Stewardship: It’s NOT what you think it is! Part 4

pass the plate

Principles of Giving, 2 Corinthians 8—9

All across the world on any given Sunday in churches of every denomination, you will hear a familiar refrain:  “It’s time to receive today’s tithes and offerings.”  Of course, the actual words may vary, but taking up the offering is the one thing Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, etc. all have in common.

We have been discussing “stewardship” and what that means in the life of the believer.  Stewardship is managing the variety of resources God has given us for His glory.  Things like our health, intelligence, temperaments, talents, and ideas are among the things that come standard at birth and are just a few of the things God calls Christians to exercise proper stewardship over.  With this final message on stewardship, we turn our attention to the principles that should govern the stewardship of our finances.

In John’s Gospel, he wrote an interesting verse that forms the basis of this study—

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (John 1:17, tNIV)

We may well consider the New Testament to be an exposition of the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ.  In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul gives certain principles, grounded in grace and truth, governing the New Testament pattern for giving which supersedes the Old Testament pattern, the tithe, which was based on the law, not on grace truth.

The Corinthian church was a large, though deeply dysfunctional church, which Paul loved dearly.  In all, he wrote four letters to them, of which we have two.  In his letters, the Apostle tries to correct wrong behavior, wrong beliefs, wrong practices, and, in the case of these two chapters, to remind them of certain obligations that come from being part of the Body of Christ.  In the preceding chapters, Paul had expressed confidence in his Corinthians friends because they had Jesus living in their hearts.  Now, his attention turns to the collection which he organized among his churches for the relief of the church in Jerusalem.  This offering seems to have been very important to Paul, for he persisted in its collection and delivery in spite of the near-certain danger that awaited him in Jerusalem.   As far as Paul was concerned, a brother’s need was his need, and being part of the Body of Christ obligated him to do whatever he could to meet that brother’s need, as though it were his own.

With chapter 8, Paul introduces the topic of this collection.   This was certainly not the first time the Corinthians had been told about the dire circumstances in Jerusalem.  Paul first mentioned it to them in 1 Corinthians 16:1—4, where he gave them very specific instructions on how to participate—

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.  Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.  If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me. (tNIV)

But it seems that, for some reason, the Corinthian church was not participating in this worthy project, and so with great tact instead of commands and coercion, Paul teaches and encourages his friends to give as a free and personal response to Christ.

1.  Giving under grace, not under law

In our church, we always worship the Lord in the giving of “tithes and offerings.”  While there is nothing wrong with the phrase, “tithes and offerings,” we must be careful not to transform a useful phrase into a theology of giving that has its roots firmly planted in the Old Testament Law.  For believers, giving is not supposed to be based on anything in the Old Testament but rather our giving today should be based on new principles of grace established in the New Testament.  Nowhere in the Epistles do we read of “tithes.”  In fact, the only offering God seeks from His people is that of the person himself as “a living sacrifice…which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 21:1).

Background

(a)  The Old Testament tithe

Though the idea of a tithe was first seen in the life of Abraham, it formed an integral part of the Law in Leviticus 27:30—33.  On the surface, the Old Testament tithe seemed very simple—

A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.  (Leviticus 28:30, tNIV)

But, as with nearly every aspect of the Law, it got more and more complicated with each successive generation; later on Numbers 18:21—32 we discover that the tithe was to be used to support those who were dedicated to serve God.  In Deuteronomy 12 and 14, that same tithe was to be delivered to the Tabernacle, later to the Temple built by David, and it was distributed from there.

However, also in Deuteronomy 14 and 26, we see that there was a second tithe, which was to be collected every third year to help the needy!  In fact, if we read the Old Testament carefully, we will see that in total, there were three tithes, each used to either support those who led Israel in worship, help the poor, and to support the widows and orphans.

In addition to the 30% tithes, the Law also called for mandatory, yet voluntary, giving called “freewill offerings.”  The tithe was what Israel owed God, but the offerings were given out of love to God.  The tithe was a duty each Israelite had to fulfill, but the offerings were to be given spontaneously, as an expression of appreciation to God.  Giving the offering was actually a privilege; it was a practical way to demonstrate not only love but also devotion to God, and it was also a way to further help the less fortunate.

(b)  A new era of grace

As we pass from the Old Testament into the New Testament, we notice some very important changes.  With the coming of Christ, we see the dawn of a new era of grace as opposed to the old era of the Law.  While the Law was never abolished, it is fulfilled in grace, and all believers are responsible to keep the righteous demands of the Law in grace, not in fear.

