A message for Akron Alliance Fellowship Church – Sunday, September 19, 2021.
As I fill in for our beloved pastor this week, I recall words that I have used during my Spring Break seminars that will have application for this particular message:
“I am NOT the pastor.”
It’s a disclaimer in that there are some sermon subjects where some (not including our pastor) may shy away from because it can turn off or offend a church audience. I am using these words to give you a heads up in addressing a delicate topic that does not often get discussed during a Sunday morning message. It is about the subject of giving.
For greater understanding, my definition of giving involves YOU giving something WITHOUT the expectation that someone will give you something in return. Your expectation of receiving something is not to be a factor in how you give. Our human nature will always try to convince us that we give with conditions and expectations.
As I wrote this message, my imagination was going crazy. Images of Richard Pryor dressed as a rich televangelist with an entourage of people around him as he was asking for generous giving, or even the Reverend Flip Wilson chastising members of the Church of What’s Happening Now because they weren’t giving enough, or as a real-life example, the dreaded passing around of the collection plate through the congregation more than once, and let’s not forget the public reading in church of names and dollar amounts based upon what was contributed. You should know that many people view the church very poorly because of real stories or parodies of churches and their leaders getting rich off of the very people that support it. It is descriptive of a very unhealthy church relationship, and it is a real hindrance to those who are skeptical of getting involved with churches in the first place. Satan takes great pleasure when this occurs.
When it comes to giving, many people assume that it is referring to tithes and offerings. I believe that pastors have tried to encourage the importance of giving in church and refer to examples in Scripture, including Abram giving a tenth of his proceeds to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20) or other examples in the Old Testament, or even during the forming of the “first” church (Acts 2:45). Unfortunately, I don’t think many people today really want to hear about how much they need to “give” to the church. The refusal to give, as if it is a requirement of some sort, is met with a lot of excuses—and some of them, understandably, are based upon mistrust of the church. The person who makes these excuses needs to examine the motivation behind them. Is it mistrust, or is it merely projection to divert the focus elsewhere? If you are thinking in this manner, proceed with caution. We fall into a trap when we make excuses and accusations, because it occurs well outside of the arena of humility.
Matthew 7:3-5 CSB
3 Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.
Of course, the subject of giving can go in a number of different directions, but for today’s review, we’re going to make sure that it goes to a place in the manner as God empowered Ezekiel (3:1-3) to speak to the people of Israel, where if you were to eat the scroll of God’s Word, it will taste as sweet as honey!
Now, I understand that everyone will not accept or buy in to this message about giving for reasons we will discuss later, but as I proceed here, I ask that you have an open mind on this. In the words of the music group En Vogue, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow”—and remember that while I’m not the pastor, the words I am about to share are supported by God’s holy Word.
So, fasten your seat belts, everyone. It’s time to explore some truths here about giving.
First, we need to consider that giving is not always about money.
As we review this in greater detail, please ask yourself this question: What causes a person to hold back and really go all in for Jesus Christ?
This hesitation or resistance to even hearing such a message is more about an issue of having a lack of understanding about a sincere, and even healthy relationship with Jesus Christ. Until a person makes the connection that giving of any sort in the church, whether it is time, money or talents, has more to do with the willingness to serve Jesus Christ because of who He is within the relationship. Many people are looking to Jesus Christ as Someone who can do something for them; for example, “Lord, bless me and I can give you more in return,” or something like that.
There will people who will give because they love the Lord and will hold nothing back, and there will be people who go through the motions in order to earn what they believe will be God’s “brownie points.” Either way, God will use the giving efforts for His glory. It still will come down to the heart of a person who really sees Jesus and want to live for Him. Without this, we will still have a lot of people who will continue to foster unhealthy relationships with Christ.
Another word of caution here: Unhealthy relationships with Jesus Christ are often rooted in disobedience and wickedness…and both of these have dire consequences.
Psalm 37:16-19, 21-22 CSB
16 The little that the righteous person has is better
than the abundance of many wicked people.
17 For the arms of the wicked will be broken,
but the Lord supports the righteous.
18 The Lord watches over the blameless all their days,
and their inheritance will last forever.
19 They will not be disgraced in times of adversity;
they will be satisfied in days of hunger.
21 The wicked person borrows and does not repay,
but the righteous one is gracious and giving.
22 Those who are blessed by the Lord will inherit the land,
but those cursed by him will be destroyed.
