Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

Index of Articles
Money, Giving & Generosity

reprinted from the June 2002 edition of Essentials


  A. Teaching About Money  
  Money is a spiritual issue of profound importance. Jesus spoke about it more than any other specific issue. If Jesus thought it was so important, then we must address it in our congregations. We will want to teach regularly about money and the issues associated with it (wealth, greed, idolatry, generosity, contentment and giving). This is not merely in order to meet our church budgets, or even to grow the ministry of our churches, but for the spiritual health of our congregations.  
  We can preach on money in a number of ways. If we preach through the whole Bible, then we will frequently be able to address the issue of money in some way. It is important to take up these opportunities. A series on Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Malachi, 2 Corinthians or James provides the chance to tackle a passage that has to do with money and giving. Too often such chances are neglected. How often do series on Philippians peter out before the end of chapter four?  
  You will also have plenty of opportunities as your preach through the Gospels. Don't obscure these opportunities by choosing preaching units that are too long. Teachings of Jesus like Matthew 6: 19-21 ('Do not store up for yourselves…') deserve a whole sermon to themselves.  
  You can also tackle money as part of a broader thematic series on, say, 'Spiritual Disciplines' or 'Wise Living' or 'False gods and the true God' or 'Creation' or 'True Fellowship'. In anything from the most 'seeker-sensitive' pre-evangelistic series (Real Freedom – Financial Freedom) to the heaviest doctrinal series (Doctrine of Creation – Divine Ownership) there are opportunities to spend a week talking about money.  
  Nevertheless, a thematic and doctrinal series on money can have an impact that a one-off talk can't have. It allows you to bring the weight of biblical material to bear in people's lives, to show biblical patterns of generosity, and build a comprehensive picture over several weeks. You simply can't do justice to the amount of biblical teaching on money in one sermon. In fact, after spending several weeks on this topic, you will still have plenty of new material to look at in the future.  
  B. Creating a Series  
  In creating a thematic series it isn't adequate to simply choose several passages that deal with the topic and preach on them over consecutive weeks. To do a thorough job, you need to review all the biblical material, understand it in its biblical-theological framework, and systematise your findings. This will allow you to discern what are the key theological ideas in the Bible on the particular topic.  
  In the case of money, I encountered the following key ideas:  
  • Money is a key spiritual issue, perhaps the most important of all.
  • Love of money and the desire for wealth do great spiritual harm, keeping people out of the kingdom and preventing Christians from bearing fruit.
  • We are called to give up the vice of greed and adopt the virtues of contentment and generosity.
  • Wealth is a false god, an idol that prevents people from worshipping the true God.
  • Giving money away is an important spiritual discipline that helps us cultivate generosity.
  • We are motivated to generosity on the basis on what God has done for us in the past (in creation, in redemption) and what God promises about the future.
  • When we give we imitate God's grace.
  • Giving is an act of worship to God.
  • Giving by God's people is about celebrating God's goodness, supporting ministry, and being merciful to the poor.
  • Giving should come from an attitude of joy and thankfulness.
  In response to these truths I set these aims for a series on money:  
  • Call all hearers to worship the true and living God, not wealth.
  • Explain the biblical motivations for generosity.
  • Explore biblical patterns of giving.
  • Challenge Christians to regular, planned, proportional, joyful giving as a spiritual discipline.
  Below are the outlines for the four talks that I constructed following these aims. I didn't try to include all the biblical material but I did endeavour to explore the main ideas as listed above. I also focussed especially on the teaching of Jesus because I wanted people to see how important this issue is to him. I incorporated some other material from Paul's letters as well as from Deuteronomy and Proverbs.  
  1. The Hardest Thing About Following Jesus?  
  What do you think it is?  
  Why we don't talk about it much  
  Why we should  
  The problem of money  
  • it stops people following Jesus (Luke 18:18-30)
  • it makes Christian lives unfruitful (Mark 4:19)
  The need to choose  
  • money is an alternative god (Matthew 6:24)
    "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
  What should we do?  
  • reject the goal of earthly wealth (Matthew 6:19-21)
  • be generous with what you have
  • give your money away
  What are followers of Jesus meant to give their money to?  
