(6) First, Last, and Best: Jesus and Our Giving

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(6) First, Last, and Best: Jesus and Our Giving

In the first entry of this series on personal finance, we looked at Matthew 6:33 and Christ’s promise that if we seek Him first, He would provide for all of our necessities.  In Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, page 99, Ellen White offers some commentary on this very verse that is instructive:

 

Jesus does not release us from the necessity of effort, but He teaches that we are to make Him first and last and best in everything. We are to engage in no business, follow no pursuit, seek no pleasure, that would hinder the outworking of His righteousness in our character and life. Whatever we do is to be done heartily, as unto the Lord.  (emphasis added)

 

It’s easy to read this quote as merely a nice-sounding, figurative platitude, but what does it mean to make Jesus “first, last, and best”—especially in our personal finances?  I believe it means exactly what it says, that Christ should be all-encompassing in our money management.  As we conclude this series, I want to particularly zero in on how we can accomplish this in our giving.

 

Make Jesus First:  Systematic Giving

Let each regularly examine his income, which is all a blessing from God, and set apart the tithe as a separate fund, to be sacredly the Lord’s. This fund should not in any case be devoted to any other use; it is to be devoted solely to support the ministry of the gospel. After the tithe is set apart, let gifts and offerings be apportioned, “as God hath prospered” you.  (Ellen White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 80, emphasis added)

 

Perhaps the most familiar principle amongst Adventists on the topic of giving is that of the tithe.  We’ve been taught that out of each paycheck, we ought to pay God first before spending money on anything else.  That’s good.

 

However, let’s be clear that the tithe is not the extent of our financial obligations to God.  In fact, God’s contention with His people in Malachi 3:8 was that they were robbing Him, not only of the sacred tithe, but also in offerings.  The tithe is, in actuality, our minimum obligation to God.  Beyond the tithe, offerings should also be part of our systematic giving that we return to the Lord first.

 

How Much Offering Should We Give?

Conventional wisdom has suggested that a freewill offering should simply be whatever amount we are able to give.  Besides, didn’t Ellen White quote the Apostle Paul himself when she said that we should simply give “as God hath prospered” (1 Corinthians 16:2)?[1]

 

But what is the meaning of “as God hath prospered?”  In my experience, most people interpret this to simply mean, “Whatever amount is convenient.”  I know that in my own personal experience, this has often looked like fumbling around my wallet for the smallest bill when the offering plate comes around!  Is that really what it means?

 

How Hath God Prospered?

The Spirit of Prophecy actually gives us counsel even in this matter.  Notice this passage in Patriarchs and Prophets, page 527 (emphasis added):

 

The contributions required of the Hebrews for religious and charitable purposes amounted to fully one fourth of their income. So heavy a tax upon the resources of the people might be expected to reduce them to poverty; but, on the contrary, the faithful observance of these regulations was one of the conditions of their prosperity.

 

The Hebrews were expected to give 25% of their income.  To make sure no one would assume that it was a typo, Mrs. White immediately acknowledged that this was a huge tax numerically speaking but insisted that it was one of the conditions of their prosperity.

 

Surely circumstances have changed since then, so this certainly could not apply to us living in the 21st Century! Right? Please?

 

Let’s keep reading on page 528 (emphasis added):

 

In the days of Israel the tithe and freewill offerings were needed to maintain the ordinances of divine service. Should the people of God give less in this age? The principle laid down by Christ is that our offerings to God should be in proportion to the light and privileges enjoyed. “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Luke 12:48 […] The work of the gospel, as it widens, requires greater provision to sustain it than was called for anciently; and this makes the law of tithes and offerings of even more urgent necessity now than under the Hebrew economy.

 

Apparently, God doesn’t expect any less of us today than He did of the Hebrews of old.  In fact, He expects more because this passage explains precisely what “as God hath prospered” truly means.  That phrase doesn’t only apply to what God has blessed us with financially, but rather what God has prospered us with as far as spiritual light and privileges we have enjoyed.  Should those of us in these last days, upon whom the light of God’s truth shines down with greatest intensity, “give less in this age?”

“As God hath prospered” means more than financial prosperity but also spiritual prosperity.

 

When God Is Too Specific

How often we seek God for counsel and are disappointed to find only general principles that seem so vague and imprecise that we struggle to apply them—how we wish He would just give us a specific answer for a change!  When I first was confronted with this passage, I took a deep gulp and actually wished that God had been less specific just this once and had simply given me a general principle to apply!

 

I admit that committing 25% off the top of each paycheck to God in tithes and offerings sounds tough, but I can testify that it is most definitely possible as long as we are intentional in gathering up the fragments and counting the cost with our spending as we’ve discussed previously in this series.  After all, isn’t the point to make Jesus first with our money?

 

Make Jesus Last:  Surplus Giving

God deems it appropriate for us to provide for the health, comfort, and necessities of our loved ones by the appropriate methods we’ve discussed in this series, including earning, saving, and investing properly for the future.  However, what if we end up having more than what we need?  What if we reach the goals for our savings?  The rest should go into God’s treasury.

