Tag Archives: Jesus

How not to become a grumpy old man – Titus 2:1-10, Part 2

16 Jul

I wonder how I will age. Obviously, my body will get older and change. It already is, as more and more gray hair pops out of my chin and head. I’m also feeling new aches and pains as the years go by. That is all inevitable. What is under my control is how I will age spiritually, behaviorally. Most of us have heard stories about or know people who have not aged well, often getting meaner, angrier, and more unhappy in their elder years. I’m referring to the classic “grumpy old man.”

Want to avoid becoming the disdain of your family and friends as you grow older? Want your grandchildren to actually desire to hang out with you? And furthermore, want to have the opportunity to make a positive impact on their lives? Then you don’t want to become a grumpy old man. Instead, follow what Paul teaches Titus in our next section of Titus 2:1-10.

First, Paul says Titus is to teach: “what is in accord with sound doctrine.” He already talked about this in chapter 1.  But as we will see, Paul, when he starts to describe this sound doctrine in verse 2, he does not describe sound doctrine using theological categories.  You’d think that he should be teaching first and foremost the content of the good news of Jesus.  He will eventually get there in verse 11.  Instead he starts with teaching various groups in the church about their behavior.

Why would he start with behavior?  Because our life choices are perhaps the best way to show that we understand what it means to follow Jesus.  It is so easy, too easy, to say that we are a believer, and demonstration nothing or very little of the life of the Jesus in our lives.  In Crete, the general pattern of behavior was selfish, out of control, lying, and self-destructive.  So Paul starts with what is really important, that these new Christians should follow the way of Jesus in the midst of their culture.

Now go to verse 2, and he addresses the first group – older men.  Scholars tell us that Paul is specifically referring to adult males advanced in years, not just any grown men, but the kind of men that we think of as having greater status and dignity. 

In first-century Greco-Roman culture age was honored, much like many places around the world today, for example in Japan.  As I said in the previous post, here in the USA, for decades, we have an infatuation with youth culture.  In Paul’s culture, the older men set the example.  This is important for us to hear too, even 2000 years later: older men can and should still set the example today.  Even in our culture where youth is prized. 

Older men, you are not irrelevant.  In fact, you are important.  What we will see from Paul in Titus 2:1-10 is the vital principle that how you live matters.  What are the older men to live like? 

First, they are to be temperate.  We don’t use that word very much, so what did Paul mean?  It means restrained, in control. 

Next, older men are to live a life worthy of respect.  They are older, but are they worthy?  Just because they are older doesn’t mean they are worthy of respect.  How do you become worthy?  First, Paul said, older men become worthy of respect by making a set of life choices defined by being temperate. Now he continues describing more life choices.

Third, they are to be “self-controlled,” though this is better translated “sensible” or “moderate.”  We saw this same concept in chapter 1 verse 8.  What is sensible or moderate?  It is wisdom to choose well. The opposite of this is when people lack sensibility, lack moderation, when people give in to temptation.

He continues with his list, next saying that the older men are to be sound in faith.

Sound is one of those classic English words that has multiple definitions that are wildly different, making you wonder how that one word got all those meanings. Sound is noise that we hear.  Sound is the name for a body of water.  But in this case, Paul is talk about “being correct in one’s views, with the implication of such a state being positively valued—to be correct, to be sound, to be accurate.” (Louw & Nida)

In this case, he is referring to believing and teaching what is true about Jesus.  Sound or true faith is in line with the teaching of Jesus, and the teaching of the apostles. 

Next, older men are to demonstrate love.  If you want to know how to love, first and foremost look to Jesus.  He is the example of love.  Spend much time thinking about Jesus, contemplating who he is.  Then you love like he loved.  It is a selfless, generous, gift of your love on behalf of others.

Finally, Paul says that older men should practice endurance, which scholars define as the “capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances.” (Louw & Nida)  Paul himself demonstrated this in many beatings, shipwrecks, and stonings.  For example, in the city of Philippi, though Paul and Silas were in prison, they sang songs of joy.

So take a good look at this list of life choices. Do they describe you? What do you need to address in your life so that you can be an example for the younger ones around you?

What is sound doctrine? Titus 1:10-16, Part 3

3 Jul
Photo by Inactive. on Unsplash

In this series of posts on Titus 1:10-16, Paul has been talking about redemptive church discipline. He has described how to practice faithful confrontation that seeks to encourage people away from divisiveness toward sound doctrine. But what is sound doctrine? What is going on with these people?  In today’s post, we’re going to focus on verses 15-16, where Paul gets to the heart of the church discipline issue that needs to be addressed in the churches in Crete.

If you haven’t already, turn to Titus 1:15. Let’s break it down phrase by phrase.  First Paul says, “to the pure, all things are pure.”  What does that mean?  The people in the churches in Crete who Paul points out as divisive were Jews who said they were Christians, and they also said that all Christians should follow the stipulations of the Old Covenant that God made with the ancient nation of Israel, as described in the Hebrew Bible.

