TAKING CARE OF GOD’S HOUSE FIRST
I was reminded this week of the principle in the Book of the Bible, Haggai. This was a relatively short book containing only two chapters, but it holds a truth that’s value cannot be contained in a mere two chapters.
This prophet was sent to the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, and to the high priest, Joshua, to give them a Word from the Lord. And contained in this Word was a rebuke for their failure to build the Lord’s house when they had been busy building their own homes.
You see, the truth that we should take away from this short yet powerful book is that we should guard against not putting the things of God first like the Jewish people were doing here. After their return to their country, they were first rebuilding their own homes and seeking first their own personal things. But the Word of the Lord that came to them was, in essence - “What about My house!?! Is it really best for you to get your personal things together before you seek My kingdom!?!”
What I see through this event in the history of Israel is a failure to abide by the first principle of the kingdom - seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). They were doing what so many Christians still do today - seek first their own things before they seek the things of the kingdom.
Then the prophet told them in 1:5-7 to “Consider your ways.” Then he recalled to them that they had “sown much, and bring in little; they ate, but did not have enough; they drank, but were not filled with drink; they clothed themselves, but were not warm; And he who earned wages, earned wages to put into a bag with holes.” In essence, what he was telling them was, by them only seeking to take care of themselves (you could say, seeking first their own kingdoms), their needs weren’t being met. So, the prophet said again, “Consider your ways!” In other words, observe how you have been doing things because the fruit (or lack thereof) of your ways is result of how you have been doing things.
So, with that said, I would like to talk to you today about these things. I would like to show you how your church home endeavors to do this very principle and the way in which each one of us can apply it in our lives.
First of all, and as you probably know by now, our church is very peculiar in that we do not take up an offering, and we rarely solicit your tithe & offerings (other than when we have special guests or special needs). But you know, while it is certainly refreshing to some to find a church that is not constantly emphasizing the subject of money, it would be irresponsible of us to never teach on this subject either.
MONEY IN THE BIBLE
You know, the Bible has a lot to say about the subject of money, riches, etc. Let me give you some interesting “gospel facts” about this subject…
So, needless to say, I think that this disinterest in many Christians to hear the church talk about money is way off base, don’t you? Why? Because if Jesus deemed it necessary to spend so much time referring to it, then His disciples ought to follow this same pattern, right?
Now I do understand that one of the reasons we disdain hearing the preacher talking about money is because there has been so much abuse on the subject. You don’t have to watch Christian television too long to find that preacher out there who is just trying to get in your pocketbook to pad his or her pockets.
So, yes, I acknowledge this is a problem and always has been a problem. But you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Just because there are abuses on the subject and those out there who preach about it for self-gain, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Bible has a lot to say about this subject.
So, yes, if the Bible has so much to say about this subject, its evidently necessary to instruct God’s people on this subject because, in my experience, many are suffering a lot of unnecessary financial tribulation because they don’t understand biblical principles concerning these things. We need to be taught and instructed on what God’s Word has to say about finances so that we can learn how to properly steward the tangible things that God has blessed us with.
On top of that, we cannot assume that everyone in the church understands these things. You see, some people get all offended when you start talking about basic things like tithing, etc., saying, “I already know that!” Well, you are not the only one here. There is likely someone here today who doesn’t even know what the word “tithe” means. And, no, it does not mean simply “to give;” it means “tenth.” So, when one tithes, they are giving 10% of their increase. Tithing is not tipping - you know, just plunking a twenty in the offering. Now if $20 is 10% of what you made, then it is the “tithe.” But if you made $2000, then $20 is 1%, not a tenth. Therefore, it is an offering.
Now let me address the question that invariably comes up when you start talking about “tithing”:
There has been much debate in the Body of Christ concerning tithing. The debate revolves around whether we are commanded to tithe under the New Covenant or not. And let me first say that just because something was commanded under the Old Covenant does not mean that it isn’t at least a good principle for us to follow under the New Covenant. And in the case of the tithe, it did not even originate with the Law of Moses! Genesis 14:20 shows us that tithing began with Abram when he willingly gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils of his victory. Jacob was also evidently taught about the principle of tithing because he made a vow to God that he would give a tithe of everything he possessed upon his safe return (Genesis 28:22). The tithe was included into the Law of Moses many years after Abram had freely and willingly instigated it. This teaches us that the tithe is most definitely a good principle for us to abide by today seeing that it was practiced even before the law came.
