Giving: A Fresh Perspective
by Angelo Gratsounas
Interact Magazine 2000
Volume 11 Number 1
Many churches and denominations these days are experiencing financial pressures, due at least in part to a reduction in people’s giving. The continual cry is that many Christians today ‘don’t know how to give’.
A common response to the problem has been to use all manner of guilt-inducing measures to get people’s hands digging deeper into their hip pockets. This rarely results in a fuller collection plate, sometimes even having the reverse effect! Furthermore, what does it say about the way in which we view giving? How is God glorified when the whole concept of giving has such negative overtones?
I am convinced that Christian men and women, young and old, will give and give abundantly when they so delight in God that they develop a relentless passion to see Him glorified.
When people see that giving financially will promote the glory of God in their community and among the nations (Rom.11:36), they will give and give.
When men and women take their eyes off themselves and seek first the kingdom of God (Matt.6:33), when they live with the Cross in view, and when they live in light of the return of Jesus, they will give and give.
When men and women take seriously Jesus’ radical call to commitment, to deny self, take up the cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34), this too will be reflected in their attitudes towards giving.
For what we spend our money on reflects what we are committed to. Whether as individuals or as churches we must examine our goals and priorities in light of the Scriptures. Are we passionate about the glory of God? Are we concerned for the salvation of the lost? Do we crave the spiritual growth of Christ’s church? Do we look forward to the return of Jesus and the consummation of His kingdom?
How can we transform the mindset of the average Christian who is simply not excited about giving? What do we as pastors and leaders need to do to develop within our congregations a new attitude and enthusiasm about being involved in this vital aspect of the Christian’s ministry?
1. Develop Bible-soaked, God-intoxicated, Christ-centred and purpose-driven ministry.
In my time at Narwee Baptist we as pastors have not spoken often on giving but we have spoken often about the glory of God, the centrality of the Cross and God’s purposes for His church as we have systematically taught the Bible. And in the sovereign mercy of God the budget has been met and raised annually to new heights!
In raising finances, it matters what we preach, how we preach and what we are committed to as a church. In all that we do, we should relentlessly seek the glory of God and allow His word to direct our plans and goals. At Narwee, our Purpose Statement encapsulates our commitment to ‘glorify God by bringing people to Jesus and fellowship in His family, leading them to Christ-like maturity, equipping them for loving service in the church and effective witness in the world’.
In light of this, when I recently preached on giving I spoke with great passion and joy. It went something like this: ‘How do you feel when it’s time to take up our collection each week? Do you get excited when the offering bag is nearing your aisle? Do you ever say, “Enough singing, enough announcements, enough prayer. Let’s get to the offering. That’s my favourite bit of the service. I’ve come prepared, my wallet (or offering envelope) is ready”?’
What do you see when the offering bag is handed down the aisle? Let me tell you what I see. I see the glory of God. I see our missionaries in China, Thailand and Bahrain, sent out to proclaim the gospel. I see pastors supported to lead this local church. I see three Christian Studies teachers sharing the gospel each day in three local high schools. I see our new children’s worker who is reaching the children of our community and their families. I see food hampers provided for the needy. I see a growing youth ministry. I see a developing evangelistic and discipleship ministry. I see the glory of God. What do you see?’
When people are passionate about God, they will support the work of God. This will only take place when ministry in the local church is Bible-soaked, God-intoxicated, Christ-centred and purpose-driven.
2. Teach our obligations in giving.
The Bible gives us these guidelines for who we are to give to:
a) Provide faithfully for your family.
We are responsible to work hard and provide food and shelter for our families. ‘If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’ (1 Tim.5:8). Further, it is the Christian’s responsibility to work hard and not be lazy and so win the respect of the unbeliever (1 Thess.4:11,12).
b) Be generous to the poor and needy.
Knowing and loving God motivates us to sacrificially serve others and alleviate human need and suffering: ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?‘ (1 John 3:16,17). In 2 Corinthians 8,9, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to help their impoverished brothers and sisters.
c) Support those who teach you the Word of God.
‘The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain” and “The worker deserves his wages” ‘(1 Tim.5:17,18). People whose evident giftedness and calling bring them into full-time Christian work can only remain there as God’s people adequately support them. This commitment obviously needs to be extended to the upkeep of their ministry—running expenses, buildings, etc.
d) Give to support the wider work of the gospel.
The Philippian church provided practical support for Paul as he spread the gospel (Phil.4:10-20). They looked beyond their own church and were concerned to be partners with him. We too ought to financially support ministry in schools, universities, prisons and on the overseas mission fields.
e) Pay for what you owe.
We also have a responsibility to pay our taxes and submit to the governing authorities and be seen to act with honour and integrity in financial matters in our own lives and within our community (Rom.13:5-7).
3. Emphasise attitude not amount.
God is not so much concerned about the amount we give or even what percentage we give. Rather it is our attitude and level of sacrifice that matter most to Him.
Haddon Robinson writes,
‘I’m impressed by the formula of John Wesley, who, when he made thirty pounds, lived on twenty-eight pounds and gave away two. Then he made sixty pounds, but he knew he could live on twenty-eight pounds, so he gave away thirty-two. The next year his income rose to ninety pounds, but still he lived on twenty-eight pounds and gave away the rest.’ [H. Robinson, ‘Money: When You Move to Meddlin’, in Mastering Contemporary Preaching, Hybels, Briscoe, Robinson, IVP, (1989), 107]
i. Give sacrificially.
