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Money &
the Church

by Kim Harrington

     "Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed Thee?' In tithes and offerings.

Malachi 3:8 (NAS)

     When I first entered the ministry I determined in my heart never to speak on the subject of money.  Too many people have been turned away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ because of the questionable methods of raising money that are practiced by many ministers today, I reasoned.  The church has taken on the image of a beggar with outstretched hand for too long--and whether that hand belongs to the mendicant friar or the televangelist, people are sick and tired of it.  Too many times I'd heard the complaint, "all they want is our money," and I was determined that no one would ever make that statement about me.

     So we put a little plate in the back of the room and let people know about it; but we didn't take a public offering.  I didn't preach a sermon or make a plea concerning the "dirty" subject of money... and no money came in, either!  For the first several months my partner and I met all the financial needs of our young ministry out of our own pockets (and there wasn't much in them, either).  I was puzzled, and I asked God about it in prayer... "We're being faithful, Lord... we thought if we stuck to our principles and followed our consciences that you would honor it and bless us.  But we're barely scraping by.  Don't we have enough faith, or what..."

     The Lord showed us it wasn't a matter of faith.  Rather, our principle was erroneous--it was unscriptural. God wanted us to look at the subject of money and the church head-on. He showed us that He wasn't ashamed to talk about money, that He didn't care what the critics said, and that we shouldn't either. From Moses to the Apostle Paul and beyond, men of God spoke freely and straightforwardly about it; it's even been said that Jesus Himself spoke more on giving than any other subject.  They didn't beg, but they brought forth sound teaching on the subject, made the various needs known, and gave sincere people an opportunity to respond and help the work of God go forward.

     So we decided to quit giving in a corner, as though we were ashamed of it, and we started taking up an offering. For my part, I learned that I must teach the whole counsel of God. I couldn't pick and choose what I wanted to speak on and what I didn't--there are no "dirty" subjects in the Bible. Giving and finances are scriptural subjects, and as a preacher of the Gospel, I was bound before the Lord to teach on them, just as I would other subjects, like faith or love.

 

Principles Of Giving

     Giving is a necessary discipline of the Christian life.   It causes us to grow spiritually in the same way that a consistent prayer life or good church attendance does.  These basic disciplines, and others like them -- rather than the more sensational experiences -- are the difference between mature believers and nominal Christians. (Remember the root word of disciple is discipline.)

     Giving is also the Christian's greatest means of getting blessed. "It is more blessed to give than to receive," (Acts 20:35). "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," (Luke 6:38). In many other places God promises to bless the one who gives towards the work of the kingdom. Giving is, in a very real way, the believer's source of financial security. It is how he or she saves for the future: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven...for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also," (Mth.6:19). If God's ministers fail to teach their congregations about giving, they are begrudging them the blessings that could be theirs, both spiritually and materially.

     Giving by the local membership is also the only responsible way to support the church and her ministers. We don't drag the name of Christ in the mud when we speak frankly and honestly about financial needs and take an offering.  It is the people's church, and they should know if the financial situation is healthy, or if there are special needs at the moment. And they should care enough, and be responsible enough, to support with finances the men and the church that provide them with their spiritual sustenance.

     We can't divorce money and spirituality. God is not merely interested in your spiritual life; He is interested in your whole life. When you give your life to Jesus, you give Him your whole life--you don't slip your wallet out of your pocket before praying a salvation prayer. It's as much a part of you as anything else is, and Jesus wants to be Lord of your wallet, too. Actually, that wallet is symbolic of your whole life in a way nothing else is. It represents your sweat and toil, and where you spend most of each week; it represents your ability to make ends meet and provide for yourself and your family; it represents your ability to realize the hopes and dreams of your future. If you haven't given your wallet to Christ, you haven't given anything to Him.

     When I gave myself to my wife, I gave her everything: lock, stock, and barrel... and wallet. If she needs twenty dollars, and I have it, it's hers. She doesn't have to beg or threaten--what's mine is hers. Likewise, what's hers is mine, too.

     So it is with Jesus. He gave Himself for me, and I gave myself to Him. If His work needs twenty dollars or two thousand, and I have it, it's His. Everything I have is His, and everything He has is mine. The Bible says we're joint heirs (Rom.8:17). If you think about it, I got the better end of the deal. I could never repay all He's done for me.

 

A Specific Plan For Giving

     Of course, all of this sounds real good on paper, but actually paying the church bills sometimes turns out to be an entirely different story. Sharing all your possessions with a silent partner in heaven might easily end up meaning sharing nothing at all. God understands the deep selfishness of human nature. Most people, if left with just what we've said so far as a guide, would probably manage to find a pressing reason every week why Jesus doesn't need their money as much as they do. They might, to ease their conscience, slip a few bucks in the collection plate as it goes by, but that's doing no better than thousands of religious church-goers across the country who really don't know the Lord at all. The serious Christian must do better than that. We need a program, a discipline to follow, or all of our good intentions will quickly fade away into nothing,

     That's why the Lord established the policy of tithes and offerings: specific gifts that we're to give to the work of the ministry to meet all of the various needs. This was the common practice in the Old Testament, not just under the Law of Moses, but even before that, in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus also established it as a New Testament precedent in Matthew 23:23.

