Pastor Mark Driscoll
November 03, 2013
MY BASEBALL GLOVE
Did you play sports as a kid? I played soccer till I realized how much running it involved. And I tried basketball. Two-inch vertical jump, so that didn’t last long. Not much of a career there, though I can set a pretty good pick. I played football. I liked that because you could hit people without going to jail.
But my favorite sport was baseball. I loved playing baseball, and my dad coached the teams I played on. We had a batting cage and pitching machine in our backyard to help keep us kids out of trouble. My brothers played as well.
When I was growing up, my goal in little league—tell me guys if you can relate to this—was to make the all-star team and get one of those cool all-star jerseys and go play in the all-star game. I think I was around eleven years of age and I thought, Man, I want to try out for the eleven- and twelve-year-old all-stars. And I need to get myself a really good, legitimate, serious glove.
I came from a working-class, poor family. My dad was a construction worker, trying to put food on the table for five kids. And I realized, I have got to go find a way to make a little bit of money.
So I came up with this idea: I’d start cutting grass, mowing lawns, trying to get enough money together to go buy a good glove. Got my dad’s weed whacker and lawnmower and started heading out to cut yards. Come to find I’m very allergic to pollen and such. So my eyes are watery, my nose is bloody, and I sound like an eleven-year-old Darth Vader mowing lawns. But I’m determined to cut the grass and get the money to buy the glove.
Finally, I got enough money saved up that I went and got my dream glove, the glove I really, really wanted. And I played eleven-year-old all stars, played twelve-year-old all stars. Got done with our last all-star game, and I didn’t have a bat bag because our team was kind of poor, so we didn’t get bags, jackets, nannies, and all this other stuff that some kids get.
So my glove and my bat were sitting at the end of a bleacher, and I was talking to couple of the guys saying goodbye. The season was over. I turn around, and my glove is gone. Somebody stole it. My glove is gone. I remember just being devastated. It’s the first time in my life I remember something I really treasured, cherished, being taken from me.
You ever been stolen from? It didn’t have a lot of economic value, but to me it had a lot of sentimental value. Some years later, I wanted to try out for the high school baseball team, and my goal was to letter four years, had to play high school ball. So I saved up some more money and went and got another glove—an even bigger, better glove. Played four years of high school ball, summer ball, travel ball with it.
But anyways, I was out playing with the guys and I took my glove, my old high school glove, and I stuffed it behind the seat in my beat-up, old Toyota pick-up truck. Parked it outside of the house and forgot to take my glove in. Came out the next day early in our church, and somebody had broken into my truck and stole my glove, my second glove. Some dude had been following me around since I was a child just stealing my gloves!
I couldn’t believe it. This was the glove that I had so many memories with, I traveled with, and I dreamed of using this glove to play catch with my son someday. We didn’t have boys at that time yet, but I dreamed of using this to play catch with my sons like my dad used to play catch with me. They probably got five bucks for it at the pawnshop, whoever stole it, but for me it was invaluable. It was priceless.
Have you been stolen from? You know what that feels like? You go out to your car, somebody broke into it. You come home, you feel violated. You realize somebody took your identity. All of a sudden ,you’re getting bills for things that you didn’t buy, and you’ve got to negotiate and explain all of that.
If you start to think about it, stealing is so prevalent, is such a big issue in our day, that much of our life includes measures to protect our goods, and they’ve become so commonplace, we don’t even realize how odd it is.
I’ll give you some examples that hit me this week:
How about at your house, you got locks on your door, right?
Maybe a fence around your yard. How about in the fence—do you have a dog?
How about in the house? Do you have a gun? Do you have a security system? All of that is to protect you from stealing.
How about your car? You got a lock on your car, some of you got an alarm on your car.
Some of you’ve got a chip in your car so if they take your car, you can find your car.
How about your technology? Any of you have a security code on your phone? You should.
How about your laptop, your iPad? Do you have a security code on that?
How about if you log on to a website, do you have a log-in user name and a password?
You know why? To keep your data from being stolen.
How about you go out to make a purchase, you use your debit card? You’re going to need to show photo ID and/or punch in your security code.
How about going to a store? You walk in the front door, what they’ve got is security detectors and tags on all the objects to make sure you don’t walk out without paying. You look around, there’s a bunch of security cameras, and standing there is some intimidating-looking security guard.
The whole point is to keep people from stealing. Martin Luther said in his day that if they took all the people who were stealing and hung them, they’d run out of rope, and they’d need to start using men’s belts to hang the rest of the thieves. It was such a prevalent problem. In our day of technology, it’s only multiplied the amount of ways that we can steal from one another.
This is not the way the world is supposed to be. When God made the world, it was very good and without sin. All of this stealing and all of the countermeasures that we have to protect our goods is the result of sin, the fall, and the curse.
It just boggles the mind that certain people still say, “Well, people are basically good in their heart.” No, they’re not. No, they’re not. Leave your door unlocked and see what happens. People are not basically good in their heart. They’re sinners with self-interests in their heart that compels them to steal.
Have you been stolen from? What is interesting is God comes to earth, his name is Jesus Christ, and he was stolen from—from a friend of his named Judas.
Here’s my other question, what have you stolen? We tend to have this real sense of justice when we’ve been stolen from and conveniently overlook or diminish when we have stolen from others. Who have you stolen from? What have you stolen?
