The Sign of the Dollar
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21)
Dollars spent are a sign pointing to what is valuable to us. Where our dollar goes indicates what our priorities are. A credit card statement can tell a lot about our character for “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Faithful pastors and church leaders are always careful when talking about money, in part because of the serious abuse of finances by churches and denominations across the ages. Many of those outside the faith see Christianity as nothing more than an elaborate money-making scheme. Indeed, church and money have proven to be a volatile mix, especially when church is run (contrary to Scripture) on a business model. A quick Google search reveals that just fifteen of the wealthiest church groups or denominations in the world hold a net worth of a whopping $1.3 trillion. This seems incongruous with the spirit of the Leader of our faith who had “not where to lay his head.”
Despite all this, generous giving is a theme throughout God’s Word, and it is rooted (first) in the very creation itself. God, the ultimate Generous Giver, created a world as our home. It is a gift to us, lavish and very expensive. We didn’t earn it. We didn’t build it. We simply inherited it from the hands of that epitome of generous donors, God Himself.
In Matthew 6:19-23 we learn that most people pursue earthly treasures, but earthly treasures are vulnerable, weak, and temporary. Heavenly treasures, by contrast, are permanent and secure. The force of sheer logic demands that we pursue heavenly treasures more than earthly ones. In the process of this, we discover the Gospel itself. Who knew that a biblical study of giving could be another way to discover and preach the Gospel?!
Whose Money Is It?
According to passages like Psalm 24:1, all the money is God’s for “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” It is this God who gives us the power to get wealth (Deut. 8:18). And when we are saved by His grace, we learn that we are not our own for we “are bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Immediately, then, we see that our financial resources are not our own. We are stewards of these resources, not true possessors of them. As stewards, what we do with the money entrusted to us becomes a sign to reveal and display what our priorities truly are.
Why Should We Plan to Give Away as Much Money as Possible?
First of all, the Bible sounds an alarm about the power of money to corrupt us. First Timothy 6:9 reminds us that “those who will be rich fall into a snare and into many foolish and hurtful lusts.” It then rounds out the discussion with the famous verse, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” Materialism has crippled, maybe crushed, our own society, simply because the lust for more and more material possessions is never satisfied. No wonder Jesus sets the record straight when He explains that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things possessed (Luke 12:15).
Secondly, the Bible tells us that giving money away is an antidote to the corrupting influences of the dollar. It is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) and God “loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). It may be true that God gives us money to make us happy but, in God’s Kingdom, the real happiness comes in giving money away. Randy Alcorn has written, “God gives you more money not to raise your standard of living but to raise your standard of giving.” The Macedonians experienced this delight as witnessed by the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 8:2: “how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (emphasis added).
Thirdly, in giving away as much money as possible, we actually accrue treasure of another kind in another place. Although there is much mystery here and no one understands just how this works, Jesus teaches this in our text. Laying up treasure in heaven is a real thing and all our works of piety – generated by the Holy Spirit working in us – are part of that heavenly storehouse. This is Jesus’ promise to the rich, young ruler (Mark 10). This is Paul’s promise to the rich of 1 Timothy 6 (“laying up in store…a good foundation…that they may lay hold of eternal life”). This is Paul’s assurance to the Philippians when they give as unto the Lord. Paul is quick to say he doesn’t desire a gift from them, but he wishes them to give for “fruit that may abound” on their account (Phil. 4:17). Admittedly, this idea of treasure in another place at another time is a “hard sell” in our day of instantaneous gratification! But Malachi addresses this, too. For the promise is that our giving here does build treasure there, but it is a treasure which spills back down on earth as we continue to serve God! Read the context in Malachi 3:8-12 and be amazed at the windows of heaven God promises to open wide for His faithful children. It is truly the “earnest of our inheritance” enjoyed here on earth.
Finally, we should give away as much money as possible because giving is an analogy based in what God has done for us. He is the ultimate Generous Giver. We are never more like God than when we are giving. This is true of money, time, energies, and other resources. When Paul finishes writing the Corinthians about giving in 2 Cor. 9, he says, “thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.” God’s gift to His people in Christ is that standard from which we order all our giving. Here we see the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ who gave Himself so generously for the salvation of His people. We image forth this glory in a small analogical way every time we give of our substance. In faith, we are saying, “I trust You, O Risen Christ, to bring me the greater joy than this dollar, if I kept it, could bring me.” As Christ has freely given Himself, so children of God keep the giving pattern going, building treasure in heaven in the process. The dollar given away becomes a sign of what matters most to us – heaven and heavenly things!
What Do We Do Now?
In practical terms, developing a more robust understanding of our money and how it serves in the Kingdom of God makes some demands on us, as believers. For example, we must break the materialist obsession that has captured so many hearts and led so many astray. In order to do this, we must first give ourselves to the Lord as the Macedonians did (2 Cor. 8:5) if our giving is to be done properly. The Old Testament example of tithing (giving ten percent) is a good place to start, although not in a legalistic way. But true believers must ask the question: if God’s people gave a tenth of their resources in an Old Testament day of lesser gospel light, should not we give more generously in a day of greater gospel light? Regardless of the percentage you choose to give, we can see that regular, disciplined and generous are all practical parameters that help us apply these glorious principles.
All these considerations lead us to place our focus back on Christ, the Unspeakable Gift, with our eyes trained on the heavenly kingdom He is preparing for us. Thus, our dollars become true signs pointing us and others to the glorious riches in Christ as we lay up treasure which awaits us on the other side.
Thomas Mann has been an ordained elder for 38 years and is currently leading a gospel work in Floyd County, VA.