A Final Gift

April 26, 2009

They came in the dark. In the cold of early morning. They had come to give. The others had taken, but they only wanted to give. There would be no reward. No recognition. No return. They were giving out of love. After all what could Jesus give back? He was dead. What could a dead man offer? They were climbing the hill not to receive but to give.
They came to give their last gift to a dead man. They couldn’t bring him back to life, but they could still give him one last gift. They had come to wash the cold still body of their lord and to prepare it for its final rest. Peter wasn’t doing it; Andrew hadn’t jumped up and offered to help. Those he had healed were nowhere to be found, nor were the ones whose sins he had forgiven. I wonder if half way up the hill Mary Magdalene began to think “Why are we doing this?” “What about the eleven, where are they, or Jesus family?” We don’t know what they were thinking but we know what they were doing, they were giving.

They were giving in a physical sense because we are told that they took spices with them. But more than that they were giving of themselves. It was dark and it was cold and it probably would have been a whole lot more comfortable in a warm bed then it was in the damp morning air carrying a heavy bag of spice up a long hill to a grave yard. But that’s where they were. And they were giving to Jesus.
And so on the morning of the resurrection, before they knew the tomb was empty we see a gift being offered. A gift they bought and a gift they brought for Jesus. , They knew that if this was their act of worship than it would have to cost them something. And that principle is repeated throughout the New Testament, time and time again we see God’s people rise up to meet the need of God’s church.
One of the top three reasons given in an extensive survey of non believers as to why they didn’t attend church was “Because they are always asking for money.” I don’t blame people, I guess probably churches are constantly asking for finances but I wonder why that is. And besides people don’t stop attending the Lions Club or the Rotary or the Kinsman and they are always asking for money.
Every year we have door knock appeals from the Red Cross, and the Cancer Fund, and the Kidney Foundation and a dozen other worthy causes and yet people don’t say “Hey they only interested in money.”
Maybe the reason the world feels negative about the church and finances is that they don’t feel like they are getting anything in return or that the church doesn’t contribute anything to the community.
But then again the bible doesn’t tell us that we are a service organization, and the only thing that the scripture requires us to put back into society is better people and I guess when everything is said and done that’s a pretty important contribution. But God never expected the world to support the church.
So Who is Expected to Give? The simple answer is those who love Jesus. The ladies who went to the tomb that day didn’t expect the Romans to take care of Jesus’ body or the crowd from Palm Sunday or the Jewish authorities. They had adopted the attitude “If it’s going to be it’s up to me.” From its very beginnings the church carried its own load. You can hunt through the New Testament and you won’t find any reference to the early church having a bagel drive to raise funds or having a Saturday catacomb sale or a chariot wash.
But you will find instances like Acts 2:44-45 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.
And Acts 4:32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. Now that is a fairly radical concept of giving and a pretty radical concept of living. And nobody can really say whether or not that communal concept extended beyond the first generation of believers in Jerusalem.
But we know that the churches that sprung out of the initial movement continued to be generous. Even the Corinthian church which was criticized for sexual immorality and theological error was commended for their generosity in giving to the work of the kingdom. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he urged them to give, we can find that in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now regarding your question about the money being collected for God’s people in Jerusalem. You should follow the same procedure I gave to the churches in Galatia. On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once. The result of that admonition is found in 2 Corinthians 8:10 where Paul commended the Corinthians by saying: Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. Wow not only were they the first to give but they wanted to give. Would kind of remind you of what Paul said about the Macedonian churches, listen to this, 2 Corinthians 8:2-4 They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.
Can’t you just hear them “Please Paul, we want to give more, we know we’ve already given a lot but please let us help more.” Ok. In Philipians 4:16 Paul writes Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once.
So let it be said that the biblical precedent is that God’s people provide for God’s work. We don’t expect the world to do it, we don’t expect the government to do it is to be done through the giving of the people of God.
What Are We Expected To Give? You understand that John tells us in his gospel that Jesus’ body had already been prepared by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus before they put it in the tomb. They had probably done what had to be done but the ladies wanted to do more. At different times I get asked the question “How much should I give?” and they are really asking “How much of my money should I give to God”” Maybe a better and more accurate question would be “How much of God’s money should I keep for myself?”
How would your mindset about giving change if it were up to you? If Cornerstone staying open or closing came down to what you were willing to give this year? Would you step up to the plate
What are the people of God supposed to give? It is inevitable that when we talk about the tithe or a tenth of our income people always say “but that is an Old Testament concept”. And it’s true that it is an old testament concept, in fact it is first laid down in Leviticus 27:30 One tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord and must be set apart to him as holy. But then again “thou shalt not kill” is an Old Testament concept as well but we don’t write that off, do we?
And even though the tithe wasn’t commanded until Leviticus we actually have two instances where people gave ten percent of what they had to God before the law was laid down. The first instance was in genesis chapter 14 where Abraham gave a tenth of all he had to God. I wonder why he decided to give a tenth? It wasn’t written down anywhere, there weren’t any meddling preachers then why ten percent. Then Jacob decides to make an offering to the Lord and we read in Genesis 28:22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.
Now isn’t that strange, of all the choices that Jacob could make he decides on the very same amount that his grandfather, Abraham, did. No written instructions. No law. This was before the bible said “a tithe belongs to the lord” matter of fact it was before the bible. He could have made a hundred choice, 1%, 2%, and 3%, all the way up to 100% but they gave 10% Could it be that God told them?

