Where our hearts are, there will our treasure also be, so says the old saying. Where are our hearts?
I want us to understand the importance of giving to the church, without feeling that our arms are being twisted.
We will look at wealth addiction, twisted scriptures and Christian principles of giving.
Can we be addicted to wealth? Let’s look at Jesus’ personal advice to a wealthy man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, or as we say colloquially, to get into heaven. Jesus’ blunt answer was to liquidate his wealth and redistribute it to the poor (Mark 10:17-31). It is a very unpopular idea in today’s political climate, but that was his answer. What can Christians in a capitalist country learn from this? Most of us are addicted to something. Sex, television, gossip, rock and roll, fatty foods and sugar are popular addictions. Modern addiction research suggests that learning self-control over our lives works in most cases. However, certain cases of addiction are out of control and, just like a severe alcoholic, sometimes only abstinence works. Is this the case for many addicted to their wealth? What does that say to us about giving to the church?
Abuse of Malachi 3:8-10
I once attended a church where it seemed that about half the time the preacher quoted Malachi 3:8-10 before taking up the offering. I once turned to my wife and whispered tongue-in-cheek that I was going to ask him to take down his pants because I wanted to see if he was also circumcised. This passage is sometimes abused by Christians who claim a New Covenant faith in almost all areas except for tithing. That particular passage was given under the Old Covenant and no longer applied in the letter to Christians. On the other hand, stealing is still wrong and God can still bless us for giving to him. So, for the Christian, rather than a letter of the law command, this is still a principle worth thinking about. We cannot out-give God.
Abuse of Matthew 23:23
I also get rather annoyed when Matthew 23:23 is quoted as Jesus’ authority for tithing in the church and for the same reason. Let’s look closely at the passage. Who was Jesus talking to when he said those oft quoted words to twist people’s arms in regard to tithing? Jesus said, “…these ought you to have done…” referring to tithing. However, he was talking to a Pharisee still under the Old Covenant. The blood of the cross had not yet been spilled and the cup of the new covenant not yet filled. Jesus did not give that command to the church. On the other hand, is it good to give a tithe to the church? Of course it is. But, remember that the church is not obligated to the letter of the law, but the spirit. The letter kills, but the spirit gives life. So what would then be the spirit of this law? Some have suggested that proportional giving is a good conclusion. Others have suggested that to give less than ten percent makes us worse than Israel. Still others suggest that not even that amount would be expected of the poor, but more generosity would be expected of the wealthy. What do other New Testament passages say about giving?
Abuse of 2 Corinthians 9
Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 9 and 16. Some have abused these passages to justify a weekly offering for the church, but that is not the context. The context of these offerings was for a special offering taken up over several weeks for saints at Jerusalem which had recently suffered a drought. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other passages which support giving at church for the Gospel, but that is just not the context of these particular passages. There is however one very important principle from chapter 9 and verse 6 which would apply across the board in any kind of giving. Sow sparingly and reap sparingly. Sow bountifully and reap bountifully. In this principle we have the implicit blessing of heaven for our generosity towards others including the church.
Abuse of Abraham’s Example
Some have said that tithing goes way back beyond the Levitical priesthood of the Old Covenant to Abraham’s example from a time before Mount Sinai and that Christians rely on the faith of Abraham not the letter of Moses’ law. That is certainly true, but if we are going to cite Abraham’s example of tithing, we need to cite it honestly. He may have possibly tithed at other times as his example could imply, but that would be an argument from silence. Abraham is only mentioned as tithing one time on a windfall, not regularly. On the other hand, Hebrews 7 also cites Abraham’s example and gives some interesting hints about tithing for the church. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek and Jesus our High Priest sits in that same order today. The change in the priesthood requires a change in the law. That is a hint and not a detailed explanation. We are required to fill in the blanks by the lead of the Holy Spirit, not by some authoritarian, arm-twisting of mere mortals.
I once had some dear friends who had left the Catholic Church because they were being pressured to contribute to a local building pledge. Other churches burden people with pledges to budget their giving, but this only serves to force people to make an oath that they may not be able to keep and may be highly offended by. At least that is the regional culture within which I work and I have told people that they can relax. I will not ask for pledges. Give none offense, right? Times change and incomes go up and down. Proportional giving takes that into account, whereas pledges do not. On the other hand, those who would like to pledge for personal reasons are certainly invited to do so, but without any pressure to be locked into that pledge without mercy.
Bitterness of Giving
God loves a cheerful giver. In the Greek we read that as a hilarious giver. On the other hand, there have been Christians who have given so much and become bitter. The disciples asked Jesus about this too in Mark 10:17-31. What do we get in return? I remember some dear friends who had been missionaries overseas. They built no retirement plan and no equity in a home. When they returned home in their old age, they had nothing. They had expected that the church would provide the difference. It did not. They experienced a great bitterness of soul and took years to build up even just a modest savings never ever making up the difference. They remained loyal to church service, but this serves as a warning for all of us, that sometimes giving too much can cause problems later on. On the other hand, what else is there worth giving to than the most important message on earth?
The World’s Most Important Enterprise
Over the years I have heard of different pastors who were asked to enter politics. Most have simply turned it down because they realize that the office of pastor is higher even than that of any national leader. It is a higher calling. So it is with that portion of our incomes that we give to the church. We are giving to the most important enterprise in the world, God’s work. Those who experience a windfall, either an inheritance, winning the lottery or a sale of a business are certainly encouraged to think about the church in their disposition of those funds. Those of us that can regularly contribute are also encouraged to do so in as consistent a basis as possible, so that the church is able to make some kind of budget.
God loves a joyful giver. If we cannot give with joy; if we feel pressured to do so; please do not give. Please give, if you feel joy in your heart to do so and remember one thing: where our hearts are, there will our treasure also be.