MONEY AND THE GENEROUS LIFE
Written by Doug Ponder on December 2, 2012
Discovering What You Truly Love
Remember that time you swore you were running a fever, but the thermometer proved you wrong? Or perhaps there have been times when you thought you were well but you were actually quite sick. In both cases the thermometer was the only sure way to tell what your actual temperature was. In a similar way, Jesus gave us a kind of “thermometer” for our hearts. (In the Bible, the heart is not a reference to the blood-pumping organ in your chest, but a reference to the decision-making part of every person that is controlled by their desires or will.) So if you want to know the state of your heart, Jesus gives you this simple test: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). If Jesus had said the same thing in our time, he might have said it like this: “Where you devote your money shows what your heart is truly devoted to.” In other words, our bank statements tell us a lot about what we truly love, care about, live for, hope in, and depend upon. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Here’s why this matters: Many of us go around saying that we love God and that we want to support what he is doing in the world. But if Jesus’ statement about the treasure of our hearts is true, then we must face the reality that perhaps we aren’t as committed to supporting the mission of God as we thought we were. What we must not do, if we are serious about becoming like Jesus, is continue to say that we love God and want to support his mission while we give almost none of our resources (time, money, effort) to the churches where we belong. Another way of saying all this is that people who genuinely love God will want to support his mission and will work to find ways of doing so.
Common Objections and Excuses
“It’s my money.” This is a terrible and destructive lie. In truth, all things came into existence from God, through God, and for God (Rom. 11:36). Thus everything is God’s, including your money. (For you couldn’t have earned it God hadn’t blessed you with the talents, gifts, and abilities to do so.) The only proper response to his grace is to honor him with all of our money. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving it all away, but it does mean that we should be looking for ways to reduce our spending and increase our giving.
“My bills prevent me from giving more.” It can be tempting to blame our failure to give on things like the high monthly bills that we have. The problem, though, is that many of our monthly bills are actually “optional” expenses. I personally know of many Christians who have voluntarily gone without internet access, cable TV, and other monthly subscriptions so that they could give more to God’s work in their church. Instead of blaming our bills, we should evaluate our bills in light of what God says is a true need (1 Timothy 6:8).
“I’m going to get out of debt first, then I can give much more.” This excuse sounds good on the surface, however, statistics have shown that people who take such an approach almost never actually increase their giving after getting out of debt. This is because many such people fail to consider the reasons why they went into debt in the first place. So instead of addressing the greed in their hearts, they get out of debt and then continue to act greedily with a greater sum of money. We must see that God doesn’t want us to promise to give in the future; he wants us to support what he is doing now.
“I just don’t have any money.” Almost no one in America can truly say this, but this is a common excuse. Usually the reality is not that we have zero money, but that we have zero desire to give it away. But if we were more sacrificial with what little we do have, we’d find that churches would have a lot more resources to help a lot more people. (If just 100 people gave as little as $10 per week, for example, they would collectively give over $50,000 every year!)
“The church will waste the money I give them.” Sadly, this objection is understandable, for there are many churches that do waste the money that people have given in good faith that it will be used to advance God’s work in the world. If you are part of a church like this—for example, a church that spends its money on things that don’t help you love and serve your neighbors—consider sharing your concerns with the pastors there. Maybe they are already taking steps to increase their ministry in the community and their support of other churches across the world. If not, however, it may be time to look for a new church home—one that takes the great commission (to tell others about Jesus) and the great commandment (to love God and love your neighbor) seriously. As Jesus himself would say, “Where a church’s money is, there its heart will be also.”
Giving for the Right Reason
In all of this we must not lose sight of the real reason why we should give: the grace we have already been given (2 Cor. 8:9). We must never think that God will love us more because of the money that we give him. God’s grace toward us in Christ is not dependent on our giving record toward him. Neither should we think that God doesn’t care about our money. Jesus said that our spending habits reveal our true treasure. So if we say the grace of Jesus is our greatest joy or that telling others about him is our greatest desire, then why don’t our checkbooks back this up? It’s as if God were saying to us, “Put your money where your mouth is.” Let’s pray that we will be people whose greatest treasure is Jesus, for when that’s true of us, we will live generously with what we have.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.