Dan Popp
Christian giving: Family first
By Dan Popp
October 1, 2011

Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not. — Hosea 7:9a (ESV)

The initial article of this short series showed an example of good giving that looked bad. There's also bad giving that looks good.

    [Jesus] answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, 'Honor our father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, "What you would have gained from me is given to God," he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites!" (Matt. 15:3-7a)

In this confrontation, paralleled in Mark 7, Jesus condemns what could be termed, "disobedient giving." These lawbreaking legalists remind me of Saul rejecting a direct order from God, in order to make a showy offering to God (read 1 Samuel 15). The prophet's rebuke still echoes today: "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams." (v.22)

If you want to make Jesus angry, put in the offering plate what should have gone to your parents.

I said last time that Christian giving is not about complying with a law — it's a response of the heart. Doesn't the above passage contradict me? No, I don't think so. Although we may recite the old adage, "Charity begins at home," that's not really "charity" in the everyday sense of the word, is it? If you help my grandma, that's a gift. If I help her, it's payment of a debt. Our obligation to our families intersects with the topic of Giving only when a Pharisee or a politician forgets that no one can give what belongs to another.

The first principle to be gleaned from the passage above is, Christian giving must conform to God's commands, not to our traditions or fancies. Good intentions are not enough; we have to respect the revelation. But Jesus also shows here that my first priority is to support my own family. And not my church family — my plain old earthly family.

Paul instructed Timothy to run his church under this same principle:

    Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. ... But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:3,4,8)

Now, if the needy are to resort to their families first, then conversely givers must put relatives at the head of the financial aid line. Let me say that another way. Widows can't go to their children and grandchildren for help (as they're supposed to) unless the children and grandchildren have something to give. If the younger family members have already given everything they can spare to the church or some other group, the family first equation breaks down. I wonder how many American Christians have been taught this.

Immediately we run up against a competing principle. We can't have two or three "first claims" on our money. It's going to be very difficult for me to practice the Christian principle of family first if the government has already taken those assets to provide for other people's families. I may donate to a government-approved charity (up to a government-defined amount) without taxes. But if I support my own family according to my beliefs, those resources will be taxed — and therefore diminished.

The picture that emerges is one of different religions in conflict. And make no mistake, America has a state religion. "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." (James 1:27) It's always easy to identify the state church, by the way; it's the one supported by tax dollars. This state church chokes out the practice of Christianity by draining its resources.

These competing religions also produce different effects in society. Where Religion A prevails, and relatives take care of each other before seeking outside aid, we can expect to see stronger families. For their own security as well as their reputation, family members have incentives to make peace. Parents will likely teach their children to value hard work, education, skill, excellence, thrift and loyalty. Their dinner conversation will include how to save and make sound investments; rainy-day funds, and nest eggs.

In another society built on Religion B — one that forces individuals to support unaccountable strangers — those incentives are corroded or removed. Families are weaker. Virtues are forgotten. The "village," i.e. the government, supplants the family.

Final thoughts: A Christian who does not support his family has "denied the faith" because real faith yields obedience. And he is "worse than an unbeliever" because everyone is responsible for his own flesh and blood. Even a blind pagan knows that.

© Dan Popp


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