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ABC'S OF GIVING - The Power of Belief

Summary: We give to God based upon what we believe about God. What do you believe?
Series: ABCs OF GIVING
Scripture: 1 Chronicles 29:1-29:22 (add scripture)

AND ITS TRUE OF ALL CHRISTIANS we give as we believe


I. In I Chronicles David led the people to believe in what they are giving to.
David believed that God deserved Temple. At first God would not let him build
the temple. He was not allowed to because as I Chronicles 28:2-3 tells us:
David was a man of war & blood. That was not the type of man God wanted to
have building the Temple.

BUT David still believed that a temple for God should be built, AND SO (vs 2ff)
he dedicated his own wealth to the project. And his vision is so INFECTIOUS
that (vs 6) the other leaders dedicated money for the Temple. And then (vs 9)
the people gave freely and wholeheartedly to the new Temple.

And because of their VISION and because of their BELIEF Israel built a temple

to God that was so beautiful that it shone like a golden sun on Mt. Zion, AND it
testified to the glory of their God for next 350 years. But they gave and they
built because they believed in a vision.

Do Not Grow Weary


in Well-Doing
August 21, 1983

by John Piper

Scripture: Galatians 6:610

Topic: Giving

Series: Galatians: Broken by His Cross, Healed by His Spirit

Probably the worst enemy of enthusiasm is time. Human beings have a


remarkable and sad capacity for getting tired of wonderful things. Almost
every one of you can think of something you were enthusiastic about
recently, but now the joy is faded. Your first day of vacation on the coast the
sunset was breathtaking and made you so happy you could sing. But by the
end of your stay you hardly noticed it any more. Vacationers get tired of
sunsets, millionaires get tired of money, kids gets tired of toys, and
Christians get tired of doing good. At first the excitement of teaching that
Sunday School class was strong, but now you have grown weary of welldoing. The thrill is gone. At first you felt clean and strong in the Holy Spirit as
you drove the van, taught the Lao English, led the small group, visited the
newcomers, started reading the Bible, worked in the emergency shelter . . .
but now you have grown weary in well-doing. The inner power and joy have
seeped away. It's a chore. You've lost heart.

Eternal Life and Death in the Balance

But Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due
season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart." It doesn't mean, of course,
that you can never stop one job and start another. If you ask what the welldoing is that we must not tire of, probably the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians
5:22f. is the best answer: don't grow weary of being patient and kind and
good and faithful and gentle and self-controlled. Don't grow weary of
manifesting your peace and joy in all kinds of acts of love to your neighbors
and associates and family. In short, don't lose heart in spending yourself
through love, because if you do, the works of the flesh take over, and Paul
says in 5:21, "Those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom." Or, as
Paul says in 6:8, if you stop sowing to the Spirit and sow to your own flesh,
you will not reap eternal life, but eternal corruption.
This is very controversial. Let it sink in. What is at stake in this text is eternal
life; not merely sanctification, but also final salvation. Whether you go to
heaven or whether you go to hell depends in some way on whether you grow
weary in well-doing or not. The text is addressed to the church. Listen
carefully, and note how the thought moves from verse 8 to verse 9: "He who
sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to
the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not (therefore!) grow
weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart."
You will reap eternal life, if you sow to the Spirit, that is, if you don't grow
weary in well-doing. Because of texts like these I understand my role as a
pastor-teacher to be not merely a means to your sanctification, but also a
means to your salvation. This text is written to help bring the saints of
Galatia to final salvation, eternal life. Therefore, a sermon from this text to
the saints at Bethlehem should also aim to help bring you to final salvation
or eternal life.
This view of preaching is widely rejected both in our Conference and
throughout Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. I got a letter last year from
a retired Conference pastor which closed like this: "In conclusion: We find,
then, that a pastor's ministry is limited to a believer's state and not his
standing. Therefore, our security and deliverance from the penal
consequences of sin do not in any way have a relationship to a pastor's

