Giving God First Place, For Real

The theme for 2017, Giving God First Place, is a wonderful concept. I think each of us would sincerely say it is our desire, yet some point each one of us must make a choice regarding our time and treasures. The reality is, such action is counter-cultural and therefore quite difficult. The difficulty is not just found in moving against the mainstream, but in seeing and confronting our own bent to embrace the mainstream as acceptable. We have grown up with the mainstream as normal. We are part of what makes up our culture. The difficulty is without and within. Giving God First Place is as radical inside of us as it is outside of us. For us to give God first place, we must be intentional about the choices we make regarding our time and treasures.

Time

Attending Sunday School/ABF and the AM Service is about 3 hours a week. If we remove 8 hours of sleep each day, we are left with 112 hours per week, so attending Sunday School/ABF and the AM Service is only 2.6% of our week. Attending a Sunday evening meeting would add just under 2%. And a Wednesday Study would add just under 1%. Attending all three would add up to 5.3% of our week. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics collected in 2016:

  1. Work: average of 40 hours per week. 35.7% of our week.
  2. Household Activities (housework, cooking, lawn care, financial, other management, etc) : average of 2.3 hours per day. 14.3% of our week.
  3. Leisure Activities (tv watching, socializing, exercising, etc): average 5.2 hours per day. 32.5% of our week.
    • Watching TV: 2.7 hours per day of our leisure activity hours. 16.8% of our week.

Where do you fall in these averages? Are you mirroring the culture?

  1. Work will take up a chunk of time, and the Bible calls us to work, but it could also be an idol. The amount of time Americans spend “making a living” is ten times more than they spend corporately worshipping (if they attended 3 hours of church services every week). And they are more likely to miss church services than a work day.
  2. A good steward cares for the possessions God has blessed him with, but it could also be an idol. After spending so much time earning enough money for a specific lifestyle, it makes sense that Americans would spend a significant amount of time maintaining this lifestyle. It takes almost 5 times as much as they spend corporately worshipping (if they attended 3 hours of church services every week). Maintaining this lifestyle is also one reason given for missing church services.
  3. Leisure is a necessary part of life that brings rest and refreshment, but it could also be an idol. The average time American’s spend on leisure is ten times more than they spend in corporate worship (if they attended 3 hours of church services every week). Even if they attended every service, they would still spend 3 times more time watching TV. As unlikely as it seems, leisure time is a reason given for missing church services. After spending ten times more time on leisure, they need a break from the “demands” of a 3 hour church service.

Sadly, American Christians have moved away from Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10) a day set aside, among all of God’s days, to especially reverence and serve God. It has moved from a Lord’s “Day” to a Lord’s “3 Hours” and that is only if they did not sleep in, determine something is more appealing to do than church, or find the demands of church to overwhelming. On the other hand, American Christians are spending more and more hours to create a lifestyle for themselves. Pursuing their own lifestyle run counter to Jesus. Every Gospel Letter records this statement of Jesus, most Christians know it by heart, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. – Matthew 10:39 (Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25).

Treasures

Philanthropy (the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes) is nothing new. It has been a part of human history and particularly American history. Undoubtedly, this finds it’s roots in Christianity, which teaches us to love others as yourself, to put the needs of others above your own, and that it is better to give than to receive. Nevertheless, the American culture struggles with the the biblical teaching and philanthropy in general. “The US is the richest nation on Earth, but ranks only 13th in charitable giving.” Source: The the Chronicle of Philanthropy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics collected in 2016 the average household spends $56,257.97:

  1. Housing: average spending is $18,495.11, 33% of household expenses.
  2. Transportation: average spending is $9,225.37, 16.4% of household expenses.
  3. Food: average spending is $7,196.29, 12.8% of household expenses.
  4. Personal Insurance and Pensions: average spending is $6,552.63, 11.6% of household expenses.
  5. Healthcare: average spending is $4,469.53, 8% of household expenses.
  6. Entertainment: average spending is $2,908.36, 5% of household expenses.
  7. Education: average spending is $1,240.64, 2.2% of household expenses.
  8. Cash Contributions: average spending is $1,813.36, 3.2% of household expenses. But this category includes, “cash contributed to persons or organizations outside the consumer unit, including alimony and child support payments; care of students away from home; and contributions to religious, educational, charitable, or political organizations.”
    • Households that do give, only give 1.8% of their income on average to religious organization and .9% to secular organizations. Source: National Center for Charitable Statistics.
    • Charitable giving accounted for 2.1% of gross domestic product in 2016. Source: Giving USA 2016.

Yet scientific studies have shown over and over that God is true when he says it is better to give than to receive.

  • People who tithe regularly typically have less debt than other demographics – 8 out of 10 have zero credit card debt and 28% of them are completely debt free, including not having a mortgage. Source: HealthResearchFunding.org.
  • The scientifically-proven benefits of giving include: lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, longer life, and greater happiness. Source: Cleveland Clinic.
  • People who give to others tend to score much higher on feelings of joy and contentment than individuals who did not give to others. Source: Money Crashers.
  • Among 373 married couples, it was found that the individuals who said their partner showed frequent generosity were also the happiest in their marriages. Source: Next Avenue.

What about American Christians? Do they fair better than the national average? Not by much.

  • Christians gave a higher percentage of their income to the church during the Great Depression (3.3%) than they do today (2.5%). Source: Relevant.

In the past, Christians viewed the concept of tithing as foundational to a commitment to God. Giving 10% of one’s income was an assumed expression of loyalty to God. This is not the case today.

  • For Christian families making less than $20k per year, 8% of them gave at least 10% in tithing. For families making a minimum of $75k or more, the figure drops to just 1%.” Source: HealthResearchFunding.org.

Nevertheless, American Christians do not need the law of a 10% tithing rule imposed upon them any more than they need temple sacrifices. They need to believe what they believe. The temple sacrifices are no longer necessary because they have been freed from the law by a greater and completely sufficient sacrifice, Jesus Christ. Grace is always greater than the law. Law called for purity of action, grace provides for purity of heart. When the law required no sexually immoral acts or expressions of hatred, Jesus required no lustful or hateful thoughts (Matthew 5:21-22; 27-28). The requirement of a tithe is gone, but a heart of generosity flows from the grace of God to us. Under grace, what Christians give is still important, because of why they give it. As Paul wrote, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others.” – 2 Corinthians 9:11-13. American Christians have been blessed with their treasures so that they might be generous to others, supplying the need of the saints, and be glorifying to God, producing thanksgiving to God and the affirmation of the gospel of Christ.