Saturday, June 21, 2014

Biblical Giving

In the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the Bible’s plan for leadership in the Church.  An important part of that plan is how we handle the finances, the money, in the Church.    

One of the quickest ways to identify that something is not right in a local church is when it has a preoccupation with building up the organization rather than building up the people.  If the leadership of the church is constantly calling on the people to sacrifice themselves for the church, something is wrong.  It’s supposed to be the other way around.  The leaders are supposed to sacrifice themselves for the people.  We’re not supposed to build man’s kingdoms, but God’s kingdom.

If you want to know whose kingdom you’re building, just look at the pastor’s salary.  If his salary is much higher than most of the church members, then you’ve just figured out whose kingdom you’re building. 

You can also look at where the rest of the church’s money is going.  Does a significant part of the money go to help those who are in need, the poor, the homeless, or believers that are being persecuted around the world?  Does it go to missionaries to help spread the gospel?  Or does almost all of it stay right there in the church? 

One of the scandals of the churches in America is that only about 2% of annual giving—two cents out of every dollar—goes to foreign missions.  Yet some churches are building churches with weight rooms and fast food restaurants in them. 

One of my friends in the Philippines was a missionary for a Word of Faith church.  They had a big missions conference in which he and several other missionaries were highlighted.  They raised more than a million dollars at that conference for missions.  But the missionaries only got a tiny fraction of it.  The church kept all the rest. 

 This reminds me of when a previous pope came to America a few years ago and was scolding America for not being more generous to the poor.  Then he flew back to the Vatican which is overflowing with gold and gems and priceless treasures.  If he really means what he says, why doesn’t he sell off some of those treasures to help the poor? 

Jesus said, “They say things, but they do not do them” (Matt. 23:3).  Too many pastors want you to sacrifice so they can enrich themselves.  We need to be alert to these things!  We need to beware of false prophets!   

Money is one of the big danger areas of Christian ministry.  As my professors at seminary put it, look out for the gold, the girls, and the glory. 

But of course finances are a necessary part of any church.  As a human institution, there are expenses involved in running churches.  So how are we supposed to deal with money and giving in the Christian Church?  What does the Bible teach?

In the Old Testament, giving was a religious/political tax.  In other words, most of it was not voluntary.  You had to do it by law.  The Law of Moses was the law of the land, and the giving requirements of the Bible had the force of law. 

Most Christians are familiar with the Levitical tithe taught in the Old Testament (Num. 18:21-24).  This was 10% of your income that was paid to the Levites.  The Levites then paid 10% of that to the priests (Num. 18:25). 

But this is only a part of the giving that was required under the Law of Moses.  Most Christians have never heard of the Second Tithe.  This was an additional 10% of your income that was used in different ways in different years (Deut. 14:22-29).  In some years, it was given to the poor.  In other years it was used to pay your expenses and the expenses of your family for traveling up to Jerusalem for the pilgrim festivals.  Now I’ve always thought that that was a pretty interesting tax:  a tax to provide money for you to go and enjoy yourself in the presence of the Lord.  It was used for your lodging, your food, your travel expenses, etc. 

Then there were the corners of your field that you didn’t harvest, but left for the poor (Lev. 19:9,10; 23:22).  There was no set amount for this:  you could leave as much of your field unharvested as you like.  But the minimum was usually considered to be around 2% of your crop. 

There were also all kinds of first fruits offerings.  We spoke recently about the first fruits of the barley harvest (Lev. 23:10) and of the wheat harvest (Exo. 34:22; Lev. 23:17,20).  But there were also first fruit offerings of your figs and dates and other fruit (Exo. 23:16; Num. 18:12,13; Neh. 10:36).  There were first fruits offerings of your flock and other animals (Lev. 27:32; Num. 18:17; Deut. 15:9, 18:4), there was even a first fruits offering of your dough (Rom. 11:15).  There was the first fruits offering for a first born son, which Mary and Joseph paid for Jesus soon after he was born (Exo. 22:29, Luke 2:23).  Through the course of the year, all these first fruits offerings added up to about 3-5% of your gross income.  Then there was the Temple tax, which paid for the expenses of the Temple, including the offerings that were offered up on behalf of the entire nation (the public offerings).  This is the tax for which Jesus told Peter to catch the fish with a coin in its mouth (Matt. 17:27).  And then on top of this were the freewill offerings! 

