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Straight Talk on Money Matters, Part 1

[This article was previously published in our July newsletter.]

Last month, Pastor Josh shared about out financial status in his newsletter article on fellowship (koinonia). In follow-up to that article, the elders and Pastor Josh have asked me to write a series of articles on giving. This year we have been consistently running behind in our income, and at the end of June our deficit has reached what may be an all-time high. Since our trustees have wisely set aside a reserve fund all bills are being paid on time, but if the deficit continues to grow budget cuts may soon have to be considered.

First Free has had a remarkable history of faithful and generous givers over the past 64 years of our existence. We have never conducted an annual stewardship drive as many churches do; we haven’t had to. Instead we have generally addressed the topic of giving only when it came up in the course of our regular expository preaching. However, several factors have converged to present some new challenges today. First, many of the families who have been the financial backbone of our church for the past 40 years are nearing or at retirement. Income for some of these people has slowed considerably and in some cases stopped altogether. Second, of the many new families who have joined over the past few years, most are young families with small children. They are in the early stages of their careers, purchasing their first homes, and facing the challenges of a stagnant economy.

Third, many young believers have not been taught the privileges or responsibilities of biblical stewardship in any systematic way. Fifteen years ago many of First Free’s families had taken a Crown class on finances, which had a very positive impact on their personal lives as well as the church. Today some enroll in Financial Peace University, but FPU does not have the same emphasis upon stewardship that Crown had. This fall we plan to begin offering Compass financial classes which are largely based on the Crown material. And fourth, we have lost some very faithful givers who have died, moved out of town, or left the church for one reason or another.

I would like to address our current need first from a philosophical and theological basis, and then in coming months more practically. I am personally convinced that no church has financial problems per se. Churches only have spiritual problems that manifest themselves financially. And by “spiritual problems” I don’t necessarily mean gross sin problems. Rather I’m thinking of such factors as ignorance of biblical teaching, feelings of disenfranchisement on the part of some people, lack of faith on the part of leaders and people, and prayerlessness. I’m not suggesting that these particular issues explain our current shortfall, but I suspect each plays some part.

Before discussing a Christian’s responsibility in giving I believe attention has to be given to three foundational principles in the Bible.

1. The principle of ownership: God is the rightful owner of all we possess. This is basic, friends. If we accept the popular dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, believing that God is only concerned about our spiritual lives, not our business lives, our leisure, our politics, or our finances, we will never discover what financial freedom or generous stewardship is all about. He is sovereign over all of life and he is the rightful owner of all we call our own, including our money. The Psalmist says that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and every animal of the forest belongs to him (Psalm 50:10, 11).

2. The principle of authority: God has the right to determine how his possessions are used. (Matt. 25:14-30). If our money ultimately belongs to God, then only he has the authority to tell us how we are to obtain it, spend it, save it, or give it. True, he has given us delegated authority as his stewards, and he allows us a fair degree of self-determination, as the well-known Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 reveals. The owner in that story gave a certain amount of money to each servant and let them decide how to invest it, but he had definite expectations about the end results, and he applied rewards and sanctions to each, depending upon their faithfulness. God actually lays down few rules but a lot of principles which, when applied with wisdom, enable us to discover his will in regard to our finances.

3. The principle of dependence: God wants us to recognize him as the only source of our security. (Phil. 4:19). Our culture screams at us in a thousand ways that security is found in bank accounts, in cars, in homes, in clothes, in career, in popularity. But God tells us that the only true security is the security of knowing him. We are better off poverty-stricken but recognizing our dependence upon him than we would be if filthy rich but independent.

I was at an area pastors’ meeting and we were talking about our core values, the beliefs that are foundational to our lives and ministries. One of my colleagues spoke up and said, “I have a core value, and it’s that God is not able to provide all my needs.” Huh? I wondered if I was talking to a heretic. Then I realized that the problem is that I’m not used to such honesty. He was confessing that as much as he would like to be totally trusting in God, the fact is much of his time was spent trying to achieve financial security. The root issue was a lack of faith in God. Philippians 4:19 says: "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” That is either true or it isn’t. If it’s true, then that is where our security is found!

In the next article I plan to address what I believe is the most basic reason why more Christians don’t give according to biblical standards. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not because they are selfish or materialistic or lack a spirit of generosity.