Christian Giving - Treasure or Trap?
[Excerpt from 'Therapy with God' book by Susan Henderson McHenry]
Matthew 6:21 -- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be
Acts 20:35 -- “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
There are three main Christian concepts that deal with Treasure: the treasure itself, giving, and the blessing you receive when you give. We need to address all three for any of them to make sense. Initially, it may seem that this has little to do with mental health, but in fact, it is a very serious mental health issue.
Many people in the Christian community have the wrong perspective when they hear or use the word ‘treasure.’ Their hearts are more bent toward the worldly definition, which then distorts what they believe about giving and blessing. This has caused a great deal of bondage, self-recrimination, and even depression as their distorted Christian perspective draws them farther and farther away from God. In this section, I try to make some clear distinctions between the way the world sees these issues, and the way God does. When you understand the difference, you will be empowered to make Godly decisions about your own giving, and to filter the worldly messages out of what you hear. Worldly giving is bondage, Godly giving is freedom.
** Treasure **
So what exactly is ‘treasure?’ This is the definition on http://bible.crosswalk.com:
1. the place in which good and precious things are collected and laid up
a. a casket, coffer, or other receptacle, in which valuables are kept
b. a treasury
c. storehouse, repository, magazine
2. the things laid up in a treasury, collected treasures
Treasure means either the place in which precious things are kept, or the precious
things themselves. Giving your ‘treasure’ means giving something you see as precious. Giving whatever you happen to have lying around, or giving money you don’t need, doesn’t qualify. If it isn’t a sacrifice, if it isn’t precious to you, then it isn’t a ‘treasure.’
As a real-world example, many people give away tons of old clothes. They go through their closets and bring out stuff they haven’t worn in the past year, throw it all in a bag and take it to the local charity. That’s a wonderful thing to do and we should certainly do that because many people benefit from it. Just remember that if it’s stuff you don’t need and wouldn’t use anyway, it doesn’t qualify as ‘treasure.’ On the other hand, say you take the time to sort through it and carefully wash and fold each item because you want them to be nice and fresh and welcoming to their new owners. If your time is precious to you and you gave this time as a ‘gift’ to the recipient and as a sacrifice to Jesus, then this could qualify as ‘treasure.’
King David gives us a visual example. He had been instructed by a prophet to build an altar to God and offer a sacrifice on it. He went to buy a threshing floor so as to comply, and the gentleman who owned the threshing floor knew King David and offered to give it to him free of charge. King David refused, saying, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). God was pleased with David’s sacrifice and prayer, and a “great plague was held back from Israel” (v 25).
‘Treasure’ has to be something of value to you. The degree to which something is valuable to you is the degree to which you are giving something of value to Jesus, because that is the degree to which you are clearing away the clutter in your heart and making room for Him.
** Giving **
So, what about the ‘giving’ part? What does God have to say about the giving itself? Plenty. Let’s review just a few:
Luke 14:11-14 -- Jesus said, “‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”
Matthew 6:3-4 "But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
Luke 11:41 "But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.” This means that if you give a gift from your heart (that which is within), something of material value to you, then you are in a right relationship with God regarding your stuff versus your love for Him, and you will be ‘clean,’ or pure, on the inside as well as the outside (all things).”
So according to Jesus, a ‘Godly gift’, so to speak, is one that is:
1. of great personal value,
2. done with no expectation of anything in return,
3. performed in secret, and
4. given from the heart.
Ok, so a gift of no personal sacrifice with strings attached is clearly not a gift at all. Given. But what does that have to do with mental health?
When you give with an expectation of getting something back, it’s no longer a gift -- it’s an investment for some kind of return, or a purchase of some kind of product. In addition to not satisfying Jesus’ criteria as a ‘gift,’ there is a great risk in this kind of giving; you open yourself up to being dissatisfied with the other guys’ part of the deal. What if you didn’t get the reaction you had expected, even the simplest appreciation or thanks? How would your ‘giving’ make you feel then?
Test your heart: Have you ever let anyone in front of you in traffic and had them not wave at you in thanks? What was your internal reaction to that?
