Christ, The Lord Of Our FinancesErwin W. Lutzer | January 27, 1991
Selected highlights from this sermon
While talking to the believers in Corinth, Paul highlights the Macedonians who gave joyfully, even though persecution, poverty, ability, reluctance, and selfishness could have stood in the way. Because they loved God, they gave wholeheartedly.
Can we say the same for ourselves? Will we offer ourselves entirely to God?
If we come to God with joyful hearts as we give sacrificially, we can expect times of trial, but the richness of God’s blessing will come, especially in the world to come.
Take myself and I will be ever only all for Thee.
Have you ever thought of the implications if you took that seriously (if I took it seriously) and said, “God, whatever it is that you want, I’m yours, no matter the cost, no matter where, no matter when, no matter how much?” Join me one more time for prayer. And today I’m going to ask that as we pray together that you ask God to speak to your heart. Ask Him to give you a willing heart and open ears to hear His word with clarity and power, and may He take these moments and transform them for me, for those on the platform, for the choir, and every single person listening to this message. May it be direct from God as an arrow to our heart. Ask Him to do that.
And now, Father, take our life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
A couple of months ago I quoted a poem at our New England dinner. I’m going to try to quote it again and hope I can get through it.
A big silver dollar and a little round cent,
Rolling along together they went.
Rolling along the smooth sidewalk
When the dollar remarked, for the dollar can talk,
“You poor little cent, you cheap little mite,
I’m bigger than you and more than twice as bright,
Worth more than you a hundred fold,
And written on me in letters bold,
Is the motto from the pious creed,
“In God we trust,” which all can read.
“I know,” said the cent. “I’m a cheap little mite.
I’m not good, nor big, nor bright.”
“But,” said the cent with a meek little sigh,
“You don’t go to church as often as I.” (laughter)
When I was younger I used to have difficulty preaching on money in church. I can now say, “When I was younger.” About a year ago somebody called me and said, “You know, Pastor Lutzer, we wonder if you would consider coming to our church and being our pastor.” And we talked for a little bit and then he said, “You know we have a rather large church and we’ve got so much going on that we thought that it would be good to have an older man come and be the pastor.” I had a mid-life crisis right there on the telephone. (laughter)
When I was younger I used to find it a little difficult speaking about money because I always knew that there were some people who were going to sit there and say, “I just dare you to get a cent out of me.” But now that I am a little older I love it, because I know that people who are generous enjoy it, and it is the stingy folks who are saying, “You are not going to get a dime out of me.” So you can tell today whether you are generous or whether you are stingy by your response to what I’m going to have to say.
Now, what I’d like to do is to speak on the topic of Christ, the Lord of our Finances. What would it be like if we honestly and truly gave ourselves and our finances to God? How would we contribute to the Lord’s ministry if we were serious about saying, “Lord, take my self, and I consecrate it all to Thee?” What would that mean?
Take your Bibles and turn to 2 Corinthians 8, because we have an illustration of some churches that did just that, and we need to learn from them. In 2 Corinthians 8 the Apostle Paul has been writing this letter to the people at Corinth, and giving them an example of how to give because there were some saints over in the city of Jerusalem that needed some money. They were going through a difficult time and the Apostle Paul was saying to the people of Corinth, “What you ought to do is to be like these other believers - like the saints in Macedonia.” That included the churches such as Philippi, the church in Thessalonica, and the church in Berea. He said, “What I want you to do is to be like they are,” and just as they were an example to the Corinthians, so they are an example to us today.
Let’s look at the characteristics of those who know what it is to make Christ Lord of their finances. How did they give? Paul says, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” Let me stop there for just a moment.
First of all, I want you to know that they gave out of deep affliction. It says “In a severe test of affliction.” What kind of affliction did this church have? Well, first of all, it was persecuted, because remember that these churches were islands of Christianity in a whole sea of paganism. Some of them found that their jobs were in jeopardy. Some of them were falsely accused. They were lied about, which always goes with persecution. Some of them actually experienced genuine physical persecution, and yet the text says that no matter what their great ordeal of affliction was, they gave liberally.
Now for every one of the five characteristics that I’d like to give you today, I want to also debunk a lie that many people have believed about giving. And the first lie that I want to debunk is the idea that somehow I should begin to give when I’ve got all of my personal problems solved. There are many people who say that. They say, “I can’t be generous because you just don’t understand the difficulties that I’m going through.” I want you to know today that no matter what difficulty it is that you are passing through, no matter how deep your personal problem, what you and I are experiencing is very probably not nearly as bad as what the churches in Macedonia experienced. And the text says that out of a great ordeal of affliction they were liberal in their giving.
