April 27, 2011

Giving is a good thing.

When Ian Hodder of MSN wrote an article on giving, entitled “Feels so good”, he immediately got my attention by asking the question…”is philanthropy as good as sex?” Then he continued by presenting some scientific evidence that it is! Note his comment…

“Well, not exactly, though scientists have discovered that the act of donating to charity stimulates the brain’s pleasure centers. What they see is a “glow” in the same brain areas that occur during sex or a good meal.”

Now if that doesn’t do it for you, that is, provide the best reason to be a generous giver, then let me try another angle.

When I was asked to write a short article on giving, I agreed, since it is one of my passions and also one of the most misunderstood aspects of a believer’s faith life. Then, later, I realized how comprehensive the issue is – scripture is loaded with comments, commandments, examples as well as criticisms on the subject.

So I decided to keep it short and sweet by simply referring to a short passage in Matthews’s gospel, where Jesus addresses giving in 4 short verses. Let’s first read the passage first, then I‘ll make a few comments and close by leaving behind some scripture references for further study for those interested in more depth.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

There it is, short and simple.

Number 1: Giving was expected. It was a commanded obligation in the Old Testament (DT 14:22) and not one dismissed by Jesus, the inaugurator of the New Covenant. It is one of many evidences of ones right standing with God; that is it emanates from a right heart, made “righteous” by redemption in Christ. Jesus simply calls it an act of “righteousness”.

Number 2: Giving WAS, in fact, so common place in Jesus time that He addresses the ostentatious, self righteous, misbehavior associated with it, and Gods displeasure with how it was often handled. Giving by the religious community had become nothing more than a public display for self promotion rather than the act of worship, extension of faith, and utility to fund ministry and the needs of the poor, as God originally intended. So Jesus condemns the publicity associated with it, while assuming his audience understood the utility provided by, and spiritual basis for, it.

Therefore, lesson one is, Christian, you are expected to give, but how you do it is the point in question, not whether giving is optional.

Number 3: Giving should be spontaneous too. Not letting your “left hand know what your right hand is doing” speaks to the over lording of a gift. That is, we ought to give and let go instead of master planning how we will manipulate circumstances and or add to our reputation by giving. When we do that we take all of the grace out of giving and it becomes more of a bribe than a gift. Of course Jesus is not addressing the very real wisdom of giving with intention and to those charities worthy of God’s tithe – the need to exercise prudence and sound judgment in giving. Nor is Jesus ignoring the very real needs the wealthy have today in estate planning, bequeathing of gifts to charities and the IRS tax implications. Jesus is addressing those who want to over control this simple act of joyful worship. The apostle Paul essentially said the same thing in 2 Corinthians 9:7.

Therefore, I suggest lesson 2 is this; recognize the gift never really belonged to you. God gave it to you in the first place so give it joyfully to a worthy recipient –and let go of any ownership!

Finally, Christ provides us with the best motivation for being a glad and generous giver – God will repay us for every act of charity we give in His name (note verse 4). He sees whether our giving is a legitimate act of faith and worship when we express our thanksgiving for all He’s given us through the obedience of giving – the foundation of which, scripture declares is the tithe.

Yea, that was a mouthful, but I had to get it in because giving has many more aspects to it than the one point Jesus was making in his sermon on the mount – that God is looking for self surrender not self aggrandizement in our outward act of giving. True worship, i. e. giving, doesn’t need an audience or applause, it only needs an object and that object is an invisible Spirit, named God.

Therefore, you can give without man’s notice because the Spirit of God sees all things and rewards true faith (Luke 6:38).

For more references on biblical giving, I refer you to the bullets below. And for two books on giving that are short but substantive, I refer you to John MacArthur Jr’s : “Giving God’s Way” as well as Randy Alcorn’s “The Treasure Principle”.

Passages and Principles from the Old Testament on giving:

  1. Giving has two levels. It is derived from, two motivations or reasons:
    • First it is commanded – Dt 14:22; 1 Cor 16:2
    • Second is that it is a privilege or service born of gratitude to God – Dt 16:10, 15&17
  1. Giving has three purposes, it serves three distinct utilities:
    • First it honors God (Lk 19:1-10, 2 Cor 8:21); dishonoring Him if we resist – Mal 4:7-10
    • Second it serves the needs of others those in the ministry – Dt 14:27, Rom 16:25-27; 1 Cor 9:14 it serves the poor and needy Dt 14:28,29
    • It serves the giver in terms of temporal reciprocity – Lk 6:38; 2 Cor 9:6-8 and eternal rewards – Mt 6:19-34; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 9:6-8

The tithe is the minimum mandate for giving – (Dt 14:22) – above tithe giving commanded as well (Dt 16:10, 17) It is commanded in the Old testament – DT 14:22-29 It is the minimum standard in the New as God’s total ownership is noted in the “this age of grace” – 1 Cor 6:19, 20; 2 Cor 8:1-5, 9, 11,12.

  1. In the Old Testament the “Law” kept men in the channel of obedience and blessing – Dt 4:23,24, 39,40; 5:29; 6:17; it was our tutor, micro manager.
  1. In the New Testament we are given freedom to choose obedience which leads inexorably to blessing and given the tool of “Discipline” to keep us in the channel of obedience and blessing – 1 Tim 4:7.

New Testament reinforcement and adaptations of Old Testament giving principles:

  1. The church is not the temple – believers are – (1 PT 2:5; 1 Cor 6:19)
  1. The tithe is the Lord’s not the “churches” – (Mal 3:9)
  1. The tithe is the minimum mandate for giving – (DT 14:22-29; 2 Cor 8)
  1. God owns the “first fruits” (NU 8:17; EX 22: 29; 23:19; 34:26), Christ being our “first fruit” of resurrection and life(1 Cor 15:20)

This tithe is to go to the Lord’s work, ie those who do His work, the ministry, vocationally, (Nu 18:21-24) not to your personal bills, though those bills include religious activities or education (Nu 18:25- 32)

  1. Believers are not to neglect those who minister to them – (DT 14:27; gal 6:6, 9,10)
  1. The Body of Christ (believers) are supposed to support those who engage in ministry, vocationally, as leaders; those who spearhead ministry to the recipients who need it, doing that which lay/ministers are not able to do, as they are limited by other constraints, (Phil 4:10-20, 1 Cor 16:1-9; 2 Cor 81-11; 3 JN 5-8; TI 3:13) and “supporters”, givers, are to do so generously (2Cor 9:6-15)

All Christians are recipients of grace and thereby ministers responsible for gospel proclamation and disciple making – 1 Pt 2:9, Acts 1:8, Mt 28:18-20

  1. There is no segregated clergy class today, per se. All Christians are ministers of the gospel and ambassadors for Christ. However God does call a percentage of his people for vocational – (NU 8:14-19; 1 Cor 9; 1 Tim 3; 5:17, 18)
  1. Every elder is expected to be paid from those he serves as a spiritual leader – (NU 18:29-31; 1 Tim 5:17, 18; Rom 16:22-29; 1 Cor 9:1-14). Your giving to support “serving elders”, is your offering to God, by faith; that you believe He will provide generously enough where you can live abundantly on 90% (JN 10:10).

– Article contributed by Jim Cote, Founder and President of the Master’s Men ministry.