This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
This will be the series of talks on the theme “The Christian and His Money.” This particular first talk, the subtitle which I have given it is “Money is Important.” I think it’s necessary to stress that because some religious people talk at least in church as if money were not important. Very rarely do they act that way when they get outside the church but it’s the kind of religious fashion to pretend that money isn’t important. Let me say that money plays such a large part in the lives of all of us that if we do not order our money according to God’s will and word, our whole lives must be out of line with the will of God.
I want to begin by establishing a very important point which is the Bible acknowledges and recognizes two levels of wealth. The first is one that we’re all familiar with in some degree, what you would call material, financial wealth. We need to bear in mind it’s temporary, it’s not going to last. One day we’re going to leave it all behind forever. The other kind of wealth is spiritual or eternal wealth. Of course, that is in the last resort, more important. But we cannot act as though material wealth is unimportant because the Bible makes it very clear that what we do with our material wealth will have a lot to do with how much eternal wealth we end up with.
I’d like to begin by referring to a passage which makes this distinction rather vivid and clear. It’s a passage in Hebrews 11:24–26. It speaks about Moses making one of the most difficult choices of his life when he decided to turn his back on all the wealth and the luxury and the privileges which he had in Egypt. Bear in mind he was being trained to be the king of Egypt. He was being brought up as Pharaoh’s daughter’s son. At a certain point, at the age of 40, he turned his back on all of that and found himself in a remote corner of the barren desert looking after some sheep. But this is what the writer of Hebrews says about his decision. Hebrews 11:24:
“By faith Moses, when he came to age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; esteeming the reproach of Christ [or the reproach for Christ or for the Messiah] greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he looked to the reward.”
You notice Moses didn’t settle for poverty. He chose greater riches. And to be reproached for Christ, to suffer persecution and affliction for His name’s sake, is true spiritual wealth. So let’s bear that in mind, there are two levels of wealth. There’s the material which is temporary, there’s the eternal which is on an higher level.
Now, all we’re going to deal with in these brief talks is the material level. But I would be giving you a very unbalanced picture if I didn’t begin by reminding you of the higher eternal level of spiritual wealth.
The question that we need to ask ourselves is this: Is money or is wealth good or evil? Lots of Christians speak as if money were evil, as though “It’s regrettable that we have to deal with money but there it is, it’s an evil but we can’t avoid it.” I don’t believe that’s what the Bible teaches.
I’d like to turn to Revelation 5 which is a picture of the glorified Christ, the Messiah receiving the worship and adoration of heaven. And in Revelation 5:12, all the angels and the heavenly beings and the elders offer this declaration concerning the Lamb of God who is Jesus. It there lists seven good things which He is worthy to receive. Let me read the list.
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
Seven, the number of completeness or perfection, the complete list of things that He’s worthy to receive. And notice the second thing in the list is riches. It goes together with wisdom, strength, honor, glory, blessing. We acknowledge that all those other things are good. It would be totally illogical and inconsistent to suggest that the Holy Spirit and the worshippers in heaven had inserted something evil in that list. So that proves to us that riches are essentially good, they go together with honor, with strength, with glory, with blessing.
Now, quite a number of the things in that list can be misused. We can misuse strength to oppress people, to be cruel to them. But the fact that strength can be misused does not mean that strength is evil. We can misuse wisdom to cheat people, to deceive them. But the fact that wisdom can be misused doesn’t mean that it’s evil.
Likewise, we’re all very much aware that people can misuse riches or money. But the fact that it can be misused does not mean that it’s evil. That is really a snare of Satan to make us impractical and often to get us out of faith in our dealings with money. So, here it is: riches, wealth, money, is something good.
Just heave a little sigh of relief! You’re not wicked for having money in your pocket or even in your bank account.
It’s a funny thing about God’s people, and I’ve been associated with them for nearly 50 years. When they’re poor they think money is evil. When God blesses them, then they change their minds! God has never changed His mind, He’s listed it in the list of things that are good.
The next thing I want to say is brought out in a statement in the prophet Haggai, which is just before the prophet Zechariah if you know where he lives. Haggai 2, just one or two verses.
“The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts.”
It’s very important to understand that. The word silver in Hebrew, ?kesef?, is also the modern Hebrew word for money. Just as in French the word ?arjo? is the word for silver and the word for money. So God is saying, “the money is mine, the gold is mine.” It’s awfully important to understand that all the wealth in the world actually belongs to one person. Who is that? God, that’s right.
And then he goes on to say in that context:
“The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former...”
So, God directly relates the glory of His house to the possession of wealth. In other words, wealth belongs to God and its primary purpose is to be used for the work of God.
I’ve heard preachers say more than once in a rather self righteous way, “I never preach about money.” I have to say that such a preacher is delinquent. It’s his obligation to preach about money. People think the New Testament doesn’t have much to say about money but that really is not borne out by the facts. Most of us know there’s one chapter devoted to love, it’s a beautiful chapter. 1 Corinthians 13 has 13 verses. Many fewer people know that 2 Corinthians contains 2 chapters devoted exclusively to money, chapters 8 and 9. And between them they contain 39 verses. So you could say the New Testament gives three times as much space to money as it does to love. That’s not the right conclusion but the conclusion is what you do with your money has got a lot to do with how much love you really have. You cannot separate your love from your money.
In Acts 20, Paul gives us a little picture of the motivation of his own ministry and preaching. I believe it’s really an example that we need to bear in mind. He says for instance, in verse 20, reminding the people among whom he had been working for about two or three years, he says:
“I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed to you and taught you publicly and from house to house.”
