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I Went to Church Last Night

I talked to people. A teacher led us through a study and discussion of Mark 12. I prayed with three other men. I went home.

As I left, I realized I felt spiritually nourished and refreshed.

But I go to church all the time. Because I’m a Christian, and because I’m a pastor, and because I live under religious freedom. And I confess I take it for granted. Talking to Christians, studying the Bible together, and praying for one another is not only normal, it’s routine. And sometimes it feels like a routine.

What made the difference last night?  I think it was the fact that I have been away from my church family for about three weeks. I just returned from a ministry trip consisting of long travel days, preaching numerous times, and encouraging others in their ministries. I gave out more than I took in. I came home physically exhausted and spiritually spent. I was hungry for fellowship. I had wonderful times with Christians and people in ministry during the past few weeks. I was refreshed by being with them. But I missed my people. My church. Last night was like coming home and having a meal with my family.

Have you ever sat down to a meal and realized as you began to eat that you were really hungry? That’s what last night felt like. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for fellowship until I tasted it.

What I experienced last night renewed my appreciation for what I often take for granted. I love the people in my church, and I missed them. I need them, and I need the strength I draw from being with them. Yes, even the pastor needs this.

It also reminded me that Christians grow weary and hungry. The times we gather to praise the Savior, learn from the Word, and pray for one another provide much needed nourishment and refreshment. It can become routine, and we can take it for granted. Extended travel or periods of sickness may interrupt our fellowship. Hopefully our times away heighten our appreciation for being with fellow Christ-followers.  And as a pastor, I have the opportunity to facilitate and provide these times of spiritual renewal for our people week by week.

I’m really glad I went to church last night. I think I’ll go again Sunday :). In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Church Life, Pastoral Ministry

 

Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving (Part 5)

THE CONCEPT OF GRACE GIVING

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. This article will stand somewhat alone, but is best understood within the context of the overall biblical teaching on giving.

Most Christians know that giving of material and financial resources as an offering to God and to support the work of ministry comes with the territory of being a believer. Many have been taught that tithing (giving 10% of one’s income) is the accepted way to give. A key point in this article series is that tithing fades from view and grace giving comes to the forefront in New Testament Christianity. So the question is, what is “grace giving” and where is it taught in the Bible?

The most lengthy and detailed passage in the New Testament on giving is 2 Corinthians 8-9. Paul had been encouraging the churches around the Mediterranean to donate to a fund for the purpose of giving relief to suffering Christian brothers and sisters whom Paul knew. Evidently the Corinthian believers were not as responsive as other assemblies. Their reticence was the occasion for Paul’s gentle but firm exhortation in chapters 8-9 to participate in this offering. His communication to them provides us with a rich source of truth on the topic of giving.

It must be noted that the primary application of the instructions in these chapters relates to providing assistance to other Christians who have dire material need (8:4, 13-14; 9:1, 12). Much current teaching emphasizes giving to support the personnel and operation of the local church and missionaries who spread the Gospel. These are appropriate targets for financial giving, as we will see in the next article. But the fact that this extensive passage and other instructions throughout the Bible direct us to help needy people should shape or reshape our thinking and teaching on the subject of giving.

I believe the principles contained in this passage can be applied to the financial support of the local church and Gospel-spreading ministries. I don’t find any more detailed treatment of the reasons, motives, and practice of giving in connection with other instructions on giving. This seems to suffice for all.

The language and emphasis of 2 Corinthians 8-9 give rise to the concept of grace giving. Paul’s premise is that people who have experienced grace should willingly and gladly practice it. Financial giving is one way to do that.

Grace is the theme of Paul’s exhortation to give in 2 Corinthians 8-9. Note the uses of the word “grace” in these texts:

  • Moreover, brethren we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia (8:1).
  • Holding up the Macedonian Christians as a model, he says they implored Paul to “receive the gift” (8:4). “Gift” is another translation of the Greek word charis, grace.
  • He spoke of their giving as a “grace” that needed to be brought to completion (8:6).
  • He directly challenged the Corinthian Christians, who had an abundance of gifts operative in their assembly, to “abound in this grace also” (8:7).
  • Jesus’ “grace” demonstrated by giving up all for us is our highest and most compelling model (8:9).
  • He called the hoped-for offering from the Corinthians “this gift” (xaris) in 8:19.
  • God’s ability to “make all grace abound toward you” is the source of our ability to give (9:8).
  • The “exceeding grace of God in you” demonstrated by generous financial giving causes all to give thanks (9:14).