Let me throw up a quick definition of stealing because criminals always like to argue over semantics. “Well, Pastor Mark, what is stealing? If they’re rich, does that count? What about Robin Hood?” Read your Bible, not Robin Hood.
Here’s stealing defined. “Stealing is taking something that does not belong to you without permission or right, especially in secret or by force.” Here’s the big idea: it’s not yours, and if you take it, you’ve stolen. That’s the big idea. It’s theirs, not yours. If you take what’s theirs and make it yours, you’re stealing.
WHAT DOES GOD SAY ABOUT STEALING?
So what does God have to say about stealing? Well, we’re in the Ten Commandments. We hit the eighth commandment this week. Exodus 20:15. The eighth commandment is this: “You shall not”—what? “Steal.”
This is not like a legal contract where there are lots of footnotes and details, unless, of course, they’re rich, unless, of course, you know they have two and they only need one, unless, of course, you have a good reason. There are no footnotes. There are no caveats. There’s no exception. Just don’t steal. Don’t steal. And we do. We do a lot.
A couple of points I want to make on this.
- THE BIBLE BELIEVES IN PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS
First, this teaches us that the Bible believes in private property rights and ownership. Some of you read the Bible almost like with hippie lenses and socialistic communistic leanings, saying, “Oh, they shared everything. We should share everything.” Nobody should have anything. No, the Bible says it belongs to them, not you, and if you take it, you’re stealing. This is private property ownership.
The Bible teaches private property ownership, that everything belongs to God, that God’s the one who distributes things among people, and that whatever he’s given you is yours, and they can’t take it. And whatever he’s given them is theirs, and you can’t take it. You see that? This assumes private property ownership and rights to those who have ownership.
- GOD LOVES YOUR NEIGHBOR
Number two, God doesn’t just love you. Does God love you? Totally he loves you. He also loves your neighbor. And what has trended in Christian Bible teaching is an emphasis on you and not them. “God loves you. God wants to bless you. God wants to help you. God wants to serve you.” There is not as much talk about your neighbor. God wants you to love them. God wants you to serve them. God wants you to help them. God wants to bless them through you.
And so what happens is our faith becomes very selfish, and it’s all about me and it’s not about them. And Jesus comes and says to love your neighbor. And commandments five through ten are, in large part, about loving your neighbor.
One of the ways you can be loving your neighbor is by not stealing from your neighbor. If it belongs to them and you take it, it may bless you, it may benefit you, it may enrich you, it may be good for you, but it’s not loving your neighbor. It’s hurting them. It’s harming them. It’s taking that which is theirs. God believes in private property ownership and God believes in not just doing what’s best for you, but also what is good for your neighbor and God wants you to love your neighbor.
- WE HAVE A RIGHT NOT TO BE STOLEN FROM
Number three, then, we have rights, and one of those rights is to not be stolen from. It’s fine to make laws based upon God’s good law that there shouldn’t be stealing and that stealing should be met with consequence and punishment. But in addition to our rights, which we tend to be very familiar with, by the way, we also have responsibilities, which we tend to be less familiar with.
If you go to the average person and you ask, “Should anyone ever steal from you?” They’d say, “No one should ever steal from me ever. That’s my right.” “Do you know you have a responsibility not to steal from anyone?” “Well, you know, there are circumstances: my life is hard, you don’t understand.”
We talk more than we should. We should say, “Yes, I have a right not to be stolen from and a responsibility not to steal from others.”
What starts to undermine an entire culture is when people are far more committed to their rights than their responsibilities and getting what they think they should get, rather than giving what God wants them to give.
WAYS WE STEAL
That being said, I made a list of ways that we steal. I’m sure it’s not an exhaustive list, but let me just give it to you so you have some concept of how deep the problem is, how broad the problem is so that we see it as God sees it.
These would constitute stealing: embezzling, unreasonably high interest rates, unfair payday loans, rigged gambling, break-ins, unjust taxation, burglary, larceny, highjacking, shoplifting, extortion, racketeering, underpaying your taxes, filing false insurance claims, governmental waste, excessive national debt, falsely billing clients and/or falsely billing an employer, misappropriating company funds, killing time at work, not paying your employees, taking supplies and/or stocks, stocked goods and items from your employer, taking intellectual property, plagiarism, illegal downloads, identity theft, etc. It’s a lot, right? Technology has opened new opportunity for thievery.
God says you should not steal, and we steal all the time. It’s hard to even envision what our economy would look like if the majority simply obeyed the eighth commandment.
So what I want to do now is, I want to take the eighth commandment, which God sets off here in Exodus which then echoes throughout the remainder of Scripture, and I want to look at it in relation to people in particular statuses and positions in life.
DIRECTIVES FOR EMPLOYERS
So we’ll start with the employers. How many of you are employers? You have people who work for you. Maybe they are part of your company, maybe they subcontract, maybe they’re on retainer, but you have people that you pay to do things for you. You’re an employer to somebody.
Here’s what the Bible says to employers, James 5:4–5—Jesus’ brother—“Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud”—That is stealing. Kept back by fraud is stealing. OK, stealing is not just taking what’s not yours, it’s also keeping what’s not yours. “Are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts”—the God who rules over all the angels and demons—“You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” You can pay them, you just didn’t. “You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.”
