Last week we began thinking about how we measure our lives. There are all kinds of measurements that we use through life. As kids we have those height charts on the wall. We are then measured by grades in school and promotions at work. This week we honored our Veterans who have given so much of their lives to our nation and world and in the military, people are measured by ranks and medals. It’s important to ask ourselves how we want our lives to be measured because what they will be measuring and talking about at the end of our lives will be determined by how we are living our lives today.
The truth is that the measurement we often use today to evaluate our lives is money. While we may know this isn’t what we should do, we often fall into the trap of thinking that our lives are successful when we earn more money or own more things. We are fascinated by the lists of billionaires and millionaires we read about and we are constantly looking around to see if we are keeping up with our friends and neighbors when it comes to our cars, homes and even phones. What this tells us is that we often do measure ourselves by how much we make or how much we spend on ourselves and our families because we have come to believe that it is more money and more possessions that will make our lives better. But deep down we know that pursuit of more money, wealth and possessions doesn’t bring happiness. We also know that the Bible says the exact opposite. 1 Timothy 6:9-10.
Now let’s be clear, it does not say that money is the root of all evil, money is actually neutral and can be used for good and bad things, but our love of money or our pursuit of more money and all the things we think money can do for us leads to all kinds of evil. Greed and a lust for more in this world can lead us to leave faith behind, it can ruin families and destroy friendships and our pursuit of more wealth can even lead to the deterioration of our physical health. The stress that greed brings can cause all kinds of health issues which can make our lives miserable. So while money itself is not evil and while earning a good and honest living is godly and honorable, it is our love of money and our pursuit of more money that can ruin our lives.
While wealth and possessions often becomes the measure of our lives, I said last week that have never met with a family before a funeral where they asked me to talk about how much their loved one earned or accumulated during their lives. They don’t want me to talk about bank balances and investments, they want me to talk about how a person loved and they want me to talk about how that person gave. How will we measure our lives? Will we measure our lives by how much we earn and keep and accumulate during our lives or will we measure our lives by how much we give?
Once again, we are going to look at a parable of Jesus that talks about how important giving is to the measurement of our lives. The parable of the talents that Jesus shares is found in Matthew 25 and before I read it, it is interesting to think about when Jesus shared this parable. It was just a few days before his crucifixion. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus spends his last days on earth in the Temple teaching and many of his parables and teachings focused on how we need to prioritize our lives and live with meaning and purpose. Maybe Jesus was thinking about his own life and how it was going to be measured or maybe Jesus just passionately wanted people to hear this important message before he died. Either way, this parable helps us see what needs to be the measure of our lives.
Let’s start by talking about what Jesus means when he says that the servants were given a talent of money. A talent was a unit of measure and while it often differed from time to time, the average weight of a talent during the life of Jesus was 75 pounds. It says the servants were given different talents of money and so if we assume they were given gold then one was given 375 pounds of gold, one was given 150 pounds of gold and one was given 75 pounds of gold. In today’s market that would be:
1 talent of gold = $1,375,000
2 talents of gold = $2,750,000 -
5 talents of gold = $6,875,000
So each servant is being entrusted with something of incredible value. It doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to the master, but it is given to them to be cared for while the master is gone. What this incredible wealth represents is the totality of our lives. The master giving his servants these talents is God giving us the fullness of our lives. All our gifts and abilities and time and energy and experience and knowledge and wisdom can be seen as the talents God has entrusted to us and when the master returns, or when our life is over we have to give an accounting of our lives, God will ask us how we measured up. The standard isn’t how much we made for ourselves but how we used all God has given us for God’s purpose and glory.
Yes, the servants went out and used the talent given to them to earn something and make something and maximize the return on what they were given, but notice that in the parable they weren’t doing it for themselves, they didn’t keep what they earned, they gave it all away. They gave it back to their master. God gives us the fullness of our lives and God asks us, I would say God pleads with us, to use everything He has given us but not to use it for our own purpose and our kingdom and our well being, but to use it all for God’s purpose and God’s kingdom.
When the servant who had 5 talents gave his master those five and then five more, he was praised. When the servant who had 2 talents gave his master those 2 back and then 2 more, he was praised, but when the servant who was given 1 talent and just gave that talent back to the master, he was condemned because he didn’t use what the master had given him and he didn’t give the master anything in return. What we see here is that the measure of these servants lives wasn’t on how much they earned or how the earned it but on what they were able to give – what they were able to give back to God. One message of this parable is that our lives need to be measured not by what we earn or accumulate but by what we can give back to God and what we can give to others.
Jesus said the same thing in Luke 12:15 when he said, a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions.
