2 Corinthians 8:1-5 “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.”
There are simple principles and practices of commitment to the local church which you learn as you profess faith in the Head of the Church. There are two services on a Sunday, morning and evening; there is the Prayer Meeting; there is your commitment to your brothers and sisters in the church finding out about them and how you can help them, and then there is this subject before us in our text, how you give to support the ministries of the congregation. With a firm grip on all those practices and principles we begin the Christian life, and that is also how we go on. Our giving to the church is one useful barometer of where we are spiritually. If your Christian faith is not affecting your bank balance and pay packet very much, then Jesus Christ is not affecting your life much either. There is a great New Testament principle that he who loves little gives little, in every kind of way.
This was clearly a very important matter to the apostle Paul because he spends the next two chapters in this letter writing about generosity in giving one’s money to the Lord’s work.
1. THE GENERAL BACKGROUND OF STEWARDSHIP IN THE GREEK CHURCH.
The Christians in Asia Minor and Greece had begun the practice of collecting money to help the congregations in Judea which were up to a thousand miles away from them. Judea had been hit hard by outbursts of drought and famine during the reign of Claudius from 41 to 54 AD. The church at Antioch was the first to send them money. Then the leaders of the church at Jerusalem had approached Paul and asked him if he would encourage the Gentile churches to give them more assistance, and by the time this letter of 2 Corinthians was written, around the year 56 AD, the Greek churches were so zealous to get involved in this that they were actually begging for the favour of supporting Jewish Christians: “Please let us send some money to Jerusalem.”
The problems Jewish converts faced were not only famine but persecution. When a Jew became a Christian, confessing that the crucified Nazarene was the true promised Messiah, he would be disowned and disinherited. His family would have nothing more to do with him. He would be put out of the synagogue. If a wife were converted her husband could throw her out. Christians might be boycotted by the whole community, so the early church, whose evangelism had led to their conversion, felt a deep sense of responsibility for these newly isolated men and women. So Paul established a benevolent fund for financial assistance to help needy brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and he encouraged every Gentile congregation to get involved. There were three features about this giving:
i] It was an act of Christian compassion. John says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (I John 3:17). James says that, “Religion that God the Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). The Greeks churches believed this and compassionately sent support to their fellow believers in their need.
ii] It was an activity which showed the new unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ. There had been a time when many of these Jews had regarded a man from Greece as a Gentile dog. There was a time when a Greek thought a Jew to be a fanatic who considered that only he was right. What a difference now! There is neither ‘Jew’ nor ‘Gentile’ in Christ. The two have become one new brotherhood. Paul describes to the Romans Gentile delight in giving to the Jews. He says, “Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (Roms. 15:26 & 27). So there is this principle that if you have received spiritual blessings from a man then you may give material things to him.
iii] It was also an action which showed Jew and Gentile were all living in the Messianic age of fulfillment which the Old Testament prophets had spoken about when in the latter days the nations and their wealth would flow into Jerusalem. This ministry of mercy would be one of the fulfilments of the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah: “The wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come” (Isa. 60:5). We have seen a glimpse of this fulfilled prophecy in our day in the extraordinary giving of Gentile Christians to the work of Baruch Maoz in the erection in Israel of fine buildings and a publishing work – even as I now speak.
2. THE PARTICULAR CONTEXT OF GENTILE GIVING.
Paul has been made aware by Titus’ return from Corinth that there was a new spirit of affection in the relationship of the Corinthians to himself. So it seemed to him that at this point in the letter it was a judicious spot to remind them of the needs of their Jewish brethren. They had fallen in love with Paul all over again. He himself was a converted Jew and perhaps their good feelings for him might have encouraged him to be bold in pleading before them at such length the needs of his kinsmen according to the flesh.
So how does he go about it? In this way, he reminds them of what other Greek congregations had been doing. The geography of Greece is something like this. The ancient city state of Sparta was in the deep south of Greece; Corinth and Athens were communities north of Sparta nearer the middle of the country, while Macedonia was northern Greece. The churches at Philippi and Thessalonica were up there. So what Paul proceeds to do is to tell the Corinthian church about another Greek church’s generosity. That can often be impressive.
