Article by Kristen Johnston with Scott Berry.
As a fourth year university student and someone who had recently become unemployed, I almost felt safe; assuming that I was able to exclude myself from any discussion around giving money. Having said that, it would be foolish for me to think that when Jesus challenges His followers about their finances, He is just talking about finances. Like every one of Jesus’ commands, He not only discusses our actions, but He questions and tests our hearts. Money is something we rarely talk about, but Jesus does not shy away from the subject.
When reading the New Testament, we repeatedly see Jesus challenging people to surrender – their time, their desires, their purpose, their relationships, their sexuality – so why would we assume he leaves us to our own devices when it comes to money? John Wesley once said that, “the last part of a man to be converted is his wallet.” If we believe that the universe and all that is in it belongs to God, where do we get this strange notion that our money is excluded from that all-encompassing truth? The posture of humility that Jesus calls us to is not to surrender our whole lives, except ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’. Jesus calls us to give Him everything we have, He doesn’t want our money, He wants our everything. It is in this place of trust that God begins to mould our hearts into His, and radically transform our lives.
Scott Berry, an Associate Pastor at Enfield Baptist Church, articulates this point through a sermon series he presented. In it he calls us to be selfish, lose control, and own our church.
Be selfish. It’s something we all wish for permission to do, yes?
In Luke 6:38 Jesus explains, “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
We need to realise that it is in giving that we are blessed. This is not to preach prosperity doctrine, but as we give, we are released from our money owning us – we realise that money is a good servant but a poor master. We don’t give because we are blessed, but Jesus promises us that in giving we are blessed. That is affirming to hear when we think about this task that is often uncomfortable in Australian culture.
Lose control. When it comes to money, losing control can be both easy and difficult. It’s easy for us to lose control to our own desires; seeing what we want, and spending in terms of our emotions, or so called ‘needs’. It’s difficult to lose control by dying to ourselves and surrendering our finances to a sovereign and loving God. However, we are called to the latter.
Matthew 23:23-24 sees Jesus condemn the Pharisees’ controlled nature with which they give. He exclaims, “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but you swallow a camel.”
It’s true – grace means we are not bound by the law – but the calling of grace is much higher. Jesus’ call for us to surrender our finances is not out of duty, but out of our will being conformed to His. When, rather than counting our pennies, we prayerfully consider our finances and give out of an abundant and selfless heart, the matter is no longer a case of balancing accounts. It is much more than that. It is a place of surrender and obedience where our perspective changes to a Kingdom perspective.
The repercussions of this mean that God is not only interested in your tithing (giving a tenth of your income) – He doesn’t only care about the portion that goes to the church. God demands that all of our money is spent with a Christ-like attitude. This means that tithing is not your ticket to buying three Ferraris and six coffee machines. Sometimes ethical spending will mean paying more. But why you’re buying is just as important as what you’re buying. Jesus sets us free from having our identity as consumers. We instead understand ourselves as His children and stewards of the many good and bountiful blessings He has given us.
Own your Church. Never in the Bible is the Church understood as a place to sit back, relax and warm the pew. It seems to be a common misconception that as Christians we attend church; when in actual fact we are the church. When we truly begin to view ourselves as the living, moving, serving body of Christ, the Church as our brothers and sisters, then the world is our mission field. It is then that tithing becomes a team effort in furthering God’s mission to see the Kingdom here on earth. God calls us to invest in His story of restoration mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically and financially. It is then that we understand giving as not just putting money where our mouth is, or supporting our spiritual team, but as reinvesting in our spiritual family.
So what does Jesus say about money?
Greed Kills. Jesus told the story of the foolish rich man who thought he could sit back and “eat, drink and be merry” but God demanded his empty life of him. Polite Christianity generally couches greed as “financial stability” or “financial independence”. But who are we seeking to be independent from, God? Surely, our financial security is never really secure (the danger of the next GFC is always looming) so why pretend that we are independent of God. He longs to set us free from the deception of this world and its deadly embrace of greed.
Be Rich. Jesus longs for us all to be rich, not financially rich, but rich towards others. Let us be rich in relationship, rich in love, rich in kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also to treat all of his creatures richly; just as our Creator does.
Go for the Treasure. In Luke 12:33-34 Jesus spurs us on to give what we have to the poor. He encourages us to provide ourselves with “purses that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Whatever we store up for ourselves here on earth is momentary and fleeting compared to the infinite and incomprehensible riches with which God blesses His disciples. There is something much greater, a story much more intricate than we know. Let us invest all that we have into the only thing in this life that is certain.
Verse 34 is the clincher. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What is of utmost importance to you? What is your number one priority? What can’t you live without? What are you willing to chase? That’s where your heart is. How many of us could wholeheartedly proclaim that God is the answer to those questions? He calls us not to apathetically tithe a portion of our income to aid His mission, but to radically sell all we have in order to buy the field in which we found that precious treasure. But that is something we can only do when our heart and will are aligned with His. So what is your heart aligned with?
Featured image: Tithing is not our ticket to buying three Ferraris. ©iStockphoto.com/ travelif
This article was first published in the September 2012 glossy edition of RISE magazine. See back issues here.