Monthly Archives: October 2010
Should a member of a local church be expected to give to their local church? Should they tithe? Is it disobedience to God if they don’t? What does biblical giving and sharing and stewardship look like? Are there legitimate circumstances for not giving regularly? What does the Bible teach about the church and money?
These are all questions that I am currently pondering and hope to drill down on and see if I can achieve some clarity. The biblical authors speak about money often so there certainly has to be some answers we can latch on to and live by.
Money is Necessary
Money is simply necessary in this life – at least if you want to live for long. Food costs money and so does medical care and clothes and a plethora of other items that are needs. The church needs money too. I am leading a church that employs staff, including myself, and we meet in a building that has utilities and needs to be cleaned. We have ministries that use resources. We park at the building on asphalt that requires maintenance. We have people who need financial assistance. We believe that God has called us to send people all over the world on the mission of gospel witness. We support other ministries and cooperate with other churches to share the gospel. All of these things require money. In this life money is almost always necessary, whether we like it or not. I suppose I could simply say that the church family needs to give because if we don’t then there are many things we simply could not do. But I don’t want to be godlessly practical, though I might make an almost unassailable pragmatic argument when it comes to money and the church. Money, however, is ultimately about God and others (Matthew 22:36-40) and unless we start with God then we will inevitably run into some godless ditch.
“My” Money Belongs to God
I belong to God, therefore my money belongs to God. If I don’t even belong to myself then how can the stuff I posses belong to me. I am simply a steward of God’s stuff and all that I have been given by God is to be used for God’s purposes. You belong to God too. Even if you are reading this and you haven’t trusted in God through Christ by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, you belong to God. Why? He created you. He owns you like a child belongs to a parent. If you have trusted in Christ then he doubly owns you because you have been bought from slavery in sin to be a Son and steward of God. What you do with your money is first and foremost about obedience to God. Money is not just a pragmatic issue, it is a devotion and worship issue.
Jesus Will Demand Your Money and Your Response Will Reveal Your Devotion
A very wealthy young man came to Jesus because he rightly recognized that Jesus could give him eternal life. The young man asked Jesus how he might obtain what he was after (Obtain is an interesting word – sounds like what happens when you buy something). Jesus told him to obey all the commandments. The young man responded that he had done what was necessary but wondered what else he could do. (If that were the case it makes you wonder why he asked Jesus in the first place.) Jesus tells him that to be perfect he must sell everything and give it to the poor and follow Jesus. Another sidebar: Jesus doesn’t say sell it and give it to me, he says sell it and give it to others. Matthew records that the young man went away grieving. Why? He had a bunch of stuff and he didn’t want Jesus or the poor to have it (Matthew 19:16-22).
Oh the applications we could make from this story. But let’s be clear about what this story is about. It’s about our allegiance and about who we worship. Jesus is Lord and He doesn’t even flinch when he asks you and I to be willing to give it all. And why is that? Because to have Jesus is to have everything that matters for eternity (Matthew 19:28-30). By the way, Jesus gave it all for you and to ask you to give it all is nothing less than He himself gave. Jesus is no hypocrite, He is humble and authentic to the core.
Jesus demands your allegiance because He is Lord and because He can. Your money and stuff say more about your loyalties than perhaps anything else you have, or do. It also says everything about who you trust. This rich young guy simply did not trust Jesus and because he did not trust Him he wasn’t about to replace his allegiance to his stuff with the Man who could give him riches forever. Bottom line: The rich young ruler trusted and worshiped his stuff (maybe himself since he could own his stuff) more than Jesus, and his stuff was his lord. Jesus didn’t hesitate to let the rich young ruler walk because if Jesus doesn’t have a person’s stuff then He doesn’t have the person. Our money and possessions are a reliable indicator about who has our devotion and worship.
I suppose the proper question is this: Does Jesus have you or does your stuff and money have you? You cannot serve God and wealth (Matthew 6:24).
Because money is necessary, it touches every part of our lives.
But this is not my life.
My life belongs to Jesus and so does my stuff.
Jesus has every right to ask me to give up everything, including my money.
Whether or not I am willing to give it all away for Him strikingly reveals who I trust and who I worship.
Lacey and I recently took the boys to a pumpkin patch and we let them each choose and pick a pumpkin. I then lugged the pumpkins back to the car and we took them home to carve them up. As you probably know we began by cutting the top of out and then removing the inside stuff. After creating an adequate sized hole around the stem that would allow us to get our hands inside to clean the pumpkin, both boys emphatically made known their disgust for the foul smell, as well as the slimy and gooey and disgusting feeling that they felt as a part of the gutting process.
Lacey seized this opportunity as teaching moment to pump more of the gospel into the minds of the boys. She told the boys that we are each like a pumpkin before trusting in Christ. The inside of the pumpkin is like our sin. Our sin is dirty, stinky, and disgusting to God. But God, being rich in mercy can remove our disgusting sin by faith in Christ, making us useful for God’s glory through the power of the Holy Spirit. Once Christ has saved us by faith He can use us to shine for God just a pumpkin shines in the night after it has been cleaned out and made ready for light and the purpose it was altered for (Ephesians 2:1-10).
