Read an Excerpt
The Law of Rewards Giving What You Can't Keep to Gain What You Can't Lose
By Randy C. Alcorn
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2003 Eternal Perspective Ministries
All right reserved.
Chapter One WHAT DETERMINES OUR REWARDS?
Jesus Christ said more about money than about any other single thing because, when it comes to a man's real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man's true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man's character and how he handles his money. RICHARD HALVERSON
A POOR WOMAN AND A RICH MAN
Imagine you're a financial counselor. Today you have two appointments, first with an elderly woman and then a middle-aged man.
The woman's husband died six years ago. She says, "I have no more money. The cupboards are bare. These two dollars are all I have to live on, yet I feel as if God wants me to put them in the offering. What do you think?"
What would you tell her?
Likely you'd say, "That's very generous of you, but God gave you common sense. He knows your heart-that you want to give. But he intends you to take care of yourself. I'm sure God would have you keep those two dollars and buy food for tomorrow. You can't expect him just to send down food from heaven, can you? God wants us to be sensible."
Your next appointment is with a successful, hardworking, middle-aged farmer whose crop production has been excellent. He tells you, "I'm planning to tear down my old barns to build bigger ones so I can store up more crops and goods and have plenty saved up for the future. Then I can take it easy, retire early, and do some traveling and golfing. What do you think?"
How would you answer?
Perhaps like this: "Sounds good to me! You've worked hard. God has blessed you with good crops. It's your business, your crops, your money. If you can save up enough to take care of yourself the rest of your life, by all means go for it. I hope one day I'll be in a position to do the same!"
Wouldn't such advice to this poor widow and rich man appear reasonable? What would God have to say about it?
We needn't speculate-Scripture tells us exactly what he says.
In Mark 12 we meet a poor widow. She put two tiny copper coins in the temple offering box. This was the only money she had. Jesus pointed her out to his disciples to teach them a lesson. Did he question the woman's wisdom? Did he say she should have been more sensible than to surrender her only remaining resources? No. He gave her unqualified commendation: "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on" (Mark 12:43-44).
Jesus regarded the woman as wise, not foolish. He set her up as a model for his disciples to follow. He enshrined her example in the Word of God so that future generations might emulate her faith and sacrificial generosity.
And yet, if she'd come to us for advice, we would have tried to talk her out of doing the very thing that Jesus commended her for!
In Luke 12 we meet a rich man. We're not told that he gained his wealth dishonestly or that he didn't attend synagogue, tithe, or pray, as most Jews did. He worked diligently to build his business. Now, like any good businessman, he wanted to expand by building bigger barns. His purpose was to accumulate enough wealth to retire early and have a good time. Sounds like the American dream, doesn't it? (And, honestly, are our dreams as Christians so different?)
So what did God have to say to this man? "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"
Jesus added, "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:20-21).
By our standards, the widow's actions seem unwise and the rich man's seem wise. But God, who knows the hearts of both and sees from the vantage point of eternity, regards the poor woman as eternally wise and the rich man as eternally foolish.
This proves that our beliefs about money are radically different from God's. In fact, they're diametrically opposed.
We must ask some probing questions. Who is featured more frequently in Christian magazines and on talk shows-poor widows or rich fools? Who receives the most respect and attention in many Christian organizations? Who is more highly esteemed in most churches? Who typically serves on our boards and determines the direction of our ministries?
Let's be honest-don't we have a scarcity of poor widows and a surplus of rich fools? And doesn't our way of operating encourage people to think and act like the rich fool, and discourage them from thinking and acting like the poor widow?
THE STORY MONEY TELLS
Jesus did not and does not call all his disciples to give away their last pennies. But he also knows that none of us can enthrone the true God unless in the process we dethrone our other gods. If Christ is not Lord over our money and possessions, then he is not our Lord. The principle is timeless: There is a powerful relationship between our true spiritual condition and our attitude and actions concerning money and possessions.
The early church exemplifies this connection. The depth of transformation in the early Christians was clearly evident in their willingness to surrender their money and possessions to meet each others' needs (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35). It was no more natural for these Christians to cheerfully liquidate and disburse assets they had spent their lives accumulating than it would be for us. And that's the whole point. Conversion and the filling of the Holy Spirit are supernatural experiences that produce supernatural responses-whether in the first century or the twenty-first. Although private ownership of property was still practiced by the early Christians, the joyful giving and sharing of this property became the new norm of supernatural living.
A study of the early church, the poor widow, the rich fool, Zacchaeus, the rich young ruler, and many other Bible characters shows that our handling of money is a litmus test of our true character. It's an index of our spiritual life. Our stewardship of our money and possessions becomes the story of our lives.
If this is true of all people in all ages, doesn't it have a special application to us who live in a time and place of unparalleled affluence? who live in a country where the "poverty level" exceeds the average standard of living of nearly every other society in human history, past or present?
If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a home that shields you from the weather, and own some kind of reliable transportation, you're in the top 15 percent of the world's wealthy. Add some savings, two cars (in any condition), a variety of clothes, and your own house, and you have reached the top 5 percent. You may not feel wealthy, but that's only because you're comparing yourself to the mega-wealthy.
Consider someone who works from age twenty-five to sixty-five and makes only $25,000 a year. Forget the huge value of benefits provided, interest earned, pay raises, and other income sources, including inheritance or Social Security. Even without these extras, in his lifetime this person of modest income will be paid a million dollars. He will manage a fortune.
