My Most Dangerous Sermon
For a congregation to be healthy spiritually, it needs to hear lessons delivered in various styles and those that strive for different objectives. Preaching objectives can range from learning more about different biblical doctrines to lessons that encourage one's faith or courage during trials.
The most dangerous sermon objective, however, is the one that attempts to deal with money. When the preacher starts talking about "giving" and the "collection" he is usually in for a rough ride. There are several reasons why the "money sermon" is the most dangerous one to preach.
Money Sermons are Dangerous Because…
1. People are Very Sensitive About Money
Money represents our livelihood, our status, our security and to talk about money is to get very personal with each member. Let's face it, the Bible says that, "…The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil" (I Timothy 6:10). Half the crimes committed in this country are over the possession of money. So when the preacher talks about the congregations's money, he is venturing into territory that is very close to a person's heart and a subject that does not always bring out the best in people.
2. People Transfer Their Feelings
Whenever the preacher gets up to talk about the budget or the fact that the church needs money, many in the congregation seem to transfer their negative feelings about money to the preacher! I suppose the minister is a good target for those feelings of resentment or frustration because in a person's mind they may be thinking that:
- Their company doesn't pay them enough.
- The ex-spouse is unfairly taking their livelihood.
- The Government is soaking them for half of their income in taxes.
Then the preacher gets up and talks about money. That becomes the last straw! You might be helpless to take on your boss, your ex's lawyers, your friendly IRS people, but the preacher, him you can get to!
This transference takes many forms:
- People accuse the preacher of "meddling." It's nobody's business, especially the preacher, what I give.
- They accuse him of being overpaid. The idea is that we would not need to have so much money collected if we did not pay the preachers so much.
- Some believe that money is all he (or this church) talks about (an interesting aside here: in my own congregation over the period of one year I preached 52 sermons and taught some 90 or so classes with only a single lesson on giving and stewardship, and some folks still felt that even this was too much).
The whole idea of transference, of course, is to change the subject from giving and proper giving, to "what right" does the preacher have to be preaching about this.
In response to this attitude I refer to Paul, in Acts 20:20 and Acts 20:27, who repeats the idea that he has done his duty as a preacher by declaring to the church "…the whole counsel of God." Giving money is part of the Christian's responsibility and teaching about this is a part of the preacher's responsibility. This gives him the right to preach with confidence on this touchy subject.
3. Peoples' True Faith is Revealed
The giving of money is a direct indication of the quality of a person's faith, because some people are in "faith denial," meaning their faith is very weak and immature but they refuse to acknowledge this. A sermon that sheds light on this condition is not popular or easy to hear. I am not referring to the amount of money each gives but rather the degree of sacrifice one's giving causes. This is the indicator of faith and levels the playing field. Money sermons reveal that we may not be the Christians we think we are. We may be reminded that we are in reality:
- Hypocritical - a show of spirituality but not backed up with financial effort.
- Worldly - We have all kinds of excuses to spend on ourselves but withhold from the Lord.
- Faithless - We have gone back on our commitments to the Lord and used His money for ourselves.
When preachers preach about money, it tends to bring out negative vibes and may just be the excuse some use:
- To quit the church
- To quit giving to the church
- To quit listening to anything else the preacher says
Actually, in this way, it is sometimes more dangerous for the congregation than it is for the preacher.
The Bible and Giving
Let us shift gears here and go into a "doctrinal" mode and see what the Bible says about giving, not just what happens when the preacher talks about giving.
The Bible actually says a lot about giving — more than what it says about music, or marriage and divorce. However, most of what the Scriptures teach concerning giving can be summarized into two main ideas:
1. The Giver's Heart Must Be Right
You've often heard the expression, "Attitude is everything," well, when it comes to giving, attitude makes or breaks the gift. Paul expresses God's thought on the matter when he says,
God loves a cheerful giver.
- II Corinthians 9:7
God desires that we want to give, that we enjoy giving, that we give with a happy attitude because giving is:
- An opportunity. We can use our wealth to bless others in some way.
- A privilege. God allows us to give something to Him.
God sees the heart and a heart that is slow or regretful in giving is not a heart that pleases Him. After all, how would you like to receive a gift that had to be coerced or pleaded out of the hands of the giver?
2. The Giver's Gift Has to be Right
When the heart is right, the hands will want to do what is right, and the Bible guides us in how to make a proper gift to God, one that demonstrates a right heart and a strong faith. Here are the rules for giving to God.