Paul taught something very different, however, when he and Titus had spent time ministering on the island of Crete.  Paul taught the good news of Jesus, that anyone who believes in and follows the way of Jesus is no longer under the Old Covenant. Even Jews.  Paul’s way of describing this is to say, “Those followers of Jesus are pure.” They are not to categorize foods, for example, as clean or unclean, which was something that God told the Jews to do, as described in many texts in the Old Testament.  Instead, to the pure, who are the followers of Jesus, all things are pure. 

That is so different from what the Jews were used to. You might remember in our Deuteronomy series that we covered texts like Deuteronomy chapter 14 where God listed clean and unclean animals, and the people of Israel were only allowed to eat the clean animals.  There were rules about cleanliness and ritual purity and washing.  But fast-forward a thousand years or so to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and it was a new day.  Paul taught that in Christ we are free from the law, and all things are pure.  

For many Jews who became Christians this freedom in Christ was scandalous.  Paul, therefore, had to respond to Christians around the Roman Empire, as the Jews followed Paul, disagreeing with him, saying that Christians needed to follow the OT Law. 

Paul wrote about this numerous places in his letters. Here are a few examples :

  • In 1 Timothy 4:4 he says that everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 
  • In 1 Corinthians 8:8 he says that food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 
  • In Romans 14:14, he says “no food is unclean in itself.” 

In other words, we Christians are free from the OT Law.  Or as Paul describes in Titus, “To the pure all things are pure.”

But there remains a problem.  Not everyone thinks this way.  Look at the next phrase in Titus 1:15, “to those who are corrupted, and do not believe, nothing is pure.” 

Paul is saying that the people in the church, who were teaching that Christians must follow the OT Law, were actually corrupted.  They did not believe in Jesus.  They are still thinking about life through the lens of the Old Covenant.  Paul even goes on to describe them, at the end of verse 15, as having minds and consciences that are contaminated!  This is his way of saying that they do not believe in the sound doctrine or the true message of Jesus.  Instead they believe in a false message.

Notice how Paul concludes in verse 16.  Scholars tell us this verse is critical for understanding the whole letter: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” Strong language from Paul, isn’t it?

Even though they were in the church, even though they might have called themselves Christians, Paul reveals how they were not so.  His words couldn’t be clearer.  By their actions they deny God.  They show they that are not Christians by what they teach and by how they are living.

This correlates with what he says over in chapter 3:11, “You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

In other words, the “circumcision group” (see verse 10 where Paul gives them this name) has not made the jump from an Old Covenant way of thinking to true faith in Jesus.  They are wrapped up in the rules and regulations of the OT Law.  They are teaching the people in the churches in Crete to follow the OT Law, and that is a major threat to the teaching of sound doctrine, which is the good news of new life through Jesus, life, death and resurrection.  Paul’s conclusion?  Muzzle it.  Give them a chance to repent, and even give them a second chance, but after that, move on.  The true teaching of the Gospel must be preserved and undiluted in the church.

Check back in to the next post as we search for ways the church in 2019 might be like the “circumcision group.”

Non-negotiable qualities of church leaders – Titus 1:5-9, Part 4

20 Jun
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In Titus 1:5-9, Paul says leaders of the church should be blameless. This week we have been looking closely at this passage to see if we can learn what blameless leadership is all about. In today’s post, we see that Paul tells Titus to look for leaders who have demonstrated a number of qualities that are non-negotiable.

First, in verse 6, Paul says that blameless leaders have one wife.  Is he talking about polygamy here?  Did the Romans have multiple wives?  It is highly doubtful, historians tell us, that polygamy occurred much in the Greco-Roman world.  Instead, it seems that Paul is referring to the common practice in which Greek and Roman men would have concubines. Sadly, this wasn’t considered aberrant in their culture.  It was accepted.  Paul says Christians will have a different viewpoint.  They will not have concubines.  Christians will have only one wife. In other words, church leaders’ should have a high view of the sanctity of marriage. Why? Their marriages will have a profound impact on those leaders’ relationship to the church, and vice versa. What this means is that Titus should be looking for leaders who have strong marriages, and who protect their marriages from infidelity.

Next in verse 6, Paul says that blameless leaders of the church will have faithful children.  That’s a tough one because at a certain point, kids who have been raised in a loving home can choose to rebel.  Even if they were raised right, and at no fault of their parents, they might choose to give up the faith.  While grace needs to rule the day here, Paul has something important for parents and kids to consider.  Parents are to parent their kids toward faithfulness, and kids are to choose to be faithful. What you teach your children and how you parent matters.  God doesn’t want leaders who are all about leading in the church but not caring for and leading in their homes.  That is part of being blameless; it’s a lifestyle that you are living, not just a way you behave in one spot.

