II CORINTHIANS 8:5c
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
II Cor. 8:5c “. . .by the will of God.”
Two thousand years later, these Macedonians continue to be an inspiration and example for us. They gave themselves to the Lord, to trustworthy leaders, and to God’s dear people. Our text now tells us what motivated their generosity.
The Macedonians were spurred on “by the will of God.” They believed they were pleasing Him. Christians want to please God, and often our hardest challenge in discerning His will about giving is to ascertain, “How much is enough?”
This is a reasonable question which deserves from any preacher a straightforward answer. Let me approach the question with three observations and a parable.
The first observation: preaching is a high, holy calling, and a pastor must never vulgarize or cheapen it. I realize the significance of this hour in our church’s life. We all know the importance of not stumbling in our current fundraiser.
In past fundraisers, though asked to do so, I have refused to preach several sermons on giving. The purpose of preaching is to change lives, not to promote a particular program. A sermon is not a commercial, but a sacred trust. I will someday stand before Jesus and ask, “What did You think of my sermons? How did I do?” This thought always looms large in my mind when I am preparing a sermon.
Several years ago, one of the most powerful pulpiteers in this country left his pastorate to become the leader of a wonderful, well known Christian institution. Ever since he made this move, each time I have heard him preach he has been unable to get a full head of steam up in his sermon. He feels compelled to detour often to promote his institution. Thus, the message ends up sounding like a commercial. I don’t think less of him because of this. I would probably do the same thing if in a similar circumstance. I just note this as an observation about his preaching.
For our current fundraiser, I consented to preach four sermons on giving. I also determined, if I am going to preach about money, I will preach not primarily about the program, important as it is, but rather to change lives, to help people, to seek to say things that will benefit them for a lifetime. Let me be clear on this. I don’t want to be dishonest or hypocritical. I do want you to give to this fundraiser. At the same time I want you to know my heart’s deepest and strongest desire. Being more a pastor than a fundraiser, my first concern is your lifelong well-being.
The second observation: preaching must never be self-serving. Pastors’ salaries are paid out of what people place in the offering plate. Thus, before preaching on money, a pastor must stay in a closet in prayer until emptied of selfish motives.
Pastors are stereotyped. We have the terrible reputation of loving the offering more than any other part of a worship service. I’m glad archaeological evidence has conclusively proven the handwriting on the wall, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” (DN 5:25) is not ancient Hebrew for “Money, money tickles the parson.”
My favorite recent story on this subject involves two men stranded on a desert island. One is grieving, “We’re going to die.” The other man is calm, “I make a million dollars a week and I tithe.” The first one moans, “You’ve lost your mind. Money won’t help us here.” The second one coolly answers, “Don’t worry. I make a million dollars a week and I tithe.” The first one argues, “What in the world does that have to do with our situation?” The second confidently replies, “I make a million dollars a week and I tithe. I promise you, my pastor will find me.”
Pastors certainly have a vested interest in the financial success of the churches they serve. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to make sure we preach on giving in order to raise money for God and His cause, of which our salary is but a small part.
I pray my motives are pure at this point. My job is secure. I’m confident my salary will be paid, whether or not I preach on giving. I think my heart is right, and trust these sermons have addressed a cause higher than my own advancement.
The third observation: preaching must be Bible-based. Personal opinions are expressed in preaching. Applications and observations have to be made to the best of a preacher’s understanding. However, the authoritative part of preaching is that which comes obviously and directly from the Bible. This being the case, as best I can tell, one Bible verse is critical in determining God’s will with regard to the amount we should give. The answer to the question “How much is enough?” hinges on our interpretation and understanding of Matthew 23:23. Our Master said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
People often say tithing, giving one-tenth of our income to God, was required in the Old Testament only, and is not taught in the New Testament. When I hear this I have to bite my lip to keep from blurting out, “What about Matthew 23:23?”
The “Old Testament only” argument applies to ceremony and ritual. The New Testament book, Hebrews, plainly teaches we no longer need priests or sacrifices.
The “Old Testament only” argument applies to worship on Saturday. Several New Testament texts tell us the early believers had begun worshiping on Sunday.
The “Old Testament only” argument applies to killing people for sex crimes. The way Jesus handled the case of the woman taken in adultery settled this debate.
However, when we try to apply the “Old Testament only” argument to tithing, we choke on Matthew 23:23, one of the most helpful verses in the whole Bible on giving. This text teaches us tithing is not the answer to the world’s problems. It is not the most important part of Christian living. The scribes and Pharisees tithed, but were ungodly. Tithers crucified our Lord. Some of the meanest people I have ever known were tithers. One danger for those of us who tithe is to begin to see it as a huge deal, as the most important aspect of our spiritual lives. It becomes the benchmark, the standard by which we measure our spirituality. It is interesting to note that people who say a tithe is the minimum we should give often treat it also as the maximum. Of course, they would never say this, but do practice it. For many believers, a tithe is all they plan to contribute. Giving thus becomes the only area in their Christian life with a lid on it. We know we are to continue increasing and growing in every other area of Christian living, but in giving we stagnate.
Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees to focus on more important matters, but was also careful to clearly state they should not leave the duty of tithing undone. We might be tempted to say we should not build a whole doctrine out of a casual remark Jesus made in passing. Be careful, dear friend, do not put your hand on the holy. Every word proceeding from Jesus’ mouth is precious. He should not have to state anything twice or thrice for us to heed Him. Once ought to be sufficient.
Had He casually said, “I love flowers,” every church building in Christendom would be filled with flowers. Had He mentioned off the cuff, “I love trees,” every church building would sit in the middle of an orchard. The same respect should be paid to His one remark about the duty of tithing. It should not be left undone.
For me, even if Matthew 23:23 did not exist, it would be hard to believe God would expect less of His people after Jesus died for them than He did before. It seems logical that “more” should be the operative word in our current thinking.
Now hear a parable. On the sixth day of creation, angels were discussing how God would divide His resources among these new creatures known as human beings. Since everything belongs to God, the question under consideration was, how much will He let people use on themselves, and how much will He want returned to Him for His own causes. One angel said, “God is kind. He will want people to keep at least one-third for themselves.” A second angel replied, “The Lord is generous. I think He will want them to keep at least half.” Michael, who works close with God, chimed in, “You don’t understand how much the Father loves these new creatures. I think He will want them to keep at least two-thirds for themselves.” “No way!” the other angels cried, “That’s unreasonable.” At this very moment, Jesus Himself walked by. The angels asked, “Lord, settle this debate. How much do you want people to keep for themselves? We’re deadlocked. One says one-third, one says one-half, Michael says two-thirds. Who is right?” “No one,” said the Lord, “You are all wrong. I want them to keep ninety percent for themselves.” As He walked away, the angels sat in stunned silence. After a few steps, the Lord Jesus turned toward the angels, and with a tear in His eyes, sadly said, “Most of my children will begrudge me the ten percent.” With that, the angels began to cry.
Ruth and I were raised in homes where tithing was taught. We have tithed on every dime we have made as a married couple. Actually, we have given more than ten percent, and during this fundraiser, as in past ones, I guess we will be moving in the direction of approaching twenty percent. I have often thought of this as being impressive. This parable puts it in a new light for me. It’s hard to brag when I see eighty percent kept for myself. “How much is enough?” Probably more than we have ever given before, and maybe more than we ever dreamed of giving. God bless you as you imitate the Macedonians and seek to be led “by the will of God.”