It is helpful for God’s people to know His plan for dealing with money. So we have no right to keep back that part of Biblical truth from God’s people. I think there’s a kind of tradition grown up in Britain that it’s not nice to talk about money in church. You know who’s behind that tradition? Satan without a doubt. It suits him very, very well. It also suits stingy Christians who don’t want to be challenged with the need to give.
And then in the same chapter, in Acts 20:26–27, Paul says again:
“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.”
The whole counsel of God includes what we are to do with our money. So if we are called to minister the word of God, we have no right to keep back the truth about money. I think because of that sort of religious attitude and tradition that you don’t talk about money in church, I think many, many, many of God’s people have been robbed of the blessing that God intended them to have. Remember, God is for us, He’s on our side, He’s not trying to cheat us, He’s not trying to rob us. Everything He tells us in His word is for our good, it’s to help us.
Jesus Himself had a lot to say about money. I want to just turn to a couple of passages in the gospels where He deals with this question of money. The first is in the sermon on the mount, Matthew 6:24:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.”
That’s a general principle and then Jesus applies it specifically in the area of money. You cannot serve God and mammon. Some of the modern translations in place of mammon say money—which renders the meaning correctly but I don’t think it gives a full understanding. I think mammon is not just another word for money, I think in the Bible it represents an evil spiritual force that controls and enslaves people through money. So that those who are controlled by money are being controlled by something in the spiritual realm that is evil and destructive. And Jesus says all of us have to choose. One thing we cannot do is serve two masters. The two masters that He refers to are God and mammon [or money].
He puts this issue so clearly, we need to look at it. Always of course, Jesus will put God first and then the alternative. He says:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one [Who is the one there? God.] and love the other [Who is that? Money, mammon.]...”
See, that’s a very penetrating verse. If you love money, you’re hating God. We don’t like these very clear-cut issues that the Bible presents to us. But that’s it. If you love money in the sense that it controls you and motivates you, you may not be aware of it but your attitude to God is described by His as one of hatred.
Then he gives the other alternative:
“...or else he will be loyal to the one [Who is that? God.] and despise the other [that’s mammon].”
So if we are loyal to God in this matter of money, we will not let money dictate to us.
I have in my own life years ago come to the place where God called me to step out in full time service, quote, full time. At that point—this is many years ago—I was faced with the decision “No man can be my disciple unless he forsakes all that he has.” And at that point in my life when I was about 31 years old, God specifically called me to serve him in the land that was then Palestine. In making that decision, I didn’t make a dramatic commitment but God put me step by step through it to the point where I had to forsake everything. My own country, my family, my profession as a fellow of Kings College Cambridge, my finance, my career—everything. I had to step out in naked faith. And I believe that anybody who is called to that kind of service, in some way or other, will be brought out to a point where they have to decide are you going to trust God? And you are not going to allow money to dictate to you. That doesn’t mean that you’ll be deprived of money forever, but it means that you’ll be brought to a point of decision where money will not dictate the decisions you make in life.
It’s a remarkable thing about the early church, as far as I can see, they never based their decisions on how much money they had. They never said, “If we have enough money we’ll go and preach in Antioch or Corinth or Rome.” They simply went because they knew that was God’s will. See, they had been delivered from slavery to mammon. And that’s the will of God for each of us. He’ll bring it about in a different way in every life but at one time or another, if you want to be a truly free person, you have got to come to the point where money is not going to dictate to you. And that it must be a point of faith. The only alternative is faith.
So there’s the decision. Whom are you going to serve? God or mammon. It’s true, I think with most of us, we don’t like these clear-cut issues. We’d rather have it a little bit blurred. We’d like a little soft music and religious language. I find that God when He really is dealing with us, eliminates the soft music and the religious language and brings us down to what the Americans call the nitty-gritty. God deals in those areas. Notice the choice is not whether you’ll serve, it’s only whom you’ll serve.
About 13 centuries before this, Joshua had spoken to the children of Israel after they had entered the Promised Land, and he said, “Choose this day—what did he say? “Whom you will serve.” Not whether you will serve. And he said, “Are you going to serve the true God or are you going to serve the gods your fathers served, or are you going to serve the gods of this land? But serve you must.” Man’s nature is such that ultimately he will serve. That’s not your choice. You choice is whom will you serve. And you cannot serve two masters.
Later in Israel’s history when they had become a backslidden nation, the prophet Elijah challenged them. He said, “How long will you limp along between two opinions? If Baal is god, serve him. If Jehovah is God, serve him. But make up your mind whom you are going to serve.” And unquestionably, in the life of each one of us as God deals with us, we will be brought to the point of making that decision. Not whether I will serve but whom I will serve. We cannot serve God and money.
And then in Luke 16, Jesus has more to say along this line. I’ll begin at verse 9:
“And I say to you, Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon; that when you fail [or the alternative reading is ‘when it fails’], they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”
And Jesus had just told the story about a rather unscrupulous steward who was going to lose his job and lowered the bills that were due to his master in order to get favor with his master’s debtors. In other words, the lesson, without going into details, is be astute in the way you use money. See, Christians don’t have to be foolish. In fact, they should be wiser than the people that don’t have God to counsel them. And He said make friends for yourselves with what the world considers mammon, that when you fail [or when it fails], they may receive you into eternal habitations.
