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Written by Pastor Michael Porter for https://witzend.wordpress.com
Original post @ https://witzend.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/gnerous-giving/
Published December 9, 2015
Scores of books have been written on the importance of the tithe. Tithing – the idea that as Christians we owe God one tenth of all our income – is how many churches establish their operating budgets. Before we pay any taxes or bills, we are obligated to pay God His ten percent first. The blessing is that He lets us keep the rest for ourselves. That all sounds like a pretty good deal. Except it’s wrong. Christians are not obligated to tithe. In terms of our giving to the church every Sunday, that’s either really good news or bad, depending on how look at things. In fact, according to the New Testament, God isn’t concerned one wit about Christians giving ten percent of their income to Him. He wants it all.
Broadly speaking, the New Testament basis for giving is not the tithe, but personal generosity and the notion that if God has blessed with you much, then you ought to give much out of a thankful heart. No wonder so many Christians prefer tithing! It lets them off the hook for giving more.
To be fair, though, the concept of generous giving isn’t a New Testament concept. Not by a longshot. As far back as the book of Proverbs, we read this:
One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:24, 25 TNIV)
Well, that’s a better deal than writing a check for ten percent. Jesus picked up on this when He gave this nifty bit of teaching:
For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give-large or small-will be used to measure what is given back to you. (Luke 6:38 TLB)
No matter how you slice it, the New Testament concept of “generous giving” is far better for Christians than the Old Testament concept of the mindless tithe. I say “mindless” because beyond just simple math, tithing requires no thought or planning. It develops no character or Christ-likeness. After all, our Lord didn’t give just ten percent of His life for you; He gave it all. Tithing requires no prayer. It’s essentially a regular blood-letting many Christians subject themselves to for no reason. God doesn’t expect it and if you just tithe, you’re missing out experiencing the result of a universal law God has established:
Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith. (Galatians 6:7 – 10 MSG)
That’s how The Message – an odd-ball version of the Bible – translates the famous “you reap what you sow” passage. But I like it. It doesn’t pull any punches. Your “good work,” your acts of generosity begin, but are not limited to, “the community of faith,” one way of referring to your local church.
How should a Christian give generously? Well, it all starts with being a part of a local church. If you can’t be obedient in something as simple as regularly attending a church, how in the world can you even think about becoming a generous giver to the work of the Lord? But, don’t take my word for it. Put your tomatoes down and let’s let the apostle Paul teach us how to be the kind of generous givers God intends for us to become.
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 TNIV)
In those two verses, the apostle gives us no less than five principles for Christian giving. But, before delving into those, let’s look at why Paul wrote them to the Corinthians in the first place.
Corinth was known as “the cesspool of the ancient world,” yet Paul was able to win some truly outstanding converts there. First there were Priscilla and Aquilla. Then Timothy and Silas came from Macedonia to help Paul with establishing a church there. It wasn’t long before a ruler of the local synagogue, a fellow by the name of Crispus, converted and joined the growing Corinthian church. Following his lead came more conversions, including some prominent and respected members of society, Titus Justus and Gaius to name two. It wasn’t long before the city treasurer became a believer and joined the church, Erastus. And yet, at the same time, this church also had its share of poor and uncultured folk, some from the lower middle and slave classes. But they all worshiped together. And when Paul left Corinth a year and half later for Ephesus, he left behind one of the largest congregations of the early church.
Like large, metropolitan churches today, the Corinthian church had its share of problems. In the first 15 chapters of what we call 1 Corinthians – but it’s really the second letter he wrote to this church, the first one being lost – Paul attempted to correct some unchristian practices the church had fallen into and he tried to teach his friends some basic Christian doctrines, which they’d either forgotten about or grown lazy in practicing. This verse is telling as to the state of the Corinthian church:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58 TLB)
That’s right. When you find it necessary to admonish some one to “stand firm,” then they aren’t. Some in the Corinthian church were not standing firm and were being moved by false teaching, doubt, and worldliness – three troublemakers that have conspired to take down many churches over the centuries.
In the midst of his doctrinal and theological admonitions, Paul, in the final chapter, turns to some very practical – some would say boring – matters, including how to give an offering.