  • to their church - an obligation and an opportunity
  • to make friends for heaven - gospel ministry (Matthew 16:1-13)
  • to the poor (Matthew 6: 1-4; Luke 12:33)
  Summary - Your attitude to money and what you do with it is a crucial part of your Christian life  
  • it shows where your heart is (Matthew 6:21)
  • we must be able to talk about it
  • we must be sure which god we serve
  Comment: This sermon aims to show that Jesus regards money as a vital spiritual issue, and therefore focuses on his teaching in the gospels. It is, in a sense, an evangelistic sermon in that it presents a clear call to turn away from a false god to the Father of Jesus. There is also some preliminary instruction in giving as a spiritual discipline that helps Christians to turn from the idol of wealth and become generous people.  
  2. Learning How to be Generous  
  The virtue of generosity and the practice of giving  
  1) Giving by God's people in the Old Testament  
  • Deuteronomy 25: 1-14
  • Giving was an act of worship and thanksgiving to God Giving was regular
  • Giving was proportional
  • they gave one tenth - the 'tithe', eg. Leviticus 27: 30-32
  • where the tithe went
  • Giving was from their first and best, eg. Proverbs 3: 9-10
  2) Giving in the New Testament  
  • Our giving is an act of worship also
  I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.  
  • Our giving is still meant to be first, regular and deliberate
  • Our giving should be proportional to our income
  • What about tithing?
  • the issue of the Law
  • The question we should ask
  • how much do we value what God has done for us?
    For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9
  3) The challenge  
  Comment: In this sermon I traced the patterns of giving by God's people under the old and new covenants, aiming to show the continuity and differences, and to discuss the question of tithing. I also aim at the same time to explore giving as a response to God's own generosity. The Deuteronomy passage is a terrific passage for doing this, and leads naturally enough to a discussion of God's goodness to us in creation and in redemption. I ended by challenging people to planned, regular, proportional giving of a tenth or more of their income.  
  3. The Key to Generosity  
  How could anyone be generous?  
  • the stupidity of giving
  • the past (God's acts) and the future (God's promises)
  We are called to trust God on his promises (= 'faith')  
  3 Types of Promises  
  1) trust about the future - that God will provide  
  • Luke 12: 22-34 - God knows what you need
  • the enemy of trust
  • God also Provides through his people (Luke 18:29)
  2) trust about the kingdom  
  • the guarantee of the kingdom (Luke 18:30)
  • the value of the kingdom (Matthew 13: 44-46)
  • the superiority of the kingdom (Luke 12:33)
  3) trust about God's bookkeeping  
  • the God who keeps accounts (Luke 18:22, Proverbs 19:17) <
  • the God who rewards
  Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back  
  • Christian prosperity?
  Trust in the Lord with all your heart...Honour the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will be bursting with wine.  
  • Asking the question
  • Checking the evidence
  • Acting on his promises
  Comment: This sermon builds on the previous one by exploring the second group of motivations for giving – those to do with God's promises to those who are generous. There are dangers that this might sound 'worksy', but the good theological context you have built up over the previous two sermons should prevent misunderstanding. Again there is a discussion of the Old Covenant promises to guard against unqualified prosperity teaching.  
  4. The Joy of Generosity  
  The pain of giving  
  • the truth & the danger
  • the joy of giving
  • what kind of joy?
  1) The joy of salvation, the joy of being free  
  • the joy of salvation - Zacchaeus - Luke 19: 1-10
  • the joy of finding the kingdom - Matthew 13:44
  ' his joy he goes and sells all that he has...'
  2) The joy of imitating God's grace  
  • giving as 'grace' - an imitation of God
  • the giving of Jesus - 2 Corinthians 8:9
  • the giving of God - 2 Corinthians 9:15
  • the joy of God-liness
  3) The joy of partnership  
  • partnering in giving
  We want you to know...about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing [partnering] in this ministry to the saints. 2 Corinthians 8: 1-4  
  • partnership in the gospel with those who receive
  You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared [partnered] with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. Philippians 4:15  
  • our partnerships today - local & worldwide
    - joyful, purposeful, binding
  The unlikely joy of giving  
  Comment: This sermon rounds out the series by concentrating on the question of attitude, showing that since giving is a reflection or imitation of God's grace, it must be a willing and joyous activity. It is a good way to finish because it is positive, and because it emphasises the collective aspects of giving: the way giving draws us together as God's people and our goal of becoming a generous people, not only generous individuals.  
