God's Plan for Prosperity Sermon
Series: Tithing Counts
Message: God’s Plan for Prosperity
One of the great things about preaching in Brazil is that the people preach back to you. Even with the time lapse of translation, there is a rhythm that you get into where you preach and they preach, and if you aren’t careful, they will outpreach the preacher.
That’s the way many Black churches in the United States are, too. And once in a church like that the pastor started by saying, “This church been sittin’ here too long!” “Amen, Preacher! Been sittin’ here too long!”
For the last 6 years, this church has been flying. We’ve gone from 1 congregation to 7 congregations—with more on the way.
We’ve gone from 2 kids to over 50 kids—and at least 20 more on the way!
We’ve gone from 1 pastor to a staff of 10—
We’ve gone from 30 people to almost 700—including the churches that we’ve been able to start.
And if we’ve learned anything, it’s that “IT TAKES MONEY TO FLY!”
Now, there’s no question that our church has seen some incredible financial miracles.
For example, when I came to Immanuel, we owed over $521,000 on our building. Today, due to the sacrifices of many people, that debt stands at just over $150,000.
When I came the church’s dream of turning its original chapel into a fellowship hall seemed like an impossibility, but today, due mostly to the generosity of Mary Shaffer, that dream has been fulfilled.
When I came there was no money available to pay a pastor’s salary. Today we pay the full-time salaries of 3 pastors, a part of a 4th pastor’s salary, and the part-time salary of 4 other staff members.
When I came to Immanuel, we were the recipients of many churches giving to missions. Last year, we gave over $50,000 to missions.
So, I don’t want to dismiss or discount how far we’ve come as a church—including in the area of stewardship, but I think what Paul said to the Corinthian church is what the Lord would say to us, as well.
2 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV)
7But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us£—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
We’ve excelled in evangelism. (We were in the top 5% of member to baptism ratios last year and in the top 25% in total baptisms in the entire SBC.)
We’ve excelled in church-planting, and I’m convinced that this will be the greatest impact we have.
We’ve excelled in reaching Young Families and now college students.
But in order to keep winning people to Christ, and in order to keep starting churches, and in order to keep reaching young families and college students—
We must also excel in the area of giving.
And that’s a hard thing, in part, because of the age of most people in our church.
In fact, while we’ve proven that you can…what we haven’t proven is that we can sustain it by paying for it…
Explanation of Financial situation at Immanuel
But before we say “Let her sit!” and before we say, “It just can’t be done!” Let’s take a look at God’s Plan for Prosperity—Both personally and corporately.
I. Prosperity Comes When we Honor God First
EXP: When you look in Malachi 3:6 you see God’s complaint against the people that they had turned away from Him and that they needed to return. They ask, “How shall we return?” And the answer is, “You have stopped giving tithes and offerings.”
God says, “BY not tithing you are robbing me.”
Have you ever been robbed? It’s a very terrible feeling of being violated, isn’t it? Something that was yours was wrongfully taken from you and everything in you says, “That isn’t right!” We scream inside for justice and our first emotions may be to be vigilantes and go, ourselves, and get what is ours back.
And several things restrain us from doing that, like the fact that we might get injured, or we don’t know who took our things, or that the law might find us more guilty than it does the original thief.
Here God says to the Israelites, “I have been violated by you, and if it weren’t for my everlasting covenant, I would destroy you!”
Now, the question is, “Of what had the Israelites robbed God?” Well, you may be tempted to say, “Money. Cash.” But I think that it is something far greater than that. Here’s the bottom line: While the surface problem was that they weren’t giving their tithes and offerings, the foundational problem—the greater problem—was that they had robbed God of His Honor.
They were failing to give God the Honor and the Glory that He deserves and they owed.
This is the major theme in Malachi. Look, for example, in Malachi 1:6-9.
Now, the main issue is not that God is poor and somehow needs our money in order to survive, it is that God has established the practice of tithing as a very tangible way for His People to show Him honor. It is the way for us to say, “God you are first in my life! And I recognize You as the Provider of Everything I have in life.”
Tithing is Primarily an Act of Worship
The Bible is filled with this emphasis from cover to cover.
