Father God. You are our rock and our redeemer. Help us to find our true delight in you alone and to offer up our lives as our worship to you. Amen.
As we look back on our giving and spending over the past year and consider our response for this coming year, we want to hear from the Bible about money and giving. So, here is some of the key teaching in the Bible about money:
1. Money is from God
Everything we have comes from God. He created it. All of it, including our money. You may have been given the money you have. You may have worked for it. We all have different amounts of it. But everything you have comes from our good and generous God. James 1.17:
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."
So, we should thank him – for what we have ourselves and for the money that was given last year to church. And remember it doesn't belong to us. We just look after it – we're stewards of what God has given us. Which is why those of us who spend or look after the money that is given to the church need to work very hard to make sure we are careful stewards of what God has given to us.
2. Money is Useful
God gives us money for a purpose. Not to hoard it, or waste it, but to steward it according to the values of his Kingdom. Like fire or a stick of dynamite, money can be very useful or very dangerous – depending on how it is used. He tells us how to use our money. And one day, God will hold us to account for our use of it.
God gives us money for our own needs and the needs of our family. He also gives it to us to enjoy life! Money helps us to take care of the poor and those in special need, both in and outside of the church. We can also use it to support the work of the local church (those who serve me) and mission work in this country and around the world (those who serve others). And when we do that, we get to invest in the only thing that will last into eternity.
So, money is from God. And money is useful. But there are two wrong views about money. One is to think it is evil and the other is to think it is God. It is neither! So:
3. Money is Not Evil
Have a look at Mark 10 from verse 17; Jesus meets a rich man who had tried hard to keep all God's commands. He thought that being good was the way to be accepted by God. So, he asks Jesus, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Verses 21-22:
"And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."
What Jesus says here leads some to think that money was the only thing stopping that man from being perfect. If only he had been poor, God would have accepted him. Get rid of your evil possessions and then you'll inherit eternal life. But, that's not what Jesus was saying at all! The man's problem wasn't that he was too rich. His problem is that he thinks he is so good. The man thought he could earn God's approval by being good and Jesus wanted to teach him that was not the way!
Our acceptance by God does not depend on how good we are, or on much or how little we have in our bank accounts. Or by how much or how little we give to the church! God gives eternal life to people who know they are not good enough. Only then will they accept the help that they need from Jesus, who died in our place on the cross to bring us forgiveness. And, from the earliest days of the church, Jesus' followers have come from very different backgrounds – poor and rich. God does not love one more than the other – money itself is not evil.
And so Christian giving should never be motivated by guilt. It's easy to try and persuade people to give by making them feel bad. Tug at their heartstrings with an emotional video. Shame them for buying a latte every day while so may go hungry. Such tactics may be effective, but they are not at all biblical.
And we should not think that it is a sin to work a well-paying job. Or live in a nice neighbourhood. Or spend money on a holiday, a car or for a party. It is not a sin to save for the future. There is no need to avoid money or feel guilty about having it. Money is not evil. But the excessive love of money is…
4. Money is Not God
Money does not last and does not, in the end, satisfy. Proverbs 23:5 says about money:
"suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle towards heaven"
We sin when we worship the gifts, rather than the one who gave us the gift. Turn to Mark 12.28-30:
"And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he [Jesus] answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'"
When we chase after money, when we fail to give any money away, when we find security in money, when money becomes the primary factor in our decision-making, then money has become our god instead of the One, True and Living Creator God. That is who we should worship.
Money is not god, so do not worship money. And be on your guard against 'prosperity theology'. It comes in a variety of forms and sounds like it is from the Bible, but it is not. It's a way to reduce God's place to being simply a means for us to get money – which is our real god. Prosperity theology encourages people to give money to get even more money back, by teaching that God blesses those who are faithful with material wealth. This destructive mindset misuses Bible verses and teaches half-truths that turns Christianity into a get-rich-quick scheme.
So giving motivated by guilt is not good. And giving in order to get something in return is also not good. Which brings us to my final point:
5. Money is for Worship
What we do with our money shows what matters to us. If we spend a lot of it on ourselves, that is what we value. If we save a lot for the future, what we value is security and peace of mind. If we give to the church in response to the work God has done in our hearts that also shows who we worship. Our money – our giving – is a spiritual diagnostic. It shows as clearly as anything the state of our heart. Look a bit further down to Mark 12.41:
"And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums."