Paul goes on to tell Titus to look for blameless leaders who see themselves as God’s stewards.  The word he is using here is defined as a household manager.  The leader of a church does not own the church, God does.  Paul says, therefore, that the blameless leader will view the church as God’s work.  None of us should think that we own the church, or that the church is somehow ours. It is God’s. We are simply stewards, managing the church for God.  That means Titus should look to appoint leaders who handle the church like God desires.

After talking about blameless leaders’ various roles and relationships, he talks about their character. Under the general principle of blamelessness, Paul now says that these leaders will be people who avoid five things and attain six things.

The blameless leaders avoids the following five vices.  They are not:

  1. Over-bearing.  This is an arrogance that is the result of self-will and stubbornness.  They think they are so much better than everyone else.  They are always looking down on others, always saying, “I am better.”
  2. Quick-tempered. The person is a bully. 
  3. Addicted to wine. This could be expanded to addiction in any of its many forms.
  4. Violent. This is a person who is ready and willing to pick fights. They are demanding.
  5. Pursuing dishonest gain.  Specifically this word has greed at its core. This person is shamefully greedy. 

As I look at this list of five vices, the word “narcissist” comes to mind. While I don’t believe narcissism encapsulates all that Paul is talking about here, it sure relates to much of the five. What is narcissism? As the Gravity Leadership crew discovers in this fascinating and helpful podcast interview with Chuck DeGroat, narcissism is more than “a person who is in love with themselves.” Narcissists have a strange attraction for many of us, and yet they’ve caused immeasurable damage. After listening to the podcast, I’m convinced Paul would say to Titus, “a church leader must not be a narcissist.”

So what kind of character qualities should Titus be looking for? Paul says that the blameless leader will demonstrates that they are pursuing six virtues (starting in verse 8).  They are:

  1. Hospitable.  This word has a connotation of hospitality particularly to strangers.
  2. Loving what is good.  This person really likes goodness. 
  3. The NIV 84 says the third quality is “self-controlled”, but the word the NIV 84 translates as “disciplined” at the end of the list in verse 8 is better translated “self-controlled.” Granted, they are very much related.  The word here is more about what is prudent.  A person who is sensible, making wise decisions.
  4. Righteous, “upright”. This person does what God requires. Follows God’s ways.  It is more outward.
  5. “Holy”. A person who is growing a heart that is more and more like Jesus. It is more inward. 
  6. Self-controlled. See #3 above. This person is in control of their emotions and choices.

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? It seems like only Jesus would qualify. Years ago I served on a denominational team that was administrating the process of nominating candidates for the role of Bishop. In my denomination, the Bishop is the leader of the whole denomination, and thus we created a list of qualities that we were looking for. We used biblical passages like Titus 1:5-9, and the result had me thinking, “No one fits this. A person would have to be perfect. We’re looking for Jesus, and there was only one Jesus.” But as we discussed earlier in this week’s series, blameless leadership does not equal perfection. You might review that discussion, as the list above could be intimidating. Paul did not intend to give Titus an impossible task, but he does set the bar high.

In conclusion, Paul says, “Titus, look for people who have distinguished themselves using these lists.  Appoint them to be leaders.”

And what will these leaders do?  Paul has a job description for them, which we will look at in the next post.

The one word that should define church leaders – Titus 1:5-9, Part 2

18 Jun
Photo by Nick Abrams on Unsplash

What one word do you think should define church leaders? In part 1 of this week’s posts on Titus 1:5-9, we learned that Paul had sent Titus to the Island of Crete to appoint leaders in the churches there. So what kind of people should Titus be looking for to be leaders of the church?  Paul says these leaders, he calls them “elders,” should have one key word that defines them.  Read Titus 1, verses 6-7, and see if you can find that word.

You see the word Paul repeats there? He uses it like bookends, one time at the start of verse 6, and the other at the end of verse 7.  The word is “blameless.” Some translations use the phrase “above reproach.” What is Paul talking about? Blamelessness is the idea of someone that cannot be accused of anything…because they didn’t do anything wrong.

We’ve started the next presidential election cycle.  How many of you have a sense that it is going to be brutal?  I think it’s about to get really ugly as politicians make accusations against each other.  We have a name for the TV commercials that get nasty: attack ads. 

When Titus is selecting leaders, the he is to look for people that could not be the subject of attack ads.  They are blameless, above reproach, meaning they haven’t done anything wrong. 

When I hear that, I think, “Wait a minute, Paul. Are you saying that leaders in churches should be perfect?”  The only way that someone would be truly blameless or unable to be accused of any wrongdoing, is if they were perfect, right?  And that’s a problem, because no one is perfect! 

