Although the news has been saturated lately with dark, dismal, depressing details about the present state of the world economy, there is much wisdom to be learned from what has been happening because of the covetousness and pride of the individuals and organizations who have brought this on. The name-it-and-claim-it, blab-it-and-grab-it sermons of prosperity preachers will now be put to the test and my prayer is that those of us Christians who have embraced these covetous false doctrines will be humble enough to learn four simple things concerning our monetary resources, namely:
1. Cut unnecessary spending. Modern churches, especially megachurches, have in the past few decades been more like our tax-and-spend government. The more taxes they get, the more taxes they want in order to expand government for wasteful programs or earmarks. Only, the churches’ tax system is called “tithes and offerings.” It is continually taught, because of man-made tradition, that the Lord requires us to pay 10% of our income to our local church, and if we don’t, God will withhold his blessings from us. Then the more money the church receives, the more programs they want to establish or they want the latest state-of-the-art, high-tech equipment for their offices and sanctuary or the more they want to add to their building projects as if God is impressed with all of these things.
If church funds are used in the same manner they were in the first century church, people would be more willing to give and would probably receive a greater amount. But we are proud to be like the rich man in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:16-21. When his farmland yielded a huge bumper crop, instead of trying to come up with a way to help out those who had less or glorify God with it, he was only concerned about how he could store it all away for his own selfish purposes and decided to build larger barns while in the meantime he ate, drank, and was merry without regard for anyone else. Then, suddenly, it was time for him to meet his maker and all his grand plans for himself were scrapped. His focus on laying up treasures for himself instead of being rich toward God highlighted the worthlessness of his plans. This is clearly an application to how the modern day church operates.
2. Spend more on helping people. The main reason the first century church gathered offerings (not tithes) was to meet the basic needs–food, shelter, and clothing–of Christians who were less fortunate. Acts 4:34-35 tells us that those who were wealthy sold their luxury possessions and brought the funds before the congregation so they could be distributed to the poor saints. It was also used to cover the expenses of faithful workers in the ministry who spent the bulk of their time preaching or ministering, because they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 9). In Acts 6:1-2 we also see that elderly widows received something from the church for their needs every day. I think James was right on point when he wrote,
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? James 2:15-16
3. Contentment with what we already have. This is one of the underlying themes of the New Testament that is repeated several times. It is when we cast aside the contentment we have for what God has already blessed us with that we allow greed to become our motivating force. The idea that we should always want more than what we have because God wants to bless us with more is a self-centered concept if our focus is only on material possessions and it can cause us to overextend ourselves financially. Anyone working from this motivation is assuming that material gain is godliness. We tend to forget that to whom much is given, much is required. The more that we get from God, the more we should give out to others. Paul gives us three witnesses in the following verses on contentment:
I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:11-13
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 1 Timothy 6:6-9
Let your conversation [way of life] be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Hebrews 13:5
4. Helping family, especially the elderly, is more important than giving to prop up churches. This statement would be considered sacrilege in today’s churches. We are taught that we should give God (i.e. the church) his cut right off the top and then he will bless us with whatever we need later. The “give God the first cut” doctrine is the opposite of what Jesus taught. The religious leaders of his day taught something similar and he preached against it in Mark 7:9-13. It is God’s commandment that a person honor their father and mother, which includes financial help, but the religious leaders taught that a person who dedicated their finances as a gift to the temple or synagogue was not obligated to help out their parents. This tradition stood in the way of the fulfillment of God’s commandment. So if a person needs the funds that they would give to the church to help their parents, their parents should be the priority.
Paul backed up this concept in 1 Timothy 5 when he said that a believer who doesn’t care for an elderly widow in their family (and by default any other elderly family member) is worse than an infidel, or unbeliever. By caring for their Christian family member with their own funds, they would alleviate the church from having to use their funds.
With this economic downturn, I’ve been wondering to myself if the radio evangelists and televangelists will continue to preach the prosperity gospel. I can hear them now–“My fellow believer, don’t you worry about this economic situation. Our God is bigger than the U.S. or world economies and he’ll continue to meet your needs. You just keep on giving to this ministry even if things look bleak and I guarantee that God will pour you out a blessing you won’t have room enough to receive!” I also wonder how many Christians who bought into the prosperity gospel overextended themselves with a larger house than they could afford or with huge credit card debt and are now facing dire financial straits. Would megachurches with million-dollar accounts help bail them out?
–posted by Harry A. Gaylord–