Here’s what he’s saying: if you are an employer, you have an employee, and you have agreed, contracted, to pay them, when they do their job, your job is to pay them. What he’s not talking about here are people who didn’t do their job.
Now some of you are like, “My boss is terrible. He didn’t pay me.” Because you didn’t do it. You didn’t do your job. If you don’t do your job, you shouldn’t expect to get compensation.
But if you do your job, if you follow through with your obligations, if you’ve signed a contract and you said, “I will do this and you will pay me that,” and you do what you promise to do and they don’t pay you, then they’re in sin, not just against you, but here they’re in sin against the Lord of hosts.
Your employers need to know this: those who are poor, those who are workers, oftentimes are in a position of vulnerability—and you know this as well as I do—where you could take advantage of them. You could take advantage of them.
Jesus is particularly sensitive to this because he grew up in a poor, working-class home. His father Joseph was a carpenter. That was not a high position. That was a low position. We know that his parents were poor because when they go to the temple to offer sacrifice, they don’t offer the typical sacrifice. There was an exception in the law for the families who were poor to offer a lesser sacrifice, and that’s what they offered. Jesus grew up in a poor, working-class, rural home, small town. Dad was a carpenter. Dad was a carpenter.
His father was depending upon others to pay him for his work so he could keep food on the table and feed his family. That’s like my family. My dad’s name is Joe as well. My father’s name is Joseph. He was a union drywaller, hanging sheet rock till he broke his back putting food on the table for us five kids.
There were times that my dad didn’t get paid, though he did the work. But they knew that he couldn’t afford an attorney to defend himself, so he was in a position of vulnerability.
That’s what he’s talking about, that kind of a position. There was a friend of mine some years ago—he now has a small landscaping company—when he started, he started literally mowing lawns and doing all the work himself before he could add a few employees.
He was very excited because it was one of the bigger contracts he’d ever gotten, thought, “Maybe this will get my business kick started.” A person who’s affluent and also prominent in our community hired him to do some work at their house. Paid some up front, was to pay the rest at the end. This friend of mine went and did all the work, and when it came time to settle the bill, the employer said, “I’m not going to pay you.” My friend asked, “Well, did I not do a good job? Did I not fix everything? Did I not do everything that I agreed to do? If there’s anything I need to correct, let me fix it so then you can pay me.”
He said, “No, I’m just not going to pay you. The work was done, that’s fine. I’m not going to pay you.” “Why aren’t you going to pay me?” “Because what I owe you is about what it’s going to cost to get an attorney to sue me, so you lose and I won’t pay you.”
That’s what he’s talking about. It’s injustice. It’s stealing. You are not giving to someone what is theirs. It’s not yours, it’s theirs. It’s their money in your pocket. You understand that? It’s their income in your account.
Here, James even says, you know, in this occasion, this case study that Jesus’ brother gives us, “The money’s in your account. You fattened yourself up. You’re doing well. In fact, this has become a way for you to increase your profit margin,” through “ill-gotten gain,” to use the language of Scripture.
Are you a good employer? Let me say that it damages the reputation of the gospel of Jesus Christ when those who fly the Jesus flag don’t follow through with their commitments to their employees. “Oh, yeah, that guy goes to church Sunday. That gal goes to church Sunday. They raise their hands, they sing their songs, but when they show up on money, they remind me of Judas, not Jesus. They remind me of Judas, not Jesus. They’re takers, not givers. They’re not good for their obligations.”
DIRECTIVES FOR EMPLOYEES
How many of you, number two, you’re employees? You work for somebody. You’re not self-employed. You’re not unemployed, you’re employed. How many of you work for somebody else, OK?
The Bible also speaks to you, employees: Titus 2:9–10, “Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything.” In our culture, the equivalent is not identical, but the closest we can get is employers and employees—those in authority, those under authority.
“They are to be well-pleasing”—have a good attitude, do a good job—“not argumentative”—don’t fight all the time and be the source of trouble and conflict at your place of employment—“not pilfering”—there’s the eighth commandment: no stealing—“but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”
Here’s the big idea, Paul is saying: Your work is your witness. Your work is your witness. Some people say, “I don’t know how to be a good witness at work.” Start by doing good work, doing a good job, having a good attitude, performing well, submitting, respecting the authority that is over you, following through with the things that they delegate to you. That’s where it begins.
A GODLY EXAMPLE AT THE MARRIOTT
I learned this early on. I was a brand-new Christian and one of my first jobs was working for a Marriott Hotel. I lived near the airport and so the Marriott Hotel had a year-round staff, driving shuttle, doing bellhop work, back up the concierge folks, booking tours, getting cars—all that kind of stuff. Serving the guests. Then, during the travel season of the summer, particularly with the cruise season, they would bring in an additional number of college guys to support the permanent staff.
Well, two of the guys that got hired, myself and another guy, were new Christians. We’re new Christians. And lo and behold, the boss who hired us, the guy who ran the bell stand, was an older man. This was his career. He was a guy who really genuinely loved Jesus. He was actually a godly man. Everything that I saw in his integrity and his theology were godly. Hard-working family man, really good guy. And he had a great reputation at the hotel because so much of that is cash business, right? You get tips all the time, and you call a town car, you call a cab, or you book a tour, and they give you a kickback and a lot of times it’s cash, or at least it was in that day.