I am certainly not perfect.  There are ways that I have misstepped.  In fact, I know our Faith Church Leadership Team members well enough to say that none of them would say they are perfect either.  By saying that, am I disqualifying myself and our leaders?  Is Paul saying that church leaders have to be perfect?  No.  Let me explain.

Blameless leaders aren’t perfect.  If perfection was the standard, no church anywhere would ever have leaders.  But there are Christians who demonstrate blamelessness.  They follow the way of Jesus, they practice the life habits of Jesus, they spend much time with Jesus, and as a result, throughout the course of their lives, they become more and more like Jesus.  Are they perfect? No. They mess up from time to time, but they admit it and they deal with it.  They seek forgiveness, they make things right.    

That is what some have called the pursuit of holiness.  And that pursuit is for every Christian.  Not just leaders. 

You might say, “Well, Paul is talking about leaders, Joel.  Not everybody.” To that I would counter that Paul is saying to Titus, look for the people who have achieved this blamelessness in their lives.  They are not currently leaders.  And they are not necessarily blameless because they thought, “Well I want to be a leader, so I am going to become blameless.”  No, they pursued being blameless because it is the way of Jesus.  Jesus calls all people to this.  This is an expectation for us all. 

As followers of Jesus, we are to pattern our lives after his, we are to do what he did, to live like he did.  It is astounding to read how many times this comes up in the New Testament.  Whenever you’re reading in the New Testament and you come across words like “holiness, righteousness, purity, etc.,” look and see if that writer is referring to a way of living life.  They are likely talking about the way of life that followers of Jesus should live. 

The tricky part about living a blameless life is that it can be hard to know what that look likes in 2019.  So I would encourage you to think about real world people.  Who do you know that is doing a decent job of living the blameless life?  Ask them how they do it!  Learn from them.  If you are a part of Faith Church, look at our Leadership Team members. All of our Leadership Team members are excellent examples of this.  They’re all humble, so if you ask them about it, they’ll say this sermon makes them think they shouldn’t be on the Leadership Team. But that humility is just more evidence of their blamelessness, and why you should ask them how to live a blameless life. So for all us of followers of Jesus, blamelessness is our goal.  For leaders of church, blamelessness is a requirement.

What Christians need: Grace, Peace…and Titus? Titus 1:1-4, Part 5

14 Jun

What do you need? A million bucks? I often daydream about how a million dollars would free up my life. But that’s not really what I need. What do we need? We conclude this week’s blog posts on Titus 1:1-4 today looking at what Christians need.

If you haven’t read the previous four posts, I encourage you to pause reading this one, and jump back to part 1 and start there. The previous posts will set the stage for this one.

Then turn to Titus chapter 1, verse 4, and you’ll see that the author of this letter, Paul, mentions a name: Titus. Who is Titus?  Titus is the guy that PUal is writing to, and in the previous posts we saw that Titus was one of Paul’s most trusted associates in ministry. Paul dispatched Titus to go to the Island of Crete in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, where previously they had traveled and helped establish churches. Titus has a mission to help those churches, a mission that we will learn about much more next week when we study Titus 1:5-9. For now Paul greets Titus in this letter, calling him, “My true son in our common faith.”

Titus was not Paul’s biological son, but instead Paul led him to faith in faith in Jesus.  Paul was his spiritual father.  Fascinating, isn’t it, that we can have sons and daughters in the faith?  Paul had reached out to Titus to help him understand that there is hope in Jesus.

Who is your Paul?  Who is your Titus?

Church attendance across the country is declining.  People are less and less interested in Christ.

What do we do?

Some stats say that 80% of people who are invited to church will say yes, especially if you commit to be there with them, pick them, go out for breakfast, and then go to the worship service together.  But a vibrant relationship with Jesus is about much more than one hour per week at a worship service.  Paul calls Titus a son.  That’s a deep family word that means Paul was deeply invested in Timothy’s life.

Faith Church recently had an excellent Discipleship Training session, and our trainer, Clint led us to conclude that discipleship involves the following: Meet weekly with a few other people to study and apply the Scriptures with the aim of multiplication. Here is what each part of that description looks like.

Meeting weekly – needs at least this frequency to build momentum and relationship

With a few other people – beyond 3-5 people is too large. Also team up and have two leaders. Recommend same gendered groups.

Study & applying the Scriptures – the Bible is essential to disciple-making.

With the aim of multiplication – keep growing and splitting the group.  Initial group can be to study one book of the Bible, and then re-eval.  But have heart to grow.

And what does Paul say to Timothy?  He starts with “Grace and Peace,” a very typical Pauline greeting.  What does Paul mean?  Why does he share this?  Is it just perfunctory?

Grace is defined as “a favorable attitude toward someone or something—‘favor, good will.’ (Louw & Nida).  Paul is saying to Titus, “may you have favor, may you have good will.”

And may you have peace, which is defined as “a set of favorable circumstances involving peace and tranquility.” (Louw & Nida) Sounds very good, right?

