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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Extravagant Generosity

I preaching this message on February 13, 2011 at HillSong

Growing up, my parents placed three jars on my dresser and then gave me my $1 weekly allowance – in dimes. One dime went in the jar marked “tithe,” one went in the jar marked “savings,” and the remaining $.80 was mine to spend. They were trying to instill in me the habit of saving some money, and they wanted me to know on that we give money to God’s church as a way of living our Christian faith.

The amount they advised me to give was 10% of my income. Christians all over, trying to honor God with their money give 10% of the paycheck to the church.

It’s a good spiritual discipline, but a curious one as well. We follow Jesus Christ. We commune God in the Holy Spirit and in the Bible. As Christ-followers, our starting point in is the New Testament. Giving 10%, tithing, is not a New Testament concept.

When Jesus talks about the tithe, he’s in the middle of a harsh critique of the religious practice of the Pharisees (see Matthew 23:23). They faithfully give their 10%, but fail to live out the grace of God. In tithing, they are fine examples, but in reflecting God’s love, they are terrible failures.

The tithe is based on the economy and liturgy of ancient Israel. Israel was an agricultural nation. Burnt offerings were the centerpiece in worship. So, people would harvest, and then bring in the best 10% of their harvest and offer it as thanksgiving to God, as praise to God. The animal offerings served as atonement for sins.

From Deuteronomy to the days of the second temple when Jesus ministered in Israel, the idea of tithe went through dramatic change as the society changed. Money became a part of their culture. The world became more mobile and travelers from the North, South, East, and West, came to Jerusalem. The travel, the commerce, and the shift from a barter economy to one that included money all came together to force the concept of the tithe to evolve.

Jesus never says, “Thou shall tithe.” So, why do we hang on to tithing? And if tithing is not exactly the New Testament formula for honoring God with our money, then what is? What does Jesus say? What does the New Testament teach?

The following is from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12, verse 41-44.

41He [Jesus] sat down opposite the [temple] treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

When the poor widow put her last coins in the temple treasury, she acknowledged that God is Lord of everything. The temple was extraordinary corrupt and she might have known that. So why give the last of her money to the temple? Whether she could articulate it or not, the widow entrusted the temple to God. God, you are Lord of this temple. You deal with the corruption here. I give all I have to you.

Furthermore, she acknowledged that God, and not her meager two coins and not her hunger, was her master. If she bought bread today with a coin, and again tomorrow with the second, she would be hungry the day after tomorrow. So, she gave it all to God trusting that God would take care of her today, tomorrow, and the day after.

To me that says that we middle class American Christians in 2011 is must count on God and not our money to provide for us. Jesus did not say because this woman deposited her final two coins, all disciples must divest themselves of all their holdings in order to be true believers. He did say her gift was blessed because of how valuable it was to her. It showed how much she trusted God.

Based on how much we make, do our gifts to God’s church and to evangelical ministries around the world show how much we (1) value God, and (2) how much we trust God? If I make $75,000, how much is my relationship with God worth if I give 5% of that $75,000 to God’s work in the world?

God doesn’t need any of my money, but, I need a relationship with God. I need it to become the person I was meant want to become. We need a relationship with God because we are made to be in relationship with Him – a relationship of trust, and forgiveness, and truth.

When we take up the morning offering, what we each put in is an indicator of the worth we put on the relationship we have with God. It makes no difference to God whether I give more than person next to me or less. It makes all the difference in how much I give related to how much I have.

Someone who gives away an amount that he doesn’t even notice missing is saying to God, you’re not worth money that matters to me. Someone who makes all his purchases and then considers the money that’s left and gives his offering out of that is not giving much. It doesn’t matter if it is $1 million. The priority for the true disciple is on the relationship with God. The way to know how much to give is to openly, honestly pray, and then give according to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

As I have talked about this most sensitive topic – money – I have talked about the relationship individual believers have with God. The New Testament doesn’t prescribe a 10% tithe, but the New Testament is full of teaching about qualities that must be present in the life of someone who is a follower of Jesus. In 1st and 2nd Corinthians the letter’s author, the Apostle Paul, illustrates one of the qualities.

