Jesus and Dow Jones
Dr. Jim Denison
Charles Dow was the co-founder and first editor of The Wall Street Journal. In 1884 he originated a stock average which was the first attempt to express the general level of the stock market. In 1889 he began The Wall Street Journal with the help of Eddie Jones, who took care of the desk at the firm. The Dow Jones Index was the result. Lately, Mr. Dow’s creation has not been in good health.
These are anxious days for us all. Terrorist threats, daily talk of war with Iraq, worries about North Korean nuclear capabilities, the ongoing economic tensions of the day. Time magazine’s cover story is titled “America the Anxious.” Newsweek’s cover: “Anxiety and Your Brain: How Living With Fear Affects the Mind and Body.” When you hear about Dow Jones these days, you brace for bad news.
In this context, it’s interesting timing that the next section of the Sermon on the Mount deals with our finances. It’s no surprise that he would address the subject; 16 of his 38 parables dealt with money and possessions, and one in 10 verses in the Gospels relate to money. The Bible contains 500 verses on prayer, less than that on faith, but more than 2,000 on money and possessions.
This is a large subject for God, and a crucial subject for us today. Let’s see what Jesus has to say about Dow Jones and the financial issues of our day.
Give what God expects
Jesus has been dealing with our “acts of righteousness” (v. 1). Now he gives us the first example: “when you give to the needy” (vs. 2, 3). Not “if” but “when.” What kind of “giving” does he have in mind? His audience gave in three ways.
First, they gave their benevolence to the needy. Every day, collectors received contributions for those with pressing needs; this collection was called the Tamhui. And each Friday, the people gave to the Kuppah, an offering from which widows, orphans, and disabled people received food for the next week.
Second, they gave their tithes to God in worship. This was the command of God: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30). The “tithe” was ten percent, given to God in worship.
This was not legalism; in fact, the first tithe was given by Abraham six generations before there was a Law (Genesis 14:20).
This was not optional for those who could afford the tithe or wanted to give it. God’s word is clear: “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:8-10).
It is not outdated and no longer operative for New Testament believers. Hebrews 7:8 makes clear that the tithe “is” collected, present tense. Jesus assumed the people would continue to tithe (Matthew 23:23).
The typical Christian gives two percent of his or her income back to God, when the word of God expects 10 percent. God’s church could do five times more if all her people were to tithe.
Third, they gave their offerings to God in sacrifice. The people were instructed to go to the Temple and “there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks” (Deuteronomy 12:6).
The people brought these offerings during each of the Jewish holy days: Passover, Pentecost, First Fruits, the New Year, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Booths.
The people made sacrifices twice every day, twice that amount on the Sabbath, and on each New Moon.
They brought special personal sacrifices in celebration of their first-born and for health reasons.
They sacrificed a lamb or a goat when they sinned, and a ram or a lamb when they incurred guilt.
These offerings were given to God in sacrifice, over and above their tithes. Taken together, some scholars estimate that the Jewish people gave 21 percent of their income and goods back to the Lord each year. Theirs was a sacrificial commitment and lifestyle.
By contrast: a recent Gallup poll indicated that 95 percent of Americans say they believe in God, but only 12 percent say they would consider sacrificing for their faith.
When Lou Holtz was coach of the Arkansas football team, he told his players about the Japanese Kamikaze pilot in World War II who flew 54 missions. The pilot was involved but not committed, the coach said.
Here’s a rather blunt way one pastor approached the subject of tithing with his congregation: what if God made you a tither by making your income ten times your contributions to the Lord through his church? Would that be a good thing or not?
C. S. Lewis was asked: how much offering to the Lord is enough. His reply: more than we can afford. Otherwise our gifts are not a sacrifice worthy of the One who sacrificed his best for us.
Give as God directs
We’ve see what God expects. Now, how does he direct us to give to him?
A retired man became interested in the construction of an addition to a shopping mall. He stopped by daily to watch, and was especially impressed by the work of a particular equipment operator. He watched him for many days, and finally told him how much he’d enjoyed watching his outstanding work. With a shocked look on his face, the operator replied, “You’re not the supervisor?”
Our supervisor is watching our work and words, our gifts and our lives. How does he direct us to give to him?
Jesus tells us, “do not announce it with trumpets.” The Jews didn’t blow trumpets before they put in the offering. They announced their public fasts with trumpets; then the people would give when the crowds would most notice their generosity.