So, let’s take a fresh look at this with the encouraging words of Scripture that gives us the valuable truth that it is truly better to give than to receive…and once again, it’s not just about giving money. Paul makes the best statement that I can find to describe the proper attitude for every believer in Jesus Christ:
Acts 20:32-35 ESV
32 “And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that I worked with my own hands to support myself and those who are with me. 35 In every way I’ve shown you that it is necessary to help the weak by laboring like this and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Examine Paul’s words here in the proper context of what it means to give. (Don’t just isolate verse 35 here as the compelling reason to give, because that is insufficient in itself.) Note that he is making it clear that it is more about giving of YOURSELF as you work with others, and if you have the means to do so, help others along the way who are less fortunate.
Give them shoes and clothing.
Give them a helping hand.
Give them words of encouragement.
Give them your time (without distractions).
Just give of yourself.
Giving of yourself is the natural response as you develop a healthy, growing relationship in Jesus Christ through your sanctification process in the Holy Spirit. It is an act of love as described by Paul as one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
The Holy Spirit gives you sensitivity to those around you who are in need. Rest assured, there are people in need who are not looking for a handout, but merely a helping hand or acts of kindness.
Hebrews 13:16 ESV
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Giving is not about law or grace, net or gross, duty or devotion. The ultimate reason for giving is that giving reflects the character and nature of God. “God so loved the world that he gave his son…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (John 3:16 and Matthew 20:28).
God is a giver. It is God’s character and nature to give. When we give as God gives, our lives reflect God’s character. For everything that God has given to us, including salvation and grace because of His love for us, we are to look unselfishly at how we can serve Him as we consider how we are to give our gifts to others.
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 NLT
6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”
That’s a universal statement for anyone, whether you have a lot or a little. We can see how church giving is adversely affected by a person’s lackadaisical approach about money and stewardship, let alone substantial indebtedness. It’s interesting to see how God leaves it up to the person as to how much to give—there’s no pressure coming from Him over it. We’re the ones that make it more difficult than it needs to be. If following Jesus Christ is truly a “light and easy burden” (Matthew 11:28-30), then we need to be faithful that His words are true. He means what He says.
Let’s pivot back to the giving of money for just a moment. I wasn’t avoiding the issue. There are valid points to be made here, and practical ways to address this.
It is idolatry that affects how we view stewardship. If being a good steward is, in any way, a wrestling match from within, then we lack understanding about the reason why we are to be good stewards. It would hardly be an issue if we search deep within our hearts to extract anything that would give us the wrong motivation behind serving Jesus Christ. Timothy Keller notes in Counterfeit Gods, “Idolatry is the reason we ever do anything wrong.”1 A lack of stewardship also conveys tendencies of laziness:
Proverbs 13:4 ESV
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.
A good steward plans out what he or she can do with the understanding that God will use it as He sees fit, and that there is a willingness to do so as a means of glorifying Him. Some people have a heart problem over this issue and blame it on the church “just taking my money,” or by making an excuse to say that “God doesn’t need the money.” Well, I’m sorry to report that these responses could not be more self-centered and self-serving—and un-Christlike.
Rather than taking the unnecessary responsibility of being accountable for someone else’s actions, let’s start with personal accountability, and let Jesus take care of the rest.
I learned that if I wanted to be a better representative for Jesus Christ, I needed to take care of my own business–specifically, my own finances. If we make it a point to watch what we eat and make better nutrition choices for our health, then in the same way we need to make better choices with how we handle our money. The choices in front of me were quite simple. Pay down debt. Consolidate what is owed with offers to pay as little as zero interest for 12 to 18 months. Do what you need to do to raise your credit score, which also has a positive impact towards paying lower interest rates. Tighten your belt with your spending, and watch how God affirms your ability to do more and more over time. This is just a snapshot of how to be personally responsible over your ability to be a better steward. What you’ll find is that you will be able to give greater offerings as God honors your efforts to better manage your finances.
Your spirit of giving needs to come without any selfishness or excuses. It needs to be fortified with humility and buoyed by the presence of Jesus Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Here is a fact that will prove itself in many ways over time: As you honor God, He will indeed honor you. It starts with your love and desire to please God as you fulfill your calling before Him. Be gracious and hospitable to others—whether they are believers or not—and God will provide you with strength and encouragement as you go.
Jesus gave us these helpful words of wisdom that we can pray and meditate over:
Luke 6:27-36, 38 CSB
27 “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and from someone who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. 31 Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
38 Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
True giving is built upon the confidence of one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. There is an understanding that, in spite of one’s imperfection, Christ is our perfection. With the knowledge of His ongoing presence, a person can live without concerns over temporal things such as money or possessions. A good steward recognizes that everything comes from Him in the first place.
Copyright © 2021 Melvin Gaines.
1 Keller, Timothy (2009). Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. Riverhead Books, New York NY.