Every year at this time — by April 15, to be exact — people living in the United States have to file their income tax with the Internal Revenue Service.
It is becoming quite a complicated business. There are so many forms to fill in and so many regulations to consider!
I, for one, have given up trying to figure my taxes out for myself. I seek the help of a professional tax consultant.
The man I go to is genuinely concerned for the financial health of his clients. Part of his service is to offer advice and to point out mistakes that he feels are being made. And so, as he leafs through the bundle of forms and receipts that I have collected through the year, the interview usually goes something like this:
"You gave a lot to your church this year, didn't you?" he asks.
"I suppose it does look like that," I agree.
(Perhaps I should explain to readers outside the United States that, unlike most countries, the United States does permit contributions to churches and charities to be deducted from taxable income. Consequently, most members and co-workers find it advantageous to report their tithes and offerings on their tax returns.)
"Now, I see that you don't have a lot of interest from savings and investments," my tax consultant will continue.
"No, I don't."
"Well," he will say, "this is none of my business, really, but have you considered that perhaps you could still give regular contributions to your church, and also start building a portfolio of sound investments for yourself?"
I always thank him for his advice. But how can I explain that my family simply can't afford to meet our responsibility to God's Work and still have large amounts left over to put into real estate, precious metals, diamonds, art treasures or anyone of the dazzling array of money market funds, retirement accounts and tax shelters that are available?
And how do I explain that we do have an investment — and that we do not feel we are being financially irresponsible when we continue to give what must seem to him like vast amounts to the Work of God? The problem with my investment is that I've got nothing on paper and it is hard to calculate the interest.
The safest investment But I do have a sound investment portfolio, and if you are a member or co-worker of the Work of God, so do you. It is actually the safest investment of all. It may not be backed up by the resources of a successful company or government securities. But better still, it is guaranteed by the Kingdom of God.
Now, this is not an article about tithing. Most readers who have read this far are probably already deeply committed to paying God His tithes and offerings.
But, did you ever stop to think that the money you contribute is not simply given away? God invests it for you. Not in some ethereal, intangible way, either. And best of all, in these uncertain times, it is an investment that is absolutely without risk.
Many people with money to invest are looking for safety. But what is safe? Jesus warned about putting too much faith in physical investments, where "moth and rust destroy" (Matt. 6:19). "Valuable shares" became worthless overnight when the Great Depression started in 1929.
Ezekiel prophesied of a time when those with precious metals will be ready to throw them away, for their gold will not be able to save or feed them (Ezek. 7:19-20). Governments have been known to confiscate property in times of national emergency. And you can't eat a painting, however much it is worth.
Of course, it is not wrong to have investments like these. The Bible nowhere condemns wealth, providing it is honestly come by and properly used. Christ showed that investment was a sound principle for those who have the means. The unprofitable servant was criticized for not investing his resources in order to show some profit (Matt. 25:24-27).
But let's face it: Most of you reading this magazine are not millionaires. God calls His people from the " poor of this world rich in faith" (Jas. 2:5, Authorized Version). And when those "rich in faith" have faithfully met their financial responsibilities to the Kingdom of God, there is not usually much left over for other investments.
But do you think of your investment in the Kingdom of God as a major asset — one that even the wealthiest of men, if they really understood, would truly covet?
A major asset One of Christ's disciples once went to Christ with a financial problem — his brother was refusing to share a family inheritance with him (Luke 12:13).
Christ refused to become involved in a family dispute (verse 14), but instead explained how a Christian should look at true financial security.
First, Jesus showed the folly of trusting too much in material prosperity (verses 16-20). To concentrate on laying up physical treasures for yourself is not sound financial planning, explained Jesus (verse 21).
He went on to show how the things that God created in the animal and plant kingdoms never show anxiety about the future, but God always provides for them (verses 24-28). And yet these things are only parts of a temporary, physical creation. Of how much more value are human beings, made in God's image?
Then Christ told His people not to become preoccupied with physical needs while they were qualifying for their places in His Kingdom. Christ's followers were not even to let themselves become of "anxious mind" about them (verse 29). These things, said Jesus, are the things that the nations of the world are constantly worried about, but not His people (verse 30).
