Do Not Misuse Your Money

April 29, 2012

Everybody ready for tomorrow?  April 30th, last day to get your
taxes filed for 2011.  Or maybe you’ve
already filed.  Maybe it depends on
whether it you are getting money back or paying money out.
And taxes are a touchy subject for some folks, Politicians
are elected or rejected often based on what they promise to do with our taxes.  Oh, if we only had every tax cut that had been
promised to us by the parties who got elected into power. If I recall a little bit of my world history the United
States was born out of frustration with taxes that were being paid to the Crown. 
I understand here in Canada the Canadian Revenue Agency has
come up with a new motto:  It used to be:
More Ways to Serve You, but now it is: 
“We’ve got what it takes to take what you’ve got.”
And taxes have been a touchy subject as long as there have
been taxes being paid, and that has been for quite a long time.  How do you think the Egyptians built the
pyramids, or the Myans built their cities, or the Romans constructed the
aqueducts and coliseums?
And as long as there have been
folks collecting taxes there have been folks resenting having their taxes
collected.  Throughout the New Testament
the term “Tax Collector” is often used in statements like Matthew 9:10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus
and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors
and other disreputable sinners.  Or
Mark 2:16 But when the teachers of
religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other
sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” Nice.  And when the religious leaders criticized Jesus one of the
charges was Matthew 11:19 . . .‘He’s a friend of tax collectors and other
sinners!’
So here we are in week last of our
Stewardship month.  You can all breathe a sigh of
relief.  Through the month of April we
have been looking at what Jesus said about Money.  So on April 1 we looked at “Don’t Serve
Money”, on the 15th it was “Be Careful Where You Store Your
Treasures” and last week was “Don’t Worry About Money”.   
Sometimes pastors
choose to not speak
about money in church, maybe
in hopes that somehow their
people will learn about it on
their own, perhaps by osmosis.  Or maybe it’s because they
feel that talking about money is
too personal or too obtrusive.
but Jesus talked a lot about money, he talked about the way people make it and
what they do with it after they have it. 
And because money is talked about in the scriptures, and because Jesus
seemed to attach a great deal of importance to it, to the point of linking it
to our eternities it is something that needs to be addressed. And we can’t just
ignore it because it bothers some people and offends other people.
Seriously, what would happen if every preacher prepared his
messages to not offend or bother anyone? 
You might as well open fortune cookies. 
But apparently Jesus wasn’t afraid to express his opinion on
a wide variety of topics that are deemed off limits today.  People’s behaviour, people’s attitudes and
people’s money.  Surprisingly though,
especially if you are in the habit of watching the political situation in the States, Jesus
never talked about politics.  He never told people how to
vote, never expressed a preference for a certain political party, never wore a
campaign button or
endorsed any particular candidate or political party.  Just sayin’.
And this is how this particular
story of Jesus happened.  Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees met
together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be
arrested. In the original language it says “they wanted to ensnare him
with his own words”.  And so the
Pharisees enlisted some unlikely allies, in the NLT we are told they were
“supporters of Herod”  the actual word
used was “Herodians”.
So on one side you have the Pharisees, the religious elite
of the Jews and on the other side you have the Herodians who through their
support of Herod, the puppet king of Palestine, are de-facto supporters of Rome.  What is that old saying about “strange
bed-fellows”? 
And so this unlikely and unholy union asks Jesus a question that
on the outside seems like simple curiosity.  Matthew 22:16-17 They sent some of their
disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,”
they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully.
You are impartial and don’t play favourites. Now tell us what you think about
this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Now we need to understand that
this was not just a general question about Jesus’ philosophy on taxation.  They were not talking about taxation in
general they were speaking of a very specific tax.  2000 years ago in conquered Palestine there
were several different layers of taxation, much as there is today in our country. 
Those in the know tell us that
there was a first of all a ground tax. Kind of like our property tax.  Then there was income tax, that’s self-explanatory.   And then there as what was called “the poll
tax” or the “Tribute”.  This tax had been
put in place when the Romans conquered Israel in in 63 B.C. and had to be paid
by every male from the age of fourteen to the age of sixty-five, and by every
female from the age of twelve to sixty-five. 
It was a tax paid simply for the privilege of being alive and living as
a subject of the Emperor. 
And people resented paying
it.  There had already been one
rebellion, 25 years earlier, primarily over this particular tax. So you see
where this is going, right?  If Jesus
speaks out in favour of the tax, the ordinary people are going to be outraged;
it will solidify what the religious right has been saying about Jesus not being
the Messiah.  However if Jesus rejects
the tax the Herodians will take the report back to Herod, and eventually to the
Romans, that Jesus is talking treason and encouraging people to not pay their
taxes. Win, win for the enemies of Jesus, lose, lose for Jesus himself.  In Australia they would say it was a bit of a
sticky wicket, here we would say that Jesus was between a rock and a hard
place. 
