Mr. K. W. H. Howard
December 7th, 1973
By ‘Christian Giving’, for the purposes of this address, I refer to that which Christians give of their substance to the Lord their God, something which is a divine ordinance in the sense that it is ordained by God. It has a large and an honourable place in the Bible. Whole chapters are devoted to it. Numbers chapter 7, the longest chapter in the Bible, is virtually a list of subscribers. The whole of 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 is devoted to ‘Christian Giving’. If Holy Scripture be taken as our authority on the subject, we find it a recurrent theme therein.
In the Old Testament, the Law says, “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase” (Prov. 3, 9). In the New Testament, the Gospel says, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9, 7). On this subject, at least, law and grace are one; the one complements the other. Law sets forth the divine will in the matter; grace supplies the spirit of obedience to it. Thus, in the Old Testament, we find that the tabernacle in the wilderness was built of materials provided by the voluntary contributions of God’s people (Exod. chs. 25, 35 & 36). In the New Testament we find the Lord Jesus Christ seated besides the treasury in the temple (i.e. against the chapel-door collecting box, in modern terms), to observe what the worshippers gave, and in what spirit they gave, if they did so (Mark 12; Luke 21).
From these facts it is clear that the Lord not only requires, but takes pleasure in the giving of His people. It is clear that the essentially spiritual Gospel such as biblical Christianity is, avowedly and unashamedly uses certain material things in the course of its expression, application, and propagation. Because this must be so in a material world, any despising of the pecuniary affairs of God’s house and work as ‘mere secularities’, is a despising both of the ordinance and of its instigator.
The subject is large. I shall paint on a broad rather than a narrow ‘canvas’ and must refrain from detail in the hope that a more comprehensive view of basic principles will drive you to “Search the scriptures whether these things be so” in matters of particular interest or concern. There are, I submit, four questions broadly basic to the subject.
(I) What have Christians to give?
(II) To, and for what, should Christians give?
(III) In what way and manner ought Christians to give?
(IV) What is the outcome of Christian giving?
What have Christian people to give? This must be the initial question. It is impossible to give except one first has possessions. There are, I believe, three basic answers to be returned to this question.
(1). Christians have nothing to give but what they have received. “Freely ye have received, freely give”. (Mt. 10, 8). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father”. (Jas. 1, 17). And if, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven”, (Jn. 3, 27), clearly he can give nothing but what he has received. “And what hast thou”, asks the Apostle Paul, “that thou didst not receive?” (1 Cor. 4, 7). Thus Christianity is essentially a religion of giving, whether in matters of nature, or in matters of grace. God Himself gives being, life, and sustenance to all that is; and “the gift of God”, His gift par excellence, “is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Gift is of the essence of grace, whether common grace in matters natural or special grace in matters spiritual. Hence free grace is the ultimate motive for free giving, and we may be said to value the former to the extent to which we practice the latter. Meanness, niggardliness, miserliness and selfishness contradict the first principle of the Gospel because it is by the free bounty of a gracious God alone, that we have anything to give at all.
(2). There are some things which Christians receive which they cannot give, or pass on to others. There are things concerning which the “Father of lights” reserves to Himself the right and the ability to bestow. Have I received grace? That is something I cannot pass on. The fruit of grace and the spirit of grace in my life as a Christian may be given to others, but not the operation of grace; that is the prerogative of the original Giver alone to bestow. There is thus a certain area of ‘gift received’ which cannot be ‘given again’.
(3). Christian people can and should give of their ‘substance’, and it is in this field that our present interest lies. By ‘substance’ is meant the totality of the Christian’s possessions, both spiritual and temporal.
Spiritually, the man who is “rich toward God” in the “unsearchable riches of Christ”, has a good bank account, and on that account he must draw in his relationships with other persons. He will “love the brethren”, and he will care for the lost out of his spiritual substance.
Materially, a man’s substance comprises two basic things, (i) Labour Â— which is the creation ordinance governing his subsistence in natural things (Gen. 3, 19); and, (ii) Property or possessions, the right to own and hold which in a lawful and honest way, the
Scripture everywhere recognizes (e.g. 1 Tim. 6, 17; 1 John 3, 17). In the broadest of terms therefore, labour is a manÂ’s ability to earn, and property is that which he earns, or owns. All thinking about Christian giving must proceed from the elemental fact that what a Christian has to give in material matters, is either his labour, or his property, or both.