This is such a beautiful picture to me because Ruth and I have such a vivid picture always before our eyes of people in the Third World and the oppressed nations. We are continually urging people to use their finances to bring God’s word to these people who are crying out and starving for it. Sometimes I tell those people, you give maybe ten pounds or $20 or whatever it is, and you don’t know what happens to that money. But it goes to some remote Third World nation and brings them the word of life and people come to know the Lord, they’re saved, they receive eternal life. Then they pass on to the next world ahead of you. But when you die and enter eternity, there will be people there saying, “Thank you. Because of what you did, I’m here. If you hadn’t given, I would have never known.” So be wise with what you do with your money. Use it to make friends for eternity.
And then Jesus goes on with another principle, a very, very important one. Verse 10:
“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”
Quite apart from the subject of money, that’s an extremely important principle. If you are faithful in the little things, God will give you the bigger opportunities. But if you’re unfaithful in the little things, you’ll never have the bigger opportunities. Because, God tests us in the small things. Many of the issues or decisions that we consider small and unimportant are actually decisive in our lives because God is watching us to see how we’ll act. And if we are faithful in the little, He’ll give us the bigger opportunity. But if we aren’t faithful in the little, He is much too wise ever to entrust us with anything bigger.
See, a lot of people have the attitude, “Well, this isn’t a very important job, it doesn’t really matter how I do it. But if God were to give me a really important job, then I really would do it well.” I want to tell you, God will never give you that job because He tests you in the small things.
And then He applies this particularly to money in verse 11:
“Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?”
In other words, if you don’t deal faithfully as a Christian with your money, God will never commit to you the real spiritual riches. Again, He tests you. Are you faithful in the material, then He’ll begin to pass on to you the spiritual.
See, there may be some of you here tonight, you’re really longing for a greater spiritual ministry, for more spiritual gifts. And you may be praying and fasting. Well, that’s all good but maybe the key to your problem is what you do with your money. Because, if you’re faithful with that, God will begin to open to you spiritual riches.
See, this is why I so much regret the teaching that money isn’t important. In some ways it’s decisive. What God is going to entrust to you spiritually depends on what you do financially.
Let’s look at a statement by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8. This is one of the two chapters that deal exclusively with money, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. And twice in this chapter he speaks about money as the test of our sincerity. 2 Corinthians 8:8, he’s giving directions about what to do with money and he says:
“I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love.”
And then in the last verse of the same chapter he says:
“Therefore, show to them and before the churches, the proof of your love.”
What is the test of sincerity? What is the proof of love? What they do with their money, giving. That’s a very searching thought, isn’t it? If we claim to love God and be His servants and be concerned about the things of His kingdom but we are not faithful in money, we’re hypocrites. Our love is not sincere.
And then one final thought again from Jesus in the sermon on the mount again. Matthew 6:21:
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus was so down to earth. He didn’t say give your heart, He said invest your money. Because, where your money is, your heart will follow. If you want to have more concern for the work of God, you want to be more zealous, I’ll tell you one way: invest more. That’s really the basic principle.
We would like to invert it and say, “Well, where my heart is, my treasure will follow.” Jesus said no. Where your treasure is, your heart will follow.
I hope I’ve succeeded somehow in persuading you that what we do with our money is important. Maybe there are some of us that need to re-evaluate our attitude to money, our thinking about money, the way we handle money. Let’s let the Holy Spirit search us and put His finger on areas where maybe we haven’t been faithful. Maybe we are encountering frustrations in our lives, things aren’t going the way we think they ought to. The root problem may be we’re not handling our money aright.
I want to lay out five important principles of right giving, all of them based on scripture. The first one is what we as Christians do with our money is not a matter of law. It’s not based on commandment. But, it is by grace through faith. It’s very, very important to understand this. There’s a lot of teaching in the church about money that’s very legalistic. But we have passed out from the law and into a new dispensation of grace. And grace doesn’t operate the way that law operates.
Let’s look at a few scriptures that just outline this principle first. In John 1:17:
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
You see, there’s a distinction there. Moses was the channel through whom law came, but grace and with it truth, came to us through Jesus Christ. Israel had had the law of Moses for something like 14 centuries when Jesus came. He did not come to bring another legal system, He came to bring something totally different which the Bible calls grace. There are certain principles about grace. Grace is free, grace cannot be earned, grace operates only through faith—there’s no other way to receive grace but through faith.
In Ephesians 2:8, a very familiar passage to many of us, we’ll turn to it and read it. Paul says:
“By grace you have been saved through faith.”
Now, salvation is the all inclusive word in the Bible for all the benefits that come to us through Jesus Christ. It includes not merely the salvation of our souls but includes the healing of our bodies. It includes God’s material provision. It’s the total all embracing word. But all of it comes on that principle, “by grace through faith.”
So when I go on speaking to you now about how to deal with your money, I am not giving you a series of commandments. I’m not bringing you back under a law, but I’m trusting the Holy Spirit to work through my words to impart grace to your hearts that you may be able to obey not because of commandments but because your heart prompts you. It’s very, very different. You see, commandments are something external in front of our eyes. “Do this, don’t do that.” But grace operates in our heart and grace operates only through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can impart God’s grace to our heart. It’s all very well to have the commandments in front of us. We say, “All right, I’ll do this, I won’t do that.” But something in our hearts doesn’t agree. So we end up by doing what we said we wouldn’t do and not doing what we said we would do. Or am I the only one that every happens to?
We cannot achieve righteousness through keeping laws. God offers us another way which is grace that operates in our hearts through the Holy Spirit and is received only by faith. And this applies very, very much to our dealings with money. It is all based on faith.
We’ve already looked in 2 Corinthians 8, but I pointed out that 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are two chapters that deal exclusively with the subject of money. That’s the only subject in those two chapters. There are 39 verses in the two chapters put together. But chapter 8, which is the longer chapter, contains the word grace 7 times. Grace is the key word of 2 Corinthians 8.
