Balance is an important part of life. Let me give you some examples of what I mean,
- It’s good to be concerned about your weight but you go too far and become anorexic or bulimic. What started out as a way to be more healthy actually makes you sick.
- It is good to eat all kinds of different things, however when you lack the necessary balance (eating too many sweets and not enough fruit or vegetables) you actually sacrifice good health.
- It is good to have hobbies but when your hobbies consume necessary family income and keep you from that family, it may be more harm than good.
- It is good and necessary to take time to relax, but when you become a couch potato, you actually are hurting yourself.
It is a question of balance. It seems to me that much of what Jesus said to the Scribes and Pharisees in the woes of Matthew 23 is a plea for balance. In verse 15 Jesus proclaimed that these leaders traveled over land and sea to win a single convert (a good thing) but then they made him twice as much a son of hell as they were by their endless regulations (that’s bad). In verse 25 Jesus said they cleaned the outside of the cup or their lives (always a good thing) but inside they were still full of greed and self-indulgence (bad). In verse 29 Jesus affirmed that these men honored the graves of the prophets and the righteous leaders who were killed (good) but they are the descendants of (and carried on the tradition of) the very people who murdered the prophets (bad).
In our text this morning Jesus is also promoting balance.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Jesus said that these leaders were scrupulous tithers. . A tithe is literally “a tenth part”. These men made sure they gave 10% of everything to God. They went so far as to tithe even the smallest things like the spices they grew in their garden. It was like a person finding a dime on the sidewalk and adding a penny to their offering on Sunday.
In simple terms I see three reasons for the Old Testament law on tithing. First, there was a practical reason. The tithe supported the temple and those who worked in the temple. In other words, the tithe financed Kingdom work. Second, there was a theological reason. The tithe was a way of acknowledging God as King and as the source of all our blessings. It was a regular reminder that everything we have is from the Lord. It was a disciplined way of giving thanks. Third there was a defensive reason. The tithe was an antidote to the tendency of people to be enslaved to their stuff rather than to the Lord. The discipline of giving helped them to keep from worshiping their stuff rather than the Lord.
The New Testament doesn’t say a great deal about tithing so many people feel that we are no longer obligated to tithe. In a sense, that is true. We are no longer under the law, but under grace. Jesus paid for our salvation with His blood. Tithing can’t get us to Heaven. However true faith is a matter of commitment. True commitment will affect our spending. The New Testament never diminished commitment, it expanded it!
- The prohibition of murder was expanded to also prohibit hatred (or murder in the heart);
- The prohibition of adultery was expanded to prohibit lust (mental adultery);
- The commands about divorce were restricted to cases of adultery and possible abandonment.
- The regulation about justice (an eye for an eye) was expanded instructing us to love our enemies and do good to those who try to use us.
I believe the same is true with the tithe. God does not abandon the idea of a tithe . . .He wants to broaden it. He wants us to realize that the tithe is the starting point for our generosity. He wants us to see that we are stewards (or trustees) of all His resources.
In the book of Malachi, God rebukes Israel because they were “robbing God”. He goes on to explain that they robbed God when they looked for loopholes to keep from having to give the full tithe. The people were giving their leftovers rather than the first portion of their income.
This is a message that needs to be heard today. According to statistics only about 4% of Christians tithe and most give less than 3% of their income. We say they “can’t afford” to tithe. Yet, we give 10-20% to our waitress. Most of us would go out and buy a new television, microwave, computer or even a new car if the old one broke. We have money for vacations, eating out, cable television, hobbies, cell phones and Internet access but we say we have no money to honor the Lord. We have many things that seem to be more important to us than the Lord.
Jesus said the scribes and Pharisees were tithing but they were neglecting matters such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Max Lucado has a great summary, “They took pride when it came to tithing, but took naps when it came to serving”
In the book of Micah we read,
6 With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)
William Barclay, is on target when he writes,
There is many a man who wears the right clothes to church, carefully hands in his offering to the Church, adopts the right attitude at prayer, is never absent from the celebration of the sacrament, and who is not doing an honest day’s work and is irritable and bad-tempered and mean with his money. There are women who are full of good works and who serve on all kinds of committees, and whose children are lonely for them at night. There is nothing easier than to observe all the outward actions of religion and yet be completely irreligious.
Jesus wants us to understand that God is not interested in checkbook Christianity. He doesn’t want us to merely write a check and feel we have done our duty. God wants us to be generous not just with our finances but also with our care, our compassion, and our love. He wants us to use our money, our time, and our energy to impact the lives of others
Jesus drew a humorous caricature. The Pharisees, he said, were very careful to make sure to filter their wine to avoid swallowing a gnat but failed to notice they were swallowing a camel! In other words they were so focused on the minutiae, that they were missing the big things.
Stewardship is about the way we live not just the amount that we give. It is a matter of honoring God in every relationship and every encounter.
FINDING A BALANCE
This passage is not about getting more money for the church; it is about the heart. This isn’t a fund-raising ploy, it’s about basic discipleship. Where we spend our money and how we invest our time reveals the true affections of our heart. Jesus is concerned with advancing the Kingdom of God. This passage is about reaching the lost, comforting the hurting and befriending the discarded.
