The Church has always called on believers to share their possessions in building God’s Kingdom. That’s why the giving of time, talent, and money is a fruit of our faith and a part of the Christian life. To help us grow in our stewardship, the Word of God has a lot to say about giving.
The Old Testament taught that God’s people should return to the Lord one tenth of their earnings. This was called the tithe, and a part of Jewish law. Jesus affirmed the tithe but for Him it was not an end in itself.
He said to the Pharisees, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)
Without criticizing the tithe, Jesus placed greater emphasis on love for the Kingdom as the motivation for our giving. One day He pointed His disciples to people leaving their gifts at the place of worship. Luke records this conversation, “Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.
He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.'”
Our Lord was not teaching that we should give away all that we have, but He was teaching that when our love for God is strong, it will move us beyond giving out of our abundance.
Stewardship is more than fulfilling a law, it is being constrained to give out of love for Christ. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, pursued this same thought that our giving was an expression of our love for the Lord Jesus. He used the Macedonians as examples of what true stewardship is. They themselves had many trials and lived in poverty, but when they heard the Christians in Jerusalem were suffering from a famine, they were anxious to share their possessions with these brothers and sisters in Christ.
Using the Macedonian churches as role models, Paul says, “They gave themselves first to the Lord.” (II Corinthians 8:5) This is the first step in Christian stewardship and one that is sometimes overlooked by congregations in talking to the members about the giving of their time, talent, and money.
Imagine that it is Stewardship Sunday in a given congregation. The people are urged to give liberally that God’s work may flourish. However, a percentage of the people in the congregation have little or no relationship with the Lord. They have belonged to the church for some years and have been regular in their attendance. Going to church is just the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean to these friends that they have to become involved with Jesus Christ to the degree that they give themselves to Him.
Their giving to the church is no different than paying dues to other organizations to which they belong. Now the preacher is getting radical and even goes beyond the tithe to suggest that their love for Christ will lead them to give sacrificially.
When these friends are told that giving is a part of the Christian life, they are not able to comprehend the meaning of the statement. Giving has nothing to do with their relationship with the Lord. To them, giving is meeting the expenses of the congregation and what is left over should be given for some good cause.
In other words, giving beyond this does not make any sense to the church member until he or she has met and given themselves to Christ. Sermons on giving become irritating, and the church is accused of always asking for money and putting unrealistic demands on the members’ time.
To relieve some of the ill feelings towards the church, I used to tell those members who had not yet met the Lord that they did not need to give anything, for they were not a part of the missionary force of the church. They were a part of the church’s mission. When they had met the Lord, giving would become fun for them.
It is a demonstrated truth that the person who knows the Lord has great fun in giving of himself or herself and that includes the giving of time, talent, and money. It is the way they demonstrate their love for the Lord who first loved them.
St. Paul has another teaching on stewardship which is important for us to hear. He writes, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:7)
In other words, no one is to use pressure in telling another person how much of his time and money he or she should give to the Lord. This is between the Christian and the Lord with whom he has a personal relationship.
I sometimes wonder about the practice used by some fundraisers who serve our congregation, especially when large sums of money are to be raised to construct a building or do some other major project. Many of them use the “advanced givers list.” Those on the list are the people who are more affluent than other members.
A committee tries to determine what these people should be willing to give in the light of their financial circumstances. So you visit Mrs. Jones and suggest she give $100,000 for this worthy cause. One cannot argue that this approach has been quite effective and Mrs. Jones was willing and anxious to give. In fact, she was blessed by giving this large amount of money.
She now claimed ownership to the project. The congregation also benefited for a lot of money was needed to complete the large project. The other side of the coin is to answer the question, “Is this Christian stewardship or downright plain fundraising?”
Were the Macedonian churches having a fund-raiser for the poor people in Jerusalem or were they giving out of love to Christ?
It was not until I had been in the ministry for nearly ten years that I learned what Biblical stewardship was all about. One day I met a layman by the name of Sam Edwins who taught me that Christian stewardship could be summarized with the words, “We give out of love to Christ in relationship to our faith.” We give out of love. We give to Christ and not to some particular cause, though we might know how the money will be used. As our faith grows, our giving will grow.
My experience has convinced me that this is God’s plan for Christian giving, and if this teaching is followed over the years, believers in Christ will respond with their gifts. The more we follow these Biblical teachings on giving, the more fun we had watching giving grow in our congregation. But more than that, we saw the excitement on the part of the giver for he or she, in a tangible way, was showing love for the Savior. Giving was no longer an obligation but an opportunity to have a small part in building God’s Kingdom.