  C. Using the Series  
  If you are going to use or adapt this series, you will need to work carefully through the Bible references and think through how you will explain them clearly but briefly in their contexts. With so many references there is no time to waste on unnecessary detail. You will need to provide good illustrations from your own experience of the struggle with greed, the lure of wealth, of trust, of gratitude, and of the joy of giving. It will be helpful to Provide inspiring examples of the gospel partnership your church is involved in, and of how giving can help the poor of the world. Most of all, you will need to speak with passion about the gospel and the promises of God, so that people will give themselves to God, and not only their money.  
  D. Making the Most of a Money Series  
  Some further points to bear in mind when preparing and preaching a series on money:  
  • Preach on money for a number of weeks
  You probably won't want to do this every year, but it is worth doing every few years. Covering the topic over four weeks means that irregular attenders are more likely to hear something on this topic. Experience with this series has also shown that it takes several weeks for many people to come to grips with the topic and the challenges you present to them. For many it may be the first time they have heard any strong teaching about money. You can expect to have most interesting discussions with your hearers in the third and fourth weeks.  
  • Lead the way
  In this matter of giving as in any other, it is very important that you lead 'from the front', so a certain amount of self-disclosure is needed, while we bear in mind the injunctions of Christ on this matter (Matthew 6: 1-4). People need to know that you are giving in the way that you are challenging them, so tell them that you are. You could also speak of the giving of other staff (in the case of a multi-staff congregation) or the church council. This means getting money on the agenda with your leaders before speaking about it with the whole congregation.  
  • Don't be too gentle
  It's important to tackle this topic with vigour. Don't be embarrassed (as we so often are) in raising this issue. There are taboos to be broken, idols to be broken down and sacred cows to slaughter, so don't be too gentle or balanced, especially in the first couple of weeks. Take your lead from Jesus and notice the stark terms in which he speaks about this matter.  
  • Include challenge, be concrete
  It is important to challenge people to respond to these sermons. Show them how the discipline of giving can work in practice for them. You can't assume that people will work out these things for themselves. Take them through the process of planning to give and the methods of giving your church employs. Tell them how they can give to the poor in constructive ways, and how they can support gospel ministry outside the church. In other words, challenge them to give, and make it easy for them to do so.  
  • Link vision and giving
  If you are going to encourage people to give to your church, it is important that people know they are giving to something worthwhile. So make sure that your giving sermons include good material linking money issues to the purpose, goals or mission of your church. Show people the purpose of your church in the plan of God, so that you have a reason to ask them to give that moves beyond 'meeting the budget'.  
  • Be careful with publicity and titling
  If you give advance notice of your sermon topics or actively publicise them, avoid titles that are too blunt or confronting. In the first sermon above, I put the focus on Jesus in the title, and subsequently used 'generosity' as the theme. This is not obscuring the topic, but rather pointing people towards the desired outcome in their lives. Titles that are too confronting may scare off those who most need to hear God's word on this matter.  
  • Expect to learn about your congregation
  Preaching on this topic will certainly show you some things about your congregation in terms of the attitudes of their hearts and willingness to respond to God's word. Attendances may decline, especially in congregations with many wage earners, but need not. Absentees will usually return later in any case, but you need to be prepared for criticism. Regardless of the effects on attendances, offerings will increase by the final week and remain higher, especially if you Provide means for regular giving, such as direct debit. This will be the most obvious, but not the only indication, that the congregation is responding to your teaching.  
  E. Summary  
  Preaching on money is exciting. Amazing changes can result. It will be a highly stimulating time for you as a preacher, and a time of spiritual struggle and growth for your hearers. It will certainly not be boring, and it may prove to be a watershed in the life of your congregation.  
  Rob Miller works with university students  
  at St Jude's Carlton in Melbourne  

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