Grace and Peace.  We need that. 

Notice that these are not grace and peace from Paul.  Instead Paul says that the grace and peace are from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

Though Paul calls Titus his son, he properly refers to God as their Father.  Paul is not truly father to Titus.  God is father of them both. 

And from God, from Jesus, there is grace and peace.

Let those words settle on your heart and mind today.  In one sense it was just a customary greeting.  In another sense, there is something deep and important grace and peace.  We need grace and peace from God.

I’m reading the story of Brian Johnson of Bethel Music, and his struggle with anxiety.  He said that it was a struggle for him as a child, but for 15 years he experienced grace and peace, until adult life and ministry got intense, especially as Bethel Music started growing.  The anxiety returned.  Maybe you’ve felt that with work, with raising a family, with finances, with school, with friendships.  There are many pressures in the world.  Do you need grace and peace? 

Paul reminds Titus that grace and peace are rooted in God our Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.  Brian Johnson says that for him, in the moment of panic and anxiety, that is when God became real.  I sense Paul would say the same thing.  Jesus is the truth, and in Christ alone we have the source of grace and peace.  Turn to him in prayer, in his Word, not alone, with others (with your Titus!). Turn to Jesus, the source of grace and peace.

Is eternal life a real thing? Titus 1:1-4, Part 4

13 Jun

Take a look at Titus 1:2.  There is a repeated word in the original Greek in which Paul wrote, but for some reason the English translations I looked at don’t repeat it.  Here is how verse two would look if that word were repeated:

“in hope of life eternal, which was promised by God, who does not lie, before time eternal.”

See that repetition?  And also see the emphasis on God as telling the truth?  I mentioned that in the previous post, as Paul is very concerned that Titus and the Christians on the Island of Crete focus on truth. Why does Paul need to say that God doesn’t lie, though? Isn’t that obvious?

Actually, no. In fact, the concept of God as truthful, contrasts to the Greek and Roman gods, who the people in Crete were raised on.  One author I read said that “there was never a greater lying trickster than Olympian Zeus, who always seemed to wrap himself in a fog in order to ravish some maiden out of sight of his wife, Hera, and then to lie about the deed.” (Baugh, Titus)

Paul knows his audience.  He knows what the Cretans believed, because they were taught it from the days of their childhood, and Paul see how they act.  He wants to assure Titus and the church in Crete that the hope they have in Jesus is based on the fact that he is the truth.

What’s more, the truth God promised was from eternity to eternity, that there is hope of life in him!  What a wonderful way to start a letter, isn’t it?  There is hope in God, hope for life, and God doesn’t lie about this.  It is true!

Continue to verse 3. There  Paul explains that, “At God’s appointed season, He brought his word to light.” What is God’s Word?  His word is the truth that Paul mentioned in verse 1, the truth of Jesus. “He brought it to light” is the idea of revealing it.   Paul says that through the preaching, the proclamation, that was entrusted to him, then, he is helping people see the truth of Jesus, shining a light on it so people can see it. 

Now this is Paul speaking…he was an apostle…so maybe this is just something that he does?  Maybe we don’t have to?  Maybe it is just for the evangelists?  The missionaries?  The pastors?

No, this is for us all!  We all can shine a light on who Jesus really is.  We recently had a discipleship training event at Faith Church that made this very clear. The mission of God’s Kingdom to make disciples is for all Christians. How do we know this? Think back to Matthew 28:20.  There Jesus says that a disciple is someone that is learning to obey everything Jesus commanded the original disciples.  One of those commands is “go make disciples”!  So it is every disciple’s call to make disciples.

Paul goes on to say that the preaching entrusted to him was by the command of God our savior. Paul repeats this in verse 4 when he refers to Christ Jesus our savior.  That repetition means it is an important concept. 

How is Jesus our savior?

Savior from what?  What do we need saving from? 

Savior for what?  What do we need saving for?

Paul doesn’t explain these things.  He will later in the letter.  We’ll get to that.  For now, Paul is saying that we have a savior in Jesus, that Jesus is the truth that leads to godliness.  In other words, while there are many people and organizations trying to get us to believe that they have truth, Paul is saying that truth is found in Jesus.  True hope for life eternal is in Jesus.  Throughout the letter we’re going to hear him talk about this more.  In this greeting, he just introduces it.  So if you are struggling, wondering if there is hope, wondering what is the truth, keep reading Titus.  Feel free to read ahead!  Comment below. I would be glad to talk further.

Many in our world do not have hope.  Paul clearly wanted Titus and the people in his church to know the source of truth that leads to godliness. 

Now that Paul has described his role as a servant apostle to proclaim the hope we have in Jesus, he next refers to the recipient of the letter. Check back tomorrow as we learn about Titus.

False Ideas Christians Believe About…Money

13 Jun

Today, as continue our series on False Ideas that Christians believe, we are fact-checking statements about money and generosity.