If you go to your English Bible and read it, you’ll come up with a different conclusion. You’ll say, “Brother Prince, you’re wrong.” The truth of the matter is you know the Greek word for grace is charis and it occurs 7 times in the Greek. But in English it’s once translated “gift” and another time it’s translated “generosity.” So you wouldn’t find it, but let me just say I tell you I checked it again before I came here this evening. Charis or grace occurs 7 times. It’s the key word in the teaching of the New Testament about money.
So, don’t sit there nervous and say, “What’s he going to tell me to do?” Because, I’m not going to tell you to do anything. If the Holy Spirit tells you to do something, that’s different. I cannot impart God’s grace to you, only the Holy Spirit can do that.
You see, this is exactly what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:3. Speaking to the Corinthian Christians, he says:
“You are manifestly an epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God; not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh [that is, of the heart].”
So, the commandment was written on tablets of stone, was external, you looked at it with your eyes. But grace is written on the hearts of people by the Holy Spirit. And that’s what motivates us, it’s what in our heart that motivates us. Solomon said many, many years earlier in Proverbs 4:23:
“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
Everything in your life proceeds out of what is in your heart. And when God’s grace comes to your heart, it will direct you to handle your money the way God wants it handled.
Bearing in mind that it’s the Holy Spirit who imparts God’s grace, there’s one important fact we need to remember about the Holy Spirit which David brings out in Psalm 51. This is his great psalm of penitence which is so familiar to many of us. I’m reading from the New King James which is very close to the Old King James but it changes some words. In verse 12 of Psalm 51, David says to the Lord:
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation; and uphold me with your generous spirit.”
The Old King James said “with your free spirit.” But generous rightly brings out the meaning. So, we need to know something very important, that the Holy Spirit is a generous spirit. He’s never stingy in anything. And when the Holy Spirit moves our hearts through the grace of God, we will never be stingy. It’s a spirit of generosity. If you’re having a struggle in this matter of handling your money rightly, let me suggest to you that you stop trying to follow a set of rules and let God’s grace operate in your life.
I remember vividly, I got saved in the British Army in July, 1941. I was at that time a local, acting, unpaid lance corporal —which I tell people is as near to being a worm as you can be without being one! My pay was two shillings a day in the day when there were twenty shillings in one pound. After I got saved, Sunday morning I was in the local Assembly of God Church and they passed the offering. Nobody preached a sermon to me but I pulled out my wallet and I put in one pound which was more than one and a half week’s earnings. You could say that was impetuous or foolish but I want to tell you, I’ve never regretted it. I have got that one pound back more times than I can ever calculate.
But what I want to point out was it wasn’t law, it was grace. I didn’t even have time to think what I was going to do. Something moved me. And you’ve probably heard it said if God touches your heart, He will also touch your pocketbook, your wallet, your bank account. There is a very close connection between them.
All right. The second principle is that we do not gain God’s favor by giving. God doesn’t want us to give first of all of our material means, He wants us to give ourselves to Him. Again, an example is brought out in 2 Corinthians 8. Paul is writing here about the Macedonian Christians and he says in verse 5 that they were very generous, they gave freely. But he goes on:
“This they did not as we had hoped, but first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.”
So the first thing, the only thing you can offer to God first is what? Yourself, that’s right. Don’t come and try to buy God’s favor because you can’t do it.
I’m always reminded of a story that I heard from an American preacher years back and I need not explain that I can’t imitate an American accent. It’s about an American Indian in the state of Oklahoma who went to a gospel service in a tent. And as he listened to the preaching, he heard things he was not familiar with but his heart was strangely touched. So, when the appeal was made at the end, he thought, “I better give something.” So he came up with his blanket, laid it on the altar and said, “Indian bring blanket.” He walked back to his place but didn’t really feel any peace. So he felt, “I better give something more valuable than that.” He came up with his rifle, laid it on the altar and said, “Indian bring rifle.” He went back to his place but still there was no peace. He thought, “The most valuable thing I have is my horse.” He went out to the parking lot, untethered his horse and led his horse up to the front of the church and said, “Indian bring horse.” But still no peace. Finally, without anything, he walked up to the altar and said, “Indian bring Indian.” And then he found peace.
So, don’t bring your blanket, your rifle, or your horse until you’ve brought yourself! It’s ourselves that we begin with.
In Romans 12:1–2, Paul tells us very clearly this is what God expects of us. Romans 12, he says:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren...”
And he’s been dealing with all the mercies of God in 11 chapters of Romans. And at the end of the 11th chapter we come to this therefore. And I told you what you need to know about a therefore, you need to know what it’s there for. Because of all God’s mercies.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
That’s Indian bring Indian. Bring yourself, your whole being. Lay it on the altar of God’s service. That’s the only reasonable response to the mercies of God. And then he goes on to say:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”
You see, the old unrenewed mind cannot discover the will of God. But God will not renew our minds until we present our bodies. There are lots of Christians who are born again and saved but they’ve never really surrendered themselves unreservedly to God, their minds have never been renewed and with the old unrenewed mind, they cannot discover the will of God. It’s only when you’ve made a total surrender of yourself to God that He will begin to open up His will to you. And you’ll discover three things about the will of God successively. It’s good, it’s acceptable and it’s perfect. When you begin, you discover God only wants good for you. The further you go, the more you discover it’s acceptable, it’s the kind of thing that I really want and need. And as you advance, you’ll discover it’s perfect, it covers every area of your life. There is no area of your life small or great that is not covered by the will of God. But you cannot discover it until you’ve presented yourself.