In His own ministry, Jesus commended a poor widow who gave little yet sacrificed greatly (Luke 21:1-4). It cost her to give, while the rich had simply put in a tip!
In 2 Corinthians 8,9 Paul encouraged the Corinthians, whose initial enthusiasm to help the poor in Jerusalem had waned, to come through with the generous gift they were initially so eager to contribute. He tried to stir them up, even to shame them into proper action, by praising the generosity of the Macedonian churches.
Macedonia had an exploited, colonial economy and on top of that the Christians there had to suffer a great deal of persecution. And yet instead of using their lack of resources as an excuse for reducing their contribution, the Macedonian ‘experience of want’ had the strange effect of multiplying their generosity. They gave far beyond what could reasonably be expected of them: ‘For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability’ (2 Cor.8:3).
I wonder whether we are willing to sacrifice even little things in order to give—skip a meal, a movie, a new coat or another pair of shoes. The Macedonians saw the need and gave! In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul wrote, ‘Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.’ He added that the effect of the generous giving of the Corinthians would extend beyond Jerusalem, leading to expressions of thanks to God.
If we did give generously we would have a lot of surprised tax agents and financial advisers, wouldn’t we? Imagine your financial adviser asking for your income in trying to develop a financial plan. You explain that although your gross income is $50 000 per annum, you give $5000 to your church, and sometimes $6000. Then you add that you also contribute $1000 per year to other ministries, so that will have to be taken into account. Is your financial adviser or tax agent ever surprised?
ii. Give enthusiastically and cheerfully.
‘Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’
Paul did not have to twist the Macedonians’ arms to get them to contribute. They gave spontaneously. Indeed they pleaded with Paul for the opportunity to help relieve the poverty of others (2 Cor.8:4). They counted such an opportunity a privilege, literally a ‘grace’. They really believed Jesus when He said it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 2O:35).
iii. Give out of grace.
Although Paul had expected a purely pragmatic response to his appeal the Macedonian attitude was quite different: ‘And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will’ (2 Cor.8:5). It was not just money they were contributing; it was themselves. It was not just the church in Jerusalem to whom they gave, says Paul. It was to the Lord Himself.
At a CYC event a few years ago, Ray Galea remarked that in his many years of ministry, no one has ever said, ‘I have a problem with generosity. Will you pray for me?’ Money is the great blind spot, isn’t it! God wants us to excel in the grace of giving (2 Cor.8:7)!
If the Macedonian example ought to have been a spur to affluent first century Corinth, how much more should it challenge affluent twenty-first century Australia! I fear that for many of us giving is often the neglected grace in our Christian lives.
iv. Give regularly.
This is an important principle. Paul urged the Corinthians to regularly set aside a sum of money on the first day of the week for the collection for the poor in Jerusalem (1 Cor.16:1-4). Likewise, it is helpful for the functioning of local churches and the work of mission if Christians set aside money regularly to be used for gospel ministry.
v. Give proportionately.
It is important to decide for yourself what you are going to regularly give. Paul urged the Corinthians to set aside a sum of money in keeping with their income (1 Cor.16:2).
In the Old Testament the people of God were asked to contribute a tithe. But does the Bible require that Christians give a tithe (ten percent) of their income to their local congregation? The answer is no. There is nothing in the New Testament that commands or even suggests that a tithe should be the standard for Christian giving. The references to the tithe as the standard of giving in the O.T. are tied up with the religious and tribal structures of national Israel. Therefore the laws relating to tithing are not binding on Christians today. We are no longer under the law of Moses, but under grace.
But, and this is a big but, surely if we are giving sacrificially, enthusiastically, spiritually, generously, regularly and cheerfully, then we would not want to give less than those who gave under the law, would we?
I think it is very important that we teach people early in their Christian lives the importance of giving to God’s work, with real down-to-earth illustrations. Speaking on giving at an evening service a few months ago, I tried to help our young people see that it is not that difficult to give a proportion of their income to the work of the gospel if their focus is right.
I said (with a smile), ‘Imagine that you have just worked your first few hours at McDonalds and you receive your first pay packet, say $50. If you work on giving 10% to God’s work, that means you would give $5 out of your $50. It doesn’t seem very much does it? You still have $45, and that’s $45 more than you had last week. So you are still in front and you have contributed to the spread of the gospel.
Wouldn’t it be great if we all gave at least 10% of our incomes to the work of the gospel? Think of all the extra Bible teachers, pastors, church planters, evangelists, missionaries, university workers, etc., that could be released for ministry!
I must confess that I have never had any difficulty preaching on giving because, ultimately, giving is about the glory of God. Giving is about ministry. Giving helps take the gospel to our local community, to our nation and to the ends of the earth, that God might be praised.
Haddon Robinson writes,
‘Why must preachers continue to bring up the difficult subject of money? Why do we teach people to give, when we know it can be misunderstood? Because when we discuss money, we’re talking about commitment, and commitment is our domain. A commitment is only cheap talk unless a person puts her money behind it. We want people to be serious about Jesus Christ. And we know that if they are serious about Jesus Christ, they will show it in their giving.’ [H. Robinson, ‘Money: When You Move to Meddlin’, in Mastering Contemporary Preaching, Hybels, Briscoe, Robinson, IVP, (1989), 112]
Rev. Angelo Gratsounas is Senior Pastor of Narwee Baptist Church, NSW.
© Angelo Gratsounas (1 March 2000)