 

This is how we make Jesus last with our money:

 

Brethren, awake from your life of selfishness, and act like consistent Christians. The Lord requires you to economize your means and let every dollar not needed for your comfort flow into the treasury. (Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, p. 156, emphasis added)

 

Planning the Estate

There are some who pursue wealth for the purpose of amassing a large estate.  Some reason that by doing so they can accomplish more for the work of God because they are leaving a larger sum upon their death than what they could have given during their life.  This idea of growing an ever-increasing portfolio of investments, and saving up more than we ever need, sounds an awful lot like a certain rich man in Luke 12:16-21, whose hoarding of riches in ever-bigger barns was soundly denounced by Jesus. Poignantly on this point, Mrs. White says in Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, page 155, “Dying charity is a poor substitute for living benevolence.”

 

It is not the arithmetic sum of assets bequeathed to God’s work that He is concerned about.  He doesn’t need our money!  It is for our sanctification that He asks us to not only make Him first in our tithes and offerings but to also make Him last in giving Him of all our surplus that is beyond what we need.

 

What About the Children?

Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children.”  Indeed, but does this mean we ought to build up a large estate to leave for our children?

 

If parents, while they live, would assist their children to help themselves, it would be better than to leave them a large amount at death. Children who are left to rely principally upon their own exertions, make better men and women, and are better fitted for practical life, than those children who have depended upon their father’s estate. The children left to depend upon their own resources generally prize their abilities, improve their privileges, and cultivate and direct their faculties to accomplish a purpose in life. They frequently develop characters of industry, frugality, and moral worth, which lie at the foundation of success in the Christian life. (Ellen White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 332, emphasis added)

 

So while it is right to leave an inheritance for our children, it is unnecessary (and positively harmful!) to leave them a huge sum.  The best inheritance for children is sound spiritual and practical education so that they are prepared to succeed in this life, and in the life to come.  Anything above what is necessary to accomplish this task should “flow into the treasury” of the Lord.

 

Make Jesus Best:  Sacrificial Giving

We’ve talked about giving Jesus 25% or more right off the top of our income.  We’ve talked about returning any surplus beyond our needs to His work.  What more is there to give?

 

Everything.

 

The Bible is rife with examples where God made unique and specific calls for certain individuals to give everything to Him.

  • Abraham first had to leave his home and family; later, he had to sacrifice his only begotten son.
  • Moses was called to forsake being a prince of Egypt to suffer affliction with the people of God.
  • Elisha was called to leave his wealthy family to pour water on the prophet’s hands.
  • Peter, James, and John left their nets and livelihood to become disciples of Jesus.
  • The rich young ruler was asked by Jesus to sell all, to give to the poor, and to follow Him.

 

In each of these scenarios, there were real financial ramifications to their decisions.  God did not simply ask for 10% or even 25%.  He asked for everything.  It is not God’s general counsel for everyone to sell everything, but He certainly has the prerogative to do so with each one of us, doesn’t He?  It all belongs to Him anyway!

 

So how do we make Jesus best with our money?  It is simply by being ready to give sacrificially above and beyond our regular giving should He request it—even if He asked for everything.

 

We believe that all we possess belongs to God.  We believe that we are living in the end-times, and that soon we will be asked to walk away from it all anyway.  Should we not be prepared at all times to give it all up, should He ask?

 

Some may inquire, ‘Must we actually dispossess ourselves of everything which we call our own?’ We may not be required to do this now; but we must be willing to do so for Christ’s sake.  (Ellen White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 324, emphasis added)

 

Summing It Up

Money provides a visible measure of our heart condition.  It’s one of the fruits in the Christian life that can be inspected.  How we handle our money has everything to do with our sanctification.  See what Ellen White says in Counsels on Stewardship, page 343 (emphasis added):

 

The Lord has made us His almoners. He places in our hands His gifts, in order that we shall divide with those who are needy, and it is this practical giving that will be to us a sure panacea for all selfishness.

 

Want victory over sin? Desiring a cure for selfishness?  Apparently, how we handle our money—specifically our practical giving—has a lot to do with that.  But only if we make sure that even with our personal finances we make Jesus first, last, and best.

I pray that through the course of this series, you have gained sound principles and have learned practical tools for how to glorify Christ through our financial stewardship.  May we be found faithful when He comes![2]

Read the rest of the Money Management for End-Time Disciples series!

______

Notes:

[1] All Bible passages are from the King James Version.

[2] This series of articles is adapted from Alistair’s six-part seminar series on personal finance presented at GYC 2015.

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About the author

Alistair Huong

Alistair Huong serves as the Executive Director of AudioVerse, a supporting media ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He resides in the Collegedale, TN area with his wife, Deborah, and daughter, Leilani. In his free time, he enjoys gardening and writing about personal finance at his blog, https://www.savingthecrumbs.com/.