WHY GIVE? Romans 12:9-13 September 25, 2011
“Contribute to the needs of the saints”, Paul writes in his description of the Christian life at the end of his letter to the Romans. “Contribute to the needs of the saints”
Now, why does he tell us to do that? I suppose an obvious answer, the one that immediately comes to mind is because the saints need help, but is that why he tells us to contribute? Why does the Church pass around an offering plate every single time we worship? Because the Church needs our money to survive? Because God’s work must be done all over the world? Because the Church does need our money and the people of the world do need our help. But the reason we give – the reason we pass the plate every Sunday – really doesn’t have as much to do with the Church or the Saints as it does with us. The main reason the Church passes around an offering plate every time we gather to worship?? The main reason worshippers are asked to open their pockets every time we worship?? Is because we need to give. The Church needs our money. The world needs our money – but most of all we need to give. Giving away our money is our front line defense: - against greed - against being self-absorbed, only concerned with ourselves - against trusting money to provide what it cannot provide: o contentment – joy – peace. Jesus talked a lot about giving money and you know He never said give because the Church needs your money. He never said give to support God. He always said: “Give to honor God. Sell everything and give alms to the poor as an act of trust in God. Store up your treasures in heaven, not on earth.” For Jesus, and therefore for us, the act of giving our money is an act of faith in God. We give to strengthen and act on our faith.
Why give? We give as an act of trust. When the rich young man came up to Jesus and asked Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus answered “obey the commandments”. “I do”, the young man said. “I have since I was a child” And Jesus looked at him and loved him – the Gospel of Mark says (10:21) And said to him: “Go and sell all that you have and come follow me” And the rich young man went away very sad for, the Gospels tell us, “He had many possessions.” ( Mark 10:22) Why did he have to sell everything in order to follow Jesus? Because his wealth got in the way of his trust in Jesus. He loved his stuff and the security he thought it gave him. “Give it away”, Jesus told him. “You trust it too much. Trust Me instead.”
We give and give and give and give to show we follow Jesus – not money. We serve God – not money. We trust God – not money. And if we don’t give, we will start to trust our money more – to depend on it and we get very confused. Years ago I pastured two small Disciple churches in the Hookerton District – Greene County, Kinston, Grifton. And way down on the back side of Lenoir County right before you cross the Craven County line, is an old Disciples church with a huge graveyard over 100 years old, Riverside Christian Church. And at the back of that graveyard is a gravestone with a humble inscription. The pastor took me back there one day to show me. It is a woman’s tombstone and it reads: “She tried to buy her family’s love – but failed.” Now, I don’t know who she tried to buy what from. I don’t know who wanted her money and didn’t get it. I don’t know why anyone would leave such an angry final word on anyone’s life, except somebody, somewhere, alive or dead was confused abut what money can and can’t do. Money can pay the electric bill. It cannot buy us security. Only God can provide a sense of security and peace when we think about the future. Money can elevate our social standing. It cannot define our worth as human beings. Only faithfulness in God determines if we cross the finish line “good people” or not. And money can make us more attractive to some kinds of people, but it cannot create love. Only Jesus teaches us how to truly love one another and that’s through living like Him, and He was not a wealthy man. So we need to give. We have to give to remind ourselves we serve GOD – not money. After the rich young man turned away from Jesus, why did Jesus turn to the disciples and say, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”? Because money confuses us. We give it away as an act of worship of God. We give as an act of trust in God and we give to show others we trust God. Now this is different from bragging about what we give. Jesus tells us to give alms in secret, not to get the praise of others. (Matthew 6:2). But when we intentionally live simple lives so we can give more to God: Drive an economy car instead of a luxury model so there is more to give away Live in a small house rather than a big house so there is more to give away Wear last year’s fashions instead of this year’s style, so there is more to give away, you better believe the world will notice. Some will think we’re just poor or cheap. But others will get to know us and begin to realize we live simply as an act of trust in God. We live simple lives so there is more to give because we serve God, not money. Or better yet to say, “We serve God, not the illusion that a bigger house and faster car will make us somehow “better” people?!” Jesus was speaking to the crowd when someone asked Him to intervene over an inheritance issue with his brother. Jesus said “I’m not your banker, but let Me give you a word of warning. Beware of coveting because a person’s life does not consist in an abundance of things. (Luke 12:15)
You know, an odd thing about money is that the more of it we have, the bigger lifestyles we accommodate. And the more money we think we have to have, A well known modern Christian parable is of the man who came to his pastor – very worried – and shared that he was having a tough time making ends meet – paying all the bills. He had just started a new business, wife had been laid off. “Pastor, will you pray with me that we can work this out? Make enough money to stay financially afloat?” “Yes”, the pastor answered, “as long as you will commit to giving 10% of whatever you make to God.” “Well, sure”, the man said. “That’s only about $10 a week. But several years later the man returned. “Pastor, I’m going to have to renege on this whole 10% thing. Back when we made that deal 10% of my income was $10 a week. But business has been really good. These days, 10% of my income is $500 a week. And Pastor, nobody can afford to give $500 a week to God!” “Well”, the pastor said, “then you have only one choice. You must pray now that God will reduce your income back down to where you can afford to give God 10% a week!!” We give as an act of trust in God.
We simplify our lives and live within our means, including our 10% tithe to witness to our belief that our lives are defined by God not by our money. Dr. Dale Fiers was the First General Minister and President of our denomination after our 1960’s restructure. His sister Othel, was married to DeWitt Brown. They lived in Charlotte and this couple left in their will over $8 Million dollars to the Christian Church Foundation, which was, at the time give – 1988 – the largest bequest ever reported given to a Protestant denomination in the United States. Nobody had any idea the Browns had that kind of money. Mr. Brown drove one car for fifteen years, gave it away and drove its replacement for twelve years. They lived in a small one story brick home in a suburb of Charlotte and Dr. Fiers actually encouraged them to build a big new house out on Queens Road or Kings Boulevard with all the other beautiful mansions in Charlotte. And they paid for house plans. But they never built the house. Dr. Fiers found the plans in their attic after they died. Instead of a fine house , at his death, there was a newspaper clipping in Mr. Brown’s wallet that read: “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world is immortal.” Twenty three years later – last week to be exact – I picked up a copy of the history of the Christian Church Foundation and when I read their story, I was witnessed to. I have become determined to do better myself. To live simply so there is more to give. They witnessed to me and many like me – maybe you – folks they never even met. We give as an act of trust in God. We give as a witness to others that God – not money – defines our lives. And we give to deepen our commitment.
Jesus is standing in the temple in Jerusalem with His disciples, watching folks file past the treasurer’s box. A handful of change here. And handful of change there. Then a poor widow put in two copper coins. “She has out given them all”, Jesus told His disciples. “They gave out of abundance. She gave all she had.” (Luke 21:3). That is why we give – to commit ourselves so completely to God that God owns all of us – everything we have. May all of our lives be an offering to our God. Amen