is the Divine Giver within the Christian.
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"Oh, no! The preacher's talking about money again. Hold on to your pocketbooks. It seems like that is all the preacher talks about these days money, money, money!"
To even address the subject of Christian giving causes some people to be leery of the motivations and intents of the speaker or author. "What is his angle? What is in it for him?" It is tragic that such a glorious privilege as Christian giving should be cast into such suspicion by the misrepresentation of the subject in many religious environs today.
What is needed is some unbiased, unadulterated instruction concerning the subject of Christian giving that will explain what the God-inspired Scriptures teach, and at the same time expose the subtle (and not so subtle) fallacies of much religious solicitation. There is so much perversion of what is called "giving" in religious circles today, that many have a difficult time sorting out the legitimate from the fallacious and fraudulent.
Richard Plache noted this difficulty when he wrote:
In order to explore God's intent for Christian giving in the context of His church we will utilize chapters eight and nine of Second Corinthians, the most extended and explicit passage in all of the New Testament on the subject. We will allow these chapters to serve as our primary source of developing a balanced Biblical perspective.
Paul begins in II Cor. 8:1 by writing, "We wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia." It is interesting to note that there are more usages of the word "grace" in chapters eight and nine of II Corinthians than in any other two consecutive chapters in the Bible.
Christian giving is the grace of God at work, the free-flow of God's activity consistent with His character. This is predicated on the fact that the Creator-God is the owner of all that He has created:
Since God is the owner and giver of all things, we are but trustees, managers, stewards of Another's goods. God entrusts some things to us whatever He can trust us with. It is not "my" home, "my" car, "my" money, or even "my" child. I must avoid avoid being "possessive." I am just a trustee of God's possessions. In fact, I do not even "possess" salvation or eternal life. Christ who is "Life" (John 14:6) and is the Savior possesses me! I am just a vessel for the functionality of God, the function of the Creator within the creature.
The God who is operative in me is a giving God. His operative givingness is called "grace." Christian giving is an expression of God's givingness expressed through His people unto His glory.
This means that Christian giving is not merit-giving. It is not something I do that so pleases God that it prompts Him to get into action. Our giving does not make merit-points with God. We cannot buy spiritual favors with God. No one can buy their way into life or into heaven or into God's good favor. No one can "pay off" their guilt of sin and self-concern with guilt payments.
God's action is only by "grace." He took the initiative of grace in giving us His Son, Jesus Christ, who in turn gave His life that we might be "bought with a price" (I Cor. 6:20). "God did not spare His own Son..., will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). As Christians we became God's purchased possession (Titus 2:14; I Peter 2:9), through whom God continues to give.
In the days of Martin Luther people were being asked to give in order to buy indulgences of God's favor. Today, people are being asked to give in order to buy prayer time and blessings. Is it any different? Neither has anything to do with Christian giving, for Christian giving has nothing to do with purchase or "works."
Neither is Christian giving to be conceived
merely as altruistic benevolence. There are many solicitations
for charitable and benevolent contributions today, but Christian
giving is not just a warm-hearted, self-less compassion responding
to reports of those in distress.
Christian giving is the grace of God functioning in and through a Christian, the givingness of God expressed in the character of a Christian.
Christian giving is allowing the character of God to be expressed in the behavior of a person in whom God dwells. As the summation of God's character is Love, Christian giving expresses God's Love for others. God is Love (I John 4:8,16). Divine love seeks the highest good of another, with no thought of what I get out of it. God's love is unconditional and unselfish. He wants to express His character through His people.
Paul tells the Corinthians that by giving they can "prove...the sincerity of their love." (II Cor. 8:8). Later he encourages them to "openly before the churches demonstrate the proof of your love..." (II Cor 8:24).
The manifestation of Christian love is only an expression of God's love functioning in and through us.
We love, we give, because the loving, giving God is living and operative in us. Christian love is an expression of God's loving character. Christian giving is an expression of God's giving character which has been given to us by the presence of the Spirit of Christ, the presence of Jesus indwelling the Christian.
There are forms of giving and contributing that are not expressions of God's love. In I Corinthians 13:3 Paul writes, "if I give all my possessions to feed the poor...but do not have love, it profits me nothing." Loveless giving is not Christian giving.