So by the end of the day, you’ve got a pocket full of cash and you’re supposed to share it with some of the other employees. Sometimes somebody’d book a tour, and then they’d be off running to the airport, driving the shuttle, and then the compensation would come in and if they weren’t there to get it, you’re supposed to get it, and then give to them. But you can imagine in a cash business, lots of guys just kept taking money that wasn’t theirs, putting it in their pocket or keeping it in their pocket.
Not this man. I watched him operate with a very, very, very, high degree of integrity. It got to the point where I didn’t even doubt that this guy was totally honest because of the way he conducted himself. He had a good attitude and he had a good reputation with the other employees. Everybody else who worked there would have said, “Honest guy, hard-working guy, great guy. We love working with him.” So when he waved the Jesus flag, it was good.
There was a young guy that I worked with, however—and we both had a lot to learn—but he liked to read his Bible while he was standing at the bell stand. So the guests are walking by and needing help with their bags or trying to get a car or load stuff in or out of their vehicle, and he would just sit there reading his Bible.
One of the employees came over and confronted him and said, “Hey, you need to pay more attention to the guests.” He’s like, “Hey, God is my first priority and nothing is more important than studying the Bible.”
True or false? That’s true, but not on company time, amen? Because at the Marriott, what it didn’t include in our job description was Bible reading, right? It didn’t include Bible reading.
So this older man who ran our bell stand pulled us both aside and said, “Guys, you’re Christians. You’re newer Christians. You need to work very hard. You need to be honest. You need to take good care of the guests. You need to have a good attitude because everybody knows that we’re the Christians. And the last thing we want is everybody saying, ‘Boy, it really stinks working with those Christians.’ It gives a bad name to Christianity. It gives a bad name to Christ.” So he told this other young guy. He said, “So I want you to read your Bible during your break.” That’s what this older man did. He read his Bible during his break.
That’s the kind of thing that he is referring to here. Well-pleasing. Doing a good job. Not argumentative. Not fighting all the time. Submitting to authority. Respecting authority, Showing all good faith. Right?
I love the Lord. I love you. He sent me here. My work is my witness. “So that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” When they hear that Jesus is great, they see that Jesus’ people have a good work ethic, are honest, have integrity, do their job well, and that makes Christianity more attractive.
Sometimes you’re not just getting persecuted at work because of your faith. You’re getting persecuted at work because of your work ethic. And you’re using your faith as an excuse not to do a great job.
True or false, growing up Jesus had a job? Good job. He was a carpenter’s son, he did carpentry with his dad. True or false, do you think Jesus was a good employee? Do you think he just sat there all day reading the scroll of Isaiah not swinging a hammer? Or do you think he picked up a hammer and actually built the stuff he was supposed to build? Your work is part of your witness.
Now, that being said, how big of a problem do you think employee theft is? Like I said, you go through the front door—security camera, security guard. How about the back door? What are the employees taking out the back door?
According to a report in US News that was conducted by Hayes International Consultants, the average employee steals 5.5 times more than the average shoplifter. How many of you are employers, and you know this is true? Furniture goes missing, supplies go missing, stock goes missing.
All of a sudden, you pull it up on the computer and you’re like, “Yeah, that’s on the shelf. It’s not on the shelf. Where is it? It was in the back room. Oh, somebody took it, somebody who works for me took it.”
It’s such a massive problem. It’s almost impossible to calculate the total loss, but the estimates are that companies lose $200 billion a year through employee theft of stock or supplies. If we went to your house right now—and just so you know, Jesus already sees it—what would we find at your house that actually should be at your work?
In addition to stealing items, employees are guilty of stealing time. Any of you ever wasted time at work? According to a report on Salary.com, the average employee wastes a little over two hours a day. OK, eight-hour workday, one-hour lunch, two hours wasted, 2.09 hours wasted. Some people look and say, “What’s the big deal? That doesn’t bother me.” It would if it was your company.
All right, if you went right now to the bakery like, “I would like eight doughnuts.” And they charged you for eight, and you got home, and you opened the box like, “There’s only five.” You go back to the bakery and say, “Where’s my three doughnuts?” “Hey, I’m just treating you like you treat your employer. You get to pay for eight doughnuts, but you only get to eat five.”
True or false, you’d be frustrated? We don’t like to be stolen from, but we don’t mind stealing. And we don’t think of time as stealing, but if we’re getting paid for our time, then wasting our time is stealing from our employer.
WHAT DO WE TEND TO DO WHEN WE’RE STEALING TIME?
What do you think we tend to do when we’re stealing time? What do you think the number-one way we steal time is? Doing what? Come on be honest, we’re in church.
The Internet. Forty-four percent say, “Yeah, that’s how I waste a lot of my time on the Internet.” Doing what? Social media, surfing, reading the news, watching cat videos, all right, finding the funniest cat video, sending it to the other employees so that they can waste two hours as well.
Number two, 23 percent of the time is spent socializing. Somebody’s trying to work; you’re supposed to be working. Rather than working, you go in and talk to them to waste both of your time. “What are you doing?” “Not working.” “Obviously, me neither. Let’s talk.”
- PERSONAL BUSINESS
Six percent of the time, we waste our time on personal business, paying our bills, fixing our calendar, returning our emails. Some of you’ve got a consulting business on the side, you’ve got a contracting business on the side, and you’re trying to do two jobs at once so you can double your income stream. You want to keep your job because you have an office, you have a laptop, you have, you know, expenses that you can get reimbursed for. They give you a cell phone.
