Myths About MoneyErwin W. Lutzer | March 12, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
When it comes to tithing, many of us try to justify giving less than we should, or, in some cases, to not give at all. By looking at the churches Macedonia, Pastor Lutzer explains how their joyful and generous giving destroys these myths and reasons people use to not give to the Lord and His work.
We need to give like the Macedonians, and like our Savior who had the riches of heaven and became poor so that we may inherit the kingdom.
Today I’m going to speak for a few moments about myths about money. We like to believe different myths, don’t we? And if I look at my notes more often than usual, it’s because I left them at home this morning – a fitting day to leave them at home. There was a preacher who left his notes at home also, and he said to his congregation, “I left my notes at home today so I’m going to have to depend on the Holy Spirit, but I promise you I’ll never do that again.” (laughter) Well, I am going to depend on the Holy Spirit, but I do promise you that I will do that again. But the notes have arrived and so the text today is 2 Corinthians 8.
There are many myths that we believe, don’t we? For example, the ancients believed that roosters had hidden knowledge, and that’s why they could predict the sunrise so accurately. There are many people who still have a hang-up about the number 13. There are hotels here in the city that do not have a thirteenth floor. And in the very same way we sometimes believe myths about money. For example, we believe that the abundance that a person has really determines what kind of a life he has. Or to put it differently, that the joyous life and the abundant life is wrapped up with how much you possess and how much you own. That’s a myth. There are many people who are poor who are much better off in many different ways than those who are rich.
Here’s another myth, the myth that you can’t take it with you. Yes, you can. I won’t explain today how you can take it with you, but there are hints along the way in this message. Absolutely! You can’t take it as money. You can’t take it as silver. You can’t take it as gold, but yes, you can take it with you. In fact, it can meet you on the other side at a high rate of interest in a place that is secure and free from all possibility of robbery or the fluctuations of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
What I’d like to do is to look at 2 Corinthians, chapter 8, and give you five characteristics of the people at Macedonia. Macedonia was that area that was in northern Greece that was actually in the area of Mount Olympus. And it is there that there was a cluster of churches whose hearts God so captivated that they became an example to all of us as to how to give. And in the process of giving, each one of these five characteristics of the way in which they gave is going to explode a myth about giving and our commitment to the Lord.
So let’s begin. You’ll notice it 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.”
First of all, I want you to know that they gave out of their severe trial. That’s what the text says. They gave in the midst of their affliction, the New American Standard says. What was the severe trial? What was the affliction? Well, persecution for one thing! We always think it is so terrible that there is sometimes a cost involved in being a Christian today. The history of the Christian church is littered with people who gave their lives, people who were ostracized from jobs, and people who were in situations where they did not have opportunity, even physical persecution and even death. And so he says, “In the midst of this severe trial, you gave.” They lived at a time of economic uncertainty because they were dependent upon the soil. They didn’t have money in the bank. They didn’t have retirement accounts. All of those things, of course, were unknown to them. It was day-to-day, hand to mouth trying to live. And the Scripture says that they gave out of extreme poverty, or rather severe trial I should say.
Well, what myth does that explode? It explodes the myth that giving is for those who have personal peace or affluence – people who have their personal problems solved. That’s a myth. There are people who say, “Well, you know if I ever get it together….” Somebody said, “Well, I got it together, but when I did I wasn’t able to lift it.”
Well, whenever people say, “When I get it together! My life now is really disorganized and I’m going through a time of difficulty, and this is not a time to give,” well notice that it says they gave in the midst of their severe trial. No, we don’t wait until we’ve got it all together because in one sense there is no convenient time to give to God, and to His work. We just give, even in the midst of severe trial and affliction.
Let me give you a second characteristic of these people. They gave out of their deep poverty, it says. In fact, these phrases just are abundant in instructing us, aren’t they? You’ll notice it says, “Their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” Paul is talking about the offerings they gave even in the midst of their poverty, and you and I don’t know what poverty is. I personally don’t know what poverty is. Some of you may know it because there are Americans today who are very, very poor. There are people in other countries that are very, very poor. But most of us have no idea as to what it is like to be “dirt poor” where you have basically nothing. And you’ll notice that they gave in the midst of their poverty. What a myth that explodes, the myth that giving is just for the rich. That’s the way people think. They think, “Well, you know if I had lots of money then of course I’d give, but I don’t have lots of money, so that I can’t give.” That’s a myth. You see, 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 quarter you’ve got.