On the other hand, some have been challenged to "prove their love" by giving. This challenge is usually made by those who want to be the recipients of those gifts. People then give to meet someone else's expectations, and their love is evaluated and rated by the external criteria of the amount of the gift. We cannot prove our love by giving to such a challenge. It is not "our" love anyway; it is the Love of God expressed in us, prompting us to give. God's love is demonstrated in active expressions of Christian giving.
The loving and giving character of God operative in the Christian is also an expression of His righteousness. The righteousness of God is expressed in the givingness of God. Paul writes in II Corinthians 9:9,10 quoting from Psalm 112:9:
Notice that Paul does not say, "..increase the harvest of your bank account," but rather, "...increase the harvest of your righteousness." When God gives through us and loves through us, He expresses His divine character of righteousness through us, because the Righteous One, Jesus Christ (I John 2:1), is functioning in us. We are not made righteous because we give. The giving of contributions does not, in itself, constitute righteousness. Rather, the righteous and just character of God is expressed in us as we are the conduits of His givingness.
Paul refers the Corinthians to the giving of the Macedonian Christians, and explains, "they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God." (II Cor. 8:5). Christians have long sought to understand the "will of God" in their Christian giving.
In the most general sense, the will of God is always to express His own character within His creation, unto His glory. The will of God for the Christian is always to allow the life of Jesus Christ to be lived out in giving to, loving, and serving others.
As Christians we are to discern the specifics of God's intent for the giving of that which He has entrusted to us. We must consult with God in the communion of prayer to determine how God desires to give through us: when He want to give, to whom He wants to give, how much He wants to give. We do not give just because the offering-plate is coming around and we have been conditioned by Pavlovian responses, or out of fear of what someone will think if we do not drop something into the "plate a response of false-guilt.
Too often, because Christians know that it is the will of God to give and fail to understand the expression of God's character of givingness, they give to "the wheel that squeaks the loudest," to the person or cause that presents their "need" most persuasively.
We need to understand that Christian giving is not just responding to a "need." There are a thousand and one "needs" that bombard our consciousness every day through the various mediums of news-awareness. There is no way we can respond to all the "needs" of the world. Major W. Ian Thomas writes:
Christians are to be submitted to whatever God is committed to in them. Specifically we are to be submitted to discerning His will for us in our Christian giving.
It should also be noted that it is not wrong to make known a "need." Paul was making known the "need" of the poor Christians in Jerusalem to the Corinthians. As Christians we do not merely respond to the "need," but we respond to what God wants to be and do in us, the will of God in our Christian giving.
We can only give what we have been entrusted with. What we do not have is not ours to give.
In his previous correspondence with the Corinthians Paul had indicated that we are to give "as God has prospered us." (I Cor. 16:2). In II Corinthians 8:11,12 Paul writes, "For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have." We can only give in accordance with the means that God has given, what He has entrusted to us.
Many people, usually in response to an emotional plea, have gone out to a lending institution and borrowed money and gone into personal debt in order to give to what they consider to be a "worthy cause." Paul says, "It is acceptable according to what a man has...," not according to what a man thinks he will have in the future. James tells us that "you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow" (James 4:13-15).
Giving what we do not have, giving beyond our means, is presumption! It is presuming on God's grace. It is presuming that we know what God is going to do for us, even in the future. God will not be "put on the spot" or placed "behind the eight-ball." We must not make decisions to give, whereby God seemingly has to follow-through to save His reputation. God will not be manipulated like that. God is to make the decisions. God is sovereign. Yet many times churches and Christian organizations have encouraged this kind of presumption by asking people to make "pledges" of their projected future giving. They have encouraged people to participate in what is sometimes called "Faith-Promise" giving, promising to give whatever amount they believe (presume) God will entrust to them in the future. Such faith is fallacious! Such a promise is presumptuous!
We can only rightfully give what we have been entrusted with by God. When the Israelites gave for the building of the tabernacle, they gave only what they had. They gave of the tangible assets God had entrusted to them.
In II Corinthians 8:3 Paul writes that "according to their ability and beyond their ability they gave...." When Paul says that they gave "beyond their ability", that does not mean they gave beyond their means, beyond what they had. Rather, it means that they gave beyond the level of comfortability. Many people give only enough so as to preserve their "comfort zone." Their giving does not really affect their "standard of living." There is no personal discomfort involved. We have to be careful here. We do not want to infer that every Christian should "give until it hurts." The degree of pain and discomfort is not the measuring stick of Christian giving.
