“Do We Really Need to Talk About Money in Church?”

“Do We Really Need to Talk About Money in Church?”

Good morning, everyone, glad you are here. Welcome to those watching online. If you are watching, I hope you’ll come worship with us in person, because it’s always better in person. But either way, I’m excited to be speak to you today!

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Dan Nelson. My wife Melody and I have been at Meadowbrooke for 12 years. We have 3 daughters, 2 sons-in- law, and 2 grandsons. I was a pastor in another denomination for 21 years before we came to Meadowbrooke, and I was on staff for 5 1/2 of the 12 years we’ve been here. I’m semi-retired now and own a bookkeeping business. I serve on the Welcome Team and the finance team, and Keith invites me to preach a couple times a year.

Two weeks ago, Keith preached on hell and I’m sure, like me, you woke up that morning thinking, “Sweet!” because hell is, after all, a highly popular topic! This morning we’re going to look at another popular topic by asking the question, “Do we really need to talk about money in church?”

In my experience, the reason this is not a popular topic is because people are tired of their pastor trying to get them to give more money to the church. You’ve heard sermons like that, right? I have. I confess I have preached some as well, so I understand why a sermon on money is not a popular topic, and why so many pastors avoid talking about money in church.

But over the years, money became one of my favorite topics, because I am a satisfied customer when it comes to following the Bible’s instructions about money.

Will you please stand as we read the words of Jesus from Luke 16, starting with verse 10. They come at the conclusion of what we call the parable of the dishonest manager. The parable may not be familiar, but the closing words probably are, so familiar in fact that sometimes when we hear them – we don’t. My hope and my prayer is that we hear these words in a new way this morning, and that we find a place where we can put them into practice.

Luke 16:10-13

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Please sit. Let’s pray…

I’d like us to read the last slightly edited sentence out loud.

“I cannot serve God and money.”
We try, don’t we? Or am I the only one? That’s why we need to talk about it.

When I started as a pastor over 30 years ago, I had a mentor who used a phrase that changed the way I thought and dealt with money in church.

He said, “Money talk is holy talk.” If this phrase is familiar, it may be because I’ve used it before. If we are going to be faithful to Scripture and allow it to speak into and guide our lives and shape our values and behavior, then we absolutely must talk about money in church.

Money talk is holy talk because the bible is full of money talk. A major theme of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s pedal-to-the-metal pursuit of financial and material wealth.

Throughout much of the Old Testament is the idea that a person’s material wealth is directly connected with their obedience to God. If you obey God, he will give you financial blessings; if you disobey then probably not. The conversations we read in the book of Job clearly illustrate this. Job’s so- called friends were convinced that the reason Job lost all his material wealth in the course of about a day is because he did something wrong, so God “unblessed” him. Now if we read the beginning and the end of the book, we know that’s not true, but that’s what they thought.

Deuteronomy 8:18 tells us to, “remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” We get that mixed up sometimes, don’t we!

If you look at money talk in the Old Testament, you will eventually come across the term tithe. You’ve heard that word before, right? If we are going to talk about money in church, then we have to at least mention tithing.

Genesis 4:2

The first step in the development of the tithe is in Genesis, where Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel brought “portions” of their flocks and crops to the Lord. The idea was to set aside a portion of the first crop of the season to thank God for a successful harvest.

Leviticus 27:30 says, “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.” Holy talk!

Deuteronomy 14:22-23 says, “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.”

When God established priests and the temple, he instructed the Israelites to bring their tithes to the temple as an act of worship.

Malachi 3:8-10, a popular passage when it comes to tithing, said that those who didn’t tithe were threatened with a curse, while those who did tithe were promised blessing.

These passages and others tell us that the big idea behind tithing that everything we have really belongs to God and we get to give back 10% of it to thank him for trusting us with it.

So we see that by definition, a tithe is 10%. When we it a verb, to tithe means to give that 10% to God. Whatever you give after that is an offering. This means that I can’t give an offering until I first tithe. And if we’re getting technical, giving that tithe to anything other than the church isn’t really a tithe—it’s just a nice gift. But that’s never a bad thing!

Are Christians supposed to tithe?