Aren’t reports of the sacrificial giving of certain congregations something that moves us all? The budget of Holy Trinity Brompton in London is simply staggering – even when we are aware that it is full of people earning high wages. We might get a better impression of sacrificial giving when we go to a little congregation with 20 members and we learn that they are supporting their minister full time and also have a building fund. But you do hear of some of the amazing amounts of money which members of charismatic churches give. They hold a Gift Day and there can be half a million in the offering! If it is true then that takes your breath away. What commitment and belief they display. They are confident that God is with them. What a revolution there would be here if more of us believed that. Ultimately there will be no increase in giving in any church until the congregation’s faith and love for one another is deepened. So Paul begins by telling this church in the south of Greece what congregations in the north of Greece have given to the need in Judea.
But notice carefully the words Paul uses when he writes of the Macedonian generosity. He says, “We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches” (v.1). It is such a theocentric approach concentrating on the effects of God’s grace. Paul does not begin with the tithe. In fact, he nowhere mentions it in these two chapters (which are the fullest treatment on the theme of stewardship in the whole Bible). Paul looks to the consequences of God’s grace working in people because increased generosity, and sacrificial giving will flow from the grace of God in Christian lives. Grace is God’s redemptive energy enabling us to live in a godlike way. There are no techniques of fund-raising used by the world which can possibly help a New Testament church. This is a totally different sphere. This is the kingdom of God and here everything operates in terms of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He gave himself up to this world. He gave himself to the womb of Mary. He gave himself to the family in Nazareth where he dedicated himself to all the domestic and filial duties of a first-born son for thirty years. He gave himself to a life of teaching, publicly and privately. He gave himself to confrontation from his enemies, misunderstanding from his family and disciples. He gave himself to resisting Satan. He gave himself to arrest, scourging, crucifixion and death. That is “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When that same grace – the identical grace that enabled him to give himself in that way – enters your own life it starts to change you so that inevitably and effectually you start giving too. We love because he first loved.
A British woman was visiting a missionary hospital and was watching with some ill-disguised horror a young Christian nurse changing the dressings on the puss-filled sores of a patient with leprosy. “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world,” she said. “Neither would I,” replied the nurse quietly. She was being constrained by the grace that God had given to her, and when we see self-denial and generosity and a life of Christian kindness and caring then we say to that person, “I thank God for his grace in you.” So Paul observed that saving grace in the Christians in Macedonia and he wanted the Corinthians to know about what they was going on in the northern churches, the possibility of being wonderfully generous.
Let me remind you of an incident early in the life of Hudson Taylor, who later became the leader of the China Inland Mission, and was wonderfully blessed of God in that work. Early in his life he showed this grace that God had given him. One Lord’s Day he had been preaching and then visiting the poor, and at ten o’clock at night he was asked to call at the home of a woman who was very ill. Her husband who was in the cottage with her, had sent this message to Hudson Taylor inviting him to come. He was taken inside a very poor building, and he went there with one coin in his pocket, a half-a-crown in the old coinage, which is twelve-and-a-half pence in our decimalised coinage (USA 50c). It was one single coin, you see, and as he went he thought, “If it had only been two separate shillings and a sixpence, how gladly I would give one shilling to these poor people”. Then he saw what sort of state they were in. The woman was very ill, and might not last the night without medicine. She had a little baby and four starving children there. Then he began to think, “If only I had the money split up, I would gladly have given her one shilling and sixpence, and kept one shilling,” because he himself had no other money for his dinner the next day. It was all the money that he had.
Hudson Taylor spoke to these people. He tried to tell them that there was a heavenly Father who was able to supply their need, and yet he felt such a hypocrite with that money in his pocket. He tried to pray, and found it so difficult because his conscience was accusing him. At the end he felt, “If only I had a two shilling piece and one sixpence, I would gladly give that florin now.” The man said to him, “You see what a situation we are in, how greatly we need medicine for my dear wife. If you can do anything…” – and he said it no doubt reverently – “for God’s sake help us”. A word of the Lord Jesus came then with power to Hudson Taylor, “Give to him that asketh thee”. He put his hand in his pocket and gave all the money that he had, and prayed and went off home. He wrote afterwards that he went back to his house with his heart as light as his pocket, singing the praises of the God who had appeared and had made him willing to give all the money that he had for that poor family.
The rest of this story is incidental, but I will tell it to you for the sake of accuracy. The next morning came, and Hudson Taylor was not used to receiving any post at all on Mondays. But that morning his landlady brought in a little packet. He could not decipher the post-mark or the writing at all (I do not think he ever found out where it came from). But in the packet there was a half-sovereign; which was four times what he had given the night before.