And so you’re trying to do a contractor business on the side, some consulting on the side, a pay-by-the-hour job on the side, so you’re actually taking some of your company time and company resources to double dip from the till.
Some of you are hoping to keep that job because it has medical benefits and security. Others of you are hoping to grow your side business to become your business so that you can leave your employer and start your own company. You want to leave your employer. Your heart is not in it.
There’s not integrity around that, and what you’re doing is you’re stealing. You’re taking the technology, the time, the opportunity, maybe even some of the clients and the connections, and you’re leveraging it, not to be a blessing to your employer, but to solely take for yourself that which is not yours.
Again, some of you say, “Well, you don’t understand. It’s a big company, not a big deal. I still get all my work done.” But here’s the deal: if you succeed in growing your side company and you get to go launch it as its own entity, once you get to the point where you’re hiring employees, you’d be furious if they’re like you. You’d be furious. “What’s this on your cell phone? These are all unrelated—what is this with your—what is this with your—what is this with your expense account? Why are you using my money, to steal from me?”
See, what happens is we think, “Well, everybody’s doing it, so it can’t be wrong.” Or, it’s an epidemic. Total annual cost to companies is estimated $759 billion a year.
What are the two most popular websites that we go to while we’re wasting time at work? First one is, take a guess, Facebook. Some of you are going to post that right now, all right? “Facebook is the number-one website we waste time on.” OK, welcome back to the sermon. OK, second most common website we visit to waste time? LinkedIn. Everybody’s at work trying to find another job. Welcome to LinkedIn.
Just so you know, if the person spending all their time trying to get the job is doing so while they’re at their other job, might I submit to you, they may not be the best candidate for your job. “So, what are you doing today?” “Stealing from my employer and looking for work.”
WHEN WEALTH BECOMES GOD
Anybody feeling convicted? OK. If not, I have another one for you. Christians, all right, Christians raise your hand, OK? Raise your hand. Malachi 3:8 and 9 says the same thing in Acts 5 with Ananias and Sapphira. “Will man rob God?” Big question, right? God says, “I got a question for you: are you going to steal from me?”
Eighth commandment. OK, immediately what do we do? We know we’re guilty, so what do we do? We do like kids do. “What do you mean by stealing? What’s that mean in Hebrew? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Yet you are robbing me.” But you say, “Uh, uh, how’d we rob ya?” All right, you know. You know.
See, the Holy Spirit already convicts God’s people of sin. God says, “You know you’ve stolen from me.” Like, “Uh, what are you talking about? I don’t understand.” You know. You know what you were supposed to give and you didn’t give.
Some of you are like, “Hey, don’t talk about my money.” Oh, so it’s your money. Well, now we’ve really gotten to the problem, haven’t we? It’s not his money, it’s your money.
See, stealing is what happens when wealth becomes God. Do you understand that? First commandment is there’s only one God. The second commandment is we should worship that God alone. Stealing is what happens when money becomes God and the efforts of our life are to accrue as much as we can. It’s greed. It’s greed. It’s not money. Paul says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The problem is not money; it’s the love of money. That’s why Jesus says where your treasure is, well, that reveals ultimately where your heart is.
The reason some of you are really frustrated with this sermon, you’re like, “Can’t believe he’s talking about money.” The reason you’re offended is because I’m talking about your God. And Jesus says you can’t worship God and money. You can worship God with your money, but your can’t worship your money and God.
So God shows up, and he has a question. “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, consequences, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.” Everybody’s doing it.
When it comes to stealing, just because the majority are involved doesn’t mean it’s holy. That’s a great principle even in our world. We want to have laws that reflect our desires, and even if the majority should assent to something, God may not agree.
GIVING YOUR FIRST AND BEST TO GOD
You’re supposed to give back to God, and he uses two words here: tithes and contributions. So let me explain this categorically. The tithe literally means a tenth. It’s 10 percent of your gross, not your net. The Bible calls it “firstfruits.” You give first and best to God.
The government has put themselves in the waterfall so far upstream that now they’re ahead of God. Any of you notice that? How many of you got your first paycheck, you ran the hours, you ran the amount you got per hour, you were expecting an amount, you got your check and the amount was less? Any of you have that experience?
I’ll still never forget my first check. Who’s FICA? Who’s FICA? I’m gonna go to FICA’s house, and I’m gonna get $27 out of FICA, all right? Oh, what is that? They took it. They didn’t ask. They didn’t ask. They don’t have to ask, they’re the government. See, they don’t steal, they tax. They have a different word. That’s . . . OK, anyway, so. They didn’t ask and they took something that I thought was mine.
The government has put themselves in God’s position. They’re upstream in the waterfall. They’re firstfruits’ position. The first goes to the government, not to God. And then after that comes to you, and then you’re like, “Now I have to give to God.” But the way it worked in the Old Testament was, you literally gave 10 percent off the top back to the Lord.
Some of you say, “I can’t believe that God wanted 10 percent.” The Bible says that everything is God’s. I’m pretty stoked to get 90 percent. Very excited to get it, because God could’ve came and said, “Mmm, how about if I tithe to you. I keep 90, you get 10.” How about we do this deal where you get 10 and I get 90? That’s the deal that God gave us. It’s actually a gracious gift. God owns 100 percent, gives 90 percent to us. Thanks for your generosity, Lord.