You see, under the New Covenant, it is very clear that we have only two commandments - that is, that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. (And, of course, by obeying these two commandments we will fulfill the rest of God’s righteous requirements.) This means that everything we do for the Lord should now be motivated by love and not by fear. So, if you are giving your tithe like you are paying off the mafia then adjustments need to be made in your heart. As a matter of fact, we could go a little deeper and say that if you are “paying” your tithes like you pay your electric bill, then you are missing it as well.
You see, what I am saying is that we should not give our tithe because of some sense of obligation or to keep God’s power from being cut off in our life. We are totally unworthy in ourselves (whether we tithe or not) of receiving any of God’s blessings in our life. But, in Christ Jesus, we have been made worthy to receive all things that pertain to life and godliness - not by any good that we do but simply through our faith in the accomplishments of Jesus!
Now I am about to say something that will shock you at first but just hear me out and let me explain. I do not believe, under the New Covenant, that the tithe is the Lord’s! “What? How can you say that?” (someone might be thinking). The reason I can say that is because, under the New Covenant, we died and our life is now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3)! In other words, as Galatians 2:20 eloquently puts it, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” What does this have to do with 10% of our income being the Lord’s? I’m glad you asked. If we were buried with Jesus when we made Him our Savior and our Lord then we don’t own anything because we are dead! And since we are now in Christ, the life we are living is Him living through us! So, my point is that since we are dead and Christ is living through us, everything we possess is God’s! In other words, 10% is not the Lord’s anymore; now 100% is the Lord’s!
So now if it is all the Lord’s money then how do we know how much to give? The answer is we should be Spirit led and prompted. The catch in all this is that if you are not being led to give more under this new and better Covenant than what they were commanded to give under the old Covenant then you ain’t being led (pardon my bad English)!
So, to wrap this all up, what I am saying is that we ought to tithe under the New Covenant but our motive needs to be pure. It needs to be pure, not because it is a commandment, but because it is a vehicle for showing our love and appreciation to God for all He has given us stewardship over. Tithing is just our way of willingly and from our heart honoring God! God is so good to us so we ought (Matthew 23:23) to return 10% off the top of our paycheck to Him! It is the least we could do for all He has given us! And I do mean - “the least we could do!” We should be willing to do so much more for Him than just 10%! And when we get full of the Spirit of God and fall so in love with Him then our giving a tithe of all we possess will not be hard at all. We will actually begin to rejoice when we have the opportunity to give which is the attitude God wanted us to have from the beginning (Read Deuteronomy chapter 12). The hardest thing we will face when we get that turned on to God will be not being able to give into everything we desire to. This is the attitude God wants us to have in our giving!
Again, am I saying that we should not practice tithing? God forbid. I believe that the tithe is still a good guideline and principle for us to follow as a bare minimum. But we should be giving well above and beyond just the 10% of our income!
What I personally do is I practice tithing because I desire to honor God with a tenth of all the income He has graced me with. Then I give more to other ministries that I had on my heart to partner with and also to other different individuals and projects as they arise.
So, am I saying that we don’t have to tithe? Yes, I am! God does not want you to do anything if you do not want to! He wants your heart and not just your wallet! Am I saying that we shouldn’t tithe? No, I am not! I am saying that we should want to tithe! It should be our desire to give back to the Lord a portion of all that He has entrusted to us.
Now one thing that causes so many believers to stumble with tithing is that they think there is no way that they can give 10% of their income to the Lord because they wouldn't have enough to pay their bills with. Well, I can personally attest (as can many more of you out there) that when we honor the Lord with the first 10% of our increase, we will not lack.
You cannot out-give God, saints! And if you will step out in faith and obedience to this statute of God, God will cause that 90% to go further than the 100% did. In fact, tithing is one of the only things God actually tells us to try Him in (Malachi 3:10).
But I see the Lord as saying here, “just trust Me.” We have to learn to trust the Lord in the area of our finances and we are fooling ourselves if we say we are trusting God, but are not giving Him at least a tenth of our increase.
You see, when you sow, you reap because you are proving that you truly do trust Him. I seriously doubt that one trusts God in the area of finances if they do not give. Because He lays out the principles in the Bible, whether they are commandments or not, that its more blessed to give than to receive. So if you believe and trust God, you will sow. It is that simple.
So I encourage you today, if you are not giving the Lord the first 10% of your increase because you feel like you can't or simply because you have never been taught to, step out in faith on God's Word today and say through your actions, "God, I am going to trust you in this. I am going to give you the opportunity to open up the windows of heaven and pour out the blessing on the other 90%. Yes, do yourself a favor and act on the Word of God - again, not to get something, but because of all you have received from the Lord and you want to honor Him in obedience. He is faithful who promised, who also will do it!
