Topic Scripture: Matthew 6:1-4
Charles Dow was the co-founder and first editor of The Wall Street Journal. In 1884 he originated a stock average which was the first attempt to express the general level of the stock market. In 1889 he began The Wall Street Journal with the help of Eddie Jones, who took care of the desk at the firm. The Dow Jones Index was the result. Lately, Mr. Dow’s creation has not been in good health.
These are anxious days for us all. Terrorist threats, daily talk of war with Iraq, worries about North Korean nuclear capabilities, the ongoing economic tensions of the day. Time magazine’s cover story is titled “America the Anxious.” Newsweek’s cover: “Anxiety and Your Brain: How Living With Fear Affects the Mind and Body.” When you hear about Dow Jones these days, you brace for bad news.
In this context, it’s interesting timing that the next section of the Sermon on the Mount deals with our finances. It’s no surprise that he would address the subject; 16 of his 38 parables dealt with money and possessions, and one in 10 verses in the Gospels relate to money. The Bible contains 500 verses on prayer, less than that on faith, but more than 2,000 on money and possessions.
This is a large subject for God, and a crucial subject for us today. Let’s see what Jesus has to say about Dow Jones and the financial issues of our day.
Give what God expects
Jesus has been dealing with our “acts of righteousness” (v. 1). Now he gives us the first example: “when you give to the needy” (vs. 2, 3). Not “if” but “when.” What kind of “giving” does he have in mind? His audience gave in three ways.
First, they gave their benevolence to the needy. Every day, collectors received contributions for those with pressing needs; this collection was called the Tamhui. And each Friday, the people gave to the Kuppah, an offering from which widows, orphans, and disabled people received food for the next week.
Second, they gave their tithes to God in worship. This was the command of God: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30). The “tithe” was ten percent, given to God in worship.
This was not legalism; in fact, the first tithe was given by Abraham six generations before there was a Law (Genesis 14:20).
This was not optional for those who could afford the tithe or wanted to give it. God’s word is clear: “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:8-10).
It is not outdated and no longer operative for New Testament believers. Hebrews 7:8 makes clear that the tithe “is” collected, present tense. Jesus assumed the people would continue to tithe (Matthew 23:23).
The typical Christian gives two percent of his or her income back to God, when the word of God expects 10 percent. God’s church could do five times more if all her people were to tithe.
Third, they gave their offerings to God in sacrifice. The people were instructed to go to the Temple and “there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks” (Deuteronomy 12:6).
The people brought these offerings during each of the Jewish holy days: Passover, Pentecost, First Fruits, the New Year, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Booths.
The people made sacrifices twice every day, twice that amount on the Sabbath, and on each New Moon.
They brought special personal sacrifices in celebration of their first-born and for health reasons.
They sacrificed a lamb or a goat when they sinned, and a ram or a lamb when they incurred guilt.
These offerings were given to God in sacrifice, over and above their tithes. Taken together, some scholars estimate that the Jewish people gave 21 percent of their income and goods back to the Lord each year. Theirs was a sacrificial commitment and lifestyle.
By contrast: a recent Gallup poll indicated that 95 percent of Americans say they believe in God, but only 12 percent say they would consider sacrificing for their faith.
When Lou Holtz was coach of the Arkansas football team, he told his players about the Japanese Kamikaze pilot in World War II who flew 54 missions. The pilot was involved but not committed, the coach said.
Here’s a rather blunt way one pastor approached the subject of tithing with his congregation: what if God made you a tither by making your income ten times your contributions to the Lord through his church? Would that be a good thing or not?
C. S. Lewis was asked: how much offering to the Lord is enough. His reply: more than we can afford. Otherwise our gifts are not a sacrifice worthy of the One who sacrificed his best for us.
Give as God directs
We’ve see what God expects. Now, how does he direct us to give to him?
A retired man became interested in the construction of an addition to a shopping mall. He stopped by daily to watch, and was especially impressed by the work of a particular equipment operator. He watched him for many days, and finally told him how much he’d enjoyed watching his outstanding work. With a shocked look on his face, the operator replied, “You’re not the supervisor?”