  1. You can’t outgive God.
  2. Give and you will receive.
  3. It’s my money; I worked hard for it.
  4. Money is the root of all evil.

Let’s start with…

On the surface, this one is true.  God is infinitely generous. 

The primary example of God’s generosity, perhaps, is Jesus.  I love how the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 8:31-32. There he reminds us that God even gave his son!  And if he gave his son, how will he not also graciously give us all things?  Think about it.  If he already gave us his son, anything else in life that he could possibly give us would be far less valuable.  Infinitely less valuable.  So in that sense, you can’t outgive God because he already gave us Jesus. 

Imagine with me that was a giving contest, in which it was us versus God, to see who would give the most.  He could just make more money appear, and he could give more away, even more than all the wealthiest people in the history of the world combined.  It’s a no-contest. But that’s a made-up situation.

How does God give?  Primarily, God gives through his people! 

Let me explain.  The phrase “You can’t outgive God” could potentially be used as an excuse for not giving to the church because we could think in our minds, “I don’t need to worry about giving much to the church, because God will provide.”  But that excuse is incorrect because God’s primary method of providing for the church is through the generosity of his people.

Over the last two and a half years since Faith Church started our Capital Campaign, we have seen this in action.  God has provided amazingly, through his people.  We like to think of God’s provision as miraculous, like the contest I envisioned above, that God will make money drop out of the sky, or out of thin air.  He can do that. But know this: it is no less miraculous and astounding to say that God works through is people.  It has been incredible to see this through the Capital Campaign.  First of all, many individuals in our church family gave generously.  That was God providing through them.  Then we also received some surprise gifts from Christians who are friends of Faith Church.  First was a $40,000 matching gift, and then two gifts from another church, one for $20,000 and then one for $65,000.  Just because those unexpected gifts are large amounts, that doesn’t mean they were more miraculous or better than what we all together from Faith Church gave.  It all was part of how God provided through his people.  You can’t outgive God.

Why, then, are we fact-checking this statement, if it is clear that God is so giving?

Because sometimes there is another side to the story.

I recently came across a true story written by a man who described a situation in his life that happened ten years before he wrote the story.  Ten years before, he was a student in seminary.  Finances were really tight.  Going to school full-time meant that he didn’t have the benefit of a regular income.  He and his wife also had children, so she wasn’t bringing in a ton of money either.  In other words, their expenses were greater than their income.  At one point they were facing $5000 in overdue bills and they were at their wits end, with no means to pay.  Amazingly a $5000 check from one person came in the mail!  Fantastic, right?

Well…here’s how the author continues the story.  

“Take a detour with me for a moment. I have heard many Evangelical sermons on giving. I have listened to testimony after testimony from those who had prioritized the Lord in the tightest financial circumstances. I had read the passage about the “widow’s mite.” You know, the one where the lady was commended by Christ for giving her last two dollars to the Lord. I knew all the clichés: “I just keep shoveling out, but God has a bigger shovel!” Or, my favorite, “You can’t out-give God.” And, yes, how about our Evangelical go-to passage in Malachi 3:10: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’” Test the Lord and see if he does not bless you.

“Now, back to my story. I tested the Lord that day. I gave to him of my first fruits. I gave to him before the late electric bill, the car payment, and the bread box. I prioritized Him above my children, wife, financial integrity and all else. I had just enough to catch up on my bills so long as I put his claim on hold. But I gave to him part of what I needed. Why? Because he is faithful. Why? Because you can’t out-give God. Why? Because he called on me to test him.

“However . . . Two weeks later, threats of collection, electricity cut-off, and growling stomachs of my family made me wonder: Did he just fail the test? Did I just out-give God?”

How about that? Here is a man studying in seminary so that his family can enter ministry.  They believe “you can’t outgive God”, and so it is the right thing to do to give money to the Lord, and watch God provide.  The give to the Lord, perhaps through an offering at their church, and thus they no longer had the money to pay their bills. Then their electric got cut off.  The bill collectors start calling.  And the man can’t provide enough food for his family.  What do you think? Did he outgive God?

I appreciated the author’s conclusion:

He says, “I do believe what I heard a pastor say the other day: “There is no greater indication of your spiritual life then your giving habits.” He went on to say, “It is impossible to be a good Christian if you are not giving.” The old saying, “If you want to know where someone’s priorities lie, thumb through their checkbook,” is true. However, I do not believe that we are to give with some idea that the bank account of heaven is obligated to wire transfer directly to our earthly bank accounts when we give sacrificially. God may or he may not.

So we Christians should be known for our generous giving to the Kingdom of God.  In many places in the New Testament we read about how disciples of Jesus should be living simply so that we can give generously.  But when we give, know that God is not obligated to shovel even more financial blessings right back into your life.

