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Gospel Generosity: Why I don't tithe.

You read that correctly. I don’t tithe. I’m a pastor who doesn't bother with tithing to the local church. I do however give a crazy amount to the local church whenever our finances allow it. Currently, we give more than a tithe because our finances allow us to. I know it sounds like I’m splitting hairs but, Paul leads and teaches us what New Testament Gospel giving looks like - and it doesn't look like the tithing you may have grown up with or hear taught from some pulpits still today.

Giving of our treasures is both important to us as a church and controversial with folks everywhere, so as you read this position we take, please lay it against the Scripture and let God show you His heart for our treasures and increase. An overwhelming amount of Jesus’ own words contend with our treasures,  and as we see the church develop in the New Testament, we are given even more detail.

Since the time of Adam our first father our default factory setting regarding our collective treasure (savings, equity, inheritance, possessions, etc…) is “It’s my money and I have plans for it.” This is understandable being that our culture’s high value of comfort, security, and identity is defined by how much “stuff” we can accumulate and what that “stuff” can give us. We are brought up in this culture and without the Gospel leading us, there’s no real good logical reason to give our treasures away.

For you parents, I’d love for this to serve you on how to explain this to your kids, because without good Biblical teaching, they will grow up understanding what the world tells them regarding treasure. It’s actually your job as a parent to lead them in this way more than it is ours as a church leadership. I didn't understand Gospel fueled giving until later in my adult life, but hope that as our own kids develop they see money and stuff through the grid of what God has done for us.

Heart Monitor

How you handle your treasure is a key indicator of your spiritual life. You cannot separate your heart from your money, no matter how hard you try (Matthew 6:21). Our temptation is to detach treasure from worship. Even the world at large knows this to not be possible. The rapper 50 Cent’s movie and album “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’” sums up mankind’s desire to worship various idols by throwing our treasure at their feet. Whether we idolize identity, comfort, power, security or something else, we feed those monsters with our treasures. The world at large understands this. We however as God’s church struggle here. Our hearts contend with us, “You can chase riches and chase God at the same time.” But Jesus never says this, and in fact says the exact opposite (Matthew 6:24). You either worship God with your money or you worship your money as God.

Sacrificial Generosity

Nearly 25% of Jesus’ sermons dealt with our treasures and the New Testament has many warnings for the rich.  Now, I already know what some of you are thinking, “Luke, I’m not rich and I don’t want to be rich – I’m just trying to get by.” Some of you feel poverty excludes you from generosity so you are quick to exit a teaching like this, but I want to caution you.

According to CARE International who is involved with global poverty, most of us are in the top wealthiest among global people. The average income per household in Knoxville, TN is $33,188, which places us in the top 0.94% of the world. Congratulations, many of us are 1%ers. Your monthly income could pay the monthly salaries of 203 doctors in Malawi. If you make $18,000/year in salary you are in the top 5% of the world. If you make $6,000/year you’ll find yourself in the top 21% of the world. It would take the average laborer in Ghana more than 37 years to earn the same amount of money as most college students. The reality is that none of us think we’re rich because the rich are always above us - right? Wrong. When Jesus is talking to the rich he’s talking to you and me.

Even if you find yourself impoverished there is real good news; poverty can’t ruin generosity. We have all heard the story of the poverty stricken widow giving from her lack of wealth and treasure to show beautiful worship before the wealthy and elite (Mark 12:41–44). Do you feel poor? It only postures you for deep and beautiful worship. Your lack of treasure places you in the perfect place to worship extravagantly. Being generous from a place of poverty glorifies God because sacrificial giving glorifies God. It paints a realistic picture of what God has done for us. Our King knew poverty in order for us to know royalty (2 Corinthians 8:1–5).

Paul displays the effects of giving extravagantly while impoverished: “for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:1–5) This was extreme generosity. They were not giving in moderation, but experienced sacrifice as they gave at a jaw-dropping rate.