 When the Romans came, they added many more taxes on top of this.  So you can see why the people in Jesus’ day hated tax collectors.  But although the people protested the heavy Roman taxes, there is no record that they ever protested the Temple taxes, even though this was more than 25% of their income!  In fact, they always had a sense of pride in paying these taxes, since they were commanded not by man but by God.  The only time they got upset was when these religious taxes were misused by people in power, like the high priest. 

So how were they able to be happy under such a heavy religious tax burden?  One of the reasons is that these religious taxes were part of a covenant relationship they had with God.  This covenant relationship not only required them to do certain things, God himself also promised that he would do certain things.  And for their obedience to this covenant, God promised many earthly blessings.  And certainly when you look at history, the Jewish people have been blessed by God in extraordinary ways when they obeyed their part of the covenant.  In the long run, it proved to be a good deal, and they knew it. 

But all of this is in the Old Testament, a covenant God made with the Jewish people.  What does the New Testament teach about giving? 

Many pastors in Gentile churches teach tithing because they believe it is Biblical.  But the New Testament says very little about tithing.  What do they base their teaching on?  They can’t base it on the Law of Moses, because as the Bible very clearly teaches, we who are Gentile believers are not under and never were under the Law of Moses (see our blog on “Is the Law of Moses for Everyone?” or our sermon “We’re Not Under the Law of Moses”). 

Besides, the Law of Moses teaches that the Levitical tithe belongs to the Jewish Levites, not Christian Churches (“And to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting,” Num. 18:21).  The Levitical tithe is what Jesus was referring to when he said that the scribes and Pharisees should not neglect the tithe (“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others,” Matt. 23:23).  But I’ve never heard anyone teach that we as Gentile Christians should give our tithe to Jewish Levites as they did. 

So on what basis do these pastors teach tithing?  Many of them appeal to the time before Moses, when the Laws of Noah were God’s covenant with man.  As we saw before, those Laws of Noah were made by God not just with Noah but with all his descendants, which includes you and me today.  These are the laws of God that were in force in the time of the patriarchs:  the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Now it’s true that the Laws of Noah themselves do not mention anything about giving.  But is there anything we can learn from this period of time about God’s plan for giving?

Maybe you remember when Jacob was running away from home that he had a dream of a ladder ascending to heaven and the angels of God going up and down on it.  At that time, he still hadn’t decided whether or not to serve God.  So he made a deal with God:  “And Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will protect me on this journey that I am taking, and he gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I return to the house of my father in peace, then the LORD will be my God” (Gen. 28:20,21).  What a deal!  And if God passed this test, what would Jacob do? 

“And this stone that I have set up as a standing stone will be a house of God; and of all that you give to me I will surely give you a tenth (a tithe)” (Gen. 28:22).  Jacob promised that he would give a tenth to God.  Where he got this idea from, we don’t know.  But it may show that this was a general expectation at the time, that you would give a tenth to your god.  Otherwise, why would he mention it like this?

Ancient Standing Stones in the Desert in Israel
Of course, he also mentions setting up a standing stone as God’s “house,” which sounds very bizarre to us today.  This was also a common practice in those days, but one that the Bible later rejected.  So that makes it a little difficult to base tithing today on Jacob’s promise, especially if no one else ever did it.  Or did they? 

There is one other mention of tithing in Genesis, when Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, had his great victory over the kings from the north.  He gave a tenth, a tithe, of the spoils of his victory to Melchizedek, who was a priest of El Elyon (the most high God).  “‘And blessed be God Most High (El Elyon), who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tenth of all” (Gen. 14:20). 