preaching." Over against that extremely widespread view of preaching, I


appeal to your own insight into Galatians 6:8 and9. Should I, as your pastorteacher, deliver to you Paul's message? Should I speak to you the way the
apostle spoke to the churches of Galatia? Is not the "corruption" of verse 8
the final penal consequence of sin? Is not "eternal life" in verse 8 the
freedom from this consequence of sin? And is not our experience of the one
or the other dependent in some way on whether we sow to the Spirit and
don't grow weary in well-doing? And if so, ought not a pastor believe that his
message from this text may be the divinely appointed means of causing
God's children to persevere to the end in well-doing and so inherit eternal
life?
My goal in life is to be a faithful teacher of God's Word for the good of his
people and the glory of his name. I don't see how I could be faithful to this
text and not tell you that if you grow weary in well-doing and lose heart, you
will not reap eternal life. If you forsake the Spirit and rely on the flesh, you
will reap corruption. (Cf. Romans 8:13.)
Bearing the Financial Burden of Teachers
That's what is at stake here. Now let's follow Paul's thought as it develops
beginning in verse 6. You recall that in verse 2 he had said, "Bear one
another's burdens." Verse 6 seems to give another example of burdenbearingnamely, the financial burden of Christian teachers. "Let him who is
taught the word share all good things with him who teaches." One way to
bear the burdens of those who carry major responsibilities of teaching in the
church is to support them financially so that they can be free for prayer and
study. Evidently there was some problem with this in Galatia. Perhaps they
had made a good start, and now they were growing weary in well-doingthe
well-doing of supporting the teaching elders in the church. Perhaps some
were arguing that they are free in Christ and can use their money for other
things. "Who needs teaching, anyway? We know enough of the truth. Money
is scarce; these are hard times." We don't know what they were saying, but
we do know that of all the burdens Paul could have mentioned, he chose to
mention the material burden of those who teach God's Word.

He had learned the principle from Jesus. When Jesus sent out the 70 to
preach, he told them not to take their own food because "the laborer
deserves his wages." Paul picks this up in 1 Timothy 5:17, 18, "Let the elders
who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who
labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle
an ox when it is treading out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his
wages.'" Probably the closest parallel toGalatians 6:6 is 1 Corinthians
9:11 where Paul says, "If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too
much if we reap your material benefits?"
The Ministry of the Word and Giving
I see four implications of Galatians 6:6 that I want to mention briefly. First,
teaching the Word of God is essential in the church. We will not know the
Lord as we ought if we go without sound teaching. Worship will become
shallow, affections will become frothy, and obedience will languish where the
whole counsel of God is not taught. Paul considered it essential.
Second, those who carry the main responsibility of teaching need freedom to
study and meditate and pray. Finding the meaning of biblical texts,
discovering how that meaning fits with the totality of revelation, and seeing
its relationship to contemporary life week in and week out is a glorious
callingbut it takes much time and effort. One of the things that makes me
happy with my ministry at Bethlehem is that most of you know this and do
not begrudge me the time I need for study. So that you'll know, in general, I
devote Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings to prayer and study and
meditation. Then, all day Friday and Saturday I prepare for the two messages
on Sunday. There are inevitable interruptions for crisis situations (like
weddings!). That's OK. I just thank God for your support in the part I have to
play in this church.
Third, it follows that pastor-teachers should be paid so that they don't have
to do other work to support themselves. Some, like Paul, may renounce this
right, but those who are taught the Word ought to be eager to free up their
teachers financially. And for that I thank you, too!
Fourth, when you give of your money to support the teaching ministry, you
are fulfilling the law of Christ according to verse 2 (helping bear the teacher's

burden), and you are not growing weary in well-doing (according to verse 9),
but instead laying hold on eternal life. So when Paul says in verses 9 and 10
that we should not grow weary in well-doing and that we should do good to
all especially to those of the household of faith, he has in mind at least the
use of our money to support those who teach us the Word of God.
God Is Not Mocked
Verse 7 comes in now to reinforce the command of verse 6. "Do not be
deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also
reap." Evidently the people who did not want to share their goods with the
teachers in the churches had fallen prey to some deception and were in
effect mocking God by their action. Maybe they were saying: "For freedom
Christ has set us free. You people that deny yourselves good things and pay
to hear the Word of Godyou're acting like Old Testament legalists." So in
the name of freedom they had begun to indulge their flesh (contrary to the
warning of 5:13). And even worse, they were treating the Word of God with
contempt. God is mocked when his messengers are treated with scorn (2
Chronicles 36:15, 16).
But the text says, "God is not mocked." What does that mean? It means the
same thing a good father means when he says to his child, "I will not be
spoken to in that tone of voice!" That is, you will deeply regret using that
tone of voice. Or, as Paul puts it, you will reap what you sow. "God is not
mocked" means: if you treat his Word with scorn by not supporting the
ministry of the Word, you will deeply regret it. And, "Don't be deceived!" he
says. There is always a time lapse between sowing and reaping. You may be
able to deceive yourself for a while that the sowing of selfishness is really
going to yield more joy than sowing sacrifice for the sake of God's Word. But
you are dead wrong: "God is not mocked!" Your disregard for his Word and
your use of his trust fund for personal indulgences will come back upon your
head like an avalanche.
"Where have you been?" said Elisha to Gehazi his servant. "Have you not run
after Namaan for money? Are you not more greedy to line your pockets with
gold than to magnify the God of Israel? Behold, the leprosy of Namaan shall
cleave to you and to your descendants forever. God is not mocked. Your