I never want people to think that the church is primarily concerned with getting in their pocket. I don’t want people to think the gospel is for sale. God’s love and forgiveness is a free gift. However, how we handle our money does impact the rest of our lives. If we are selfish with our money, we will tend to treat people with suspicion. If we are self-indulgent with what we have, we will tend to be too self-absorbed to help hurting people. If we are afraid to trust God in the area of our finances, we will have trouble trusting God in any other area of our lives.
Here are some sobering statistics that I heard at a recent seminar. If you were to take the entire population of the world and represent it by 100 people, here are some interesting statistics.
70 of those people would not know Jesus Christ as their Savior (in other words, 70 of them would be heading for Hell)
30 are white
51 are women
80 (of the 100) live in substandard housing (they don’t have running water or indoor plumbing)
70 of them can’t read
Less than 1 of those people would own a computer
And 6 of those people would possess over ½ of the world’s wealth
These statistics raise some interesting questions.
1. Why are we waiting for the rich people to do something dramatic when we ARE the rich people?
2. For what purpose has God given us this unprecedented abundance? Is it so we can indulge ourselves? Or has He given us these resources so we could make an impact for His Kingdom?
Do you realize that we are the richest country in the world, yet by 2015 it is predicted that we will be the 3rd largest debtor nation? Things are out of control. Our desire for more has become insatiable. We are never satisfied!
God wants us to care so much for the advancement of His Kingdom that we are willing to forego indulgences in this world in order to make sure that others join us in the next world. He wants us to invest in Him and in eternity.
In the book of Malachi God issues a great challenge. After rebuking the people for all their excuses and shortcuts to avoid having to give 10% to the Lord, He says,
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:10-12)
It is as if God says, “I dare you to try to out give me!” “Test me in this” he says. Do what is right and you will see a blessing in your life that you never imagined. As we develop generous hearts, God will provide for our needs. If we will be faithful in the little, He will entrust us with much.
God does not bless us materially for our indulgence . . . He gives us more so we can invest more! Sometimes we hear preachers talk and they sound like they are saying, “Give to God and then God will give you more stuff than you had at first.” That’s a horrible perversion of the teaching of the Bible! Here’s a good question to help you examine your heart: Would you continue to give generously to the Lord even if He gave you nothing in return? If the answer is “yes” then you are giving out of love and God is honored in your gift; if the answer is “no” your gift is merely self-indulgence in disguise.
God does bless us. As we give of our time, He will enable us to experience a new kind of satisfaction and productivity in our lives. As we willingly serve Him by reaching out to others, we will know His love in a greater way. As we dare to honor God beyond what we find “comfortable”, we will experience a new sense of purpose. As we step out in faith we will discover that He is more faithful than we previously understood. As we give of ourselves we find that we have new desires, we experience God in a greater fullness and we actually end up finding our true identity.
There are many examples of people who have learned to live simply and resolve to give God what remains. These people were blessed and continued to give the excess to Kingdom work. Some of these people ended up giving 90% of their income away and living on 10%.
God wants us to see that there is no better investment of what we have and what we do, than to invest in the work He is doing. There is no dividend that is greater than that of a soul snatched from the fires of hell. There is no satisfaction that is deeper than to know you have been used by God. Our goal should not be to gain a greater income but to make a greater impact with the income we have. We should be seeking not the praise of men, but the “Well Done!” of our Father in Heaven.
When we die, everything we worked for will be left behind. Everything! Our place in Heaven will not be determined by our net worth on earth. Our reward in Heaven will be based on the investments we have made in the Kingdom of Heaven while we were on the earth. God calls us to make regular deposits into our heavenly retirement account with our money and our service.
I have to be honest with you. I am struggling to find this balance in my own life. There is lots of stuff I would like to have. I am trying to learn that contentment is found in my attitude rather than in some future purchase. I don’t want to be controlled by Madison Avenue . . . I want my heart to belong to Jesus.
To that end let me share some practical suggestions
1. If you are giving less than 10% to God’s work, stop robbing God! Dare to trust Him to provide for your needs.
2. Look for ways to simplify your life. Sell some of your toys. Get by on less. Buy things that are used. Find joy in simple pleasures. Then take the money you save and invest it in reaching others for Christ.
3. Read Randy Alcorn’s book, “The Treasure Principle” (it’s short) and begin to apply some of the Biblical principles contained in the book.
4. Sponsor a missionary in a foreign country. You might want to check out www.gfa.org where you can learn how you can sponsor a missionary in Asia for only $30.00 a month.
5. Give of yourself. Sometimes the most precious thing we have is our free time. Honor God with your time. Serve in a ministry, reach out to the sick or the lonely, spend more time in prayer, begin a new outreach, babysit for the young couple that is worn out, take time to share the gospel you’re your neighbor.
6. In your budget put money in a special “God” account so that when a special need or project comes in the church, on the mission field or in the life of someone you know, you will have the resources to make a significant contribution.
This is only a beginning. If we became Kingdom-focused it is hard to tell how creative we might become in our generosity and service.
Let me say it again, I am speaking to you as one who has the same struggles as you do. I fight the same self-absorption, selfishness, and indulgent attitude. But I will tell you this: I find God’s idea to be exhilarating. I want to do more than simply put my money in the offering plate and make my appearance at worship. I want to be a “player” in the work of God’s Kingdom. I want to be used by God. I want to see what God can do through me. I want to be a person who lives in the present with a constant eye on the future in Heaven. I not only want to declare that I trust God . . . I want to dare to actually trust Him. I pray God gives you that same passion and then gives us all the grace to see that passion fulfilled in the dept of our hearts.