“Red Letter Challenge: Giving” – Matthew 6:21
Holy Trinity Sunday – June 16, 2019
A few weeks ago, I introduced the Red Letter Challenge. Remember, in some Bibles, Jesus’
words are indicated by red letters. Since Jesus calls on those who follow Him to both hear His
words and put them into practice, Pastor Zach Zehnder of Florida identifies 5 targets as the
significant topics that Jesus talks about in the Bible: BEING, FORGIVING, SERVING,
GIVING, GOING. We have already dealt with BEING in a relationship with Jesus, and
developing a FORGIVING attitude based on God’s forgiveness for us, and SERVING others in
common, everyday, ordinary ways and maybe even in some unexpected ways. We have two
more targets to address: GIVING and GOING. So, today we land on the 4th principle from the
Red Letters of Jesus – GIVING.
Did you know that Jesus said more about money and giving and stewardship than most other
topics – love, heaven, hell. Only the Kingdom of God gets more coverage from Jesus than money
and giving? Here are some highlight sayings of Jesus about money and giving:
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (This one is actually referred to by Paul in the book
of Acts, but he credits Jesus, Himself, as the source.)
“Lend, expecting nothing in return.”
“She gave all she had to live on.”
“Do not neglect the tithe.”
“Sell all that you possess and give to the poor.” (So, those last words of Jesus are the ones that
we will hammer home in the sermon today, and by the time you leave the sanctuary, you will all
be homeless and penniless… oh, of course, I’m not serious!)
Before we hear and explore what Jesus said about giving, and before we consider how we can
put those red letter words into practice, let’s start with the source of giving – God. If we are going
to give, even a little, if we are going to be generous, it will be because we have a giving and
generous God – the Bible word is… we have a GRACIOUS God. We could simply unpack that
famous Bible verse – John 3:16: “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that
whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” God so loved the world that
He gave!! Yes – this famous Bible verse starts with GIVING! But even the giving starts with
love. God so loved the world. God so loved all the people of the world. God so loved YOU!
Are you worth loving? Am I worth being loved? If I address that question from a human
perspective… well, no, I am not worth being loved. I have expressed anger. I have deceived. I
have ignored others. I have been filled with personal pride. I have wanted things my way. I have
harbored resentment. The bottom line is… I am a sinner, and in no way deserving of being loved
by God. I am deserving of being tossed away like an old rag doll.
But if I address that question from God’s perspective, from God’s heart… well, yes, I am worth
being loved. God looks at me – sinner though I am – and He loves me. With His gracious heart
overflowing with love, He loves me. And He loves you, too. And because He loves, He gives.
He gives His own Son – HIS VERY OWN SON – into death, so that the unlovable side of me and
of you is dealt with at the cross and forgiven, once and for all. These aren’t red letter words from
the lips of Jesus, but they are red letter words of importance about Jesus: “You know the grace of
our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you
through His poverty might become rich.” Because of God’s grace in Christ, you are spiritually
rich. When you believe that, when you personally marvel at God’s gift of love, when you rest on
His unchanging grace, then, RIGHT THEN, you have God’s undeserved blessing of eternal life
rather than your deserved future of being separated from God for all eternity. God loves… so
God gives. That’s where our giving starts.
OK, so now let’s listen to what Jesus says about giving, because it has a whole new starting
point. It’s not about obeying a rule – you must tithe, or you’ve got to sell all your possessions and
give to the poor. It’s about being God-like, Christ-like. God is a giving, generous God. As
followers of Jesus, we are giving, generous people. In fact, Pastor Zach Zehnder (who wrote the
Red Letter Challenge book) believes that it’s impossible to be a stingy Christian. If you are
truly following Jesus, you are generous!
Jesus’ words about money and giving were often spoken in the context of helping someone in
need. At other times, He spoke to our generous response back to God in gratitude for His love
and grace for us.
Why would Jesus talk so much about money? Why would he talk about giving as often as he
did? Because people desperately need wisdom when it comes to their finances. Living paycheck
to paycheck, monthly payments, credit card debt, worry, anxiety, fear… they are all very normal.
Sadly, having tension in your marriage relationship because of money is very, very normal – not
good, but normal. A resource that I used to use in pre-marriage counselling stated that money is
actually the one thing people argue about most in their marriages. No matter who you are,
saving, giving, and managing money is probably a challenge. For a lot of people, normal is not
working. As a church, as followers of Jesus, we want to be different, because normal is not
working. That’s why Jesus said a lot about money. We can learn from Jesus’ attitude and advice.