greed has come back upon your own head." (Cf. 2 Kings. 5:2527.) Whatever
a man sows, that will he also reap.
"Where is your husband, Sapphira?" said Peter. "And did you really sell the
land for so much? Why have you despised the ministry of the Word, plotted
your own gain, and conspired to deceive the Lord? God is not mocked. Hark,
the feet of those who buried your husband are at the door and they will carry
you out. Your greed has come back upon your own head." Whatever a
woman sows, that will she also reap.
And so Paul is saying in verses 6 and 7: We honor God and his Word when we
take money, which might have bought us some comfort or security or
prestige, and give it to support the ministry of the Word (domestically and on
the frontiers). But if we are deceived and think that more happiness comes
from spending that money on our private pleasures, then we mock God, and
our greed will come crashing back upon us. We will reap what we sow.

Sowing to the Flesh and to the Spirit


Finally, verse 8 makes clear what is really at stake and gives us hope. "For he
who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who
sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." What is at stake in
your attitude to the teaching of God's Word and the use of your goods is
eternal life. I know that for some that sounds like a return to salvation by
works which Paul has demolished in this letter. But it isn't. Works are the
attitudes and actions of a heart that looks to itself for the achievement of
virtue or contentment, which expects to be credited for its achievement.
Nobody can save himself by such works. But love is not a work of the flesh; it
is a fruit of the Spirit. We are not teaching salvation by works when we say
that in order to enter final salvation, you must bear the fruit of the Spirit. All
we are saying is what Paul says inRomans 8:14, "All who are led by the Spirit
of God are sons of God."
Genuine conversion to Christ is not a mere human act of calling Christ our
Savior. ("Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord' . . . but I will say,
'Depart from me. I never knew you!'") Genuine conversion is a divine act by

which a Spirit of sonship is made to dwell in our heart (Romans


8:15; Galatians 4:6), giving us a hatred for sin and a love for righteousness
(Ezekiel 36:27) and a confidence in the grace of Christ. We are converted
when we hear the gospel and are moved to forsake our sin and put our faith
in Christ for forgiveness and begin to walk by faith in his promise and power.
There are attitudes toward money and toward the teaching of God's Word
which cannot continue to coexist with true saving faith in the all-sufficiency
of Christ. That's why Paul can say that even though salvation is by grace
through faith, yet there are attitudes and actions which can destroy you.
The hope of verse 8 is that eternal life can be enjoyed simply by sowing to
the Spirit. "He who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life."
What does this mean? I think it means that the Spirit is the field in which you
work and which you hope will produce your harvest. If you look to "your
own flesh" to produce the harvest of fulfillment, you will get corruption. But if
you look to the Spirit, you will get life. Do you get up in the morning and feel
a need for the power of the Spirit and seek his filling in the Word and prayer?
Or when you get up, do you feel like there is no time to seek his fullness, and
besides, this is a pretty normal day and I don't need much help. A prayer on
the stairs will do!
When you get your paycheck, do you look to the Spirit for how to turn this
money to best advantage for God's kingdom, or do you invest it in the field
of the flesh for your own private use? Sowing to the Spirit means recognizing
where the Spirit aims to produce some luscious fruit for the glory of God and dropping
the seed of your resources in there. One of the places where the Spirit has
promised to yield 30, 60, 100 fold is in the teaching of God's Word. Therefore,
sowing to the Spirit means supporting pastors and teachers and missionaries
with your money. There is more riding in that little white envelope on Sunday
than you realize. Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we
shall reap (eternal life!), if we do not faint.

