Dan Popp
Christian giving: Concluding principles
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By Dan Popp
October 15, 2011

I'd like to recap the principles of Christ-like charity I've mentioned so far, then add a few more. We said that:

Christian giving is centered on Christ. This means that giving flows from Him, and to Him. Gratitude, not need, is the motivation — which turns out to be an important distinction in practice. Christ-centeredness also suggests that good giving may look bad, and bad giving may look good, to people who are not walking the Jesus path. Each individual believer will have a different giving assignment from the Holy Spirit. And this implies that giving is not dictated by law. Giving is grace. All real giving is voluntary, by definition.

God's principle is family first. Mrs. Jellyby in Dickens' Bleak House was obsessed with saving savages across the seas while her own children went ill fed and ill clothed. After fulfilling our obligations at home, the next sphere of charity encompasses those in the family of faith: saints before strangers. In contrast to the state religion's indiscriminate redistribution, both givers and recipients are responsible for the gift. And everyone in the church must work to make something of value, so as to provide for those outside the church as well.

That's what we've talked about in the first three articles in this series.

Extremely alert and active readers should have a question burning in their minds at this point: What about tithing? My answer is that, if giving is voluntary, not legalistic; and if the family, not the church, is the highest priority for help, then it follows that tithing is not a principle of Christian giving. But let's make sure we're using the same terms. The Old Testament standard was not a tithe (any old tenth), but the LORD's tithe — the first ten percent. (Leviticus 27:30-33) And there were two or three tithes. If the tithe to support the Levites is the same as the festival-tithe of Deuteronomy (see Chapters 12 and 14), then there was yet another tithe every third year. Tithes were given in kind; to convert them to money required an addition to the sum. I don't know any believers doing anything close to that. I suspect that most Christian "tithers" are using 10% as sort of a guideline or baseline for giving to their church, which is fine — it's just not tithing as it was commanded of the Jews.

Christians are not instructed to tithe in the New Testament, nor are there any examples of believers tithing mentioned there. Rather, it seems to me that the entire NT focus on being released from the Law precludes tithing as I've defined it. If you read the documents available to us from the early church, you'll find one (1) reference to Christians tithing — and the source is disputed.

Some additional principles of godly giving:

We give discreetly — not for show. (Matthew 6:2-4, Acts 5:1-11)

We give generously, sacrificially and expectantly, believing that God will reward us... (Matt. 10:42, Matt. 19:27-29, Mark 12:41-44, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 6:27-38, Luke 12:13-34, Acts 10:1-4, 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, Philippians 4:14-19, 1 Timothy 6:17-19)

...but not as a bribe... (Acts 8:18-21, 1 Tim. 6:5-11)

...and not indiscriminately — we give wisely. (Matt. 25:1-9, John 6:25-66, 2 Cor. 8:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12, 1 Thess. 5:14, 2 Thess. 3:6-15, 1 Tim. 5:3-16)

Let me stop and explain why 2 Cor. 8:15 is in that list. I'll back up to verse 13. "For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack — that there may be equality. As it is written, 'He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.'" (2 Cor. 8:13-15, NKJV) Paul is referring to the account of God feeding the children of Israel in the wilderness with manna. Notably in that story, everyone gathered his own food. "Every man had gathered according to each one's need" — his need, and the need of his family. (Read Exodus 16)

The Word of God entitles no one, not even the poorest person, to something he's unwilling to work for. I didn't say "unable," but unwilling. When upside-downers want to defend state compulsion as "charity," finding nothing resembling that in the Bible they will often bring up the law of gleaning. The government had nothing to do with gleaning, so it's irrelevant to their argument. But beyond that, gleaning was the practice by farmers of leaving the edges of their crops unharvested, so that the poor could come and pick their own food. Yes, imagine that: The unfortunate had to physically go to the field and work for their meals, like everyone else! How dignifying, compared to the statist solution of groveling dependency.

Christians give according to each one's ability. (Mark 14:8, Acts 11:29-30, 1 Cor. 16:1-3, 2 Cor. 8:1-5) While we should expect God to challenge us in our giving, He won't ask us to give what we don't have.

We give freely, without coercion. (Luke 22:52, John 10:10, Romans 15:25-28, 1 Cor. 13:3, 2 Cor. 9:5-7, Philemon 12-14)

We give to those who teach and govern the church... (Galatians 6:6, 1 Tim. 5:17-18, Hebrews 13:5-7, 3 John 6-8)

...but, as in all cases, givers as well as recipients are responsible for seeing that the gift is used righteously. (2 Cor. 2:17, 1 Peter 5:1-2, 2 Peter 2:14-16, Jude 4 and 11)

We give what we have earned by creating value for others. (Ephesians 4:28, Titus 3:14, Hebrews 13:16 — see also 2 Samuel 24:21-24 and 1 Chronicles 21:22-25) This can only mean selling our goods and services freely in the so-called "capitalist system;" that is, the market.

We give extraordinarily and heroically (Luke 21:1-4), as well as regularly. (1 Cor. 16:1-2)

Most importantly, we give because God gives. (John 3:16-17, 2 Cor. 9:15, James 1:17)

The thoughts expressed in this series were prompted by something I read a few years ago by Renew America columnist Nathan Tabor. He communicated in a few short sentences what it has taken me four articles to say. Mr. Tabor wrote, "We also see in Scripture that God has a welfare plan — people are to look to the family, then the church, then the community (1 Timothy 5:3-16, Leviticus 19:9,10, 23:22). The humanistic plan is publicly funded, coercive, and creates cycles of dependency. God's plan is community-oriented, voluntary, and empowers people."

Amen.

© Dan Popp

 

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