Another variation is the plea that some make for "sacrificial giving." They would encourage us to "sacrifice for the work of the Lord." Usually those encouraging such have a self-serving interest in the so-called "work of the Lord." The only sacrifice needed was that of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, from when He exclaimed, "It is Finished!" (John 19:30). According to the writer of Hebrews, our sacrifice should be the "sacrifice of praise" (Heb. 13:15).
We do not give beyond our means, what we have been given; and we give of what we have only as God directs.
If Christian giving is grace-giving which expresses the Divine character in and through us, and that as we discern the specifics of God's will in accordance with the means that He has supplied and entrusted to us, then Christian giving is but the overflow of God's supply.
Paul speaks of the Macedonian Christians indicating that "in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality" (II Cor. 8:2). This is not to say that when we have "enough" or "too much" or are "over-full" with the material things God has entrusted to us, that we then over-flow in giving unto others. Who is to determine how much is "enough" or "too much?" One of the members of the Rockefeller family is reported to have been asked, "How much is enough?" The reply was, "Just a little bit more than I now have." Our selfish perspective can never determine how much is enough in terms of physical and materials things. It is God's prerogative to determine the "how much" of what He entrusts to us.
The abundance out of which we overflow in Christian giving is the abundance that is ours in Christ Jesus. It is spiritual abundance, and every Christian has that kind of abundance! In II Corinthians 8:2 Paul refers to "abundance of joy." In II Corinthians 8:7 he writes, "you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, (therefore) you should abound (same root word as "overflow" in vs. 2) in this grace also." In Jesus Christ we have everything God has to give. We have spiritual abundance. We have "every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:3). "All things belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God" (I Cor. 3:21-23).
What we have in Jesus Christ is the basis of Christian giving. The spiritual abundance we have in Him will of necessity flow out and overflow unto others. That is what is meant by "the overflow of Christian giving." It is not just giving out of the overflow of our assets, but the overflowing, outgoing action of God's grace in and through us.
Christians often fail to recognize the "riches" that are theirs in Christ. In II Cor. 8:9 Paul points the Corinthians to Christ saying, "you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." It is not that we become rich materially, necessarily, but we become rich with the spiritual riches that are ours in Jesus Christ. To the Ephesians Paul refers to "the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7) and "the unfathomable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8). Those are the riches that cause us to overflow in Christian giving. As the chorus says, "Freely, freely, you have received; freely, freely give."
The Macedonian Christians in II Cor. 8:2 were not rich materially; instead they were in "deep poverty," but they "overflowed in the wealth of their liberality." We could translate those words, "they overflowed in the richness of their not aspiring to be rich." They were content with their riches in Christ, and out of such they overflowed in Christian giving.
Christian giving has both a divine side and a human side. We have been considering what God does, and now we turn to man's response.
Of the Macedonian Christians Paul writes, "they first gave themselves to the Lord" (II Cor. 8:5). In terms of human responsibility the first order of business for genuine Christian giving is that we give ourselves to the Lord. We must submit ourselves as available vessels to Christ's Lordship.
God is not interested in your gifts until He has you! Until we are available vessels of God's grace, having given ourselves at His disposal, then we cannot participate in Christian giving. In one sense, the only "offering" we have to give is the offering of ourselves to God.
Francis Havergal states in that familiar hymn,
Major W. Ian Thomas writes:
Having "given ourselves to the Lord," then the Lord Jesus Christ can "call the shots" in our lives. This is the pre-requisite of Christian giving.
There is a continuing responsibility of availability for the Christian. Again of the Macedonian Christians, Paul reports that "they gave of their own accord" (II Cor. 8:3). They gave voluntarily, willingly, eagerly. They wanted to participate in the grace of God. In fact, in II Cor 8:4 Paul says, "they were begging for the grace of participation in the support of the saints."
Most of the "begging" we see today is not Christians begging to participate in a particular grace-expression of Christian giving. It is usually the manipulative fund-raisers begging, pleading, appealing, making their pleas for donations to their cause. What a perversion, to turn "Christian giving" into mere fund-raising. They have honed it into a statistical science as they put on their "stewardship campaigns." They can predict within a few percentage points how much will be extracted as they psychologically manipulate people to trigger their guilt and emotions. Local congregations receive almost weekly solicitations from organizations wanting to put on "stewardship campaigns" and share in the profits.
Raising funds is not Christian giving! Many religious organizations spend large percentages of their income on raising more funds. Radio and television "ministries" have been known to spend as much as fifty percent of their ministry air-time to raise funds.