So, these things are important to learn. And not just because the church and other ministries need it. It is important for you to learn because it causes you to see God’s best manifested in your life. How many of you would say that when you tithe (or, give to the Lord first and give sacrificially and faithfully) that you are better off? Amen! It just works that way.
WHAT ABOUT THE CHURCH?
So, we wanted to be transparent with you today regarding our stewardship of your tithe & offerings (You can always find the prior month’s financial report on the bulletin board in the foyer area):
Now when it comes to financial things, giving and generosity is certainly important (and I believe the most important). However, there are other things involved in being a good steward financially. This is why I made that last point about having a good solid team that makes sound decisions.
It’s like healing, for instance: While God has provided healing for us through the stripes on His back and while He promises us healing and health in His Word, if we just eat bad food all the time and never exercise, He’s going to have a harder time manifesting that healing in our bodies. Why? Because we must also respect natural laws and not just spiritual laws. Now we ought not to get out of balance on that either - only focusing on the natural side of things and not putting our trust in the Lord and His Word. But we ought not ignore the laws of nature either and create that uphill climb to walking in healing and health.
Likewise, being financially well is not 100% dependent on spiritual things like believing God wants you to succeed financially, having a blessed mentality, and giving as much as we can possibly give into our church, to other ministries, to the poor, etc. No, there are also natural laws to prospering financially like using wisdom, investing, not incurring debt, etc.
(I did a Wednesday evening Bible study entitled “Financial Stewardship” last year, and it will be a blessing to you with much more detail than I could give you here today)
THE RIGHT WAY TO GIVE
Now let’s look at 2 Corinthians chapter 9 and see some principles we are given by the Apostle Paul:
In verses 1-5, Paul thought it necessary to exhort them to be prepared and ready to give when he arrived in Corinth. Paul said in verse 5, “Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it might be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.”
Our giving should never be because we feel compelled to give. So many times, we get put on the spot and feel like we have to give because it will make us look bad if we don’t. This is absolutely the wrong way to give. We need to be prepared to give! How do we do that? We instigate our giving to people. We write our check before we even go to church. God wants us to think about giving before we have the need or desire pushed on us.
Therefore, a good principle of finances is: Being wise in your sowing by giving thought beforehand to the need and preparing your gift accordingly.
Let me give you a couple of examples of this:
2 Corinthians 9:6 goes on to say, “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
Here, Paul lays out the law of sowing and reaping to us. He says that if you sow “sparingly” (Lit. “stingily”) you will also reap “sparingly” (or, “stingily”). This would mean giving very little because you do not want to let go of what you possess. When you sow in that way and with that attitude you will reap that way. That is, you will get very minimal help from God when you have a need.
On the other hand, when you sow “bountifully” you will also reap “bountifully.” The word “bountifully” literally means “upon blessing” in the Greek language. I believe that means “with the purpose of being a blessing.” We have been given the blessing of Abraham and part of that blessing is that we would be a blessing! When we sow with the intent and purpose of being a blessing we will find that God will intend to be a blessing to us! That is awesome!
So, another major principle in our giving is: “Make sure our giving is solely for the purpose of being a blessing and is not stingy in any way.”
2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Notice what Paul says in this Scripture. This is how God now wants our giving to be! First off, he says “let each one (that’s every believer) give as he purposes in his heart (to give). The word “purposes” means “to choose beforehand.” Choose beforehand what? Before offering time! Why? Because God does not want you giving because you get talked into it! God is not interested in “talking you into” anything! He wants you to purpose what you want to give. Why? Because He wants you to willingly bring your tithes and offerings to the storehouse.
Now notice where Paul admonished this “purposing” to take place - “in his heart.” That means that God wants you to want to! He wants you to give what is in your heart to give. That is the only way to get your maximum harvest back from your tithe, offerings, alms, and first-fruits - through a willing and giving heart. It just irks me when I hear preachers say, “Just try tithing and I guarantee you that God will bless you!” That is just not true because if you are giving out of a sense of obligation, fear, or covetousness then God might have mercy on you by your needs barely getting met but you won’t ever enter into the abundant provision that God has for you. I guarantee you that!
