From the first to the twenty- first century
From the earliest days of Christianity, Christians have given away their money with extreme generosity. They have so treasured the one who became poor for their sakes, that they have been willing to do likewise for the sake of others.
They have given to release people to preach and teach. And so we see Jesus and the disciples financially supported by a number of women (see Luke 8v3).
They have given to offset the needs of the poor. Many were ready to sell their possessions and even houses to this end (see Acts 2v45, 4v34-35).
Sadly in many churches today this mindset is seriously lacking. Indeed, two particular assumptions are instead quite common:
Giving is for the upkeep of the church rather than its mission. Many are ready to invest in new fabric, but not in projects or workers who will deepen faith, care for the broken and take the good news to the many who haven’t heard it. Of course our building is important. But without mission its lifespan will be short indeed. Long gone are the days when people would come to church without the church first going to, caring for and speaking to them. It is people before plaster.
The second wrong assumption is that giving should benefit us rather than just benefiting others. This is often the heart of the issue. If the results of our giving aren’t going to be seen or if it is for work outside the church rather than in, we can be reluctant to give. Yet giving should flow from the two greatest commandments. Because we love God we want others to come to know him, and because we love others we want them to benefit from all he gives - whether or not we actually see that ourselves.
At Grace Church we hope to step up to the challenge of love-fuelled giving as the Christians of the first century did rather than as many in the twenty-first tend to. And as with so much in the Christian life, we recognise that we can do this only as we follow Christ’s example of making sacrifices for the good of others.
A biblical reflection
As always we are keen that our giving is grounded in the wisdom of the Scriptures. So as you prayerfully consider the above, we hope that the following might also prove inspiring.
“1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.” (2 Corinthians 8v1-5)
Five comments are worth mention:
Giving is a sign of God’s work within us. These Christians weren’t apostles; they were normal Christians just like us. Yet their generosity was a sign for Paul of a particular work of God’s grace at work amongst them (v1).
Giving is to be motivated by joy (v2). Later in the letter we read the famous words: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (9v7). This reflects the fact that Christian giving is to take pleasure in pleasing Christ. Dare we say, if we do not give joyfully, we should not give at all?
Giving is expected to be sacrificial. Verses 2 and 3 are astonishing – and challenging. Although under hardship, although poor (extremely by our standards), these Christians actively sought out ways to be able to give more. If our giving doesn’t cause us to consciously feel a sacrifice, could it be that we have still more we could give?
Giving is a privilege to be sought after (v4). These Christians were desperate to have the opportunity to give. One assumes they recognised the privilege of being called to be God’s children and commissioned to extend his everlasting kingdom. They therefore saw it as no hardship to be furthering his purposes with their money.
Giving is an overflow of love for God (v5). Here it is again. Unless we first give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, we will always struggle with giving. Yet those who have surrendered all feel little loss, because their all is already the Lord’s.
Many cite the 10% tithe of the Old Testament as a model for Christian giving. But these verses suggest that the New Testament is actually even more challenging. Phrases like “as much as they were able” and “even beyond their ability” don’t sit easily with our luxuries. Having said this, 10% of one’s income is a good initial target.
We recommend giving at least half of this (5% of income) to your local church, leaving the rest for other charities. We commend this to you as a starting point.
Such contributions are key if our church is to survive, let alone grow. However we are aware that people’s circumstances differ, and that some share their finances with a partner who may not be a committed Christian. The following questions may therefore prove helpful in finding a way to contribute “as much as you are able”:
What can I realistically spend less on in order to give more?
Is there anything I could forgo in order to give more?
Taking up the challenge of the first Christians, is there even something I could sell to give more?
With many thanks for your willingness to give to God’s work.