As previously noted, though, the Epistles never mention tithing in any form.  The church of Jesus Christ has in no way replaced Israel; therefore the Laws that governed Israel cannot govern the church.  For example, we have no central Temple into which we would bring our tithes and offerings for distribution.  However, we do have paid professionals in many of our churches, and, the Epistles do teach that those who preach and teach the Gospel exclusively deserve to be paid for their work.  But nowhere does Paul or any other New Testament writer suggest this is to be done through a tithe!  Pastors are not the equivalent to “priests” of the Old Testament!  So, while we do not see tithing done in the New Testament era, we see something else: freedom in Christ, especially freedom to give of our finances to meet these kinds of needs, not in a legalistic obligatory fashion, but freely and in faith.  Furthermore, while the New Testament does teach meeting the needs of the local church—whether the need of paying the pastor or helping those in need—Paul’s guidelines for giving never mention or imply that the tithe is to be used to measure the Christian’s obligation.

(c)  The New Testament view of wealth

The principles of giving Paul gives the Corinthians are not rules and regulations, but reflect a general attitude toward wealth which we see elsewhere in the New Testament.

  • Jesus taught that believers should not put their trust in wealth and should not consider possessions to be treasures (Matthew 6:19—33);
  • In Luke 16:9, Jesus teaches that worldly wealth is to be used to prepare for the future;
  • Jesus also taught that nobody can serve two masters; the acquisition and preservation of wealth should never be the focus of our lives, if it is then we are demonstrating that we love it more than we love God;
  • John teaches that worldly wealth should be used to help other believers in need (1 John 3:17—18);
  • Paul told Timothy to teach the wealthy that their wealth came to them from God and that the should seek to do as much good with it as they can (1 Timothy 6:17—19).

The overwhelming teaching of the New Testament is that wealth is not a bad thing; it can be a very good thing because it can be used benefit the whole Body of Christ.  However, while wealth is not bad, the love of wealth is a problem because it can lead to many other kinds of evil.  So wealth is to be used, not loved.   And for the believer, the first use of his wealth is to benefit the Kingdom of God.

If we consciously put God first by meeting the needs of others within the Body of Christ, we are really preparing for our eternity.  Conversely, if we put wealth first by using it meet our own desires, we demonstrate that we lack the kind of dedication and commitment God wants and expects from those who call themselves His servants.  How we use our resources, then, is a measure of our dedication to God and a demonstration of the value we place on eternal values.

2.  The key is:  sharing

In the very early church, there were no church building programs to finance, in fact, there were no church buildings to support in any way; there was no Sunday School curriculum to buy, no heat and light bills to pay, no insurance premiums to pay, and no Presbytery taxes!  But the early church did have needs, and as we learn in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, local congregations from all over world gave to meet those needs, even if the need was miles and miles away.  Sometimes the need was merely supporting a local elder who assumed the  role similar to that of “pastor” today; he devoted himself to the Gospel full time, and he was supported by the local assembly.   Other needs included supporting widows, if they needed it.

Essentially, giving in the New Testament boiled down to a very simple principle:  find a need and fill it.   The goal of New Testament giving was simply survival; whether it was giving to help famine victims survive, or widows or victims of crime or to support those who gave up worldly careers to devote their skills to the preaching and teaching of the Word.  The survival and well being of other Christians was why Christians gave.

The Greek word the New Testament uses for “giving” is koinonia, which as we know means most often suggests “fellowship,” but it also means “to share.”  Just as believers share in the new of life of Christ, they also share a familial relationship with other believers, and that shared relationship is best expressed by a mutual sharing of resources, financial and otherwise.

3.  Paul’s approach with the Corinthians

Looking at 2 Corinthians we see how Paul solicited funds.  Note that there was a definite need:  the large church in Jerusalem was starving; they desperately needed funds.  Now note what Paul did NOT do:  he did not hold a rally to raise money; he did not send out “pledge cards,” he did not have a direct mail campaign or a “wear a yellow ribbon” campaign, he did not set up a big thermometer to measure the giving, Paul never had an “every member canvas.”  No, Paul’s approach to fund raising was unique.

(a)  He gave two examples, 2 Cor. 8:1—9

Paul started out by giving a prime example of a church that rose to the challenge of giving:  the Macedonia church.  After he writes so poignantly about how they gave out of their need, he wrote this—

I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.  (verse 8b, tNIV)

In other words, the Macedonian example of giving was the standard of giving against which the Corinthians could measure their—not giving—love.  Giving is never about the final amount, it is always about the attitude of the giver.

The supreme example of giving, though, was not another church, but Jesus Christ Himself, who gave all He had to save others.   He was rich, but He became poor, so that others may become rich.

