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Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving (Part 6)

THE OBJECTIVES OF GRACE GIVING

It’s time to get practical. So far, we’ve looked at grace giving as a biblical principle and concept. Please read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 which are foundational to this article.

To whom and what should we give? As we consider grace giving, is there any biblical guidance regarding the people and causes we should support with our finances?  The answer is readily apparent from specific instructions given by the Apostles and from the practice of the first New Testament believers.

The primary aim of grace giving is to glorify God. Hebrews 13:16 says of grace giving, “. . . with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” But our financial offerings are not burned up on an altar. They provide practical benefit to someone or something.  The New Testament specifies who and what should be the targets of our giving.

As I have studied and restudied this topic, I have observed two main objectives of grace giving. They are helping people in need and supporting Gospel work.

HELPING PEOPLE IN NEED
This has great prominence in the New Testament, which is why I list it first. I wouldn’t say it’s a higher priority than the other objective, but it is often marginalized in comparison. It isn’t in the scope of this article, but believers and church leaders should thoroughly study and consider the implications of the New Testament principles and pattern of giving to help people in need. The Scriptures provide clear instructions and examples. It is abundantly clear that helping people with material provision during times of genuine need is elemental to New Testament Christianity.

Let’s look at the relevant Scriptures.  Note that Paul, Peter, James, and John all address this.

Believers In Need
As stated in previous articles, 2 Corinthians 8-9 contain the most extensive instruction on financial giving in the New Testament. Here Paul taught the principles of grace giving and applied them to helping other believers who are in need.  He called their financial offering “the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (8:4) and “the ministering to the saints” (9:1). The purpose of it was to “supply their lack” (8:14). The “administration of this service . . . supplies the needs of the saints” (9:12). Paul was not introducing anything new. This was the practice of Jesus’ followers from the founding of the church (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35). This kind of giving should flow naturally within the body of Christ.

Paul also exhorts believers in Romans 12:13 to manifest love for others that includes “distributing to the needs of the saints.”

In 1 John 3:16-17, John uses the example of Jesus laying down His life for us to urge us “to lay down our lives for the brethren.” He then pointedly applies this principle, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

Both Believers and Unbelievers
According to Galatians 6:10, Paul says we are to “do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Our responsibility is first to other Christians, then to anyone, including unbelievers, in our circle of awareness who has a need.

Orphans and Widows
The familiar words of James 1:27 tell us that true religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.” To “visit” means to look after and care for. Those left behind after the death of a loved one often experience material needs in addition to the need for comfort. This is an opportunity for the body of Christ to practice the grace of giving.

Caution
In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 Paul makes it clear that we are not responsible to help those who will not work to provide for their own needs. In fact, those who refuse to work and who depend on others to provide for them are considered disobedient to God. One of the great challenges of providing relief to the needy is discerning whether someone is a worthy cause or not. In being generous, we need to be good stewards as well, and not enable those who habitually rely on others to support them.

Grace giving is our response to God’s grace to us and a reflection of it. Anyone who has walked with God has experienced His gracious provision during times of material need. One way we can reflect His grace is by helping others who lack. Our generous assistance is not merely a humanitarian deed, it is an act of worship. As the writer of Hebrews says, “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (13:16).

SUPPORTING GOSPEL WORK
This second objective of grace giving includes the people who are engaged in the work of spreading the Gospel and in establishing and leading churches.

Giving to those involved in spreading the Gospel
Paul asserts the general principle behind this objective in 1 Corinthians 9:7-14. He defended his right to receive financial support as a preacher of the Gospel, even though he was reluctant to actually accept it. His argument for this right in verse 14 is taken from Jesus’ teaching, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” This is either a summation of Jesus’ instructions such as Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:8 or a quotation of unrecorded teaching by Jesus. Paul spent his life spreading the Gospel. He taught that it was right for those reached with the Gospel to provide materially for those who ministered to them spiritually. He asked them, “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?” (verse 11).

In our present day, this would include missionaries, church planters, and others engaged in Gospel-spreading ministries, of which there are many examples – rescue missions, orphanages, campus ministries, and more.

Another key passage that presents Gospel work as an objective of financial giving is Philippians 4:10-20. Paul expressed his deep gratitude to the Christians in Philippi for providing for his material needs. He said, “. . . in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only.” He thanked them because they “. . . sent aid once and again for my necessities” (verse 16). He even called it “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (verse 18). Their generous gift to support Paul’s Gospel-advancing work was an offering to God.  Thus it is clear that when we give financially to support those who spread the Gospel we are performing an act of worship toward God.

A third key passage on this objective of financial giving is 3 John 5-8. John commends Christians who “send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (verse 6). The ones they supported are those who “went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles” (verse 7). It seems these were individuals who traveled to share the good news of Jesus with people who needed to hear. They did not rely on unbelievers for their support, but accepted the help of brothers and sisters in Christ to help them on their way.

Giving to those who shepherd churches and teach the Word
In addition to people engaged in direct evangelism, there are those who do the Gospel work of shepherding churches and teaching them the Word. These carry on the work of those who first shared the Gospel and started the churches. Paul refers to them in two places. The first is 1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’ “

An “elder” is one who holds an office of leadership in the local church. My belief is that the New Testament terms of “bishop,” “elder,” and “pastor” all refer to the man or men who hold the primary leadership positions in the local church. Paul’s instruction contains the dual role that pastors have, of leading (“rule well”) and feeding (“labor in the Word”). He states that it is right for those who do this as their life’s work to receive compensation worthy of it.

Paul gives a similar instruction in Galatians 6:6, specifying who should provide this material compensation. “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.” It is the biblical responsibility of those who benefit from the leadership of their pastors to, according to their ability, provide for the material needs of those men.

The Scriptures do not speak specifically to financial provision for facilities and programs. These often constitute a major percentage of a church’s budget. While the primary objectives of our giving include the people who evangelize and shepherd, it seems legitimate to fund properties and programs that help accomplish Gospel work and facilitate church life. The extent of this of course is up to individual believers and church leaders.

CONCLUSION
The final article in this series will continue in a practical direction as I will share specific suggestions for How to Implement Grace Giving.

 

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.

 
 
 
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