I’ll present the concept of grace giving with two simple truths and some explanatory notes points under each one.

  1. Grace is the Motivation for Giving.

Giving is a response to the grace of God.
The heart of Paul’s appeal is these words:  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (8:9). His words, “you know” emphasize that they have personally experienced God’s grace. Grace is favor that is not merited. Specifically here, it is the favor of God shown to us through His Son’s incarnation, humiliation, and crucifixion that made available to lost sinners all the treasures of heaven. God did this “for your sakes” – literally “because of you.”

Paul isn’t just reviewing doctrine; he’s reminding them of their own testimony. The natural response to being treated with such generosity is to want to do something in return. The Macedonians evidenced this response to the grace of God by “imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift” (8:4). Their heart cry was, “Please take this!”

People who have experienced the grace of God will want to show appreciation for it. They will also want to emulate it. The greater one’s grasp of what grace really means, the more fervently he or she will desire to express and demonstrate thankfulness for it. Giving freely and generously is one way to do this.

Giving flows freely from a willing heart.
Those Macedonian Christians were not capitulating to a manipulative hard-sell or dutifully fulfilling an obligation. They were “freely willing” (8:3). Paul tells the Corinthians the basis for their offering being acceptable was “a willing mind” (8:12). He calls their participation, not the fulfillment of duty, but a “proof of your love” (8:24). He commends them for their “willingness” (9:2). He exhorts every individual to make a personal choice, “each one . . . as he purposes in his heart” (9:7).

The motivation for grace giving is not pressure, guilt, or even a sense of being dutifully faithful. It is certainly not the hope of getting back as much or more than one has given. It is an overwhelming sense of being the recipient of abundant grace, and the desire to respond by giving in like manner.

  1. Grace is the Measure of Giving

It is marked by generosity.
People who practice grace giving do not calculate and “pay” the minimum amount supposedly required. They find ways to give as much as they can. Grace giving is calculated by considering the measure God uses in lavishing grace on us.

Again we see God’s generosity as the model for our grace giving described in 8:9, “that you . . . might become rich.” Paul described it this way in Romans 5:19-20But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul says, And God is able to make all grace abound toward you that you always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.

Grace is intrinsically generous. God pours abundant grace on us. When we practice grace giving, we emulate God’s generosity. The response to receiving abundant grace is practicing it. Notice Paul’s emphasis on abundant and generous giving in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9:

. . . that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. (8:2)

But as you abound in everything . . . see that you abound in this grace also. (8:7)

. . . that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack (8:14)

. . . this lavish gift which is administered by us (8:20)

Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time and prepare your generous gift beforehand which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation. (9:5)

. . . he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (9:6)

. . . that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (9:8)

. . .  while you are enriched in everything for all liberality (9:11)

. . . they glorify God . . . for your liberal sharing with them and all men. (9:13)

This abundant generosity is evident whether one has little or much, as shown by the Macedonians of whom Paul said that even in their condition of deep poverty they “abounded in the riches of their liberality.” (8:2)

It is according to individual ability.
Paul makes it clear that each person should give as he is able. This was already observed in the life of the early church (see Part 4).

The Macedonians’ gave generously, but it was “according to their ability” (8:3). Paul emphasizes that the standard for giving is not what someone else has but “according to what one has” (8:12).

Some people will be so moved by God’s grace and the pressing need that they will give more than they should, humanly speaking. They will give sacrificially, until it truly hurts, “yes, even beyond their ability” (8:3).