This extravagant giving is expressed most thoroughly through what God has done for us, the Gospel which we thrive in. As Paul goes on to say, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:8-15). This brilliant retelling of God’s good news for us was seated firmly in Paul’s submission that the Corinthian church be generous. God meant for this to be our motivation for giving.

Conversely, giving out of abundance isn’t sacrificial giving. In other words, if your giving level means you never have to say “no” to the stuff you really want, it’s not sacrificial. Many givers give 10% of their treasures consistently and joyfully, but there is no sacrifice in their giving and therefore their giving isn’t emblematic of God’s gift to us. To pose it as a question, “What did you have to say “no” to in order to worship God with your treasure?”

Joyful Generosity

Not only does Paul show us that our giving ought to be sacrificial, but he explains how it is to be joyful. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.2 Corinthians 9:5–11  I’m so glad Paul says this because it’s easy to manipulate people to give money.  

One reason people give is from guilt. Guilt gets the job done. Thinking of real skinny and malnourished kids overseas or the fact you have air conditioning when they don’t is never a good gospel level motivation for giving. What ends up happening is we give a gift to ourselves. We’re paying off our discomfort and attempting to bring peace to our souls by writing a check. It still ends up being about our glory and not Jesus’. There’s nothing wrong with compassion being in the equation, but relying on our compassion can be flighty and depends on our emotions at the moment.

It can be even worse when we try to give our treasures from a place of greed. Many give to ministries and churches for no other reason than to get something back or not lose what they have. Bad teaching puts the believer in the drivers seat regarding how big their bank account is. “If you want to have a lot of money - you must give a lot of money.” This too feeds an idol. - the idol of greed manifesting in our desire for entertainment, comfort, and security.

Giving from joy comes from a deep understanding and thankful acknowledgment of what God has done for us in the person of Jesus. When we see the elaborate expenditure for us, we are free from desiring what the world can give us through our treasures. In other words, a fracture in our joyful giving is truly a fracture in our gospel comprehension.

Paul shows us in his letter to the Corinthians that the singular motivation for us handing over our treasure is the freedom we have in the Gospel. “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:8–15) Again, this is the Biblical motor behind giving. All other options have nothing to do with Jesus or his Glory. God the Father gave his deepest treasure, his own Son, so that we might be rescued from our spiritual poverty/bankruptcy. Jesus (God the Son) who experienced absolute wealth and treasure impoverished himself and made himself poor. Jesus didn’t simply vacate his treasure by becoming man, but also by becoming sin on the cross.

I love how Paul describes a joyful posture of the Macedonian church in his letter to the Corinthians, “for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them.” (2 Corinthians 9:1–2) They were zealous and ready to the point where Paul was bragging on them. They displayed a joy in giving that is truly emblematic of God’s desire to give to us.

Manager on duty

God refers to us as stewards and managers of his possessions. Very simply, God owns everything and you own nothing. As He says, “all the cattle, birds, silver, gold, everything - is mine!” (Psalm 50:10-11, Haggai 2:8)  God is very clear that it is by His effort that we receive wealth and we are not to claim credit for that. (Deuteronomy 8:17–18)  He also sees what he entrusts to us as a “gift” to be received with gratitude (James 1:16-17). An owner has rights over possessions whereas a manager merely administrates those possessions. I know it sounds like I’m being overly simplistic, but too many consider another’s possessions their own. We like to pretend to be owners, and that friends is called theft. When a manager takes possessions and fails in administration (theft) it lands them in judgement. My father (who owned restaurants) was always firing managers who were confused and thought they owned the place. They helped themselves to what did not belong to them. When we rearrange the order of the owner/manager relationship, we get theft.

This is strong language I know, but it is truly how God sees it.“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” God is virtually saying, “I gave resources to you with instructions on how to apply them and you stole from me.” (Malachi. 3:8–10)  Many of us in here are stealing from God – we are ripping him off and then praying for God to help us financially. It’s just goofy.