The only way you will enter into the provision of 2 Corinthians 9:8 (And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work) is to fulfill 2 Corinthians 9:7! So, let’s look further on at verse 7…
Paul goes on to say, “not grudgingly or of necessity…” The word “grudgingly” describes giving out of “sorrow, grief, pain, or annoyance.” I could spend a lot of time on this part but let me just say that you should never give because somebody tells you some sob story. There are TV preachers that will get on the air and tell you sad stories like if you don’t give they will go off the air. You know, if believers would just give where they are fed then all the preachers that are not worth a flip would go under and the ones that are good for the Body of Christ would flourish (but that is another message).
The point is - we should never give because someone tries to stir us up emotionally. And, you see, if we would only give what we purposed in our heart to give that wouldn’t happen. Some believers also give just to shut the preacher up! For example, I have heard of preachers keeping congregations in church until they got the offering they needed and then finally someone will give the remainder just to shut them up. Never do that, because all you do is show them that that kind of manipulation works and they’ll do it again.
Finally, the word “necessity” describes giving “by compulsion.” The Message Bible translates this word as “arm twisting.” This goes back to what I was saying before about giving with wrong motives. If you do not want to give it then giving it won’t profit you at all. Now I understand that sometimes your flesh will pitch a fit when you are willing on the inside but I am talking about the attitude of your heart. If your heart is not in it then you will not see much, if any, of a return.
HOW TO SOW IN LOVE AND FAITH
Now when it comes to where we should sow, we should be very careful and thoughtful regarding what we support.
Regarding these ministers and ministries that are after your pocket book, do you know why they continue to do this? It’s because people continue to support them! Yes, if people would not submit to their sob stories and arm-twisting techniques, then they would go off the air just like they probably should.
So, here is a good principle to live by that would help one know where to sow - only give into proven good ground. This would be the works, ministries and churches that are actually blessing and ministering to people. It could be a good mission minded ministry that is feeding people - both spiritually and naturally. It could be a good church that is meeting the various needs of the Body.
So, look for those churches, ministries, missionaries and other works that are doing the work of the ministry. Consider the fruit, not just being swayed by the techniques they use to manipulate you.
And the awesome part is - when we sow into works that are genuinely helping the kingdom grow and increase, then we will be more apt to give in love and faith.
1 Corinthians 13:3 says that even if we give all of our goods to the poor it profits us nothing if it is not motivated by love. Now it will profit the one you give to. This verse says, “it profits you nothing.” So, if you want to see the best harvest God has for you, then just make the adjustment in your heart and get willing. Just make the decision that you are going to honor God in your giving and give to Him because you love Him and you love His works.
The rest of verse 7 says, “…for God loves a cheerful giver.” Do you know what God really loves? He loves a cheerful giver! That is someone who loves to give! Someone who gives willingly and happily! God is more interested in your heart than in your actions. You can give all day and if your heart was not in it then you will not see God’s best harvest in return. But if you give willingly you will eat the good of the land (Isaiah 1:19)!
God loves a cheerful giver!!! Not someone who gives because of the negative consequences, nor because of some emotional decision. He wants us to want to! He wants us to desire to give. This is the right heart of giving.
So, with this said, I wanted to encourage you with something. As we had our budget meeting last week, one of the things that we were unable to fit into this year’s budget was a project that we would like to do - and that is fixing this building out here, called the Sheepfold, and getting our young children over there. Yes, we have on our heart to get them out of this basement and spruce up our children’s ministry a bit, giving them their own facility.
So, I have conveyed this to Julie King, our children’s minister, and she is going to begin giving our children the opportunity to give towards this project. She is going to teach them about the importance of giving to the Lord and they are going to do their part while teaching them these invaluable lessons. So, I encourage you and I today to come alongside of them and give towards this special project that helps this, God’s house, to be built up again.
A Word that this church got several years back - ironically from the Book of Haggai - is that the glory of the latter house shall be greater than the glory of the former house. (It’s on the front of your bulletin every week)
And how is this going to be accomplished? It is as first this church’s leadership is a good steward of the things that the Lord has entrusted us with and then as you, the body of believers here, do your part to be good stewards of the things the Lord has put into your hands.
You know, the leadership team of pastors, elders and deacons cannot do it all. We need each of you to do your part of contributing to the Body. And the awesome thing is - if everyone in here did exactly what the Lord teaches us in His Word to do (of seeking first His kingdom in our service, in our finances, etc.) this church would be able to do everything we have on our heart to do.
Yes, we want to fix up the sheepfold to have better facility for our children. We want to have a larger parking lot for you to park more comfortably in. We want to grow our television ministry. We even are open to looking into a different location for our church as the Lord would lead and provide. There are many things we have on our radar to do. But we need everyone to do their part.
And if we all did our part, we could fulfill these things. Together, we can make a difference and a significant impact.