January 29, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker
If you’re a guest with us, we have been studying through the book of Luke and today we’re in Luke 21. I’ll just be honest with you. If this is your first Sunday with us, you probably picked the wrong Sunday to be here because today we’re going to talk about giving your money. I planned these sermons out almost two years ago. Only God in his perfect wisdom could orchestrate this text from the book of Luke in the month of January. You see in the month of January all over America people are shoveling out from the debt that they got themselves in from last Christmas. In the month of January all over America people are looking at their 2016 taxes and thinking where on earth is this money going to come from. Right now all over our country people are freaking out about money. Today the Bible has a lot to say to us about the subject of money. I’m going to make good today on a promise that I made to our church. I promised God and I promised this church I would never talk about the topic of money unless it comes up naturally from the Bible. I also said when it does you better buckle up because I’m going to hold nothing back. My goal today is to step on everybody’s toes in this room mine included as we look in the Bible at the book of Luke about the subject of money.
I. Giving is an act of faith
All giving, no matter what it is, is ultimately an act of faith. I would take it a step further. I would say it’s not only an act of faith but it’s an act of worship. You see, where the majority of your time and money goes that’s what you worship. That’s what’s most important to you. Let’s set a little bit of context before we look at the story from the Bible today. A couple of weeks ago Jesus entered Jerusalem for the first time. Jesus entered the temple and was shocked and upset. He was fighting mad about what he saw. He didn’t see people worshiping God. He saw men making money in the Temple. It infuriated him!
Today is the opposite side of the coin. Today Jesus sees what it’s supposed to look like when people worship God with everything to include their pocketbook. Luke tells us a very short story. We’ve been looking at huge chunks of Scripture in the book of Luke but today we’re going to narrow it down to four verses. We’re going to slow way down because the woman that we read about today deserves our undivided attention.
While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. 2 Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. 4 For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
I want to ask you what would motivate this widow to give the way that she just gave? What we’re reading about in the Bible isn’t that she just opened her pocketbook up and gave a couple of coins. In doing so, she just gave everything that she had. Let me tell you a little bit about how this giving probably took place in Jesus’s day. There was a wooden box located in what’s called the Court of Gentiles in the Temple in Jerusalem. This wooden box was placed out there so that everybody could see it and have access to it. They put it somewhere where everybody could put a little bit of money in it not in the Court of the Jews because then only Jewish could get to it. They wanted everybody to give.
The verb tense in the Bible today tells us that the rich people were coming by and making a spectacle about the money that they were dropping in the box. Like, “Everybody check it out! Look at how much I’m about to put in the box today!” Then they dropped the money in the offering box and everybody saw what these superrich people were giving. Jesus notices from a distance a poor widow. This widow opens her pocketbook up. She only owns two pennies. That’s all she has to her name. She takes out both coins. You would give one or probably none. She gives both. She drops them in the offering box and walks away. In the process of doing so, she made a huge sacrifice. In fact, what Jesus is talking about today is the difference between showing off in the way you give and sacrifice. Let me remind you that the word sacrifice means it hurts. What this woman just gave was everything that she owns.
I was doing a little bit of research about giving in the church in America. The most recent statistics I could find were in March 2016 from Relevant magazine. It says that the average Christian in America (exclude the person that doesn’t go to church) last year gave about 2.5% of their annual income. You may be thinking, “Jeff, times are hard. That’s why people are only giving 2.5%. I mean thank God they’re even giving 2.5%.” I would agree with you except that the statistics say that in the 1930s during the Great Depression the average Christian in America gave 3.3% of their income to the church. So, the whole ‘times are hard’ argument really doesn’t add up, if that’s why people aren’t giving today what they were once giving.
