Giving/Tithing/Alms/Offerings (Murray)

 As Christians, we are not called to hoard our money and finances.  We are instead called to give some of it away (cf. 2 Cor. 9:7).  Speaking of this, I appreciate David Murray’s points on the Christian’s financial giving.  I’ve put some of them below (they are edited for length):

  1. Giving Obeys God’s Command.  The Old Testament has way more commands about giving…than the New Testament. …But just in case we might miss the link, there are also some clear New Testament commands (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7).
  2. Giving Submits to God’s Lordship.  Every act of obedience recognizes that there is a higher authority in our lives, that there is a Lord over us who is entitled to honor and respect. …The wallet is often the last citadel to fall to God’s rule, and even when it does fall, it gets rebuilt and resecured again all too quickly.  But when enabled to submit our wallets to Christ’s lordship, we give clear and powerful testimony that he is Lord of all.
  3. Giving Exhibits God’s Heart.  God is the giver of every good and perfect gift.  He is the superlative giver.  And although God’s gifts are unprecedented, unrepeatable, and unbeatable, we are still called to copy God’s giving, to be minipictures of his infinitely large heart.  What do people think of God when they think of the way we use our money?
  4. Giving Illustrates God’s Salvation.  At the heart of the gospel is sacrificial self-giving.  That’s why when the Apostle Paul wanted to encourage the Corinthians to give more and more, he pointed them to the person and work of Christ (2 Cor. 8:7).  When we give sacrificially, painfully, and lovingly, we draw a small-scale picture of the gospel message.
  5. Giving Trusts God’s Provision.  The biggest deterrent to giving is fear, the fear that if I give away too much, I won’t have enough for this or that.  When we give sacrificially, above and beyond what is comfortable and easy, we express our faith and trust in God to provide for us and our families.
  6. Giving Widens God’s Smile.  The Lord ‘loves a cheerful giver.’  It delights him to see his people gladly opening their hearts and hands to provide for the needs of his church and indeed all of his creatures.
  7. Giving Advances God’s Kingdom.  …Think of what blessing results when we fund the mission of Christ’s church.  …Above all we are investing in the spiritual and eternal welfare of people from every nation, tribe, kindred, and tongue.
  8. Giving Promotes God’s Sanctification of Us.  Giving money, especially when it pains us, is work that requires much self-denial and self-crucifixion.  Every act of giving weakens and breaks our sinful and selfish nature, however, empowering God’s work of grace in our hearts.
  9. Giving Testifies to God’s Power.  …Even secular observers have noticed with amazement how generous Christians often are with their money.
  10. Giving Praises God’s Character.  Giving in a right spirit is an act of worship (Heb. 13:16). It is rendering God a tribute of praise.  It is saying, “You gave me everything, and here is a small expression of my gratitude and praise for all our good gifts.”

You can find all these points with more discussion in chapter eight of The Happy Christian by David Murray.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

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“Living In The Light” by John Piper: A Review

One of John Piper’s newer booklets is called “Living in the Light: Money, Sex, & Power.”  In it he shows some of the dangers of money, sex, and power and talks about how these three things find their proper place in the Christian life.  Basically, he argues that we often use money, sex, and power in ways that do not glorify God, but if we do glorify God rightly, then we begin to view and use these things in proper ways.

In the first chapter Piper gives definitions and explanations of money, sex, and power.  By sex he means “experiencing erotic stimulation” or seeking to give or get it (p.18).  Power is “the capacity to get what you want” (p. 19).  Money is “one cultural symbol that we use to show what we value” (p. 17).  Using Romans 1, Piper shows that sinful humans turn these three things into idols.  (As a side, it seemed to me like sex was discussed more than the other two topics).

In the chapter on sex we learn that “disordered sexuality” stems from “a disordered relationship with God” (p. 39).  However, a proper sexuality stems from a right relationship with God, when he is at the center and sex is not.  In the chapter on money, Piper laments how Christians pursue wealth even though it is a danger and will fail us “even before the end” (p. 67).  If, however, we are satisfied most in God, then money will find its proper place in the Christian life.  The chapter on power was the weakest chapter in my opinion; I didn’t quite catch all the details of his logic.  The basic message was that we are by nature power addicts and the only way to fix this solution is to be satisfied in God’s power.

The book was helpful in that it kept talking about how the Christian needs to have God at the center and must treasure Christ above all so that power, money, and sex have their proper place in life.  The general theme of the book was a good one.