The Bible clearly tells us here that El Elyon is the same God as the God of Israel:  “And Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I lifted up my hand (I have sworn) to the LORD (YHWH) God Most High (El Elyon), owner of the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 14:22).  This is extremely important, because it tells us that other people were still worshipping the true God at that time:  that Abraham was not the only one.  This means that when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, he was paying tithes to the God of the Bible.     

But Melchizedek was not only a priest, he was also the king of Jerusalem, or Salem as it was known at that time (“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; and he was a priest of God Most High [El Elyon],” Gen. 14:18).  This is when Jerusalem was still a Canaanite city.  Melchizedek’s name in Hebrew (Melchi-Zedek) means “King of Righteousness.”  So you can see why Christians later saw him to be a symbol of the Messiah.  The Messiah will also one day be a King of Righteousness in Jerusalem, where he will rule and reign both as priest and king. 

So this means that when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, he was symbolically paying them to Jesus.  This is exactly how Hebrews 7 understands this event in the New Testament (Hebrews 6:20-7:10).  And so these pastors say that we must pay the tithe, too. 

Now this is really a very interesting Biblical argument for paying tithes.  The only problem is that Hebrews itself does not say that because of this we should pay tithes.  Instead it only mentions this event to prove that Messiah’s priesthood is greater than the Levitical priesthood of the Law of Moses.  Another problem is that Abraham only did this one time.  There is no mention of him paying tithes after this event.  So although this passage is a very interesting way to prove tithing from the New Testament, it’s not completely convincing.  After all, if God really wanted Christians to tithe, why wouldn’t he just say it directly? 

The connection of the Messiah and Melchizedek was also of interest to Jesus himself.  One of his favorite psalms to quote was Psalm 110, which says that the Messiah is a priest “according to the manner of Melchizedek” (“The LORD swore and did not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the manner of Melchizedek,’” Psa. 110:4). 

This psalm, which is a psalm of David, starts off by saying, “The Lord says to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Psalm 110:1).  Why did Jesus like to quote this verse?  Who are these two Lords?  The common interpretation at the time was that the first one was God and the other was the Messiah.  But as Jesus points out, if the Messiah is David’s descendant, why would he call him “Lord” in this psalm?  Do you call your great-great-grandson lord?  Not usually.  The older one should get more respect.  So why does David call the Messiah “Lord”?  Because the Messiah is not simply the son of David, but is also the Son of God, and that’s why David calls him Lord. 

One of the key descriptions of Messiah’s victory in this psalm is in vs. 3, which says, “Your [the Messiah’s] people will be a freewill offering in the day of your power” (Psalm 110:3).  Or we can also translate it, “Your people will volunteer freely in the day of your power.”  The key idea here, whichever way you translate it, is that Messiah’s people will follow him freely.  They will obey him freely.  This is the distinction that Paul is often aiming at when he points out the difference between Law and Grace (Rom. 6:14).  When we are under Law, it is an obligation to fulfill all the requirements of the Law.  But when we are under Grace, we do God’s will willingly and freely. 

As he points out in Romans, we are now sons and no longer slaves (“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Rom. 8:14,15; also Gal. 4:7).  A slave obeys because he must.  But a son obeys because he understands the will of the father and agrees with the father. 

The point in Psalm 110 is that the followers of the Messiah serve him freely, not under obligation.  But the teaching of the tithe is a teaching of obligation—that you must do it.  So using Melchizedek to teach tithing doesn’t really fit with the message of the Bible.  Instead, this psalm says that the followers of Messiah will serve him freely, with glad hearts, and not under a sense of obligation. 

So if the New Testament says so little about tithing, what does it teach about giving?  Jesus himself did not receive any of the many different kinds of giving to religious workers mentioned in the Old Testament.  Why not?  Because he was not a Levite and he was not a priest.  This means he was not eligible to receive tithes or any of the other kinds of giving for religious workers in the Old Testament.  So how did Jesus survive in his ministry? 

