The Gospel and giving
A community of giving
The early Christians were a community known for radical giving. Diognetus, quoted below, was not a Christian, but an opponent of Christianity, who was listing the things that made it so frustrating to refute the Christian “heresy.”
They share their table with all, but not their bed with all. They are poor and make many rich; they are short of everything and yet have plenty of things. (Letter to Diognetus, c.100-150 A.D.)
Unlike their neighbors, Christians were promiscuous with their money, not their bodies. They shared their possessions in a proportion and with a joy that the surrounding materialistic culture had never seen. This radical generosity began immediately after the resurrection when “selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (Acts 2:45) ... they did not consider that any of their possessions were their own (Acts 4:32.)
The motivation for this unusual willingness to give is, of course, the infinite generosity of God, who: did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, [so] how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Romans 8:32 (cf. also Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 5:2, and Ephesians 5:25)
In this season where we celebrate the Incarnation — when the Second Person of the Triune God set aside his glory and came to earth as a baby, to live as we should have lived, and died as we were condemned to die — it is only fitting to meditate on the joy of giving in response to the Ultimate Gift of grace in salvation by faith.
It is a gift purchased not at a Black Friday sale, but on the TRUE Black Friday, which we now call “Good Friday” because through his death we are rescued from death.
If we are deeply moved by the limitless cost Jesus paid to redeem us, then we will have only joy when we have the opportunity to give back to him some of what he has entrusted to us. Below there are some guidelines to follow if you are new to generosity.
The guidelines for giving
The Old Testament called believers to tithe — give 10% of their income. The New Testament nowhere explicitly requires tithing, but in Matthew 23:23 Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for not being willing to go beyond the tithe when there were community needs. This means that while the church cannot require members to give any particular amount of money; Jesus assumes his followers will go beyond the tithe in giving.
This is only reasonable — since we have greater privileges, joy, knowledge, and power than our ancestors in the faith, how could we be expected to be less generous with our possessions? So the tithe is a minimum rule of thumb for Christians who want to give in a gospel way to the church, the poor, and others.
Jesus warns against ‘storing up’ beyond what you truly need (Luke 12:21). While it is sometimes difficult to find the line between ‘necessities’ and ‘luxuries,’ it is sufficient to know that most middle class people in the U.S. should continually be pushing the percentage of their giving further and further beyond a tithe. What we think of as basic necessities (clean running water, Wi-Fi, food on the table) would be untold luxury in most of the world.
There may be seasons of life in which you cannot tithe and still meet your other obligations. But more basic than tithing is the guideline of sacrifice. Paul tells us of a church who gave “even beyond their abilities” (2 Corinthians 8:3.) Their giving entailed sacrifices in their daily life-style (how much they spent on clothes, travel, home, etc.) If we have tithed but it doesn’t curtail the way we actually live, we need to give more. But if we cannot tithe yet, but our giving does reduce our daily life-style, our consciences can be at rest.
The dynamic for giving
Jesus said that your treasure goes where your heart is (Matthew 6:21) You always give most effortlessly to that which is your real
salvation, your hope, your meaning in life. If Jesus is the one who saves you, your money flows out easily into his work and the lives of people. If your real hope is in your appearance, status, or comfort, your money will flow more easily into those items and symbols, and giving anything away anything substantial will seem difficult. Generosity is a test of the heart.
The plan for giving
In 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul wrote: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.” Giving in the early church was planned, not spontaneous. Spontaneity is good at many times and in some settings, but when 9 out of 10 of us give impulsively and spontaneously, we usually give far less than we should or could with some planning and discipline. (The other 1 out of 10 gives too much and finds he or she can’t meet other obligations.) So ask two very simple questions:
1. What percentage of my income do I want to give to God’s work this coming year? (Cf. Leviticus 27:30-34; Malachi 3:6-12; II Corinthians 8:3)
2. What percentage of my giving do I want to give to Redeemer’s ministry? Then make a plan for regularly doing so (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:2) Without planning it is common for people to think that they have given more than what they actually have. It is rare for someone to say, “Whoops! We’ve been giving more to God’s work this year than we budgeted.” It’s always the other way around.
At year’s end it seems that every charitable organization has need of a financial gift to make their budget. Redeemer is no different in that respect, but try to remember that you are not just giving to an organization, but you are a steward of what God has given to you, and you are only giving back to God what he has first poured out into your life.
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