The nations of the world are not rich toward God. And so, today, they are getting themselves further into economic quicksand. Major countries totter on the brink of bankruptcy. Their citizens have to constantly seek "what they shall eat and drink." Efforts to get out of the mess only lead to worse chaos.
But the Kingdom of God is not in a financial mess. Jesus Christ has adequate resources to meet His commitments, for "the earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness" (Ps. 24:1). Certainly, the budget for God's Work on earth gets a bit tight from time to time. But, Christ does not need tithes and offerings in order for His projects to survive and flourish. He simply allows the financial health of His Work on earth to reflect the commitment and generosity of His people, for our own good. He knows that our hearts will be where our treasure is (Luke 12:34).
If our treasure is in the Kingdom of God and its Work, our hearts will be there as well.
An investment in God's Kingdom How does an investment in God's Kingdom work? Like any other investment. When you buy shares in a company, the management uses your money to purchase machinery and raw materials, hire labor or whatever they need to make their product. If the company is successful, your shares are worth more, and if you were to sell the shares, you would make a profit. Of course, if the company fails or someone embezzles the money, your shares become worthless, and you lose your money.
Now suppose you have been supporting the Work — literally laying up "treasures in heaven" (Matt. 6:20). When Christ returns, He has promised to richly reward those who have helped lay the groundwork of His world-ruling Kingdom through their tithes, offerings and prayers and by overcoming their human nature so that they are fit to rule.
Those rewards will be very tangible — ruling in a position of authority and service over several cities. That reward is certain. It is, at this moment, reserved in heaven for you (I Pet. 1:4).
No one can steal it. Like a diamond that you keep in a safe-deposit box in a bank, you don't actually have your hands on it. But it's there, a real asset, in the safest of all safe deposits. It will be yours when you are qualified to receive it, along with the free gift of eternal life. In Luke 16:12, Christ describes this reward you are qualifying for as "your own." Someone with a reward reserved in heaven has a real asset — a valuable investment. (How do I explain that to my tax man?)
Priceless dividends now But a sound investment does not only have a long-term payoff — it pays a dividend now. Each year, a successful company sends its shareholders an amount of money based on the company's amount of profit and the number of shares investors own.
So does our spiritual investment — only the Kingdom of God does better than that. God provides us now with things that money can't buy. Notice what Christ taught when another of His disciples started worrying about the future:
"We have left all and followed You," said Peter (Mark 10:28).
Jesus interrupted him: "There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life" (verses 29-30).
This, then, is the dividend of the Kingdom of God. Your commitment may mean persecution, the loss of some physical assets and perhaps even being hated by some family members. But, through the Church, you can still have all those things: genuine friends, homes where you feel welcome, peace of mind and real hope for the future.
Read Malachi 3:10. God promises to reward those who support His Work by opening the "windows of heaven" and pouring "out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it."
God has so much more to offer than just material, physical blessings. How do you place a cash value on healing, peace of mind and knowing there is a purpose in your life? What would you exchange for your understanding of God's truth? Christ likened it to a pearl of great price, for which an investor was willing to liquidate all his other investments just to be able to purchase (Matt. 13:45-46).
Guaranteed by God God takes a personal interest in the welfare of each of His "shareholders."
Fortunately, at the moment, most of God's people are not destitute. They live in countries where they are able to survive adequately. They don't yet have to live from hand to mouth.
But in the terrible times ahead, when conventional wealth is meaningless, your investment in the Kingdom of God will really begin to show its value. Don't expect God to keep you in luxury while the world falls apart. But He will take care of those who obey Him, who "seek first the kingdom" (Matt. 6:33).
Sooner or later, all of us will have to rely on God for the necessities of life. Don't worry, though. As Solomon pointed out in Ecclesiastes 7:14, "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider."
If you are blessed with some physical investments and assets at the moment, be thankful for them. But make sure that you don't neglect to build an investment portfolio in heaven, as well. These physical things may help for a while, but your treasure reserved in heaven will never let you down. You never have to worry about it being stolen (although you can lose it!). While it is reserved for you, it is steadily increasing in value.
And if that investment in heaven is the only major asset you have, don't worry. It is the best of all securities, guaranteed by God. You have no long-term financial worries. And you don't have to have an "anxious mind" about the short-term, either.