While reading the Sunday paper this spring my wife pointed out to me the mixed messages communicated in an advertisement. A large retailer was in large bold print asking the question “what will you give up for Lent” and simultaneously in equally large bold print nudging us to “get what you want because you deserve it.” So are we supposed to give up something or get whatever we want because we deserve it?
While these mixed messages are all around us, if I am to be honest, the same conflict routinely rises from within my heart. The truth is that if we seek to find satisfaction in either self-indulgence or in ritualistic sacrifice we will find we are still empty and lack any lasting joy. The problem with these conflicting perspectives however is not solely the absence of a well-constructed plan, missing knowledge, or an undisciplined ability to carry out our goals. The problem is not first in our head, the problem begins in our hearts.
God revealed to us how we should live by providing us with instruction from the Bible, and the Bible is not silent on the topic of money. In short, God instructs us that he owns everything (Psalm 24:1), entrusts his possessions to our care (Mat- thew 6:31-33), and asks us to manage them according to his plans (1 Corinthians 4:2). A critical part of his plan includes the demonstration of selfless love shown through generosity (Acts 20:35).
So, if God’s plan is perfect, why don’t we simply follow his plan? The problem is our rebellion against God which we call sin. Ever since Adam and Eve allowed themselves to be deceived in the Garden of Eden, choosing their way over God’s way, man has had a desire to establish his own kingdom rather than joyfully sub- mitting to our King and building up his kingdom. Because of sin, usual responses to the idea of giving are either rebellious and simply not done, or religious and done dutifully with pride.
The rebellious plan abhors the idea of giving away what’s been acquired. Those following this plan have other ideas for our money and while they may not admit it; we seek to find pleasure, identity, and ultimate satisfaction in things. Giving is something that will be done one day, but first they need “enough” for themselves. The problem with this is that ultimate joy doesn’t come from bigger bank accounts, or the most toys, and a day of “enough” will never come.
The Religious Plan pays its tithe much like a bill that is due. It is typically paid on time in the exact amount owed. Those following this plan may not admit it, how- ever, their dutiful payments rarely spark any emotion in them apart from pride. The problem with this is that ultimate joy doesn’t come from arrogant offerings and there is no way we can ever “pay” the debt owed. That was why Jesus came.
There is however a third response which we can call the Gospel Plan. Those following this plan have a changed heart, making them grateful for and contented with what the Lord provides (1 Timothy 6:6-8). They are reminded when giving of the ultimate demonstration of love that Jesus gave us through his victory on the cross. Those following this plan know that lasting joy doesn’t come from things, or from following rules, but that ultimate joy comes from our relationship with our Savior and Lord (Matthew 13:44-45).
So how do I take steps toward gospel-fueled giving? Trying harder? No. We begin by repenting of our rebellious selfishness or our religious performance and turning toward the cross. At the cross we find the ultimate example of giving that Jesus demonstrated for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Then, we plan for and take care of the needs of our household, we enjoy life, save for the future, joyfully participate in supporting our local church, and eagerly pray for wis- dom in demonstrating God’s love through additional giving opportunities. In short, we participate, we plan, and we pray. We start giving now, we seek wisdom and counsel in how to do this faithfully, and we pray for both thanksgiving and guidance (Philippians 4:6).
So what emotion is growing in you now? Do you feel guilty or embarrassed for not participating? Repent. Do you feel angry and defensive from giving fueled by pride? Repent. Do you feel humbled and encouraged because of opportunities you’ve had to obey with joy the giving plan of our King? Rejoice! Rejoice, and remember true joy is found in Christ alone ( John 4:14).