Because we all will eventually give an account of our lives to God (Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10), one day everyone must answer these questions: Where did it all go? What did I spend it on? What, if anything, did I support with it? What has been accomplished for eternity through my use of all this wealth?
We will be held accountable for what we do in this life, including what we do with our money. If we are generous with our possessions and faithful in our service, God will reward us beyond our imagination! If we live only for ourselves, hoarding our money and focusing on our earthly comfort, we will lose the eternal rewards God had planned for us. As Christians, we are saved by God's grace-but what we do in this life will matter for eternity.
THIS IS THE LAW OF REWARDS: WHILE OUR FAITH DETERMINES OUR ETERNAL DESTINATION, OUR BEHAVIOR DETERMINES OUR ETERNAL REWARDS.
In the account of the poor widow, Mark writes, "Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury" (Mark 12:41). Notice that it doesn't say, "Jesus happened to see ..." No, he deliberately watched to observe what people were giving.
How close was Jesus to the offering box? Close enough to see that some people put in large amounts. Close enough even to see two tiny coins in a shriveled old hand and to identify them as copper. Jesus was interested enough in what people were giving to make an object lesson for his disciples.
This passage should make all of us who suppose that what we do with our money is our own business feel terribly uncomfortable. It's painfully apparent that God considers it his business. He does not apologize for watching with intense interest what we do with the money he's entrusted to us. If we use our imagination, we might peer into the invisible realm to see him gathering some of his subjects together this very moment. Perhaps you can hear him using your handling of finances as an object lesson.
The question is this: What kind of example are you?
GOD'S WORDS AS A GUIDE
Scripture contains many verses that give guidance on money. In these sidebars throughout the book we'll highlight some that may help you as you rethink your attitude toward giving and rewards.
"The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." (Psalm 24:1)
"You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers." (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
LEARNING ABOUT GOD'S OWNERSHIP
In 1990 I was a pastor and on the board of a pregnancy resource center. After searching the Scriptures and praying, I began participating in nonviolent rescues at abortion clinics. I was arrested several times and went to jail for a couple of days. An abortion clinic subsequently won a court judgment against me and others. I told the judge that normally I would pay anything I owed, but I couldn't hand over money to people who would use it to kill babies.
Soon after, I discovered that my church was about to receive a writ of garnishment, demanding that they surrender one-fourth of my wages each month to the abortion clinic. The church would either have to pay the abortion clinic or defy a court order. To avoid this, I had to resign. The only way I could prevent garnishment in the future was to make no more than minimum wage.
Another court judgment followed, involving another abortion clinic. We were assessed the largest judgment ever against a group of peaceful protestors: $8.4 million. By all appearances, our lives had taken a devastating turn-but it was one of the best things that ever happened to us.
What others intended for evil, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20). We began Eternal Perspective Ministries, which owns all the books I write. Nanci worked at a secretary's salary, supplementing my minimum wage. Then something interesting happened: Suddenly my books were on the bestseller lists. Royalties increased. Our ministry has been able to give away 100 percent of those royalties to missions, famine relief, and pro-life work. In the past three years, by God's grace, the ministry has given away more than $500,000. Sometimes I think God sells the books just to raise funds for ministries close to his heart!
I don't go to bed at night feeling that I've "sacrificed" that money, wishing somehow I could get my hands on it. I go to bed feeling joy, because there's nothing like giving.
If you wonder why God has blessed your business, maybe it's not because the goods and services you offer are so extraordinary. Maybe it's because he wants to provide you with more money to give back to him, and more reward in heaven! And if you don't realize that, you'll never experience the joy of giving, the thrill of kingdom investing he desires for you.
PATHWAY TO SPIRITUAL GROWTH
I wasn't raised in a Christian home, but from the day I came to Christ as a high school student, giving has been an integral part of my walk with God. Many of the greatest joys of my life, and some of the closest times of intimacy with my Lord, have come in giving. When I become aware of a need and God leads me to give, suddenly I'm infused with energy, purpose, and joy.
Go back to what Jesus said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Why? Perhaps because when we give it blesses not one but three parties-God, the recipient, and us. We shouldn't be content with the first blessing, which is when we receive money from God. There is the second blessing of our giving so that others receive, and the third blessing of God being pleased. It is the second and third blessings that keep the first blessing from becoming a curse of having too much, and centering our lives around money and things.
Ironically, the blessing on us when we give money is always greater than if we had kept it. (This is part of God's law of rewards.)
REWARD PRINCIPLE #1: GIVING BRINGS GREATER BLESSING THAN RECEIVING.
By not giving, we don't just rob God or rob others of blessing. We rob ourselves of the rewards God wants to give us. How many blessings have we kept from ourselves in the last year by failing to give as we could have? How much spiritual growth and joy have we missed out on by not living by God's law of rewards?
For my wife and me, the process of discovering God's will about money and possessions has been exciting and liberating. Our growth in financial stewardship has closely paralleled our overall spiritual growth. In fact, it has propelled it. We have learned more about faith, trust, grace, commitment, and God's provision in this area than any other.
I have also learned why Paul said, "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). I have found that cheerful givers love God and love him more deeply each time they give. To me, one of the few experiences comparable to the joy of leading someone to Christ is the joy of making wise and generous eternity-impacting choices with my money and possessions. Both are supreme acts of worship. Both are exhilarating. Both are what we were made for.
This book addresses what eternity holds for us and how that relates to our money. I believe this is the primary missing ingredient in most Christian books on finances.
Excerpted from The Law of Rewards by Randy C. Alcorn Copyright ©2003 by Eternal Perspective Ministries. Excerpted by permission.
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