Proverbs 3:9 through Proverbs 3:10 (NIV)
9 Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.
Deut 14:23 (Living Bible) The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives.
- Tithing is God’s Way for us to Recognize God’s Sovereignty
Psalm 24:1 (NIV)
1 The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
Look up 1 Chronicles 29:10-16
- Tithing is God’s Way for us to Recognize His Past and Present Provision
James 1:17 (NIV)
17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
When we give we are acknowledging that every good gift we have in life, comes from God. Let me just give you a few examples of that:
James 1:5 says God gives wisdom to those who ask for it.
Exodus 31:3-6 teaches that God gives skill to people to be able to make and build things with their hands.
(You know, all of us make a honorable living through either the wisdom God has given or the physical skill with our hands that God has given. Both are equally honorable, equally important, and equally necessary.)
Matthew 7:11 says He gives good gifts to those who ask
Isaiah 45:7 (NIV)
7 I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the LORD, do all these things.
Take inventory of all that you have, all of it, every last bit of it, is a gift from God because He gives good gifts including the ability to work with your hands or with your knowledge to provide a living for your family. And tithing is a way that we acknowledge, “God you have provided for me.”
And you know, we’re just talking about physical needs; material needs. What about our spiritual needs?
1 Peter 1:18 through 1 Peter 1:19 (NIV)
18For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
It’s pretty hard to say that you are honoring God, who gave His Son’s life for your salvation, when you refuse to honor Him by giving financial things that are only going to last for a few decades anyway.
- Tithing is God’s Way for us to acknowledge our belief In God’s Future Grace
1 Sam 2:30 “Those who honor Me, I will honor…”
So, what we are seeing is that Prosperity comes when we honor God as the Source of Prosperity in the past and in the future because when we do that God continues to honor us…and one very important way that we honor God is through tithes and offerings.
II. Prosperity Comes when we Prioritize Eternal Matters
EXP: In verse 10, the Lord says to the people, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”
In the temple there was a room to store tithes of crops and animals brought by the people, and this was the temple treasury. This treasury provided for the priests so that the ministry of the temple could go on without the priests having to leave the temple to earn money in another way.
In fact, one of the problems in Nehemiah’s day was that the people had neglected to bring their tithes, and as a result the priests had gone back to farming.
Nehemiah 13:10 through Nehemiah 13:11(NIV)
10I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and singers responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields. 11So I rebuked the officials and asked them, “Why is the house of God neglected?”
Now, today, we operate with a system of cash currency or sometimes cashless currency, so we don’t have a place to store heifers, rams, and pigeons. And we’re not offering burnt offerings these days, either, so things are a little different than they were then, but the principle is the same.
What God wanted for His people was for them to prioritize eternal matters. When we are faithful and generous with our tithes, it says we care about the Kingdom of God more than we do the materialism of the world. It says we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. So giving provides a way for ministry in the name of Jesus Christ to exist. It takes money to fly. Now, let me give you some ways that this relates to tithing.
- It provides for our pastors (1 Cor 9:13-14, 1 Tim 5:17-18)
A church’s tithes are meant to support the pastors of that church.
- It provides for missionaries, ministries, and new churches all over the world.
Romans 10:14 through Romans 10:15 (NIV)
14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent?
This is the great genius of the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s what we call the Cooperative Program, which is our system of sharing a portion of our offerings, along with all other SBC churches. We pool it together. And the amount that each church puts into that pool is totally up to each local church. And out of that pool, we support over 10,000 missionaries all over the world. And those missionaries serve in almost 150 countries.
So, when you are giving, you are spreading prosperity…not just financial prosperity, but much more importantly, you are spreading spiritual prosperity.
- It provides for charity
Now, the Bible is very clear that one of the ministries of a local church is to care for the poor.
Proverbs 19:17 (NIV)
17He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.
One of the things that is severely lacking in our church is our ability to help the needy. I mean we have people come to us all the time and they need help. Sometimes it’s church members, and sometimes it’s just someone in the city. And so many times we have to tell them No.
Now, I hate turning people away. Oh, I know that people sometimes use us and abuse us. I could tell you story after story about that part of it. But, here’s the bottom-line. Their wrong doesn’t give us an excuse for our wrong.