Jesus is making a distinction between the wealthy and this widow. He’s saying, “The wealthy people have plenty of money and they’re giving plenty of money. However, by percentage it’s nothing compared to what this widow just gave.” Since this woman just dumped her pocketbook into this box, she has to go home with a question that you would be asking yourself right now too if you just wrote a check this morning for every penny in your bank account and dropped it in the offering plate. Here’s what would be going through your mind and what is going through her mind too, “Where’s the money going to come from to buy food? Where’s the money to come from to pay the rent? Where’s the gas money going to come from? Where’s the money going to come from to take care of the hospital bills? If I write a check for everything that I’ve got Jeff, where is the money going to come from?” You cannot miss what Jesus is saying today. This was a massive act of faith. In fact, I’m embarrassed by my faith when I see what this woman did in the book of Luke. I really am embarrassed about my faith because what she did took great faith.
Our church as a whole took a huge step of faith last year when it came to money and you may not even know it. Last year our church made a courageous decision to start to give away a tithe. The Old Testament word for tithe means a tenth. We made a decision to give away one tenth of everything that you put in an offering to Great Commission causes. It was a huge sacrifice for our church but we set out that no matter what and at all cost we’re going to give a tenth of it away to the kingdom of God because we believe people all over the world need to hear about King Jesus. So we’re going to send this money for Great Commission causes all over the world. I’m proud to say that last year our pastors and staff courageously made this decision. Last year we gave away a tenth of everything that came in. You may be saying, “Jeff, that is no big deal.” I’m telling you what happened last year was miraculous because you didn’t feel the pinch and neither did I. Last year was also one of the lowest giving years in our church in many years. In fact, our giving last year was down by more than $80,000. Yet we stood strong and said, “No, we’re giving a tenth of it away. Even if our giving is down this month we’re giving a tenth of it away to Great Commission causes.” We’re giving it away in an act of faith. We believe that God will bless it and that God will bless us as a church because of it.
If you pick up a contribution statement today in the cafeteria, chances are there’s going to be a letter in there. If you’re a person who has been giving generously to our church, I wrote a letter just to say thanks for what you’ve given to our church. I also told you there was a lot of money last year that didn’t come in. If you’re a regular giver around here, would you let other people in our church know why giving is important to you? I want them to hear from more than just me that giving is a really important act of faith. I have a challenge for you this year. My challenge is that you would give sacrificially. The word ‘sacrifice’ means give until it hurts just a little bit and give it as an act of faith.
II. Giving is an act of love
The second thing I want you to see about giving from the Bible is that it is an act of love. Whatever is most important to you has your money, your energy, your time, and your attention. It already has your attention, if you love it. In Luke chapter 16 Jesus made this statement, “You can love God or you can love money but you cannot love these two things at the same time. You’ll either love the one and hate the other; or, you will hate the one and love the other but you cannot love both God and money at the same time.” Here’s what Jesus is saying. Money has the power to steal your attention away from God. Money also has the power to steal your affection away from God, if you let it. So be careful. Don’t let money steal your heart away from God. What you love most gets most of your resources.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them.
Jesus sees a couple things from the distance. He can see the box and the super wealthy. Literally the word that Jesus uses today in the book of Luke is that they have the overabundance or super abundance. These rich people are coming by and dropping lots of money in the offering plate but by percentage it’s not even an issue. They’re God tippers. Like, “I’m giving God a tip for the stuff that he’s given me.” This woman dumps her pocketbook in the offering plate. Jesus notices something about this woman. He knows how much she has in her bank account and how much she just gave. He elbows the disciples and says, “You know that woman that just dropped those two coins in there? She just gave everything she’s got to the church.” She just demonstrated a massive act of love. Whatever has your money also has your heart.
Can I be honest with you? We all know this but most of us don’t live this way. God doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t need one red cent from you. God doesn’t even want your money. He wants your heart. Once he has your heart and soul, the money thing will take care of itself. God wants to be your first love. If we’re not careful, we start to spend our money on ourselves and on our stuff which starts to steal our attention away from God.