That is one way in which the Lord works, especially to encourage a young Christian. We thought we were going to lose something precious to us, but in fact we came away richer through that loss. So, somewhat against his will, because he was pretty poor, Hudson Taylor was constrained by the grace that God had given him to give that money. It might seem a little test to you – just a small sum of money, but it was crucial episode in the life of Hudson Taylor. It taught him that God was going supply his needs, that he is no man’s debtor. The young Christian gave generously, and so began the pattern for the rest of his life, giving and giving. He later said, “When I get to China, I shall have no claim on anyone for anything; my only claim will be on God … How important therefore to learn before leaving, to move man, through God, by prayer alone.”
Hudson Taylor wrote later about that incident – giving half a crown and getting a half-sovereign the next day – “How the merchants in Hull would be glad to know of a bank which pays interest like this – 300%, after only twelve hours investment!” So from that time on he resolved to put all his money into the ‘bank of faith’. But the challenge, of course, is to give for no return at all. It is painless to give ten pounds to God if someone has told you that that guarantees he will give a hundred pounds to you. Good psychology, but bad theology. We have to give sacrificially with no hope of return, except that God will work all things together for our good.
The Macedonian Christians had received grace which had been given to them by God, and we learn (from verse 6) that the Corinthian church had also begun to give to this fund under the leadership of Titus. Perhaps the fund was stagnating, and the giving was a little half-hearted, but a rediscovery of their first love had occurred in the congregation in Corinth, and Paul now urges Titus to bring this collection to a completion and send it off to Jerusalem. Firstly he stirs the Corinthians up to give generously by telling them of the ways their fellow-believers in northern Greece had given.
i] THEY GAVE AT A TIME OF SEVERE PERSECUTION.
They gave “out of the most severe trial” (v.2). We are told in the book of Acts about the outburst of persecution that occurred in Macedonia, and one significant fact is that it was orchestrated by the large Jewish community. For example, in Thessalonica it was the Jews who dragged a Christian named Jason and his fellow Christians before the city officials. But it was to the land of Jewry itself that they sent the money, to Christian Jews. Perhaps, having tasted the hatred of the Jews they could sympathise with those who were now experiencing it from their own folk. The contrast is this: there is no report at all of the Corinthian church suffering a wave of persecution. There was a measure of tolerance in the cosmopolitan city in the south which the more conservative north of Greece did not show. Yet what Paul is saying is that at a time of persecution the churches in Macedonia thought about others. They could easily have thought, “You can’t expect us to be giving to others when our own future is so uncertain. We have plenty of needs on our own doorstep without thinking of people a thousand miles away whom we don’t know and never will.” We can think like that. We can justify our meanness by wrapping it in the cloak of prudence, and that “our first priority is to our own families…” We are being asked to search ourselves whether all our talk about laying things up for retirement and old age is not just a covering for a covetous spirit, and we are grudging in our giving. When Providence placed a big convenient excuse before the Macedonian churches encouraging them to ignore their brothers and sisters in need then the word of God was saying to them, “Freely you have received, freely give. Are you going to obey me only when it is easy? Are you going to give to the body of Christ only when it is green pastures and still waters and when you have plenty of money? Or are you going to give whenever there is need?”
ii] THEY GAVE OUT OF EXTREME POVERTY.
“their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (v.2). Corinth was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, built along the isthmus between the Ionian Sea and the Aegean Sea. It bustled with trade, ships and their cargoes loading and unloading, merchants and their staff transporting goods from one side of the city where the harbour at Cenchrea was to be found to the other side and the Lechaeum harbour. Corinth had money, but Macedonia had “extreme poverty.” Its economy had deteriorated. Wars, barbarian invasions and Roman settlement had led to a painful years of recession. Even an urban centre like Philippi was impoverished. Much of Macedonia was at the level of the Rendille people of Kenya, subsistence farmers, living in mud huts. Imagine how it would humble us as a congregation to receive a financial gift out of the blue from the Rendille Christians. So if there was anyone who could plead their inability to give, their exclusive responsibility for the old folks at home, it was the Macedonians, and yet they were the church who gave to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
We are reminded of the poor widow of Mark 12 (v. 42). The Lord Jesus was seated upon a bench watching the people bring their contributions to the Temple treasury. According to some of the ancient Jewish writings there were thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles for this purpose which were placed against the wall of the Court of the Women. “Many rich people threw in large amounts” (Mk. 12:41), but Jesus ignored all of them but he particularly points out this widow. Surely this is a most remarkable window on our Lord, and what he considers to be important. It is a tender account and we see how Jesus acted and spoke and felt. This woman cast into the receptacle two of the smallest copper coins which circulated in Palestine. In both accounts of her in the New Testament (also in Luke 21:2ff) it is especially emphasised that she was a poor widow. There are two different words used which are translated ‘poor’. The first word implies that she was someone who had to work for her living. She gave to God all that she had earned by hard unremitting toil under the Middle East sun. She worked away for some trifling amount and she cast it all into the collection for the house of God. The second word implies that it could be seen that she was poor. Her clothing must have been in sharp contrast to those long robes of the scribes and the Sadducees – their rich robes in which they liked to parade in front of others. It must have been her very appearance which announced her poverty. It could be seen that she was so poor. And yet she gave all that she had!
