An overview of the message of this book, with page references:
THE SIN WE TREAT AS A VIRTUE -
The Major Issue in Christ’s Teaching
What is the Major Issue in Christ’s Teaching?
It is not immorality. Nor pride. Nor hypocrisy. (Though Jesus certainly speaks sharply against these!) It is the one he warns against in the strongest possible terms: “Be on your guard! Beware! Watch out! Take care!” (See page 8.)
The issue upon which Jesus had more, much more, to say than any other - about all its ramifications and devastating consequences - is greed. Coveting. Avarice. Materialism. Always wanting more and more and never quite having enough. (p.10-12.)
We live in an age that is making a virtue out of greed. Our entire economic system is being tied more and more tightly, not to supplying the needs of mankind, but to increases in productivity, and therefore, to sales (there is no point producing more goods if you can’t sell them). (p.11.)
God the Source and the Owner of All Things
Greed distorts our perspective, for we almost never see greed in ourselves. We need to carefully evaluate our lives, and our attitude to our possessions, our resources, in the light of the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. For, all we have been given comes from the hand of God, who is the owner of all things, and it is not given for our own exclusive use and enjoyment. (p.12-14.)
We are confronted, Jesus says, with a choice: to serve as a slave to God, or to be enslaved by wealth; for “no person can serve two masters - you cannot serve both God and wealth”. Jesus does not say it is difficult - he says it is impossible. (p.16-17.) Thus he gives us this instruction: “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures upon earth. ... But accumulate for yourselves treasure in heaven. ... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (p.18.) And, says Paul, “No immoral, impure, or greedy person - such a person is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” The N.T. treats greed as a dangerous and deadly sin! (p.19.)
The teaching of Christ and his apostles is founded upon this recognition that God is the Creator of all things, and that all things belong to him. (p.26-27.) He has given generously to us, and it is his purpose that we are to follow his example and be generous givers ourselves. Indeed, it is upon the basis of the operation of this principle that God has set up the way in which life is to operate upon earth. This was established in the pattern of tithes and offerings set in Israel. (Chapter 3.)
Tithes and Offerings
We are to note that the tithe is a tenth of one’s increase, and it belongs to the Lord. (p.29-30.) Then beyond the basic obligation of this tenth, there were the special gifts and the freewill offerings. (p.41.) In Malachi’s day the people of Israel had turned away from observing these commandments, and in God’s name the prophet confronts the people concerning this sin: “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse - your whole nation - because you are robbing me.” (p.35-36.)
In the New Testament, Christ endorsed tithing: concerning the way the Pharisees tithed carefully though neglecting other serious matters, Jesus said to them, “You ought to have practised the one without neglecting the other.” (p.46.) And he taught, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And he is holding up a coin in his hand as he says this! And his disciples and all the people present know that God claimed the tithe as his. (p.49-50.)
The starting point of the teaching of the apostles about giving was that the first Christians, being Jews, knew all about tithing. When they were being taught now to “give generously”, this was to do more as Christians than they would have under Jewish law; more, not less! (p. 53-57.) Paul explicitly explains that just as God’s workers in the temple were supported by the tithes and offerings of the Israelites, so now “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” - i.e., similarly, through tithes and offerings. (p.58.)
The tithe - a tenth of our income - should be the starting point of our giving. But the available statistics show that overall giving by Christians is much less than this: Christian giving is well below 10% of their income. (These statistics are on pages 63-64 and 72-74.) If all Christians were to give just the tithe to the Lord, this would have an immense effect on the worldwide work of the gospel. (p.76-77.) But we are called to more: to sacrificial giving of tithes and offerings.
How are we to use our tithes and offerings? See Chapter 6: Provision for our worship; provision for Christian ministry - in our own church, and in worldwide outreach; provision for the poor and needy.
The Four New Testament Pictures
Most of us, as we now face the challenge of Christ and his apostles to be generous givers, possess wealth beyond the imagining in past ages. Or of today, in the poorer countries of the world. What is God’s purpose in giving us so much of material possessions? Paul explains: “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion”. (p.76.) If we are not using all our resources (beyond what is actually needful for modest personal living expenses) in generous support of the Lord’s work then we are misusing the Lord’s provision.
The New Testament presents us with four pictures depicting how we should each envisage the resources that the Lord places at our disposal:
Ÿ 1. Loving family member with responsibilities towards other members of Christ’s family (p.162.)
Ÿ 2. Wartime Supply Team Member, charged with keeping the frontline troops supplied. (p.163.)
Ÿ 3. The Delivery System. Part of a network of pipes throughout the world designed by the Almighty Manufacturer to be used to carry the Lifegiving Water from where it is available to where it is most needed. Or a courier service, charged with the task of conveying someone else’s goods to the addresses that he has chosen; the packages, the goods, do not belong to us. (p.163-164.)
Ÿ 4. The Manager, entrusted with the Master’s Property. We must never act as if we own it - we are the custodians, the guardians, the caretakers, the administrators, the trustees for a time, of property that is not ours. We are stewards for the Lord, and we must be found faithful in our responsibility, to use this property as he has directed us. (p.165.)
reflect carefully and thoughtfully upon each of these
analogies, then we will get the picture that the New Testament
presents. For these are the ways we are to see ourselves in
the mirror of Scripture: and how we are to use our present
resources, in forwarding Christ’s kingdom.