Conclusion
Because of the “grace” terminology, some may wonder if it is appropriate to encourage people to participate in opportunities to give. The fact that Paul exhorted the Corinthians demonstrates that giving is not an untouchable topic. We can and should teach and exhort people to give and make them aware of opportunities. But it is important to present the opportunity and responsibility to give in a way that accurately represents what Scripture has to say about it.

I have addressed this in previous articles, but want to reiterate it here. Many Christians equate giving with tithing. But there are some clear distinctions between tithing and the New Testament teaching on giving.

  • Tithing was practiced by the Jewish people under the Old Testament system. It is not taught to or practiced by Christians living under the benefits of the New Testament.
  • Tithing was a requirement. Grace giving is a voluntary response.
  • Tithing is a set amount – 10%. The amount of grace giving is an individual choice, though it is marked by generosity.

Grace giving is our response to the way God graciously treats us. It flows freely from a willing heart. It is marked by generosity. We participate according to our individual ability.

To what people and to what kinds of ministry work should we give? I will address this in the next article on The Targets of Grace Giving identified in the New Testament.

 

Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving (Part 4)

GIVING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Today’s Christian gains big-picture understanding of what the Bible teaches about financial giving by learning the Old Testament background and foundational truths related to the subject. This was presented in the previous article. But the New Testament contains the full teaching that guides what we do in the church and in our individual Christian lives. Join me as we survey Jesus’ teaching, the practices of the newly-formed first century church, and the instructions given by the apostles.

Jesus’ Teaching on Giving
Some say Jesus spoke on the topic of money more than anything else. I haven’t personally verified this assertion, but I do know that He had a lot to say about giving. The following is representative of His teaching on this subject.

  • The right condition of our relationships is a prerequisite to giving.
    Jesus said, Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24). We must endeavor to resolve offences between ourselves and others before we offer any gift to God.

    Jesus made it clear that our view of God and other people is more important than any material offering we could present. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices (Mark 12:33).

  • Openhanded generosity is the measure of giving.
    Probably the best-known example is the poor widow who gave her two mites. The monetary value was minimal. The proportional value was incredible because it was “all that she had” (Mark 12:41-44).

    Jesus also encouraged generosity when He said, Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38).

  • Invest earthly material possessions in ways that produce eternally lasting dividends.
    Jesus taught this truth when He said, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20).

    He also spoke of giving to others as an eternal investment when He said, Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys (Luke 12:33).

    He used the parable of the unjust servant to convey the life lesson, . . . make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home (Luke 16:9). This means to use our money in a way that will influence people toward believing in and following Jesus so that we will spend eternity with them.

In the previous article, Three Ways People Give, I demonstrated that Jesus mentioned tithing (giving 1/10 of one’s income) on only two occasions. In both of them He was addressing the sinful attitudes of certain Jewish people. He was not instructing His followers to practice tithing. The examples above are representative of Jesus’ teaching on giving. He emphasized the condition of the heart, having right relationships with God and others, being generous, and investing for eternity.

The Newly-Formed Church’s Practice of Giving
Now we’re getting to the principles and practices that directly involve the New Testament church. The book of Acts relates a number of occasions in which the first Christians gave financial offerings. Their practice is our example. Let’s learn from them. Here are the characteristics of giving in the early church.

  • Giving with voluntary generosity
    According to Acts 2:44-45, the brand new Christians had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Their actions evidence spontaneous generosity that would be considered extreme in our day.
  • Responding to people with specific pressing material needs
    This is evident from Acts 2:45 (above). Also, much of the Apostle Paul’s instruction on giving includes appeals to provide assistance to needy believers. 2 Corinthians 8-9, the most extensive New Testament passage on financial giving, is an appeal to contribute to a relief fund for impoverished brothers and sisters in Christ. In another example, Paul thanked the Philippians for giving to meet his material needs as he spread the Gospel (Philippians 4:10-20).
  • Channeling offerings primarily through the leadership of the church
    This doesn’t mean the leaders were the primary recipients of all that was given. The people brought their offerings to the leaders who then administered the use and distribution of the funds.