You see, my friend, we bring rationalizations to bear when it comes to giving, and we say, “I’m not going to give until I am healthy, until this problem is solved or until that happens.” And the fact of the matter is that every single one of us has problems, and we will always have problems. It is a lie to think that giving should just take place once our personal problems are solved.
So first of all, it says that they gave out of affliction. Secondly, notice that it says that they gave out of deep poverty, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. Most of us don’t know what poverty is. I’m not saying that there are not people in America who are poor. There certainly are people who are poor, and there are people around the world today who are poor, but most of us are considered very rich in comparison to the people at Macedonia who were going through deep poverty. It was simply a matter of earning one day’s living so that they could live another day. They had no insurance programs. There was no such thing as retirement programs or social security. And there was not a whole lot of bright hope for change on the horizon so far as their economic status was concerned. They were in poverty and Paul says that because of joy they were liberal even despite the fact that they were poor.
What is the second lie that needs to be debunked? It is the idea that somehow giving is just for the rich. You know, there are people who think to themselves, “Oh yes, this idea of giving is very good, but it has to do with those who earn $100,000 a year, or $50,000 a year, or $200,000 a year. That’s something that rich people do. I want you to know today that there is nothing more contrary to the teaching of the New Testament than that myth that giving is for the rich. You see if you say that giving is only for the rich, what you are saying is that poor people can’t be faithful to God. Only rich people can be faithful to God because it doesn’t matter how much you have. It has to do with how you handle what God has given you. It’s not what you do with a million if riches should be your lot. It’s what you are doing at present with the dime or the quarter you’ve got. That’s the issue.
You know we can all say, “You know, if I had a million dollars I’d give half of it.” You know, there’s a story of a pastor who went to a farmer and said, “If you had a million dollars would you give half of it to the church?” “Oh yes, of course I would!” The pastor said, “If you had a thousand sheep would you give half of them to the church?” “Oh yes, certainly I would.” “If you had ten horses would you give five of them to the church?” “Yes, I would.” “If you had two pigs would you…?” “Pastor, you know I’ve got two pigs.” In other words, don’t touch that.
I want to say something to those of you who are teenagers, and children. The issue is not how much you have or whether you have much or little - a few dollars or a few pennies or a hundred dollars. The issue has to do with faithfulness with what God has given to you because it has nothing to do with riches or lack of riches. It has to do with our love for Christ, and whether or not we are going to serve Him. And that’s the issue.
One day Jesus was standing at the treasury and noticing all the rich people who were putting in their money. They were blowing the trumpet. There was a piece of metal that had been shaped like a trumpet, and people would put their gifts into it. And some of the righteous people would stand there putting in one coin after another so that, as people walked by, they’d say, “Oh, look at all the money that he’s putting in.” And they loved to drag it out just so they could be seen.
And then there was a widow who came, and nobody was watching her, and she gave her two mites. And Jesus said to the disciples, “She gave more than all of them because she gave all her living.” It has nothing to do with the amount. It has nothing to do with riches. It’s a matter of being faithful with what God has given you. The text says that out of their deep poverty they gave.
All of us feel poor, particularly around tax time. We all feel as if we’re in the 50% bracket, namely that we’re earning 50% of what we really need to live. Don’t we all feel that way? And yet the fact is that comparatively speaking, we are wealthy. Our problem is that God does not have our hearts.
So secondly, it says that they gave out of their poverty. Third, and I love this, it says in verse 3 that they gave beyond their ability. “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.” Beyond their ability! I read the text and I say, “Paul, what to you mean ‘beyond their ability?’”
I think that very possibly the Apostle Paul simply meant that they gave more than anyone could have reasonably expected them to give. They gave beyond their ability. They gave beyond what was natural. They gave beyond what anyone could think this poor church could possibly contribute to the saints in Jerusalem.
Perhaps another interpretation is that as they began to give, God began to bless them so that they could give more and more and more, and ended up giving way beyond whatever they had ever thought that they could give because God took their gifts and multiplied them. And God loves to do that.
