Halim Suh teaches on generosity and tithing.
Last week we discussed how giving is a matter of the heart. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, we will always spend our money and resources on the things our hearts treasure. The application was to look at our budget, bank account and credit card statements to see the things our hearts are treasuring.
How did that go?
If you were to look at my family’s finances, you would conclude that we value our house a lot; our largest monthly expense is our mortgage. We value our church; a significant portion of our income is given to our church. Somebody in our family also really loves Whataburger. You don’t have to look at Angela and I for too long to figure out which one it is.
Back in February, I had to preach a message about the gospel and money. Looking at our budget was really convicting, so I eased that conviction by signing into my bank account and increasing my automatic giving. I did it to feel better. I realize now that I was only making some behavioral modifications, I didn’t actually address my heart.
When I looked at my credit card statements this time around, nothing had changed. Yes, we spend a little less here and there so we can give a little more, but in no way are we making any real sacrifices. We’re not really doing without so our family can be generous.
With money, there’s a way to fix our behaviors without ever addressing our hearts. This is what the heart of greed does.
The heart of greed doesn’t want to be found out or dealt with. So it will find subtle ways to hide itself.
My greedy heart told me I wasn’t that bad, I just needed to add a little to my automatic giving and then I’d be ok. It was convincing me to make one concession, that one behavior, as long as I didn’t address my heart. Greed knows that if I address my heart, all my behaviors will change.
Greed hides. It’s so dangerous and hard to detect. It’s unlike other sins; it has a unique ability to hide and remain undetected in our hearts. It’s not like lying, stealing or killing, which all have a particular action tied to them. You know if you’ve told a lie, stolen something or killed someone. Greed is different; it’s hard to detect. Someone can be spending a lot of money or saving a lot of money. Either can be done out of greed, out of their love of money.
Greed also hides itself by taking away your guilt. You begin to see and detect it, but then it does something to let you off the hook. If you buy something you know you shouldn’t have, you may feel a little guilty about it, but then you see your friend who has bought the same thing or something more expensive and you feel better. Your conscience is cleared and you’re let off the hook.
You decide you want to buy the new iPhone. You go to work the next day and see twenty other people who’ve bought the same one. You’re not asking whether you should have spent $200 upgrading your phone when your old one worked just fine or if there was a better place to put your money for God’s kingdom purposes. We don’t ask these questions because people who’ve made the same purchases surround us.
While other sins are exposed by community, greed has the ability to hide in community.
Some of us don’t think we struggle with greed because we don’t spend our money frivolously. We don’t ever upgrade our phones. We still have flip phones that work fine.
This is another way greed likes to hide. It tells us we’re not greedy because we’re not spending our money like other people. Again, it lets you off the hook. As soon as we can think of someone who spends more and loves money more than ourselves, we feel better. Make no mistake, when we save, we’re still purchasing something.
You may not be purchasing stuff, but you’re purchasing a sense of safety, security and power. You may not be greedy for stuff, but you may be greedy for those things. The way you purchase those things is by making your bank accounts bigger.
Remember the man who built storehouses for himself? His first one wasn’t big enough, so he destroyed it and built a new one. Then he filled it up and told his soul now it could relax and feel safe.
Greed is so dangerous because it hides. It’s so cancerous, yet it shows itself to be benign.
The Litmus Test for Greed
How can we detect something that hides so well? We detect it by looking at our giving.
Greed can hide in spending or in saving, but it cannot hide in giving. Giving is the light that exposes the darkness of greed in our hearts. Generosity is the anti-greed. It’s the kryptonite to greed.
When asking if you’re greedy you have to use the litmus test; ask yourself how your giving is.
In the Old Testament, the test of giving was the tithe. Tithing was a command God gave His people to give a tenth of everything God had given them back to Him. It seems like an ineffective system for God to give something and then ask for a tenth of it back. Why didn’t He just give them ninety-percent of what He would have given them and then kept the ten percent He wanted to keep in the first place? The point of the tithe was so they would know it all came from Him. When we tithe, we’re saying we know it all came from Him.
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. Acts 17:24-25 (ESV, emphasis added)
Do you believe everything you have is from God? You can’t just ask yourself this question and expect an honest answer from your heart. Because greed is so deceitful and hides so well, we have to use the litmus test. Whether you tithe or not shows what you really believe.
8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. Malachi 3:8-10 (ESV)
When we don’t bring our whole tithe to God, we’re robbing Him. We’re not giving back what belongs to Him. We do not believe everything we have is from Him.
God is asking us to put Him to the test. He’s not a stingy God who’s trying to take things from us. He’s a Father who wants to give.
Parents have a heart of giving towards their children. You don’t want to withhold from them, but give them everything. When you see your child being stingy and refusing to share, you tell them you will take it all away, right? However, if we see a heart of generosity and sharing with others, it brings us so much joy we want to give them everything!
The heart of the Father is saying to bring Him your whole tithe. He wants you to show Him a heart of generosity and giving, a heart that is like His. He wants to show you how much He wants to give to you. He’s not trying to take things away from you. He’s trying to give and to bless.
The New Standard of Giving
Some argue this is just the Old Testament and that Malachi 3:8-10 doesn’t apply to us today. This is correct. The principle of Malachi 3:8-10 is to obey God, give and then you will be blessed. This is not the principle of the New Testament.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:3 (ESV)
We received our blessing in Christ, because God freely gave in His grace. We received every blessing because of Jesus. When God gave us His son, He was saying He wasn’t withholding, He was giving everything, pouring out every spiritual blessing. Not because we’ve earned it, but because we’re His children, He’s our Father and wants to give us everything.
