Sunday, February 26, 2006

Nehemiah 13:1-14 - Giving: Important Things to Remember

Opening thought:
Have you ever come back home from an errand to find the kids were about to burn the house down? You know the familiar phrase, “when the cat’s away, the mice will play." That is what happened in today's passage.

Read Nehemiah 13:1-14

Textual Notes
Nehemiah, one of the greatest leaders in the Bible, had pulled off the building of the city walls of Jerusalem in fifty-two days – unbelievable. After a 12-year tour of duty as governor of Judea, Nehemiah returned to report to Artaxerxes on his work (2:6; v. 6). Upon returning, he was shocked to find how much Israel’s obedience had deteriorated. 

The people had heard the Law read from Deuteronomy 23:3-6 that because the Ammonites and Moabites had refused them access to their resources to cross to enter the Promised Land hundreds of years before, that none of them would be permitted in the assembly. (Unless of course, like Ruth the Moabitess, you choose to follow the Lord.) 

Now, Eliashib, the high priest (by now an elderly man, Ezra 10:6), had given guest quarters in the Temple complex (v. 4-5) to no less than the infamous Tobiah the Ammonite, the enemy who had threatened war on Israel for rebuilding the wall! Eliashib’s granddaughter had married Tobiah the Ammonite’s son. 

It was a common ancient practice to store valuables in a temple complex. It is the origin of banking in the ancient world.

Sermon Points:
  1. Reform the way money is spent in the church (Nehemiah 13:7-9).
  2. Continue giving regularly – don’t stop tithing, or work of the Kingdom will suffer (Nehemiah 13:10-12).
  3. Select trustworthy persons to handle money (Nehemiah 13:13).
  4. Cover all giving in prayer and viewpoint of eternity (Nehemiah 13:14).


1-Reform the way money is spent in the church (vv. 7-9).
Some people don’t like a preacher to talk about money from the pulpit. In the Bible, there are 40 verses on "baptism", 275 verses on "prayer", 350 verses on "faith", 650 verses on "love" -- and 2,350 verses that relate specifically to finances and material possessions.
  • Two men were marooned on an island. One man paced back and forth worried and scared while the other man sat back and was sunning himself. The first man said to the second man, "Aren’t you afraid we are about to die?" "No," said the second man, "I make $100,000 a week and tithe faithfully to my church every week. My Pastor will find me." 

  • Nehemiah’s action is a foretaste of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13)
  • We must spend funds on Kingdom priorities. We will be audited at the Judgment

  • Indulgences to pay out of purgatory. When the Catholic Church needed money for building projects re: rebuilding St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Pope Leo X came up with a great funding strategy. In 1517, they began selling indulgences, certificates which cut your time in purgatory, a pre-Hell holding pen of fire and torture in which you can get a second chance at heaven. Want to pay your way out? Want to pay Mama’s way out? Want to pay your wayward child’s way out? Buy Indulgences! Various indulgences would pay you out from several years to 10,000 years. The aggressive marketing practices of Johann Tetzel in promoting this cause provoked Martin Luther to write his 95 theses, protesting what he saw as the purchase and sale of salvation. According to tradition, he nailed these theses to a church door in Wittenberg.Martin Luther went back to Scripture and found that we are justified by faith alone, not by paying our way out of an imaginary purgatory. From this controversy the Protestant Reformation was launched.
  • The Church’s Squandering of Resources
    In 2000, 97 dollars of every 100 of the entire income ($269.61B) of all Christian organizations was spent on, and primarily benefited, other Christians at home or abroad: spent on ministering to Christians, $2.90 ($7.8B) on already-evangelized non-Christians, and 3 cents ($0.81B) on unevangelized non-Christians.
2-Continue giving regularly – don’t stop tithing, or work of the Kingdom will suffer (vv. 10-12).
Services at the Temple had been abandoned. Levites and priests had to feed their families, so when the people stopped tithing, the funding ran out, and they had to find other work farming or otherwise. (v. 10)
  • The Church’s Great Storehouse of Wealth
    In 2000, American evangelicals collectively made $2.66 trillion in income.
    Total Christian [including nominal] income in the United States is $5.2 trillion annually, nearly half of the world’s total Christian income. The average donation by adults who attend U.S. Protestant churches is about $17 a week.
  • I like the old story about the guy who came to church with his family. As they were driving home afterwards he was complaining about everything. He said, “The music was too loud. The sermon was too long. The announcements were unclear. The building was hot. The people were unfriendly.” He went on and on, complaining about virtually everything. Finally, his very observant son said, “Dad, you’ve got to admit it wasn’t a bad show for just a dollar.”
  • When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.
  • Among church members of 11 primary Protestant denominations (or their historical antecedents) in the United States and Canada, per-member giving as a percentage of income was lower in 2000 than in either 1921 or 1933. In 1921, per-member giving as a percentage of income was 2.9 percent. In 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression, per-member giving grew to 3.3 percent. By 2000, after a half-century of unprecedented prosperity, giving had fallen to 2.6 percent.
  • Overall, only 3 to 5 percent of Americans who donate money to a church tithe (give a tenth of) their incomes though many more claim to do so.
  • Thirty-three percent of U.S. born-again Christians say it is impossible for them to get ahead in life because of the financial debt they have incurred.

