't think life is having more or better things (vv13-21)
Verse 15 again:
"Then [Jesus] said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed [the word means over-riding desire for more or better]; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (vv14-15)
And we need to hear that in our culture, don't we? A while back, a book about the advertising industry came out called The Want Makers. And its point is that advertisers aren't altruistically trying to match products to your needs – saying, 'You need to wash your hair… well may we suggest Shampoo X?' No, they're trying to create desire for things we don't need – for example, through the enticing picture of the leather sofa that makes you feel dissatisfied with the perfectly good one you're sitting on. And the definition of life they play on is that life is having more and better things. So Jesus then tells a story of someone who lives by that definition. Look onto v16:
"And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." (vv16-19)
So in today's terms, he's paid off the mortgage; he's done everything to his house that you could think of doing to a house; and he has a pension pot big enough to swim in. Which the world says is success. Verse 20:
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself ?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." (v20-21)
And when God says, 'You fool!', he's not insulting him. Because in the Bible the fool isn't the person lacking intelligence, but lacking judgement. It's the person who misjudges life by leaving God out of their thinking.
But put God where he belongs – back in the very centre of our thinking – and what happens? Well, for one thing, we realise that all we have is actually from God and so belongs to God. So we wouldn't say, v16, 'The ground... produced a good crop' – which is how the atheist sees it. We'd say, 'God made it produce a good crop.' Not, 'I've landed a good salary,' but, 'God has given me a good salary.' So we don't see it as our money, simply to spend on us; but his money to be used as he wants (which includes meeting our needs – but certainly doesn't end with meeting our own needs and wants). And for another thing, putting God back in the centre, we realise that the most rewarding thing is to use money as he wants – and not simply on ourselves. So I can't remember how many thousand Tess and I gave towards the planting of this church eight years back. Certainly enough to have paid for an overseas holiday every year since – as opposed to our borrow-someone's-house-and-slip-them-a-few-quid holidays. But I don't give that a second thought, because what's going on here is far more rewarding to have sunk our money into – because it's supported something of ultimate and eternal value.
Because life is not having more or better things. Life is having a relationship with Christ that survives death into eternity. Life is me having that. And life is me helping others find that – including with my money.
That's the first thing Jesus says here to free up our hearts to give. The next is:
2. Don't worry, as if you didn't have a Father in heaven (vv22-30)
So he's spoken to the 'having more than enough' category. And now he moves on to the spiritual problems of having too little – or at least thinking we do. So v22:
"Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear." (v22)
Now imagine a Christian man who's married with small children; his wife's not working; and he's just lost his job. And he is worried about paying the bills. Is Jesus saying that's wrong? Well it depends what you mean by 'worried'. If you mean 'feeling concerned and responsible', then no, that's not wrong – that's perfectly right. Jesus isn't saying, 'Let's all be happy-go-lucky and irresponsible.' But he is saying: don't be anxiously concerned about your needs or all-absorbed in meeting them. And he gives a string of reasons why not.
And reason no.1 in v23 is that:
"Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes." (v23)
Now obviously life is physical and physical needs are important. But Jesus is saying, 'It's more than just physical.' And if we don't get that, we can become so absorbed in meeting our basic needs that we don't give ourselves to the more important things of life.
So, for example, I know a family where, when the children were young, things went wrong financially. And the husband and father worked for years to lift them out of debt and then to ensure they had all the things he felt they'd missed out on. And the children – who are grown up now – would say that became his all-absorbing priority. And he did it by working round the clock all his life. And I remember one of the children saying, 'I am really grateful for what he did; but looking back, I didn't really want more money and what it bought us. I really wanted more of him.' Because, v23,
"Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes." (v23)
And once you're out of the hard-up end of the spectrum, it's more than better houses and better holidays and so on. And if I don't get that, I may fail to give myself to my family as I should – or, equally, to the financial support of my church family, as I also should if I'm a Christian.
But then reason no.2 not to make our needs an anxious, all-absorbing priority is that your Father in heaven is looking after you – if by faith in Jesus, God has become your Father. Look onto v24:
"Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!" (v24)
Now, as Jesus says, they don't sow or reap or have barns. But that doesn't mean they're passive. They do actively have to find the road-kill rabbits and pheasants the Lord leaves out for them. So this isn't saying, 'Do nothing and God will provide.' It's saying, 'God will provide as we use the means by which he provides – which in the ravens' case is finding the road-kills; and in our case is finding work, working, saving, stewarding money wisely, and so on.'
Now this isn't a promise that believers will immediately find work; or that we'll never face unemployment; or that God's provision will always come in consistently rather than through some times of plenty and some times of faith-stretching need. But it is a promise that, over-arching all of that, God will provide. Your Father in heaven is looking after you – even when that's not obvious.
