Matt Bennett is founder and CEO of Christian Union, a Christian leadership development organization. A native of Houston, Texas, Matt earned B.S. and M.B.A. degrees from Cornell University and holds a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He resides in New York City.
A few years ago here in New York City, a friend of mine invited me to Fashion Week. So there I was in the front row of this catwalk of models parading up and down. One of the songs that came on was Madonna's "American Life." I don't know if you know this song, but it goes, "American life, I live the American dream..." And the whole situation was kind of surreal, watching all of this, but the song is largely about the false promises of the so-called American dream, but it does raise to the fore what is the American dream? And many describe it as the opportunity to live in a society where one could anticipate material success. If one works hard and plays by the rules, one can get that. And there's nothing wrong with that as a concept. But is it the foundation and the heart of the United States? The phrase seems to imply that it is, when it's not.
Many of the first settlers who came to the United States, they came for the opportunity to wholeheartedly worship Jesus Christ. This was the Puritans and the pilgrims, both persecuted Christian minorities. They came to establish a new heaven on earth, and as a light to the nations. The passengers of the ship Arbella left England in 1630 sailing for America, and they had this great vision. They were to be an example for the rest of the world in rightful living. The future governor John Winthrop stated their purpose famously, "that we shall be a city upon a hill." A thousand Puritans came to Massachusetts that year, and they were determined—the passengers—to be a beacon for the rest of Europe, if not the world. A model of Christian charity, in John Winthrop's words. And the reality was not limited to Europeans, even as African kings kidnapped and enslaved fellow Africans and sold them to European settlers and native Americans.
They left behind their tribal religions and encountered and embraced true Christianity. So money has never been a source of America's greatness, but devotion to Jesus Christ. And the opposite of that, greed and materialism, surely could find a way to bring the downfall of the country. My name is Matt Bennett. I'm Founder and CEO of Christian Union. Most of our ministries focus is at universities, some of the most influential and academically intense and secular universities in the United States, if not the world. We started at Princeton some years ago, but also we're at Stanford and Cornell and Dartmouth and University of Pennsylvania and others. We also work among adults and professionals in New York City, here where I live, and also with the people across the country through Day and Night helping to develop devout Christian leaders. And, as you know, we're in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic and we are going through a series of ways in which the United States should repent, either personally or corporately.
Whenever we're confronted with something like this, some big huge event, the natural Christian's responses is to have the Spirit of God examine our hearts and to see is there something I need to repent of. If not, then praise God, and make sure we have no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But if there is something, then it needs to be dealt. And God uses these events that gain our attention when otherwise we have not been listening. We're going to be looking at the subject of greed and materialism. We're going to look at some issues in the Old Testament, then the New Testament, and then some general principles for generosity. So as I go through these, may the Spirit of God speak to your heart to see if this is something that needs to be addressed in your own life or in your family's or in the nation's.
The benefits of looking at this subject are wonderful because it means we can have the Lord's blessings in our lives instead of His curses in our lives. It can mean possibly revival in a local sense or maybe even in a national sense. So knowing and doing the will of God is always an extraordinary benefit and the scripture is given to us so that we can do it faithfully. In the Old Testament, we can see that this practice of giving begins even before Moses gives the law. The first incidence we see of it is in Genesis 14:18-20. Let me read this. It says, "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. So this happened 2000 BC, so 4,000 years ago. And given that Abram seem to be familiar with this, who knows how long before that that this was going on. So this was established very, very early on. This isn't some new idea that's come around recently suggested by your local church or anybody else. This is an established law of God that's in the fabric of the spiritual universe and the physical universe depends on the spiritual universe. You see this reaffirmed when Moses does give the law in Leviticus 27:30-33 it says—or just verse 30—"Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's. It is Holy to the Lord." So giving away that 10% is a Holy act, and it is wholly dedicated to the Lord.
It has to be seen that way if we're going to be faithful to the Lord. All the money belongs to God. We're just stewards of it and we're allowed to use some of it for ourselves, but some of it is consecrated and dedicated towards the Lord's work outside of ourselves, 10% or more. This third passage, last passage I want to look at in the Old Testament, shows the blessings that come when we obey the Lord. And conversely, the problems that come and Malachi 3:7-10 says this: "From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me." Okay, hold it here halfway through this. It's amazing, God is telling them that they are robbing Him. It says, "But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need." In this sense, God loves to be put to the test.
He loves to see if we really believe His promises and He enjoys it. It's not threatening to Him. He takes to delight that these are acts of faith. I think of my mom some years ago and she got acquainted with this principle and she was nervous about giving away at least 10% because of financial situations and stuff, and I still remember the voicemail she left me some months later. She says, "It's true, it's true. I put God to the test," and God had provided some unexpected financial windfall to help compensate for her situation. And this is needed. Our faith needs to grow. We have to believe that God will provide all of our needs. It's an act of faith. You see this reiterated in the New Testament,. So we have the Old Testament, now we had the New Testament. Jesus says this in Matthew 23:23 "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you tithe mint and dill, and cumin," and these are small little plants. So it wasn't a big deal that they didn't tithe their increase, because they're little small plants. It's not like an orchard where you have a huge increase each year, or your livestock, where you have a big increase with more animals. These are little plants. It's not that big a deal, but He says that they tithe from those little plants, but they neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.