This act of this widow was a wonderful act of faith. After she had given she had no money left to buy any food at all. She had no idea where she would be able to get a meal that night. She certainly had no money to buy any clothes. She only possessed these two mites, which make a farthing, much less than a man would earn for a day’s wages. We would have thought it very generous if she had cast half her money into the treasury, and kept the other coin for her own need. But these two little coins were cast in, and this is particularly emphasised by Jesus that “she put in everything – all she had to live on” (Mk. 12:13). What was she going to do for a meal that night after working all day? How would she survive? Surely she was one who entrusted such a matter to the Lord himself. We may be certain that he would not fail to provide when she had performed this act from her heart. She is someone singled out by incarnate God in the New Testament. She was totally anonymous in Jerusalem – simply another statistic of widows – but she was well known in the courts of heaven. She trusted in God to provide for her the next day, and all the coming days, whatever she needed. Her faithful heavenly Father would supply all her wants from his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
iii] THEY GAVE OUT OF OVERFLOWING JOY.
“Out of … overflowing joy” (v.12). A father goes away on a business trip and his delight, when he is in that city or another country, is to buy some gifts for his wife and children, because the joy he gets in giving them these presents when he returns. A minister goes away and he loves to buy some gifts for the children of the church because he delights to see their faces light up. When I’ve gone to Kenya I’ve spoken far out in the rural areas where people gather together in the open air and I will preach through an interpreter standing under some trees. Then at the end of the service there will be a little ceremony and they will present to my wife one of their beautiful bags. It is much more than they can afford. The joy on their faces as they give that present is the perfect commentary on Paul’s words here. They are not exceptional. Whatever country you went to in Africa – that tragic continent – you would find the love of God in the lives of Christians and they would be zealous to give you hospitality, food and a bed and anything they could do for you. There is joy in giving. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Someone once speaking quietly to a friend in a church service on the occasion of the deacons bringing the plates around said – and without any cynicism at all – “Hallelujah! Here comes the collection.”
The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver. It is the most depressing task trying to persuade someone to do something in the church when they are reluctant. We could do so much more as a congregation if there were more cheerful givers. What an impact would be made on this town if only people cheerfully gave of themselves to God’s work, joyfully taking office, and joyfully giving hospitality, and joyfully praying in the mid-week meeting, and joyfully working on the fabric of this old building, and joyfully with the Sunday School, and joyfully on Friday nights with the Young People, and joyfully being involved with the catering for fellowship lunch, and helping out joyfully wherever they were asked, and never doing anything reluctantly as though it were such a burden to do some work for the Lord, and give some time to the Lord and even spend money to the Lord’s church. God loves a cheerful giver, and so do we all. Thank God we have many such. We wish we had more, as does every congregation.
So Paul is commenting on the spirit in which something is done. Isn’t the spirit in which something is done as important as the deed itself? Here is one person who gives as much as ten talents to God, but he does it reluctantly. Here is a widow who gives two mites but does it in joy. The widow who gave the two mites is accepted by God because of the spirit in which her mites were given. The man who gave the ten talents is rejected because the spirit in which they were given is unacceptable.
iv] THEY GAVE AS MUCH AS THEY WERE ABLE.
“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able” (v.3). We are to give according to our means. Put another way Paul is saying that you should give in proportion to what God has given you. He said it this way in I Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.” This means at least two things: (1) since we are all supposed to give proportionately, those who have more money are expected to give more, and we who are particularly blessed materially must remember this, and (2) the Lord never asks us to give what we do not have, or contribute beyond our means. So there is a certain dynamism about the giving, that some weeks we are much better off that others. Are we all giving in proportion to the material blessing that the Lord has given you? I think that surveys show that the poorest church members give the highest percentage of their income to the church, while the wealthiest give the lowest. When the Lord blesses you with some sudden increase – a tax rebate or a little legacy – then think of the congregation’s needs.