Brass Tacks

“OK, Luke, how much do I give then?” Let’s think about rephrasing that question because it’s not about how much of God’s money we give, but how much we keep. Remember, it all belongs to Him. As for an amount, I’ll leave that between you and God. I won’t give you an amount.  We don’t teach a tithe here, which literally means ten percent. In the Old Testament the tithe was actually a trio of tithes that hashed out between 25-30%. We also don’t teach that the NT resurrects this standard.  I know why pastors are tempted to teach a tithe however. The average percentage of those who give to the church is between 2.3 and 2.5% according to the most recent figures. We see the call to be sacrificially generous and rich in our giving, and this might mean different percentages to different people. God isn’t asking you to be generous with what you don’t have but with what you do have. Statistically for many of us, 10% should be the floor, not the standard. Most of us can give that much with minimal sacrifice.

“Am I supposed to give everything to the church?” I don’t think so. I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where we are commanded to do that. There are some real cool operations and endeavors in the world we should be generous to. I will say the greater bulk of what my family gives as a family goes to the local church. It’s where we do life and it’s our city. Our heart is here and our treasure chases after it. (Matthew 6:21) I will submit that the people I have run into over time that have stolen God’s money and have not been generous with time, talent, or treasure are typically renting the local church.and care little for the city.

We also see God command his people to bring their treasures into the “storehouse” (Malachi 3:8-10) which was where they kept all the funds and treasures they used to help the poor, fund the overhead of the Temple, and pay their priests. It was where the Jews of the day received their ministry. I’m not suggesting that people aren’t ministered to by entities other than the local church, but it is the local church’s role to care and serve the people who are partnered with that church. To starve the local church that is caring for you is to miss the underlying thought of this part of what God is saying.

“How often and when do I give?”  Well, how often do you have an increase (paycheck, dividends, etc…). I know some people that give once a year, because they make their money once per year. I know others that do it every other week. My kids do it when they get an allowance once a week even. I guess it depends: When does God allocate more for your to administrate?

I will contend that when we give of our increase we do it as a priority, and not as a last thought. If the giving you leverage back to God’s work is the last check you cut, I’d say that you’re struggling in your perspective of whose money you’re managing. Remember, when you cash your check, that is money God has allocated to you as a gift, how you approach it - even down to the order and amount - reveals your understanding and worship.

Being consistent and honorable to an amount you have agreed to give is also commented on by Paul. “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.” (2 Corinthians 8:10-11) Some churches do pledges for big projects and others do pledges for the simple reason of developing a budget, but deciding in our heart is something God leads us to do. (2 Corinthians 9:5–11)  Deciding in your heart, and then sticking to it is a form of consistency that will be tested from time to time, but will yield opportunities of both testing in growth in our trust of God.

Gospel Giving is Evangelistic & Worshipful

It might sound odd for our giving to point to Jesus’ work, but it truly does. Not only does our stewardship of treasure show a glorious King stewarding his treasure to us, but God’s abundance to supply our need is echoed as we bring treasure when others have need (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). God has distributed freely, giving to the poor (2 Corinthians 9:8-9) - this is the Gospel -  so we distribute freely as well to reflect God’s righteousness.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:12-15 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!  

In God’s discourse with those robbing him in Malachi, he reveals his heart to us…”And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:10b-12) God, in Jesus has already rebuked the devourer for his kids. He has already opened the windows of heaven upon us. He is already unloading blessing on us until there is no more need - and he did this through our salvation. Our King has given us grace, and our worship through finances mirrors extravagant expenditure.