Doesn’t seem to bother him
though he doesn’t even break stride, instead we read Matthew 22:18-19 But Jesus knew their evil
motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show
me the coin used for the tax.”  Some
people have commented that it shows that Jesus wasn’t concerned about money
because he didn’t even have a coin on him. But the coin he was talking about wasn’t simply pocket change,
it was a denarius.  And it was a silver
coin that was the equivalent of a full day’s salary.  But I think it goes deeper than that.  The problem with the coin was the inscription
on it. On one side would be a picture of the present ruler and the inscription
“Tiberius Caesar, son of Divine Augustus.” 
This picture and the claim of quasi-divinity made the coin a portable
idol, is it any wonder that Jesus wasn’t carrying one with him.
So they waited with baited
breath, waiting to find out who Jesus would offend, knowing that there was no
way that he could come out of this unscathed.  And the we read Matthew 22:20 When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked,
“Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” Simple question, perhaps
they thought he was simply stalling for time and so they answered.  Matthew 22:21 “Caesar’s”. And I’m sure they were thinking
. . . “and” “Well,
then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what
belongs to God.”
And then we
are told in Matthew
22:22
His reply
amazed them, and they went away. So what was Jesus saying and what is
the message for us today?
Some of Your Money is the Government’s 
Nobody really likes paying taxes, that something that most of us
have in common, we think we pay too much and deep down think others pay too
little.  We always assume the burden
falls to those of us in the middle.  The
very poor don’t pay tax and neither do the very rich.  Most of us were not surprised at the attitude
expressed by American business woman Leona Helmsley. 
Helmsley was worth over a billion dollars, when an employee
commented that she must pay a lot of taxes when she said “We don’t pay
taxes. Only the little people pay taxes…” She took it as her due that
she shouldn’t have to pay taxes.  Of
course she did go to jail for income tax evasion.  But the reality is that all of those who
enjoy what our country has to offer should pay taxes.  It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who
said “Taxes,
are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized
society.”
Jesus was acknowledging that
there was benefit to being a part of the Roman Empire.  The sword of Rome might have been wielded by an
oppressor but it had brought peace to the known world, something that hadn’t
been seen in hundreds of years. Road systems were developed for trade, water systems were built
and laws were being enforced.  It wasn’t perfect but it was
working.  It was the Roman Historian Publius
Cornelius Tacitus who wrote “The repose of nations cannot be secure without
arms. Armies cannot be maintained without pay, nor can the pay be produced
without taxes.”
We grumble and complain about
government waste and extravagance but as long as we want our public health
care, as long as we want our children educated, as long as we expect a degree
of safety, both from outside forces and from the criminal element there will be
taxes that have to be paid.  If we expect
safe water to come out
of our taps when we turn them on, and if we expect our streets to be plowed and
our garbage to be picked up we will have to pay taxes. 
And the more you travel the
more you appreciate our system. 
(Pictures from Africa)  Because
this is what health care looks like without the taxes we pay.  And this is what education looks like without
the taxes we pay.  And this is what main
roads look like without the taxes we pay. 
This what the drinking
water supply looks like without the taxes we pay.  And this is what dinner looks like,
actually that has nothing to do with taxes it’s just one of my favourite Africa
meal pictures. 
And so Jesus was telling us
that if we want all the benefits that our tax dollars bring then we will have
to pay taxes.   And I’m proud to pay
taxes in Canada, although truth be told I think I could be just as proud even
if I only paid half as much.
And maybe tax time can even be
a time to be thankful.  You understand
that you pay more in taxes than your Grandparents, or maybe even your parents
made.   When I was a teenager I remember my father telling me what he
paid for income tax
that year and he seemed excited about it. 
When I asked him why he said “Do you know how much I had to make in
order to pay that much in tax?”
And so today, as 2000 years ago
there are taxes that must be paid, and I also think that our Governments need
to pay heed to other words from 2000 years ago as well, it was Emperor Tiberius Caesar
who observed “It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not
to skin them.”
Some of Your Money is Yours  Then
there is the money that we get to keep. 
And this money comes with all kinds of choices.  Will we spend it or will we save it?  And what we will spend it on and what will we
save it for?   Last week we looked at
Christ’s words when he told his followers Luke 12:22 Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That
is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food
to eat or enough clothes to wear.”  And
while we are not to worry about such things we are still required to provide
them. 
And some of us make good
choices and some of us make bad choices. 
Last week there was a story in the news about a single mom who was
destitute and was about to lose her home but then she won the lottery.  That’s supposed to be a good news story, but
my first thought was “What was a single mom who was destitute and who was about
to lose her home doing buying lottery tickets?”  You understand that is
a message for a different time, but lotteries are really a tax on the mathematically
challenged.
If we spend more than we make
eventually it will catch up with us, if we spend our money to support our
addictions, eventually that will catch up with us. 
And I don’t think that
Christians are supposed to be destitute but I do believe that we are supposed
to be responsible with what we have.  A
good exercise for all of us is every once is a while just sit down and figure
out where you are spending your money. 
