Thursday, August 21, 2014

Disciples will give

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, 
and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith 
and pierced themselves with many pains. 
1 Timothy 6:10

The Church and money is a touchy topic for many people. The vocal and visible minority of money-driven "televangelists" and prosperity gospel preachers has combined itself with the inherent greed that many of us are predisposed to in our flesh to produce an idea in the minds of believers and unbelievers alike that "the Church is just after my money." Add to this the mountain of debt we are under as a nation and, for many of us, as individuals, and we see that money in general is a topic that if left unaddressed can skew, hamper, or even crush many people's faith.

Jesus understood this, and He talked a lot about money. Consider this quote from Howard Dayton:

Jesus talked much about money. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions. (quoted from preachingtoday.com)

I am convinced that one change of attitude would positively impact so many people in this area. As I am fond of quoting, the way we are to be transformed in the likeness of Christ is by changing the way we think to be in line with how He thinks. That is the essence of Romans 12:2. And in this area of money, we desperately need to understand that nothing, nothing, we "own" actually belongs to us. It all belongs to God and comes from God.

The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the Lord your God, as does the earth and everything in it. Deuteronomy 10:14

No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. John 3:27

Just like the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, we are stewards over the wealth God has given us, not owners, and He expects us to use that wealth to advance His kingdom, not to pursue our own pleasures or to do nothing at all.

One question I have faced a bit of late is whether this giving should be to worthy causes or ministries or to one's own local church body. There can be a hesitancy to simply "dump" your gift into a large pool that may or may not be used for ministry. Many of today's churches have a *lot* of overhead associated with buildings and debt, and if they are anything like my previous church, those buildings are 90% full only 10% of the time. This can be discouraging from an individual Christian's perspective. 

Effective use of church facilities is a whole other topic that I feel very much needs to be addressed in many, many churches. I encourage those who read this to have those kinds of conversations with their leadership. But in the meantime, I would have you consider this about giving to your local church:

7 “Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Hosts. But you ask: “How can we return?” 8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!” You ask: “How do we rob You?” “By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. 9 You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing Me. 10 Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the Lord of Hosts. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. Malachi 3:7-10

There is much more here than just an "Old Testament command" that we "don't have to obey" because we are "no longer under the law, but under grace". That is an unfortunate attitude that many in the Church possess, especially about this verse in particular. However, God gives a very specific reason as to why He wants the Israelites to bring the entire tithe: "so that there may be food in My house". Why was it important that there be food in God's house? Among other things, those who were called of God for full time service to Him (the Levites) were given this tithe as their inheritance. It's part of what God intended to help support His priests (Numbers 18:21, Joshua 14:4). The tithe was also the means by which the poor, orphans and widows were cared for in Israel (Deut. 14:29). Every three years, the Israelites were to contribute the tenth to a common fund within each city's gates for the purpose of caring for the priests and the poor.

We see both of these paralleled in the New Testament: elders and those "who preach the gospel" being supported by the church (1 Tim 5:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:1-14) as well as the poor and widows (Acts 6, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, Romans 15:25-28). A church cannot care for those that serve it full time and those who need to be served if its members are not contributing into a common fund administered by that church.

As a new friend of mine recently encouraged me, if you are struggling to give for this specific reason, or for any reason at all, I encourage you to be obedient to God and trust Him for the results.

Disciples will give where and when God leads them to give, trusting Him for the results, because they know that it all belongs to Him anyway.

Give to everyone who asks you,
and from one who takes your things
don’t ask for them back.
Luke 6:30

Honor the Lord with your possessions
and with the first produce of your entire harvest;
then your barns will be completely filled,
and your vats will overflow with new wine.
Proverbs 3:9-10