Back when I was in seminary, Oral Roberts, a famous TV evangelist, came out with a book claiming that Jesus was rich (a teaching others have since imitated).  After all, he said, Jesus had someone handling his finances—Judas!  The disciples had their own fishing companies!  But is this really what the Bible says about Jesus?    

A few minutes ago I mentioned the first fruits tax that Mary and Joseph paid in the Temple for Jesus as their first born son (Luke 2:23).  On that same trip to the Temple, when Jesus was still a baby, they also had to bring an offering for Mary’s purification after giving birth.  This is mentioned in Luke 2:24:  “and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’”  Usually this offering was a lamb and a pigeon or turtledove.  But if the family was poor, they could offer up two birds instead (Lev. 12:6-8).  Since the Bible says that they offered up the two birds, this tells us that the family was quite poor. 

Later, in his adult ministry, Jesus tells us that “The foxes have dens and the birds of heaven have nests, but the Son of Man doesn’t have any place he can lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).  In other words, Jesus didn’t own his own home, he didn’t even have a rented apartment.  Now this saying is a little unexpected, since he was the first born son in his family.  Normally, the first born son would inherit the double portion of his father’s estate, which would include his house.  And it seems quite certain that Joseph had already died by this time.  So the only way to explain this saying is that Jesus must have renounced his claim on the family property and left it behind.  Here is another way in which we see Jesus leave his earthly family and cleave to his spiritual family.  When he began his ministry, he left all his worldly possessions behind.  As with so much else in his ministry, he doesn’t ask us to do something that he hasn’t himself already done. 

So how did he and his disciples stay alive?  Luke tells us that Jesus was not just followed around by his disciples, but also by some women that he had healed, including a couple of ladies that were well off (“and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses:  Mary, the one called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many other women who were contributing to their support out of their private means,” Luke 8:2,3).  In other words, Jesus’ expenses were met by those who believed in his ministry—most of whom, as it says here, were women.      

What can we learn from this?  First, that all the money given to support Jesus and his ministry was in the form of voluntary donations.  It was not connected at all with the giving system of the Old Testament.  It had nothing to do with tithes.  The giving to his ministry came from people that already had many financial obligations.  They all had to pay all those Roman taxes and Temple taxes.  But because they believed in Jesus’ ministry and his message, they gave freely to support it.  Second, Jesus kept his expenses low.  He didn’t build buildings.  He and his disciples met in people’s homes, as well as in public places like synagogues and the Temple in Jerusalem. 

When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, he told them to do the same:  (“And whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house’.… And stay in that house, eating and drinking the things they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages,” Luke 10:5-7).  This humble use of people’s homes kept their expenses very low.    

They continued to meet in people’s homes after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, as well as in public places like the Temple (“Every day both spending a lot of time with one mind in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house,” Acts 2:46). 

But after the Holy Spirit descended during the Feast of Weeks (the Feast of Pentecost) that we talked about recently, something very unusual started to happen.  Not only were there all kinds of miracles happening (Acts 2:43), but the people began to sell all their possessions and give to the needs of other believers (“they were selling their possessions and their property and they were distributing them to all as anyone had a need,” Acts 2:45).  Why did they do this?  They were doing exactly what Jesus had told them to do:  sell everything, give to the poor, and come follow him. 

But you say, they weren’t giving to the poor.  They were giving to each other.  Yes, but Romans 15:26 tells us that there were many poor people among the believers in Jerusalem (“For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem”).  The poor don’t have to go through the eye of a needle to enter the kingdom of heaven.  There are always many more poor people interested in the gospel than rich people. 

Today we would call this a redistribution of wealth among the believers (“For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had a need,” Acts 4:34,35).  But unlike the other times this has been tried in history, this was entirely voluntary.  Nobody was making them do it. 

This is the whole point of the story of Ananias and Sapphira.  They didn’t have to sell their property (“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God,” Acts 5:4).  The problem was that they lied about what they had done, keeping back some of the money for themselves.  It was not a problem for them to keep some.  They could have done that if they wanted to.  The problem was that they lied, pretending they were giving it all.  They were trying to look good, to look spiritual in the eyes of men, while all the while they were not truly surrendering everything to God.  They were saying one thing and doing another.  And God took their lives because of it!  No wonder great fear fell on all of them after that (Acts 5:5,11). 

