Christ’s primary argument against amassing material wealth on earth isn’t that it’s morally wrong, but simply that it’s stupid. It’s a poor investment. Material things just won’t stand the test of time. Even if they escape moths and rust and thieves, they cannot escape the coming fire of God that will consume the material world (2 Peter 3:4). They will be parted from us or we will be parted from them, but the bottom line is, we can’t take it with us.
But Jesus adds this incredibly exciting corollary: “No, you can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.” That’s the treasure principle. That’s what we do when we give.
There are two different ways for pastors to appeal to their people concerning giving: Give because it will bring you joy, and give because it will bring you eternal reward. In other words, don’t just do it because it’s right, but because it’s smart, and it will make you happy.
If we store up our treasures on earth, then every day that moves us closer to death moves us further from our treasures. Christ calls us to turn it around—to store up our treasures in Heaven. That way, instead of every day moving away from our treasures, we’re every day moving toward our treasures. Pastors should ask their people: Are you moving toward your treasures or away from them?
Understanding the Power of Example
Pastors should not only teach but also model a biblical pattern of stewardship. Ezra, spiritual leader of his people, “determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people” (Ezra 7:10). Pastors need to be transparent about their own giving journey and what God has taught them along the way. If we fail to teach biblical stewardship and radical generosity in our churches, why should we be surprised that so few Christians appear to be practicing them?
People respond best when they have tangible examples they can follow in their leaders and their peers (Numbers 7:3). Fellow Christians ought to disciple each other in financial stewardship. Young believers need to see biblical lifestyle principles embodied. Those who’ve learned about the bondage of debt the hard way need to warn others. Young couples need to hear their elders tell of their joy in giving, and how God has used it in their family. (One step I took as a pastor was to assemble and distribute a booklet of financial testimonies by 10 church families.)
To turn the tide of materialism in the Christian community, we desperately need bold models of kingdom-centered living. We should glorify God, not people. But we must see and hear other giving stories or our people will not learn to give. (See Should Giving Always Be Kept Secret?)
We’re to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews10:24). Shouldn’t we be asking, “How can we spur on each other’s giving? How can we help each other excel in giving?”
One way church leaders can inspire giving is by committing the church to give away a higher percentage of its own income. Does 15 percent of the church’s income go to missions? Raise it to 25 percent next year and more the next. Does 5 percent go to helping the poor? Raise it to 15 percent. For the same reason that churches wanting to discourage their people from incurring debt should not incur debt, churches wanting to encourage giving should give. Giving shouldn’t just be something churches talk about, but something they do.
Pastors shouldn’t limit instruction on giving to times when they’re raising funds for building projects. Why not preach on giving for four weeks, and then follow it not with an offering that will benefit the church but with a missions offering that will benefit others? If we want people to stretch themselves in their stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to them, the best way to model this is for the church to stretch itself in its giving.