I was appalled when a pastor was selected by the other pastors to "take the offering" at a community service because he was adept at "taking an offering." What they meant was that he was a psychological manipulator, a religious promoter, who knew how to extract money from people. Tragic!
It is not Christian giving unless we freely choose to participate in God's grace of giving, prompted by God, and not manipulated by man! Notice what Paul says in II Cor. 9:7, "Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion..." We are to "choose beforehand" to give, convinced that this is what God wants to do through us. We must beware of impulse-giving, which can be so easily manipulated emotionally. They show us graphic pictures of starving children and tell gruesome stories of human suffering, which play on us psychologically, activating pity and false-guilt.
A pastor friend had so many missionaries coming to share their work and yanking at people's heart-strings and purse-strings, that he determined to avoid impulse-giving by only receiving gifts for the missionary one week after he had departed. People would then have time to "purpose in their hearts" what God would have them to share. Paul was doing a similar thing in I Cor. 16:2,3, so as not to allow his personal presence to be an incentive for impulse-giving or social approval-giving.
Christians are to give as they have "purposed in their heart, not grudgingly or reluctantly" (II Cor. 9:7). If we are convinced this is what God wants to give through is, there will be an eager willingness. It will not be like "pulling teeth" or extracting funds.
You do not have to give! It is a choice. You certainly do not have to give in order to be a Christian; that would be a criteria of "works." Once you are a Christian and the Giving God and the Love of Christ lives in you, then you want to give. God wants to express His character through you. But it is still a choice, a choice of faith.
Paul says that our giving is "not under compulsion" (II Cor. 9:7). The root word means "to bend the arm." We do not give because our arm is being bent and we are being coerced, pressured or manipulated. Paul was not manipulating the Corinthians Christians to give by competitive rivalry with the Macedonian Christians or vice-versa. There was no "contest" to see who could give the most, no comparisons to spur one another on and play one against the other, no thermometers displayed to see who could meet their goal the soonest. These are perversions of Christian giving.
Neither was Paul encouraging the Corinthians to give because of what other people would think, to safeguard their reputation. Giving for social approval is not Christian giving. Jesus exposes such giving for social approval in Matthew 6:2-4:
"When therefore you give alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."
An example of the consequences of giving for social approval is relayed in Acts 5:1-11. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for lying about their giving.
Christian giving is a choice as one has purposed in his heart before God. It is a choice that should not be manipulated by emotion or mandated by percentage.
No study of Christian giving would be complete without discussing the gross misunderstandings that many Christians have about tithing. Yet Paul does not even mention tithing in this extended reference to Christian giving here in II Corinthians 8 and 9. For good reason! The ten percent tithe so often advocated is not a new covenant, New Testament, concept. In the old covenant tithes were levied to support the priesthood, but in the new covenant every Christian is a priest, "priests to God" (Revelation 1:6) in a "royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9). Christians are not under the compulsory obligation of Old Testament tithes!
Richard Plache writes of the "tithing fallacy" and states,
Christian giving is not a matter of compulsory mandated percentages! What often happens when the ten percent tithe is regarded as "Christian giving," is that people think that the ten percent belongs to God and the ninety percent is mine to use as I please. But, as has already been explained, it all belongs to God as owner and giver. All things are one hundred percent His, and we are to discern how He wants to utilize all one hundred percent of it.
Some Christians pride themselves saying, "I'm a good Christian giver; I've never withheld God's ten percent!" Is that not the same kind of logic that might say, "I've got a good Christian marriage; I've never committed adultery!"? Such logic is to miss the entirety of the positive factor of Christ's life in us.
Christian giving is total-life giving! Not "under compulsion;" not mechanically mandated; not legislated, perfunctory giving.
Those religious leaders who are honest enough to admit that tithing is not a Christian obligation are often quick to construct another form of obligatory moral duty. They want their members to feel a sense of obligation, a sense of "have to" or "ought to," so that there will be consistent income to pay the expenses of the organization. So they refer to the "law of giving," the "principles of love-offerings," wherein the giving of Christians should supersede what was required of Israel, just as the new covenant supersedes the old covenant, and thus Christian giving should supersede ten percent. But this is still a percentage-based sense of obligation that is not consistent with true Christian giving.
Worse yet are those who try to "lay on" Christians the obligation to "pay God back." There is no way we can make payment for services rendered. Such is to lose the understanding of God's grace altogether.