In addition to that tenth, the tithe, he calls it the contributions. If you read the rest of the Old Testament, this is gleanings for the poor, feasts, festivals, holidays, certain obligations that you would have as one of God’s people, and these would ebb and flow from year to year, so it wasn’t like a flat 10 percent. But according to my research, the stewardship chapter in Doctrine covers all of this. It was between 25 percent and 27 percent, total. So 10 percent for the tithe and 15 percent to 17 percent for the other contributions, 25 percent to 27 percent.
People always ask, “Well, do we have to tithe?” Our giving should be “cheerful,” “regular,” “sacrificial,” 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. I always say that I think 10 percent is a good floor. It’s not the ceiling. It’s the floor. It’s a good place to start, but certainly through the course of your life, you want to do better.
Grace and I, when I first got saved and we got married, we made a goal to give more every year than the year before. That’s a prayer goal of ours and a planning goal of ours every year. By God’s grace, he’s always answered that prayer. Every year we’ve been able to give more than we did the year before. And we do a tithe so we give a percentage to the church. We also do contributions, help missionaries, give to other people, help the poor, whatever the case may be. My kids know the drill. If you know someone who has a real need, Mom and Dad are glad to help do that. It’s tithes and contributions. Generous to the church and then, by God’s grace, generous beyond the church. It’s a both end. That’s tithes and contributions. That’s tithes and contributions.
What God is saying here is, “You robbed me.” The question is, “Well, how did we rob you?” If God puts money in your hands for you to share and steward, and you keep it, you’re stealing.
Give you an example: I was recently out with my kids, had Calvin, he’s eleven, Alexi who recently turned ten, and Gideon who is seven. And the kids all wanted something from concession stand, you know, a pop, candy bar, or something. “Dad, can we go get something?” Yes. Calvin says, “I’ll take them.” OK, I handed Calvin twenty bucks. I said, “Calvin, go buy for yourself, your brother, your sister, some things.”
If Calvin would have gone to the concession stand and, let’s say, bought himself a candy bar, didn’t buy anything for his two brothers and sisters and then put that money that he was supposed to spend on them in his pocket, true or false, he’d be guilty of stealing? True. Because I gave it to him to share it with them, and if he keeps it, that means he’s stealing it. The good news is Calvin did exactly what I asked him to do. He got himself something. He got something for his brother. He got something for his sister.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TAX AND A TITHE IS LOVE
When God gives to us some of it, we get to spend some of it. We need to steward by sharing and tithing, and tithes and contributions, giving to God’s ministry, and giving to those that God puts in front of us who have a legitimate need like single moms and such. Do you understand that?
When you keep it, you say, “Well, God, it’s my money. It’s in my pocket.” God said, “No, no, no, no, it wasn’t supposed to go in your pocket. That’s stealing. You’re robbing me. You’re not loving your neighbor. That was for them, not for you, not for you.”
Now, let me say this quickly as well: there’s a big difference between a tax and a tithe. The big difference is love. How many of you don’t love paying your taxes? You don’t love it. It doesn’t feel like you’re on your honeymoon as you’re preparing your taxes. It doesn’t feel that way. “I kind of love this. This is amazing. Every year I look forward.” We don’t.
You know why? Because taxes are taken from us; tithes are to be given by us. The difference is love. We’re to give our tithe because God loves us and we love God. Taxes—we don’t feel loved by our government, and most of us, quite frankly, let’s just be honest, not a lot of love for our government. That’s why the government has to take our tax because we wouldn’t give it.
God doesn’t take our tithe; he asks us to give it. Just as God gives to us, God wants us to reflect him, to mirror him, to image him, to worship him, by giving. That’s why the Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. As God gives out of love, he wants us to love and return by giving.
A lot of Christians don’t give. Christian Smith did the biggest study on charitable giving in the history of the US. He’s a very noted, high-ranking sociologist. His book Passing the Plate reveals that of those who profess to be Christians, in an average year, one out of five give nothing to a church ministry, parachurch ministry, mission organization, or charitable contribution. Nothing. Nothing. “Where your treasure is, your heart is,” Jesus says. Nothing. And a large number of Christians give very, very little.
Let me tell you what happens in our day. Social media allows people to fake generosity. Because on your social media site you say, “I support this cause. Yay, I’m waving the flag. Please give to the cause.” Most people don’t give to the cause. If they do, they give one minor amount once to assuage their guilt. They’re not generous and regular in their giving, and it allows us to appear as generous people to the world when God knows the truth. We live in a world of a lot of fakery, a lot of forgery, and a lot of phony. We just do, we just do.
Well, how many of you, in hearing all of this, are realizing you’ve stolen something from someone—from the Lord? What do you do now? How about restitution? Exodus 21:15, the eighth commandment, Exodus 22:1, just a few verses later, what do you do if you’ve already broken the eighth commandment? Here he says, “If a man steals an ox or a sheep”—or a car or a laptop or a cell phone or a jacket from the store—“and kills it or sell it, they profit from it, they use it, they keep it, they try to make it their own personal property, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.”
Pretty major deterrent, right? Imagine if right now, you stole a dollar. You’d owe five. Really? You stole a car, you owe five. “I don’t have five cars.” Well, you can’t go steal four more. You’ve got to figure this out, all right? This was a deterrent.
