Live to give

[This post is courtesy of Phillip Jensen, Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney.]

Where should we direct our giving? Surrounded by so many needs and opportunities it’s difficult to know where to start. Is there any priority or principle by which to choose whom to give to?

Giving is the Christian way of living. It involves more than money for we give ourselves to the Lord and to each other as we use the gifts that God has given to us to serve one another. We give our time, energy, interest, concern, prayers and hospitality—anything we have that could be used for the benefit of others. However, it does include giving money and that is what I am writing about.

Giving is an attitude of heart and mind that is expressed in actions. We do not wait till there is need before we look for opportunity to give. Last week I wrote: “generosity lies at the heart of the Christian message… We are saved by grace to be gracious, saved by generosity to be generous—not just with our money but with our very selves”. Giving is therefore second nature to Christians—it’s something we normally do, expect to do, plan to do, even look forward to doing.

Having crossed into this world of grace, we have a new form of the old economic problem. No longer is it “limited means and unlimited wants” but now “limited means and unlimited giving”. Paul expresses our limitation: “as we have opportunity, let us do good…” (Gal 6:10). We cannot solve all the problems of a fallen world. We always have the poor to be generous to. So we have to make choices in directing our giving as we ask: “What does God want me to do with the money he has given to me?”

Here are some starting principles for the direction of Christian giving:

  1. Our commitment to God does not excuse us from our obligations. Jesus was critical of the Pharisees for using religion to avoid their obligation to their parents (Mark 7). Failure to provide for our own family is a denial of the faith and makes us worse than unbelievers (1 Tim 5:8). Parents provide for children, and in due time children provide for their aged parents (2 Cor 12:14; 1 Tim 5:4). We pay taxes to whom taxes are due and we must not be an indolent burden to other people (Rom 13:7; 2 Thess 3:12). Because we are God’s people we will play our part in family and society’s obligations.

    The Christian person is also obliged to give to those who serve them with the word of God. Paul quotes the Old Testament law: that you shall not muzzle the ox while treading out the grain; the labourer deserves his wage; those who serve in the temple or at the altar as getting their food from the temple (1 Tim 5:17; 1 Cor 9:8ff). The Lord himself commanded: “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). Paying for ministry is a Christian responsibility; we do not look to outsiders to pay for it, for money must not be an obstacle to hearing the gospel (3 John 7ff.; 1 Cor 9:12). Rather it is a reciprocal relationship: those who benefit spiritually from the word of God should share all good things with those who teach them (1 Cor 9:11; Gal 6:6).

  2. Christian religion is caring for those in need. So James wrote: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas 1:27). To claim we love God but fail to love our neighbour is to lie, because such love is impossible (1 John 4:20).
  3. Though we are concerned for all people, our priority should be with the household of faith: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).
  4. We should use wisdom in our giving. We give for a purpose, but some giving will not achieve our purpose but will, if anything, create larger spiritual problems. 1 Timothy 5 discusses helping widows, but not all widows are to be helped. Paul directs help to the ‘deserving’ widow, over a certain age, who has no relatives to support her (1 Tim 5:3-16). It is like his ‘tough’ love: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10). Today it is possible to meet human need by persuading non-Christians to give, governments to legislate, and corporations to contribute. This allows Christians to concentrate our giving on those projects that only Christians would give to e.g. evangelists, church planters, theological teachers, missionaries.
  5. Our giving should reflect our values and beliefs. Paul commends the Philippians, not for repeatedly sending him money but for their partnership with him in the preaching of the Gospel (Acts 18:5; 2 Cor 9:11; Phil 4:14-17). We believe the problems of this world flow from people’s rejection of God, and the solution starts in Spiritual rebirth that comes with gospel preaching. We expect corruption to be a main factor in third world poverty, and family breakdown, gambling, substance abuse, covetous ‘get rich quick’ schemes to factor in first world poverty. Thus we invest in gospel ministries that change people’s lives and build societies.
  6. People matter more than things. By investing our gifts in people we see long term benefits in what they do over their lifetime. It’s like the wisdom of teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish.
  7. Giving by compulsion or for self interest is not giving. There is nothing wrong with taxation, or charging people entry fees, or even using a public relations or advertising budget to do good things. But they are not Christian giving. Christians give in response to the grace of God, not under any social constraint or requirement, other than the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts. That is why we do not charge people to come to church, but ask of our members to give freely.

This list is a conversation starter about where to direct our giving. An action plan has two steps: (1) Determine how much to give; (2) Determine where to give.

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