Posted by Luke Thomas with

The Situation

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Acts 2 puts us in the middle of a pretty dramatic event. To catch us up to speed, Jesus has just lived, died, resurrected, and ascended into Heaven in order to accomplish salvation for self-centered people like you and me. Now, we can be free. Furthermore, Jesus has officially ushered in a new reality where he and his kingdom of grace reign. Soon, he will bring Heaven down to Earth, restoring and perfecting the whole world, where together we will worship and enjoy him forever. 
That sounds great. But, until then, what's next?
What are his closest followers going to do now that Jesus has ascended "up there?" So far, they've gathered, prayed, and are trying to figure who should lead. As usual, Peter is preaching boldly, but there seems to be a waiting period where Jesus' followers are not quite sure what to do. At least some of them probably remember that Jesus told them to wait. But wait for what? A big neon sign? A feeling? A building fund for a new church?
Nope. Power. Wait for Power. 
And apparently, they waited together, just like Jesus said. 
Importantly, For hundreds years, the Jews had celebrated Pentecost as one of their festivals. God, who always shows up with perfect timing, decides to align his mission to reach the world with this Jewish celebration. 
So, let's picture this setting. There are Jews everywhere. They've come from all over to this celebration in Jerusalem. More importantly, most of them have literally never heard of Jesus. 
In the middle of this, Jesus' disciples are gathered in a room somewhere in the city. And then BAM! Suddenly a miracle happens through God's mighty hand. A new chapter in the story of humanity has arrived, and -as usual- it is all about Jesus.
What has happened? The promised power comes upon all the believers in the room. This Spirit is described as a mighty rushing wind and power. That power is God himself in the Holy Spirit. Do we catch this?
God himself in the Spirit has come down to live in his people, as he shows Jesus to the world through them. 
Importantly, we cannot lose sight of this miracle. Sometimes, we elevate other awesome things happening here to a higher place than we ought: things like the speaking of tongues, the preaching, the community life together. But those are all signs of the ultimate miracle here, which is that God has come down to dwell in believers of Jesus to empower them for the mission of God!
If we want to avoid a lot of frustration, we must see that this power is something that is received, not something than can be achieved through hard work and will power. Just as Jesus' rescue of you is something he 100% did -something you receive rather than achieve- so it is with the Holy Spirit and is power in you. He invades your life and you receive him and his power through child-like trust.
I can't get too deep here, but below Im re-posting resources for further investigation into the Spirit-filled acts of speaking. Yes, we believe in tongues enthusiastically without hesitation. No, we aren't weirdos who think it should be done around your friends who don't know what's going on. In short, the gift of tongues is Spirit-filled evidence that in God's mission to tell the whole world about his Son, language and location will no longer be a barrier.  So check out the resources below for more information on tongues and be encouraged to look up our past sermon series on Spiritual Gifts.
For now, I want to talk about the big-picture (theological) significance of speaking in tongues that we see here in Acts 2. Set aside your terrible memories of goofy people swinging and missing with tongues, and stay with me for a minute because there's a beautiful connection here that gives us insight and perspective. 
There's a massive reversal and contrast happening. Do you remember way back in Genesis when mankind went all delusional and thought they could build a tower all the way to God?  Sure enough, God had something to say about such arrogance. He humbled his people, causing them to speak all different languages, thus forcing them to scatter into different civilizations according to language. Pretty amazing, huh? 
Before, everyone was speaking in the same language, then they got cocky, then they were disciplined - forced to scatter in a divided fashion with different languages.
Now, at this miraclous event of Pentecost, we see the revearsal. No longer will God's people be divided by language. Now, the Spirit has come, unifying them into one body, with one language, as they worship God in humility instead of trying to be god through building a tower to heaven.
At Babel, man tried to work their way up to God. At Pentecost, God comes down to dwell with man.
At Babel, God disciplines his people harshly through confusing their language and causing division. At Pentecost, God gives his people the free gift of the Holy Spirit, which unifies everyone into one language.
At Babel, the people were sent confused to do their own thing. At Pentecost, God's people are not only gathered in unity but sent with power to share the gospel with every race, tribe, tongue, and people group - in one spiritual language! The language of the gospel of Jesus.
Language and location will no longer keep the gospel from spreading. This is amazing and worth careful consideration.
Again, for more information on tongues, check out resources below and our past Spiritual Gift sermon series.
