This last Sunday I spoke about money and the transformative importance of giving. For those of you who have been around a while you know I don't talk about that topic very often. I think over the last 21/2 years I have spoken on it 3 times. You also know in the past we haven't even "passed the plate" on a Sunday morning. Although my intentions in those decisions were to make it clear to people that MHC is not here to get your money but to bring the message of Christ to people, I have often thought that my diminishing the idea of giving was not serving the spiritual growth of people in our community. I mean Jesus talks about it, Paul talks about it, James talks about it, why shouldn't we talk about it? Really, you would be surprised how often the question of money is addressed by Christ in the gospels and by the writers of the epistles.
Several times I have mentioned to pastor friends of mine how we have taken a low key approach to the topic of giving and have heard this phrase in response: "You are robbing your people of a blessing". And I think they may have been right... to a degree. Now I know some of those folks are coming from a "prosperity gospel" perspective. The idea that when we give money God will multiply that money back to us. If you give $10 he will bless you back with $100. It's a kinda spiritually guaranteed investment plan. Of course, as with most investment propositions, you need to read the fine print, if you don't have enough faith or if you have sin in your life, really whatever vague reasoning we can identify to explain a result that doesn't fit with the "guarantee". You know, past performance doesn't guarantee future results. This theology is rooted in really bad biblical interpretation. The purveyors of this doctrine often use verses like Luke 6:
8 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."
Unfortunately if you actually take the verse in context you realize that Christ is referring to a favorite topic of His: forgiveness and judgmentalism, not money. Just look at the following verses and you see the truth of this:
39 He also told them this parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
It buttresses nicely with His teaching to Peter about forgiveness:
21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Jesus teaches that we forgive so that God forgives us. Forgiveness and money are not interchangeable elements. They are not equivalent and the "laws" of God do not
apply equally. In fact if you go back to the passage in Luke 6 you discover Jesus talks about money just a few verses before:
24"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
I don't think this teaching fits well with the "prosperity gospel" but that isn't to say that we are not blessed by giving. There is a saying that "giving is it's own reward" and although I believe that is true the blessing of giving goes beyond the good feelings we get from giving and goes way beyond any monetary "return" that may come our way. The blessing is in the refining of faith that comes from giving. The blessing is in the spiritual growth that is discovered in reducing our dependance and desire for the things of this world. As followers of Christ, being freed from the impediments of this world to embrace the spiritual truths of God is the greatest blessing we can discover and learning to freely, gladly and generously give brings that blessing into our lives. It is righteousness in God that is our greatest reward. I Timothy teaches us this truth so clearly:
... (men) who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. 6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.11But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith.
My encouragement to you is to learn the spiritual discipline of giving so that you may discover the great spiritual blessing of faith and hope in God that produces contentment.