And, your giving to God is of no avail in the material realm until you first have given yourself.
We’ve already said that the Holy Spirit is a generous spirit. And God is a generous God. And God’s grace provides abundance. 2 Corinthians 9:8, come on Ruth. We did this last night, we’ll do it again tonight. This is one of our key affirmations. Remember, Jesus is the high priest of your confession. So when you sincerely and believingly make the right confession, you release Jesus to fulfill it. This is what Paul says about God’s grace. We’re going to put it in the first person because we’re making it applicable to ourselves. All right, are we ready?
“God is able to make all grace abound toward us, that we always, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”
You try and find any area of need in that. It starts off with a simple statement, “God is able.” Do you believe God is able? We cannot doubt that God is able. What does He make abound to us? All grace. And then we always have all sufficiency in all things, and abound, overflow. But notice, it’s not for selfish indulgence, it’s for every good work. God doesn’t keep us to the level of mere sufficiency. I’ll tell you why. Because Jesus said in Acts 20:35, Paul quoted him, he said:
“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
If God gave us only sufficiency, all we would be doing would be receiving. But God gives us more than sufficiency, He gives us abundance, the overflow, that we may have the greater blessing of giving. Remember, if you are only receiving, it’s wonderful but you’re living on the lower level of blessing. The higher level of blessing is giving. And God’s grace, if we will accept it in faith, will make it possible for all of us in some measure or other to go beyond our own personal needs and to give to the needs of others.
The next principle is stated here, that giving is sowing. Let’s turn to 2 Corinthians 9:6. We’ve already pointed out the whole of this chapter deals with giving.
“But this I say, He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
So Paul is there comparing giving to the Lord’s work to sowing seed. And taking this example from the natural realm, he says the measure in which you sow will determine the measure in which you reap. If a farmer sows one bushel of wheat and he reaps, let’s say, fifty fold, how many bushels will he get in? Fifty bushels, that’s right. But if he sows ten bushels of wheat, how many bushels will he get in? Five hundred. Do you understand? The measure in which a person sows determines the measure in which he reaps. Do you realize this? The measure in which you give determines the measure in which God will give back to you. Jesus said in this same context, “With what measure you measure, it will be measured back to you.” In other words, your giving has a lot to do with your total prosperity.
The example of sowing I think is very important. It indicates certain safeguards. For instance, a farmer does not walk down the main street of his town throwing seed into the gutters and expect to reap. I’m afraid a lot of Christians are like that. They’re giving but they’re throwing it into the gutter. I mean, I weep when I think the billions of American dollars that are given by American Christians, and basically they end up in the gutter because they’re not given wisely, prayerfully and on the right principles. Americans are very generous people but they’re very easily moved emotionally to do things on the spur of the moment.
A farmer doesn’t do that. If he wants a good harvest, he chooses the right soil, he prepares the soil, he chooses the right type of seed, sows it and he watches over it. I want to suggest to you that you need to view giving as sowing. And you need to invest in the places which will bring forth the greatest harvest. Don’t scatter your money foolishly. Don’t give simply out of habit or because other people do it that way. Be prayerful about it. Picture yourself as sowing seed. Sow where there will be fruit. If you’re investing in a ministry, it’s good to make some inquiries about that ministry. It’s good to find out what really happens to the money.
Let me say there are all sorts of very genuine, material and physical needs. There are literally millions of starving people in the world today. I greatly admire those Christians who are concerned and give. But if you only give to physical needs, there is no eternal harvest. The eternal harvest only comes out of one thing, what’s that? The word of God. So, I would say never as a committed Christian sow merely to material needs.
There are many wonderful ministries that meet material needs and present the good news of the gospel. I heartily endorse them. But there are lots of good-natured, generous people in the world who will support the hungry, to some extent. But we who know the value of the word of God and have a vision of eternal issues, let’s be very careful that we sow to eternity.
Another thing you need to remember as Paul states in Galatians 6:9, very important. Galatians 6:9:
“Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
Don’t get discouraged. When a farmer sows his seed, he doesn’t get the harvest next week. There’s a gap between sowing and reaping. Many years back I was temporarily working on a farm in Ireland. There was a little boy of 6 from the family of the farmer. He wanted to plant potatoes so he got a little plot and he planted his potatoes. But after a week he saw no signs of them growing so he went to dig up the potatoes to see if they were growing. Well, he dug those potatoes up so many times, they never grew, you see. So, bear in mind there’s a gap. I really believe by the grace and mercy of God I am reaping today things I sowed more than 40 years ago. Don’t get discouraged.
It’s such a vivid picture, isn’t it? You have in your hand these precious, wonderful seeds. And, you can turn them into bread and eat them, use them for yourself. But if you turn all your seeds into bread, what will happen? One day you’ll have nothing to sow.
On the other hand, if you sow your seed, it seems crazy because you’re going to take what could be food and you’re going to throw it into the earth, cover it over and leave it. That’s like giving, you see? In a sense, you’ve got to open your hands and let it go. That’s faith. If you’re not willing to let it go, if you just use it all for yourself, there will be no harvest. And one day you’ll be hungry.
The final principle which I think is perhaps the most important of all, and often misunderstood, is this: giving is part of worship. Really, we cannot properly and scripturally worship God without giving. I tell you, I am so embarrassed sometimes in churches and meetings when the person leading the meeting begins to apologize for taking up an offering. My reaction is if you have to apologize for it, please don’t do it. Because, that’s a totally wrong attitude. If we’re going to worship God, at some point or other, giving will be part of our worship.
