Giving and Receiving
Barry King, Newton Abbot, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Some thoughts on what we do with our money
PHILIPPIANS 4. 15-18; 2 CORINTHIANS 8. 1-5
The Use of Money
There is a general reluctance to talk about money matters in Christian circles. Many are prepared to give their views on how Government Finance Ministers should run the economy but are less forthcoming when it comes to personal or local church finances. However, the matter is dealt with in the Scriptures and to know what principles to operate by when it comes to these matters is essential.
Let us remember that it is not money itself but the love of money that is the root of all evil, 1 Tim. 6. 10. Those words were written to remind believers in the first century of the dangers arising from the passion for money. How much more relevant is the warning in the days in which we are living.
The world uses methods to control its financial arrangements which are very necessary in today’s highly charged commercial atmosphere, and as individuals we deal with some kind of financial transaction every day of our lives. But for the Christian, there is a need to take note of the principles that God has set down in His word for us relating to money and its use. In this way, we can know how we should deal with the resources that He has put into our hands.
Credit and Debit
In Philippians 4. 15, Paul uses a couplet not found elsewhere in scripture, ‘concerning giving and receiving’, which forms the heading for our article. The metaphor has a book-keeping background and is much like the expression ‘credit and debit’, because that is how Paul is viewing the relationship between the Philippians and himself.
It is not that Paul is keeping track of income to present to the Tax Inspector. He is pointing out that in the matter of giving and receiving, there are equal responsibilities for both parties in how they deal with the transaction. Paul is looking at the divine book-keeping ledger where recompense and reward for the action of the Philippians will be shown to the account of this warmhearted church, see 4. 17.
In this article we shall be looking principally at the matter of giving but the same principles apply to those who receive gifts. There is a responsibility to the Lord in what is done with gifted funds.
A. The Old Testament
Giving, in the Old Testament, can be placed under the two headings of tithes and offerings.
The children of Israel were obliged to give in this way. Numbers 18. 20, 21 sets out the principle that the tithe or tenth was God’s by right and was required by the tribe of Levi for the upkeep of the work of the Lord. But this was not really giving - this was God’s by right. If it was withheld, then that was counted as robbing God, as the complaint made in Malachi 3. 8 makes clear, ‘Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee?’ – ‘In tithes and offerings’ is God’s answer.
Over and above what a man handed over by way of tithe, he had opportunity to give to God ‘of his own voluntary will’, Lev. 1. 2, 3. The same phrase is used later in chapter 22. 18-19 where there was an opportunity for a man to show how much he really appreciated the Lord. He was under no obligation to give but he could demonstrate his gratitude to God out of a willing heart.
B. The New Testament – the Gospels
Christ did not come to undo what the Old Testament had taught but to give life and reality to the Scriptures and to make them relevant to people’s lives – He came to fulfil the law and prophets The reality of their God had been lost to the nation of Israel and the Scripture already quoted from Malachi was symptomatic of the unreality that existed within the nation. The Lord Jesus came to restore that reality and bring the people back to a living relationship with God. As far as His teaching on giving is concerned, He did not specify what amount we must give, but He did set out four basic principles which can still help us today.
1. Your money AND your life, Matt. 5. 23-24
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift’, NIV.
If we have fallen out with another believer, it is not possible for us to have a true relationship with God solely because we have continued to give financially to the work of the Lord. If we are not right with our brother or sister in the Lord, then we are not right with God, 1 John 4. 20, and the Lord cannot accept our giving.
Giving is part of our worship - the principle is set out in Hebrews 13. 15, 16. The sacrifice of giving has to come from a pure heart. If we are not right with another believer, nobody else in the church might even know - but God knows, and we know too.
2. The motive must be right, Matt. 6. 2-4
‘So when you give . . . your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’, NIV.
The most satisfying part of giving is when God alone knows what we have done. Human nature tends to want recognition of our good deeds. But once the secret is out - when we tell somebody else what we have done, when the right hand knows what the left hand has been doing – then the joy of that particular act of giving has gone too.
The whole point of giving in the local assembly offering is that generally nobody knows what others have given. But there is room for this joy in personal giving too. There are times when we may wish to show in a practical way an appreciation of someone else and their work for the Lord. God gives us the grace not to look for praise for this sacrifice and we must leave it to the recipient to respect that confidence.
We can praise God for agencies that have the facilities to send our gifts to Christians in other parts of the world on our behalf. But that should not be the end of the matter for it is just as important to ensure that we also write from the assembly or privately when such a gift is made, assuring such workers that we have their work on our hearts prayerfully.
3. Much love: the ‘life-giving’ principle, Luke 7. 47
The whole atmosphere in Simon’s house spoke of coldness of heart. There was no water to wash the feet, no oil to anoint the head - but a woman poured out all that she had because as the Lord made clear, ‘she loved much’.
Our giving, whether it is part of our assembly offering or as a personal exercise, needs to be done out of our love and affection for Christ. If it is otherwise it will degenerate into a cold act without any feeling in our hearts.
4. The measure of the gift, Mark 12. 41-44
‘Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all which have cast into the treasury: for they all did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living’.
The Lord Jesus did not measure the gifts by what was actually given, but by what was left in the hand of the giver after they had given. The rich gave out of their wealth - in other words, they had plenty left. But true giving is seen in the widow’s sacrificial giving because she gave all that she had, even though it was only two mites. The amount was not important - she gave all that she had to live on and therefore by comparison had given far more sacrificially than the others.
