This Sunday I am preaching on giving/tithing. In preparing this sermon it got me thinking about the typical tithing/giving sermon that I heard growing up. The sermon followed the lines of, “When you give, God will give you more. So you should give to get more. Then when you get more, you should give more so that you will get more.”
I was in a meeting a few months ago with several older pastors who were trying to convince me, the young guy, to preach this message and to do it once a year. They had me convinced at the time but in the following months I have rethought it.
To be sure, it is a biblical message if you read Malachi. Even if you read Philippians, 2 Corinthians and The Sermon on the Mount it holds up okay. But what bothers me is the appeal to selfishness. If we are just giving to get we are no different than those who buy stock in Wal-Mart or Apple or Google. However, I can get past that concern, albeit with difficulty.
What I cannot get past is that when I survey the culture I find that people in our world, especially us younger types, do not give to get. Our grandparents did, which is why the sermon worked miracles for the church 30 to 50 years ago. Our parents kind of did which is why the sermon has enjoyed a good shelf life. But any more, the appeal “give to get” is not working because the younger you are the more carefree you are with your money.
Also younger people are not giving to institutions. The sermon, “give to this institution and God will give you more through the institution” is a huge turn off. Instead we live in the world where 0% micro-loans proliferate, where millionaires create entirely new companies for the sake of giving money away and where people give airlines billions of dollars to go on overseas mission trips and then return to “share their experience” with the church. We do not do this to receive more money back. We do it because our culture (for better or worse) has convinced us that money is better spent on experiences than invested for rainy days.
In my own life, this means I give $5 to a homeless beggar in the hopes that when I do, he will tell me an entertaining story about his life. On the bad side of the same coin it also means I would spend $50 on a new video game just to experience what it would be like to be Batman. (Spoiler alert: it would be awesome. $50 well spent. . .unless you ask my wife.) I would certainly hesitate to give $5 to an institution even if that institution promised to give me $10 back at a later point.
Therefore the church should make giving “experiential” (which is another blog post for a different day) but we should also rethink what we say when we preach on tithing/giving.
That has been my task these past 2 weeks. I want to re-imagine a tithing sermon for the 21st century. It has not been easy but below are some thoughts about what that sermon would look like in juxtaposition to the 20th century sermon.
20th Century Text: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi 6:10
21st Century Text: 2 Corinthians 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
20th Century Thesis: If you give to God, God will give more to you.
21st Century Counter Thesis: When you give you join Jesus in becoming poor so that others might become rich.
20th Century Point #1: Giving is actually investing. So when you give you are buying stock in the church.
21st Century CounterPoint #1: Giving is actually sharing or partnering. When you give you are sharing in the community of the church which yields many experiences.
20th Century Point #2: When you don’t give you are cutting yourself off from God’s blessing.
21st Century Counter Point #2: When you don’t give you are cutting others off from God’s blessing.
20th Century Point #3: God blesses a cheerful giver.
21st Century Counter Point #3: God loves a cheerful giver by blessing others through that cheerful giver.
Whatever your sermon, please preach on giving. It is extremely important in the life of a Christian and we should preach about it at least once a year and live a life that compels others to join in this grace of giving.
Hopefully the sermon will be up early next week. Until then I would appreciate your thoughts.