The question is, where did this lady’s money go when she dropped it in the offering plate? The money went to the poor. In Jesus’s day there was no welfare system. In Jesus’s day the poorest segment of society were widows. Widows couldn’t own land. They really couldn’t work. Widows were condemned to basically beg and borrow or they would die of starvation. So, the church would set up an offering and they would distribute the benevolence offering to the widows. It was basically the difference between life or death. This lady took the money out of her pocketbook and gave it away to others in need. Did you hear what I’m saying? She’s the one that supposed to be getting the offering and instead of getting it she’s the one giving the offering. Today she decides, “I love the folks that are in need and I going to give to them.” In doing so she shows what’s really first and foremost in her heart.
The great Puritan Pastor Andrew Murray once made this statement about money. He said, “Every grace needs to be exercised if it is to grow; most of all this is true of love.” You have to exercise the love muscle Andrew Murray says, if you want it to grow. Then he said, “Every call for money, and every response we give, might be the stirring of a new love, and the aid to a fuller surrender to its blessed claims.” Murray said, if you want to strengthen the love muscle, give a little bit. When something asks you for your money and you’re willing to give your money towards it, that really is important to you. You’re showing that you love it, if you’re willing to give some money to it.
There’s something that I hope you notice from this story in the Bible today. Apparently God grades on the curve when it comes to giving. These superrich people were coming in and dropping big chunks of money in the offering box and Jesus is saying that’s no big deal. This lady came by and she dropped in two pennies and Jesus points her out. In fact, we’re still reading her story 2000 years later. Apparently God grades on the curve when it comes to giving. He’s concerned by how much you give by percentage not how much you give by the total bottom line. At the end of last year, we took up a missions offering like we do every year. We asked you, if you care deeply about the Gospel spreading throughout India and the girls that are going through the Bible college in the seminary in India, would you give some money to help rebuild this girl’s dormitory in India. We set a goal and, church, you far surpassed it. In fact, we asked you to give $50,000 and you gave more than $55,000. This was far and away the largest single offering our church has ever given to anything. That shows us that you love the people of India and you care deeply about the Gospel spreading around the country. There’s an old Dutch proverb that says, “The generous man enriches himself by giving; the miser hoards himself poor.” The proverb says the harder that you hang on to it the poorer that you become. The more you’re willing to give it away the richer you become.
III. Giving is an act of obedience
Giving is an act of obedience. It’s not just something that God asked us to do. It’s something that he commands us to do. “Nothing is more pleasing to God than an open hand and a closed mouth,” said Francis Quarles. That’s obedience. A good image of what obedience looks like when it comes to giving is found in verse four.
For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
Giving is a commandment in the Bible. In the Old Testament we are commanded to give one tenth, in the Old Testament it is translated a tithe, of what you make back to God’s work. Did you know, if you held onto that money in the Old Testament, you were stealing God’s money from him? In fact, read the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi chapter 3.
9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open up the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
Very few times in the Bible does God say, “Test me. I dare you! Try this out and see what happens. Test me in this. Give away a tenth of your income. I promise you I will make life better for you with 90% then how you’re living right now with 100% of your income.” By the way, it’s a sin to keep that 10% away from God. It’s not because God needs that 10%; it’s because you’re holding something back from the King of kings and Lord of lords. You’re saying, “God, you can have a lot of my life but you can’t have this area.” God is saying, “Oh no, I want every area of your life. I want your money, your attention, your energy, and your time. I want all of it. Don’t hold anything back from me.”
You should be asking the question, “Jeff, is tithing commanded in the New Testament? You just said that it was in the Old Testament. Are we commanded to tithe in the New Testament?” Well the answer to that question is both yes and no. The New Testament affirms tithing. The New Testament asks for a lot more than 10%. In fact, if you were to look at the New Testament honestly, you would see that what God is asking of you when it comes to your money is 100%. I’m not joking. Go read the book of Acts. When the New Testament church met together in the book of Acts they sold a piece of property and they brought 100% of the profits to drop in the offering plate. They gave it away to the church and said, “Do good with this. I gave you 100% of what I just made.” The folks that tried to hold back a little bit in the book of Acts, God struck dead because they were lying to him and deceiving the Holy Spirit by holding a little bit back from the Lord. Does God ask for 10% in the New Testament? No, he asked for 100%. Maybe he lets you keep 90% of it but he expects you to be willing to give up 100% if necessary. This is an act of obedience.