Giving: It’s about being generous
All of a sudden Paul shifts gears from the glories of the resurrection to the mundane tasks of giving and receiving offerings. But for Paul, the offering was no small matter. It was important, and doing it correctly was just as important as maintaining faith in the resurrection and the thrill of the Second Coming. And while his instructions addressed a very particular need of his time, Paul was laying down some principles of giving that may be applied to our day, too.
The Christians in Jerusalem had fallen on hard times. While Paul was known for working with his hands to earn his own way as he traveled preaching and teaching, he was never afraid to make needs known to the churches he was visiting. The need back in Jerusalem was great. We’re not sure why the church in Jerusalem was in such poverty. Bible scholars suggest two possible reasons. First, it is thought by some that the Jews in Jerusalem turned against the Christians and began to persecute them. That’s possible. But there may be another reason – a spiritual one: a failure to carry out the Great Commission. G. Campbell Morgan explains:
That commission was given at the beginning of Acts. But they never did this until they were driven out by persecution. They hugged the church, and hugged their privileges, and lost their real spiritual power.
Whatever the reason, the believers in Jerusalem had it bad and the church there was in dire financial need. In Paul’s mind, when one part of the church was hurting, the whole church should share in that hurt and the whole church should share in the solution. And Paul knew something else: Christian fellowship was a lot more than just sympathy, good wishes, and prayers. Christian fellowship must be based on something concrete. So with that in mind, he began to take up offerings for the saints in Jerusalem.
In Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians, he never mentions the tithe. Instead, he wanted his friends to give generously. To him, there was no other way for a Christian to give! The Christian is under obligation to give whenever the need arises, and that giving should be liberal.
Five principles for giving
Here, then, are Paul’s principles for giving:
Giving should be inclusive. Every member of the congregation was expected to participate. Rich or poor. Working or not. Young or old. Everybody in the church was to be part of the great collection. Just like Jesus and the widow’s offering, it’s never how much a person gives that’s important, it’s that they give what they are able to. Some people are able to give a whole lot, others not so much, but everybody needs to be a part. Why? In truth, God doesn’t really need our money. He’s God, after all. The giving is more for our benefit than the church’s. Giving generously is all part of the growing process as Christians. Human nature is not to give generously. But as Christians, we are no longer slaves to our human nature; we possess Christ’s nature, and Christ is generous. As He is, then we must become – we must let Christ live through us. So, giving must in inclusive; every member of the church should have skin in the game. As one astute Bible scholar remarked:
Many giving a little is more significant than one giving much.
Giving should be regular. Paul wrote telling the Corinthians that the offering should be taken up on the first day of the week – Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Christian giving shouldn’t be a haphazard, hit-and-miss thing. Nor should it a once-in-a-while matter. Paul’s idea is that the Christian should give systematically and regularly. It’s a discipline, just like regular church attendance is. The early church met on the “first day of the week,” which some refer to as “the Christian Sabbath,” but is probably better referred to as “the Lord’s Day.” The offering was to be a part of their worship and fellowship experience.
Giving should be according to individual prosperity. In other words, if God has blessed you with a good income, you should bless the Lord with more giving. There are times, though, even a prosperous individual may be stretched thin if he has extraordinary expenses. Is God unreasonable? Does He employ knee-breakers to enforce His generosity rule? Of course not; that’s a ridiculous thought. The key to generous Christian giving is gratitude, not fear and certainly not legalism. Give as you are able to. If you don’t have it to give, then don’t. Or, better yet, pray and ask God to increase your income so that you would be able to give more. God’s not interested in a church full of robots. He wants willing partners who will work with Him, and He in turn will work with them.
Giving should be voluntarily. Salvation is voluntary, and so should be our giving. Next to salvation, the greatest gift God have to us is the gift of a free will. God forces us to do nothing. He wants us to learn how to be generous givers; He wants us to give out of a grateful heart, not out of a sense of duty only. As we grow in the faith, we learn more about Christ and what He did for us, and that knowledge should be the motivating factor in our giving. Yes, being aware of a need may move us to give, but our giving shouldn’t be in proportion to the need, but in proportion to God’s blessings to us.
The offerings should be administered wisely. The church needs to be good stewards of what the congregations gives.
Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Corinthians 16:3 TNIV)