Paul makes a major point of the follow-through of Christian giving as he writes to the Corinthians in II Corinthians 8 and 9.
The Corinthians had voiced their discernment of what God wanted to do, what God wanted to give, through them. The choice had been made, the purposing of God's will. Then, due to circumstances of estrangement with the apostle Paul, the Corinthians had not followed-through.
If we are convinced of what God wants us to do, and express our willingness, readiness and availability, then it should follow-through to completion in order to express the faithfulness of God. God is a faithful God. What He starts, He finishes! What He commences, He completes! What He instigates, He implements! God does not quit in mid-stream. He does not go off half-cocked to do a half-finished job.
In Luke 14:27-33 Jesus speaks of true discipleship, likening it to a man who wants to build a tower, and must first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it. Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying "this man began to build and was not able to finish."
It is important that we follow-through and express the faithfulness of the givingness of God. If God has prompted us to do something and we do not follow-through, we feel guilty, we quench the Spirit (I Thess. 5:20), we sin. There is a saying, "Impression without expression brings depression." If God has impressed us with what He wants to do and we do not allow for His expression then we will end up depressed and discouraged and unfulfilled.
Paul reminds the Corinthians in II Cor. 9:5 of "their previously promised bountiful gift." He does not want the Corinthians to get caught up in the second-thoughts of procrastination which often amount to covetousness and greed, holding onto things for oneself. It is not a matter of having to follow-through because we "promised," but consistency of faithfulness demands that we continue to be available to God's givingness through us. God is a faithful God who follows-through on what He purposes to do, and on what He has caused us to purpose in accord with His will in our hearts. Of course, if our intent to give was just emotionally motivated in the first place instead of God-prompted, then we probably will not follow-through, because emotions are fickle and fade out. That is why so many "pledges" and "promises" remain unfinished and uncompleted, a testament to emotional impulse.
If God has impressed His desire upon us, His will does not fade out. He is an eternally faithful God who completes that which He commences and finishes that which He starts. God follows through!
"God loves a cheerful giver" Paul declares in II Corinthians 9:7. The Greek word for "cheerful" is the word from which we get the English word "hilarious." That does not mean that Christian giving is to be engaged in with a slap-happy attitude of laughter and frivolity and light-heartedness. Rather, when we understand the grace of God as the impetus of Christian giving, we are cheerful, or better yet, we are satisfied. The Greek word hilaros, is the same root as the word for "propitiation" or satisfaction. The Christian is satisfied that he is functioning as God intended man to function by allowing the giving God to function through him.
When Dr. Richard Leaky, the renowned anthropologist, was asked "what separates man from apes?", his reply was, "our capacity for generosity!" Dr. Leaky does not seem to have any spiritual understanding of how genuine givingness is the expression of the giving God in His people, but it is still an interesting observation of the distinctive of mankind. We were created as vessels for the expression of God's givingness, God's Grace, God's generosity. And when we allow that to take place, we are fulfilled, satisfied, cheerful. We are distinctively mankind as God intended man to be.
God provides the means to give as well as the incentive to give, and we are the conduit, the channel, the vessel deriving the givingness from the character of God. Thus we fulfill His intent for mankind as He created us.
The amount of what is given does not produce the attitude of satisfaction and cheerfulness. The attitude comes as we are properly used of God, even if the amount is but a "widow's mite." Jesus pointed out the attitude of the widow as recorded in Mark 12:41-44:
The widow gave what she had, beyond her "comfort zone," and surely experienced the satisfaction of being a cheerful giver.
There is a privilege of being available to all that God wants to do in us. Paul indicates in II Cor. 8:4 that the Macedonian Christians were "begging us with much entreaty for the favor," the privilege of grace, "in order to participate in the support (service) of the saints."
It is a common privilege of Christians, not only to satisfy their "reason for being" by giving, but to be engaged together in the functional inter-action of the Body of Christ, the Church. We are in it together! Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and master, rich and poor. When one part of the Body is in need, we all have a need until that part is supplied by the grace of God through the others.
The privilege of Christian giving is not just a tax write-off with the Internal Revenue Service. That is really rather irrelevant for the Christian. In fact, there might be more genuine Christian giving if there were no tax deductions for charitable giving! The privilege of Christian giving is the privilege of being properly used of God, both individually and collectively in the Church.