This is the time when the apostles were serving tables every day (Acts 6:1,2).  Why were they doing this?  They were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do:  serve one another.  He had washed their feet, like a servant would do.  They were serving food to people, like a servant would do.  They were following his instructions to the letter.  They had got the message. 

This same attitude spread to other churches, too.  I mentioned recently that the church in Rome was famous for feeding hundreds of people every day.  The church in Antioch had the same spirit.  When a famine broke out in Judea, they sent money for the believers in Jerusalem and Judea.  Paul and Barnabbas were the ones who delivered this money (“And in the proportion that any of the disciples [in Antioch] had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.  And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders,” Acts 11:29-30).  This ministry Paul continued to do later when there were needs among the believers in Judea:  he collected money from the churches he had planted in different places to take to Jerusalem. 

One of these collections is mentioned in 2 Cor. 8.  This gives us an important insight into the motivation of the early Church in its amazing generosity.  “For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality” (2 Cor. 8:13,14).  Like a family, we are to share with each other.  When someone has a serious need, we all chip in to help each other.  Paul compares this to the manna in the desert (“as it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack [Exodus 16:18]),’” 2 Cor. 8:15).  God provided just enough to meet their needs.  Not too much, not too little, but just what they needed. 

No required amount is ever specified for any of these collections made by the apostle Paul.  They are all freewill offerings (“Let each one do just as he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver,” 2 Cor. 9:7).  Though Paul, of course, constantly pushes them and challenges them to be generous. 

And they were generous (“For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God,”  2 Cor. 9:12).  How were they able to do this?  They were leaving and cleaving.  The believers, even in distant places, had become their new family.  And so they treated them as family.  When there was a need, they helped to meet that need.  Then when they themselves would have a need, they hoped that they would return the favor. 

Over the years, the Church has been very generous to those in need.  This is a tremendous heritage of helping the less fortunate that the Christian Church has handed down through the centuries.  It’s something that many churches around the world continue to practice today.  It’s certainly an attitude that we want to share as believers.  It’s a testimony of the goodness and the grace of our God. 

This attitude of generosity was not only expressed toward the poor.  The earliest churches also supported many different ministries.  Paul himself was supported by different churches at different times in his ministry.  Other apostles and other travelling ministries were also supported (1 Cor. 9:4-14).  And not only traveling ministries received this support. Local ministries were also supported (“Let the elders who lead well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those laboring in word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, ‘the threshing ox you will not muzzle [Deut. 25:4],’ and ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages [Luke 10:7]),’” 1 Tim. 5:17,18).  

Why was more given to those who were laboring hard at preaching and teaching?  For one person to benefit at another’s expense?  No, but for there to be an equality.  There are only so many hours in a day.  If someone labors hard in ministry, there is less time for earning a living.  The church recognizes this and recognizes the value of local ministry by helping to support those engaged in ministry.  And if we follow Paul’s example, we will encourage each other to be generous. 

But the point is that all of this support should be completely voluntary, the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.  So why do so many churches teach tithing as a requirement for Christians?  This was not the case in the earliest Church.  The earliest Church defended the idea of voluntary giving very strongly.

But after a couple of hundred years, the Church began to model itself both after pagan religions as well as the Old Testament by calling its leaders “priests.”  These religious leaders elevated themselves above other believers in exactly the way Jesus said they shouldn’t.  And of course the idea of a tithe, a required contribution, was very attractive to them.  In many Christian areas, as in Europe, the tithe became once again a tax enforced by law.  But this was also a time of the deadening of the spiritual life of the Church, when many abuses and different kinds of corruption came into the Church.  In Europe, believers were forbidden to read the Bible.  Why?  Because the leaders knew perfectly well that many of the things they were doing did not agree with the Bible, and they didn’t want anyone to know it.  They were afraid it would upset their very cozy lives, which is just what happened when people started to read their Bibles again in the Reformation, and realized they had been lied to. 