The background for he writes here is a famine that hit Israel hard in the mid first century. Hunger spread. The Jewish people had to rely on one another to make it through this painful time. However, the Christians in Jerusalem, who were also Jews, had been cutoff from their neighbors because of their decision to follow Jesus Christ and proclaim him as Savior, Messiah, and Son of God. Because of their faith, they did not receive the help people needed to survive the period of famine. The very first Christians, the ones in the Jerusalem church, were starving.

Paul wanted the Jerusalem Church to endorse his mission to carry Gospel to gentiles throughout the Greco-Roman world. He fought for this evangelical mission his entire career. In the period of famine, he saw an opportunity. He encouraged the Philippian Christians in Macedonia and the Corinthian Christians to take up a monetary offering that he would then deliver to Jerusalem to alleviate the poverty that blanketed that church.

In doing this, he gave the new believers in the new churches an opportunity to express Christ-like generosity. Paul thought it would be good for the spiritual growth of the Corinthian Church if they gave abundantly to help the Jerusalem Church.

He was so convinced of the importance of this offering that he even challenged the Corinthians in a competitive manner. He told how the Macedonians joyfully overflowed with a wealth of generosity by giving out of extreme poverty (2 Cor 8:2). The Corinthians who read the letter knew they were quite wealthy compared to their poorer Macedonian neighbors. And Paul knew it too. He said the Corinthians would be humiliated if they failed to match and surpass the Macedonian gift (2 Cor. 9:5).

Paul was urgent in his desire to collect money for Jerusalem, but he didn’t plead. He framed his request as an opportunity. They, the Christians in Corinth, needed to give generously for the sake of their own walk with Jesus.

In Paul’s presentation we see that believers called to be extravagantly generous.

Listen to Paul’s words:

10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.

Consider this scenario. Imagine sitting down with Jesus in a one-on-0ne session where we go through our bank statements. Sitting with Jesus, you look at the checkbook, the credit card statement, and all the other holdings. Line by line, you explain each purchase, each gift, each donation, - how each transaction reflects how much or how little you value your relationship with God. What would that session be like? Would Jesus takes joy in how much He matters in our lives? Would it be a time of shame, as it becomes clear that he is less important than clothes or a car or a vacation?

The point of this exercise is not guilt. It is to inspire all of us to put God first, but also to invite us to go deeper in relationship with Jesus. Going through the checkbook with him shows how much He desires us. Jesus wants all of us, every part of our lives. He wants to bless, and the blessing may mean an increase – more money – but for some people it will be the opposite. For some, God’s blessing comes in giving it all away.

If upon hearing, someone says, not me! I want to be one of those blessed by wealth. I want to be a Christian, but an extremely wealthy one. That response does not understand blessing or true joy at all. Giving of our money is giving of ourselves. God blesses what we give. God will not bless what we hold back.

So then, how? How do we live in extravagant New Testament generosity? I said earlier the way to determine how much we ought to give is to openly, honestly pray, and then give according to the Holy Spirit’s leading. I believe it, but I also know from my experience that God answers prayer in God’s time.

Until the answer is clear, the Old Testament standard of a 10% tithe is a proper starting point. To begin living in generosity, understand how much money you will make in a year, and give 10% of it to the church. Along with that, be involved in the church family. Know what your church believes, preaches, teaches, and practices.

Know your elder and know what the elders are working on. Know your spiritual gifts and in mission and in ministry in the church and in the community, serve where you are gifted. Use your skills and your talents and your God-given personality to be involved in the life of the church. Be involved in music ministry, youth or children, grounds beautification, leadership, and in small groups. When church becomes something you are emotionally invested in, it won’t be hard to give your time, your heart, or your money to where God is working through the church.

So, start, by giving 10% off the top to the church, and invest your life in the church.

HillSong Church is a really great place. It can be twice what it is, even three times what it is in terms of quality worship and ministry, IF twice the number of people who currently come invest themselves – heart, money, time, talent, and passion. We have passionately devoted Christ followers here who are “all in.” And we have people yawning in their faith here, spiritually asleep, showing up week after week completely unaware of God’s activity in the world. Which category do you strive to be in? Which category would you put yourself in right now and why would you put yourself there?