     In our opening text from Malachi, the Lord actually goes as far as to say that failing to give tithes and offerings is robbing Him! Heaven forbid that we should be guilty of such a crime, but many otherwise sincere Christians have done it through ignorance or neglect. Some even say that everything they have is God's, and they won't be bound by a lesser, legalistic concept like tithing--but in spite their high-sounding rhetoric they end up giving even less than a tithe of their income. They cheat themselves out of God's blessings, and possibly even more... Jesus taught that those who fail to do the least of His commandments, and teach others so, will be least in the kingdom (Matt.5: 19).

 

The Tithe

     The tithe is ten percent of your income. God has given us literally everything we have, and He asks a mere ten percent in return. The various levels of government manage to get fifty percent of your paycheck, if you include sales tax, gasoline taxes, property taxes, etc.! If we can give half of everything we earn to support of our civil government, we certainly can give a tenth to the One who gives us our very breath!

     Back in Malachi chapter three again, verse ten reads, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house..." Some people want to divide their tithe up among several different ministries they believe in, but God says bring it all into the storehouse. The storehouse is your local church, the place you go for your spiritual needs on a regular basis. The local church is the cornerstone of the kingdom of God on this earth. It needs the faithful support of its people. If the membership doesn't support the local church, who will? Though missionaries, evangelists, and relief organizations are important, they are not the ones who pray faithfully for you and your family, minister to you each week, and come to you at your bedside when you're sick. Bring your tithes into the storehouse, the place you draw your spiritual life from the most, the local church.

     God also promises in Malachi 3:10 to reward us if we are faithful in the matter of tithing... "Prove me now...if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it." When I first started paying tithes, the Lord blessed me immediately with a pay raise at work, an advancement that was totally unexpected. I was thrilled. But then, as the months went by, my wife and noticed that we were still barely getting by; we weren't seeing the abundance promised in the Bible. The Lord directed us back to Malachi again and I saw for the first time the last two words of verse eight, "and offerings."

 

The Free-will Offering

     "And offerings." We had been giving our tithes faithfully and cheerfully, but we hadn't been giving offerings. We found out from the Bible that the "offering" is what is supposed to given above and beyond the tithe. It's sometimes called the "free-will offering," but the only thing free-will about it is the exact amount. It's actually just as mandatory a discipline as the tithe itself -- if you want the blessing of God on your life. In the Old Testament the tithes supported the ministers of the tabernacle, and free-will offerings were taken to meet the various other needs of the house of God. Today, though a set salary may be more appropriate for the ministers, both tithes and offerings are still needed so the church can operate as it should, in obedience to the Scriptures.

     You will be blessed by God to the same degree that you bless Him and others with your offerings. Luke 6:38 says God will use the same measuring cup that you do. II Corinthians 9:6 says, "he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully." The tithe is a mandatory ten percent, but the amount of the offering is up to you--it all depends on how much you want to bless others, and how much you want God to bless you in return. The more offerings you give, the more you get blessed--it's as simple as that. The blessing is in the offering,

     When we first started being faithful in free-will offerings, we experienced a new liberty and faith in our personal finances. We found that we could not out-give God! So we began to give more to His work than we'd ever dreamed of -- yet we weren't getting poorer. We were being prospered all the more. Down through the years, the Lord has consistently bettered our standard of living. We're not rich, but we're comfortable and content. And we're free from the stingy, penny-pinching bondage of the spirit of Mammon. We've learned it really is more blessed to give than to receive. It's the Christian way of life.

     I still don't talk much about money from the pulpit, and we never beg or engage in questionable fund-raising techniques. The church doesn't have to do that. She can apply the same principles that individuals do, and be in a place of blessing. "Give and it shall be given to you" works for churches, too, as they give to missions, sister churches, and other worthy causes.

     But you, the individuals and families that make up the local church, have to start the ball rolling with your tithes and offerings. The local church is your church, so get behind it one hundred percent. If the Lord touches your heart to support some other ministry as well, do it. Don't rob God and be "cursed with a curse." Be among that choice group of blessed people who have learned and practice the biblical secrets of giving and personal prosperity. Take a new step of faith in this area. Extend yourself a little by giving more than you think you can. You won't be disappointed. We serve a big God, and a giving God. He gave His only begotten Son for us... how can we be stingy with Him?

 

Copyright 1998 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.

 

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