When Jesus was there in the Temple watching the people give their gifts, He noticed the widow who came with her two mites, and sometimes people talk about the widow’s mite. Give that lady credit because my Bible says that she had two mites. She had twice as much as most people think she did. But Jesus said, “She gave more than you all.” You see, if you think that giving is just for the rich, what you’re doing is saying that the poor can never be faithful. The poor can never be rewarded for their generosity. No, no, no, giving is for everyone. Like I explained last time, that’s why in a pastoral prayer I never say, “Bless those who cannot give.” We can all give something. It’s a myth that giving is just for the rich. They gave out of poverty.
Now we come to a very puzzling phrase, and I want you to work with me through it in your mind. It says in verse 3, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means.” How do you interpret that? One way might be to say that they gave beyond what could be reasonably expected. You’ve seen that, haven’t you, in the lives of people who are generous? They can’t afford to give. In fact, they are taking money that they should really be using for something else, and they give it anyway. They are giving beyond their ability, or at least according to their ability. But notice it says that they actually gave beyond their ability, so maybe that’s what it is. They gave more than could be reasonably expected.
I like another interpretation, and that is that they gave beyond their intention. In other words, to put it in our terms, they gave ten dollars, and then God blessed them as a result of that giving, and they found out that they had ten more dollars to give. And so, as a result of that, God began to sow and multiply them and so bless them because of their giving that they ended up giving way beyond their ability. Well, what myth does this explode? The myth is that we should give only what we can afford. It’s easy for us to look at our bank accounts and say, “How much can I afford to give?” The question is, how much do we want God to work in our lives so that we can trust Him beyond just what we can afford? When you stop to think of it, if we give only what we can afford, do you know that that means that there’s really no room for faith? There’s no room for a miracle.
Well, as you know, we’re here in a building program that we’ve outlined to the congregation, and what an opportunity it is for us to be able to give beyond our ability to make our three year commitment and actually leave some room for a miracle – leave some room for God to work.
Some person who is a mathematical “geek” figured out that if the woman who gave her two mites (that blessed lady there, that widow whose name we do not know) would have taken that two mites and invested it at 4% interest for two thousand years (Now if you know anything about compound interest, the first years are slow but then it begins to build astronomically.), it would come out to a figure that would be 48 plus 19 zeroes. Now I’m taking that by faith. I did not figure that out. It depends, of course, on how much you consider the mites to be in those days. But the fact is that here’s a lady who invested and she gave certainly beyond her ability, and it’s almost as if we can think that in the bank of heaven it’s been multiplying all those years because every time we tell the story, we are edified. That lady had no idea that her commitment was going to be written up in the Scriptures and for years preachers were going to be able to use her as an example of giving. It’s a myth to think that we can give only what we can afford. The Macedonians gave beyond their ability.
Let’s go on to another myth. Well, first of all, let’s go on to another principle. They gave willingly. You’ll notice it says in verse 4: “Of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” Now I can imagine Paul saying to these people, “You can’t afford to be able to give this. Use this for clothes. Use this for food.” But notice it says they begged. I like that idea of begging, that they begged for the opportunity to give.
When the Holy Spirit of God works in a congregation and works in our hearts, who knows but that the day may come when people will actually say at the end of a service, “Pastor, we’re not going home until you’ve passed the offering plate one last time.” That’s what happens when the Holy Spirit begins to work and people beg. No tricks! No need for bingo games! No need for trying to figure out how they were going to meet their commitment because it was the spontaneous heart of love. What myth does that explode? The myth that giving should be based on guilt!
And you know that Jesus said, “It is much more blessed to give than it is to receive.” And it’s not a matter of feeling guilty. If you give only because you feel guilty, it may be better not to give at all. Give because you love. Give because you care. Give because God has given to you. They begged for the opportunity to give, and it is a myth that we should make people feel guilty as if somehow they must do it.
Well, let’s go on to a fifth principle, and I like this one the best. It’s in verse 5: “…and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” That’s the key to the whole thing. They gave themselves first to the Lord – the Lordship of Jesus Christ in everything, the recognition that He is Lord of all that I possess. He’s Lord of my marriage. He is Lord of my vocation. He is Lord of my body. He is Lord of my time. He is Lord of my thought life. We give ourselves to the Lord first, and then having given ourselves to Him, it is then that we can rejoice in God’s goodness and freely and generously give.