Some acquaintances were in Russia this spring visiting some of the Christians in Siberia, 5,500 miles from Wales. In winter the temperature in Yakutsk drops to minus 60 degrees, and the river Lena will freeze to a depth of six feet. Huge trucks and buses can drive across the river – no need of a bridge then. There is a gospel church in Yakutsk and eight years ago a little boy called Dimitri (nicknamed Dema) began to attend the Sunday School. He loved it and told his father about it each Sunday His father Boris was an alcoholic and sometimes the boy had to steer the car back h ome while the father’s feet were on the pedals. “You must come to Sunday School,” he told his father, and kept on and on until his father agreed. It was not long before Boris was converted and his wife too, and for the last seven years he has been following the Lord. Our friends were there this year for a few days and Boris was their driver showing them Yakutsk. For his services to them they gave to him 50 dollars (Siberians prefer US currency to any other). Immediately it was in his hand he said to them, “May I put this towards getting a church minibus. Ours is broken down and we can’t afford to repair it.” He has so little money and yet he gave what he was able to give. There was a risk of flooding the day they were to fly out of town because of the thaw and he stayed awake all night keeping an eye on river levels to rouse them immediately should water start to trickle over the top, and get them to the airport before it became impassable. His whole life was one of giving as much as he was able.
v] THEY GAVE EVEN BEYOND THEIR ABILITY.
“they gave … even beyond their ability” (v.3). Paul didn’t expect each person to give the same amount. What is expected of us is not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice. When Catherine Booth went to her father General Booth after her first sortie into open air evangelism he asked her how she had got on. She told him that she thought it had gone all right, and that she had done her best. He was not pleased with that answer: “You can do better than your best through Jesus Christ,” he told her. It is thus in everything that we do in the Christian life. We do not work for Jesus according to our ability. The world can work according to its ability. We can go beyond our ability. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Think of the mature Christian. He studies the Bible and books about the Bible. He is at every meeting. He serves at the door of the church and he welcomes people. He gives hospitality to strangers and missionaries, and his children hear servants of God speaking at his table. He gives generously to the work of the church. He prays in the Prayer Meeting. He visits the sick. He is involved in any kind of evangelistic outreach in which the church is engaged. He accepts any office to which the church calls him. We are talking about just one single person. We are saying that it is the same man who is doing all these things without his life being destroyed but rather fulfilled and that he can live at that level because Christ is mightily at work in him. He is working beyond his own wit, energy and means, and if you ask him about everything he does for the church and how can he do it all he doesn’t understand your question. He feels he does very little. “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).
vi] THEY PLEADED FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF GIVING.
They saw it as a privilege, to deny themselves and give to the kingdom of God. Without any pressure from Paul or anyone else, “entirely on their own they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (v.4). The considered it an honour to put money in a bag and have that money taken a thousand miles away and be spent on fellow believers whom they would never meet. What an honour to do something for the body of Christ. Some people show this honour by always writing out the first cheque in a new cheque-book to the church. It’s a little tradition they have developed. I think their parents always did this, and they have copied them. They want to give to God first because he is first in their life, otherwise, if they waited to give out of what’s left over there might not be anything left. It is in giving to the people of God that we are giving to God.
A few weeks ago our family got together to celebrate my sister-in-law and her husband’s 40th wedding anniversary. Now the 30-strong family wanted to give them something special and so many of us were asked to write poems about them, and these were printed bound into a book which was given them on the anniversary day. If it were some unknown family what an intruder I would be to offer them one of my pieces of doggerel, but since I share a part of the life of this family then, of course, I wanted to share also in that affectionate tribute. Giving together to one of your kinfolk is part of what it means to be a family. The same is true of the family of God. Those who live together should give together. The Macedonians pleaded, “Please let us give to our brothers and sisters too.”
Don Whitney knows a man who was in the construction business and also a skilled handyman. He was converted about three years after his wife. During that period he often told her that he never wanted to join the church because he was so certain that he would be constantly being asked to repair something in the church. Then after he was abruptly and dramatically saved, he began repairing things all over the church building without being asked. Why? Because Jesus Christ had changed his life and given him a concern for the needs of others, especially those of his Christian family. The same was true of his giving. Even though he had unpleasant childhood memories of being taken to church where, he says, every Sunday featured a high-pressure appeal for money, after he met Christ he began giving ten percent and more of his income to his church. A powerful testimony to a transformed life is a transformed cheque-book, particularly when those who once decried giving to the church begin to do it. (Don Whitney, “Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church”, NavPress, 1996, p.125).