And then Jesus adds reason no.3 against anxiety, which is much more pragmatic – namely, that it doesn't achieve anything (except, possibly, ill health). Verse v25:
"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?" (v25-26)
For example, why do you worry about your job – when worry won't add a single day to how long they employ you; or about your savings – when worry won't add a single pound to your final return? Anxiety doesn't do anything. It gives us the illusion that we're affecting circumstances out there by thinking and worrying about them. But in reality, only God controls those circumstances. And Jesus is calling us to hand over to him what we're worried about. So in v27 comes another example of his trustworthiness:
"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!"(v27-28)
And then verses 28-30 sum this bit up:
"And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink [ie, don't be all-absorbed in meeting your own needs]; and do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them." (v29-30)
So if you're in the 'have too little' category – or at least think you are – it's easy to be worried about your needs. And the conflict for you isn't between the new kitchen and giving but between just a bit more financial margin and giving. But you have a Father in heaven who knows about the margins and can meet your needs however small the margins So don't worry as if you didn't have a Father in heaven.
That's the second thing Jesus says here to free up our hearts to give. And the third and last is this:
3. Seek God's priorities and trust him to provide for you (vv31-35)
Look on to v31:
"But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."(v31)
Now 'his kingdom' basically means his rule. And 'seeking his kingdom' means letting him rule our lives more fully. So since this is HTG's Vision and Giving time, let's ask specifically, 'How does a Christian let God rule more fully in this area of money and giving?'
Well, the Bible mentions four main ways that God wants us to use the money he's given us.
• No.1 is to meet our needs and the needs of any dependents. And that includes saving for future needs.
• No.2 is paying taxes.
• No.3 is financing the spread of the gospel and the building up of the church.
• And no.4 is helping the poor, which is what Jesus has in mind in v33, where he says:
"Sell your possessions and give to the poor."(v33)
Which doesn't say sell all your possessions (and so become poor and part of the problem you're trying to solve). It assumes that we will have possessions and money in the bank and savings and so on – and that from those we can and will help the poor (which is the picture you see in the book of Acts, in the early church).
But, again, because it's HTG's Vision and Giving time, let me focus on no.3 – financing the spread of the gospel and the building up of the church. The Bible says that if you're a Christian, it's God's will that you give financially to the ministry of the local church that you belong to and benefit from. And we want to encourage you to plan and do that carefully. So in this year's giving booklet there's a suggestion of how to plan.
Step 1 is: to work out your gross income for the year ahead – or incomes if you're a couple both earning. And personally, Tess and I include windfalls like tax credits or money gifts from relatives.
Step 2 is: to work out the percentage of it which you plan to give to God's work. That's the New Testament principle – to give a percentage, according to what you can afford. So in the booklet you'll find the starting suggestion of 10% - 5% to the ministry here, and 5% to some of our world mission partners – or others you know. But that's only a starting suggestion – it's a floor, not a ceiling. And for many of us, godliness must mean giving substantially more. So, for example, when Tess and I got married nearly eight years ago, we found we'd both been giving about 15%. So we stuck with that for a bit, but then decided we'd add 1% each year so long as we could afford it. So we're now around 20% and haven't gone bust yet.
Then step 3 is: to fill in the response slips and get them back to the church office asap. If you're a UK tax payer, you need to use Gift Aid, so that the Government gives £25 for every £100 you give. And there's a form to set that up. And for church to plan financially, by far the best thing is for money to come in through Standing Orders – and there's a form to set that up.
Well as we finish, just take a last look at v31 which, applied specifically to money, says:
"But seek his kingdom [by financing the spread of the gospel and the building up of the church], and these things [ie, your own needs] will be given to you as well."(v31)
And I've never forgotten the example of that which the Lord gave me at my last church, St Andrew the Great in Cambridge. We were giving towards the new building there and I had the princely sum of £250 in the bank. That was my total savings. And that gift week, one of the Parish Assistants crashed my old car. And my dodgy, backstreet garage man said it would cost £250 to repair. So I gave the £250 to the gift week and had no idea what to do about the car. I handed my cheque to the church office one morning. And that evening on my doormat was an unmarked envelope with £250 in notes. And apart from God, the only person who knew about my need of £250 was my dodgy garage man – and, rightly or wrongly, I'd ruled him out as being my anonymous angel. But whoever God did it through, it was an unforgettable example of v31.
"But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."(v31)
If you have more than enough this morning, you especially need the first half of that – the call to seek his priorities, when the world and your wants are feeding you plenty of ideas what to spend it on. And if you have too little – or at least, think you do – you especially need the second half – the promise that he'll provide for you, even when you make your margins smaller by giving.
But actually, all of us need all of v31. Because whatever is in our bank accounts, only with v31 in our hearts will we be set free to give.