One day left to file your taxes. Here’s some tax advice from Jesus.
According to Elton John, Sad songs say so much. So do tax returns. They sadly say most American Christians are ungenerous, at least according to the New Covenant. There’s an Old and New Covenant and under the Old, the tithe is giving the first fruits of your income. It’s 10 or 27 percent (too long to explain—trust me). The New Covenant surpasses the old, so it’s safe to assume our “first fruits” tithe ought to surpass 10 percent of our income.
Ain’t happenin.’ American Christians typically give only 1.5 to 2 percent of their income according to an Oxford University Press book: Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money. Considering that this figure is based on self-reporting, the percentage might be even less. The authors venture explanations for our lack of generosity. It’s not that Christians don’t have the money, but that they spend it on luxuries (with little leftover to give) while failing to perceive needs outside their own circles.
These two explanations fit back-to-back stories Jesus told about stewarding money.
In the first story, a rich owner accuses his steward of mishandling his money. The steward recognizes he’s blown it, so he acts shrewdly. He cuts deals with his owner’s debtors, thereby cutting his losses. Jesus commends the bad manager for being more shrewd than God’s people. If you’ve been ungenerous this year, cut your losses next year. That way you’ll be welcomed into others’ homes in eternity.
Huh? Yep, Paul wrote about eternal homes in his letter to the church in Corinth. The Corinthians had pledged to give to Paul’s work but didn’t follow through. Faithful Christians follow through, even if it means they suffer financial loss. The Corinthians were ungenerous, so they put at risk having their eternal home burned up. In like manner, the bad steward recognized his plans for one day owning a big home were toast. The damage was done, he couldn’t go back in time. So he cut his losses, improving his odds that others who were better stewards would welcome him into their homes. Jesus called that shrewd.
Truth be told, I only became shrewd when Kathy and I got married. We filed our first joint return. Kathy learned my giving had been about 1.5 percent of my annual income. I couldn’t go back in time and correct that. My lack of generosity was lost to time. Kathy helped me cut my losses and we began to become generous givers. She helped me be shrewd.
There’s no evidence the church in Corinth ever became shrewd. It lived lavishly, likely assuming we’ll deal with it later. Which leads to Jesus’ second story. A rich man lived lavishly in this life while ignoring the needs of his neighbor Lazarus. He ends up in Hades, a place he finds intolerable. But it’s too late. There’s no crossing over to heaven. The rich man enjoyed his riches in his lifetime while Lazarus suffered. In eternity, the script is flipped. Lazarus is comforted while the rich man is in agony.
I see two takeaways from these stories. Both come from Dallas Willard. First, he writes, “I am thoroughly convinced that God will let everyone into heaven who, in his considered opinion, can stand it.” In ancient catechisms, generosity is one of the first fruits of heaven. Willard is asking if we can’t “stand it” being generous in this life, how will we “stand it” in eternity with people who really enjoy being generous?
Second, Willard writes that “standing it” may prove to be “a more difficult matter than those who take their view of heaven from popular movies or popular preaching may think. The fires in heaven may be hotter than those in the other place.” He’s echoing Paul’s warning to the church in Corinth about the fires of heaven burning up the eternal homes of those whose earthly lives were ungenerous. Those fires might be hotter than hell.
Jesus doesn’t want us to face these fires. If you’ve been ungenerous, cut your losses. Become generous. That’s more shrewd than dealing with them later. In fact, if it were not for the godlike powers of money, the choice would be a no-brainer.
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (HarperCollins, 1998), 302.