Start with the 10% tithe; then, increase it. Discover how God will care for you when you give what you have away. Discover the joy of giving your money and your time and your heart to orphans. Discover the blessings you will receive volunteering locally in ministry, and on mission trips and contributing to food collections and giving with abandon to special offerings.

In his book Neither Poverty nor Riches, subtitled A Biblical Theology of Possessions, Craig Blomberg promotes a graduated tithe in which one begins at a certain level and over time increases financial giving.

I knew a school teacher who did this. When his family was running out of money fast, he decided he would trust God no matter what. So, no matter what, he gave 10% to the church that year. The next year, he gave 11%. By the time I was met him, he was up to 33%. And God did provide. He was able to raise three children, own a home and retire with his needs met. Of the 33%, he gave a lot to ministries outside the church, which is great and is something I completely agree with.

One more thought on giving. We invest ourselves completely in ministry in the church. We begin our financial giving with a 10% tithe. We expand that through a graduated tithe and through extravagantly generous gifts both to the church and to ministries outside the church, and we do this out of a love response to God, as a way to participate in missions, and to advance the Kingdom.

And finally, we make all giving connected to prayer.

Giving money to God should not be thought of as some duty which I do so I can check it off a spiritual “to-do” list. Giving is to be, for Christ-followers, an expression of our worship and of our love relationship with God. It’s not that Jesus needs our money. It’s that Jesus desires us. By giving the money to causes that advance His kingdom, the money doesn’t come between Him and us. The money is not an obstacle blocking us from Christ; when we give it, money is a servant advancing the cause of Christ. We aren’t locking Him out of some area of our lives. We’re asking Him to bless us completely and asking that through our gifts, we would be privileged to be a small part of how He blesses others.

Everything I have said in this message boils down to one thing - the relationship we have with God in Jesus Christ. I can’t imagine life without Jesus in it. We can’t hear His voice of love, forgiveness, and guidance, when out money is clogging up our ears and fogging up our minds. So, we open up. We pray, and in joy and generosity, we give extravagantly. We are part of the growth of the kingdom.



  1. Quite an honest post I’ll say but there are a few points you made that I do not think are quite scriptural. The first is your idea that the biblical tithe was 10%. No where in the bible do we find the tithes described as 10% of anything instead the bible calls the tithe the Tenth part. Which means if you had 10 sheep for instance, the tenth sheep was your tithe but if you had 9 or less, you could not tithe because there was no tenth. And to ascertain the tithe of crops, all the crops are grouped into ten equal parts and the tenth part was separated as the tithe.

    Secondly, the tithes were only applicable to agricultural produce and livestock, never money. It is practically impossible to tithe money. And this was not because money wasn’t widely available as you have asserted, money was available even before this time. Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites for money, his brothers came to Egypt with money to buy food and when God gave the children of Israel the command to tithe, He told them that they could buy back their tithes with money. Also, for the tithing banquet, God’s command to those who lived faraway was to convert the tithes (which were the tenth part of agricultural produce and livestock) into money and spend it on anything they liked.

    This makes the assertion that 10% was the giving standard in the Old Testament not really biblical. However, I do understand what you are trying to say about us being generous with money which is true. But the fact remains that only God knows who is being truly generous and scripture never tells us that starting your giving from 10% shows generosity. That is purely man-made.

    The New Testament never proscribes an absolute minimum instead it encourages us all to give as much as we are able.

    God bless

  2. Eliteinchrist,

    I thank for your thorough response. Often I don't get sermon feedback and when I do, it is sometimes superficial. Thanks for what you wrote.

    I did look at your blog. It's obvious you've done a lot of good work which I appreciate

    The one question I pose is do you think Christians are called to sacrifice?

    Your final statement said there's no "absolute minimum," but do people really know what they are "able" to do? People could take your statement, and not give much, and just say, "But I am not able to do more." Most people I know who say that could actually do a lot more.

    Are Christian, walking in faith, called to do more (in giving and in living the Christian life) than they could on their own power?

  3. Hi Rob,

    You can call me Tony actually.

    I do need to understand the context of the sacrifice you are talking about.