This may seem silly, but in the life of a home with two small boys it is a thoughtful way of making Jesus relevant with every family moment. If we would only be intentional and thoughtful there are so many ways to get the gospel into the little minds of children. Take the time to do something special with your family and then as you are going (Matthew 28:19-20) think of ways to show and tell the gospel. God might use the carving of a pumpkin to burn the story of the gospel into a little mind. All things are made by Jesus and for Him (Col. 1:16). We just have to figure out how and apply it.
I recently came across this definition of the church from Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears (This is how we define the church):
The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.
I found this definition particularly helpful in comparing it to what I compiled by way of preaching the recent sermon series, “Why the Church Matters”. Here is my best summary. The church is:
- A people who submit to the Father through Jesus by submitting to the Spirit-inspired word.
- A local gathering with a biblically qualified shepherding and caring authority (1 Timothy 1:1-13; 1 Peter 1:1-5; Hebrews 13:17).
- Universal: The true people of God in Christ for all time (Matt. 16:18).
- Local: A visible gathering or assembly of people in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2).
- God’s plan to display and advance the gospel to all creation (Ephesians 3:8-11, Acts 1:8 and all of Acts).
- A local body with various gifts from the same Spirit, unified for the common good and joy of others, and God’s glory through Jesus (1 Cor. 12:1-30).
- A united household of God that has been reconciled by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22).
- Summary: The church is God’s possession and plan.
Christopher Hitchens is one of the most identifiable and outspoken atheists (non-theist) in the world today. His recent fight with cancer has given some hope that he would renounce his unbelief and turn to Christ by faith for the forgiveness of his sins. Many have sent letters persuading him to do this very thing. His response?
Under no persuasion could I be made to believe that a human sacrifice several thousand years ago vicariously redeems me from sin. Nothing could persuade me that that was true — or moral, by the way. It’s white noise to me.” (The NPR Story and Audio)
His rejection of Christ is not surprising to me. I’ve watched several debates he has participated in and I have read some of what he has written. He is an ardent unbeliever. What strikes me is that at least he has an understanding of what the gospel is. He understands that the biblical story of God and man and Jesus is that Jesus Christ came and lived and died as a substitution for the sins of those who would repent and believe. Hitchens understands the guts of the gospel and he disdains it so much that there is nothing that could persuade him. This is also striking to me. For someone who believes in evidence and reason, he is shut off to any evidence and reason that would redeem him from his sins. There apparently is no amount of evidence that could convince Hitchens that Christ died vicariously for him.
What’s my point? I suppose I just see a lot of irony in Hitchens rejection of Christ. Jesus Christ died so that Hitchens might believe and have life in His name. Hitchens is going to die having known the truth, and he will do it clinging to his belief in unbelief.
We should never underestimate the power of sin that consumes the human mind and heart.
Hitchens does have a brother (Peter) who is a Christian. I will continue to pray that God uses him to change his mind and turn to Christ. I know Christopher Hitchens would resent that of me. But I have been convinced that Jesus did die for me and others, and He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). It would take the most certain evidence in the world to convince me otherwise.
At Eagle Heights our most common method of preaching is through the Bible, one section at a time. This causes us to deal with texts that raise difficult and gut-wrenching questions. Several years ago we were going through the book of Acts I said this about Acts 2:23: “God uses wicked men to carry out His plan.” A person who shall remain anonymous emailed me and asked me to elaborate on what I meant. Here is what I wrote:
Thanks for the question. To say that God uses wicked men (people) to carry out his plan is certainly not an admission on my part that he approves of their wickedness or is favorable to it. Every person will be judged for their deeds (2 Corinthians 5:10). Those without Christ will be eternally separated from God and give an account for deeds done in the body. However that’s not to say that God can’t use the wicked deeds of wicked men to accomplish his perfect and holy Will and purposes. Acts 1:15-19 and 2:23 illustrate clearly that God used evil acts by evil people to accomplish His plan of sending Jesus to die for sins of those who would trust Christ as Lord and Savior. Another helpful example is that of Joseph in Genesis. In Genesis 45 Joseph reveals himself to his brothers who sold him into slavery and tells them that it was God’s plan that He be sold into slavery by his brothers in order to save them from a severe famine (Genesis 45:4-8). His brothers meant to do evil to Joseph, but Joseph sees that God used it for good by making Joseph the second in command in all of Egypt to preserve the family of Jacob which becomes the nation of Israel. Another story that illustrates God using evil to accomplish His will is the story of Judah and Tamar. Judah was a son of Jacob and it was from his lineage that Jesus would later be born (Matthew 1:1-17). Genesis 38 tells the story of how Judah’s sons were conceived, who were the ancestor’s of Jesus. The story is pretty twisted, but essentially Judah slept with his daughter-in-law who he thought was a prostitute. God used that mess to bless us and to give us Jesus, though God certainly did not approve of Judah’s impulsive and reckless lifestyle. We all love Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” But this verse simply cannot be true unless God in his infinite power can take the evil deeds of evil men to accomplish good things for His people, because God causes all things to work together for good. That God uses evil for good is a powerful reminder that there is nothing that is impossible for God. God is not the author of evil but He is not limited in His capacity to use it. One last example. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 Paul tells the Corinthians that God nearly killed he and his travel companions when they were in Asia (SW Modern Day Turkey). Why would God let that happen to the apostle Paul? Paul’s answer: “So that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” God uses the evil deeds of evil people for our good and to teach us to trust Him in every situation. That’s what I mean when I say that “God uses wicked men to carry out His plan(s).”
Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified. Acts 2:36
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him. Colossians 2:6
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus Every Knee Will Bow, of those who are are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11
Do we have the option to take Jesus as Savior and not as Lord? Can He be one and not the other? In the minds of some this dichotomy can exist and needs to exist. For some the offer of salvation is a free gift of Christ as savior, but follow-ship or discipleship or obedience is what a person might or might not decide to do in response to Christ as Lord. Adding Lordship to Jesus is optional – optional like a DVD package in a new car.
Until I heard of this doctrine of separation I had been unaware that we had the right to choose certain Jesus options, as though Jesus could be uniquely crafted if we were willing to pay a little more with our life. I did not know that we could build a customized Jesus as though he were a house designed to our liking. I’ve never understood the Bible to be a menu that gave us the options of what we like with our version of Jesus. As I read the Bible I get the overwhelming impression that Jesus and His followers gave people the option to have all or nothing of Jesus. The Rich Young Ruler comes to mind (Matthew 19:16-30). I can’t grasp the division of Christ as Savior and Christ as master (Lord). To have salvation and be saved is to follow Jesus and be ready to give up everything, including one’s life (Matthew 16:24-27).
AW Tozer takes up this question in his book The Root of the Righteous from 1955:
We must never underestimate the ability of humans to get themselves tangled up. Mankind appears to have a positive genius for twisting truth until it ceases to be truth and becomes downright falsehood. By overemphasizing in one place and underemphasizing in another the whole pattern of truth may be so altered that a completely false view results without our being aware of it.
The fact was brought forcibly to mind recently by hearing again the discredited doctrine of a divided Christ so widely current a few years ago and still accepted in many religious circles. It goes like this: Christ is both Saviour and Lord. A sinner may be saved by accepting Him as Saviour without yielding to Him as Lord. Almost all deeper life teaching is based upon this fallacy, but because it contains a germ of truth its soundness is not questioned.
Now, it seems odd that none of these teachers ever noticed that the only true object of saving faith is none other than Christ Himself; not the “saviourhood” of Christ nor the “lordship” of Christ but Christ Himself. God does not offer salvation to the one who will believe on one of the offices of Christ, nor is an office of Christ ever presented as an object of faith……The notion that we are so permitted is a modern day heresy, I repeat, and like every heresy it has had evil consequences among Christians……
It is altogether doubtful whether any man can be saved who comes to Christ for His help but not intention to obey Him. Christ’s saviourhood is forever united to His lordship. (See Romans 10:9-13; Acts 16:31)
When my wife and I were united in marriage for better or worse she did not have the option of customizing me and taking me as husband but not as pastor or Christ-follower. When she said yes, she said yes to all of me. Jesus Christ is our all in all and when God unites us to Him through His Spirit by our response of faith, it is nothing short of ludicrous to think that we could have nothing short of all of Him. It’s all or nothing with Jesus. He is Lord and Savior. Take all of Him or Leave all of Him. That’s your only option.
This is John Stott’s summary of Acts 2:14-41:
Here, then, is a fourfold message – two events (Christ’s death and resurrection), as attested by two witnesses (prophets and apostles), on the basis of which God makes two promises (forgiveness and the Spirit), on the two conditions (repentance and faith, with baptism). We have no liberty to amputate this apostolic gospel, by proclaiming the cross without the resurrection, or referring to the New Testament but not the Old, or offering forgiveness without the Spirit, or demanding faith without repentance. There is a wholeness about the biblical gospel.
It is not enough to ‘proclaim Jesus.’ For there are many different Jesuses being presented today. According to the New Testament gospel, however, he is historical (he really lived, died, rose and ascended in the arena of history), theological (his life, death, resurrection and ascension all have saving significance) and contemporary (he lives and reigns to bestow salvation on those who respond to him). Thus the apostles told the same story of Jesus at three levels – as historical event (witnessed by their own eyes), as having theological significance (interpreted by the scriptures), and as contemporary message (confronting men and women with the necessity of decision). We have the same responsibility today to tell the story of Jesus as fact, doctrine and gospel. p. 81