Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:8). I cannot recount the number of messages and Bible studies I have heard regarding Christian stewardship. As far as I can remember, each of these messages and studies centered on the so-called principle of tithing—giving at least ten percent to the work of the Lord through the local church. However, as one studies the New Testament, one quickly discovers no required amount or percentage for giving to the Lord‟s work is specified. I‟m sure at this point many of my fellow chaplains and ministers are shouting heresy! But, an honest look at Scripture will reveal that I am no heretic. Furthermore, understanding what the Bible really teaches concerning stewardship is both God-honoring and liberating!
The Old Testament principle of tithing is one of the most misunderstood teachings in Scripture. We have read and heard “ten percent” for so long that we have concluded this is what the Bible teaches. Many are surprised to learn the Old Testament required giving of three tithes which totaled about 23 percent annually. So, instead of ten cents out of every dollar, now you owe twenty-three! This system is similar to many modern taxation systems throughout the world today. These tithes were used to fund the national government of Israel, public festivals, and welfare. Giving to the work of the Lord, on the other hand, was not regulated as to amount. The Bible says, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, „Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution‟” (Ex. 25:1-2; see also 35:21; 36:6; Prov. 3:9-10; 11:24). This same principle of free will giving is evident in the New Testament. In his second letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul writes, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). In other words, our giving is to be planned and done cheerfully. Anything less is considered “grudgingly or under compulsion.” Elsewhere, the Bible says our giving is to be, “as he may prosper,” indicating no required amount or percentage but that all giving to the Lord is to be free will and completely discretionary (See 1 Cor. 16:2). These passages, taken in light of other passages such as Luke 6:38, Acts 4:32-37, and 2 Corinthians 8:1-6, clearly teach we are to give proportionately and sacrificially. This means we are to give both “according to [our] own ability,” and “beyond [our] ability and of [our] own accord” (see 2 Cor. 8:3). We are to give according to what we have, yet sacrificially. Finally, we are to give voluntarily. This is important as I believe much of what we hear today concerning stewardship lends itself to giving by compulsion, manipulation, and intimidation. Free will giving, on the other hand, has always been God‟s plan and should not be confused with Old Testament tithing.
Therefore, the question is, if free will giving is God‟s plan then why is so little said about it from pulpits and in Bible studies? I believe there are several reasons. First of all, I believe many are simply ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches. Secondly, many preachers and Bible teachers believe that unless we guilt believers into giving at least ten percent of their income to the Church, God‟s work will simply go unfunded. Finally, and perhaps even more telling, we simply don‟t believe God who said He “is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Cor. 9:8). If we understand and apply this principle, our giving will be with such joy and enthusiasm that we would eventually have to be restrained from bringing more gifts! So, give. Give cheerfully. Give in proportion to how God has blessed you, yet sacrificially. Such giving is pleasing to God. It demonstrates whether or not I believe Him. And ultimately, it honors Him! “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38).
“But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:11-12a). In August of this year, the Southwest Believers’ Convention assembled in Forth Worth, Texas. The meeting was hosted by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and included an “all-star” lineup of various prosperity gospel preachers. Prosperity theology, also known as the word of faith movement, is a belief system that teaches that God provides material prosperity for those He favors. It is often used by its promoters to elicit donations, as was the case with the Southwest Believers’ Convention. It is not unusual for prosperity preachers to own large houses, expensive cars, airplanes, jewelry, boats, and a whole lot of other stuff. In fact, the whole system revolves around material possessions and good health. One thing you will never hear from a prosperity gospel preacher is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ—why Jesus came and what one must do to be saved.
The prosperity gospel is nothing new. Paul confronted it head-on in his first letter to Timothy: “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Notice the Bible doesn’t condemn money. Money isn’t the problem. The problem is one of the heart—“those who want to get rich.” In other words, the desire for material wealth is far more dangerous than the wealth itself. Furthermore, the notion that God provides material prosperity for those He favors is deceptively deadly. It is deadly because having material wealth and good health doesn’t necessarily imply God’s favor. The opposite is also true. Being poor doesn’t necessarily imply godliness. There are numerous examples in the Bible of godly men who were unbelievably rich—Abraham, David, and Solomon. There are just as many, if not more, godly men who were materially poor—Lazarus from Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus, as well as most of the disciples.
