Every pastor’s favorite sermon topic is tithing/giving. Every pastor absolutely loves talking about you are to give freely to God by giving to the church and other missional activities.
In case you’re wondering, that was sarcasm. Most pastor’s hate it. And, most people hate hearing it, because they often feel guilty about it. Hatred of the topic may be a veneer over the fear of Christianly dealing with money.
John Wesley had a famous sermon on money. From it was gained a saying, “…Gain all you can…Save all you can…Give all you can….” Part of the problem with this saying is all the “…” that are part of it. They show that there is far more than just these 12 words. The context of each set of 4 words makes a lot of difference in how one interprets them.
“All you can” is the real crux of the issue. “All you can” at what cost? John Wesley had a distinct moral code regarding “Gain all you can.” Some of today’s business owners might be okay. Others might not. Still others would not be able to figure it out.
John Wesley was concerned that people who sought to gain would do it at the expense of others. In many respects, we could call capitalism with a heart. On the other hand, we could view it as capitalism with a long view for the benefit of humanity.
If the long view of a business, and its profit, is for the benefit of humanity, that’s a good start. Destroying the environment would be harming God’s creation, so it would fail Wesley’s test, too. Much of our modern profiting, though, is a lot grayer.
Saving is the next thing. Saving is not hoarding. Saving is more along the lines of protection of the wellbeing of one’s family and self. Hoarding is gathering as much as one can and preventing others from gaining.
In John Wesley’s era, far too many people owed money. It was a way of life. For some, it was the only way to feed their families. Today we think of credit card debt, home mortgages, student loans, and car loans. The amount of most of those loans could have been greatly reduced with good planning and a willingness to delay gratification. This is (for example) one area that the Church could be both a better witness of action and of prophecy.
“Give all you can” can be a guilt trip. Often, even those of us in the Wesley tradition use it or perceive it as more of a guilt scale. Wesley, while big on charity, didn’t seem to be particularly guilt-driven. However, by some accounts, he failed the “save all you can” for his family, for he gave all he could.
Gain(earn)/save/give is a balancing act.
Many Christians are like Saul. “Oh, I’ll give the difficult or unwanted stuff to God.” Sounds like many people who give broken stuff to a church. The church then often must pay to dispose of it. Saul turned a commandment from God into we’ll benefit, oh, and maybe God will like a little bit, too.
The path of Ananias and Sapphira was “look at what we did. We gave everything (oh, except that part we kept back).” They wanted the accolades about the total sacrifice, rather than just giving freely and joyfully. If they’d given 90% and kept 10% and were honest about it, everything would have been fine.
Far too many preachers (and non-profit type) folks speak about a person’s checkbook as the litmus test. It isn’t. It would be nice if the 10% rule (from the time of Israel) had been sufficient. It wasn’t. When a person has a rule (10%), the heart doesn’t have to go along.
It is the motive behind our use of money that is the point of tithing and giving.
God created the world. God already has the money (as if God needed it). God wants our heart.
- When a church or non-profit person starts talking about money, what’s your first response? How about an entrepreneur, investor, banker, or politician?
- What is so captivating about money and stuff?
Jesus, may you be the Lord of our heart. May the spirit of mammon in us be overwhelmed and transformed by the sanctification of Holy Spirit. Amen.