Giving: what to?
Last week’s article dealt with the question of “how much should I give?”, or, for those who read the blog, “how much should I keep?”. This is the most important question to get to work on, but once you have engaged with Jesus, realised you own nothing and made some decisions about how much you’re going to keep, we will all still face the question of how we steward the money we don’t spend on ourselves. What should we do with it?
In this week’s article I’m going to outline the three aims that scripture indicates our stewardship of money should be directed towards, together with an additional principle. We will then use the final three articles on money to discuss complexities in each of these areas.
I start with this principle because it is the one that is probably the most familiar to those of us who have been in church for a while. In short, the Bible is clear that one reason we are to give is to support what we often call ‘ministry’. Texts that mention this include 1 Timothy 5.17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour (pay), especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. For the scripture says, ‘you shall not muzzle and ox when it treads our the grain,’ and, ‘the labourer deserves his wages.’” This seems clear enough (although the principle of ‘double pay’ is often absent from discussions about setting your pastor’s salary)…
Paul’s relationship with his churches was complex and often affected whether or not he would receive financial support from them. However, his discussion make it clear that he certainly considers it the ‘norm’ that they should, even if for his own reasons he refuses such support. This is particularly clear in 1 Corinthians 9.5-12. The principle is summed up in Galatians 6.6: “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.”
Now the New Testament repeatedly states that all believers are in some way ministers. We all have a duty to encourage one another, to correct and teach one another, to watch out for each other, the share the gospel and contribute to the life of the church family. However, it is also equally clear that there are those who are especially released to do this to a greater degree than most. We tend to call these people now ministers, or pastors, or church workers, or whatever. The point is, some are called to do this with the majority of their time, and we should give our money to facilitate this.
I would also suggest that this is not just a matter of a few proof texts from the New Testament! The whole sweep of the biblical material lends support to this idea. Even in the Old Testament there was a priesthood that was set apart to serve God, to know the law and the scriptures, and to enable Israel to serve God; the priesthood was supported by the rest of the nation. Now there are big differences between ministers in the New Testament and Old Testament priests, but the basic idea of some being financially supported to serve the whole remains the same. Jesus, too, was supported by the gifts and hospitality of others in his ministry.
By mission, what I mean is sharing the good news of Jesus with those who don’t know him. In many ways, this point is simply an extension of the previous one. As Christians, we are all called to live missional lives. We are all called and sent out into the world to tell people about Jesus and show them what it means to follow him. But again, the Bible is clear that some people are financially released to do this with more of their time:
Paul is the best example of this. In his letter to the church in Philippi he thanks them for entering into what he calls “partnership” with him by sending him money to support him as he planted other churches. In his second letter to the Corinthian church he makes it clear that while he worked among them establishing their church he was supported financially by other churches.
Here too I would argue that this principle is not just supported by a few proof texts; the idea that we would give our money to release some people to spend most of their time sharing the gospel makes sense in the biblical worldview. As Christians, we believe, as Peter preached in Acts that Jesus is the only name by which man can be saved, and because of this we are sent to the ends of the earth to tell people about him. This is what it is all about!
As previous articles have suggested, God’s creation is good and we were made to enjoy it. Therefore, it is an evil that there are so many who are not able to enjoy God’s creation and cannot meet their basic needs. Over and over again the Bible is clear that we are to get involved in meeting the needs of others. There are so many verses it seems silly to pull one or two out, but just in case you want something concrete to look up, here’s a selection: Luke 12.33, Acts 2.45, Galatians 2.10.
Over and over again the poor are considered the special concern of God. James 1.27 says this: “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.” Pretty clear! And a good verse to read on a regular basis. James is good like that, another good verse to read every week is 1.22: “Be doers of the word, and nor hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
A final principle
It would be remiss to finish this article without making one final principle clear: justice is better than charity.
If you think about it, a lot of charity work only exists because of a lack of justice. Many people are poor because corruption and violence rob people of the means to make a living for themselves. Or we may think about the macro-economic injustice of a rich west oppressing the rest of the world; the vast majority of the poorest countries in the world were raped by England, France, Spain and America over the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and are still living with that legacy.
The Old Testament prophets are particularly vociferous about two things – about idolatry, and about a lack of justice for the poor. It’s is one of the most central complaints of God against his people, that they have oppressed the poor and denied them justice. It’s one of the main reasons Israel was dragged off into exile. And again, in the New Testament, the same message is emphasised. So charity and giving to the poor are necessary and right, but justice is better.
But how are we to divide our giving amongst competing needs? What should we allocate to each of these categories? What about dysfunctional churches, corrupt missionaries and poor-relief that hurts not helps? We’ll attempt to address some of the complexities in each of these areas over the next three weeks. Next week: complexities about giving to ministry.
Before then, it may be worth reviewing what you currently give to. Where do you give? How does it relate to the categories I’ve outlined? How much do you give to each? This then gives you a starting point to engage with the issues in the coming weeks…