For practical purposes however, we must observe that Property’ is of two distinct kinds, (i). Goods Â— i.e. tangible things such as houses, lands, furniture, food, clothing, chattels, etc. (ii). Currency Â— or the recognized means of exchange in the society in which a man lives. In most parts of the world this is money, though it was not always so, and in some remote parts even today systems of barter take the place of money.
Here then, is what the Christian has to give in terms of material substance, and this gives rise to certain possible alternatives when the giving is put into effect. They are that:Â—
(a). In some circumstances it will be appropriate to give one’s labour without remuneration. Direct labour without material gain is authentic Christian giving; and by it chapels and houses have been built, the sick and needy have been helped, and God’s work carried forward in situations where only this method of giving could achieve the particular end in view.
(b). In some circumstances it will be more appropriate to give one’s property, which may be done in one of two ways. We may sell our goods in whole or in part, and give the proceeds, as was done by some in the Church of Jerusalem, Â— “as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things | that were sold” (Ac. 4, 34). Alternatively, we may give an item of | goods itself, either because we are better able to give goods than money, or, because the particular item is of more value in a given situation than its commercial value. This also is Christian giving, as in Numbers ch. 7.
(c). In most circumstances it is most appropriate to give of one’s money, simply because money is the normal means of exchange, and because what is needed in material matters to do the work of God and the Gospel in the world is most commonly obtained in exchange for money. There is no essential difference From the Christian standpoint, between money and goods Â— both are ‘property’. In general, money comes to us because we sell our labour to another. For labour we receive wages; with wages we buy goods, or give directly. God has ordained it so, and this is the commercial basis of human society Â— a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. So Adam was informed in Eden, “In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread”, (Gen. 3, 19). So also the Apostle Paul stipulates in the New Testament, “This we commanded you, that if any would not work, ? neither should he eat”, (2 Thess. 3, 10). David observed this
principle when he came to offer sacrifice on the altar erected on the threshingfloor of Araunah, “Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen. …. .”. (2 Sam. 24, 24).
If the first basic question of Christian Giving is Â— What have Christians to give? Â— the reply must be, Â— only what they have received of the Lord, viz. that which arises from the God-given ability to labour. We “honour the Lord with our substance” when we acknowledge that the physical and mental powers, and the natural gifts essential to our daily labour, in whatever trade or profession, is all of His provision. “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth. . .” (Dt. 8, 18). This ‘power’ is freely given, and it is applied in a way of elemental trading to ‘get wealth’. “Freely ye have received, freely give”.
To, and for what, should Christians give of their substance? This is the next main question. The answer in essence is that Christian giving is giving to the Lord our God, in His fear, and for His glory. That acknowledges the source of both what we give and what we withhold. It should also govern the spirit and the manner of our giving because it introduces the element of praise and gratitude into the practical work of giving.
O Lord of heaven and earth and sea
To Thee all praise and glory be;
How shall we show our love to Thee,
Who givest all?
We lose what on ourselves we spend,
We have as treasure without end
Whatever, Lord, to Thee we lend,
Who givest all.
To Thee, from whom we all derive
Our life, our gifts, our power to give!
O may we ever to Thee live,
Who givest all!
This governing objective however needs to be translated into specific and tangible matters, for our practical guidance. Scripture provides such guidance and I shall note three leading practical objects of Christian Giving.
(1). Christians should give of their substance in order to maintain the ministry of the Word of God. The Old Testament is precise and detailed in its prescription of what was to be done to maintain the Levites who were separated to the work of the ministry and had thus no opportunity to earn wages in the ordinary way. They were to be provided for from the incomes of their brethren whom they served in the service of the Lord. (Lev. 27, 32-33; Num. 18, 20-28). The New Testament follows the same line. Our Lord sent out
the disciples into the work of the ministry with explicit instructions, “Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses” (Mt. 10, 9). Why not? Â— In order that they might present a pathetic spectacle? Â— In order that they might quickly famish and become a liability, or be left to die? Not at all; but because the principle of their support was, “the labourer is worthy of his hire”. (Lk. 10, 7). The Apostle Paul enforces the same principle in 1 Corinthians 9, 14, where he says, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel”. The responsibility of gospel hearers in this respect could not be more plainly stated than it is in Galatians 6, 6 Â— “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things”.
The maintenance of the faithful ministry of God’s Word is thus a vital object of Christian Giving. It follows that such maintenance is the first charge on the funds of a gospel church. To provide for buildings, organs, etc, which are incidentals to gospel witness, leaving what is left to maintain gospel ordinances is to reverse gospel priorities altogether.