He Who Sows Bountifully


Will Reap Bountifully
March 20, 1988

by John Piper

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:615

Topic: Giving

What I want us to look at this morning is the way Paul motivates giving in 2
Corinthians 9:614. My aim here is mainly to help us to think and feel about
our giving the way God wants us to, so that every gift to S*P*A*N the
Nineties is as spiritual and God-centered as this passage is.
Two Kinds of Giving
Notice first that in verses 5, 6, and 7 two kinds of giving are contrasted.

Verse 5: "So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren to go on


to you before me, and arrange in advance for this gift you have
promised, so that it may be ready not as an exaction but as a
willing gift." (Literally: "not as covetousness but as blessing.")

Verse 6: "The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap
sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."
(Don't give sparingly; give bountifully, generously.)

Verse 7: "Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not


reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
(Don't give begrudgingly; give freely and cheerfully.)

Three descriptions of how not to give, and three descriptions of how to give:

Verse 5, NOT as an exaction or covetously; verse 6, NOT


sparingly; verse 7, NOT reluctantly or begrudgingly.

BUT, verse 5, as a willing gift; verse 6, bountifully; verse 7,


cheerfully.

How Not to Give


Let's think for a moment about bad giving. In each of these three
descriptions the essence of what's wrong is the desire to hold back. There is
giving! But it's coming from a heart that wants to hold back.
Take the word "sparingly," for example, in verse 6. If I say, "Spare my life!" I
mean, let me keep it; don't take it from me. If I say, "Spare no effort!" I
mean, hold back no effort. Give all the effort you can! When Paul said, "God
did not spare his only Son," he meant, God did not hold him back. He didn't
keep just for himself. He shared him.
So to give sparingly is to give from a heart that deep inside wants to hold
back. There are enough external constraints and pressures to make us give
something. But the real feeling of our heart is not to think of how much we
can give, but how much we can keep.
That's how not to give.
How to Give
Take the positive side now. In verse 6 the word is "bountifully." In the Greek
it's the same word as the one used in verse 5. Literally, it means give on the
basis of blessing. Our giving should rest upon the great truth that God is a
bountifully blessing God, and then our gift in turn should be a bountiful
blessing to others. Verse 7 says, it should be "cheerful."
So giving bountifully means giving from a heart that wants to share things.
Something has happened in the heart so that the basic desire is now to give
and share as much as possible instead of keep as much as possible. It's as
though there was a magnet in the soul that used to be turned so that it
pulled possessions into itself; and now something has happened to turn it
around to the other pole so that it pushes things out toward others.
Which of these hearts do you have this morning? What was it like this week
as you struggled to decide about your commitment to S*P*A*N the Nineties?

The Difference Between Two Kinds of Hearts


The leads us to ask, what makes the difference between these two kinds of
heartsthe sparing heart, and the bountiful heart? I would answer like this,
and then we will see it from the text as we read on.
The Heart That Sees God as Taker
The sparing heart has a relationship to God that feels him as a Taker rather
than a Giver. If my life is being drained away by God because he is so
incessantly and solely demanding, then I feel like grasping after the things of
the world to meet my need. If every time I look up I see the pointing finger of
God demanding, "Give me! Give me! Give me!" how can I look back down at
the needs of the world and say "Take me: I will gladly spend and be spent for
your good"?
O this person will give something! Because one of the draining demands that
he hears when he looks to this ever-demanding, ever-taking God is: "Give
something to the church!" So out comes the giftthe draining, life depleting,
exhausting, sparing gift.
The Heart That Sees God as Giver
But what a difference between this gift and the gift that flows from the heart
that has a relationship with God that feels him as a Giver rather than a Taker!
Beneath the bountiful giving of verse 6 and the cheerful giving of verse 7 is a
heart that looks up to God and sees a Giver, a Supplier, a Helper. When this
person looks to God, he feels replenished not drained. Just like the literal
translation of verse 6 implies, his giving is based on blessingGod's
blessing.
Even when this person hears a command coming from God, he hears it as a
hopeful gift not a depleting demand. Like when a three-year-old starts
toddling toward the street and his mother shouts from the kitchen window,