I think of the next myth that needs to be debunked. It’s the idea that somehow we should give only what we can afford to give. You see here’s where many of us have gone wrong. This is even where I’ve gone wrong, namely that sometimes we think to ourselves, “I’m going to choose my standard of living and then once I’ve chosen my standard of living I’m going to choose my standard of giving.” And then sometimes we give only what we can afford. That’s a big mistake that we make, living here in the United States of America.
What we ought to do is say, “I’m going to choose my standard of giving, and then once I’ve done that, I’m going to adjust my standard of living to fit my giving.” My friend, today if you give only what you can afford to give there’s no faith in it. If at the end of the month you go through and you pay all your bills and you’ve taken care of all of your obligations, and now you say in the end, “This is how much I have left for God,” where is the faith? There is no opportunity for God to prove Himself faithful in your life financially because all that you are doing is what you can afford to give.
The text of Scripture says that they not only gave to their ability, but they gave beyond their ability. They gave more than anyone could reasonably expect. They gave more than they could afford to give, and they were blessed as a result of it. Grace, as we shall see in a moment, was poured into their souls because they were so faithful in their contributions to God. And I want to emphasize again that God takes our contributions and He multiplies them in ways that are phenomenal. I think that they are even being multiplied in heaven. The two mites that the widow gave – 2,000 years of compound interest at 4% would be 48 with 19 zeroes, and I can’t believe that she’d have gotten more of an investment on earth than she has in heaven today.
Remember two years ago when Forbes Magazine had that picture of a man riding his 2.5 million dollar lawn mower? In fact, I don’t get Forbes, so I went to the library because I said I want to see this guy riding a 2.5 million dollar lawn mower. What happened was this. In the late fifties there was a food chain – the Lion Food Chain. Eighty-six people invested money. There are 85 millionaires today, but there is one man who took his money out because he wanted to buy a lawnmower. So he got a lawnmower. If he had kept his money in, he’d be a millionaire today.
Do you see how foolish we are when all we can think about is what we spend today for ourselves? We are buying lawnmowers and we are not making eternal investments in the Kingdom of Heaven, and that’s why it is that sometimes we are not blessed financially as God promises He will do.
Notice number four. It says, “They gave themselves willingly.” As a pastor I just love this. They gave willingly, it says in verse 4, and really I’m not making this up. I hope that you bring your Bibles when I preach because sometimes you may think that this is what the pastor is saying and not what the Bible is saying. Notice it says, “They gave beyond their ability (verse 4).” Paul says, “They were begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” They were begging us to give. I’m still waiting for that to happen here at The Moody Church. I’ve never yet had people say, “Pastor, would you just pass the offering plate one more time?” I’ve not had people say, “We’re not going home until you take another offering.” Paul says that this is what they were doing.
I can just imagine the scene. Paul is saying, “Look, you folks are poor. There’s no way that I’m going to take your money for the saints that are in Jerusalem.” And they are saying, “Paul, but we want to do it. Paul, please take our money.” “They were begging us,” he says. What is the lie that needs to be forever exploded? The lie is that the real motivation for giving is guilt, that what we do is we lay guilt trips on people. We tell them how bad things are and then we tell them how stingy they are. And if you tell a stingy person how stingy he is maybe he’ll give you a dollar more. Forget it! Shame on you.
You see, what happened is these people knew that the real motivation for giving is love and joy, and it is because of their love and joy that they could give so generously. They said, “Paul, you just don’t know what it’s like for us to give.” And what did Jesus say, by the way? He said, “It is more blessed to give than it is to receive.” If you are stingy you can take care of your stinginess. Just begin to give generously to God and to His work, and you’ll be blessed, and you’ll say, “I’d like to even give more because God is pouring blessing into my soul.” So they gave willingly.
Notice number five. It says, “They gave of themselves.” And this is the whole key. It says, “and this, not as we expected.” Paul says, “They did beyond what we could have reasonably have expected,” but they first gave themselves to the Lord. They first gave themselves to the Lord and to us, and that is the whole key. They gave themselves to God. You see, these people said, “We’re just dedicated to Jesus Christ, whatever He wants in our lives.”
I read a story this week of someone who was going to be baptized in a river, and baptized by immersion. And as you know, we baptize here by immersion and tonight we’re going to have a great baptismal service. But as he was about to go into the water his wife said, “Why don’t you give me your wallet so it doesn’t get wet.” He said, “No, I’m going to keep it because I want it to go under the water too.” That’s a great lesson. What he was saying was, “I want my money to be God’s as well. All of me is going, including my wallet. You know that’s the one thing we want to keep out of our baptism, isn’t it? That’s the one thing we want to say. “Somebody hang onto my wallet because I don’t want to give my money to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.” And that’s the issue in stewardship.