As God gives through us, God is loving and serving and ministering to others through us. The Church was intended to function by the "ministry of all believers." In II Cor. 8:4 Paul writes of "the grace of participation in the ministry unto the saints." Later in the same chapter, II Cor. 8:19, he he refers to "this grace which is being ministered by us for the glory of the Lord." He continues then in II Cor. 9:1 to say, "it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints." Every Christian is to be involved in the ministry of Christian giving.
The entire concept of "ministry" has been distorted in religious instruction today. So-called professional "ministers" establish organizational "ministries" with their own name often attached. Then they go about begging people to "give to my ministry." Their broadcasts and their publications keep stating, "Our ministry does not exist apart from your gifts." Every time I hear or see that statement, I say to myself, "If that be the case, we are better off without it!" Our ministry exists as long as God wants it to exist, and as long as He is the functional dynamic of all that is done! It is not "our" ministry anyway! It is God's loving and serving and giving in us. It is His to supply, maintain and sustain.
Why is it that these so-called "ministries" always seem to be on the brink of collapse, and are pleading with people to give as if it were a "matter of survival?" Some even revert to real low-down grovelling, "Don't let me down;" "Protect my reputation;" Send your gift; do it for me!" That is not Christian giving! That is a man engaging in fund-raising to build his personal empire and maintain his personal reputation.
The ministry of Christian giving is the opportunity to serve and minister to others by allowing God to express His givingness through us.
This aspect of Christian giving is seldom addressed. Paul writes in II Corinthians 8:13,14, "For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equalityat this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality..." Paul goes on then to quote from Exodus 16:18 concerning the provision of manna for the people during the Exodus, explaining that God's provision was such that everyone had enough to meet their needs. God provides enough for everybody! He is the God who is enough, the all-sufficient God, El Shaddai.
Some have questioned the equity of His distribution, because we have the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, those who have surplus and those who are starving. There are extreme economic variances. Is God to be blamed for that? He has provided enough for everyone! He has also given to man the freedom of choice which can be (and often is) selfishly exercised.
There are those who have set out to remedy what they see as the inequity among men. They act to politically and economically create an equality of wealth; equal wages, equal goods and possessions, equal opportunity, etc. But socialistic communism does not work! It does not take into account the fallen condition of mankind in sin, and the selfishness and greed that always works against equality in selfish mankind.
From the beginning Christianity began to introduce the "equalizing-factor" of Christian giving.
Some would refer to what is reported in these accounts as a "failed experiment in Christian communalism" or Christian communism. Instead, we see the initial attempts of the earliest Christian to implement the equalizing-factor in Christian giving. Perhaps they were overly idealistic in their attempts to have all things in common in a communal community, but the equalizing-factor can be implemented in other contexts as well, as Paul was encouraging the Corinthians.
When the grace of God is flowing through Christians in Christian giving, the provision of God given to some can flow towards the needs of others. Supply can be directed toward demand. That does not mean that there will ever be absolute equality in the distribution of wealth in this sinful world in which we live. "The poor you always have with you" (John 12:8) But Christians, prompted by the giving God within, will recognize that God does not "play favorites." He is not a "respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34). God does not intend for us to stockpile material "treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal" (Matt. 6:19). God intends for His provision to flow towards other's needs! The haves are to share with the have-nots. Supply is to be brought together with demand.
What a unique situation God has made available to us as Christians. In the midst of the inequities of a sinful world, God sovereignly arranges the opportunities whereby we can participate in the redistribution process, the equalizing-factor of Christian giving. Out of His provision He grants us the privilege of expressing His givingness unto His glory, thus providing the ultimate functionality and fulfillment of mankind.
If Christian giving is the grace-flow of God's givingness in Christian people, are we to expect anything "in return?" Are we to anticipate any benefit accrued? Are we to look forward to what comes back to us?
To the Corinthians Paul writes in II Cor. 9:6, "he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully." Paul uses the horticultural imagery of "sowing and reaping," planting and harvest, in reference to Christian giving. He seems to be saying there is a "return" on Christian giving. What kind of return? Before we answer that question let us consider several other Scriptures that seem to indicate a "return" on our giving:
As you might expect, there are those who take these verses which seem to indicate a "return" on our giving, and they encourage others to "give in order to get." They often encourage such by saying, "You can't outgive God!" or "God's shovel is always bigger than your shovel," etc. Sometimes they indicate that if you give to them, God promises to give back ten or a hundred times as much.