Rule #1 - Give Your First Portion to Him - Deuteronomy 26:2
The Jews got into trouble because they gave God their leftovers, their damaged animals instead of their best animals and crops (Malachi 1:8).
Today we should give to God the first portion of everything we earn. Before we pay our taxes or bills, spend any of our earnings, we should calculate and set aside His portion from our gross income first.
Rule #2 - Give God a Generous Portion
God makes a promise to the generous in II Corinthians 9:6 "…he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully." God loves a generous giver as well as a cheerful giver. It is true that not all make the same amount of money but generosity is not measured by the amount of money given, it is measured by the amount of sacrifice made to give whatever is given, whether it be money, time, service or effort.
Rule #3 - Give God Your Complete Portion
A complete portion of your wealth means a portion of every facet of your wealth. This includes your regular paycheck as well as your bonus. This also takes into consideration whatever increase you receive in the form of payments, inheritances and salary adjustments.
In Malachi 3:10, we are encouraged, as His people, to give God a portion of everything we receive from Him in whatever form it takes because it is still from Him and He deserves the first portion. In doing this, we receive His blessing for the remaining portion that we keep. The idea is that if we give God a proper first portion, He will make sure that what we keep is blessed and sufficient.
Rule #4 - Give God His Portion Regularly
In I Corinthians 16:2, Paul establishes a pattern for our giving style as he instructs the church at Corinth. "On the first day of every week each of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper…"
Times are different, prosperity in the first century Corinth and twenty-first century America means different things. However, one thing remains constant, God expects us to offer to Him the first portion of our means each week as we gather for Sunday worship. This means that if we miss a worship service because of illness or other reasons, our offering that was prepared still belongs to the Lord and should be given to Him at the next opportunity.
The Bible teaches us that each Christian (young or old, rich or poor, mature or new convert) is to prepare and give his/her first portion to the Lord each week. Less than this is unfaithfulness.
Giving to the Lord His portion of your wealth by giving to His church is a basic biblical command, and fundamental Christian responsibility. Giving is not a burden. It is an opportunity to demonstrate, in a concrete way, the quality of your faith, not by what you say but by what you do, because giving is the clearest way to compare what you say to what you do.
Congregations are different depending on their location, size and history. However, the approach to giving should be the same no matter where the church meets since the guidelines for giving come from the same source for everyone, the Bible. Here are three basic rules that can guide our giving in every circumstance and age:
1. Every Person with Income Needs to Begin Giving
I don't believe that the answer to budget problems is that the ones who are doing most of the giving need to do even more. I am persuaded that any shortfall in giving represents people who do not give at all; are not giving a portion of their total income; or are not giving the first portion of their income. These brethren need to simply begin obeying the Lord in the matter of giving.
2. Every Person Needs to Give Regularly
I dread poor weather and long weekends because when people miss services they think the money they were prepared to give now belongs to them. We do not skip a mortgage payment when we go on vacation do we? Why do so many pocket the Lord's money when they skip services? The church still has to pay the bills whether members are regular at worship or not. Good stewardship requires that we make arrangements to give what we have prepared whether we are present at worship or not.
3. Pray for Opportunities to Give to God, Not Just for God to Give to You
If we were more willing to give, generous in giving and faithful in giving, perhaps God would give us more money to handle and to give. As it is, we usually spend our blessings on ourselves and neglect to give God a joyful and generous portion as a way to say, "Thank you!"
Well, this is the end of the most dangerous sermon.
But please, do not be upset with your preacher if he teaches a lesson like this. Just realize that you would not need it if, like the Jews in Moses' day, you were giving more than what was necessary, instead of being short each week. My prayer for the church is that instead of hearing a "dangerous" sermon about giving it would be giving dangerously.
With dangerous giving a church could get beyond just paying the bills and begin planning for the future. With sacrificial, dangerous giving a church would be able to leave the next generation a legacy of faith, an example of courage, and a vision they could strive towards.
There is a legend concerning Constantine's armies who were told to be baptized when the Roman Emperor himself was converted to Christianity. It is said that they went into the water and were immersed but held their swords above the water to indicate what part of them was not converted to this new faith.
I believe the same is true of many today who receive the immersion into Christ but hold their checkbooks above the water instead of a sword. Some need to have their checkbooks converted or restored to Christ by giving Him a generous and regular first portion each week.