"Barnabas! Stop!" The bountiful, cheerful givers have grown up enough in


their relationship with God to know that his shouts are all love.
What Makes the Difference
What makes the difference, then, between the sparing giver and the
bountiful giver is their relation to God. For one he is an incessantly
demanding, draining Taker. For the other he is an inexhaustible Giver.
The one feels that if God is draining me, then what joy can I have if I don't
drain the world? If life is being sucked out by a demanding God, then I must
suck in whatever pleasure I can from this worldO, moral pleasures to be
sure, nothing terrible. God IS a demander. But our basic disposition is still
one of taking, keeping, sparingbecause God is always taking, always
demanding. He is the great Taker.
But for the other person described in this text the flow goes all in the other
direction. God is the great Giver, Fountain, Father, flowing in with everreplenishing blessing and grace and hope. And so what this person feels
when he looks at the needs of the world is a free, internal impulse to give, to
share. This impulse is called love or grace. Love is simply vertical grace bent
outward to other people.
The Biggest Issue in Our Lives
And so THE big issue for our lives this morning is how we see God. What do
we feel him to be when we look up into his face? Paul knows this is the issue.
And so the burden of the rest of this text is to help us see God and feel God
as a Giver and not a Taker. He is a Giver on both sides of our givingon the
back side, enabling our giving with his blessing, and the front side, rewarding
our giving with even more blessing.

God as Giver on Both Sides of Our Giving

Let's see this from the Word of God itself. And let it fill you with hope that the
commitment you have made is not only going to be possible, but is going to
be one of the most spiritually rewarding acts of these years.
God as Giver Before Our Giving
Verse 8 talks about God's giving on the backside of our giving, that is, the
giving he gives first that enables us to give: "And God is able to provide you
with every blessing in abundance [or: make every grace abound to you], so
that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in
abundance for every good work." So here he says very clearly that God
wants to be known as a bountiful God. He is ablehe omnipotently able to
give us whatever we need in order to be generous. He IS a giver in this affair,
not a Taker.
Free and Generous Giving
Verse 9 picks up an image that Paul used in verse 6, namely, the image of
sowing seed. In verse 6 he said that if you sow bountifully, you will reap
bountifully. Now in verse 9 he gives an illustration taken from Psalm 112:9 of
a person who sows seed bountifully. "As it is written, 'He scatters abroad, he
gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.'"
So the sowing of seed in verse 6 and the scattering of seed in verse 9 is the
free and generous giving of help to meet the needs of people. And this
generosity is called righteousness in verse 9.
Now in verse 10 he takes that Old Testament quote from verse 9 and brings
out its relation to God. He is the one who gives the seed for scattering and
he is the one who will bring a harvest from this righteousness. "He who
supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your
resources [lit.: 'your seed' or 'your sowing']"so there God is the Giver on
the back side of our giving again: he gives the seed so we can scatter it
abroad as verse 9 says.
God as Giver After Our Giving

Then verse 10 goes on and says, " . . . and he will increase [or: cause to
grow] the harvest of your righteousness." Now what does that mean? Well,
"righteousness" in verse 9 is the generous scattering of seed to those in
need. The harvest of righteousness is probably what grows up as a result of
this scattering. In other words, "God will increase the harvest of your
righteousness" means the same as "He who sows bountifully will also reap
bountifully." Bountiful sowing is righteousness. Bountiful reaping is the
increased harvest of this righteousness.
So the point of verse 10 is that God is the Giver, not Taker, on both sides of
our giving: he gives seed before we give so that we can sow it generously;
and he gives harvest after we give so that we are rewarded for our
generosity.
The great truth of this text is that God wants to be known and trusted and
loved as the Giver not the Taker in this whole affair of giving. Otherwise all
our giving is draining, burdensome, oppressive, legalistic, and sparing. And
who needs it!

Four Aspects of the Harvest of Righteousness


But Paul is not done. What is the harvest of our righteousness? What does
the harvest of our sowing look like when it begins to come in? I see at least
four aspects of this bountiful harvest that come in when we sow bountifully.
1. Even Greater Ability to Be Generous
The first two are mentioned in verse 11: "You will be enriched in every way
for great generosity." That's the first aspect of the harvest: namely, an even
greater ability to be generous. The more you give, the more you will be able
to give. And if it is more blessed to give than to receive, you can see what a
harvest of joy this will mean.
2. More Thanks to God

