As Americans we live in a society of possessiveness. My church, my money, my pew, mine, mine, mine! The root issue is that the flesh is centered on self, putting us in the position of constantly battling the urge to think, "What about me?" versus, "What about God?" Fifteen years ago people were talking about the "me" generation as if it were a new phenomenon. You can trace the me first attitude all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Eve justified eating the forbidden fruit by taking the “what about me” approach to dealing with Satan's temptation. In her mind, it was easy to justify disobeying God because she had "rights" according to her flesh. The right to know, the right to make choices, the right to do what would satisfy the flesh's need to take care of “me first”.
We take that possessive stance in everything we do, including our giving and our service. It is, in my opinion, the single most difficult challenge we face as individual Christians and as the body of Christ.
I have heard a great deal of complaining about the stewardship of church leadership from many sources over the years. People want to know where their money is going because they have lost faith in the stewardship of their pastors and church leaders. The question is; do we have a right to know where our money is being spent? Or is that just another way to retain possession of something we already gave to God's work? Should we monitor the stewardship of the pastor and leadership? Yes, because they have the same flesh problem we all do. They tend to view the money we give to God as their money to spend as they are led by the spirit. I have observed that much of the time, the spender's agenda has little to do with God's leading and much to do with their flesh leading them as they assume that they have the one true message from God.
It seems that we cannot help ourselves when we try and hold on to the string we have attached to our giving, whether it is in the form of money or service. We act as if we somehow have a special place in the distribution or execution of the tasks and programs that we have given "our time and our hard earned money" to support. We fight with one another over who gets to use what room, or how much we should spend on which ministry. We act as if we have a right to claim some portion of the church because we were there first and don't feel it is convenient for us to move to allow some Johnny come lately ministry to usurp our place. As if we should have squatter's rights in God's house.
The language we need to learn to use is one that is spiritual rather than temporal. We need to understand that NOTHING on this earth belongs to us, especially when it comes to things we have specifically given back to God. It is never our church, it is God's church. It is never our Sunday school room, it is a room in God's house that we have the privilege to use to further the work of God's kingdom. God never said, "Thou shalt go forth and carve out a fiefdom in my kingdom." God never said, "Thou shalt give to the Lord your God while making sure that God spends it in an approved manner."
C.S. Lewis, in his book, "Mere Christianity", identifies pride as the worst of all sins. I think he is absolutely correct in his assessment. Our pride in what we can do in our flesh leads us to make wrong decisions about how we approach nearly everything we do. We constantly battle our fleshly pride whether we are aware of the struggle or not. In reality, the most frightening thing is to not be aware of this struggle. When we begin to think that our place is somehow different from any other sinner's we have a pride problem. When we think that we are somehow a little more saved than the next guy, we have a pride problem. The flesh is all about pride because pride is all about me first.
Jesus really tried to make it clear to us that we would suffer from this because He knew that we had suffered from this from day one. He warned us by telling us not to let the left hand know what the right one was doing because getting the accolades of people would be all the reward we would see from our giving and our works. He warned us about letting our pride take credit for His work. That is why He said to give in secret. So He would have the opportunity to reward us in heaven. Yet, we continue to squander whatever heavenly reward we might earn by seeking the approval and appreciation of other sinners. Who, most likely are just as infected with fleshly pride problems as we are and only give us appreciation in order to gain some appreciation in the future.
I know that Jesus also said to build one another up, but I don't think he meant that was to be through compliments or putting our name on a stained glass window. I believe He meant for us to build one another up in the spiritual things, in the Word and in the Faith.
In a church I attended recently, the pastor was awarded "Church Planter of the Year", for having the highest growth in attendance. Now that just doesn't make any sense to me at all. If it is God we are trying to credit with the "success" of the church, why didn't they give the award to God? Did the pastor do this in his power? If he did, then it shall not stand since it is all about the flesh. I felt that the conference did this pastor a disservice by giving him this award. It fed his pride and fanned a flame of fleshly appreciation that had nothing to do with God. This pride began to manifest itself where I believe in the past he had actually been making progress in the right direction. But success is the fastest way to guarantee a ticket to Hell. Success, when not constantly and determinedly credited to the right source leads to pride which separates us from God. It feels great and makes us think that we are somehow special. In addition, we are put in a place where we can give more financially. Once again, we must take extreme care to give with our eyes closed lest we begin to think that we are a: Doing God a favor, and b: A little more saved because we gave more than the guy working the hourly wage job with kids to support.
Should we preach personal accountability without first preaching accountability to our Creator? Should we preach stewardship without preaching about God's promises to us?
I completely understand the frustration many express in regards to the "organization" that is the church and the way that they are handling the money given to them to further the cause of Christ in our world. The people who lead our church are in many ways a reflection of what we are. I do not advocate that we should give blindly, but that we should give freely, with no strings attached. The fact that many church organizations are corrupt is simply evidence of the absence of Christ in as the head of that organized religion. It is also an indictment of the lack of people who will take a stand for Christ in the church.
Yes, the church is God-ordained and human led. Yet the church seems to be in many instances more human led than God led. Every penny that is given into the hands of the leadership of the church should be spent for the glory of God's kingdom. The measuring stick for any expenditure should be first and foremost, what is the biblical basis for making this expenditure? Can you test it against the truth of the bible?
Should we ever stand in front a congregation and give them financial minutes and tell them they must give more to the church without teaching them that they are in possession of God's property on loan for their use? Should we not teach them the one single scripture where God gives us permission to test Him?
You see, we don't really struggle with giving to God; we struggle with turning over our hard earned money into the care of other fleshly sinners. The expression, it takes one to know one, truly applies. We are all sinners who struggle with wanting to control things. So it is easy to see that everyone one else is just like us. All of us are sinners who struggle with wanting to be in control of what goes on in God's house, with God's money, with God's ministries. Never has it been more evident that the message to be preached is to think first of what Jesus would have us do and last of what we would do, ignoring completely the second part of the thought process.
In Bible studies and committee meetings, the first order of business is to agree to abide by a list of things that are considered appropriate behavior. Perhaps we could sum up the entire list this way: Respond only when you are firmly convinced that you are speaking in the manner that Jesus would have you do.
If we are determined to get to the heart of the matter, then we must constantly, without rest or doubt, teach all we come in contact with, saved or unsaved that the only thing that matters is what God has put forth for His people through the teachings of His Holy Word. That is the only message worth sending.