So the tithe is mentioned in the law and it’s mentioned before the law. But what about in the New Testament? Take the case of the Pharisees, Jesus did not like these guys every time you see them together in the scriptures they are fighting; they mix like oil and water. And Jesus condemned the Pharisees for a lot of things but there was one thing that he commended them for and that is found in Matthew 23:23 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

Jesus didn’t tell them to practice justice, mercy and faith instead of tithing; he told them to practice justice mercy and faithfulness while tithing. He condemned them for hypocrisy, he condemned them for neglecting important things, he called them tombs full of dead men’s bones, he called them snakes, but he commended them for their tithing.

Remember back in 1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once. Acts 18 tells us that the Corinthian church was started by converted Jews, people who had been brought up with the concept of tithing, if you were to tell a Jew that they should set aside a sum of money for God’s work in keeping with their income I wonder what amount would come to mind? Throughout the gospels Jesus commended people for giving ten percent or more but he never commended anyone for giving less than ten percent. On two occasions he even told people to give everything they had, and when he praised the widow in the temple it was because she had given everything that she had.

Where are we at? Could Christ commend us for our giving? We have many people in the church that tithe and some people who more than tithe and a good number of people who it would appear would rather die than tithe.

So the next question begs to be asked Why Are We Expected to Give? The women who came to the tomb that morning were giving out of one motivation: Their love for Jesus.

One more than one occasion Jesus used a person’s handling of money as an indication of their spirituality. The rich young ruler felt that he had done everything he needed to do to find favour in God’s eyes, and Jesus said “there’s one more thing that you have to do, you have to let go of the purse strings.” Why? Because God’s blessing upon our lives will cost us everything that we value in life more than Jesus. If there is anything in your life that you value more than Jesus Christ then you are not a disciple. As long as you have something in your life that is more important than God you are worshipping at the feet of a golden calf. The bible tells us that the rich young ruler went away sorrowful. Why? Because he had discovered what he owned and what owned him.

James Moffat made this statement, “a man’s treatment of money is the most decisive test of his character, how he made it and how he spends it.” Jesus said something very similar in Luke 16:11 And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? If you haven’t given God his due, does that make you untrustworthy with worldly wealth? I don’t know, I’m just asking. Oswald J. Smith was right when he said, “I have learned that money is not the measure of a man, but it is often the means of finding out how small he is.” You know I am convinced that some people will never be trusted with a pile because they weren’t true to God with the little bit that they did have. Other’s I am convinced profited because they rendered unto God that which was God’s.