What lie is it that we need to forever put to rest? The lie that we need to forever put to rest is the idea that somehow giving is a matter of finances. It is never a matter of finances. Please don’t ever think it is a matter of finances. It is a matter of spirituality. It is a matter of your relationship to the living God. That’s what it’s all about. It has nothing to do with money or the amount of it.
Now have you ever seen something that is funny, that is hilarious, or as my kids say, “It’s hilare?” And that is somebody who is trying to give money to God and he has never given himself to God. And it’s a scream. A person like that will nickel and dime the Kingdom of God to death. I mean he’ll give a dollar or he’ll give twenty dollars, and he’ll just be agonizing within. And he just doesn’t know what it’s like to be generous, and so he is stingy, but he still feels this heavy obligation. See, what’s going on in the back of his mind is, “How little am I able to give and still look good? How little am I able to get by with and have God still think that I am a good Christian? What is the bottom line?” And by that he means really the bottom line. He misses the whole point.
What if after Rebecca and I were married on our honeymoon I were to say, “Now how many times was I supposed to kiss you anyway? What was the number that we agreed upon?” And she’s sitting up here probably thinking, “Yeah, what was the number that we agreed upon?” If you love somebody, that’s not the issue. You don’t stand and say, “Well, how little can I get by with? What can I do to make myself look good? What few dollars can I put in the offering plate today?” That has nothing to do with the issue. Once you have given yourself to God and you have surrendered yourself to Him the issue is, “God, I am giving this money, but oh, I wish I could give more, and if You bless me more I will give more because You’ve got my heart.” That’s the whole point.
What I’m going to do today in my message is to call all of us to a higher standard. And I’m going to give you a challenge as well as a challenge to myself to begin to give 10% of our income to God and to His work. I know that there are some of you who are saying, “Yes, but you know that’s Old Testament. Now you’re going to take the Old Testament law and you are going to lay it on us.” No, that’s not the issue at all. Ten percent is a good benchmark. It’s a good percentage to begin with in order to become generous in our giving to God.
When the Apostle Paul wanted to use an example he not only used the churches in Macedonia, but I want you to notice what he says in verse 9. And he’s still speaking about the grace called giving. I’ll read verse 8 to put it in context. “I say this not as a command (And that’s what I want to say to you today. We’re not commanding this. It’s nothing that we are demanding.), but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Paul is saying this. “If you need a motivation to give, if you need a reason to contribute to the Lord’s work, you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was rich in heaven. All the angels were up in heaven singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory,” and He left all of that. He came to earth. People spit on Him. They kicked Him. They lied about Him. They said that he was illegitimately conceived. They said that He had demons in Him, and that He was full of the devil, and then they crucified Him. He who was rich, for our sakes became poor. Did He complain all the time and say, “Heavenly Father, why in the world did You ask Me to redeem these human beings, because they are not worth it? Oh no, don’t tell me! Not another day!”
Is that the way in which He did it? “Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down on the right hand of the throne of God, who also makes intercession for us.” He was willing to do God’s will, God’s plan to redeem us so that He became poor, and what does the text say? It says “that we through His poverty might be made rich.” The Bible says very clearly, “He who spared not His own Son, but delivered him up for us all--how shall He not also, with Him, freely give us all things?” The Bible says that we have all things richly to enjoy. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and here we are quibbling about whether or not we are going to be generous with the things that God has given us.
I say this to you very lovingly. If you are going to cry about giving, don’t give. Don’t insult God. God is not going to go bankrupt. I can assure you of that. If you are going to complain about it, if it’s going to be a burden, if it’s going to be a duty, if it’s going to be agony, if it’s going to be difficult, don’t do it. The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver. The Greek word is hilaros, and we have the word hilarious. That’s what God is looking for because He knows that money is so much a part of our hearts that when we give generously He knows He’s got our hearts.
Ten percent! You say, “That is Old Testament,” but I want you to know that everything in the Old Testament is always elevated in the New. In the Old Testament it says, “Thou shall not commit adultery.” In the New Testament, “He that looks upon a woman to lust for her has committed adultery already with her in his heart.” Old Testament, “Thou shall not kill.” New Testament, “If you hate your brother you are already guilty of murder.”