Here’s something that Jesus DIDN’T say: “Money is the root of all evil.” That’s not even in the
Bible. The actual Bible quote is: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” The greed that
comes behind money is the problem, the never being satisfied with what God has provided
attitude. But those aren’t red letters of Jesus. Paul wrote that to Timothy. Jesus, however, did
address that problem in His “sell your possessions and give to the poor” red letter quote. A man
had posed an interesting question to Jesus, essentially asking “How do I get to heaven?” (It’s too
bad that man didn’t know John 3:16 – he would have had his answer!) Jesus replied, “If you want
to get to heaven, obey the commandments.” That’s not exactly the answer we would expect from
Jesus – obey the commandments? Too many people have that impression… that being good gets
you into heaven. We might have expected Jesus’ red letters from John 5 – “whoever believes
Him who sent me has eternal life.” But no, for this man, Jesus says “obey the commandments” –
because Jesus knew the man’s heart, and needed to expose it. The man acknowledged that he had
kept the “love your neighbour” commandments – no murder, no adultery, no stealing. That’s
when Jesus turned to the “love God” part of the commandments. “Sell everything you have and
give to the poor… then you will have treasure in heaven.” The man was discouraged and went
away sad because he was very wealthy. Jesus knew that this man’s wealth was getting between
him and God. Only when he stopped loving his money could he start loving his God fully and
appropriately. Some earlier red letters of Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, make it crystal
clear. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This man treasured… well, his
treasure. His heart was absorbed with, consumed by his money. That prevented his heart from
focusing on and resting in God and His grace.
The world hasn’t changed. People haven’t changed. People don’t like to hear about money in
church is because money is the number one idol in our lives. We count our money as being
more important than God. That’s what Jesus was addressing with the rich young man. Jesus
spoke about money more than anything else because money has become our security and our
hope. Sometimes I think Jesus could have switched the order of his little sentence and it would
still ring true: “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.” If your heart is on a mid-
life crisis car, then you will spend money to buy it, to maintain it, to spruce it up to keep it as the
envy of your neighbours’ eyes. If your heart is on your family, you’ll sacrifice even things that
you might need so that they have everything they want. If your heart is on God, then you’ll
provide generously for the on-going spread of His Word and the growth of His Kingdom, and
you’ll look for ways to generously help those in need.
Even Jesus’ red letter words in the story of the Good Samaritan spoke about generosity. When
the Samaritan man found a Jewish man beaten up at the side of the road, he didn’t let that ethnic
distinction prevent him from helping. He bandaged his wounds, put him on his own donkey, took
him to an inn and took care of him. Then, because he, himself, had to travel on, he gave the
innkeeper money to continue to look after the wounded man. There was personal financial self-
sacrifice involved in this story, not just the doing of his good deed for the day.
It goes without saying – but I’m going to say it anyway – that we need to be cautious, wise about
how we spend our money. It may be easy, it may relieve some guilt to give money to a beggar on
the street, to those who stand on the street corners with those “homeless and hungry” signs. We
can feel like we’ve done our good deed for the day. But that may not be wise, because we don’t
know who that person is, don’t know his or her story, don’t know what they are going to do with
I’m going to admit that I got caught not being cautious a couple of years ago. I’m not really
proud of it, but a young family that I didn’t know approached me – our church really – to ask for
money because they were getting reno-victed and had to move. I had recently come into some
money that I wasn’t expecting, so I offered it to them, asking them to pay me back as they could.
You know what happened… they didn’t pay me back, and they stopped responding to my phone
calls or e-mails. I’ve gotten over it, and hope and pray that they truly needed it, and that I helped
in a genuine time of need.
If you are going to be generous to those in need – as a Christian, because God has been generous,
gracious, to you – then it would be good for you (me, too!) to do your due diligence. If you are
planning to support a charitable organization, check them out in advance to find out if they are
on the up and up, to make sure they don’t spend 40% of donations on administration. If you are
going to sponsor an overseas child, or a village, investigate the agency so that you can have
confidence that the money you designate actually gets to the child and not to some corrupt
political middle-man. If you are considering giving a toonie or a five-spot to that hungry and
homeless person, maybe take the time instead to actually buy them a lunch and to listen to their
story. It is a more personal way to be generous and to care at the same time.