However, this also was a weakness of the book: the theme of treasuring Christ became the overarching lens to interpret these three topics in Scripture.  While on the one hand it is true we must treasure Christ above all; on the other hand there are many more dimensions in Scripture about these things.  Having a single lens while approaching power, sex, and money detracted the helpfulness of the book for me in various ways:

First, I learned early on that Piper’s answer to the idols of power, money, and sex would be to treasure Christ above them.  Right away I thought, “Ok, but what else does the Bible say about them?”  He did note other Bible themes, but they all were subsets of the “treasure” theme.  Second, this overarching theme led me to question some of Piper’s explanations.  He came to certain texts with the “treasure Christ above all” grid, which I believe led to some questionable interpretations of Scripture.  For example, he said the first commandment means “embrace me as your supreme treasure and be content in me” (p. 60).  I’m not sure that’s the best way to explain the first commandment.  Piper also noted that the essence of sin is not treasuring God/Christ above all (p. 25).  Isn’t it more biblical to say that the essence of sin is lack of conformity to or transgression of God’s law (cf. WSC Q/A 14)?

The third way I thought this book was unhelpful was how the theme of treasuring Christ above power, money, and sex was at times ambiguous and subjective for me.  For example, he said that “the mark of the Christian is that at the root of our lives is this new treasuring of God over all things…” (p. 29).  This seems a little subjective and ambiguous.  I prefer the Belgic Confession’s more objective “marks” of the Christian, which is a short list from Scripture (e.g. faith, love, repentance, etc.; see BCF Article 29).  I also missed a discussion of obedience to God’s law in this book.

I realize I may be in the minority here; my brothers and sisters who read this book might not agree with my critiques.  I admit that I haven’t read much of Piper’s work, so I’m willing to listen if anyone has comments/clarifications.  No doubt some people will enjoy this book, Living in the Light; Money, Sex, & Power.  If you’re looking for a short book that applies the “treasure Christ above all things” to money, sex, and power, you’ll appreciate this one!  If you want a book that discusses these themes in a broader or biblical-theological way, you may want to pass.

(I received this book from the Cross Focused review program in exchange for an honest review.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Profaning Money

  Kent Hughes’ chapter on materialism and money in Set Apart is a great discussion of Christian stewardship.  In our wealthy Western culture, this is for sure worth thinking about.

“Along with this understanding that our money is not our own, we must give it away joyfully.  Theologian Jacques Ellul says that the only way to defeat the godlike power that money seeks to impose on our lives is to give it away, which he calls profaning it: ‘To profane money, like all other powers, is to take away its sacred character.’  This destroys its power over us.  ‘Giving to God is the act of profanation par excellence,’ says Ellul.  Every time I give, I declare that money does not control me.  Perpetual generosity is a perpetual de-deification of money.”

“This makes great sense, and it cuts through the paralyzing controversies over affluence and individual lifestyle.  Wherever you are on the economic continuum, you need to give generously and regularly.  Generous giving as it relates to your affluence will free you from the bondage of money.  You will be profaning money – declaring that it is not a god in your life.  You can talk until the moon stands still about what is the proper lifestyle for a member of you church, and the result would be a corporate orgy of judgmentalism.  And if we came up with a written description, it would entrench a grace-nullifying legalism.  Paul minced no words with Timothy:”

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,  thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

R. Kent Hughes, Set Apart, p. 33

shane lems

Marketing, the Church, and Christ

Product Details This is a fascinating book: Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age by Tyler Stevenson.  If I remember correctly, one of our readers recommended it several months ago.  Anyway, I just finished it this morning.  I’m not going to give a full review here, but I do want to say that it is a worth-while read.  I have a few minor critiques (i.e. I disagree with a few points of his interpretation of Romans, the book seemed to ramble at times, and it could have been a bit shorter) but overall I believe the book is a good one for serious Christians to consider.

In this book, Stevenson basically describes how and why Christianity in America has been watered down by consumerism.  Stevenson talks about idolatry, money, marketing, trends, politics, t-shirts, and other such things that have to do with consumerism and Christianity.  In part 1, he discusses the history of consumerism.  In part 2, he goes through Romans 1:18-32 and parallels Greco-Roman culture and ours.  In part 3, Stevenson focuses on the church and its failures.  Part 4 is full of details about consumerism and Christianity.  The final part is an encouragement for Christians/churches to stand against consumerism.  I appreciated how Stevenson did not call us to conquer culture or redeem it, but instead live solid lives of discipleship.