Let me show you just two scriptures. Exodus 23:15, this is the ordinance for the feasts of Israel. Three times every year it was ordained that all male Israelites would come up to Jerusalem for the three main feasts of the Lord. This is what the Lord says about the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Passover. This is Exodus 23:15:
“You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread, you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib; for in it you came out of Egypt: [and then there’s this little extra statement] (none shall appear before me empty-handed.)”
When you come up to worship me and celebrate, everybody has to bring an offering. Don’t you appear before me without your offering.
And this is made general in Psalm 96:8:
“Give to the Lord the glory due his name...”
That’s worship, isn’t it? But the verse doesn’t end there.
“...bring an offering and come into his courts.”
I believe, in a certain sense, we have no right to come to God’s courts without an offering. God says, “First get your offering ready, then come to my court.”
One of the things that I like to do, I like to see people do, is not pass the plate or the bag but let people bring their offerings. I think there’s a tremendous difference. Have a place at the front and get the people out of their seats and let them come worshipfully, praising God and bringing the offering. And remember, that is an essential part of your worship.
Let me say just in closing, I hope you can receive it, God does not need your tips. You don’t need to treat God the way you treat a waiter or a porter. I’ve seen people in a meeting, when the plate is passed they reach into their pocket, feel around, come out with the first coin and drop it in. God can do without your tips. Giving to God is something very sacred, it’s something that should be done prayerfully, worshipfully and in faith. I feel that many, many times God’s people are being denied a blessing because they’ve not given to understand that when we worship God we bring an offering. Something that maybe costs us something, something that’s precious.
And if we don’t have anything to bring, it’s not a sin to remain without. But please, if I can say it again, don’t tip Almighty God. He can do all right without our tips.
In closing we’ll deal with the theme of tithing. Perhaps it’s necessary to explain what tithing is because it’s a very old fashioned word. In Old English, the tithe was the same as the tenth. And for believing Christians, tithing means the practice of setting apart for God the first tenth of your income, whether it’s in cash or in kind. This is a practice that goes right back to the roots of our faith. In fact, it goes back to the father of all of us who believe, who was Abraham. You see, all of life really is a question of priorities. We find time for the things to which we really give priority. Most of us find time to eat because it has a high priority in our lives. We find time to sleep. Some of us don’t find time to read our Bibles as we should simply because it doesn’t have a high enough priority. And in dealing with finance, again the basic issue is the issue of priorities. Jesus established this very clearly in Luke 6:38, in connection with giving. He said:
“Give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
What’s the first thing we do? Do we first give or do we first receive? We give first, that’s right. That’s the faith principle. People who wait to give until they have received are really not moving in faith. People have sometimes said to me, “I’m too poor to give to God.” I tend to reply, “I think the truth of the matter is you’re too poor not to give to God.” Because, giving is the way to receive. You remember there was the widow that cast in two mites which together make about one farthing? And Jesus watched her and he especially praised her. He said, “She’s cast in all that she has to the offerings of God.” He didn’t say how foolish, she should have kept it to buy something to eat with it. He singled her out for praise. Why? Because she was operating on the faith principle: give and it shall be given to you. I pointed out already that God is generous and the Holy Spirit is generous. Here Jesus unveils the generosity of God. Give; that is, to God, and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. The picture is a basket full of seed or some such thing. First of all, you just fill the basket, then you press it down, then you shake it together and finally it begins to run over. That’s God’s measure.
The word that’s used by Paul is abundance. God is able to make all grace abound toward us that we always, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. The word abound is derived from a Latin word for a wave. It means a wave that flows over something. So, abundance is when you overflow. That’s the picture that Jesus uses here of God’s measuring back to us until we overflow.
And then he gives this principle: for with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. That means to say if you give one pound, it will be measured back to you in one pound. If you give five pounds, it’s measured back to you in five pounds. The unit that you use to give is the unit that God uses to give back to you.
So, it’s question of priorities. Jesus brought out the same principle in Matthew 6:33, a very familiar verse to many of us. There’s a beautiful chorus that is based on these words.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
The things He’s speaking about are our material needs: food, clothing, a house, whatever it may be. But He says don’t make those your priority. Make your priority the kingdom of God. Seek that first, put it first, make it the thing that you aim for, the thing that you pray about, the thing that you work for. And God will take care of your material needs. To some people that sounds fanciful. But I’ve been a Christian nearly 50 years and by the grace of God I believe I can say that I’ve applied that principle: seek first the kingdom of God. And I’d have to say to the glory of God He has been more than faithful. I trust Him, He is faithful. You can trust Him, too. Put Him to the test.
The same principle is stated by Solomon in Proverbs 3:9–10. The key word that I’m bringing out in all these passages is the word first. And it occurs here, too. Proverbs 3:9–10:
“Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase...”
Everything that comes in, set aside the first for God. And in doing that, you are honoring God. Bear in mind that it is possible to honor God by the way we deal with our finance. And because it’s also possible to honor God, the opposite is equally true, it’s possible to dishonor God. Liberality honors God, stinginess dishonors God. Putting our own needs and our own concerns before God’s kingdom dishonors God. So, that’s the principle. Honor the Lord with your possessions, your material possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase. Now, what’s the result?
“...so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats [where you store your oil and your wine] will overflow with new wine.”
What’s overflow? Abundance. It’s exactly the word. You just can’t contain what God gives you back.
