The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes, he does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, round about him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: "Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!" The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! "Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. I do not reprove you for your sacrifices; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will accept no bull from your house, nor he-goat from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world and all that is in it is mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High; and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."
This psalm is a word from the Lord about a wrong view of God leading to a wrong way of sacrificing to God. It has something very crucial to say about how our view of God relates to our money and our giving to God's cause. I chose this text because I wanted to address the root issue of our financial condition, namely, the issue of God.
Our Financial Condition
Our financial condition is this: Our budget commitment to missions and to ministry here this year is $1,064,000. Taking the adult worshipers who come to Bethlehem regularly, that commitment would cost about $19.23 a week per person or $2.75 a day ($1.84 to the local ministries and $.91 to missions).
But as of last Sunday we were $160,000 short in this budget giving. So to meet our budget this year we need an average of $35,000 each Sunday for the rest of the year. That means that if all our regularly attending worshipers gave an equal share, there would be $362.50 each left to be given in this year. Or $33.00 a week for the remaining 11 Sundays. If you add to that the goal of $10,000 a Sunday for the new sanctuary, what we really need is $43 a week for the rest of this year from each regularly attending adult. That amounts to a tithe of an annual salary of $22,360 per person. With a lot of homemaking spouses, and with many young people and students, and with numerous retired people, I don't know if we average $22,000 annual salaries or not.
Probably not. Which means at least three things.
- One is that compared to other churches you are giving very well (64% increase over two years ago at this time!).
- A second thing that this means is that reaching our goals will simply require far more than tithing for many of us.
- Third, God is the root issue in this matter. Our shortfall
has to do with our view of God. And if we reach our goals this year,
it will have to do more with God than anything else.
So let's turn our attention now to the God who owns us and everything we have.
The Courtroom Scene of Psalm 50
In Psalm 50 what we have is a courtroom scene. The roof of the courtroom is heaven above, and the floor is the earth beneath. God himself is the judge. Verse 4b: he is there to judge his people; and verse 6b: "God himself if judge." God is the clerk of court. Verse 5: he calls the defendants to the bench: "Gather to me my faithful ones." And God is the chief witness. Verse 7: "Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you." So from that verse you can also see that the defendants in the trial are God's own people.
Once the scene is established (in verses 1–7), there comes the indictment, the sentence, the rationale or explanation for the indictment and sentence, the prescribed correction, and a statement of the ultimate goal that the judge is trying to accomplish in this trial. Let's move through these and then focus on the practical implications for us as a church.
The Indictment: You Are Insulting God
First, the indictment: Verse 8.
It is not stated directly. It is implied indirectly: "I do not reprove you for your sacrifices; your burnt offerings are continually before me." So the indictment is not that they have neglected to give sacrifices to God. The indictment is that they are giving sacrifices with a wrong mindset. This is seen in the next verses. The mindset is that God somehow needs these sacrifices . . . that he is dependent on his people for his food or for his satisfaction or strength. That's the indictment—their sacrifices insult God as a needy God or a dependent God.
The sentence for this insult is given in verse 9: God says, "I will accept no bull from your house, nor he-goat from your folds." The sentence is to nullify the sacrifice—to declare that it is not pleasing to him. This is a devastating sentence. It basically says that the center of their religious practice is empty and void as long as this mindset prevails.
God Is Never Hungry
Then (in verses 10–13) comes the rationale or the explanation for the indictment and the sentence. This is the heart of the text. This is most important, because it reveals who God really is. The rationale for the indictment has two parts. One part says (in verse 12), "If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world and all that is in it is mine." And the other part says (in verse 13), As a matter of fact I do not get hungry: "Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?"
So you can see more clearly here what the insulting mindset was that the people were on trial for. They had a view of God that made him dependent on them. They slipped into the religious notion that their gifts were somehow meeting God's needs and that he would be at a loss without them.
And his response is to say that he does not need their sacrifices for two reasons. One is that he is never hungry and never eats. He is always totally satisfied with what he is in himself and what he does for his glory. His food is to do his will (John 4:34). God is an infinite ocean of supply, not a little water trough that needs filling with the buckets of our supply. Acts 17:25 says, "God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, for he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything."
God Owns Everything
The other reason he does not need our sacrifices is that if he were ever to get hungry, he would not have to depend on us for his meals because he owns everything. Verse 12 said it in general: "The world and all that is in it is mine." But verses 10–11 spell it out in amazing detail so that we don't miss the point: "Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine."
The point of the psalm is that there are no exceptions: God owns everything. Strictly speaking, human beings own nothing. What we call ownership is really trusteeship. From the birds of the air to the bugs of the field, from the beasts of the forest to the cattle of the hills—it is all God's. He can do with it as he pleases. It is impossible for God to steal, because there isn't anything he doesn't own.
What the People Forgot
This is what the people had forgotten. And so they were insulting God in their worship by coming with the mindset that they would now give to GOD some of THEIR possessions. They had not learned to sing,
We give thee but thine own
What e're the gift may be,
All that we have is thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from thee.