The Spirit comes to fill the disciples with power. What is the first thing that happens after tongues? 
Not proposing. Not suggesting. Not dialoguing.
But what is preaching? Many of us have heard it, yet sometimes it seems like the majority of us haven't been invited to consider exactly what preaching is and what is happening as the act is occurring. It's pretty exciting, even scary.
Preaching can be seen as God speaking through a man who is under the authority of the Word and filled with the power of the Spirit. 
It is speaking forth the Word of God in the power of the Spirit. Since we know Jesus is the Word become flesh, we can easily put it this way:
Preaching is proclaiming Jesus in the power of the Spirit. 
As we observe Peter preaching preaching here in Acts 2, we see some of the signs of Spirit-filled preaching:
1) It is historical: focused on acts God has been performing throughout human history.
2) It is understandable: using language that normal, everyday people can understand. It connects with their mind and makes sense.
3) It is engaging: he interacts with his hearers, connecting with their hopes, desires, and knowledge. Their heart.
4) It is convicting: there is no preaching apart from unapologetic speaking forth of Gods character and standards, as well as sins committed. The bad news always comes before the good news.
5) It is gospel-centered: It is all about Jesus. His life. His death. His resurrection. Jesus is the solution to the problem. He is the one who forgives us for our sins. He is the one who frees us. We must trust in him - not ourselves- if we stand a chance of seeing God. He is good news!
6) It is urgent: Jesus is alive right now. The majority of people don't know him yet. In Spirit-filled preaching like we see here with Peter, there is a bold sense of urgency to tell people the real deal about Jesus before it's too late.
7) It is inviting: Peter shows us that we don't just tell people about Jesus with a sense of urgency, then leave them hanging. We actually invite them to come to Jesus. " Turn to God." " Come to God." " Get out of your terrible situation." "The door is wide open to know your God who loves you."
As we take to heart some of these signs of preaching, we must be careful to maintain a balance. On the one hand, God is the primary one working here. He is supernaturally filling a man and working mightily through the preaching to shape, mold, transform, and change people. On the other hand, God is working through the actual man's preaching, thus that man should do everything he can in the Spirit's power to preach biblically and effectively, as he lifts up and invites people to Jesus. 
At the end of Chapter 2 here, we see a glimpse of what Spirit-filled community looks like. We see a few things the early believers did:
1) They loved God and together worshipped him.
2) They got along with each other, despite massive differences.
3) They took care of each other sacrificially as spiritual family.
4) They were learners who were excited about sitting under Biblical teaching.
5) They shared a lot of meals together: both physical food and spiritual food (communion).
These 5 things are easier said than done, particularly in the stunningly self-centered culture we live in. 
Perhaps we should be careful not to focus too narrowly on what is happening here, creating a situtation where " I'm not living that awesome, communal life therefore there must be something terribly wrong with me and my church!!"
Don't get me wrong. It is very possible that you're a selfish person living a non-communal life. But We will remember that these 5 Spirit-filled are not a moralistic equation of rules that will lead to a care-free life if you're doing it right. The deep spiritual community we see here is   not happening in an easy, emotionally tranquil environment, complete with butterflies, warm fuzzies and a update on the church white board that says: " No relational conflict in the last 187 days."
No, this is happening amidst much pain, turmoil, conflict (both from within and from without).
In other words deep, sacrificial community simply cannot be done in your own power, no matter how many "small group gatherings" you go to. We desperately need the Holy Spirit.
The example we see here in Acts testifies not to the "seriousness" of the believers as much as the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit working through messed up people who are clinging to Jesus as their only hope, as they are sharing him with as many people they can in normal, everyday life. 
I guess we'll end with that same caution that ought not be forgotten. It's something I forget easily and need to be reminded of:
The amazing true stories of Acts are not about the "strength of early church believers," as much as it's about the Holy Spirit's amazing power to lift up Jesus through his weak followers who have child-like trust in their King who is ruling and reigning. 
Yes, we should be zealous to follow in the example of the early church we see here in Acts 2. No, it is not wise to emphasize them, while neglecting the miracle that is empowering everything.
That miracle is the Holy Spirit. 
Do you have him?
If you've turn from your self-centered ways and trusted in Jesus' work for you, the answer is yes. 
He's the one who wooed you to Jesus in the first place!


Posted by Wes Garner with

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