Verse 11 goes on, " . . . great generosity, which through us will produce
thanksgiving to God." The second aspect of the harvest that comes from
generous sowing is that God gets more thanks. Verse 13 says the same
thing. The different versions handle the difficult Greek differently but the one
thing they all agree on is that God gets glory or praise because of our
generosity, our obedience to the gospel. RSV: "Under the test of this service,
you [or: they] will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel
of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all
others."
God gets glory when his people give generously? Why? Doesn't the Giver get
the glory? Exactly! The Giver gets the glory! And the people who sow most
bountifully display most vividly that their God is an inexhaustible Giver.
3. The Joy of Seeing God Meet His People's Needs
The third aspect of the harvest that comes from our sowing is mentioned in
verse 12: "The rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the
saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God." The third aspect of
our harvest is the joy of seeing the needs of God's people met.
When you sow to S*P*A*N the Nineties, will you be sowing to meet the needs
of the saints and the needs of the world? How you answer that question will
determine the kind of harvest you expect from your sowing and how you will
pray in the months to come.
4. Affection and Love Among God's People
The final aspect of the harvest that comes in when we sow bountifully is the
affection and love of God's people. It's mentioned in verse 14. The people
who benefit from your sowing "long for you and pray for you, because of the
surpassing grace of God in you."
Everybody wants to be loved by other people. Everybody wants to be needed
by other people. Everybody wants to be desired and longed for by other
people. I want to be loved and needed and longed for and prayed for. And

like verse 14 says, I want that to be "because of the surpassing grace of God
in me." Why? Because the grace-Giver gets the glory.

To the Giver Be All the Glory


And when I am loved and needed and longed for, I want God to get the glory.
And to me the best news in all the worldthe bottom line of all I preach, the
reason I wrote Desiring God, my hope for S*P*A*N the Nineties, the rock under
the shifting sands of my emotions, the meaning of my parenthood, the bond
of my marriage, the theme of my life, the heartbeat of my ministryis this:
that God wants to be the Giver in my life and your life so that he will get the
glory.
May that be the meaning of every commitment card that comes in for
S*P*A*N the Nineties. Amen.

These You Ought to Have


Done Without Neglecting
the Others
January 13, 1991

by John Piper

Scripture: Luke 11:3742

Topic: Giving

While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in
and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first
wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse
the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and
wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside
also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything

is clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and
every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have
done, without neglecting the others."
There are personality types like Eeyore and Puddleglum and Charlie Brown
that see the dark side of almost every situation and have to work a lot harder
than others to feel hopeful. But if you have a theology like mine, pessimism
is a living contradiction of God and just can't hang on for long. It's a theology
that putsIsaiah 64:4 and Romans 8 at the center and believes that a
sovereign God works for those who wait for him; and that he works all things,
even the hardest things, together for our good, and that nothing can
separate us from his lovenot financial shortfall or broken relationships or
terminal disease or war with Iraq, or anything else in all creation.
Which means that as I thought about teaching this morning about money,
my imagination was carried away mainly with what we could do together as
a united people, if we all shared biblically in the funding of the mission of this
church. Let me mention some trajectories that make me excited about where
God seems to be taking us in the future. I mention these ten things because I
want you to feel that this is what Bethlehem is about, not the finances. They
are a means to an end. It's the end that counts.

Ten Reasons for Hope Here at Bethlehem


Ten reasons to be encouraged that labors and investments are not in vain.
1. God is teaching us more and more about the Holy Spirit and about
his gifts and graces, and making us more and more hungry for "all
the fullness of God" than we ever have been.
2. One of the evidences of this is the growing commitment to the
ministry of prayer. It is evident in our small groups and the allnight of prayer, but most of all in the emergence of the prayer
teams that are now available after each service to pray for
people.

3. The birth and growth and affirmation of the vision of 2000 by


2000 to set a pace for sending and harvesting through this
decade.
4. All three of these have resulted in a much wider and intentional
engagement of our unbelieving friends and family members in
conversations about Christ and invitations to church. Last year
there were 20 reported professions of faith through your ministry
of outreach. We hope by mid decade to see that number coming
to Christ every month. (Just as I am writing this, one of the men of
our church called to say that he decided to do an evangelistic
Bible Study at his work and five guys said they wanted to be a
part of it.)
5. So far since the beginning of 2000 by 2000 last year we have sent
out 91 of our people in one way or another in the terms of this
decade goal. And 60 people are in the nurture program preparing
for vocational missionary service. About $90,000 of our budget
increase for next year is new missionaries being funded by our
church.
6. As I analyzed the attendance patterns for the last several years I
was encouraged to notice that in 1987 there were 9 Sundays with
over 1,000 in worship, in 1988 there were 18 Sundays over 1,000,
in 1989 there were 20 Sundays, and last year 22 Sundays over
1,000. The reason this is so encouraging is that we lost a lot of
our parking this year and made it very hard for people to come,
and I was gone four months out of this year. So the church does
not appear to be excessively dependent on me or on parking.
7. Last Wednesday evening the ASK class for prospective members
had 26 people in it, which shows that people are continuing to
find strength and hope at Bethlehem.
8. One of the great sources of hope and joy this past year has been
the ministry of small groups. Over 600 of our people are in some
form of small group and there have been deeply moving stories of