    This is described in Acts 4, which contains another example of the spirit of generous sharing that permeated the infant church. It tells us the people actually liquidated their land and houses in order to have funds to assist their needy Christian friends. Verses 34-35 say, Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. Verse 37 specifies that Barnabas having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. They entrusted the funds to the church leaders who oversaw the distribution.

    Acts 11 reveals that the church in Antioch collected funds for the relief of the Jerusalem believers. Designating Barnabas and Saul (later Paul) to deliver it, the church sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:30). In other words, it was delivered to the leaders in the church of Jerusalem who determined how it would be used.

  • Confronting sinful heart issues related to the practice of giving
    Ananias and his wife Sapphira participated in the real estate liquidation program. Ananias brought part of the funds and “laid it at the apostles’ feet” just as the others had done (Acts 5:2). But evidently he and Sapphira had conspired to give the impression that they were donating the full amount of the proceeds of the sale (verse 3). The Holy Spirit revealed this to Peter, who accused Ananias and Sapphira of lying to the Holy Spirit (verse 4).

    Both Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead (verses 5-10). Word spread of this occurrence and produced a healthy fear that suffused the young church. The sinful heart attitudes of hypocrisy and pride seem to be a perennial problem. Malachi confronted these issues as did Jesus. The exposure of these attitudes and the forcefulness with which God dealt with them should send a strong message to us today as well.

  • Giving voluntarily according to ability
    This was the pattern from the beginning. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea (Acts 11:29). Paul commended the Macedonian believers for giving according to their ability and even going beyond that (2 Corinthians 8:3). He also said that what a person gives is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have (2 Corinthians 8:12).

The Apostles’ Instructions on Giving
This will be a fairly concise view of the overall teaching of the Apostles on financial giving. For now I am omitting the instructions on the causes, projects, and people we support with our giving. These will be addressed in a subsequent article on the targets of New Testament giving. The following instructions focus on the motivation, attitudes, and practice of financial giving.

  • Give in response to the grace of God.
    He is the Supreme Giver. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32). This tells us that giving starts with God, is modeled by God, and is possible because of God. Paul motivates the Corinthians to give by reminding them, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). See also 2 Corinthians 9:15.
  • Give your whole self to God.
    We no longer offer animal sacrifices. But Paul exhorts us, Present your bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Also, in the context of encouraging financial giving, Paul says of the Macedonian Christians, . . . they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God (2 Corinthians 8:5).
  • Give sincerely, not hypocritically.
    Paul exhorts Christians saying that “he who gives” should do it “with liberality” (Romans 12:8). The Greek word translated liberality means singleness. It conveys the idea of being without pretense or hypocrisy. We are not to give for show, or to impress people, or so we will receive appreciation or recognition or a financial advantage.
  • Give intentionally and systematically.
    Paul told the Corinthians, On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come (1 Corinthians 16:2). This particular offering was for the relief of suffering Christians in Jerusalem. Paul wanted them to be proactive in preparing for this offering by setting aside an amount after each week’s work and corresponding to each Lord’s Day (“on the first day of the week”). Rather than arrive unprepared or make a spontaneous decision, they should decide to participate in the giving opportunity, designate an amount, and keep it for that purpose (“lay something aside”). Paul did not specify a percentage, but told them to make their gift proportionate to their income (“as he may prosper”).
  • Give from your abundance.
    People who are financially prosperous should be ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
  • Give from your poverty.
    The Macedonians are the models once again, who in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality (2 Corinthians 8:2).
  • Give as an act of worship.
    Because Jesus Christ is our full and final substitutionary sacrifice, we are not obligated to make blood sacrifices at a temple. But we still bring offerings to our gracious God. In addition to the sacrifice of praise, we can also offer the sacrifice of giving to help others who are in need. So we should not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16).

In addition to these apostolic instructions, 2 Corinthians 8-9 contain a high concentration of teaching on giving. The concept of grace giving is front and center in this passage. It is here that we are exhorted to “abound in this grace also” (8:7)—the grace of giving. I will devote the next article to developing, primarily from 2 Corinthians 8-9, The Concept of Grace Giving.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2015 in Church Life, Current Issues and Events

 
 
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