New Testament giving, then, is not based on meeting a predetermined, minimal percentage-of-income.  New Testament giving begins with giving all you have to give.

(b)  Be willing!  2 Cor. 8:10—12

Some time earlier, the Corinthians had promised to give, but now they needed to honor their promise, “according to their means.”   Here is a vitally important factor to consider—

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  (verse 12, tNIV)

Once again, it is not the amount that God takes note of, it is the attitude of the giver; a New Testament giver gives willingly what he is able to give.  The Macedonians, a very poor church, gave all.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave all.

(c)  Giving is about equality, 2 Cor. 8:13—15

It’s not what some call “Christian communism,” but this principle is more like “the Godfather philosophy” of  “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”   It’s also reaping and sowing; if you give when you have resources to give, you will receive when you lack resources.

At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality.  (verse 14)

(d)  Take action, 2 Cor. 8:16—9:5

Promising to give is one thing, but that promise must be followed by action.  Paul apparently had been “boasting” about the generosity of the Corinthians, but they hadn’t followed through.  Notice what he told them—

For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we–not to say anything about you–would be ashamed of having been so confident. (verse 4, tNIV)

It’s a serious thing to make a promise and not keep it.

(e)  Giving is sowing, 2 Cor. 9:6—11

Sharing with others is just like sowing seed, Paul explained.   This in no way means that if you give $10.00 you will get $100.00 back.  What Paul explained to the Corinthians is a very simple yet profound principle:  a believer cannot outgive God.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  (verse 8 tNIV)

When we truly believe this, we will be set free to give generously without fear that we will somehow be deprived later on of some necessity.   This is the context in which Paul advised the Corinthians in verse 7—

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Paul was careful not to lay a guilt trip on these Corinthians.  He did not want them to feel obligated to give nor did he want to give them some sort of percentage that he deemed appropriate.  As far as Paul was concerned, nobody knew their personal financial circumstances better than the individual and his God.   So it was up to the individual to give an amount they themselves were responsible for.

(f)  The results of giving, 2 Cor. 9:12—15

The believers in Corinth were lastly reminded by Paul of the encouraging results that would stem from their generous gift.

Paul has already written that their generous giving would enrich themselves, meet the needs of the recipients, but their generous giving would also promote the glory of God by prompting others to praise Him.

How does this come about?  Simply because the Corinthians would be living up not only to their promise, but also to the Gospel, which among other things calls for meeting the needs of the saints (Romans 12:13).   Grace always prepares the way for grace.  When we act in grace according to the will of God, He gets the praise for what we do.  Notice that the praise is expressed less for the gift itself than for the spiritual virtues of the giver expressed in that gift.  It is never about the amount given; it is always about the attitude.

But Paul goes a step further suggesting that the giving will be reciprocal.  The Corinthians gave materially to the Christians in Jerusalem, and now they will give spiritual gifts to the Corinthians, in the form of prayer.

And the circle of giving is made complete.  The church in Jerusalem was in desperate shape, lacking many material things.  The Corinthians struggled in their faith and doctrine and were in need of spiritual help.  The needs of both churches were about to be met because of their obedience in giving.

Conclusion

Paul’s principles of stewardship are simple:

  1. Make your need known to the church.  Pastors and elders are not mind readers.  Paul never hesitated to share his needs with other churches.   The local church exists to meet the needs of its members; we employ a pastor to teach and preach the Word, we support a missionary family, we purchase material to help you learn and grow in the faith and share that faith, but can also meet other needs if we know about them.
  2. Learn what you can give based on your needs.  Sometimes, a thousand dollars is a lot of  money, sometimes it’s not enough.  Each one of us knows what our needs may be and our giving should be based on what we are able to give, not on a preset, one-size-fits-all amount.  We are responsible and answerable to God for how much, or how little, we give.  With freedom comes that kind of responsibility.
  3. Don’t give into manipulation.  Don’t let this church, or some other ministry or some other Christian manipulate you into giving more than you can or should.   Manipulation never glorifies God; our giving needs to be objective, never subjective, arising out of emotional pleas.
  4. We need to practice New Testament giving!  My job as pastor is to teach it, our job as members of the Body of Christ is to take this knowledge and put it to use in a God-glorifying, people-helping manner.

God is totally committed us; so much so He has been giving to us since He gave His one and only Son to save us.  He has never once stopped giving to those who love and serve Him.  We should strive to be that committed to Him.

Stewardship–giving in grace–sets us free, because when we give in grace, we are giving like God gives.  No rules.  No strings.  According to our ability.  What a great way to give!

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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