Matters: the Treasurer talks....
On Advent Sunday 2005 David Jones, Saint Faith's Treasurer, delivered this address .
It often surprises people
when they are told that Jesus spoke more about money than faith or
Yet money wasn't anywhere as important as it is today. There were other means of exchange - the tithe
of the actual harvest was as important as financial offerings to ensure that the Levites (their clergy)
had sufficient to eat. Jesus is very clear that "You cannot worship God and Mammon". Money can make a
wonderful servant but a terrible master.
When money is our servant it can feed the poor, it can enable buildings to be open for worship, be warm,
comfortable and well maintained. It can pay, house and train clergy and give the support they need. It can help people
far away through our missionary giving and it can ensure that we are fed, warm and have homes.
When money is our master, it can have us continually worried because we are in debt, it can imprison us in work
because we always need to earn more. It can have us obsessed with how our savings perform. Even here at St
Faith's, we can be obsessed by money, either because there's never enough, or because we have legacies that we
worry about in our church council meetings.
So how do we ensure that money is a servant for the kingdom rather than an obstacle to it - or worse a false God,
both in our own lives and the church life?
As churches and as Christians we are to be beyond reproach. St Paul is very concerned that the way the church
administers its finances is scrupulous - completely beyond criticism and that the people in positions of authority have
integrity, authority and the confidence of others in the churches. There needs to be transparency about money, about
arrangements for the collection and its delivery. In Britain we have a curiously ambivalent attitude to money. We
sometimes want our own finances to be completely private whilst demanding full accountability from others - especially
those in positions of power and influence. I suggest there are four areas in which we must have credibility:
1. Within the church we are of course subject to the law. We have to prepare accounts that comply with the church
regulations and the Charities Act. We are also subject to a moral law that follows good practice - for example, two
individuals count the collection and there are checks and balances to ensure probity.
2. We are also subject to an ethical law that Paul talks about for we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in
the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. We want to honour God in all we do, therefore we try to ensure
that all our dealings and decisions are beyond reproach. The church council is elected to be responsible for our
finances and is accountable through the PCC to the whole church and the community through its charitable status
whose annual accounts and financial statements are available upon request. So far so good! But there is also the
3. As Christians do we exercise ourselves to comply with the law? Do we comply with our moral and ethical code
based on biblical teaching about money? This is trickier. What advice is there on how we handle our money that
is contextually appropriate? From the very beginning of biblical times (Genesis 4) there is teaching on the need to
worship and offer thanks to God through the presentation of a proportion of your wealth. The very first reference to
the morality of wealth is about giving - with Cain and Abel giving the first of their crops and lambs to God in
thanksgiving. There are multiple references to the need to care for the poor, to be merciful. There is the story of
the man who wrote anonymously to the revenue returning unpaid tax as he could not sleep at night - and a PS
that if he still could not sleep he would pay the rest!
4. We are advised to seek justice and do mercy; this leads us to fair-trade and careful purchasing and investing,
petitioning for debt relief and adequate aid programmes. We are given stewardship of the earth and all that is in it
to care for it. That leads us into environmental considerations. Not just recycling, and better recycling facilities for
those without transport, but less consumption. Makeovers and upgrades may keep the retail trade happy but we
need to ask ourselves whether we really need more, newer and bigger things, and if we really do then to ensure
that we give what we no longer want to someone who can use it. But by buying more, we use more of the earth's
resources including energy. We are called to be good stewards. We are also warned against getting into debt;
careless consumption is a good way to get into debt. We are beholden to God, not the credit card companies. We
need to guard against the materialism that advertising can push us into.
God gives us all we have, whether we earn a salary, receive a pension, or benefit. We will be accountable for how we
have used it here on earth, for worship, for sharing and for our own use. The three biblical uses of money are: to show
our love for God, to show our love for our neighbour, then for ourselves. If we take the two greatest commandments as
a guide to how we use our money then we won't go far wrong. But note the priority: God first, neighbour second, then
us. If we want to honour God in our giving then we need to assess how much we give on the basis of how much we
receive not on how much we have left over! Is our giving proportional to our income or to what is left over at the end of
the week or month?
Those of us in the church need to examine all our income, our spending, and our saving in the light of this biblical
teaching. If we do not have full control of our finances because of our family situation - perhaps the partner who earns
is not a Christian, then we are not accountable for that over which we exercise no control. When we give, we are
participating in grace and handling the things of God. Would the way we plan our giving, the way we prioritise it and
actually do it stand up to scrutiny? Is how we give as businesslike and careful as the way we handle the rest of our
money? In short does the way we handle our money give glory to God? This also applies to us as a church, are we
scrupulous in our care of God's money, of the giving of all who worship here? The planned budget for St Faith's next
year (2006) is over £89,000 - a huge amount to find.
For the regular weekly worshippers, the question is whether our giving is realistic to sustain the ministry of St
Faith's? It needs to be our first priority as part of our honouring God and obeying the first commandment. Is it the first
call on our income, pension or benefit? It is often said that people give elsewhere than simply to the church. This may
be true and is honourable if it is - but it begs the question as to why the local church is so far down the league table of
charitable commitments as to receive so little. If we give larger amounts elsewhere, simply we are not following the
first commandment. Giving forms part of our worship, not our patronage.
For those who worship with us less often, Paul is clear that one of the tests of our faith is measured by financial
commitment. You may not have made that connection yet. Two challenges - one to ask are you aware of the
financial needs and situation of the church? Second, whom could you talk to about your giving? Paul was not
frightened to send people to advocate the collection, don't be frightened to ask for information or to talk to someone.
There is a difference between something being personal, which money is, and being private. A wedding is a deeply
intimate and personal business but it can hardly be called private. In the Bible, money is an issue of intense concern
as it is fraught with danger. You may wish to explore help with some of these other issues - come and talk, make
money your servant for good, not your master for less.
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