I recently heard an interview with Steven Morris and was intrigued to check out his book, The Blessed Life. Morris is the pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas. It is a challenging look at what God has to say about giving. Morris lives what he preaches, having given away 9 cars, given away his home, and twice having given away everything he had, savings, retirement accounts, literally everything.
Now the premise of the book is not that God requires that level of giving, but He does require that you hold what you have loosely. At the heart of this view-point is the recognition that it is not really yours. God really owns it all. We are just managers of what he has placed into our care.
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; Psalm 24:1
A different look at tithing
Morris had some interesting points on tithing that I haven’t heard suggested before. In Leviticus it says:
A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. Lev. 27:30
Morris notes that the tithe isn’t really a gift to God. He allows us to use the other 90% but the tithe He reserves for Himself. Therefore Morris concludes that the various times where the Bible talks about the blessings that come from giving, those blessings are based on our offerings above the tithe.
It’s kind of like suppose my neighbor borrows my lawn mower to mow his yard. If he were to come back a couple of days later pushing that lawn mower, and say he was so thankful for my generosity that he was giving me the lawn mower, I’d probably be less than impressed. The lawn mower is mine already, I just let him have it temporarily. It would be ridiculous for him to think he was “giving” me anything by returning my mower. If on the other hand if he came over and said here is your mower and here is a $50 gift certificate to your favorite restaurant, then that would be a wonderful gesture.
When we only tithe it’s kind of like the neighbor returning the lawn mower. But when we give on top of the tithe out of the 90% that God has entrusted for our use, then we open up the doors for God to bless us.
The greed test vs. the need test
Morris also talked about the greed test and the need test.
give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. Proverbs 30:8b-10
One extreme when it comes to Christian views on giving is the more we give the more God gives us. The way to prosperity is simply give. I give God $100. He’ll give me back $1,000. This is really the heart of the Prosperity Gospel which I believe is bad theology at best and heresy at worst.
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Some older translations here use the word mammon instead of money. The word mammon implies more than just our money. It includes our possessions as well. Maybe a better modern-day translation is you can’t serve both God and your “stuff”.
One of the many problems with the prosperity gospel is that it so often leads to the worship of our stuff. As a result we end up trusting in our possessions for our security as opposed to God. That is just what the writer of Proverbs was warning.
Morris calls this the greed test.
Poverty does not equal holiness
But there is another dangerous extreme. Morris calls it the need test. Some people take the approach that because of verses like the one in Matthew 6:24, that all wealth is evil. Therefore, it is more spiritual to give away all that we have over the bare minimum we need to survive.
This really isn’t Biblical either. There are many instances in the Bible where God used those that were wealthy: Abraham, David, Joseph of Arimethea, Lydia, just to name a few.
The problem with this “poverty gospel” is that you can very easily reduce possessions to a legalistic test of spirituality. See someone driving a nicer car than you? Ah, clearly they aren’t spiritual enough. The fellow sitting in the pew next to you? He lives in a nice house and a better neighborhood than you do. Clearly, if he was a real follower of God he’d sell that house and give the money to the poor.
Spirituality is judged based on a comparison to what I have. If you drive a nicer car than me you must be worldly. The key word in that first sentence is “judged”. This type of spirituality leads to a very judgmental and legalistic version of Christianity.
The Blessed Life
So what is the answer? I agree with Morris that just as the writer of Proverbs wrote, God calls us to a more moderate view. Wealth is not evil nor is poverty spiritual. What we are called to is to hold whatever God has given us loosely. Listen for the Spirit’s guidance. If He places a need on your heart, be open to give even when it doesn’t make sense (like giving away your car or house even). But at the same time there is nothing wrong with enjoying some of the blessings that God has sent our way.
The bottom line is that when we have the heart of a giver and are willing to respond when God places a need before us, he will bless us with more resources. Not so that we can be come wealthy, but because we have proven ourselves to be trustworthy managers of the provision that He provides. Giving really is an issue of the heart.
The examples here barely scratch the surface of what Morris discusses in the book. If giving is an area where you know you could improve, or if giving comes more easily for you, but you’d like to be challenged to grow even deeper in this area, check out The Blessed Life. Morris will give you a new perspective on giving.