Many people give generously in their wills, to take effect if they should die before the Lord comes, and we can praise God for that. But at times there are pressing needs in the work of God that require immediate action on our part. With this in mind we might be prompted to ask the question as to how many dormant building funds, waiting for the ‘rainy day’, lie in bank accounts effecting nothing. The pressing needs of one of the Lord’s servants is known to us and we do little.
C. The Epistles
The key chapters relating to giving are 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, ‘Therefore as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also’. That is in the grace of giving, 2 Cor. 8. 7. We are pointed to the person of Christ for our example in verse 9, ‘though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich’.
But perhaps the most important statement that comes from these chapters is found in 8. 5 regarding the Macedonian churches. It says of them in relation to giving, ‘And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord and unto us by the will of God’. Here was the base from which these Christians started - they gave themselves - which should be a challenge for us today. All the money at our disposal for the work of the Lord cannot make up for this primary sacrifice - the willingness to give ourselves to the Lord first of all.
The characteristics that marked this giving by the Macedonian churches were:
1. The Open Hand, 2 Cor. 8. 2
‘Their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality’. They were open-handed in their giving - they hid nothing nor did they keep anything back. This was not a set of rich people making a slight dent in their bank balances, but people who, out of deep poverty, made riches available to others – a paradox indeed. Remember what Andrew said to the Lord Jesus in John 6. 8 regarding the loaves and fish, ‘What are these among so many?’ But we know what happened when these few items were placed into the hands of the Lord Jesus. Let us never despise what we may think is a small contribution, either personally or as a church, compared to what others might be able to do. What is important is the sacrificial element – we need to ask what has it cost us? But let us also remember into whose hands we are placing the gift - the One who is able to multiply beyond measure what we have given.
2. The Willing Mind, 2 Cor. 8. 11–12
There needs to be a willingness to give - the Lord is not interested in what we haven’t got but what we have got. The amount or size is irrelevant as long as we are willing to use it for His service.
3. The Cheerful Heart, 2 Cor. 9. 7
‘Let everyone give as his heart tells him, neither grudgingly nor under compulsion, for God loves the man whose heart is in his gift’, J. B. Phillips – Letters to Young Churches.
We can never experience any lasting joy in the exercise of this grace of giving if it does not come from the heart. If we sow sparingly we shall see very little in the way of abundance at harvest time - this is true in the natural realm and also in the spiritual.
D. The practice of giving
The New Testament gives us the pattern and if we read the Epistles we can see evidence of financial support both to individuals and to churches:
a) Paul received gifts from Philippi, Phil. 4. 15, 16.
b) Churches in Europe sent support for the believers in Jerusalem, 1 Cor. 16. 1 – 4.
The scripture in 1 Corinthians 16. 2 gives us three other helpful indicators which can guide us in our giving:
a) Regularly On the first day of the week.
b) Systematical Set aside a sum of money
c) Proportionately In keeping with income
We can see that giving in the early church was not a casual affair – it was a matter of deep thought which went into the way they gave. They planned their giving ahead of the time when it would be needed.
E. Other areas of giving
a) Studying the Scriptures
We remember the Macedonians ‘first gave themselves’. Their giving was not just a matter of money, they gave their lives as well as their belongings.
What does every single day present to us that we all use? The answer must be time. The next question must be, ‘How do we use that time?’ For instance, how many are willing to devote time to study the word of God so that the believers in the assembly may grow and benefit as a result of their studies? We might be willing to stay up late for enjoyment of other things but who is willing to ‘burn the midnight oil’ to get to grips with the Scriptures and profit many. It might be said that studying is the province of the brethren who teach publicly. But there is a ministry for each one of us if we will so do. Sisters can carry out, as Titus 2. 3, 4 exhort becoming ‘teachers of those things that are good’; ‘teaching the young women’, and Paul’s word to Timothy hopes that ‘thy profiting may appear to all’, 1 Tim. 4. 13-15.
b) Visiting the Saints
Some would insist that this is the province of the elders in the local church. This may be one of the works that the elders are engaged in, but we must remember that these men were not appointed as elders in order to do that kind of work – they were already doing it and thus were recognized as elders.
There is a great ministry in visiting others, and each of us needs to ask the Lord how He wants us to be involved in this aspect of giving. The rewards in this kind of giving are immense; just try it.
This is an area that is so neglected. The time spent in praying can enrich our knowledge of others and their needs. It is a time of giving because we can always find so much else to do, but God wants to hear our prayers, our supplications, our requests and our thanksgivings so that it becomes an invaluable service for others and for Him, Phil. 4. 6.
The people of Malachi’s day asked ‘Wherein have we robbed thee?’, 3. 8. God says in verse 10, ‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse - prove me now, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it’.
Let us see to it that we do not fall into the temptation that Israel did and rob God. He is so willing to pour us out a rich blessing in our service for Him. May we be encouraged to make a start in all this and do as the Macedonians – first to give ourselves to the Lord!
Just a thought . . .
‘No vision is ever stopped by lack of finances, only by lack of faith, courage, and a willingness to get out on the cutting edge and discover that God can ”supply all your need according to his riches in glory”, Phil. 4. 19. According to what? His riches in Christ! All we need do is get out of our comfort zone and claim them’. Selected.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Barry King was saved as a young man in St. Austell through the personal witness of Mary who later became his wife. He gives himself with his wife to the work of Emmaus Bible Courses, UK, and has made a number of visits to Israel.