This gospel that God is not withholding anything from us, not even His own Son, should destroy our greed by impacting our giving.
If our giving remained the same, only tithing, nothing more, we’d be saying that nothing changed in the New Testament; Jesus changed nothing. Jesus did not tithe on the cross. He poured all His blood out. Our giving should reflect this precious truth.
Instead, many of us would like to argue that tithing is an Old Testament command. We do this so that we can give less. Tithing is an Old Testament command, you’re right. So we should give more. The revelation of God’s generosity in giving us everything, not even sparing His own Son, should somehow make us a more generous people.
If our giving was the way we show the world what God has done in the New Testament, right now we’re telling the world that God gave and did much less in the New Testament than He did in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God’s people tithed, they gave a tenth; it was the standard. But today, the average American church member only gives 2.58% of their income; with 25% of the average American church member giving nothing at all.
What kind of a gospel are we pointing to and telling the world of when we give like this?
We have to preach a better gospel.
How Much Dare We Keep
So how much do you have to give? This is still the wrong question. The gospel should change this question for us.
The heart of greed asks, “How much do I have to give,” but the heart of generosity says, “How much do I get to give?”
When Jesus died on the cross He had in mind people from every tongue, tribe and nation. When God blesses us He always has in mind the blessing of the nations. God blesses us so that we may be a blessing. That’s why we give to missions. Jesus gave His everything to His bride, the church. We tithe, bringing our first fruits to the church, because God gave His first fruits, His Son, to the church. We give to orphan care, because while we were orphans, Jesus came to take us to the Father. In all these ways of giving, we’re pointing to Jesus and the realities of the gospel.
Radical Giving & Community
God is calling some of us to pay off a debt; not your own, but somebody else’s. Jesus paid off your debt, a debt you could never repay, so by paying off somebody else’s debt, you’re showing them what Jesus did for you.
Christians have such a terrible reputation with tipping in restaurants. Waiters hate waiting on Sunday lunch crowds. They should be fighting over Sunday lunch crowds. What if we decided to tip generously? For those of you that can, I challenge you to go out to eat, leave a $50 tip and write a note saying, “This tip in some small way shows how much Jesus loves you and wants to know you.”
What if we preached a gospel like that to unbelievers?
If we want to live a life of radical giving, we can’t do it alone. We have to do it in community. Don’t let your greedy heart hide in community, but expose it by challenging each other to be generous. Challenge and be there for each other.
When God is calling us to radically give, we get scared and begin to realize if we gave that way we wouldn’t have a safety net. Missional Communities take those fears away by being there for one another. If something happens they’re there to meet your needs and provide for you.
Challenge each other to be able to give to the fullest extent by being there for each other and meeting each other’s needs.
When we give, not just from our excess, but out of selling cars and houses, doing without vacations and private schools, we’re pointing people to Jesus who though He was rich, yet for our sake became poor, so that we might, by His poverty, become rich.
The Hardest & Easiest Thing To Do
You are exempt from giving if God gave you nothing. However, if He has given you something, if you can look at your life and see all the ways He’s given to you: your health, life, apartment, and money, ask God and your community how you can be generous with the things God has given you, so that in your generosity you can point people to God’s generosity.
Paul was traveling around and was raising a collection for the church in Jerusalem who were experiencing extreme suffering and persecution. The churches in Macedonia were also going through extreme poverty, but Paul was amazed whit what they did when the heard of the needs in Jerusalem.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 (ESV)
When these saints heard of the need of their brothers, two things happened in their hearts. First, they felt a severe test of affliction, because they had such difficulty imagining giving when they themselves were in so much need. But secondly, they felt an abundance of joy, because here was an opportunity for them to give and reflect the generosity of God.
When God calls us to give, it will be both the hardest thing in the world and the easiest thing to do.
It’s always going to be hard, because it means we’ll have to sacrifice and do without something. We’re going to have to kill some idols in our hearts and destroy things our heart treasures. However, it will also be easy, because ultimately we’re giving to the One who has given us everything.
In verse 3, we see they gave according to their means, but also went beyond their means. They didn’t just give what they could afford; they gave to the point where it truly cost them something.
Verse 4 says they were begging earnestly for the favor in taking part in the relief of the saints. This wasn’t what Paul expected. They knew they were poor, but they were begging to give generously. They wanted to show how much they loved them and how much Jesus had given to them. Why did they act this way, so utterly desperate to give?
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)
Jesus was rich beyond all measure in the heavenlies, but He gave it all up. He bore upon Himself the poverty of the cross. The church of Macedonia knew they were rich and didn’t think of themselves as poor. They felt rich and full, so they were able to give. Jesus gave to the point that it hurt. They were able to join Him in His suffering and were able to give to the same point.
In the Old Testament the tithe was the standard. But in the New Testament, Jesus changed something. The cross is the new standard. Giving to the point where we actually do without, where it hurts, that’s the cross. Giving to the point where we’re actually sacrificing something, that’s the cross. When God calls us to give like this it will be both the hardest and the easiest thing.
Last week we were called to look at our budget and see the things we’re treasuring. This week, get with community and ask yourself, “In what ways can I sacrifice and do without and give even to the point that it hurts?” Pray, “God what are you calling me to do so that in my generosity, I can point people to your generosity in giving us your Son and the gospel?”
What would God do with a church that’s asking Him these questions?