Money is the most talked about subject in the world. The poor want to be rich. The economy wants to recover. The world’s stock markets don’t want recession. It’s what drives pretty much everything. If you don’t have money than you cannot properly function, it really is as simple as that. The Bible recognises that money helps the smooth running of the planet…or in more familiar terms…makes the world go round. The wise king Solomon said: “A party gives laughter, wine gives happiness, but money is the answer for everything!” (Eccles.10:19).
Is it really? Yes, it can solve a lot of problems and do a lot of things. Maybe Solomon was speaking from experience? Later in life did he realise that if you are rich, you are not to glory in your riches, as numerous Proverbs he penned state that the desire to be rich is a foolish ambition. Perhaps the OT influenced Spike Milligan who quipped that, “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.”
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, reached the pinnacle of success financially. Before he died from pancreatic cancer he wrote, “At this moment lying on my sick bed, I realise that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death…we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth…as non-stop pursuing of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me.”
Some people get so rich that they lose all respect for God and humanity. I’m not explicitly singling out Jobs here, but towards the end of his life, he seemed to recognise that wealth corrupts. He could almost be singing – “riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise.” Unlike the rich man in the story Jesus told, who was happy to build bigger and bigger barns, to “eat, drink, and be merry”. But such “a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God”. (Lk.12:18-19,21). Jesus adds, “Life is not measured by how much you own”. He also warns us to be on our guard against greed. (Lk.12:15) because more than anything else we can be greedy for money. And you cannot serve both God and money.
Money is in your hands, you are responsible for how you manage it, but it is a temptation that can so easily lead to pride, selfishness and misery. Christians are not to love money. 1 Timothy 6:10 states: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” It’s around us all the time. It’s difficult. But trusting in it, coveting it, is a form of idolatry.
Actually, compared with millions of our fellow human beings, we’re rich people aren’t we? We have a roof over our head. We eat good food every day. Our children are getting a good education. We go on holiday every year. We have decent cars. We have the NHS. We have clean water. We will give presents at Christmas without sliding into debt. It’s because of all this, that we need the Word of God – to react with the realities of wealth in our lives – so that we seek to honour God. It really is that simple. We need to ask ourselves, “Is money in charge of me – or am I in charge of whatever money I have?”
I’m going to make an assumption today that most of us want to grow in generosity. Therefore, the stewardship of our money is important. Especially when it comes to offering or tithing. I recognise this is a sensitive issue. Every time it’s mentioned in church someone feels they are on the receiving end. Let me assure you this is not the case. I am preaching about it this AM because, foremost, I believe that the Bible has authority for the way we live each day. Secondly, without beating around the bush, our church is facing a problematic financial situation.
There is a cost towards ministry and mission. Every local URC congregation has to fund it. Your offerings help to sustain the wider denomination, to supply ministers to local churches, as well as maintaining these wonderful old buildings and supporting mission across the synod. However, like inflation, every year our M&M contribution increases. All of our accounts are transparent. They are presented at every church meeting and audited by an external accountant in time for the AGM. We are blessed to have an excellent treasurer in xxx, our deputy treasurer xxx aided splendidly by xxx who knows HMRC better than anyone. In the past we’ve relied on the reclamation of Gift Aid to help balance the books.
The problem we have is this – that only 50% of our members are making regular contributions to church funds. We don’t know why that is. The important thing here – is not the size of the offering, but the consistency of it.
It’s a simple formula. The average freewill offering per member in the URC is £10. Times that by 52 weeks in the year = £520. Our membership is approximately 100 people. Thus our expected freewill offering should be in the region of £52,000. It’s nearer £36,000 – we’re just about covering M&M costs with little left over for mission or maintenance. So you can see the shortfall and why there’s a concern. It will get worse if we don’t tackle it now.
Valuing our relationship with our Heavenly Father, above all else, by not letting money get in the way, is a challenge that confronts us all. Some of you have presented the church with generous gifts over the years and many of you are contributing more than the average. Thank you so much. If you’re not, then please don’t think this is about you. If you’re here every week, using the envelope scheme or standing order, what you give is between you and God – who loves a cheerful giver – and it’s the consistency of your offering, not the size, that’s important. Giving must never be by compulsion. It’s not taxation, but freewill offering! Deuteronomy 16:17 says, “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you.”
I also realise that the 50% of members who need to hear this are probably are not here this AM. We’ve got some work to do. We all need to be faithful with our riches, to please God. Money can buy amusements but not happiness. It can buy a big house but not a home. It can buy a passport to everywhere but heaven. Money cannot ever forgive your sins. It is not the answer to all things.
God’s plan for giving is dispersed across both Testaments. There are more verses in the Bible regarding our wealth and possessions, than about Heaven or Hell. There are roughly 300 verses on prayer, but over 2000 on money. I don’t know what you think? I can only conclude that how we deal with money must be important to God. Therefore, it’s too important a subject for me to bypass.
Giving draws us closer to God and strengthens faith. Where you put your money, time, or life, is where your heart will be (Mt.6:21). Giving of our money is the only place in the Bible where God literally says, “Go on, I dare you.” I have taken many funerals and you never see a removal truck behind the hearse, because you can’t take material possessions with you.
Giving is an important part of who we are as Christians. It makes us more like God. What’s He given us? The breath of life; this world to enjoy; and His love – so much love that He gave us His only Son to atone for our sins. Jesus changed the world and is worth more than all the wealth of the earth.
Financial woes are a challenge. Please speak to me, or xxx or xxx about this if you’re concerned – and I hope you are concerned enough. And please, please pray about the financial situation with the assurance that with God on our side, victory is just round the corner, for the currency of God’s kingdom is grace and forgiveness. So, let the Bible speak for itself.
Blessed be the Word. Love in the Messiah.
Most High God, we thank you that you have called us to be part of your Church family. Look graciously upon us as we seek financial provision. Give guidance to us. Unite us in a common vision and purpose that we might be a church that is pleasing to you and brings glory to your name. Help us to excel in this grace of giving, increase our faith, be our treasure, for you are the same Lord who multiplies food to feed thousands. We ask it through your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.