The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of suffering. In fact, Jesus bids us to leave all that we have and come follow Him (Mark 10:21). It is a call to a sold out faith and obedience to Christ. This is why Paul says to “flee” from the desire for riches and material possessions. Instead, we are to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” He describes this as “the good fight of faith,” and “[taking] hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” I recently witnessed this kind of faith and obedience firsthand. Allow me to introduce you to Brother Herman. Bro. Herman and his wife are from Europe. Following God’s call to missions nearly twenty years ago, they literally left all that they had—good jobs, good retirement, even medical and life insurance—and came to another land to establish Siloam, a home for orphaned, abandoned and terminally ill children. He seeks to provide a home for any needy child, no questions asked. And the amazing thing is he does it entirely on faith. He never asks anyone for anything other than prayer. When asked what donations he might need, he refuses to ask for a single item. Instead, he humbly asks, “If you have the time, pray for us—the most important gift you can give us is prayer.” There is no hint of prosperity theology here. Meeting Bro. Herman absolutely transformed my life. This guy oozes Jesus! He is fighting “the good fight of faith.” Nearly every testimony he shares about God’s faithfulness and provision is prefaced by the words, “To be very honest…” His simple faith in God is contagious.
The prosperity preachers are liars, cheats, and frauds who misuse God’s Word because they think it is an avenue to riches. When the Gospel is presented in this way, it makes followers who are completely unprepared for tough times and have no idea what true Christianity is. To be very honest, we need to see Christians who are more concerned with what glorifies God than with what benefits me. So which Gospel do you choose to believe—the one that promises health, wealth and prosperity and ends in hell or the one that requires faith, promises suffering, but ends in heaven with Christ and joys immeasurable?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroys, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Matthew chapters five through seven contain Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. Right in the middle of this sermon we find these words: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is the big question from the Sermon on the Mount: Where is my heart? This is an important question, one that we should all ponder with grave seriousness. This is especially true considering the times in which we live and the events of the past few weeks.
The Bible teaches that the heart is the control center for life. The writer of Proverbs says that a person’s life is really a reflection of his or her heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” What a graphic picture—everything in life flows from the heart. Therefore, the heart must be guarded lest it be distracted by the cares of this world. So, where is your heart? The Bible gives us a fairly simple formula for discerning the location of the heart. That formula can be summed up in the statement: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). This is the Word of the Lord!
I am afraid, that with the recent economic struggles and downturns, many believers are discovering their heart is on Wall Street rather than “seated with Christ in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). But how does one discern the location of the heart? One way is by looking at your checkbook. The other is by gauging your reaction to recent economic events. By looking at your checkbook I mean do you make a consistent practice of giving God the first-fruits from your finances—that is, are you more concerned for the work of the Lord than you are with wealth? By gauging your reaction to recent economic events I mean is your reaction to all these things one of confident assurance in the sovereignty and provision of God or are you worried sick about how much money you may be losing or how you are going to pay your bills, and house and feed your family—things about which Jesus said, “the Gentiles eagerly seek” (Matt. 6:32a). By using the word Gentiles, Jesus was speaking about those who do not know nor belong to God. But for those of us who are His children, He says this: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matt. 6:32b). His point is simple: just trust Him! That’s what it’s all about anyway—trusting God (see Heb. 11). I have watched my portfolio lose quite a bit of money over the past few weeks. But my confidence in God has remained at an all time high. Why? Because my treasure in not on Wall Street. My treasure is in heaven. And it is my prayer that your treasure will be there as well. The prosperity preachers would have us believe it’s all about wealth. However, God would have us believe it’s all about treasuring Christ rather than treasuring wealth: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do no be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).
The Bible has a lot to say about time. We are told to make the most of time – to be careful how we spend our time. We are admonished not to waste time. The unbeliever is warned today is the day of salvation – now is the time to be saved. Why all this emphasis on time? The reason is because God knows time is only for a moment but eternity is forever. We are told to use our time wisely because we do not know how much time we have: “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). The truth is simple – God has allotted to each one a certain number of days, a certain length of time. The Bible says, “And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16). This is the Word of the Lord!