    Do not assume that people do not know what to give and then think it is our place to tell them what to give. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit lays in their hearts to give a certain amount and they refuse, do you think that by us insisting on a minimum that would make them give? Who is more powerful? You and I or the Holy Spirit?

    What is really most important is our relationship with God and anyone who has a good relationship will have no problems giving and would not require any law to make them give.

    And I really did not understand your last question. Could you please be a bit more explicit?

    God bless.


  4. Tony,

    Thanks for your additional words.

    I think sacrifice is a core Christian value in all contexts. I look at Jesus' words in Matthew 10:39 and also in Luke 14:27 as two of many examples where sacrificial living is the norm for the Christ-follower. I think that means different things for different people. But I want all who engage the scripture to consider that.

    So in "doing more" I am referring to a lot of things, giving financially, giving time, giving relationally. I think when one trusts in Christ one discovers he or she can give more money to evangelical causes than he or she thought possible.

    For instances, someone responded to my sermon (not in the comments on the blog but directly to me) by telling of a time she ran to the end of her financial means. All her bills where paid and it was a choice of tithing or grocery shopping. It was a Sunday and she would not be paid again until the following Friday. She decided to tithe and either fast or scrounge for food. After putting her tithe in the plate that day, she got a call from someone who wanted to buy her Kayak. It had been so long since she listed, she pretty much forgot it and had given up on it. They paid $300. Coincidence? Maybe, but she doesn't believe so.

    I do assume that most people, especially affluent Christians, do not know how much they are able to give or called to give. I know many times in my life the Holy Spirit has spoken to me through the words of the pastor. So, as a pastor, I count it my duty to listen to the Spirit the best I can and say what I think God wants me to say.

    A lot of the people who listen to me are quite well-off. And I really believe God wanted me to challenge the church. So I did that. I received far more favorable comments than I normally do. In my context, what was said struck a chord. Me challenging the people to give more than they think they are able is not something done in place of the Spirit. I hope my sermons and writings are offered in cooperation with the Spirit.

    I know a lot of people who have a relationship with God and unclear about what to give or how much. I wanted to set the tone that in our church, we deal with the call Christ set to his disciples, and that includes how we view our money. My money is God's because I belong to God. And that's true for anyone who wants to be a passionately devoted follower of Jesus.

    - Rob

  5. IN the context of an affluent Christian the post makes sense. But what about a new Christian or a non-believer. Isn't it a bit heavy handed to suggest starting at 10% gross? Or even suggesting any percentage. No where in the New Testament is a percentage given. We are to give generously. That can mean different things in different circumstances. Perhaps the target percentage should be that which a person can give with joy and hilarity. I don't see any scripture that says to give until it hurts bad and your suffering. We shouldn't be like the democrats and try to suck people dry!
    Just an observation.

  6. Anonymous - I don't what democrats has to do with and I respectfully request that politics either be left out or commented on thoughtfully.

    You are right. The New Testament does not mandate the 10%. I think it is a good starting point that is helpful for Christians.

    Generally speaking regarding non-believers or seekers, it doesn't seem to me that Jesus lightened the message so it would be more easy-listening, more digestible. I attempt to read the Gospel, pray, analyze my congregation, and pray some more. Then, preach what I believe I am led to preach.

    I think there is a profound difference in sacrifice and suffering. I don't think we give until it hurts. I think when we appropriately sacrifice as Jesus leads, we discover joy we would not otherwise discover.

    No, we don't suck people dry. We lead them to living water. But sometimes to truly experience the abundance of Christ, one has to get rid of the possessions and until he does, those possessions are in fact impediments that block the path to discipleship and the path to a joyous life in Christ.

    That's the gospel I preach. Visitors to the church should probably know that up front.

  7. You didn't address the joy of giving. God loves a cheerful giver. Do those who fail to give rob God?

  8. Good point, anonymous. I think there is more on giving than can be addressed in one message.

    The "cheerful giver" reference is 2 Cor 9:7, which I read.

    I did conclude with words that present giving as a positive thing, an expression of love, not a burden. Look at the last two paragraphs. I didn't say, "God loves a cheerful giver," but I did talk about the joy of giving.