how small groups met people's needs this year. There is every
reason to see that ministry growing.
9. The new sanctuary is an unmistakable sign to the city that we are
here in the Elliot Park neighborhood to stay. It will triple our
seating capacity when we move in, some time in May or June
(Lord willing). And not only will it open the way for more people to
worship with us, but the expansive foyer will make room for the
kind of interaction between services that is almost impossible in
our jammed hallways now. A wonderful team of people are
putting in place right now the plan for paying it off in three more
years so that we have no long-term debt, and can pour more and
more of our resources into 2000 by 2000.
10. Last Sunday our new weekly Radio Program was started on KTIS
AM at 3:30. What the Lord may do with this we do not know. We
only know that it is the result of a long season of prayer and
thought. And we believe it is part of the overall blessing God
wants to bring to the Twin Cities through Bethlehem and all the
other evangelical churches of the area.
I don't know what this says to you. But I know what it says to me. I turned 45
last Friday. Last Sunday the best friend I had in my seminary class, Tom
Provence, a pastor in Louisiana, died of cancer. He was 45 too. When the
year rolls over, you step back and ask, especially at mid-life (or more
realistically at two-thirds life), is Bethlehem a good investment? Not just for
my money, but for my life. I only have one to live. I want it to count for the
glory of God more than I want anything in the world. And the answer of my
heartI believe it is the voice of Godis: Yes! It is a good place to invest my
life. A good people. A good ten-year vision.

Radical Commitment to Mission and Ministry


So what I want to do this morning is to ask many of you for a new level of
hope-filled commitment to the mission and the ministry of this church. Here
is the question that fills me with hope as we face the staggeringly wonderful
opportunities of 2000 by 2000. What would God do in us and through us if

ALL TOGETHER we made the grace of tithing the floor on which we stood and
the grace of overflowing liberality the ceiling over our heads?
I say I call many of you to new commitment because some of you are already
stretching way beyond the tithe in your giving. In fact there are reasons to be
very encouraged about our giving. Funding experts tell us that in the
average evangelical church 20% of the members pay for 80% of the
expenses; 30% pay for the rest; and 50% don't give anything. They have
never learned from Scripture the blessing and obedience of giving. But at
Bethlehem the numbers are a little better. Here instead of 50% not giving,
about 30% don't givethat's 346 of our members who made no recorded gift
last year.
But I asked for an anonymous analysis of those numbers and found that only
22 of those 346 were categorized as "active attenders." Others were nonresident, or no-longer attending, or youth and student and watch-care, or
elderly or missionaries. Therefore I do not believe that I am speaking this
morning to a crowd of non-givers. What I am doing is speaking to many of
you who are giving well over a tithe and others who did not grow up with this
pattern and are seeking the Lord about what his will is for your giving as the
first pay-check of 1991 approaches.

When Religious Practice Becomes an End in Itself


Let's look at Luke 11:42 and see if Jesus will speak to you as clearly as he has
spoken to me this week.
But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and
neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without
neglecting the others.
What the Pharisees were doing was giving a tenth of all their produce right
down to the spices and herbs in their gardens. They were giving a tenth to
the temple ministry. A tithe means a tenthit is not a general word for
giving. It is 10%, one tenth, of our income given to the on-going ministry of
the place of worship. But they were neglecting larger issues of justice and

the love of God. They were focused on their religious practice but not on
treating people with justice or treating God with love. So they were under the
condemnation of God: Woe to you, Pharisees! It is a terrible thing when
religious practice becomes an end in itself and neglects just relationships
with people and a love relationship with God.

