We’ve talked about this before, right? They’re called “virtual goods”—things you can purchase that don’t actually exist. This means that if you’re playing a video game and your character needs, I don’t know, extra “lives” or a new piece of equipment, you can purchase these “items” for a small fee of only $0.99 or so. Seems innocent, but it’s really just marketing genius. Even though it’s just barely under a dollar, those purchases can really add up. You’re probably familiar with Candy Crush—the popular game everyone plays on their phones during church. The game’s free—but if you run out of “lives” (that is, you lose a turn, for those who haven’t played it) you have to either (1) wait or (2) purchase some new ones. Well, according to ThinkGaming.com, the app on your phone (and everyone else’s) generated over $850,000 per day during the fiscal year of 2013. Financial experts from Forbes magazine expect that by the close of this decade, “virtual goods” such as these will be an expanding industry—one that currently generates billions of dollars annually.
Personally, I always thought greed was bad when we bought, you know, stuff. But now that “access” has replaced “ownership,” our spending priorities have changed remarkably. Don’t misunderstand me; it’s not wrong to like stuff, and occasional entertainment is good for the soul. But surely much of our lives are spent in excess. The film Fight Club took an R-rated look at this—and how it’s destroying masculinity. “The things you own,” says one of the film’s characters, “end up owning you.”
So as we continue in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we see that generosity and the cheerful giver seem a welcome antidote to a culture of consumerism:
Now lit is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be.4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 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,14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:1-15)
If you were here on Sunday, you got to here Tim Lester’s excellent message on this passage—as well as understanding our own financial responsibilities toward God. Using the imagery from this passage, Tim highlighted that the “seed” is the resources that we invest toward God and his kingdom—in our context we might immediately identify that as the money you place in the weekly church offering. The “bread” represents the resources you consume for you and your family.
Now, while “tithing” (giving 10% of one’s income) had its roots in the Old Testament (Leviticus 27:30-33, to be exact), we’d be hard pressed to find New Testament passages that said that this law applies to us today. But that doesn’t change our approach to giving—in fact it deepens our needs to invest our “seed” in God’s kingdom.
If all of our resources are God’s, then our task—our responsibility—is to surrender it back to him. We enjoy the blessings of his “bread,” and we faithfully commit ourselves to give our “seed” back to God. So yes, tithing isn’t a bad standard, but for some it represents a starting point rather than an unchanging standard.
Tim specifically stated on Sunday, that “it is every person’s responsibility to search out with God how much to give.” If the gospel liberates me from finding identity through earthly treasure, then I am now free to pursue God’s kingdom responsibilities.