We’ve come to the end of our series on Wesley’s Rules for the Use of Money, where we’ve talked so far about earning all you can and saving all you can. But now we come to the third rule which, in many ways, is the goal of the other two—that we “give all we can.”
There are a lot of Scriptures we can point to in the Bible that are about giving all that we can. We might turn to Luke 21, for example and look at the story of the widow who gives one small coin at the Temple, and Jesus says her gift is more valuable because she gave it sacrificially as opposed to the rich who gave out of their leftovers. We could point to Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians to give cheerfully, or we could take another tack altogether and look at Acts 5 at the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who hold back part of the gift they promised to the church and, when confronted with their deception, drop dead on the spot. I’m actually surprised we don’t use that one more often when talking about giving!
We wouldn’t expect, however, that this familiar story of Zacchaeus would make the list. Most of us know if from the song we learned in Sunday School—“Zacchaeus was a wee little man…” For most of us, it’s a story about a man who was despised by others but loved by Jesus and it changed his life—and it certainly is that. But when we look more closely at the story, we see that it has something powerful to say to us about what happens when Jesus meets us and our money. Things begin to change.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector in Jericho. We’ve talked before about tax collectors in the ancient world—these were hated men who skimmed a profit by taxing the people over and above what was required by Rome. Zacchaeus may have been “short in stature” or a “wee little man,” but that’s not the only reason he went up that sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus, who was on his way to Jerusalem to face the cross. He was likely up that tree as much to escape the crowd as he was to get a good view. In fact, if you go to Jericho today they will take you to a large sycamore tree and tell you, “This is the one.” It most certainly isn’t, but sycamores can grow very tall and would be a good refuge if you’re trying to stay out of reach.
Jesus sees Zacchaeus and tells him, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” What sounds like Jesus inviting himself to dinner is really an act of grace. Jesus will stay with this hated tax collector, risking his own reputation in doing so. He is giving Zacchaeus the gift of his presence, despite all the despicable things the man has done to his neighbors. It’s scandalous, really. Jesus has bypassed the town welcoming committee and gone to stay at the village criminal’s house. No wonder they grumbled, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
The little Sunday School song skips the next part, however, which is really the crux of the story. His encounter with Jesus and grace changes Zacchaeus almost immediately, moving him from greed to generosity. “Look, Lord, I give half my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.” And Jesus responds, “Today, salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.” Zacchaeus doesn’t merely pray a spiritual salvation prayer, he changes his whole life and reorders his priorities.
We so often think of the term “salvation” as a spiritual thing that happens when we accept Jesus. It’s certainly a spiritual change, but we often miss the fact that salvation should lead to a much more comprehensive change in us. If we are truly “saved,” it will affect more than just our spiritual lives and eternal destiny—that’s half the gospel. Salvation is a gift given by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, but it’s a gift that calls for a response that involves our whole lives—even our money.
Salvation involves the conversion of our whole lives
Martin Luther, the great Reformer, said that three conversions are necessary in the Christian life: the conversion of our heart, the conversion of our mind, and the conversion of our purse. For Luther, conversion/salvation was about more than money, but never about anything less than money. This is often where the rubber meets the road. We love to claim a spiritual conversion, but it’s a salvation that’s only spirit-deep. Real conversion gets into areas of our lives that we might be tempted to hold back, like the person who wants to be baptized but keeps his wallet out of the water. Zacchaeus recognized that responding to Jesus meant changing his financial ways as well as his morality and loyalty. He responded to grace with generosity.
Indeed, for Martin Luther and John Wesley and Christians throughout history, generosity with resources has been one of the ways Christians respond to the generosity of God. In our last series, we talked about the marks of a Methodist and said that we respond to the love of God with joy, thanksgiving, prayer, and by loving others. Part of that response is found in the ways we share what God has given to us. I think that’s what Paul means in 1 Timothy 6:18 when he exhorts Timothy to tell the rich “to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others. When they do these things, they will save a treasure for themselves that is a good foundation for the future. That way, they can take hold of what is truly life.”
John Wesley saw that giving was the “farther end” of earning and saving. We earn and we save to build wealth so that it can be shared. Wesley saw this as part of the idea of Christian perfection—that we are being perfected in love by the grace of God, and that as we grow to be more like Jesus the more we begin to see things like money through the lens of his generosity toward us. It all belongs to God in the first place, thus everything we manage is his. We participate in his saving mission by sharing with others our time, our talent, and our resources for the purpose of caring for their needs and introducing them to Christ. As Wesley puts it in the sermon, money can be “of unspeakable service in doing all manner of good.” It can meet the needs of others—the hungry, the sick, the spiritually seeking—thus bringing us in line with Jesus’ own ministry.