Do you really think that God expects less of us today, who have been recipients of such matchless, incredible grace? God expects less of us than He does of many other people, and even the Old Testament people who did not have the same benefits that we have? I don’t think so.
Now I want to say something about this. If you commit yourself to give 10% of your income to God, to say, “Lord, I’m going to give at least 10% as an act of faith,” so that we not only give God what is left but upfront commitment, that 10% of what we earn belongs to the Almighty, I want to tell you two things that are very, very important. First of all, you are going to be tested and tried, because the first week you do this all of the bills that are coming in, all of the necessities, all of the priorities are going to break upon you. And the first thing you are going to do is to say is, “I can’t afford it. I need to pay the light company. I need to pay the mortgage. These are fixed expenses and I can only give what is left over to God if anything is left over.” And you are going to be tempted and tested to go back on your word. And you can accept that upfront, but what if you persist? What if you say, “God, you have made me a steward and I’m going to live on 90% and not 100% because I want to give this to You as a token of the fact that everything I have is Yours. The Macedonian people gave out of their poverty. They gave out of their affliction, and I’m going to give out of mine as well. It’s Yours.”
Secondly, you can expect incredible blessing and answers to prayer. Look at what the Apostle Paul says in chapter 9 of 2 Corinthians, and it’s still about giving, and you can turn there. He says in verse 7, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” Really, if you are here today and you are reacting negatively to what I have to say so far, just relax. Go home and don’t be confused about this business of giving, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you that always, having all sufficiency in everything, you may have abundance for every good deed.
DO you think that if you are generous with God that God is going to be stingy with you? Unthinkable! “As it is written, he scattered abroad, he gave to the poor. His righteousness abides forever. Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing.” People say, “Well, if I give 10% should it be on the gross that I make or the net?” Well, that’s up to you. Do you want an abundant harvest or do you want a sparse harvest, because you see, the Bible says that you are sowing and you are reaping, so you can make the decision as to whether you want a big crop or a mediocre crop. He says, “God is able to take your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness, and you will be enriched in everything for all liberality which through us is producing thanksgiving to God for the ministry of this service.” He’s not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but also overflowing to many with thanksgiving to God. Boy, I’d say that’s pretty adequate recompense for being generous with God.
I have a vision for Moody Church. God has given us the privilege of being involved in the lives of about a hundred missionaries, helping with their support all over the world. We are not a moneymaking institution. We are a giving institution, and we want to be generous as a church and as individuals.
Do you remember that every fall we have a Thanksgiving offering to get caught up because of the budget slump that takes place during the summer? I’ll tell you what I think about this. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this coming year we didn’t need that offering, but we took a Thanksgiving offering for some missionary project, because as the finance committee looked at all of our budgets they said, “You know, we are just on target. The people are giving so generously. We don’t need an offering to make up for a budget deficit. We are going to take an offering for the glory of God and use it for some missionary project or some work in another part of the world and we will generously contribute to that because God has been so incredibly good to us.” I look forward to that day when I’ll be able to take that kind of an offering.
Now I want to ask you a question. Are you willing to trust God? You say, “Well, once again, you know maybe there’s some Old Testament that I hear sneaking in here.” Well, Jesus said this, “Give and it will be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over. They will pour it into your lap. For whatever measure you deal out to others it will be dealt to you in return.”
I want to prove whether or not He’s right or wrong. Do you want to prove whether He’s right or wrong? Do you want to say, “God, I don’t know whether I can afford this but I’m going to give beyond my ability today? I’m not going to just spend the rest of my life buying lawnmowers. I’m going to make an investment that is going to last forever, and I’m going to prove to see whether He’s as faithful as the Bible says He is.”
Now one further word! If you are here today and you’ve never received Jesus Christ as your Savior, I don’t want you to feel that you need to give God one penny. In fact, it’s best if you don’t. What an awful thing if you were to think that somehow because you made a contribution you bought God off, or He felt better about you because you gave. That’s nonsense! What you must do is to accept the gift of eternal life, which is given freely to those who believe. “Come everyone who thirsts. Come to the waters, and he who has no money, come and buy and eat. Buy wine and milk without money and without price.” You must come freely as a helpless sinner and receive the gift of eternal life to be born into God’s family. And then you can say, “Now that you have done so much for me, oh Lord, and I know You, I want to give myself to You and be generous with what You have given to me.” So let’s keep that distinct lest there be any misunderstanding with what the issues really involve.