Giving is a commandment. Tithing isn’t – that’s an Old Testament commandment that has since been done away with (Hebrews 8) – but giving of our means cheerfully and with a loving heart on the first day of the week absolutely is (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
We practice it where I worship, most likely you practice it where you worship, and I’m not advocating us doing away with that anytime soon; that would be against Scripture and defeat the very purpose of what this site is all about.
What I am suggesting is that maybe, possibly, hopefully, prayerfully, we should think about giving some of our funds to other purposes as well.
Depending on who you are, that may not be a drastic thought, but for others, it may be revolutionary. Charitable giving to religious institutions accounted for nearly 1/3 of all monetary donations in 2016, and twice as much as giving to education, which came in second ($122.9 billion and $59.77 billion, respectively).
What is the church doing with all that money?
An excessive focus with financial gain was part of what Martin Luther, the great reformer of the sixteenth century, railed against. Thesis #55 (out of his famous 95 Theses) states: “They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.”
Though not expressly denouncing the sale of indulgences as a practice itself, Luther was adamant that the Catholic Church not become obsessed with attaining to prosperity, but rather that they should focus on their spiritual mission: seeking the salvation of the lost.
We can do the same thing sometimes.
When elders run the congregation like a CEO, CFO, or any other acronym that starts with C and ends with O, the focus shifts from the spiritual and towards the physical. All of a sudden, the questions being asked are not, “What can we do to further the Gospel?” but “Why aren’t people giving more?”
Again, giving on the first day of the week is a commandment from God, and while there is a time and a place to emphasize the need to give more, there is also a need for us to emphasize giving of our means to people and causes that are near to us as well.
Consider what John wrote in one of his epistles: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).
Ruh roh, that sounds pretty intense.
But short of picking up a weapon and actually ending someone’s life, how am I a murderer? Fortunately, John expounds on this statement a few verses later:
“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
In a word? Benevolence.
In two words? Charitable giving.
“Hating your brother” in the direct context of 1 John 3 is looking at your brother and refusing to open up your time/wallet/heart to help.
“But I can’t help brother flat-tire because I gave all my money to God!”
Funny, that’s exactly what the Pharisees did as well.
Jesus roundly criticized the religious elite of his day for syphoning money away from the direct needs of their environment and “giving it to God” instead: “But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” He ended that conversation by calling them “hypocrites.”
Did God expect the Jews to give? Yes.
Did God expect them to give quite a bit? Yes.
But did God also expect them to take care of the needs they saw amongst others? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
What does this mean in practical terms?
Suppose that we set aside in our hearts that we are going to give $200 to the church every week; I have no idea what your exact number is, but $200 is a nice round number to deal with.
We know the church does not have any immediate needs at this time, either because the elders haven’t announced any or we haven’t noticed anything on our own, but brother flat-tire is having a really hard time with his 1982 Cadillac Cimarron that he drives 30 miles both ways to work and back, and could use some money to fix his car and get to work. If he doesn’t, there’s a good chance he’ll either miss time or get fired outright.
What’s a brother to do?
Try this: instead of giving all $200 to the church, why not cut it in half and give $100 in the plate and $100 to your brother to fix his car? You don’t even have to tell him it’s from you (Matt. 6:3-4); just put the money in an envelope and slide it underneath his door.
Want an even bigger thrill? Sign it, “With love, from your brother.”
Here’s the question: have you fulfilled your duties, both to God and your brother?
I would argue with a resounding yes.
Because he is a Christian, it’s well within the bounds of Scriptural authority for the church to help him out if it came to that, but how does the story change if it’s a non-Christian?
To answer that, there’s a few basic principles that need to be covered:
- Benevolence is never used to spread the Gospel – The people in Jesus’ time followed Him because of the food, but as soon as the teaching got difficult, people started leaving. That’s a lesson people need to learn today (John 6:26, 66)
- The Church is Restricted on What It Can Do, Financially – If nothing else, Paul’s stringent commandments on giving to “widows indeed” teaches us that church-giving is limited; the Scriptures teach that giving was only to Christians (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35; 11:27-30; Romans 15:25-26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:1, 12)
- Each Church’s Benevolence Is Independent of Others’ – When the need for relief in Judea arose because of the famine, each church gave from its own treasury to aid the saints there. No central organization to channel money through, no administrative fees, just charity.
- Much of the Benevolent Work in Scripture is Individual Anyways – Let me ask you what means more: getting money from a company or getting money from a person? Flip it around and ask the same question: is it better (and more efficient) to give money to an organization that will take a cut right off the top, or
handit directly to an individual?
Unfortunately, many people in the world today are so detached from where their money is going that they have no idea who or what they’re helping in the first place.
“My money went where? A church in New Zealand that’s recovering from a massive tsunami? Oh that’s nice…what’s a tsunami again?”
The Biblical model is one Christian identifying a need, examining his resources, and then doing whatever possible to meet that need.
But again, we can’t do that if we’re throwing money at the church every week.
Does your local congregation of saints need money to keep the doors open and the lights on? Yes.
Does your local congregation need funds in order to prepare for an emergency? Yes.
But do the people and causes in your life need help as well?
Yes.Last modified: January 22, 2019