The main point of this is to say, "Hey, make sure you major on the big things," but in that you see that God still cares about the tithing. Even that little—even the tiny bit of it—He says, these you ought to have done without neglecting the others. So it was good that the people were tithing, even that they are fastidious about it and giving 10%, and making sure it wasn't just 9.9%, but of course they needed to also focus on the weightier matters of the law and make sure those are getting done. But the point is that God wants us to be faithful at least to a minimum of a tithe. 1 Timothy 6:17-19—this is the only other passage I'm going to read on this subject from the New Testament—it says, "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." So, they are to be generous, rich people to be generous and ready to share. Now in that culture, it was against inconceivable that you would be generous if you weren't giving away at least 10%. It's above and beyond that. So, to the rich, these are the words, and then it says the promises, the rewards, storing up treasure for themselves. God blesses us in this life and the next life, when we believe His promises and act in faith. As Caleb and Joshua acted in faith, when they went into the promised land and said, we can surely take it, so we can act in faith and say, I don't know where all the money's going to come from.
I'm going to give at least 10%, if not more away, and the Lord will provide. He loves it when we act in faith. This is what it means to be a Christian, where we don't think like the non Christian world do—the unbelieving—we think as followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we have some old Testament passages, New Testament. Now I want to list a few principles or considerations. The first of which is to realize that America: we are the rich. We have over 40% of the Earth's wealth and only 4% of the population. We are very, very rich. We we don't think we are because we're always comparing ourselves to someone who's got more, watching some TV program or something. There's always people who have more, but as an American, we are rich. Even the poor in America are rich. As weird as that may sound. It's just what we're exposed to and what we see, and not thinking historically. No one in history could afford—not only did not have technology for a phone or a car—but even the expensive of it would have been out of their reach. It's very different now for Americans.
Another principle is remember that God owns all of the money that you are using. Your are to spend it wisely. A lot of it is to be used towards your own and family's provision. So where you will live and what you will eat and your clothing, and everything else. But it's still the Lord's. And if you don't donate that part of it, which He has consecrated, it's not going to be good. So remember, you are a steward, and you will give an account. Every person will give an account before the living God when we stand before him face to face. And tithing in the Bible means 10%. It doesn't mean just giving. Sometimes we're going to say, "Hey, I'm going to give my tithe," and we may mean, I'm just going to give something. That's not what it means in the Bible. It means 10%, and so as we give, we need to think about giving a minimum of 10% and even more. I know people who have made it their ambition to give a percentage more of their income every year, as they would go up in their wealth. They would make more money, and they would give much more percentage of their income.
And this is a wonderful good thing to do. May the Lord be praised. The Lord revisits that and remembers and blesses people who live that way in this life and the next. God does—the next principle—God does reward Christians who obey Him in this way and curses us sometimes. If you have financial problems, one of the first things I would look [at] is are you tithing? Again, make sure that's in order, because that could be a reason why quite possibly. Another principle is that when we give, we are to give to the Lord. That would include your local church and other places you get spiritual blessing. But then other ways ... His work around the world. So we give to the Lord is what the scripture says. So find those places and make it your mission to give. We can't just say, "well, I haven't found anything, or I don't know..."
It's just like, look, just give it away. There's a lot of organizations you just can give it away to, so just send it, and if you want to be more analytical about where you give it in the future, that's fine, but you've got to get it out of your hands, get it out of the hands. When a friend of mine who has made a lot and given a lot, he's just like, "Man, send that money."—God gives it to him—"I've got to get it out," because the temptation is to hold onto it and to think that I have it, I own it. Instead, the Lord owns it. Give—second to last principle—give even when you're not cheerful about giving. God loves a cheerful giver, but the solution if you're not cheerful, isn't to stop giving. The solution is to repent for a greedy heart and an ungenerous heart, and to give anyway. Always give, always give.
Just if you catch yourself with a bad attitude, then repent of it. I've certainly had to do it. It's just human nature. And then lastly, it's important to remember that we cannot serve both God and mammon. It's impossible. We must have Jesus Christ as number one, and everything financial underneath that. We can have big designs sometimes: "I'm going to save all this money. I'm going to do this because I'm going to be powerful, could have all of this." Look, God isn't interested in these fleshly ambitions, but He's interested in us as being obedient to Him. That means giving away at least 10%, and maybe much more based on your situation and what the Holy Spirit tells you to do. You need to be sensitive to Him and to do what's pleasing to Him. And so in conclusion for this message, the takeaway is to let the Spirit of God search your heart and repent.
If you've not been giving at least 10% away, repent, and even if you have been, maybe you've been serving Mammon and you've got to repent of it. Now, there may be some unusual situation once in awhile, in which you may not give 10%. I think of the story that Jesus tells about King David. If you remember this story, he gave the showbread in the temple—or the tabernacle—to his troops, and they did that because they didn't have the food they needed. Even though it's forbidden for him to eat it, but it was totally fine for him to do it. There are some weird, unusual search situations sometimes, but for the vast majority of the time, the issue is that we need to give and give generously. So I encourage you to repent on behalf of the United States of America and the Christian Church. The average Christian doesn't give away 10% as a minimum, not at all, and it displeases the Lord.
We need to face reality and not sugar coat it, and say what it is. It displeases God when we don't act as we are. He's redeemed us so that we would live as faithful, as separate people, as a beacon, as a last city on the hill, as a beacon to the nations. This is what we're to be, and not wrapped up in greed or a false understanding of the American dream. May God be praised in your giving and your lifestyle, and may you bet kept safe during this time and may this time, even though it creates a lot of trouble and uncertainties for some people. May you put all your concerns and anxieties on the Lord, knowing that He will provide in His timing. May the Lord bless you in every way.
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