Now you have to determine whether you believe that or not. For my part, I have to say I do believe it. I believe it works, I believe it’s practical, I don’t believe it’s fanciful, I don’t believe it’s wishful thinking. I believe Jesus was the most practical teacher the world has ever seen. I also tell people often the most practical person on earth today is the Holy Spirit. If a thing is not practical, believe me, it’s not spiritual. The Holy Spirit never initiates anything that doesn’t work. And this works.
Now let’s come to the particular application of this principle of putting God first with our material possessions and our money, which is tithing. And remember I’ve already said tithing is setting apart for God the first tenth of all that we receive. I think God has been gracious to people who are not good at mathematics because especially now we have the decimal system. It is very easy to discover what your tithe is. You just move the decimal point one place to the left and that’s your tithe. You don’t have to be a mathematician. If God has chosen the 13th or the 11th, then we’d have had a lot of problems.
Now, a lot of people think that tithing began with the law of Moses. But that’s not true. It began more than 400 years earlier as recorded, and it began with a man named Abram whose name was later changed to Abraham. Let’s look at this incident in the life of Abram in Genesis 14:18 and following. Abraham had just gained a great victory over some alien armies that had sought to invade his area of the world and had taken his nephew Lot prisoner. Abraham had gone after these armies with his men, defeated the armies and released Lot and had taken a tremendous amount of booty or spoil. As he was on his way back from this battle, a very wonderful, strange person met him who is called Melchizekek. That word means, Melchi is the Hebrew for king, zedek is the Hebrew for righteousness: king of righteousness. This man was two things: he was a king and he was a priest. This is the first use of the word priest in the Bible. And it’s very important to see it’s not the Levitical priesthood—that came later. It’s the priesthood of Melchizedek which reappears later in the New Testament in the person of who? Jesus, that’s right. Melchizedek is a foreshadowing of Jesus.
And this is the incident.
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem [which means king of peace] brought out bread and wine: and he was the priest of God most high.”
Let me just add this, it’s very interesting. The Levitical priest never had anything to give to the people except what the people first gave to them. But Melchizedek had something for Abraham that Abraham had not given to him. And the symbol of his priesthood was bread and wine. And at the last supper, when Jesus gave the bread and the wine to His disciples, He said by that act, “In me the priesthood of Melchizedek has reappeared. I am a priest of that order.”
“And he [Melchizedek] blessed him [Abraham] and said, Blessed be Abram of God most high, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be God most high, who has delivered your enemies into your hand. [Now, don’t miss out the last sentence.] And he [Abraham] gave him [Melchizedek] a tithe [or a tenth] of everything that he had taken in the battle.”
What did he do by giving him a tithe? He acknowledged him as his priest. It’s very important to see the first time priest is mentioned in the Bible, it goes with tithing. This is, I think, a principle that most of us has lost sight of. Tithing is a way of acknowledging our priest.
Now, if you turn to Romans 4 for a moment, you’ll find that Paul says Abraham is the father of all who believe. We read verses 11 and 12, we won’t try to expound them all.
“And he [Abraham] received a sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all those who believe [Notice, he’s the father of all believers, whether Jew or Gentile.]: though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also: and the father of circumcision to those who are not only of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.”
So, in order to qualify to be truly Abraham’s children, we have to walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham which he had while still uncircumcised, which was when he met Melchizedek.
So, I believe myself, this is my personal opinion, tithing is one of the steps of the faith of Abraham. And we are challenged in the New Testament to walk in the steps of his faith.
The next person who is recorded as tithing is still long before the law, it’s Jacob. And we read about this in Genesis 28:20. Jacob was now a fugitive, a refugee. He offended his brother Esau who wanted to kill him, and he had to pick up and leave and flee eastward to Mesopotamia. He only had one thing with him; all he carried was the staff in his hand. But God appeared to him in a dream, promised him protection and blessing. And this is Jacob’s response in Genesis 28:20:
“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, If God be with me and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God: and this stone, which I have set as a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that you give me I will surely give a tenth to you.”
What’s that? Tithing, isn’t it? What did Jacob indicate by that vow? He indicated that he was acknowledging the Lord as his God. “The LORD will be my God, and of all that you give me, I will give back a tenth to you.” So, by tithing he acknowledged the Lord as his God. I believe that is true for you and me. By tithing, we acknowledge Jesus as our high priest after the order of Melchizedek and the Lord as our God.
Now, it’s interesting to read Jacob’s personal testimony about 15 years later. He left the land of his inheritance a refugee with nothing but a staff in his hand. About 15 years later, as far as I can calculate, he came back a very prosperous man with a large family and abundant flocks and herds. This is his own testimony, speaking to the Lord in Genesis 32:10:
“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which you have shown your servant; for I have crossed over this Jordan with my staff [nothing but a staff in my hand]; and now I have become two large companies.”
What was the source of his prosperity in one word? Tithing, that’s right. You see, I think it’s silly not to, frankly. I mean, you’re free to make your decision but why opt for insufficiency when God has offered you more than sufficiency? I think that’s just a beautiful story. A man who was a refugee, running from his brother, nothing in his hand but a staff. He said, “God, whatever you give me from now on, I’ll give you back a tenth.” Fifteen years later he was a very wealthy, prosperous man.
Now, our world today is full of refugees all over. And if any refugee ever hears this talk, I just want to recommend that is a principle. God hasn’t changed. The God of Abraham and the God of Jacob is still alive today and he hasn’t changed. It depends how we respond to Him.