When Dawn and I were newly married we made a mess of our money. Most months we had more month than money and the months that we didn’t we were just barely breaking even. We started to get really serious about our faith, really listening to the Lord, and becoming a disciple of Jesus. After a couple of years of marriage, we both felt strongly convicted by the Holy Spirit that we were supposed to be giving all along and we weren’t. We weren’t giving anything. I would put a few dollars in the offering plate but that was it. One month we just made the decision, “God, we’re going to do it but we don’t know how to do this because we have more bills than we have money. How on earth are we going to give you 10% of our money when we don’t have enough to pay the bills?” To make this worse, Dawn was handling the checking account at the time and I was going out of town. We just courageously made the decision to write a check at the beginning of the month for 10% of our income knowing we’re not going to be able to pay the bills this month if we do this.
After a couple of days of being gone from town I got a chance to call her on the phone. I asked her, “How bad is it? How bad are the bills?” She said, “I don’t understand. Something’s not right with our checking account. The bank is showing more money in our checking account then is supposed to be there. Do you want me to write the checks and pay the bills because I don’t know where that money came from?” I said, “Don’t do anything until I get back. After I got back in town, Dawn and I went to the bank, sat down with the teller, and said, “Will you help us balance our checking account?” We started going line by line through the checkbook and the bank teller said, “Well, your checkbook is off by several hundred dollars.” We asked her, “How is it off by that much? This is what we think is supposed to be there and this is what you’re telling us is supposed to be in here.” I will never forget this for the rest of my life. The lady started going deep into the weeds in our checking account and she said, “Well, right here there’s a deposit in your checking account that you don’t have recorded in your checkbook.” We asked, “Where did that money come from?” This lady turned white as a ghost and said, “I have no idea. The day before the money is not there the day after the money is there. There’s no record of how that money showed up.” I asked her, “How is it possible with our modern technology that money can be in my bank account and you have no record of how it showed up there?” She said, “I have no idea.” Dawn and I looked at her and said, “I know exactly where the money came from. Thank you very much.” We went home and paid the bills. There was more money in the checkbook then the bills. God graciously put enough money in there for us to not only pay the bills but to have a little bit of money together as a couple. I made a vow that day I will never, never, never for the rest of my life hold back what God has asked us to give. God just worked a miracle that nobody, not even the computers at the bank, could explain away. It’s an act of obedience when he commands you to give. The question is, are you going to give or not?
IV. Giving puts our focus on Heaven
It really comes down to this. When you give something away especially when you give your money away it changes your focus. Giving money away takes your focus off of yourself and your stuff and puts your focus on Heaven where it belongs. I want you to think about this widow because by putting her all of her money in the offering plate it was a death sentence. She probably believed she would starve to death if she did this but God’s kingdom was worth it. So she dumped all of her money into this offering box and walked away. She was more concerned about the ultimate, what’s waiting for her in Heaven, than the immediate, what’s around the corner waiting for her here. As a result, this woman was a woman of great faith.