Now let’s crank up the heat a little: What if the person from whom you expected this reaction was God? What if God didn’t live up to His part of the bargain? Might you feel cheated by God? Betrayed, maybe? “But they promised that if I give ‘to God’ (through them), God would bless me. They even had Scripture to back it up. Am I out of line expecting that He’ll come through?”
Be very careful here. If your heart is wrong and He doesn’t ‘come through,’ your isappointment can make you pull away from Him. You start to question God and feel let down by Him. You come to see Him as a God that doesn’t provide or live up to His promises. Or you blame yourself as not being a good enough Christian. Your thoughts spiral downward. You don’t understand. You’re hurt. You feel anger, loneliness, fear, coveting, then the guilt and shame. You could spiral right into rejecting God altogether, seeing him as irrelevant in your life. You either see Him as unfaithful, or you turn the arrow on yourself and believe that you can never live up to His standard of ‘righteousness’, so why bother trying. Satan has won. I’ve seen this in therapy with my clients, and it’s an extremely serious, life-changing mental health issue.
“Wow - that’s pretty harsh, and pretty frightening! So, what do we do?” As always, look to Jesus for the answer:
John 15:13 -- “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Jesus showed us the greatest love, and the greatest gift there is. He set the standard. He gave the greatest gift through the greatest love.
So how did Jesus’ death define for us the perfect, Holy gift? Let’s check it against the above Scriptures: First, He gave a treasure of great, unspeakable value - His very life. Second, He did it with no expectation of any personal return. His death was for our salvation - not His. Third, it was done in secret. Oh sure, plenty of people saw Him die, but how many of them realized He did it voluntarily - for them? Not even the disciples understood until after the resurrection. And fourth, it was from the heart. He did it out of His unfathomable love for God, and for us.
** Blessing **
So if we’re not to expect anything in return, then what does it mean to be ‘blessed?’
Great question. Scripture absolutely promises that when you give, you will be blessed far more than you gave. But what does it mean by ‘bless?’
After doing some research in my reference books and on the internet, I found what I believe to be a God-driven definition of the word blessing (quoting Rick Calvert):
In the Bible the biblical use of the word 'makarioi' took on a spiritual significance where one is "blessed" or "happy" if he exemplifies the quality of God by seeking His approval founded in righteousness. One's blessedness therefore, rests ultimately on his love to God and his personal communion with the Father in heaven. In the New Testament this word is probably more correctly translated "blessed" because the definition of "happy" is connected with luck, hap from the verb "happen." Happiness can come from without, and can be dependent on circumstances; whereas, blessedness spews forth from the soul of man. It is fed by an inward fountain of joy, which no outward circumstances can seriously affect. Blessedness is therefore higher than happiness for it consists of standing in a right relation to God, and so realizing the true purpose of man's being. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that one can only be "blessed" if he humbles himself before God with a pure heart, having sorrow for sin, a meekness of character, and seeking God's approval by hungering and thirsting after righteousness. According to Christ, the blessed life can be enjoyed even by those who are unhappy or suffering, a paradox which the carnal man cannot understand. [Bold mine] This was a foreign concept to the Greeks, who taught the blessed life was only possible for a select few and disqualified any who were ever a slave, diseased, poor, or died at a tender age, but, Jesus taught blessedness with God is possible for all humanity no matter your circumstances or station in life.26 (Rick Calvert, http://www.studylight.org/col/ds/)
So, we can see that being ‘blessed’ is,
- Having the favor of God,
- Having a fullness in God,
- Being a partaker in God’s nature through faith in Christ,
- Having God’s kingdom within your heart,
- Living in the world yet being independent of the world,
- Getting satisfaction from God and not from favorable circumstances.
To summarize, a blessing in this context could be defined as, “deep, inner contentment, peace, complete satisfaction, and fullness in God.” There’s no mention of material or earthly gain of any kind in this list. As a matter of fact, the last two items eliminate that possibility completely.
The blessings that Jesus promises when we give according to that Godly standard are internal and Spiritual. The Apostle Paul said:
2 Corinthians 9:7 -- “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
The word “cheerful” literally means, “hilarious” in the Greek. God loves a hilarious giver. One of my favorite church experiences was a few years ago at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland. My husband and I were visiting that Sunday. When Pastor Jenkins said, “Ok, it’s time for the tithes and offerings,” the congregation of hundreds erupted in applause and cheered. I was stunned, and my heart sang. They tell me they do that every week. Now, that’s a heart given over to God, and hilarious giving in action.