Another way to look at this is to ask the question, are there any instances in which people give more than what God has asked?  If he asks for 10%, are their people who give 20%?  Sure are!  This relates to the confusion about tithing.  In the Old Covenant that God had with the people of Israel, he did  command them to tithe.  A tithe is a giving of 10%.  But in that Old Covenant, there were actually three tithes for the nation of Israel: two annual tithes, and one every three years, amounting to 23% annually.  But again, that was God’s agreement with Israel.  We are not under that agreement, and we have no covenant binding us to give a certain percentage of our income.  Instead we are taught to live simply, so that we can give consistently and generously.  Each person needs to decide before the Lord what that will look like for their family.  For some people that will be well below 10%.  For others it could be way above 10%.

I’ve written about this before, and I think it is so helpful I will repeat it: our evangelical forefather John Wesley had a phrase that we would do well to follow: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”  Here’s what he meant. 

Earn all you can.  Work hard.  Be diligent in your employment.  Use the gifts and abilities God has given you to earn an income.   And for some of you, you will find that you are really good at making money. 

Next Wesley said, save all you can.  He was not talking about starting a savings account or an investment portfolio necessarily.  Those might be good things, though.   What Wesley was talking about was living simply.  Don’t spend money on yourself beyond your needs.  Reign in your wants and your desires.  Don’t believe the American consumer system.  Don’t spend your money.  Why? 

So that you can do the third thing Wesley taught: Give all you can

There are times to celebrate and spend on yourself and your family.  But we American Christians need to allow God’s Word and Jesus’ pattern of life and his teaching to guide us, not our the spending habits of our culture around us.  Is it possible that we American Christians have been co-opted by our society?  Who would be willing to take a hard look at it?  Rather that make money in order to spend it on ourselves, we should make money to give to the Kingdom of God.  How do we give to the Kingdom of God?  Give to those groups in line with growing the Kingdom of God, give to your local church, give to a family in need. Remember what I mentioned above, about how God uses individuals to care for those in need.  Remember the story of the Good Samaritan, who gave his time and financially to the stranger/the enemy along the side of the road.

And that brings us to our next phrase:

This is a picture of the World’s Largest Shovel.  The Garden-Ville shovel, which is made from all recycled materials diverted from the landfill including scrap metal and telephone poles, has some amazing dimensions.  Total Length – 40 Feet 8 Inches, Spade Width – 7 Feet 4 Inches, Weight – 5,000 pounds!

There is a companion phrase to “You can’t outgive God,” which we just fact-checked, and the phrase “Give and you will be blessed,” and that is the idea that “God’s shovel is bigger.”  Even bigger than the one in the picture.  But that phrase “God’s shovel is bigger” is using figurative language.  Some famous Christians like JG LeTourneau used this phrase to describe a situation where he gave 90% of his income and lived on 10%.  And the more he gave, the more God blessed him, and so LeTourneau was able to give more and more.

Does God work like that?  Does he promise that?  There are a couple passages of Scripture we can turn to that seem to say this.

Luke 6:38 – Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

2 Cor 9:6 – Sow generously and you will reap generously. 

But what does these phrases mean?  Are they guarantees that if we give, we will get?  Do we just need to shovel out money and generosity back to God, and since his shovel is bigger, he will give us even more blessing? 

Remember the seminary student who miraculously received $5000 to pay his bills, but gave some back to his church and then had his electricity shut off?  Here is what he concludes:

“Won’t we experience “blessing” when we give, even if it is not financial? I suppose. But it really depends on how you look at it. When we give sacrificially to the Lord without expectations, we are acting out the blessing that we already have been given: a perspective that is in alignment with reality. The widow gave because she knew that this was not her home. She gave all she had because she was already sold out to God. She knew that the treasures of this earth are nothing to be compared to the glory that is to follow. If you believe this—if you truly believe this—you are already blessed. The belief itself is the blessing. Maybe God’s shovel becomes bigger than yours and maybe it does not. Our blessing is our ability to trust God. Our giving is an expression of that trust.  We should expect to suffer in this life. Sometimes that suffering will come in the form of financial suffering. Sometimes it will be other things. But to think and preach that there is some guaranteed way to avoid the cross of financial suffering is not a message that we carry.”

So we disciples of Jesus are people who should be known for a kind of generosity that is so different from the culture around us.  The reason why we live that way is because we have a different view of money. 

If you have bills, one of the most faithful things you can as a Christian is to pay those bills.  If you have loans, pay them off.  That is faithful spiritual discipleship work.  What was so hard for this seminary student, and what is difficult for many of us is when our income is not enough to pay the bills and give money to God.  What do you do? Pay the bills or give money to God? I can’t tell you how to make that choice.  The seminary student is right.  Just because you give, God is not obligated to pay you back more.    