In saying that let’s say this, God expects us to be faithful with what he’s given us. One wit wrote these words, “it’s not what you’d do with a million, if riches should e’r be your lot, but what you are doing at present with the buck and a quarter you got.” There are those who consistently tell you what they’ll do for God, when their ship comes in. If they’re anything like me they’ll probably be at the airport when their ship comes in. God isn’t interested in what you’d do if you had so and so’s money. He’s a lot more interested in what you’re doing with what he gave you.

When God used Moses he used a simple staff, what would have happened if Moses had of said, “Hold it, let’s wait until I have a fancy rod, I could do a much better job with a prettier rod.” No, he used what God had given him. When David went out to fight Goliath it was with a simple sling. You know it’s a whole lot easier to be faithful with a lot when you’ve already learned to be faithful with a little. If children are taught to tithe it will be easier when they are adults to continue doing it.

A pig and a cow were talking about what they gave that farmer, the cow said “well I give cream and butter and milk” “hah” said the pig, “I give bacon, and pork chops and ham.” “The difference” said the cow, “is that I give well I am still alive” Some give according to their means and others give according to their meanness, where are you?

God’s economy is not based on greed. When I seek things with greed I get what I hadn’t expected. It started way back at the beginning with Adam and Eve. They didn’t eat the forbidden fruit because they were hungry, they ate it because they wanted something back, they wanted to be like God. Instead they got tossed out of the garden, literally ate their way out of house and home. When Abraham offered his nephew lot first choice of the lands and Lot took the very best, he was being like a kid. I remember seeing a Peanuts cartoon once where Lucy and Linus were taking the last two pieces of cake and Lucy took the biggest piece. “Hey” said Linus “if I had of had first choice I would have taken the smallest piece.” “So, what are you grumbling about” replied Lucy. Lot took the biggest piece and he lost everything he had in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Why did David want Bathsheba? He already had three wives and you know what Mark Twain said, “The bible speaks very clearly about bigamy when Jesus said no man can serve two masters”. To even up the ground here it was Author Erica Jong who said “Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.” The greed that David had, wanting what wasn’t his to have, put a gulf between him and God and eventually led to the ruin of his family.

Tithing is not an investment. You don’t do it out of greed. You don’t do it to multiply your riches. And you don’t give to prove how good you are. And you don’t give to gain control. You give out of your love for God and out of your concern for ministry.

Even in saying that let’s remember that God always repays when you give. If your motive is pure. If your motive is pure. God doesn’t settle all his debts in this life but he is no man’s debtor. In Luke 14:14 Christ told his followers that they would be repaid at the Luke 14:14 The resurrection of the righteous.
I don’t want to get into a deep theological discussion on rewards and crowns and levels of rewards in heaven, but I love the story of the man who got to heaven and Peter showed him to this little tiny shack and said “here it is.” The man was flabbergasted and replied “This is it, what happened to my mansion?” “Well” said Peter “this is all the building material you sent up”

God will take care of the reward. And there is repayment in this life as well. Mark 10:29-30 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.

People often ask how in the world can people tithe, I can’t make it on 100% let alone 90%. But it’s amazing how far God can stretch that 90% when we believe that he can and will do it. Have you ever looked at where your money goes? Is God’s money paying for the needs or the wants in your life?

The bottom line, nothing that I have said this morning has made one iota of difference in your attitude toward giving. I have just fulfilled some people concept of the preacher that is always looking for money. If you tithe you are thinking “good he really told them” if you don’t tithe you’re thinking “why did I bother coming this morning” I’m not trying to guilt people into giving. Maybe I should get a pulpit that I can pound on and tell you that if you’re not tithing then you are going to hell. But I’m not sure that I really believe that. But before we close let me run one more scripture and thought by you, alright.

Repeatedly the bible tells us not to test God. Old Testament and New Testament agree on that. But there is one occasion that God says “Hey test me, try me on this one and see that I’m not fooling. Ok?” That is found in Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!