“But before, you said that ‘Godly giving’ was anonymous. Does that mean that whenever I give, I have to give anonymously to get the blessings?” Scripture tells us that God sees our hearts and our motives (Jeremiah 17:9-10, Psalms 44:21). Are we giving for our own glory, fame, popularity? Are we trying to impress people? Are we doing it with expectations - even gratitude or recognition? Or are we doing it as a cheerful giver with a pure heart and no expectation of a return of any kind? God will know, and it will certainly matter to Him. It just makes sense that you will be given credit for your gift to the extent that your giving is pure.
However, Jesus’ said something we need to reflect on:
Matthew 6:2 -- "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
So, is He saying that if our giving is not ‘in secret’ that God will give us no credit at all? I can’t answer that with certainty, but one thing is very clear based on the above verse: If you do receive a reward on earth, regardless of how small it is, you can be guaranteed it will negatively affect your reward in heaven to some degree or another. If you want to maximize your blessing to God and your reward in heaven, make your gifts anonymous - just a secret between you and Jesus - as often as you can, with no expectation of any kind. If anonymity is not possible, then just remember to deflect the ‘thanks’ to God. As I said in the section called “Freedom from Expectations,” if you can eliminate the expectations from your giving, then you are totally free to enjoy the very act of giving itself.
Do you feel the freedom and the joy in that? Doesn’t that feel like mental health?
- Prosperity preaching and ‘give to get’
“So then why do we hear so many Christian messages that tell us if we give, we’ll be ‘blessed’ by God financially? They tell us that we will be repaid by God ‘a hundred-fold,’ and that ‘We can’t out-give God.’ Why are they trying to convince us that we’ll receive material and financial blessings if all of this is true?” Some people call that “Prosperity Preaching.” I call it, “give to get.”
Christians have always known that when you give to God, He will bless you for your act of love. I believe that at some point, this positive message of ‘give to God to be blessed by God’ was hijacked by Satan and turned bad. It became a trap for good Christian people to fall into and become imprisoned by Satan’s lie.
I can’t read their hearts as to why some of them say what they do, but I do believe that most pastors are wonderful, Godly people. I trust that they believe they are providing Godly teachings that are appropriate, sanctioned, and uplifting for their congregations. I’m sure they work very hard to be good shepherds, and I’m confident that if they believed they had a flaw in their teachings, a hole in their fence enabling their sheep to go astray, they would take the steps to fix the hole.
But the message of prosperity is still being spread. Why is that? I don’t know, but it is possible that they have simply bought into the lie and haven’t thought it all the way through. Or it could be that they mean the word ‘blessing’ to mean exactly what this section is saying it means, but they don’t realize that the colloquial use of the term is distorting the way their message is being heard. For them, they would just need to clarify what they mean by the word ‘blessing,’ and their problem would be solved.
One of the problems I have witnessed, though, is that even when the “give to get” message is just a subtle part of an otherwise wonderful sermon, its infiltration can be enough to shift our God-filled Spirits over towards a competing material worldly desire: God called it ‘coveting.’ The seed is planted that there is something material we can get out of this deal. An otherwise great worship experience can lay the fodder which Satan uses to attack the Holy Spirit in us and chip away at our relationship with God. Without any malice on the part of the preacher, it can lead us astray. We need to be very discerning with what we hear, regardless of the source.
I also believe that tragically, there are far too many preachers looking out for their own interests and are trying to line their own pockets. What seems to come across with some of them is a belief that unless you have some material motivation for giving, you simply won’t give. You need to be under compulsion. The common misuse of the words ‘treasure,’ ‘gift,’ and ‘blessing’ seem to be pervasive within the highly available public Christian media, and these new definitions are forming roots in our tender souls. It is Satan’s message, and it is being preached from the pulpit. They capitalize on their belief that you want to be wealthy so badly that you will be willing to ‘play the lottery’ with God in the hope that He will ‘bless’ you. They’re the ones getting wealthy - on your back.