(2). Christians should give of their substance for the relief of the poor, and especially the poor of “the household of faith”. This ministry of benevolence lies very close to the church’s heart. In this connection I take the term “poor” to mean not simply pecuniary embarrassment as such, but even more the lack of ability to labour, or to care for ones’ self or for those for whom one is responsible, whether infants, sick, or aged.
Our Lord hinted at this ministry of benevolence when He said, “For ye have the poor always with you”. (Mt. 26, 11). In the church of Jerusalem there were occasions when there was so much poverty that the believers pooled all their property, goods and money, so that none was without necessities; they “had all things common”. (Ac. 2, 44, 45). The seven men usually regarded as deacons appointed to “serve tables” in this same church did so only because the church cared for her poor. (Ac. 6, 1 -6). There are at least ten references in the Acts and the Epistles to collections for the poor, while the whole of 2 Corinthians 9 is devoted to this aspect of the subject. Widows are especially mentioned; the fatherless; the aged and the infirm; and the financially oppressed Â— especially if their state is due to some form of persecution for the gospel’s sake. Although family obligations are not to be overlooked in such cases, there is also a ministry of benevolence belonging to the church.
There is a tendency today to think that no-one is “poor”; and all ministry of benevolence by the church is superseded by the various schemes of the welfare state. Christians are citizens and. as such, contribute to the state, and are entitled to benefits the state may offer. Yet nothing the state may do removes obligations scripturally imposed upon the church. Inevitably the administration of Christian
benevolence will vary according to circumstances. In some cases there will be a local and personal distribution to individuals. In other cases such a policy will not meet the need; some collective arrangement between a number of churches will secure an object which is unattainable to a single local church; these are secondary matters. What is clear is that Christians are under obligation to give of their substance to the Lord for the care of the poor.
(3). Christians should give of their substance for the furtherance of the work of the gospel. Its furtherance, that is, beyond their own particular church or community. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16, 15) is, on the one hand, simply an extension of maintaining the ministry of the word in the local church. But on the other hand, it involves practical considerations over and above those of the local situation;
so much so that it is entitled to be considered in a separate category.
The commission to evangelize implies that it is right for God’s word written to be made available to all peoples in their own languages. This calls for the employment of translators, publishers, and distributors, all of who must be remunerated. The commission further implies that it is right to preach the word of God to all peoples in their own languages. This calls for the separation of ministers to the task; their training in the languages concerned; and their maintenance while they are so engaged. It is unscriptural to separate Bible printing from Bible preaching; “Go ye. . .”; “How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Ro. 10, 13-15). The financial implications are quickly to be seen; and whether the commission is obeyed by one local church alone, or by a number of churches acting in concert, is secondary and incidental. Christian giving must always have in view the furtherance of gospel work.
Other objects may from time to time present themselves within the orbit of Christian giving. Generally speaking however they will fall within one or other of these three main categories.
In what way and manner ought Christians to give of their substance? What, in other words, are the practicalities of going about this privilege and duty of Christian giving? I shall attempt to reduce the very considerable amount of scripture teaching to three chief headings.
(1). Christians should give proportionately. “. . . let every one of you lay by him in store,’ as God hath prospered him. . .” (1 Cor. 16, 1). The giving is to be proportioned to assets, whether of labour or of property; and whether of goods or of money. I have stressed in reply to the first question that there is a general connection between labour and property; however there are certain variations as indicated by this clause, “as God hath prospered him”.
God “prospers” men in different ways by the degree of ability He gives to each in his labour. One has considerable physical strength, another is limited. One has greater mental capacity, another less. We are not all alike in these respects. God has arranged it so. He has “prospered” us differently in terms of our ability to labour, and therefore, in terms of the wages we can earn. The parable of the talents has some application here. (Mt. 25, 14-30).
Again, God “prospers” men differently according to where they discharge their labour. The same kind of work commands differing levels of remuneration in different parts of the world. Thus a Christian schoolmaster in England will not receive the same as his precise counterpart in many undeveloped countries. But, whether he receives little or much, God has “prospered” him accordingly.
Again, God “prospers” men with varying personal and family responsibilities; and such responsibilities must be taken into account, for “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. (1 Tim. 5, 8). A man blessed with a sizeable family and a man from whom God has withheld that particular blessing, receiving the same wages, will arrive at different conclusions with respect to their Christian giving, and rightly so.