  • The Potential for Funding the Harvest
    If members of historically Christian churches in the United States had raised their giving to the Old Testament’s minimum standard of giving (10 percent of income) in 2000, an additional $139 billion a year would become available.
  • Eighty percent of the world’s evangelical wealth is in North America—and the total represents much more than enough to fund the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
  • Tithing as a practice continues to decline. “The proportion of households that tithe their income to their church—that is, give at least ten percent of their income to that ministry—has dropped by 62% in the past year, from 8% in 2001 to just 3% of adults during 2002. Born again adults, who represent 38% of the nation’s population, also sustained a decline in generosity during the past couple of years. In 2000, 12% of all born again adults tithed. The percentage rose to 14% in 2001, but dropped to only 6% in 2002. The Barna study discovered that several people groups are more likely to tithe than are others. Groups with the highest proportion of tithers were people 55 or older, college graduates, middle-income individuals, Republicans, conservatives, residents of the South, evangelicals, Protestants, and those who attend mainline Protestant churches. The group that had the highest proportion of households tithing was evangelicals. While that group represents just 6% of the public, nearly 9% of the group tithed in 2002 roughly three times the national average.” Reasons for this decline include concern about financial security, fear about terrorism, failure of parents to pass along this practice to their children, the Catholic church’s pedophilia scandal, the rise of para-church ministries and the rapid growth of Hispanics, very few of whom give generously to their churches.8 11
  • 20-35% of church attendee giving records are blank ($0 of recorded offerings given). Source: CSA
  • In 1999, ~$3 billion was given to 600 Christian mission agencies. Compare this to $58 billion for soda products, $24 billion in jewelry store sales, $8 billion for movies theaters, $13 billion for chocolate products, $38 billion in vending machine sales, $11 billion for comp/video games, $7 billion greeting cards, $23 billion for toys, $91 billion in lawn/garden industry, $23 billion for pets. Source: Empty Tomb Research

3-Select a trustworthy plurality of persons to handle money (v. 13).

No one person without accountability should ever have control of the finances in a church. There must be checks and balances. There must be accountability. Trustworthy saying: The one who controls the pocketbook runs the church.

It seems sometimes like the church has a hard time spelling the word prophet/profit.

· John G. Bennett, Jr., head of the bankrupt Foundation for New Era Philanthropy, was been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for carrying out what many believe is the biggest charity fraud case in American history. Bennett defrauded donors and charities of $135 million by means of a pyramid scheme, promising to double the amount of a donor’s gift in six months with funds from anonymous wealthy benefactors. In reality, Bennett used incoming donations to pay off his outstanding double-your-money pledges, all the while diverting substantial amounts to personal use and his for-profit companies.

· Mark Murnan, a criminal defense investigator, says that many Christians fail to heed Jesus’ admonition to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16). As a result, scams such as Financial Federated and Baptist Foundation of America have swindled Christians of billions of dollars. Using examples of past religion-based scams, Murnan points to five common elements of fraud: promises of high returns over a short period, recruitment of fellow church members, appeals to Scripture, complicated explanation of the investment, and suspect phrases and tax strategies.

· Editor J. Lee Grady writes of his growing sense of alarm over the financial practices of some within the charismatic circle. Citing examples of faith preachers with extravagant expenses and televised preachers who promise miracles and blessings for donors, Grady says “we've been taken hostage by what I call the charismatic cartel.” A “small group of people in our circle” are blackening the good name of charismatics. He asks his readers to “boycott those who are turning God's house into a den of thieves.”

4-Cover all giving in prayer and viewpoint of eternity (v. 14).

Ann Landers had an interesting letter in her column. It was from a girl who was writing about her uncle and aunt. She said, "My uncle was the tightest man I’ve ever known. All his life, every time he got paid he took $20 out of his paycheck and put it under his mattress. Then he got sick and was about to die. As he was dying, he said to his wife, "I want you to promise me one thing." "Promise what?" she asked. "I want you to promise me that when I’m dead you’ll take my money from under the mattress and put it in my casket so that I can take it all with me." The girl’s letter went on with the story. "He died, and his wife kept her promise. She went in and got all that money the day he died and went to the bank and deposited it, and wrote out a check and put it in his casket."

Remember: Heb zakar – not only mental activity but behavior appropriate to memory. Nehemiah asks God to remember him not b/c God forgets, but instead to request Him to respond in an appropriate fashion. He is expressing faith that God will reward him.
Nehemiah turns in prayer to God, his signature leadership characteristic, not seeking glory for himself, but rather seeking to serve God with all his heart.