Disclaimer: If you believe this section in any way disagrees with or violates the teachings you hear from your pastor, or if it confuses you in any way, please take it to him, and humbly ask him about it. I am not a shepherd - I am a sheep like you. Have him explain to you where he disagrees, so you’ll know. As always, I want to prayerfully point you to your pastor, to Jesus, and to your Bible. [See my permission to copy at the end of this section.]
So the issue here is material wealth and prosperity. Satan seldom lies outright - he just takes a truth and twists it a little. So with that in mind, what does Jesus say about all of that? Let His words set you free from this bondage:
Luke 8:11-15 -- Jesus said, “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (v 14).
- We would certainly all agree that worries can choke the fruit out of us, but look at the other two: riches and pleasures. These are things the world tells us are good things. These are the things we spend our entire lives searching for and working for. And if you listen to some preachers, these are the things that God will give you if you give generously to them. So we’re supposed to give to get the very things God says will choke the fruit out of us? Does that make sense? Not to me.
Matthew 6:19-21 -- Jesus also said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
- So again He is telling us not to focus on what we have on earth, but rather on what we’re putting away for eternity.
Matthew 19:26 -- Jesus said, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (v 24).
- This is not to say it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God because nothing is impossible with God (v 26). The point here is that people are prone to love their wealth above all things, and once they have it, they tend to hold on to it with both hands. In this verse, Jesus had just invited a rich man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor and come, follow Him. He could not, and “…he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property” (v 22). God won’t force us to give it up, and many just won’t. That’s why it is so hard for them to enter the Kingdom of God. Their wealth becomes for them a snare and a stumbling block. Interesting that Jesus didn’t say, “Sell your possessions and bring all your money and come, follow me.” Hmm…
Matthew 25:34-40 -- Jesus said if you give to the poor, you visit the sick, you invite in the stranger, “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
- If you give to others in need, you are giving to Him. Giving is the key -- not getting. I agree that you have to receive it before you can give it, but the focus is still on the giving, not the receiving. That’s not the message of the ‘give to get’ sermons
Luke 12:16-21 -- And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, `What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, `This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
- What good did all of his wealth do? His priorities were all wrong, and it was all a waste. His wealth became a stumbling block that distracted Him from things of God. We need to be very careful we do not stumble with our wealth.
Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 -- All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind [bold mine] and there was no profit under the sun.
- If God meant the word ‘blessing’ to mean material wealth as a source of satisfaction and happiness, even in the Old Testament, then why did He inspire Solomon to write Ecclesiastes and call all his wealth “vanity of vanities,” which means “a total and absolute waste.” In the end of his diatribe about his wasted life, King Solomon said, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments…” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). After all his wealth and misery, he finally got it right in the end.
None of that sounds like ‘give to get’ to me at all. I see the focus in all of these passages as eternal rather than temporal, internal rather than external,. I believe that many of the sermons we hear are perverting the use of the word ‘blessing’ and we need to be very, very careful not to let ourselves fall into that trap. When you hear them preach, just stay very cautious when they start talking about money. Be very discerning, and keep in mind how Jesus described the words ‘gift, ‘treasure,’ and ‘blessing’ in the passages above. If you choose to give to them, give it as a true gift, and understand with eyes wide open that any blessings you can expect from God are internal and eternal.
So what’s wrong with God wanting to give to us materially? Can’t He do that if He wants to? Of course He can, and He does. Jesus isn’t anti-wealth, or anti-poverty for that matter. One’s financial position only seems to matter to Him to the extent that it helps or hinders a person’s ability to give their life and their heart to Him, or to the extent that it affects a believer’s witness. Some Christians are able to successfully enslave their entrusted wealth and have it serve God’s purposes beautifully. For others, though, our quest for daily wealth is a minefield into which we need to tread very carefully. Pride is a serious problem for our sinful flesh as it is, and if the prosperity message is correct, that puts those who have more wealth than others in grave danger of becoming prideful. “We have more than they do, that must mean we’re more favored by God than they are. We must be better Christians than they are, and are in the will of God better than them.” The risks are enormous. He is not opposed to wealth, but He is opposed to what it can do to us. God loves us all equally with that agape, unconditional love, and will provide what we need to accomplish His purpose when we are ready to serve Him. Having wealth, or not having it, is perfectly congruent with being a wonderful, loving Christian. It just doesn’t happen to be the blessings we get for giving. They are simply two unrelated issues.