C.E. Matthews story.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a way to protect the corners of our fields so that people could get what they needed.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a fund that was set aside so that widows and single adult moms, and young married couples struggling to survive could come and find some help. I’m not talking about being reckless or careless. I’m talking about being generous.
Look up the passage in Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-34.
Wouldn’t it be a good thing if we could say, “There were no needy persons among us”?
Now, all the time we have people coming to us for need. Things like:
Utilities and Rent. Gas money, Car Insurance, Doctor bills. Sometimes clothing. And these are just the most desperate of needs.
And you know the Bible says when you are kind to the poor, you are being kind to the Lord.
And you know, what I see so often is that it’s not just the money issue for the poor, it’s the stress, the humiliation, the frustration of not having resources, and the uncertainty of not knowing what to do or where to turn…and wouldn’t it be a really Christ-like thing to do to be able to give them so help and relief?
My dream is that we’d be the kind of church that leaves the corners of the fields untouched, so that the needy could be touched with the love of Jesus.
You know, if a church practiced tithing, it would provide for that kind of a situation.
III. Prosperity Comes when we (Obey God Fully)
EXP: Notice that in verse 10, the Lord says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…” It seems to suggest that some of the people were bringing only part of the tithe. It wasn’t the full amount, it was only a portion.
Larry Burkett is a well-known and well-respected financial advisor. In a recent interview, Burkett shared some significant concerns about materialism in America, especially in the American church. In pointing to Matthew 6:24 he said, “Christians are trying to serve God and money.” Burkett noted “80 percent of Americans owe more than they own.” He said this trend is prevalent in churches as well: “Christians pay more in interest (9.8 percent of their income) than they give to the church” (Southern Baptists give 2.3 percent of their income). He noted in a typical congregation of one hundred families, thirty-seven families give nothing to the church.
In summary of his concerns, Burkett mused, “Christ said the greatest threat to Christianity is not drugs, sex, murder, rape, or even politicians. The greatest threat is materialism.”
ILL: IT reminds me of the story about the priest who was retiring after many years of service…As a gift of gratitude for his service, the people were to each bring a gallon of wine from their own vines. Each gallon would be poured into the priest’s large barrel that held wine for him to enjoy as, I suppose, only a priest could enjoy.
During the special moment in the retirement party, the priest was to take the first cup of wine from the barrel. He filled his cup, raised it to his lips. Took a drink. It didn’t taste like wine at all. He held it to his nose, smiled, and instantly understood what had happened. Instead of being fine wine, it was nothing more than plain water.
What had happened? Each person, thinking that of all the people bringing wine, it wouldn’t matter much if they just filled their container with a gallon of water. One gallon of water mixed with so many other gallons of wine would hardly dilute it at all. It was just one gallon, after all. No one would notice. But of course, it wasn’t just one person that did it…Everyone did it.
And I think that’s what happens in churches. We think, “Well, it really won’t hurt if I don’t give. After all, I’m just one person, and maybe my full tithe wouldn’t even be that much to the church…but it’s a lot to me…and they’ll never miss it.
But when everyone does that it so dilutes things that the storehouse is completely empty!
The Houston Chronicle reports that the average Evangelical church member gives 4 percent of his income to the church.
God says, “Test me in this…” Notice who will do the work? The Lord will.
Explain verse 10 and 11. What he is saying is that prosperity will abound because God will see to it that everything you need, you have.
Psalm 84:11 (NIV)
11For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
Now, what happens to us is that we want stuff. And we live by this idea that says, “If I have lots of stuff, it validates my worth. It gives me security. It proves I’m successful, etc.”
God says what we need is a fundamental shift in our attitude. (1 Tim 6:6-10)
See Proverbs 30:7-9
ILL: This weekend I spoke at a Men’s Retreat…And their church has been going through some hard times. (Not financially hard times, but hard times of a different nature) As the men begin to share, what came out in their talk…was they had lost the priority of prayer.
And I couldn’t help but think about us. Listen, church, I’m convinced that we don’t have a money problem. We have a priority problem. And you can see it in our giving and you can see it in our prayers.