Some of you say, “Well, you know, God forgives all my sins.” True, but your neighbor still needs their stuff back. All right, it’s a pretty terrible witness when you steal something from your neighbor, go knock on their door, and say “Yeah, God convicted me of sin, sorry I stole that. Glad that’s off my chest.” The neighbor will be like, “Hey, where’s my stuff? Where’s my stuff?”
So if you’ve stolen from someone, you need to make every effort to repay, to make restitution. Now that person could choose to forgive your debt. They may say, “You know what? I forgive you. I absolve you of the debt.” Wouldn’t that be great? But they don’t have to. In fact, they may be in a position where what you took was what they really needed. Restitution.
Two questions, who do you need to repay, and what do you need to repay? Who do you need to repay, and what do you need to repay? Some of you are like, “That’s gonna be really expensive.” Right. You may actually have to downsize your lifestyle because it’s built on theft.
Now, imagine if people did this instead of just getting more credit cards. The world would be a different place, amen? The problem’s not just out there with those people; the problem is in here with us people.
BAD THEOLOGIES ABOUT MONEY
Let me make it as simple for you as I possibly can: we don’t want to worship our wealth, OK? When it comes to finances, possessions, and wealth, there really are two extremes in Christian thinking today. One is called prosperity theology, which says that the more you love God, the richer you’ll get. “God will bless you, sow a seed. Give ten bucks, he’ll give you a hundred.”
It’s a Ponzi scheme. It’s a get-rich-quick scheme. The ultimate goal is not God is my greatest treasure, but God is my best return on financial investment. And then you’re using God to get wealth because your ultimate God is wealth.
We don’t believe in prosperity theology, but then there’s this overreaction called “poverty theology.” The less you have, the closer to God you are. Not necessarily. “If you make money, if you have a successful company, if you’re good at business, if you know the difference between an asset and a liability, if you have a profit in law statement, if you oversee your investments, you’re looking for good return on investments, you know debt-to-income ratio, and you know what a good equity line of credit looks like, and you know what a good loan looks like as far as APR goes, well then you know what? That’s not very godly because that’s all worldly.”
That’s not true. Jesus spends 25 percent of his teaching on finances, wealth, and possessions. Books like Proverbs talk about it over and over and over. There are people in the Bible who are rich and love God. There are people who are rich in the Bible and hate God. There are people in the Bible who are poor and love God. There are people in the Bible who are poor and hate God.
God himself, Jesus Christ, was rich and poor. Paul says this: “For our sake, though rich, he became poor.” Jesus was in heaven—nice neighborhood, really nice. Streets paved with gold. He came into human history very, very poor. Jesus was rich and poor.
Paul says, “I know what it’s like to have much and have nothing.” We want to think biblically about these things. We can’t think worldly in a way that is rich versus poor, but worshipers of wealth and worshipers with wealth, those are better categories.
3 WAYS TO LOOK AT YOUR WEALTH
So there are three ways to look at your wealth.
- WHAT’S MINE IS MINE
Number one, “What’s mine, is mine. What’s mine, is mine.” With clenched fists you say, “I’m going to keep it. This is mine. Don’t talk about it. Don’t ask for it. Don’t expect me to share it or steward it. This is mine. I worked hard for it” or “I inherited it.” The private property thing I agree with. “This is mine. I’ll keep it. What’s mine is mine.”
- WHAT’S YOURS IS MINE
The other view is, “What’s yours is mine; I’ll steal it. What’s yours is mine; I’ll steal it illegally or I’ll find a clever way to steal it legally.” False lawsuit, false insurance claim, overstate my billing. Bill two clients for the same billable hour. You can get really creative with this. Lie on my taxes, whatever. “What’s yours is mine.” That’s the heart of stealing.
- WHAT’S MINE IS HIS
The third option is, “What’s mine is his, and I’ll share it. I’ll steward it.” Do you get that? And this concept of stewardship, it’s important. It’s a big theme in your Bible. In fact, when it comes to a pastor in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, the first thing it says is, “They must be a good steward.” Yeah, it talks about their family and their theology and their morality, but it talks about stewardship. They need to be good stewards.
Stewardship is a very otherworldly, countercultural way of seeing wealth as revealed by the God of the Bible, and that is that everything belongs to the Lord. Everything comes from the Lord, everything will return to the Lord, that everything is the Lord’s and that whatever we have, he has entrusted to us to steward.
Imagine if someone in your family died and they left a large estate, and they made you the executor of the will. And in that will it said that you got certain things and that other people in the family were to receive certain portions of the inheritance, and as the executor it was your job to follow the instructions of the owner to distribute the estate. A steward is like that. It all belongs to the Lord; it comes to me. I’m the executor. I get to spend some on my expenses and my family, the rest needs to go back to the Lord’s work. Some of it needs to go to the poor. It needs to be an investment in the future because
Proverbs says that a wise man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children. What a steward realizes is, “This is not mine. It’s entrusted to my oversight, and I need to follow the agreement, the terms, that were laid down for the distribution of the assets.”
Friends, that’s biblical thinking. It all belongs to the Lord. He’s entrusted to us, and we need to steward it as he has instructed us according to his Word.