I heard it once said, “Money makes a wonderful slave, but a tyrant of a slave-master.”
** Treasure Therapy **
Ok, then, let’s bring this all home. This section is about “Treasure Therapy,” so to speak. With all of the above, how do I turn my ‘Treasure’ into a form of mental health therapy for myself?
Try this: The next time you go to a sandwich shop, look around, and see who is eating alone. Tell the server you want to pay for their lunch, but you don’t want them to know who did it. This is just a secret between you and Jesus. See if your feet don’t leave the ground when you walk out of the restaurant.
Or answer one of those radio solicitations that ask you to give them your credit card number and they’ll send 100 Bibles to Africa.
Or give anonymously to one of the ministries in your church. Don’t even tell the pastoral staff. Have a good laugh about it with Jesus, and feel your heart sing.
Give to your church fundraisers, give to the local nursing home, or give to the high school football team, it doesn’t matter. Remember that what you’re giving isn’t necessarily just money, although that is certainly on the list of things to give. Give whatever is precious to you: money, personal possessions, time, whatever. Give it away so it doesn’t take the place of Christ in your heart. Hold on to it with a very light grip. Always be ready to give if the Lord should ask you to do so.
Give hilariously, knowing that your rewards will be straight from Jesus directly into the treasure-chest in your heart. With those blessings from God, you can then overflow them onto others and change their lives. Share your faith in God. Share your love for Him and give other people the gift of your peace and your contentment with the life God has given you regardless of your circumstances. Overflow your love for Him onto others and give them your peace. Watch your inner peace and glow draw people to you, and thus to God, and watch His Kingdom grow before your very eyes. Feel your heart sing, and feel yourself drawing into the presence of God.
Release yourself from the bondage of expecting some financial or material gain from your giving. Let your giving build your character and the place for God in your heart; tell the devil to take a hike. Give from your heart with the intention of blessing God, and you can be assured that the blessings of God’s fullness and approval will come back to you, just as He promised, a 'hundredfold.’ You truly can’t out-give God. Feel the freedom and the joy in that.
And consider this for a moment: When you think the word ‘treasure,’ teach yourself not to think of ‘material’ possession, anyway. The real treasure is Jesus Christ, Himself. When we are filled with Him, we can then offer Him to the world. He is the ultimate fulfillment of our desires for more treasure and more blessings. If you treasure Him above all else, then you will be filled and completely satisfied in Him, you will feel the full blessings He wants to give to you, and you will have abundant treasure to share with others as well.
The ‘blessings’ of giving do not come from external material and financial returns that you get as a payback for giving. The true blessings are the inner change in your heart from the mere satisfaction of showing Him your love, and from receiving from Him His salvation, His favor, His love returned, and His Kingdom into your heart. These blessings are yours, regardless of your financial circumstance.
If you have fallen victim to the prosperity preaching and the ‘give to get’ message, then set yourself free and pray this prayer from your heart:
“Father, please forgive me for expecting You to ‘repay’ me for my gifts. Your Son’s sacrifice on the cross is all the gift from You I will ever need. Help me undo the messages that I have heard, and help me be one who gives from my heart sacrificially and joyfully as unto You, Lord, and cleanse my heart of all expectation of a return, except for those things that come from You directly: your fullness and peace on earth, and your eternal rewards at the resurrection.”
Jesus wants to set you free.
Reflect on this final point: The bigger a part God has in your life, the more you think about Him, pray to Him, worship Him, give to Him, and love and obey Him, then the more you will have His presence permeate through you, and the bigger the place will be that He will be occupying in your heart. As others see His light in you, and experience His love through your sacrificial gifts to them, they will want what you have, and you will have an opportunity to lead them into the Kingdom of God. This is truly what God meant by, “laying up treasures in heaven.”
The more you give with the heart of God, the more God will fill your heart.
Now go with God, and bless and be blessed.
[Therapy with God Copyright 2007 © susan henderson mchenry. http://www.therapywithgod.com/. The 'Treasures' section of this chapter may be reproduced in whole only (not in part) under the following provisions: 1) This copyright statement must be
included, and 2) the 'Treasure' content may not be changed in any way.]