Our supervisor is watching our work and words, our gifts and our lives. How does he direct us to give to him?
Jesus tells us, “do not announce it with trumpets.” The Jews didn’t blow trumpets before they put in the offering. They announced their public fasts with trumpets; then the people would give when the crowds would most notice their generosity.
Such were “hypocrites”—the word means an actor on a stage, wearing a mask and playing a part.
Such already “have received their reward in full.” The words mean that they have their receipt, with no more payment to come. God cannot reward them in heaven, or on earth.
God tells us to give our money, our sacrificial tithes and offerings, for his glory and not our own.
“Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (v. 3). In other words, don’t let anyone know what you have given.
Then “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (v. 4). Give to the Lord, not to us. Give not to the church but through the church to God. Not so we will know, but so God will be pleased.
“Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you” (Deuteronomy 16:17). “According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work” (Ezra 2:69). “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea” (Acts 11:29). “If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
So long as our gift is a sacrifice, it is pleasing to God. Not the amount but the commitment is the issue with our Father.
“Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Join God at work
One of the items in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” columns pictured a plain bar of iron worth $5. Made into horseshoes, that iron is worth $50. Made into needles, it is worth $5,000. Made into balance springs for Swiss watches, it is worth $500,000. It’s not the material but its use that matters.
There is a divine-human partnership in God’s Kingdom. We do what we can, and he does the rest. Noah built the Ark, and God sent the flood. Moses raised his rod, and God parted the Red Sea. The priests stepped into the flooded Jordan River, and God stopped its flow. Solomon built the Temple, and God filled it with his presence. Peter stepped onto the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus redeemed his faith. John worshipped on Patmos, and Jesus gave him the book of Revelation.
So it is that God finances his Kingdom work through the sacrificial faithfulness of his people. He has chosen to do it this way. He owns all that exists, but he will only use that which we give to his use. He will only work with the materials we give to his purpose. Our obedience to his call to sacrifice affects directly his work on earth.
Saul lost his kingdom because he wouldn’t make sacrifices to God. The Jews lost their nation because they wouldn’t repent before Babylon. The people of Jesus day lost their opportunity for salvation because they wouldn’t trust in the Christ. Festus and Felix lost heaven because they wouldn’t believe Paul.
General MacArthur asked for thousands of missionaries for the Far East in the days after World War II, but the churches didn’t send them. Now those lands are almost entirely Muslim, and closed to the gospel.
On the other hand, God will use every sacrifice placed into his hands. A boy’s lunch feeds 5,000 families. Humble fishermen begin the greatest spiritual movement in human history. An angry Pharisee becomes the greatest theologian the church has ever known. An immoral adulterer named Augustine becomes the greatest theologian since Paul. A troubled monk named Luther begins the Reformation. A martyred German named Bonhoeffer still challenges the church.
I’ll be in heaven because two men gave up their Saturday mornings to knock on my door and invite me to ride their bus to church. What sacrifice did God use to bring you to himself? What sacrifice will you give him today?
God finances his Kingdom through the sacrificial faithfulness of his people. And he blesses those who trust him enough to receive what he will give them in return.
A man was lost in the desert southwest, and dying for water. He stumbled upon an old rundown shack, and inside it, a weather-beaten water pump. Frantically, he grabbed the handle and began to pump, but nothing came out. It was bone dry.
Then he noticed an old jug. The label read: “You have to prime the pump with all the water in this jug. Be sure you fill the jug again before you leave.” He unscrewed the cap to find a jug full of water, and a decision. He could drink the water and live for a day or so. Or he could pour the water into the old pump by faith that he would have all the water he would need.
Finally he poured the jug’s contents into the pump. He began to pump the handle as fast as he could. The old leather valves began to squeak like they were tearing apart. Then a little bit of water began to dribble out, then a little more, and finally it gushed forth. Clean, clear, cold water, all he would ever need.
He filled the jug for the next traveler. And he added this note: “Believe me, it really works. You have to give it all away to get back all you need.”
Let us pray.