Jesus is just days away from his death on the cross. It's Passover, so the temple was busy. Jesus sat and watched. He sees everything. Many rich people give very generously but he knows their motives. He's just been warning of the scribes who were keen for everyone to know how good they were and who in their greed devoured the poorest homes of widows. They gave but it was not an act of worship. It was all for themselves. But as Jesus watched, someone's giving stood out in stark contrast. Verse 42:
"And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny."
Those looking would know both that she was poor and a widow from her clothes. She puts in two of the smallest coins in existence – worth almost nothing. But they were all she had. She drew no attention to herself. She didn't know Jesus was watching, but she knew God saw her. And that was who she came to please. Her motivation for giving could only be love. She (and not the religious leaders) was loving the Lord God with all she was and had. She could easily have just given one of the coins. But she gave both, and as she did so she was silently saying to God, 'I love you. Here's my heart, my life. It's not much, but it is all I have.' Verses 43-44:
"And he called his disciples to him and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.""
This is how to give in a way that pleased God. It's not how much, but why and how we give that matters. Giving in response to what God has given us, as an act of love and worship. Giving that is cheerful and willing. Giving that is generous and sacrificial. Here is C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia books, in 'Mere Christianity':
"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them."
That's the kind of giving that we've seen here over many years and I want to say thank you. We'll only know in the new creation the impact all that giving has had – though our ministry here at JPC and throughout Tyneside and the world. So, continue to give as the widow did all those years ago. And if you've not started yet, take your first step. Everyone can give something.
Put aside a few minutes to review your giving and decide what you can give. Think in terms of a proportion of your income. Our suggestion is to give half of that to the JPC account and half to the world mission account, to be given away to others. Then please communicate with the finance team – tell them how much you hope to give this year and how you'd like them to allocate it. Even if there is no change to your giving, please let them know. Gift aid your giving if you are able. Use the forms in the giving literature if that helps. But a simple email or setting up a standing order using your online banking works just as well.
Giving like that requires us to depend on God, as that widow did. We give from what we have because we trust that God is good, and he will provide what we need. Giving is a tangible way to place our hope in Jesus rather than in ourselves. The reason God cares about our money is not because he needs it! He cares because what we do with our wallet reveals the allegiance of our heart. Which is why generous giving is something we want for you, not from you. Giving is spiritually good for us.
God invites us to give, which frees us from living for the ultimately useless god that money is and directs our attention towards the true God. We think we're in control of our money – where it comes from, where it goes, what we're going to do with it – but as long as we hang on to it and let it drive our life, the money is controlling us.
No doubt the memory of that widow's giving stayed with Jesus as he went from the temple to his death on the cross. She gave everything she had. And so would he – he gave his life so that you and I could receive eternal life. Neither a tiny penny nor a cheque for thousands of pounds buy that for us. Becoming his son or his daughter, forgiven, made clean, and brought into a relationship with him that will last for ever. All that, he offers to us. He has made it possible. Without charge. Yet it cost him everything. We owe our whole life to him – our saviour and Lord. A heart transformed by that gospel will result in changes not just to what we believe about money but also what we do with it. Listen to what one Christian says about his giving:
"Before I met Jesus, I was a devoted worshipper of money. I wasn't a steward; I was the owner. I was going to get as much of it as I could and then do with it what I darn well pleased. There was no way I could even begin to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind".
But when Jesus gave me a new heart and restored my soul and renewed my mind, I started to give as an act of worship. I realised that God gave me his Son. I wanted to demonstrate my gratitude, reflect his generous character, and contribute to the work of the church so that more people could hear the message of new life that I now enjoyed."
(Sutton Turner, Invest your gifts for his mission, p102-3)
God does not want our money! He wants us! And yet we cannot give ourselves to him apart from our money. Money speaks. It tells us where our hearts are. What does your giving say about you? Let us pray:
Jesus, what can I give, what can I bring
To so faithful a Friend, to so loving a King?
Saviour, what can be said, what can be sung
As a praise of your name
For the things you have done?
Oh, my words could not tell, not even in part,
Of the debt of love that is owed
By this thankful heart.