There are several reasons why I saved “treasures” for the end of this three-part series on stewardship. The first and most basic reason is that, when I first learned the “three T’s of stewardship,” they were given in the order provided in this series (time, talents, and treasures).
Secondly, there are those in the church who over-emphasize tithes and offerings. Some preachers will claim that God will not bless you if you do not tithe and give abundant offerings. Of course, they will insinuate that He will bless you only if you give to their ministries. While our faithfulness with our finances is important to God, it is not His primary measure of determining whether He will bless us. (That is primarily decided by His grace, not our generosity.) This exaggerated claim that giving is the pathway to blessing has led me to joke that some churches acknowledge only two sacraments: the altar call and tithing.
More importantly, though, we need to realize that God wants us to give ourselves to Him first. Until we surrender our lives and hearts to Him, our financial giving will be meaningless. Our time and talents are most closely related to our innermost being: By nature, we devote our time to those people, principles, and activities we care most about. Human nature drives us to devote our time and talents to the things we care about. It also creates a greater devotion to those things that we devote our time and talents to. Time and talents reveal whether we are devoted to God.
When we have devoted our hearts to someone or something, our money will follow. We will devote our expendable income to the things we care about. I will more readily spend my money on music and books than on basketball tickets for a simple reason: I love music and reading, and I hate basketball. If I were forced to buy basketball tickets, I would hate it even more. Unless they were a gift for a basketball fan that I care about; in that case, I would actually be spending the money on a friend or loved one, and the basketball would be secondary.
The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), mentioned in Part II of this series, is particularly relevant to our discussion of treasures. As I mentioned there, this parable most directly relates to finances, since “talent” there is a large unit of money. In this light, it is worthwhile to look at the three servants in the parable. The first two are commended because, when the master entrusted money to them, they used it according to his will. They brought a blessing to their master. The third servant did the exact opposite, though:
“He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matt. 25:24-30, ESV).
Look closely at the servant’s response, because it reflects the attitude of many Christians about money.
- “Master, I knew you to be a hard man”: He does not recognize God as Someone who loves him or wants to bless him. He sees God merely as a cruel judge.
- “…reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed”: He thinks God demands something that He does not deserve. A steward was supposed to use money according to his master’s wishes. It was the master’s money; the servant’s job was to use it wisely. The rewards belonged to the master, because it all belonged to him. This statement must have been the ultimate insult a servant could give his master. It would be like a modern-day employee telling his boss, “It is none of your business what I do with my time while I’m on the clock; buzz off!” Or, “I don’t care what you think; I’ll do what I want with the corporation’s funds!”
Scripture throughout reminds Christians that we have been entrusted with a stewardship. For example, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” All of our finances ultimately belong to God. Some Christians think that if they have given a tithe (ten percent) to the church, then God does not care what they do with the other 90%. Nothing can be further from the truth.
While God may allow us some pleasures, we still must use our material resources according to His will. Fiscal irresponsibility (including unnecessary debt, wasteful spending, failure to pay our bills, etc.) are clear signs of spiritual immaturity. So is an unwillingness to provide for your own needs and those of your family through honest employment.
This is not to minimize the importance of tithing, though. The church does spiritual work (preaching salvation to sinners, training disciples, encouraging and counseling those in need, etc.) and should not be driven by an emphasis on money. However, we live in a society where money is necessary.
One blessing is that few churches force people to pay. We are urged by Scripture to give 10% of our income back to God through the local church. Even in the most money-minded churches I have seen, nobody stood at the door demanding payment as people entered or deprived people of prayer or counsel until they paid their dues.
Unfortunately, many Christians trample on this aspect of God’s grace. They assume that they can continually take away from the body of Christ without giving. To see how few Christians tithe, one can visit websites like Generous Giving. According to a page on Statistics and Trends, the major denomination whose members give the highest percentage of their income to the church is the Assemblies of God. Even in this denomination, with a strong teaching in favor of tithing, the average member gives only about 5% of their income to the ministry. Ironically, the same website claims that the AG also has the lowest average income among its members of all major denominations. It seems as though a small handful of Christians actually tithe, and the rest of the church’s members give a token offering. According to Jesus, this is a reflection of what we cherish in our hearts.
“[B]ut lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21).
May we each take a close look at our lives and consider our commitment to God. Let us commit to regular worship with the Body of Christ and to daily prayer for our brothers and sisters, especially our pastors and other spiritual leaders. Let us look at the talents and spiritual gifts God has given us and use our abilities in service to God’s church for His glory. Finally, let us remember to give to the Lord a portion of the material goods He has entrusted to us.