This past weekend I heard a sermon on the Pharisee and the tax collector. The parable is found in Luke 18. The self-righteous man believed he was right with God because he was keeping the letter of the Law. He did more than he was required. He fasted more often than what Pharisees were expected to do. He gave a tenth of all that he received. The requirements were to give a tenth of what was earned. He believed he was right with God by the things that he did; by the rules he kept. The tax collector knew his heart and knew he was not able to keep the Law. He knew he was a rule breaker – a sinner. I tend to keep rules too. But I recognize my own heart. I am a rule breaker too – I am a sinner who is only saved by grace, not by obeying the rules.
The preacher did not go where I am getting ready to go. What struck me about the topic was the giving part of the story. The man gave on everything he received; not just on what he earned. In essence, he was trying to out give God. By all means, giving is good. Scripture tells us we are supposed to discern in our hearts what we want to give. The attitude of the heart is where we go wrong. If we are only giving because of the requirement to give or to give only to get recognition of the gift; it accounts for nothing. We are to give because God gave to us first, and we are returning the portion that is rightly His. In Malachi, God says we are robbing Him if we do not return His portion. But it is not supposed to be done grudgingly. Paul taught in Second Corinthians that we are to be cheerful givers.
Money is a hard thing to part with. I have a financial background, and this can be one of my most difficult areas of obedience for me. Not necessarily giving back to God; but giving in general. When money is tight, I am not quite so willingly to donate to worthy causes. I check my expenditures for the month before I decide whether the cause is worthy enough to sacrifice for. This is not the way I want to be. I want to have a generous heart. But it is a constant struggle to let go of those things that God has given me. God has given me the challenge to do more with less. God is teaching me that He is sufficient to meet all my needs. He has worked on my desire for less stuff. I have to watch my thoughts though because I can get on my Pharisee corner and think too highly of myself because I have done this “great thing” to reduce my possessions. There is nothing that I have done by myself. It took God working in my heart and pointing out the things that have hindered my walk with Him. I can get too possessive of my stuff if I am not careful.
Then there is the lust game that comes at me from every angle. When I look at my neighbors or my friends, I see they have all they need plus some. They drive nice cars. They go out to eat more than I do. One of my neighbors is fixing up their house. My friend mentioned she found twenty dollars in the parking lot. I can get dissatisfied too if I am not careful to keep it all in the right perspective. I am reminded that if I don’t have something, then it’s because I am not ready for it. If God brings a blessing to me, then I know that my heart is right to accept it with gratitude. I also realized that I don’t need any debt in my life. God gives when we can handle it properly. The nice car is nice when there is no car payment that has to be made every month. Or the nice house is not so nice when the mortgage is more than I could afford.
God has been good to teach me the right principles to live by and how to honor Him with spending wisely. I am learning His principles of money management – it’s taken a few years, but I think I am finally over the “mine” phase. It’s all His. I am just the money manager for a short time. Someone else will get the job when I am finally done here on this earth! In the meantime, I no longer give because I have an obligation to God and want to follow the rules. I give because He is so generous to me. The budget will never look good on paper, but in God’s economy everything is always paid on time and with the right attitude!
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:6-8