We might think, some of us, that a tenth is a lot to give to God. You know, if I earn 200 pounds, I’ve got to give God 20 pounds. That sounds like a lot. Well, let’s look at Israel under the law of Moses. Remember, the law was an inferior dispensation, it was based on an inferior covenant. Under the law—and you remember, we pointed out the difference between law and grace. The law operated through commandments. The Israelite had no options under the law. The tithe didn’t belong to them. The Bible says the tithe of everything is the Lord’s. If they held on to the tithe, they were holding on to something that didn’t belong to them. But, that was only the beginning of their giving. It wasn’t the end, it wasn’t the roof, it was the foundation. Look for a moment in Deuteronomy 12:6. God is speaking about the place to which they’ll go to worship and bring their offerings. And notice as we pointed out last time, when they worshiped, they always brought an offering. Listen to this list:
“There to that place you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hands, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks.”
Actually, there were seven different kinds of offerings. The tithe was only the foundation. It wasn’t the roof, it was the beginning, not the end of their giving.
Now, we’ve said that through tithing Abraham and Jacob acknowledged the Lord as their God, as their high priest. And this principle is applied to us as Christians in Hebrews 7:8. The writer of Hebrews is discussing the fact that Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, and that the Levitical priests received the people’s tithes. This is what he says:
“Here mortal men [that’s Levitical priests] receive tithes, but there [and that’s in the case of Melchizedek] he receives them of whom it is witnessed that he lives.”
I want you to notice that the receiving of tithes in the high priesthood of Melchizedek is not in the past tense. He receives tithes of whom it is witnessed [Melchizedek] that he lives forever. In other words, the acknowledgment of the priesthood of Melchizedek by tithing is still just as applicable as it was in the days of Abraham. It has not passed out of date.
Now I want to emphasize we’re talking about grace, not law. This is not commandments, this is what the Holy Spirit does in your heart. But the Holy Spirit is also the author of the Bible. And when the Holy Spirit has his way in your heart, you’ll do what the Bible says. Not because God waves a stick at you and says, “I’ll beat you if you don’t,” but because His Spirit has touched your heart.
Now, in Hebrews 8:6, the writer is contrasting the Old Covenant under Moses which was law—as I said, because the law was given through Moses—and the New Covenant through Jesus, which is grace. Grace and truth came through Jesus. And this is what he says:
“But now he [that’s Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry than that of the Levitical priest, inasmuch as he is also mediator of a better covenant which was established on better promises.”
Isn’t that wonderful! We have a better covenant established on better promises. Let’s thank God. But what I want to ask you is this, and it’s simply a matter for you to decide. If we have a better covenant established on better promises, could it possibly be appropriate for us to offer God less than they offered under the Mosaic covenant? It seems to me there is no way that that could be logical. If we have a better covenant, let’s respond in a better way. And as yet, as a matter of fact, as far as I know, and I don’t keep anybody’s books, I would say in many, many sections of the Christian church, professing Christians today respond much less generously than Israel did under an inferior covenant.
Now let’s turn to Malachi for a closing analysis of this theme. Malachi 3:8 and following. I don’t have time in this short talk, but if you have access to the Living Bible, I would recommend you to read the Living Bible version of Malachi. It is vivid. It really tells it like it is, especially the first chapter. I’d love to read it but I just don’t have time. But this is good, too.
What we learn from Malachi is that God keeps a reckoning of his people’s giving. God had given the law of Moses maybe twelve centuries earlier but now He tells His people this is the accounts I’ve been keeping. Do you believe that God keeps accounts of what we give? I believe every one of us one day in eternity will be confronted by a balance sheet. And every single amount that we’ve ever given will be recorded. I hope we won’t be embarrassed.
So, God says to Israel, “Listen, I’ve been keeping a record of what you’ve been doing. And I’m not pleased with you.” He says, “You’re all a lot of robbers.” Now they were all very religious in those days, very religious. “Us, robbers! Where did we rob you?” “In tithes and offerings.” Let’s read it. Malachi 3, beginning at verse 8:
“Will a man rob God? [Is it really possible to rob God? The answer is yes.] Yet you have robbed me. But you say, In what way have we robbed you? In tithes and offerings. You have not brought what was my due. You’ve kept for yourself what belonged to me. You’re robbers.”
And then notice the result:
“You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed me, even this whole nation.”
God has led me to a real study of the nature of curses and blessings. And where I’ve presented this teaching, its impact has been revolutionary. One of the things that God has led me to analyze is what causes God’s curse to come upon His people. And this is one of the main causes: stinginess. “You are cursed with a curse. You’ve robbed me. You’ve kept back for yourselves what was due to me.”
What’s the answer? Very simple, very practical.
“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And test me now in this way, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”
How do we move from curse to blessing in this area? By stopping being stingy and starting to be generous with God. God says, “When that happens, I’ll remove the curse and I will pour out the blessing.”
See, God is so practical. He doesn’t deal with high theological concepts that we can’t understand. He deals with things that are very clear and very practical. Money and material things. He says, “Deal rightly with that and I’ll see to it that you are blessed in the consequences.”
Now, there’s one further point in closing. It says “bring all your tithes into the storehouse.” What’s the storehouse? Well, I believe just from the analogy, storehouse is the place from where you get two things: the food you eat and the seed you sow. And it seems to me logical that where we get out food to eat and our seed to sow, we should respond with our tithe offered to Jesus.
You know, there are a lot of restaurant chains in the United States: Howard Johnson, there’s the Holiday Inn and others, and I’ve told them this, a little parable. If you eat in the Holiday Inn, don’t pay your bill in Howard Johnson. Where does your tithe belong? Where you receive your food that you eat and your seed to sow.