They had forgotten the truth,
All things are Thine: no gift have we
Lord of all gifts to offer Thee;
And hence with grateful hearts today
Thine own before Thy feet we lay.
The Correction: Three Things
Next then in the text comes the correction in verses 14–15a. What should we do if we have fallen into this evil mindset that treats our possessions as though they were ours and not God's—that treats God as though he is somehow poor and deficient without us?
Verses 14–15a say to do three things:
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High;
and call upon me in the day of trouble.
1. Offer Sacrifices of Thanksgiving
This is a description of the corrected mindset. First, every sacrifice must be a sacrifice of thanksgiving because the real giver in every act of my giving is God. If I have something to give, it is because it belongs to God and he put it in my hands. If I have a WILL to give, it is because God put it there (1 Chronicles 29:14, 18; Philippians 2:13; Hebrews 13:21; 2 Corinthians 8:1). Our giving is really God's giving to us. Therefore ALL giving must be a sacrifice of gratitude. If we don't see this, how can we but insult God?
2. Pay Your Vows to the Most High
Second the corrected mindset pays its vows to the Most High. If you want to see what a vow is, look at Psalm 66:13–14.
I will come into thy house with burnt offerings;
I will pay thee my vows,
that which my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
A vow is a promise you make to God when you are in trouble. I made a vow one time when I was a junior in college. I said, "Lord, if you will help me get though this public prayer in chapel without my voice closing up because of nervousness, I will never again turn down a speaking opportunity out of fear."
Paying a vow is not paying a salary or paying a bribe. It is simply keeping your word. It is not lying. It is a matter of faith. Do you trust God to be as good and helpful for you in the fulfillment of your vow as he was in delivering you from trouble? So paying a vow honors God as the owner of all things by looking back at the time he helped you and by expressing trust that he will keep on doing that in your fulfillment of the vow.
3. Call upon God in the Day of Trouble
The third thing the corrected mindset does is call upon God in the day of trouble (verse 15a).
In other words God is not the one in trouble. He is always in a position to save from trouble. God is not hungry or poor. He is infinitely resourceful. So the way not to insult him is to need him and to call to him for help.
So that is the corrected mindset: be thankful, pay your vows, call for help.
The Judge's Goal: Our Good and His Glory
Now finally we ask what is the ultimate goal of the judge in this courtroom? What is God trying to accomplish in the life of his people? The last line of verse 15 gives the answer: "I will deliver you, and you will glorify me." He wants to answer their cry for help so that they will glorify him. His goal is our good and his glory. We get the salvation; he gets the exaltation. We get delivered; he gets admired.
That is the goal of the psalm. It's the goal of our church. And it is the goal of God in all that he does—to satisfy his hungry people and glorify himself, who never gets hungry. "I will deliver you, and you will glorify me."
Five Applications to Our Situation
Now here are the lessons that I want to apply to us in our financial situation at home and at the church.
1. Keep God Great in Your Eyes
Beware of a mindset that belittles and insults God. God is an absolutely unstoppable, unfailing, constant, volcano of power and fire and joy and help. He never wearies in the slightest and is omnipotently enthusiastic about his gracious purposes in your life. Never let a weak or miserly or tightfisted or weary or boring God enter your mind. He owns all and loves to glorify his power and grace by delivering people who call on him. Keep God great in your eyes for the rest of this year.
2. Believe His Promise
Believe his promise in verse 15: "Call on me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you." In the day of financial trouble trust him! Remember he is talking to people in this psalm who are on trial in his court for insulting him. There is hope even for these—and for you. Believe God.
3. Call on the Lord
Always pray and do not lose heart. Wait patiently for the Lord. He will come just when it is best for you. Call him to help you make the money you need, to have the job you need, to find the courage you need to give what you should.
4. If He Leads You, Make a Vow
(It's not required. Deuteronomy 23:21–23.) For example, suppose the car mechanic calls you Thursday morning and says, "Your car needs new rear axles and axle bearings. It will cost $750." You cringe. "Is there no other way?" "No, they are shot." "Well, OK. Go ahead." Might not the Holy Spirit lead you to pray at lunch with your wife, "Father, please get it done cheaper than the mechanic said" and to make a vow, "Lord, if you do this, I will give to the ministry of the church whatever you save on this bill." That happened to Noël and me this week and there is a $222 check in the offering this morning to praise God for his answer to prayer. Somehow we were going to live without that money in order to have a working car. We can live without it for the sake of the ministry here too.
5. Glorify Him with All Your Heart
Finally, when God delivers you and this church from the day of trouble, glorify him with all your heart.
I close with a call to prayer over the next 11 weeks. I have felt led for some weeks to make a special commitment of prayer for the financial strength of the church. So I would like to tell you my vow and invite you to join me as the Lord leads. Lord willing, I will be in the prayer room each Friday from 6:30 to 7:00 AM from now to the end of the year seeking the Lord for three things:
- that we will not fail in any of our mission and ministry commitments;
- that the Lord's choice for our Minister for Children's Discipleship would be known and called by Thanksgiving; and
- that people would be saved weekly though the anointed witness of our church.