One fellow received an appeal letter from a religious organization which read, "If you will just give us $100, God will give you back ten times as much, $1000." The man responded by writing to the organization: "If you really believe what you say, then you send me the $100, and you can keep the $1000." What a way to expose the fraudulence of such a fund-raising scheme!
In their attempts to legitimize this idea of a ten or hundred-fold "return" they usually refer to what the Scripture says about "sowing bountifully and reaping bountifully." Some have referred to "seed-faith" giving, indicating that the seed-money you give will produce a hundred-fold harvest. The only problem is that it is a mutant seed that is sown! It is seed mixed with sinful, selfish desires of the flesh which produces only a crop of corruption as Paul expresses in Galatians 6:7-10.
There is no way that we can "prime the pump" and bribe God into giving us more "things" or everything we might want. Such a self-indulgent, "gimme" religion that promises health, wealth and success is foreign to the Christian gospel!
When Jesus was telling the parable of the sower and the soils recorded in Mark 4:3-20, He did speak of the seed which grew up and increased thirty, sixty and a hundred-fold. But He explained that the reason the seed does not increase in harvest is due to "the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things" (Mark 4:19). The "seed" He was referring to was not "seed-money," but the gospel of Jesus Christ!
There are an abundance of profiteering promoters promising people that if they will give to them, God will make them rich. "God wants you rich!" "Prosperity is your Divine Right!" "Live like a King's Kid!" They often use verses from II Corinthians 8 and 9 to "proof-text" their appeal. Does it not say that Jesus did what He did so you "might become rich?" (8:9) Does it not say that such giving "is to your advantage?" (8:10) Does it not say that you will "reap bountifully?" (9:6) Does it not say that "you will be enriched in everything for all liberality?" (9:11)
Paul was not referring to becoming rich or reaping a "return" materially or monetarily. If Paul had used the reasoning to these promoters why did he not just tell the poor saints in Jerusalem to give until it hurts out of their poverty, and God would make them rich? There would not have been any need for Paul to receive gifts from other Christians on their behalf. Such profiteering false-prophets today apparently presume that Paul was engaged in the same kind of "scam" they are involved in.
The Bible never says that God wants us rich materially or that wealth is some sort of slide-rule for measuring spirituality and God's blessing on our lives. On the contrary, God warns us about the "deceitfulness of riches" (Mark 14:8). Jesus said that you cannot serve two masters; you cannot serve God and mammon (riches)" (Luke 16:13). On another occasion Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:25). Paul advised Timothy that
The only riches God wants us to aspire for are the "true riches" (Luke 16:11), the "treasures of heaven" (Matthew 6:20), the "unfathomable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8), the "riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7), the "riches of His glory" (Romans 9:23; Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27). When Paul writes that "we become rich" (II Corinthians 8:9), he is referring to the richness of the fullness of the character of God in the Christian. When he says "you will be enriched" (II Cor. 9:11), he is referring to "the harvest of righteousness" mentioned previously, the continued conformity to the image and character expression of Jesus Christ in the Christian. So the "sowing and reaping" imagery that Paul employs is not a "giving in order to get" or giving in order to get rich.
To "sow" in Biblical times was to take some seed in one's hand and to "let it go" and thus scatter it in the places where it might grow. To "sow" is to "let it go," give it up, and it appears that it is lost forever. The growing of that seed and the harvesting of that seed is not our business; that is the business of God's grace. We simply choose to "let go" of that which we know is God's already.
As noted, the principle of "sowing and reaping" and the idea of getting a "return" on our giving is so easily perverted by those who think with merely a temporal perspective, those who think only in terms of tangible things and dollars and cents. The Scriptures do not indicate that our giving will elicit from God a re-compensation, a re-payment or a replenishing in direct proportion, or in greater measure, than that which we have given. The Scriptures do indicate that the spiritual derivation of our sowing will determine the spiritual derivation of our reaping. If we plant, sow, give in accord with His character, then we will reap, harvest and be supplied in accord with His character. If our giving is an expression of God's character of grace and love, and expression of His "good blessing," then the return will be likewise, the "good blessings" of His character of righteousness and holiness and godliness.
The return of Christian giving is a spiritual return, and not necessarily a material return. The return is the continued receipt of God's grace that prompted genuine Christian giving in the first place. It is not for us to be overly preoccupied with the "return" anyway. We are just responsible to be available channels of God's grace by faithful receptivity of His activity. We just "sow," let it go, and what comes up is God's business. It is impossible for us to evaluate the proportionality of the "return," especially if we do not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing" (Matthew 6:3).