The Relationship of Tithing and Justice


Now notice two key things that this text teaches. One is that there are more
important things than tithing, namely, justice and love of God. "Woe to you,
Pharisees! for you . . . neglect justice and the love of God." These are bigger
issues than tithinglike learning the subject matter in school is a bigger
issue than making A's.
But the other thing to notice is that tithing is not unimportant; it is to be
done: "These [i.e., justice and love of God] you ought to have done, without
neglecting the others." In other words don't neglect tithing all your income,
even the spices and herbs. But let it all be in the context of justice for people
and love for God. Let your concern for people and your passion for the glory
of God set the tone of your whole life. Then in that tone of life, your tithing
will bring blessing and not a condemnation.
Both Have to Do with Our Money
What speaks so loudly to me here is that both justice and tithing have to do
with my money. This is utterly crucial to see. Virtually all justice issues are
money issues. If you want to fight the injustice of killing unborn children, it
will cost moneyjust like abortion providers will lose millions of dollars if
their commodity is taken away. If you want to fight for justice around the
world to give people with less advantage than you better opportunities for
food and homes and health-care and literacy and freedom, it will cost money.
Justice issues are money issues. You can't be committed to justice and think
that everything over the tithe is given by God to expand your luxuries. It is
given so that you have enough for your needs and an abundance for
pursuing justice for people and love for God (2 Corinthians 9:8).

The Essence of Jesus' Teaching


So Jesus was not saying: Big issues like justice are important and little issues
like money are less important. Justice IS a money issue! He was saying: get
your heart right about loving God and caring about how people are treated,
and then the details of how you handle your moneyincluding your tithing
will be praiseworthy and not a religious camouflage for selfishness.
The teaching of Jesus then this morning is this:
1. First, let your heart be filled with love to God; let him be your
treasure in heaven.
2. Second, from this love for God and his love for you, let your life be
filled up with concern for people and how they are treated
especially the most helpless; don't live for comforts, live for
justice and compassion.
3. Third, don't neglect to tithe your income to the house of the Lord
the place of worship.
Six Closing Incentives to Give
Let me try to strengthen this word from the Lord with six concluding
incentives:
1. Tithe because Jesus said: Do not neglect this duty. "Why do you
call me Lord and Lord," he said, "and do not do what I tell you?"
(Luke 6:46).
2. If you are prone to say that today we are living under grace and
not law and tithing is part of the law, keep in mind that Christ
came to fulfill the law and not to abolish it. What does a fulfilled
tithe look like? What does more grace do to the minimum level of
generosity in the Old Testament? What does more grace do to a
believer's eagerness to support the work of God? What does more
grace do to our confidence in God to meet our needs? I cannot
see how more grace lowers the floor of generosity laid by the law.
It simply raises the ceiling.

3. In Deuteronomy 14:23 one of the purposes for tithing is "that you


may learn to revere the Lord your God always." Many of us have
discovered that the decision to keep God first in our financial
commitments helps us keep him first in all our commitments. Just
as the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, so obedience
with the first tenth of your money is the root of much reverence
and righteousness.
4. Bringing God the first fruits of your income as a tithe is a constant
reminder to you that everything you have is God's. The tithe does
not mean: this is God's and the rest is mine. The tithe means that
this belongs to the ministry of the church and the rest is meant
for a lifestyle of justice and the love of God.
5. Tithing teaches real nitty-gritty trust in God. If you don't bring to
God the first tenth of your income because you don't think you
can live on 90% of your income, then you are probably not
trusting God in a way that honors his incredible promises. Tithing
is a demonstration that you believe God's promise to add what
you need if you seek him first.
6. Finally, tithing will bring the blessing of God into your life in many
ways. I see nothing in the New Testament that suggests that the
promise ofMalachi 3:10 is not valid still today for God's people:
"Bring the full tithes 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 the windows of heaven for you and pour
down for you an overflowing blessing."
In fact I believe so strongly that God will stand by this promise that I make
you this challenge (I have checked with David Michael who works with the
Helping Hand fund): if you will begin to tithe with your next pay check,
bringing to God the first tenth of your income, and if you will ask one other
person to pray with you for wisdom in the way you spend and live, then as of
February, if you are in a worse financial situation because of tithing, we will
give back to you any part of it you want from the Helping Hand fund.

"Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts!" Let's do it this year like we never
have before; and let's do it together. I'm eager to invest my life and my
money in the mission and the ministry of this church. Come, join me. Let's
expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.