OK… let’s deal with the giving to God topic. I actually say that I only preach on the topic of
money once a year because I don’t want to perpetuate the myth that the church is always asking
for money. On the other hand I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that the church, this church,
doesn’t need any of your money. We do. And I’m saying ‘we’ because this is your church, our
church. We need money to do the not so glamorous things like paying the heating and electricity
bills, and like maintaining the building. We need money to pay salaries for administration and
staff who do and lead the day-to-day ministries. We need money for the things more directly
related to our purpose and to the Kingdom of God – programs and activities that get the message
of God’s generosity and salvation into the hearts and lives of people. We may not have
communicated this well, but in the May 2019 Church Financial Statement I noticed that we are
$17,000 behind in our budgeted offerings for the fiscal year that ends in… two weeks! So, is the
church asking for money? Some of you will undoubtedly hear it that way. What I really want you
to hear is that God is asking for your heart to be with Him. When you are in a holy, faithful
relationship with a gracious and generous and giving God, then you will become like Him –
generous and giving, or as Pastor Zehnder says “not stingy.” Where your heart is, there your
treasure will be also.
Let me end with one more little GIVING Bible story and the red letter comment of Jesus. Jesus
was at the temple one day, and he observed the rich people putting their gifts into the temple
treasury. Oh, I’m going to stop right there. I actually like that practice. It sounds like there was
an offering box somewhere in the temple and people would intentionally go to that box and put
their offerings in. It showed their heart was in the right place. What do we do? We pass an
offering plate around, with the expectation that everyone puts something in. Some people even
call it the collection, as if the church is some kind of collection agency or as if there is an
admission fee or a user fee like we pay when we go to a movie or a sporting event. Does that
perpetuate the myth that the church is always asking for money? I think it would be Biblically
appropriate if people who support what our church is about, what we are doing, would somehow
have the opportunity to intentionally put their gifts into the “temple treasury.” Maybe if we had a
locked temple treasury box out in the entrance area, people could put their offerings into the box
on their way into the sanctuary. I think this already happens in a good way with the PAR option –
the Pre-Authorized Remittance through direct deposits from a bank account. People decide what
they are going to give monthly. It’s done privately, not for show. It is regular and the church can
count on those offerings.
OK… back to the story. So, some of those rich people that Jesus saw put their gifts into the
temple treasury probably tithed. That means they gave 10% of their income for the week or for
the month. That was what was expected. That was the Old Testament standard. It’s not a rule for
us today. Our church doesn’t expect everyone to give 10%. We have the Christian freedom to
give generously from hearts of faith. These are not red letter words of Jesus, but they are good
ones: “God loves a cheerful giver.” For some people, 10% is not practical as a starting point of
giving; they couldn’t give 10% cheerfully, maybe 3% or 5% or 8%, but not 10%. A tithe could
be a goal, but it also doesn’t need to be an ending point, either. If you can give 12% or 15% or
20% cheerfully, God will bless and use your gift given from a grateful heart.
OK… back to the story. Jesus also saw a poor widow put two small copper coins into the
treasury. We don’t even have copper coins anymore, and that tells you how insignificant was her
offering from a financial point of view. But Jesus’ red letter comment indicates that the financial
point of view is not the only point of view. He said, “out of her poverty she put in all she had to
live on.” Hers was an offering of self-sacrifice. Her heart was with God, so she gave Him the
very last of her treasure.
Could you do that? Could I do that? Probably not. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t or won’t
give sacrificially. I went to visit one of our senior members this past week. He is not able to get
to church on Sundays any more. We weren’t even talking about giving… not in the least. But out
of the blue he remarked that he is behind on his giving, and he was asking about that possibility
of giving through PAR. Another senior couple that I visited had a significant offering ready for
me when I visited. (So, we’re not $17,000 behind in our offerings any more!) Like the widow in
the story at the temple treasury, these faithful followers of Jesus are passionate about making
sure that the good news of God’s grace continues to be proclaimed. Are you? Is your heart fully
committed to the God who gave His Son to be your Saviour?
The story of the widow shows us that God welcomes us into a life of sacrificial generosity.
Tithing and giving is one indicator of a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. If you aren’t a
regular giver, if you don’t tithe, I want to challenge you to grow in that area of your discipleship.
If you’re reading the Red Letter Challenge book, it will challenge you to become a more
You see, when God gave us His only begotten Son He went broke clearing out His entire
spiritual bank account so that we might be without any debt for all eternity.
Hear me today. You never look more like God then when you are a giver. God is a Giver and
when we start living a life of giving our biggest reward will be the fact that we take on the very
nature of this awesome God we serve. There is nothing I can think of that is greater in this world
then being transformed into the very image of Jesus. Amen.