This raises the question of tithing, or giving one tenth of income to the Lord. Here is an Old Testament principle of giving, objected to by some Christians on that ground. But what is the New Testament principle? If Gospel is Law fulfilled; if New Testament be Old Testament completed, surely the rate of giving must be higher, and not lower? In point of fact the only specific amount mentioned in a particular case in the New Testament is fifty percent. (Lk. 19,
“As God hath prospered him”, calls for personal self-assessment on this principle, and it will lead to giving proportioned to income and to other legitimate responsibility. There is no fixed amount, but there is a fixed principle in respect of proportionate giving; what the proportion is in a given case is a matter for the Christian’s settlement before the Lord to whose glory he gladly gives. The Book of Proverbs says something that has been proved in experience, both negatively and positively, by many: “There is that scattereth and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty” (11, 24).
(2). Christians should give systematically. “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store. . . .” (1 Cor. 16, 2). Here is another principle Â— that of regularity, and of regularity accompanied by discipline. It is to be laid by; and from its accumulated total will be taken whatever it may be right to give to the various proper objects as occasion may require. This is a much higher principle than simply putting a fixed figure each Lord’s Day
into the offering in the House of God and accounting that the sum total of one’s Christian giving. No, I am to “lay by” regularly; I am to guard it jealously, for it is not mine any more, but the Lord’s; and I am to dispose of it from time to time in ways that honour the Lord. For the most part, money is received regularly Â— weekly, monthly,
quarterly Â— and this at least makes it easier to be regular and systematic in our Christian Giving.
(3). Christians should give wisely; judiciously, discerningly;
with intelligence and understanding. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give. . . .” (2 Cor. 9, 7). In other words, giving must be with understanding as well as with feeling, “as he purposeth. . .”. The heart; the whole man must take counsel about what he shall do; there must be a weighing of pro’s and con’s, and an intelligent decision and purpose arrived at before the step is taken. Merely emotional giving is not purposeful giving. Giving with a blind impulse is not responsible giving. The notion that conscience will be satisfied so long as we give something to anything is mistaken. Christians should not be less judicious in their disposal of the Lord’s portion than they are in the expenditure of their own portion; if they are, they may find themselves in the position of supporting and wishing “God speed” to God’s enemies. (2 Jn. 10).
Within the three main fields of Christian giving, as outlined in reply to the Second Question, there are wide varieties of choice in the practical situation. For this reason we must heed the call to give with discernment and discrimination. To do so is really an application of the call to Try the spirits whether they be of God. . .” (1 Jn. 4, 1-3). Not all who will tell us they ‘minister the Word of God’ are worthy of support. Not all who claim to be poor and needy, and not every society that claims to help such, is worthy of support. In particular, it needs to be said in these ecumenical days that not every ‘bible society’ or ‘missionary society’ merits support on scripture principles of Christian giving. “Every man, as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give” Â— it is not too much to ask that the “purpose” of a Christian’s heart should be governed by the doctrines and principles of the Word of God. By all means let us give with warm hearts, as unto the Lord; but let us be sure our hearts are warmed with wisdom, and not with unthinking impulse.
What is the outcome of Christian Giving? I am not here concerned with the outcome in terms of ‘results’ in the work of God. If our giving has been according to the principles enumerated in the previous section, we may safely leave all such ‘results’ with the Lord to whom we gladly gave. I think rather with respect to the blessing that accrues to the Christian in his service of giving, as he remembers
“the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive”. (Ac. 20, 35).
(1). Christian giving produces joy in him who gives. The joy of giving our little to Him who gave so much. The joy of being found fellow-labourers with God. Paul speaks of grace bestowed on the Macedonian churches in this matter of giving, so that, in their case, they gave out of “a great trial of affliction” and “their deep poverty”;
and such was their joy that they gave “unto the riches of their liberality”. (2 Cor. 8, 1-4).
(2). Christian giving produces an increased ability to give. We hardly discover what we have to give until we take in hand the business seriously and systematically, “not grudgingly, or of necessity”. Only let the heart be gripped by this truly Christian liberality, and it will discover an “all sufficiency in all things” so that what has been begun can be rapidly increased. (2. Cor. 8, 6-8).
(3). Christian giving produces an increased thankfulness of heart in the giver. “The administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God.” (2 Cor. 9, 12). It ‘blesseth him that gives and him that takes’, and thankfulness rises up to God, especially on the part of the giver.
(4). Christian giving serves the highest ends of the gospel, in that it ministers to the glory of God and His everlasting gospel. “By. . . this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you”. (2 Cor. 9, 13-14).
The conclusion of the matter may most fittingly be the Apostle Paul’s in the chapter I have so freely quoted (2 Cor. 9, 15) Â—