Are you using it wisely or not. 
And that really is subjective, what you might consider wise I  might consider foolish.  But if you are having trouble paying for food
and shelter or if you have problems giving the government their share or God
his share then you may be spending it in places that it shouldn’t be
spent.  And those are all part of the
choices we make.
Some of Your Money is God’s  From
the very beginning of the book
people have offered up something as an offering or as a sacrifice.  So in Genesis and continuing throughout the
Bible we see people returning part of what they have to God.  Notice I said “returning” because we need to understand
that all that we have comes from God, from our lives to our livelihoods.  And sometimes that was called offerings, and
sometimes it was called sacrifices and sometimes it was called a tithe.
And those gifts, those sacrifices, those offerings
were given for a couple of different reasons.  From the time the Israelites began gathering
together for corporate worship there were costs associated with that
worship. 
If you read through the Old
Testament first there was the Tabernacle, which was like a portable temple that
needed to be constructed and maintained. 
There were priests who led the people into worship who needed to be
paid, there were scrolls and ink for recording the scriptures that needed to be
purchased.  There were sacrifices and
offerings that were part of their worship which needed to be provided.  And God called on his people to provide for
those expenses.  There was a fiscal
responsibility to their worship. 
Could God have done it without
the giving of his people?  Sure he’s
God.  But he knew that anything in life
that doesn’t cost you something
isn’t worth anything. 
Today there is still that practical aspect of our
worship.  If you want to worship under a
tree by yourself there will probably be very little practical cost associated
with that.  However, if you want to come
together corporately to worship there are costs associated with that.  We’ve talked about this before.  Before we even look at salaries at
Cornerstone there is a building to be paid for and maintained.  There are mortgage payments that have to be
made every month, there is power that needs to be paid to light and heat the building,
there are cleaning supplies and insurance and snowplowing and lawn mowing. Last
week they were here to inspect and maintain the alarms and emergency lighting
and to inspect and clean the Heating and Ventilation system.    And that is before we do anything in the
building.  And then there are the
salaries and curriculum and licensing costs that allow us to provide the
ministries for you and your family.
Do we require that people at Cornerstone give?  Yep, sure do. 
Does that mean that if you don’t give you can’t worship here?  Nope. 
Does that mean that if we are going to send someone around to your door
looking for your offering envelope? 
Nope.   
But if you don’t give there will be no Cornerstone.  You understand that right?   If the people of Cornerstone didn’t make the sacrifices
necessary to pay the bills then
the staff would be laid off, the building would be sold and there would be no
Cornerstone.  Because there is no magical
pot that we go to for our funds.  Every dollar in our budget comes
from those who call Cornerstone their church home.
But more than just the
practical side of giving is the spiritual side of giving.  Because even if you were worshipping under a
tree by yourself there should still be a sense of giving back to God.  Early in the story that was called making
sacrifices and it involved bringing meat, grain, wine or oil and offering it to
God as a gift.  Did God need those
things?  No he is God.  But it goes back to anything that doesn’t
cost you anything isn’t really worth anything, including your worship.  Because it allows us to acknowledge that what
we have comes from God and to be thankful for that which we keep.       
And very early in the story it is laid down what God’s
people are to return to God, When the law was laid down over three thousand
years ago it was written 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.”  And it was reiterated in Deuteronomy 14:22 “You must set aside a tithe of your
crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year.”      
And often when you bring up the
tithe people will tell you that the tithe is an Old Testament concept, and that
is a sermon in itself, but when Paul was writing about money to the church in
Corinth this is what he wrote. 1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of each
week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. The
believers in Corinth had a Jewish heritage so I wonder what they assumed when
Paul said that should put aside a portion of the money they had earned.
And then they will go on to
tell you that the Tithe was used for something very specific and that is true,
listen to the words of the prophet Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there
will be enough food in my Temple. The tithe was provided so that the
temple and all that was involved in temple worship could be maintained.  And we don’t have a temple and priests and
scribes but we do have a church and we do have a pastoral staff. 
So what is the tithe?  Tithe simply means tenth and throughout the
word of God the concept is reiterated that all that we have comes from God but
he requires a tenth of it back.  For the
people of God this does not mean that we give God ten percent of what is ours,
it means that He allows us to keep ninety percent of what is His.  Now listen to the last part of that verse
from 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!
And so God tells his people, “If you tithe, if you return
to me ten percent of what I have given to you then I will bless you”  You see when we give to God, we are just
taking our hands off what already belongs to Him.
And as a side note, we live in
a great country where if you give to God what is God’s than Caesar won’t want
nearly as much.  When you do up your
taxes this year and you use the receipt that is provided by Cornerstone for
your giving you will discover that Caesar will give you a break on your
taxes.  If you gave a hundred dollars a
week, which is the tithe on a fifty
thousand dollar salary,
 then you will save over $2,500.00
on your taxes.  And to quote F. J. Raymond “Next
to being shot at and missed, nothing is quite as satisfying as an income tax
refund.”