The early church taught the same message when they shared a quote from Jesus, it is more blessed to give than to receive. So what does it look like for us to measure our lives by what we give and not by what we make? To answer that we have to find ways to measure what we give and the best place to begin is with our checkbook or for those who don’t write checks anymore, with our bank statements. Since money often does become the measure of our lives we need to start asking how we give by looking at how much money we actually do give away.
People have said that if you want to know your priorities, look at where you spend your money. If God is a priority in our lives, does our bank account show that? What would it look like or should it look like if God is first in our lives? If nothing else we should be able to see in our financial statements a tithe to God. All through the scriptures the tithe has been used as a standard of measurement for our faith and trust in God. The word tithe simply means one tenth and God asks us to give one tenth back to him as a sign of our faith and trust in Him. The tithe is a measurement of our faith. It is a symbol of God being a priority in our lives and it is the best place to start in a measurement of our giving.
For many people, giving one tenth to the church or to the work of God seems impossible because of our limited and sometimes shrinking incomes, we tell ourselves there is just not enough to go around. We see our resources like these rocks and sand and after we spend all we have on our homes and healthcare and cars and food and clothes and everything else we need in life, there is no room left to give money to God. But if we make giving to God the priority and give our tithe to God first, we find that there is room for everything else. Our spending habits might change and our priorities might shift but in the end everything fits.
Our giving to God needs to be the priority and it needs to come first. The offerings in the Bible were called the first fruits and people were called to give to God first and that call was a smart one because if we don’t give to God first we will find we often won’t give to God at all. So what are we giving to God and when are we giving? Are we giving God on tenth and are we giving to God first or are we giving whatever might be left over after everything else gets paid?
Some people have asked why God called for a tithe, or one tenth and I really have no idea, that’s just what God says, but if we look at it in reverse what we see is that God is generous and giving because God says, I want you to keep 90% of everything. Our government doesn’t do that. God is generous. Maybe 10% was the amount God knew would challenge us but not overwhelm us, I don’t know, I just know that it has been the call of God from the beginning and it is a true test of faith and trust.
I would invite you to think this week about what you give to God. Do we give 10% of all we make and earn and accumulate? Do we give 10% of our time? We are each given 168 hours each week; do we give God 16 hours a week in worship, prayer and service? Even if we take out 8 hours a day for sleep, we are given 112 hours a week, do we give God 11 hours a week in worship, prayer and service? And what about the talents God gives us? Are we using our abilities for God and God’s purpose? Are we using our expertise and experience for God and God’s purpose? Are we using our wisdom and knowledge for God and God’s purpose? If not, how can we start to measure our lives by what we give to God and not just what we have been given by God.
God does not just call us to give back to him, however, he also calls us to give to others. In a word, God calls us to be GENEROUS with all we have and to use the fullness of our lives to bless others. As we reflect on our lives and where we spend our money and how we spend our time – how much of our lives do we give away to others? As we think about the upcoming Christmas Season, how can we keep giving to those in need as a focus and priority in our lives? Can we agree to give one less gift to everyone in our lives and fill one more shoebox for a child in need? Can we give a toy or a donation to toys for tots in honor of each child or grandchild we have? Instead of doing a Christmas Cookie exchange where we exchange and take home all our favorite cookies to eat, can we do a Christmas Cookie give away and make sure those who are alone at the holidays or our active duty military who will be away can have homemade cookies to remind them they are not forgotten? In a few weeks we will begin signups for the Christmas dinner and as you begin to plan your holiday meals I invite you to think about how you can give your money and your time to a ministry that touches so many lives in our community on Christmas Day.
The holiday season is a great time to start thinking about how our lives can be measured by how we give and if we can do this for the next 6 to 8 weeks then maybe the new year will be measured not by what we will make or earn or save or accumulate but by what we give to God and to others. If we can make this the measure of our lives then at the end of life the word we will hear from God will be this: Well done my good and faithful servant!
How will you measure your life? How you give.
1. This week look at your finances and calculate:
• How much you make
• How much you spend on your family
• How much you give to others
2. People have said that if you want to know what your life’s priorities are, look at your checkbook. What does your spending each month say about your priorities? Using your checkbook only, identify the top three priorities in your life.
3. John Wesley said, Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. Looking at your life’s resources, how can you save more and give more?
4. God calls us all to give a tithe (one tenth) back to God. What percentage of your life do you give to God? Do you give 10% of your money? 10% of your time? 10% of your energy?
5. Increase your giving to God this week and commit to tithing in the coming year.
6. How much of your life do you give to others? Again think about your money, your time and your energy? What one thing can you do this week to increase your giving to others?
7. One thing we can all give to our nation right now is prayer. This week give time in prayer for peace and unity.