What Wesley calls for is nothing less than using our money as the practical means by which we participate in what we pray for in the Lord’s prayer: God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. It all belongs to him. When we give generously, when we see all the money we manage as belonging to God, we are investing in God’s kingdom project, using God’s resources to do God’s work!
Zacchaeus had his life transformed and then he used the money he had collected to transform the lives of others who were poor. That’s the gospel in action. And Zacchaeus was just one man. Imagine what would happen if a whole community of people responded to Jesus in this way?
Well, we can imagine it—it’s a community called the church. We are a community of people who realize the amazing gift we have been given in Jesus Christ and we are called as the church to respond with generosity. We are the kingdom community, and we recognize that the resources we manage can do even greater things when we pool them together. When the church responds to Jesus with generosity, as much as with worship, prayer, and service, lives become changed and people experience the through-going salvation of Jesus in their lives and in their households. Every dollar we give has the potential to impact a life, now and for eternity.
If you looked at the information we mailed out to you during this campaign, you saw the sheet where on one side there was a pie chart showing you where all the church’s money goes, while on the other side was a list of numbers of people impacted by what the church does. Every dime we take in gets translated into people. Our building expenses aren’t just “overhead,” they provide a place for people to connect to Jesus through worship, learning, and fellowship. Our staff expenses provide trained and passionate people to resource the congregation in reaching other people with the good news of Jesus. Our program expenses connect children, youth, and adults to Jesus in a wide variety of ways, and our mission expenses help us to impact people beyond the walls of the church by caring for their spiritual and physical needs. The local church is a good investment of our generosity.
You may have also seen the sheet in there talking about our vision. It’s a vision to reach more people in our community with the good news of Jesus and see their lives transformed. As John Wesley took to the streets and fields of 18th century England to preach the gospel, our vision is to be a church that does the same. We want to invest in building missional communities of people who will be an open place for our pre-Christian friends and neighbors to encounter people who have been transformed by Jesus. We want to invest in internet technology, the new mission field, and share the gospel message with them through the media they use every day. This is field preaching for the 21st century! We’d like to hire a new staff person for media arts as a way of helping us to leverage technology like social media, video, and internet for the purpose of changing people’s lives now and for eternity! We want to put the gospel message in the hands of people, whether they are in church on Sunday morning, or on the soccer field, or sitting with a cup of coffee at home. When we come together in generosity, we can use the money we receive to do “unspeakable service” for God’s kingdom.
This is what it means to be stewards—to see our giving as having an eternal impact. After we have earned all we can and saved all we can, we give all we can—not out of obligation, but out of joy. Zacchaeus went from living fearfully to living joyously; from greedy consumption to generous giving all because Jesus gave him the gift of his presence. What will we do in response to his gift of salvation for us?
Tossers, Tryers, and Tithers
Jim Harnish says that there are three different kinds of people when it comes to giving:
- Tossers are those who throw in some of their excess money, like the religious leaders at the temple. They didn’t miss it much. It was extra. Many people begin here, just giving a little bit of discretionary money to charity or to the church.
- Tryers are those who are moving deeper in their generosity. They may not be giving all they can right now, but they’re working toward it. They’re working toward that 10-10-80 plan and want to earn, save, and give more.
- And there are the tithers, who see the 10% they give to God as a baseline, the ground of generosity. Generally, however, tithers don’t stop there. By the time they’ve become tithers, they’ve seen the blessings that come with generosity and they can’t wait to do more.
Zacchaeus went all in with his money when he encountered Jesus. It’s great if we can give like that, but for many it will take smaller steps. If you’re a tosser, consider working toward that 10-10-80 plan by becoming a tryer. If you’re a tryer, think about moving toward tithing. And if you’re a tither, think about how you can move beyond ten percent and invest even more in God’s kingdom work through the church. The point is that we’re seeing our wallets and checkbooks not in terms of what’s in it for me, but how we can invest well by earning, saving, and giving all we can. As the writer of Proverbs puts it:
“Those who give generously receive more, but those who are stingy with what is appropriate will grow needy. Generous persons will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24-25).
I invite you to consider your investment. Consider how God has been generous with you. Consider your response. Consider what we might do together as the body of Christ known as Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church. Consider the people whose lives will be affected in the coming year by what God can do through us.