But in recent years, the teaching of tithing has come back again in many churches, especially in newer churches.  I think you can see why putting people under this obligation is attractive to many church leaders.  But here’s the question:  does putting people under an obligation like this help people grow in their spiritual lives? 

Some people don’t see much difference if we preach tithing or voluntary giving.  Everyone agrees that the Bible says we should give, and give generously.  It also says we’ll be blessed if we give.  So what’s the big deal? 

Well apparently Paul thought it was a big deal whether we come as slaves to God, serving from a sense obligation, or as sons freely serving the Father.  It affects our attitude toward God and toward the Christian life.  It also affects our attitude toward church leaders. 

Yes, it’s true that teaching a tithe is easier on pastors.  They don’t have to keep encouraging people to be generous as Paul did.  But which teaching helps believers grow more in spiritual maturity, to become more responsible members of the Body of Messiah?  Which helps them develop a heart of compassion with regard to those who are suffering?  Which helps them increase in enthusiasm for supporting ministry in all its different forms?  Or to put it a different way, which teaching do you think will encourage people to be more generous? 

Let me try asking the question this way:  If we are serving God freely, under no obligation whatsoever, but gratefully because of all the wonderful things he has done for us in our lives, including the miracle of our salvation and all the other miracles we’ve experienced, our provision every day, and all the wonderful promises God has given us for eternity, do you think that out of these grateful hearts we should do less than the Law of Moses requires, or more than the Law requires?  What do you think?

Well, what did the believers in Jerusalem do?  It sounds to me like they went way over and above anything the Law ever required.  They genuinely accepted one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord, generously sharing with one another.  And they did it with glad hearts, trusting God to provide for their needs. 

Jesus never calls us to less than the Law requires, in any area.  He always calls us to much more, to a life empowered by the Holy Spirit to do things we could never do on our own.  As he said in Matt. 5:20:  “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness is abundantly greater than the scribes and Pharisees, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus always sets the bar higher, not lower.  He always challenges us to go further than we ever thought we could go, further than the Law ever required. 

So what does this mean in practical terms?  It means that Jesus is calling us to do more than the tithes of the Old Testament.  How much more?  Well, what is he telling you to do?  There are so many areas of need in this world.  But Jesus told us to give to all those who ask us (“Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you,” Matt. 5:42).  This can be very challenging in real life.  But that’s what Jesus told us to do.  He didn’t say how much we should give.  But he did say to give when people present us with their needs. 

Yes, we are not under the Law.  But neither are we under fear and uncertainty, the things that keep us from trusting and being generous.  Jesus told us not to worry about our food and clothing (Matt. 5:31).  Why?  Because he wants us to trust that God loves us and will provide for us.  This doesn’t mean we should quit our jobs and do nothing.  On the contrary, we must all work, whether that work is a secular job or ministry, our own business or the job of raising children at home (“For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat,” 2 Thess. 3:10).  But Jesus told us not to worry about the future.  And because we’re not worried, we can afford to be generous.  Generosity comes from faith:  faith that God really is going to take care of us right now and forever. 

If you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully (“He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully,” 2 Cor. 9:6).  God does multiply our seed for sowing (“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness,” 2 Cor. 9:10).  You will be enriched in everything for all generosity (“You will be enriched in everything for all generosity, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God,” 2 Cor. 9:11). 

But generosity also comes from love:  truly caring about the people and situations to which we donate money.  As Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:3, “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor…but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

So what do you think the Bible teaches about giving?  I want to challenge you today to give according to your faith and your love.  I would like to take a special collection for the Assyrian Christians that have just been forced out of their homes in Mosul, Iraq.  Do you want to give to them today, not under compulsion but out of the love of God?  Why don’t we do that and join in the great heritage that we have as Christians in giving freely to those in need, both today and every day.  Amen?

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