A little while ago there was a young lad who had been saving up for a long time to buy a bicycle, and one day he said to his parents that he wanted to draw it all out and put it in the collection. They questioned him to make sure whether he really wanted to do this, but his mind was clearly set on it, and that is what he did. He gave all that he possessed in this way to the house of God. The Lord knows why that was done, and he knows why it is and how it is that we also give. I think that I really ought to say that it is a wonder to me, and I am sure to others, how willingly and how much many of you do give to the support of the house of God. It is very wonderful how our needs are all supplied. I am not saying these things that anyone here should think that they must empty their savings account and give it all to the church. If you should do it out of a sense of duty then that would not be acceptable. If you were to do it in the vain hope that the Lord would bless you because you had given, that would surely be quite wrong and quite unsuitable in this context. It is those who think it a privilege and an honour whom the Lord so delights to see. It is this sense of wonder that our gifts are acceptable to God that we need in our hearts.
vii] THEY FIRST GAVE THEMSELVES TO GOD.
“They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (v.5). They were aware that in first place they were the Lord’s. They could have said what a later hymn-writer penned:
“In full and glad surrender,
I give myself to Thee.
Thine utterly and only
And evermore to be.
O Son of God who loves me
I will be Thine alone.
And all I have, and all I am
Shall henceforth be Thine own.”
All? Does the love of Christ constrain you to give all – all that you have? Is it possible to have Christ the Saviour but reject his Lordship over all you have? Whose is the money you have? Who owns the cash in your purse? Who owns the money in your bank account? Who owns your home and car? You might say, “That’s obvious. It’s mine, of course. It’s my possession, or it’s under my name; it’s obviously mine.” Now I am asking you to realise this, that if Christ is your Lord then you have to change and begin to manage all that is his as he, its owner, wishes.
Who owns the money you have? Your answer to that question depends on your answer to an even more basic question – Who owns you? David Feddes tells a story about a missionary who was talking about the Lord Jesus to the chief of a tribe. The chief tried to impress the missionary with gifts of a horse, blankets, and jewellery. But the missionary replied, “My God doesn’t want the chief’s horses, blankets, and jewellery. My God wants the chief himself.” The chief smiled and said, “You have a very wise God, for when I give myself to him, he also gets my horses and blankets and jewellery.”
Do you understand what that chief understood? If God owns you, then he owns your money and everything else too. To those of you who are not Christians let me challenge you to give yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t you believe that he died on a cross to pay for your sins? But Jesus’ blood doesn’t just pay for sins; it pays for you. It purchases you as God’s own possession. God already has a rightful claim to own all people and all things because he is the Creator and owner of everything. “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains. The world and those who dwell in it” (Psa. 24:1). You have your money and possessions and life on loan, as a trust. You are the manager of Another’s trust fund. But I am telling you the price of your becoming a follower of the Lord, that if you receive him and his salvation, then God has a double claim to own you. The Lord is your owner not only as the Creator who made you but also as the Saviour who paid to restore you from sin. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (I Corinthians 6:19-20).
If you are a Christian then how you disburse God’s trust fund (that is, your income and inheritances) should reflect God’s own values and priorities. We are all going to be held accountable for managing his money – according to Jesus’ own word, Luke 16:12, “If you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”
Does it sound good to you, that everything you have as a Christian belongs to the Lord? Do you like the thought of treating your money as not really yours but God’s? Maybe not. You might prefer to have God stay out of your finances. But, like it or not, there’s really no such thing as ‘your finances.’ There are only God’s finances, which he allows you to handle for a while. This might not appeal to you at first, but treating your money as God’s money turns out to be a privilege and a joy. It honours God, and it blesses you enormously.
Handling money God’s way is one of the vital signs of a healthy relationship to God. If you reject God’s claim of ownership and want to be your own person without answering to the Lord, you might think it will bring you more freedom. But it wont, because of all sorts of worries and problems which wealth brings into a Christless life, and if nothing changes, it will eventually land you in hell. If you choose to spend your life without God, you will spend eternity without God. But if you accept God’s claim of ownership, if you put yourself and everything you have in God’s hands, you will be blessed. When God owns you, your problems are his problem. Your cares are his concern. God will guide you and help you flourish in this life and for eternity. The key to financial freedom is realising that all your money is God’s, and the key to spiritual freedom and comfort is knowing that you are not your own but belong to Jesus as his treasured possession.
30th September 2001 GEOFF THOMAS