Last week I was in the country of Myanmar. I was invited to speak at a little town called Kalaymyo. The pastor of the church asked me if I would help him deal with a problem that’s cropping up in his community. This is a little village in the country of Myanmar out in the middle of nowhere. There is a brand of Christianity that starting to pop up all over his village. In fact, famous Christians from all over the world are coming to his part of the country and they’re teaching this false truth. They’re teaching that, if you will give your money to God, he’s going to make your health better, help you get a good job, make you rich, help you buy a car, or help you to afford nice stuff. Really what these false teachers are preaching is Prosperity Christianity – if you give a little bit, God will make you rich. The pastor said he needed our help because he lives in a village where there’s more than 50% unemployment. I’m not talking about people that can’t get a job. I’m talking about college educated people but there are just no jobs to have. The pastor said, “Do you know how tempting it is for people in my village to hear this Christian come from somewhere else in the world and say, ‘Give your money to me and God will give you a good job and a nice car. He will make you healthy.’ Do you know how powerful that temptation is? Will you speak to my church about this?”
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I selected as a text Galatians 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” I explained this great exchange this great transaction to the people of the village. This is the same thing that I want to explain to you today, church. Here’s the transaction. God was the ultimate giver. God gave all that he had when he gave his only Son up as a payment for sin. I explained to this church you can’t be good enough, you can’t work hard enough, you can’t do enough nice things to earn God’s favor. You can’t give enough money for God to bless you and to forgive your sins. It doesn’t work like that. If it did, God didn’t have to send his Son, Jesus. God reached in and pulled you out of your sin, out of your mistakes, and out of your failures. He sent his Son, Jesus, to live a perfect life, to die the death that you and I deserve, and then three days later to be raised again to eternal life. Jesus gives you the promise that your sins can be forgiven. Jesus gives you the promise that you can have abundant life here and now and eternal life in Heaven.
Then I told this church that is only half of the exchange. Here’s what he asks of you in return. He asks for everything, 100%. He says, “You give me your soul, your life, your future, your plans, your dreams, your money, your energy, and your time. You crucify it all, kill it all, and surrender it all to me. Then I will transform you and make you into a new man or a new woman.” Maybe the pain stays there or maybe you don’t get a job but once you go through the great exchange now you have the power of the Holy Spirit of the living God dwelling inside of you. Now he is with you every day while you’re here on earth. Now he is with you when you stand before God. That’s the great exchange. You turn it all over to God and he will turn you around and change you from the inside out.
Do you see how dangerous it is to just give God a few dollars when the offering plate comes by thinking that God’s impressed by the little bit of money that you gave? Do you see what an offense to a holy God that is when he has just given you everything and he’s asking for everything in return? It’s really not a big deal to give 100% of your money to God when he already has your soul, your hopes, your dreams, your life, and your future. “You can have the money too. It’s all yours. It all belongs to you anyway, God. If you want me to keep 90% of it, fine. If you want to keep 100% of my money, you can have it because it’s actually not mine anyway. It belongs to you.”
I’m going to challenge us to take some next steps. Maybe somebody in this room you’ve never gone through this great exchange. You’ve never turned your soul over to Jesus Christ. My prayer for you is going to be that you do this right now today before you walk out the doors of this room. For others in this room, maybe you’re really struggling with giving some of your money up. Maybe you’re really wrestling with this. I’m going to pray the Holy Spirit gives you the ability to turn that money over and to trust God with it and walk away saying, “It’s not mine anyway. God can do with his money whatever he chooses to do with it.” For those of you in this room who have been giving generously and walking with Jesus, my hope is that you spend a few moments this week thinking about the generosity of God and it blesses you.
• I need to start a relationship with Jesus. Today, I commit my soul to Jesus for the first time.
– I haven’t been giving a tithe to God’s work. Today, I commit to give generously to the church.
+ I will spend a few minutes each day this week focusing on God’s generosity to me.
- What is an acceptable area of your life to hold back from God?
- If God already has your soul, why do some Christians find it so hard to also give their money?
- If God has all power and all resources why does he ask us to give to his work?
- What is the most lavish gift you’ve ever received or given?
- Does God care how much money you give to his work? Explain your answer.
- Does God care when and where you give your money? (Use the Bible to explain your answer.)
- Pray that the Holy Spirit would impress all of us with the desire to give lavishly to spread the name of Jesus.