    I am glad you brought up the notion of cheerful giving. I wonder if people believe parting with money can be cheerful? Maybe we don't discover how wonderful it is until we do it. I cheerfully give just $100/month to sponsor kids (one in Uganda, one in Ethiopia, and one in Rwanda). That just became another bill until I started paying closer attention to the letters those sponsor kids send. Once I could those children growing and once I began praying for them, that $100 was easy to part with.

    The second question ... do those who fail to give "rob God?" I go back to my statement "when we give our money to God's work, we are giving ourselves to God." By holding ourselves back and not giving ourselves completely to God, we're holding onto something that God wants.

    God does not want to be part of my life. God wants all of my life. God wants to be master of my work, master of my social time and free time, master of my family life, master of my thoughts (my deep thoughts and my fleeting flighty thoughts), and God wants to be master of my sex life. God wants it all.

    I think it takes a life time to understand this completely, to understand how to live under the mastery of God. So, I want to spend a lifetime growing in my understanding of it.

    I say God wants to be master of my money. So if I fail to give all my money to God's church or evangelical ministries, am I robbing God? Well, no. I need to use some of that money for food. And for clothes. And in our system, I should use some money for insurance (health, property, life, auto). There are things I need to buy.

    OK, so necessities and the church, great! What if I buy a big screen TV. Am I robbing God? Maybe, maybe not. Let's say someone works 15 hours a day and on that job he's a conscientious, hard worker. And while there he makes a lot of money, much of which he shares with ministries that spread the gospel and help the poor. And while he's working so hard he also is a sterling example of how a Christ-follower treats people and represents God in the world. But, those 15-hour days wear him out. His life has vision and his life has purpose and God is working redemptively in other people through him. But, he needs two hours each night to veg out and he does in front of that big screen TV.

    Maybe he could find better ways to recharge his emotional and mental batteries, but I don't think it would be right to accuse him of robbing God. The big screen TV is not a reward for his faithfulness. A deeper relationship with Jesus is the reward. The TV is part of his narrative and not a negative or positive part; it's materialistic, but I would not accuse him of robbing God.

    If someone spent a lot of money on the best and latest in clothes, cars, Ipads, PC's and other stuff and then didn't give any money to the work of the kingdom of God, I might say they are robbing. But I don't think they'd be robbing God so much as robbing themselves. They'd be seeking joy and meaning and exhilaration in their gadgets instead of in the Lord.

    Let's say someone is quite poor and can't really buy gadgets or give money. That's a different case. That individual needs to understand how to honor God with his life by living faithfully and trusting God for his needs. If he can give to the church he should, but for his own spiritual well-being.

    Do those who fail to give "rob God?" It's a great question and an important one. It is not an easy question.

  9. Rob_T,
    There were actually three tithes in the old testament (we usually only hear about the one). Malachi (ch 3) says that Israel was guilty of robbing God in not bringing the full tithe. In the passage you mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, Paul mentions the old testament tithe (the one given to the Levites) and says that in the same way the work of the New Testament church is to be supported. So how can we not be robbing God if we don't pay our full tithe?

    On the other hand we are not under the Law of Moses we are under the Law of Christ which is to love one another. Having a law requiring a certain tithe would reduce the joy of giving it, would it not? But if we love one another is not a tithe a good starting place to support the church? It should be mentioned that tithing was actually not started under Moses but rather under Abraham (who gave a tenth to Melchizedek). Paul places Christians under Abraham as his (true) children. Jesus of course endorsed tithing in Matthew 23:23 saying not to neglect it.

    We are of course only talking about the tithe that supported the Levites. There was also a tithe to support the poor (charity) and a tithe that went toward attending the various feasts in Jerusalem (which in church times would perhaps be a "vacation tithe"). When you add it all up there is quite a bit of tithing going on. Without being legalistic about it, all of it applies to the new testament church in the command of Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself.

    But we also live in a more complex world and under heavy taxation (some of which supports the poor and elderly). So perhaps the topic should be "Biblical Stewardship" of which the giving of our tithes and offerings (and time/talents?) is but a part (offerings were of course in addition to the 3 mentioned tithes).

    I think there is an Old Testament principle that you cannot outdo the Lord (can't remember the verse). We should expect the Lord's blessings on us to more than outweigh the tithe we give to the church.