Giving Notes

Giving Notes

1 Corinthians 4.7 – What do you have that you did not receive?

Basic to the Christian faith is to recognize this: all that we have, we’ve been given. This is a profoundly different way of looking at our possessions and resources than what we’ve inherited or been taught, which is something like: I worked for what I have; I earned it. And of course that’s true to a certain extent. And labor is good, built into the fabric of creation, and we’re supposed to do it. But our ability to labor – to make or create or order things in creation – is wholly dependent on things like the circumstances of our birth, the condition of our bodies, our intellectual capacities, where we were born, and to whom we were born. None of these are things we had any control or agency over. So while we create things, we’re manifestly not the Creator. And while we have the capacity to give, we are manifestly not the Giver. We live, move, have our being in him. This idea is all over Scripture:

Psalm 50:10–12

[10] For every beast of the forest is mine,

the cattle on a thousand hills.

[11] I know all the birds of the hills,

and all that moves in the field is mine.

[12] “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and its fullness are mine. 

1 Samuel 2:7–8 (Hannah’s Song)

[7] The LORD makes poor and makes rich;

he brings low and he exalts.

[8] He raises up the poor from the dust;

he lifts the needy from the ash heap

to make them sit with princes

and inherit a seat of honor.

For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,

and on them he has set the world.

If all of this is true, and of course Christians believe that it is, then what we find is that we are people called to be stewards of our stuff. That’s the Christian way to think about it. Like the parable in Matthew 25, the master leaves us with some of his things and goes away:

[14] “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.

That’s about more than money, of course. It’s about serving with our gifts, talents and abilities, too. So let’s ask: what does the master want us to do with what he’s given us? In particular with our money: to whom and to what, do we give our money?

So, what does Scripture say about money and possessions? What, and to whom, do we give our money? Scripture envisions four things. These are broad categories, with overlap. 

1) First, we care for our families with our money.

This seems pretty obvious, and it is. There’s not much written in Scripture that directly says you should use what you have to provide for your family: food, shelter, clothing. It probably doesn’t get mentioned that much because the vast majority of people in human history have spent twelve hours a day seven days a week to do that. Most of the people that Jesus lived with and taught, and something like 70% of the people the New Testament was written to lived, as we would call it, ‘paycheck to paycheck.’ You worked that day so you and your family could eat that day. So this was what people did.

But occasionally, of course, people didn’t. So in 1 Timothy 5.8, Paul says:

[8] But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

How much of what we spend on those things is a matter of applying wisdom just as much as it’s a matter of arithmetic.

2) Second, we care for the poor with our money. (Deuteronomy 14.28-29, Leviticus 19.9-10, Proverbs 21.13, Matthew 6.2-4, James 2.14-17)

Caring for the poor runs straight through Scripture as a clear obligation for God’s people. Take this passage from Leviticus 19.9-10 as an example:

[9] “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. [10] And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.

Or from Deuteronomy 24.20-21:

[20] When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. [21] When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.

Deuteronomy 14 is a discussion of the ‘tithe’. That’s a word that means 10% and it usually comes up when we talk about biblical ideas for giving. Part of the tithe there was for a very specific purpose. Here’s verses 28-29:

[28] “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. [29] And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.

The prophets, both the major and the minor ones, are very focused on caring for the poor. (Lots of the psalms, too.) In fact, care for the poor is often used as a litmus test for faithfulness, in particular the faithfulness of the leaders. Like in Ezekiel 22.29:

[29] The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.

Or in Amos 2.6-7:

[6] Thus says the LORD:

“For three transgressions of Israel,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,

because they sell the righteous for silver,

and the needy for a pair of sandals—

[7] those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth

and turn aside the way of the afflicted..

-Lots of the wisdom literature, in particular the Proverbs, deal with this. Proverbs 21.13 is a good example:

[13] Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor

will himself call out and not be answered.

Isaiah 58 sums up a lot of the teaching of the Old Testament on caring for the poor and situates it as an act of proper worship. Here’s Isaiah 58.6-7:

[6] “Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of wickedness,

to undo the straps of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

[7] Is it not to share your bread with the hungry

and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover him,

and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

You can hear precisely these sentiments in Jesus’ own teaching on caring for the poor, which in Matthew 6.2 he simply assumes we will do: when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing. Not: if you choose to do this. It’s: when you do this. Right after Jesus told the story about the talents in Matthew 25, listen to what he commends:

[34] Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. [35] For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, [36] I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

The book of James carries this theme, too:
James 2:15–17

[15] If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, [16] and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? [17] So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are all about a collection Paul spent much of his life collecting for the poor churches in Jerusalem.

If we’re not doing this already, we need to do it. Some of us will be able to do this directly, providing assistance or help to folks directly in our lives. Others of us don’t regularly have ways to do that responsibly and systematically and in a disciplined way. So that means finding organizations who work with the poor and giving to them. 

3) Third, we give to the work of the Church.

One of the ways we render back to God what he has given us is by supporting the worship, work and service of his people. Another way to say this might be that we give to the building up of the kingdom of God, which happens through his church. 

Again, we can go back to the Old Testament tithe and take note that the Levites and priests and the upkeep of the tabernacle and later the Temple were supported by it. God’s people set aside other people to facilitate their worship and to shepherd them, and part of that setting apart was taking responsibility for their support.

And of course the structures have changed because we don’t live in a theocracy anymore, but giving to the worship and work of the church carries through into the New Testament. The Apostle Paul uses when he talks about supporting church workers in 1 Timothy 5.18:

[18] For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

Paul talks regularly about the support needed to do his work. Every evidence we have from both the New Testament and early church history makes it clear that giving was a regular and important part of worship from the very beginning.

When you give to Covenant you’re definitely supporting the folks like me who work here, and you’re helping to keep the facilities working and in good shape. That’s important. But there’s more than that going on. We take the idea of stewardship very seriously, so we give a bunch of money away, too. The percentage goes up and down depending on the year, but about 20% of our budget every year is given to missions. We give to missionaries in our city and around the world, and we give to organizations here in the city who work for the good of the city, and we support church planting. We’ve planted two churches and when we’re not giving directly to one of them we’re setting money aside to plant another one.

Those are dollars that go right out the back door, with no strings attached, that never come back. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do with our money.

So the encouragement here is what it always is. If you’re not giving in a regular, disciplined way to Covenant, make a plan to do it and start. 

4) Fourth, we celebrate God’s gifts to us.

That means exactly what it sounds like it means. We throw parties every once in a while and dance and make feasts to celebrate God’s good gifts. New babies, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, milestones, accomplishments, spiritual markers. In the Old Testament, God’s people had feasts built into the yearly calendar as a way of marking God’s faithfulness and goodness to them. 

The Sabbath day itself was considered a feast, and Scripture is punctuated with all kinds of feast and parties. In Matthew 21, Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. Jesus’ first miracle was making an absurd amount of really good wine for a wedding party.

One of the clearest lines about this in Scripture is from Ecclesiastes 2.24-25:

[24] There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, [25] for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

You might not have noticed it or thought about it in this way, but we recognize this every Sunday in our worship. The Lord’s Supper is a feast. Sometimes it’s called the Eucharist, which means “give thanks.” There’s a note in our order of worship about how the bread and the wine are pictures of the good gifts that God gives to us, offered back to him as worship. And right before we actually take the meal, we join together in saying The Great Thanksgiving. It’s a weekly rehearsal of what God has done for people like us; it’s a celebration of the gift of Jesus to us, and all of our other celebrations flow from it and back to it, endlessly, forever. For from him, and through him, and to him are all things.