Have you ever met somebody who wants to give but they have not given themselves to the Lord first? By the way, the myth that this explodes is that giving is a financial issue. It isn’t. It isn’t financial. It has everything to do with the spiritual dynamics of our relationship with God. They gave themselves first to the Lord.
You’ve seen people, haven’t you, who haven’t given themselves to God? They are trying to figure out how little they can give to get by with. They are nickel-and-diming. And so I say to you today in sincerity, if you are going to cry about it, don’t give at all. Don’t even bother because the Scripture teaches that it should be out of that heart of joy, that sense of love.
It’s been more than 30 years now since I’ve been married, but what if on our honeymoon I said to Rebecca, “You know I forget exactly how many kisses I promised you on the honeymoon, and do we have any idea as to whether or not I’ve made my quota?” It’s not the way it was, folks. That’s the way it is when you give, too. You give because you love. You give because you are committed. You give because you know it’s a privilege. You give because you have been given to, and you know you don’t own anything. And it is with that kind of a heart that you give. It’s not a financial issue. It’s a spiritual issue.
Now in order to help us understand this, the Apostle Paul makes that remarkable statement in verse 8 and 9: “I say this not as a command,” he says (And that’s exactly what I want to say to you as a congregation today. I’m not commanding you.), “but I want to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” He says, “That’s why I wrote about the people at Macedonia.” He said, “I’m testing the sincerity of your love.” Notice how he connects giving and the sincerity of a person’s love and says that the giving is an indication of it.
And then he says in verse 9: “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 many might become rich.” All week I’ve been thinking about how Jesus Christ gave Himself into poverty. He gave Himself. He made Himself poor. He gave until He was poor.
You think of the glories of heaven. You think of the wonders from where He came, and then you think of the stable. You think of His birth. You think that He owned nothing. “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” Jesus Christ said. And so He came, and He gave, and when He was crucified they took His garment and they cast lots for it. And that was the end of the deal. He became poor for us.
And I began to think, and this vision had never occurred to me before, but imagine what it would be like in a congregation like ours, with affluence and living in the country in which we do, and the investments that we have made, what if we all gave until we were poor? No, we’re not even there yet, are we? I hope we’re maybe on our way, but we’re not there. But Jesus gave so that we could become rich, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, united with Him forever and ever. And that’s our motivation. That’s our standard – to give as He gave.
And of course, along with that giving comes marvelous promises. For example, Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given unto you, shaken down and running over” because God says that when we give and we give away that selfishness and that desire to possess and that desire to own, in the process, we are blessed and God begins to work in our hearts. And He may not always bless us financially as we will see in the next message. We’re not talking here about health and wealth. We are talking, though, about personal, spiritual benefit that comes to us when we sow acts of righteousness and do so generously.
Many years ago Forbes Magazine had a picture in it of a man sitting on a lawnmower. It was the kind of lawnmower that you could ride obviously. He was sitting on it and underneath it had the caption that this man was sitting on a $3.5 million lawnmower. And I don’t get Forbes Magazine but I saw this picture. I heard of it. I heard someone refer to it, and I said, “You know, this is worth going into the library and checking out.”
So here’s the story. In the early fifties there were 86 people who invested in the Lion Food Chain Stores. Of those 86, 85 were millionaires. They had several million dollars. This man early on pulled out his money to buy this lawnmower. Now the lawnmower only cost something like $1,500 or $2,000, but that’s what he had in, so he pulled it out to buy it. If he had kept his investment he’d have had $3.5 million, but bless him, he had a lawnmower.
I’ve often thought to myself that we sometimes are spending our money on lawnmowers, aren’t we? We’re spending our money on that which doesn’t last, that which doesn’t bring the best rate of return, that which is less secure than being committed to what God wants us to do.
I want to conclude today by telling you that once again if you are here and you’ve never received Christ as Savior, it is a myth for you to think that gifts earn merit before God. That’s a myth. You must come and humble yourself and receive the free gift – the grace of God – that we’ve been preaching about, to receive Christ as your personal Savior. Don’t even think about giving until you’ve accepted Christ. But once you have and know His grace, giving is an awesome privilege, for in doing that we become like Him.
Let’s pray together.
And so Father, we do want to commit ourselves to You now. And thank You for the marvelous example of Your people throughout the centuries, for the Macedonians, but above all for Jesus. We thank You that He who was so rich became poor so that we could participate in His riches. Thank You for His abundance. Thank You for the grace that we have experienced in Him. And Your Word says that we shall inherit all things. Make us, Lord, a thankful people, a joyful people, and a generous people. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.