When we talk about tithing, someone always wants to know if Christians are still supposed to tithe because Jesus fulfilled the law and tithing was part of the law. I had this discussion many times over the years, and I used to be one who said Christians were supposed to tithe. But I changed my mind. I hope it’s OK that I changed my mind and don’t believe the same now as I did 20 years ago. Hopefully as a sign of growth and maturity, I’ve changed.

I have no problem when we say the Old Testament teaches tithing – it clearly does. I changed my mind because, when we look for tithing in the New Testament, there isn’t much. It’s mentioned, but nowhere do we see Jesus or any other author of scripture tell us we are required to tithe.

What we do see is that the New Testament has a lot to say about giving and generosity, selfishness and greed, and money and material things. Statistics tell us that Jesus talked about money and material wealth more than any other topic, including the Kingdom of God and love. Combined. One stat I read said that in Matthew, Mark, and Luke 1 out of every 6 verses deals with money, and 16 of 29 of Jesus’ parables deal with money and material wealth. Whatever the exact stats are, we know Jesus talked about money a lot, he warned us not to become slaves to it, and he encouraged us to be generous – but he never told us to tithe.

With that said, I have two bits of advice to offer. One, if you think Christians are supposed to tithe, then you should. Two, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.

Another question often comes up, “Do I have to tithe on my gross or my net?” I’ve had some intense discussions on this one, and I finally realized that, if you do get into this kind of argument, you’ve totally missed the point.

There are three New Testament passages we’ll look at that illustrate why money talk is holy talk. One is the passage from Luke that we read at the beginning. Let’s reread Jesus’ familiar concluding words:

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” And neither can I.

Think about the master-servant terminology. The master is the one in charge, the one with the authority, the one with the power, the one who calls the shots. The servant is the one who obeys the master. Jesus says the servant – that’s you and me – can choose which master to serve, so we do have a little power here. But try as we might, we cannot serve both.

The reason we cannot serve both is because the commands and the values and the behaviors required by the master of the kingdom of this world are in great conflict with the commands and values and behaviors required the kingdom of God.

Now, considering that we must live in this worldly kingdom at least for the time being, we can’t avoid money. The news is filled with words like inflation, recession and bankruptcy, and phrases like, “the stock market went down again today,” and “the fed raised the interest rate again today.” all of which can raise our anxiety quotient.

Every month a variety of businesses and other organizations, like Black Hills and BOPU, Spectrum, Verizon and VISA to name a few, faithfully reach out to us, reminding us that our payment is due, and we apologize that the bill is higher this month than last.

And in the midst of all this, the marketers are doing their best to make us dissatisfied with what we have and convince us that we need more. We need a bigger house and we need a new car, or another car, and a new phone, and a new outfit, and a new fragrance, and a nice vacation.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with buying a bigger house, or going on a trip. The real issue, the real question is: does all the time and energy and resources that I put into planning for, caring for, and paying for, all the stuff that I want, contribute to building the kingdom of God?

The second one is 1 Timothy 6:9-10. Back in the day, a guy named Paul wrote a letter to a young pastor named Timothy, a letter that wound up in the Bible so we, too, can gain wisdom from it. In that letter he said, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Wow, how’s that for a mouthful that is on making money your master! “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Please note that it does not say money is the root of all evil; it says the love of money is a root of a variety of evil. “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

This is why money talk is holy talk. When we start to love and get eager for money – and who among us has never been tempted to love and be eager for money – we wander from the faith, and we pierce ourselves with many griefs. We plunge into ruin and destruction. Not what I want for myself!

The third passage that illustrates why money talk is holy talk is the parable of the rich ruler in Luke 18.

Luke 18:18-23

And a ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to be saved?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘don’t step out on your spouse, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your mom and dad, and pray the sinner’s prayer.’ No wait, he didn’t mention the sinner’s prayer.” And the rich guy said, “Sweet – I do all this! I’m in!” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “Wait just a sec, I’m not finished: you need to sell all you have and give the money to the poor; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became really sad, because he was really rich.”

You see why money talk is holy talk, right? It calls us to address the conflict in our lives between the values of the kingdom of this world and the values

of the kingdom of God. If we don’t learn how to deal with money and material things from a kingdom perspective, our priorities go off the rails. In the case of this ruler, it was a total barrier to him following Jesus. It brought him to a full stop. This passage reminds us that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world are in competition – they are not allies.