The return on Christian giving is a continued and fuller appreciation of the fullness of blessing that we have in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3), the joy of being vessels through whom God is working and fulfilling His intent for the functionality of our humanity.
In the initial points of this study we noted that God is the Creator, Owner, Giver of all things, and that we can only give out of the means of His gracious supply. Paul writes in II Corinthians 9:10, "Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness."
God provides a continuous supply for Christian giving. When God has a Christian vessel who is available and willing and faithful to be a channel, an open faucet, of the free-flow of His grace without trying to siphon off or create a reservoir for oneself, then God freely provides a continuous supply for giving. God gives to us so we can give to others, and thus participate in the expression of His character of givingness.
God's supply is extensive and inexhaustible. Note the comprehensiveness of Paul's statement in II Corinthians 9:8: "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed...." This statement is made in the context of his discussion of Christian giving in order to explain the inexhaustible supply of God's grace.
The provision, the supply, the sufficiency is constantly given by God. The amount of the gift is not the issue, only our availability to be the conduit of His abundant grace. The "widow's mite" is as abundant as is the "wealthy man's million," because God can take little and make much.
The purpose of Christian giving is the same as the purpose of Christian living. We were "created for the glory of God" (Isaiah 43:7). We are to "do all for the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).
As Paul writes to the Corinthians he indicates that they are involved in this gracious work of giving, "which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself..." (II Corinthians 8:19). He then explains that the recipients "will glorify God for your obedience" (II Corinthians 9:13).
God is glorified only when His all-glorious character is expressed within His creation. God is both the subject and the object of His glory! Man fulfills the purpose of his being when he allows God to be the subject and the object of His glory in the man, deriving all from God unto the glory of God.
The purpose of Christian giving is not the glory of man. Many religious contributions are given, so that it will be properly inscribed on a bronze plaque: "Given by......., In Memory of........." Much of the hardware within the church houses across our nation are thus inscribed as contributions unto the glory of man! Across the door of such edifices might be written, "ICHABOD" -- the glory of the Lord has departed (I Samuel 4:21).
Neither should we allow Christian giving to be attributed to the glory of a Christian congregation. We cannot say, "This church is successful because it has met its budget." "This church is to be praised because they have given so much to missions." Yet the predominance of our denominational statistic keeping tends to do just this. The glory is to be God's alone! If it is Christian giving, then it is what God has done as the expression of His character of givingness unto His glory.
It is so important to safeguard the integrity of Christian giving and to avoid, if at all possible, any suspicion of misuse or misappropriation of the gifts that have been given. Paul was concerned that those who were entrusted with the responsibility of handling the monetary gifts, be "beyond reproach." In II Corinthians 8:20,21 he advises that they "take precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men."
We all know that such integrity has not always been preserved in our day. Religious leaders have been incarcerated in federal prisons for financial fraud. Many religious organizations and personages have fraudulently mishandled and misappropriated funds given by Christians, failing to use designated funds for the purpose for which they were designated.
In 1979 the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) was established. They developed acceptable standards for financial accounting and credibility of Christian organizations, requiring annual audits and financial statements, requiring funds to be applied to the purposes for which they were raised, requiring the majority of the board members of Christian organizations to be comprised of non-family, non-staff and non-employee persons, and that these boards be genuine policy-making boards, not just rubber-stamp "Yes-men" for the primary personality. Wise Christians would do well to determine whether the Christian organization they choose to give to is an accountable member of the ECFA and abides by its standards. They are trying to preserve the integrity of Christian giving just as Paul was concerned to do as he wrote to the Corinthians.
The result of genuine Christian giving will be "thanksgiving to God" (II Corinthians 9:11,12). Thanksgiving which recognizes the "good grace" of God in the midst of the giving and the supply of the need. "Thanks be to God for His indescribable and inexpressible gift in Jesus Christ" (II Corinthians 9:15).
Christian living is Christian giving! Genuine Christians who are submitting themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and are listening to God in obedience, cannot help but express the character of God's givingness. There will be no need to beg or cajole these Christians to give. No genuine Christian can say, "Well, it's just not my nature to give." As Christians we are "partakers of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4), and God's nature is a giving nature. As God lives in us He gives through us. Such is Christian giving, the expression of God's grace!
1 Plache, Richard,
article entitled "Spontaneous Giving" in Union Life
magazine, February, 1980, page 3.