Here are some quotes that captured my attention.

“Like it or not, in our society, we are what we buy.  Savvy stores do not sell products, but self-image.  The racks brimming with a dizzying variety of clothes do not offer a variety of products nearly as much as they offer varieties of potential me’s” (p. 19).

“To live in a consumerist world means that who we understand ourselves to be is deeply and significantly related to what we buy/consume” (p. 27).

“The problem with idols and brands is not that they are ineffectual, but that they cannot effect what we want them to effect.  They cannot give back according to the measure of transcendent devotion we give to them” (p. 105).

“What does it mean to be an evangelical in America today? …The reality, unfortunately, is that American evangelicalism has become primarily a marketing demographic” (p. 132).

“The NOTW consumer aspires to be ‘not of this world,’ even though there is hardly anything more of this world than proclaiming one’s identity through the clothing one buys” (p. 153).

“…When secular retailers are forced by Christian interests to bend the knee (i.e. in the Christmas war), they do not bow to honor the name of Christ, but the dollars of his self-proclaimed followers.  They are willing to change their marketing tactics in order to get Christian business.  Does this bring any honor to Christ’s name?  The very thought that it might is theologically bankrupt” (p. 161).

One more – and this one is brilliant.  Don’t miss it.

“…Now that the market has discovered evangelicals as a target audience, we should expect that the Christian marketing effort will start playing a significant role in defining how and who evangelicals believe themselves to be” (p. 163).

This book will certainly make you think.  I especially liked the sections on how marketing is very much related to Christian clothing, Christian politics, and the plethora of individualized Bibles for sale.  There are some hard-hitting parts of this book!  If you’re interested in this topic – Christianity and consumerism – you’ll certainly appreciate the book Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age.

shane lems

Managing God’s Money

Cover: Managing God's Money If the polls are correct, many Christians spend more on their pets than they give to missionaries (our pets are better cared for than our missionaries).  If the polls are correct, most Christians only tithe about 2% of their income.  Even if those polls are a bit off, I think it is safe to say all of us need to hold a little (or a lot!) less tightly to our cash and coin.  So when I saw Randy Alcorn’s Managing God’s Money on the Tyndale Blog Network, I quickly requested a copy.  I’ve not read anything by Alcorn before this one; I was happy to see he did his best to summarize the Bible’s teaching on how Christians should handle the money God has given them to utilize as pilgrims and stewards.

The book consists of six sections: 1) Money and possessions in the Bible, 2), Perspectives that hinder biblical money management, 3) Stewardship in light of eternity, 4) Giving and sharing, 5) Wisdom and money, and 6) Training our children (and churches) about biblical money management.

One part I appreciated was (in section 2 above) Alcorn’s discussion of materialism.  He writes about the materialistic aspect of Western culture, how it affects all of us, and how we can fight it.  Alcorn also rightly criticizes the prosperity gospel: “Prosperity theology is like chocolate-covered rat poison.”  He mentions the suffering Christians are often called to and also explains that God often gives his people wealth so they can give it to others who need it.  Alcorn gives a great quote by Augustine: “Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.”

One part of this book I wasn’t completely convinced by was Alcorn’s discussion of rewards in chapter 11.  He wasn’t suggesting that our giving earns us a place in heaven, but he did mention that heavenly reward should motivate us to give liberally.  There wasn’t anything terrible in this chapter, but it was ambiguous and could have been more nuanced and theological.  I also was disappointed that Alcorn never mentioned gratitude when it comes to managing money.  The book would be much better if he had discussed the gospel and how it motivates us to a life of thankfulness – including managing money in a way that shows gratitude to God for his saving grace.  To be fair, Alcorn did mention the gospel and he didn’t veer into legalism – I was just hoping for a clearer grace/gratitude discussion.

Having noted my critique, I still do recommend this book.  It is easy to read, full of wise biblical advice, and very applicable to all Christians.  From young married couples to older Christians who want to be better stewards of the money God has given them, the book will be a good help for many.  I’ll end with a few of my favorite quotes.

“God entrusts riches to us, not so we can keep them, but so we can give them” (p. 72).

“Abundance isn’t God’s provision for me to live in luxury.  It’s his provision for me to help others live.  God entrusts me with his money not to build my kingdom on Earth, but to build his Kingdom in Heaven” (p. 133).