WE’RE IN DEBT, AND IT’S WORSE THAN WE THINK
How many of you realize that you’re a thief, that you’re in great debt? It’s worse than you think. Not only have we accrued a financial debt to God and others, the Bible says there’s an entirely different category of debt that we’ve also accrued through stealing: sin in the Bible is stealing. It’s actually taught that all sin is a violation of the eighth commandment.
God made us to love. When we sin and don’t love, we’re stealing. God made us to serve. When we don’t serve, we’re stealing. God made us to share and steward our resources and when we don’t, we’re stealing. We’re stealing the time that God gave us. We’re stealing the breath, the days, the hours, the weeks, the months, the years, the dollars, the relationship, the words, the opportunities.
Every single time, every single time that we fail to invest our life as God, the owner of our life, decrees to give him a glorious return on his investment, we are in sin against God. We are stealing from God. We are accruing a debt toward God.
See, every month our financial debt shows up. “I owe this on my credit card, this on my car, “this on my house, this on school loans, this on my medical debts.” There is a greater debt that is accruing constantly that we don’t receive until we die, and that’s our spiritual debt to God.
So it says we’re appointed once to die and then for judgment. Hebrews 9:27, you’ll die, open your eyes and that’s your day of reckoning before the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here’s how Jesus says it, the most famous prayer in the history of the world in Matthew 6: “Our Father”—and then he goes on—”Forgive us our”—what? What’s he say? “Forgive us our—?” Debts because all sin is debt. It’s stealing from God. Do you feel that?
Here’s how the Bible explains it, regarding our spiritual debt. Colossians 2:13 and 14, “And you, who were dead in your trespass and the uncircumcision of your flesh,” it says, “you don’t even care about God. You didn’t even care about any of these things. It didn’t even cross your mind.” “God made alive together with him”—God saves people—“having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of”—what? “Debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” This is the gospel.
How many of you are accountants, CEOs, CFOs, you’re good with your money, you’re good money managers, you’re coupon clippers and careful spenders, whoever you are? This is God trying to communicate the gospel in a way that makes sense for you in terms of the economics.
Here’s what he says: “God made you, you belong to him. You’re to be a steward. Your life is to be lived according to his principles. Every sin is a breaking of the commandments and the covenant that God made with you. You accrue a debt to God. You owe God. That’s why you’re going to hell. That’s where you pay. That’s the debtor’s prison.”
YOU DON’T PAY GOD BACK, JESUS DOES
Some of you’d say, “Well, I want to pay God back.” Too late. If, for the rest of your life, you never sin, all you do is fail to add to your debt, you do not negate any of your preexisting debt. It’s too late. The whole world is upside down, in debt to God, cannot repay, destined toward hell because the wage for sin is death. You feel that?
Then he says, “But I have good news, God became a man, his name is Jesus Christ.” The God that we owe the debt to came to pay our debt. He lived without sin, no debt, no spiritual debt whatsoever. He went to the cross and he died in our place to pay our debt. Jesus suffered so that we don’t have to suffer. Jesus stood in our place so that we don’t have to spend forever in hell. That’s the good news of the gospel. And he says, “When Jesus died, our debt was paid.”
So here’s the good news: you don’t pay God back; Jesus pays God back. How many of you would be super excited if right now all of your debtors, your financial debtors, called you and said, “The car loan, the home loan, the school loans, the head of the company decided they would write a check and pay off your debt”? How many of you would thank them? Amen? It’s not gonna happen, just so you know. Don’t get your hopes up.
But that’s what God does. God says, “I picked up your debt. I paid your debt in Jesus Christ.” And Jesus was crucified between two what? Thieves, two people who violated the eighth commandment. One didn’t turn to Jesus, didn’t ask Jesus for forgiveness, didn’t become a Christian. He died, went to hell to pay his debt forever. The other turned to Jesus said, “You never did anything wrong. You’re God, I’m a sinner. Forgive me.” Jesus said to him, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.”
Not only does Jesus pay our debt, he gives us our inheritance. That man’s inheritance began in paradise in the eternity of blessing in the presence of God. Isn’t it amazing that we would steal from God our whole lives, he would pay off our debt, adopt us as children and write us into his will to receive his inheritance? That’s a loving, gracious God. Amen? That’s the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Then Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them.” You know why? You know why Jesus could even forgive those who were seeking his murder? Because he was paying their debt. And then Jesus died, and then Jesus rose, and Jesus paid our debt, and Jesus conquered sin and death.
The question is not, are you a thief? The question is, are you the thief who didn’t turn to Jesus or are you the thief that turns to Jesus? Are you the thief who has to pay their own debt in hell or are you the thief who has Jesus pay your debt on the cross?
Lord Jesus, when it comes to our sin, when it comes to our soul, when it comes to our salvation, debt paid in full. Jesus, that’s amazing. We would celebrate right now if someone paid off all of our debts, and we’re gonna celebrate right now because you paid off all of our spiritual debts.
Lord Jesus, as we take Communion, we remember your cross, broken body, shed blood, to pay our debt and as we sing, we sing with gladness because we are people who have had a debt paid that we could never pay and we thank you for that, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Do you know what it feels like to have something stolen? You go to your car or home, and you find that somebody broke into it. You feel violated. Somebody took your identity, and all of a sudden, you’re getting bills for things you didn’t buy. Stealing is so prevalent in our day that much of life includes measures to protect our goods, and we don’t even realize how odd it is. What does God have to say about our penchant to steal?