Because time is so precious we are told to be careful how we use it. We are warned not to use it unwisely but to make the most of it. We are not to foolishly squander it but we are to seek to glorify God in how we use the time He has granted us. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the “author and finisher of our lives” (12:2). However, as long as we insist on spending our time as we see fit, He cannot fulfill His will for us. As long as we insist on cutting our own paths, He cannot lead us into His paths of goodness and righteousness. As long as we insist on holding the reigns of our lives, He cannot be our Lord. As long as we insist on doing things our way, according to our own desires, He cannot bring about His desires or guide us into His wholeness, usefulness, and blessings. Therefore, we must “be careful how [we] walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of [our] time.”
Charles Beaty and his wife were living the American dream. The insurance agency they owned was beginning to take off. They had the first of their four children. They bought their first house. His wife began talking to him about missions. She thought they should look into offering themselves for service. His response was, “that sounds good honey, but we won’t be going until our kids are graduated from high school, and we have them out of the house and we’ve finished that mission.” However, after attending a weeklong conference on missions that was filled with the need to reach the unreached peoples of the world, everything began to come together. A year and six months later, they were in France learning French, preparing to go to North Africa to a people group that was restricted.
Most of us think we have forever, that there is another day, another year, another 10 years. This is what Charles Beaty thought. It is troubling that many want to wait until things are “just right” before they will consider God’s will for their lives. However, thankfully Charles did not. He went to North Africa at 31. Three years later, on October 2, 2001, he died in his sleep after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 34. Only eternity will tell what God was able to do through him in the three short years he had to make a difference for the kingdom. How much time do you have left on this earth? Only God knows. Therefore, “make the most of your time.”
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). No other Thoughts to Ponder has received as much response as one I wrote a couple of years ago entitled, “Time and Eternity.” The basis for that article was Paul’s admonishment in Ephesians 5:15-17: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” I want to consider the subject of time and eternity again from a different perspective. I want to consider the gift of life and what we do with that gift.
Like time, life is a gift. In fact, life, in a sense, is an economic instrument within time. In other words, we can either spend our lives or invest them. We can either do with it as we desire or we can pour it out for Christ. Consider the words of Paul: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” What did he mean by those words? To put it simply, he means we are to seek to pour out our lives so that we will magnify Christ in both life and death. Paul was a man who had singleness of purpose – to so magnify Christ in his life and death that others would be swept into the kingdom. He sought to proclaim Christ where Christ was not known.
Are you pouring out your life for Christ or are you spending it on yourself? Consider these two true stories from “Don’t Waste Your Life,” by John Piper: In April 2000, two missionaries, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon, West Africa. Ruby was over eighty and Laura was pushing eighty. They were both medical doctors. One was single all her life, the other a widow. They both lived for one great thing: to pour it out in order to make Jesus Christ known. The brakes failed, the car went over a cliff, and they both were killed instantly. Then there is the story of a couple in the northeast who took early retirement from their jobs. He was 59, she was 51. Now they live in Florida, where they sail on their 30-foot yacht, play softball and collect shells. Now I ask you to consider which one of these two stories is a tragedy. Which one of these two stories is an example of pouring it out for Christ? Can you imagine getting all the way to the great Day of Judgment only to say, “Look, Lord. Isn’t my shell collection impressive?”
For whom are you living? I would encourage you to consider again the words of Paul: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Think about pouring your life out in such a way so as to magnify Jesus Christ in both your life and in your death. I remember when I was a child three of my friends from church made decisions to be missionaries. In recent years, after much prayer and wrestling with God, I have made the same decision. I was thinking about those three individuals recently. None of them are missionaries. In fact, as far as I can recall, none made any effort to even pursue such a calling. One married and moved away. One is living in grievous sin. One I have no idea about other than he’s not a missionary. Maybe you’re in a similar situation. You felt the call of God to go and proclaim Christ among the unreached only to allow the demands of life to distract you. Well, let me remind you of two things: (1) “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” and (2) “Make the most of your time.” We do not know how long we have left on this big blue ball in space. In fact, we don’t even have the promise of tomorrow. We only have today. Some reading this article have lived most of their lives, others have only just begun. Only God knows how much time each of us has left. Therefore, I encourage you to invest your life rather than spend it – to pour it out for Christ!
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Striving to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
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