At the beginning I told you I was a satisfied customer when it came to following the Bible’s instructions when it comes to money. I want you to hear from another satisfied customer, Jason Campbell. Jason and I met 11 years ago when we worked Echostar.

Is that good stuff or what! That’s how Jason and Marissa and Michelle are doing it. What they do and how they do it is not the only right way, but they are working to choose to serve the right master more and more often. ADVANCE to hose

Spring is just around the corner, many of you will be getting out into the garden. Some of us will do our best to avoid the garden, but some of you are looking forward to it. And we all know what happens when we grab the end of the hose, turn the water on, and head toward the garden: you get a kink in the hose and the water stops. A kink in the hose stops the flow.

TD Jakes, an author in the Christian world, says that Christians are supposed to be like garden hoses, channels thru which God pours his blessings. But sometimes we put a kink in our hose by focusing on our stuff. We put a kink in the hose by not trusting God to meet our needs. Focusing on getting more money and more stuff puts a kink in our hose. And when we get a kink, God’s blessings can’t flow, so he sends them to someone else who will let them flow. Why should God give us more when we are not faithful with what he has already given us?

Here is what I have discovered: when I put a kink in my hose and don’t give, I become even more self-centered and selfish. I lack consideration for others because I’m concerned with my own profit or pleasure. It becomes all about me and what I want, and I lose interest in blessing others, and generosity is out the window.

But what does it mean to be generous? Broadly speaking, generous means a readiness to give more of something, like money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected. Generous is a relative term because it is about you, and what your resources and commitments are. Your level of generosity has nothing to do with what someone else gives. Did that register? Generosity has nothing to do with what someone else gives – generosity is one place where it’s all about you. I think one of the marks of mature faith is generosity. Not token or average; generous. Average financial giving in our culture is around 3%. Are we going to be average, or generous?

So here’s my challenge for you: fight selfishness and greediness; get the kink out of your hose, and give generously.

“Ah, here it is!” some of you are thinking as you grab your wallet. “Here’s the pitch! He wants us to give more to the church.”

Sorry to disappoint you. I’m not interested in what you give to the church – that’s up to you. I do however want you to be a generous giver, wherever it is you give.

And please understand that God does not need me to give. Meadowbrooke does not need me to give. I need me to give. You need you to give. Because when you and I give, it changes lives, including our own.

The joy of giving is not in writing a check; the joy is when I see the result.

I support a kid named Cristian Rodrigo, a Compassion International kid. My $35 a month is not huge, but I get letters from him telling me how my giving has changed his life. That’s what happens when we give – giving changes lives, including our own.

Melody and I give to Meadowbrooke, and one of the line items in our budget is LifeChoice Pregnancy Care Center. Meadowbrooke’s monthly gift to them may not make THE difference in what they do, but it sure makes a

difference in the lives of the men and women and babies who pass through there. So I’m glad we give, because giving changes lives.

One of Melody’s high school friends works for an org called Ideas, and we help support her. She is a librarian, and she goes into countries that do not welcome Christian missionaries, but they’ll let a librarian in, so she uses her role to build relationships and share the gospel. Giving changes lives.

I’ve heard people say, and maybe you have too, or maybe even said it,
that, “I’d like to give, but I just don’t have anything left to give.” But you know what? After 63 years of life, 42 years as a Christian, and 25 years as a pastor, if you’ll pardon my bluntness, that’s BS. Folks, we have money, so we have money to give. It may not be thousands or hundreds, but you and I have money to give. The problem is not that we don’t have money to give; the problem is that we are serving the wrong master.

But when we choose the right master, and we use money as a tool to invest in God’s kingdom, it becomes a powerful instrument of good. Giving changes lives – including our own.

There is so much more that could be said about all this, but we are out of time. So here is a bit of homework for you. Take a few minutes sometime this week – perhaps at lunch, or when you are watering the garden – to meditate on any of these passages. Or talk to your spouse or family or a friend about them. Ask yourself, and ask God, if there is anything you need to do – not just learn but DO – based on them. Is the time and energy and money I put into planning for and caring for and paying for all this stuff contributing to building the kingdom of God? Or is it competing with it?

Be intentional and thoughtful about who you choose to serve – God or money – because you have the choice. Look for ways to unkink the hose and let your blessings flow. And be generous when you do.

Let’s pray.