One way that Christians deal with this quandary is the next phrase:

We do work hard and earn money.  But the Bible teaches the principle of stewardship, meaning that we are God’s stewards.  It is his money and he owns it.  Every cent of the salary we earn, every cent of the hourly job, every cent of the money we receive from the government, it’s all God’s money.

Yes, you work hard, and as we already heard John Wesley say, we should work hard to make money.  But we are still stewards of God’s money.  God gave us the ability to work, whether that is brain power or physical ability.  Gave provided all of our ability, and he provided our jobs.  How many of you got jobs because you knew someone….or knew someone who knew someone…how many have connections or have given connections? Not one of us got where we are at solely by ourselves. We have all been helped along the way in some way.  It is not our money.  We live in community and we are stewards of God’s earth and the money he gives us abilities to make.

Sure, hard work, living simply and wise spending and investing will almost always result in financial blessing.  But, not always. And when it does, it doesn’t mean it is your money.  It is all God’s, and we are simply his stewards.  We should use his money, therefore, like he wants it to be used.

Where this gets confusing is in evaluating how we should use his money, especially when most everyone in the culture, even Christians, use their money as if it is their money!  As if they worked hard so they can spend hard. Yeah, they give a bit here and there, but they spend quite a bit on themselves.

What will it look like when people see themselves as stewards of God’s money?  Turn to Acts 2:42-47. We need to see how the earliest Christians handled their money, and we will see that they saw themselves as stewards of God’s money.  Go ahead and read that before continuing this post.

Did you see how the people generously shared their resources with one another?

Where did they get this idea?  From Jesus!  He taught it to them.  For example, he told the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor.  Jesus taught many parables about money, clearly showing the people that they were God’s stewards, and they should use God’s resources like God wants it to be used. 

A few months or maybe years later, after what you just read in Acts 2:42-47, but when the church was still really, really new, we read more about this selfless generosity.  Turn to Acts 4:32-5:11, and read that story.  Clearly what Ananias and Sapphira did went against the teaching of God.  It seems that they sold a property and then gave money to the church saying that it was the full amount of the sale of the property.  But they actually held some of the money back.  Their sin was selfishness and lying about it.  Have we done this?  Have we selfishly held back the Lord’s money so we can use it on ourselves?  When we already have enough?

This relates to the final phrase we are fact-checking today:

1 Tim. 6:10 is where this phrase comes from, and it is close, but no cigar.  The phrase is actually, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  In other words, money is not the issue. The issue is our heart.

And this is where it gets real.  Let me illustrate.

On the podcast I recently created, one person, Kevin Ressler had the idea that we Christians should consider opening up our books to one another.  He was referring to our checkbooks. Submit your financial choices to the church community!  Assault the idea that our finances and expenditures are personal.  They should all be laid bare before God.  So in our new Faith Church pictorial directory we are going to list everyone’s previous year gross income.  Just kidding!  But what about you? Would you be willing to have others hold you accountable on your use of your money?

I think the assumption is that opening the books would be harder, or more confrontational, for those of means.  I would suggest that this assumption is not true.  As much as we would confront the person who dropped $25K on a big vacation, we could also confront the person who can’t pay their bills but buys drinks and snacks at the convenience story every day. After worship at Faith Church we have a sermon discussion class, and the day I preached this sermon, one person noted that for many people, the convenience store is basically their only option. They would love to be able to purchase in bulk, or organics, or other healthy options but their life situation simply doesn’t allow it. We do need to be sensitive to that. That said, I would submit that the larger point remains. We would do well to be people who have healthy, loving, gracious, but truthful and firm accountability for our financial decisions.

Selfish spending and lack of generosity is in all of us. Rich and poor.  And everyone in-between.  Young people, older people.  Teenagers who just got their first job, all the way up to older adults in retirement.  We are all swimming in the waters of American capitalism and consumerism, and we have been sold a bill of goods that we will feel better if we buy, buy, buy and treat ourselves.  It does feel good for a while.  But there is within all of us the empty self and it is insatiable, hungering for more and more stuff and experiences and clothing and vacations and coffee and it cannot be filled.  You cannot buy happiness. We need to tend to our heart.  Out of our heart flows greed. Money is not the issue.  Greed is. 

This is why Jesus taught, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:21.  Therefore, he says, store up treasure in heaven. Because our hearts follow our treasure.  Invest in God’s Kingdom, Jesus says, or seek first his Kingdom, and our hearts will more and more align with God’s heart

In conclusion, God does not promise you to be wealthy.  Some who follow him are wealthy and some who follow him are not.  Wealth is not a way to measure if you are loved by him and being obedient to him.  He does not promise to give us more wealth when we obey him.  He does call us to give generously and to be loving and caring for other brothers and sisters, to our neighbors, and he reminds us that we are simply stewards of what we have.  This is not our home.  So let us not live lavishly here, but instead store up treasure in heaven, as Jesus taught.