“Whatever role saving has in our lives, it should always be secondary to giving.  And it must never be a substitute for trusting God” (p. 194).

“The almighty dollar bequeathed to a child is an almighty curse.  No man has the right to handicap his son with such a burden as great wealth.  He must face this question squarely: Will my fortune be safe with my boy and will my boy be safe with my fortune?” (Andrew Carnegie) (p. 209).

Read more about this book at Tyndale’s website (here).  My thanks go out to Tyndale for providing this complimentary review copy.

shane lems

Do Not Love the World… (Bernard)

Around the year 1129 AD St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a letter to Alexander, a bishop who was known for his greed and injustice.  Among other things, Bernard addressed Alexander’s greed.  This is worth thinking about today.   He said,

“[I exhort you] lovingly not to take the glory of the world seriously as something that will last, and so lose that glory that will never pass away.  Do not love your possessions more than yourself or for your own sake, and so lose both your possessions and yourself.  Do not let the pleasure of your present prosperity hide your end from you, or endless adversity will follow.  Do not let the joy of this world bring about while concealing from you, and conceal from you while bringing it about, the grief that is everlasting.  Do not think death is a long way off, for it may catch you when you are not ready; and when you think life will go on and on, it may suddenly come to an end when you are in the wrong frame of mine, as it is written ‘When they are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ then suddenly death will come, like the pains of a woman in labor, and they will not escape it.‘ (1 Thes. 5.3).”

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Materialism, Wealth, and Idolatry

Product Details This is quite the book – a truly deep and thought-provoking read.  Although it was written around 30 years ago, the message is still relevant.  Schlossberg takes the reader through the main things in American culture that serve as people’s idols.  At first I thought it was going to talk about how Christians end up making idols out of certain things in our culture, but the book is broader than that.  He simply lines up the main things American’s “bow down to” and gives proof, citation, and critique.  The chapters include idols of history, humanity, Mammon, nature, power, and religion.  He ends with a few “application” chapters.  Below is a part from his last chapter, a constructive account of how Christian pilgrims should live in and interact with this idolatrous culture, specifically on the topic of materialism and wealth.

“Materialism, coupled with the productivity of machinery and electronics, has brought us to the universal expectation of More, first rising expectations and then rising entitlements.  This is what the Bible refers to as covetousness, which is condemned from the original Ten Commandments through the whole biblical literature.  The common observation that prosperity tends to bring spiritual complacency, pride, and moral decline goes back at least as far as the Pentateuch.  The wicked are identified as those who trust in riches rather than in God.

The biblical outlook on wealth seems odd only because we have adopted as normal a way of life that is hopelessly unable to produce what it promises and has demonstrated that inability to almost everyone.  As little children we learned that the doll or the game we invested with the aura of desire, and of which we thought we would never tire, inevitably palled on us after a time.  The same is true of all the world’s glittering satisfactions.  What they have in common is that, after the initial flash of gratification, they fail to satisfy, leading us to seek further for the next bauble. 

We ought instead to reconsider the basic assumption.  For if past acquisitions and attainments have not satisfied us, perhaps it is not in their nature to provide more than fleeting satisfactions.  This is the insight that led the prophet to inquire: ‘Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread…?’ (Is. 55:2).  For the greedy there is no conceivable level of wealth that would be enough, for greed is insatiable.  That is why trying to satisfy it, giving in to the love of money, causes such intense suffering (1 Tim. 6:10).”

Here’s his exhortation. 

“Christians need to renounce the systems by which their fellow citizens plunder each other, either within or outside the law.  …They should learn to give without receiving anything in return, reversing the process by which society is reducing itself to poverty.  They should be wary of the temptation to have ever more of the world’s goods, for that desire is what takes away personal freedom, delivering people into the clutches of those who want power. …The early Christians were said to have ‘joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property’ (Heb 10:34); but this could only have happened to people who regarded themselves as pilgrims, content with whatever they had, having renounced the quest, on which their neighbors had embarked, for ever more goods to consume.  For them the statement of net worth was valueless in determining human worth.”

If I can add a quick illustration, we’re like that creepy dude in those treasure hunting movies – the foil to the main character who gets way into the cave to see all the jewels and gold.  We, like that guy, cram our pockets full of golden chains, saucers, and coins only to be stabbed for our idiocy by that spear-trap falling from the cave’s ceiling.  If only we could keep our hands off that glittering treasure!

Quotes above taken from Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 311-312.

shane lems

sunnyside wa