The Giving Season

Christian reformer Martin Luther once said, “People go through three conversions: The conversion of their head, their heart, and their pocketbook. Unfortunately, not all at the same time.”  We first hear the gospel, weigh it in our minds to the point of assent and ultimately believe it in our hearts. At that moment, we are saved from death and guaranteed everlasting life in Christ. However, other aspects of the gospel, like generosity, often take longer to affect our behavior. While there is nothing that can separate us (eternally) from Christ, we can certainly be separated from his heart for the world he died for. The widows, orphans, prisoners, and the poor are just as destitute today as they were two thousand years ago. In fact, current estimates indicate fully one third of the world’s population is living in poverty.

Few know that Jesus referenced money in his teachings more frequently than most any other subject. He spoke of money more often than heaven or hell combined. Furthermore, his statements about money were rarely about the methods, locations or amounts given. Rather he targeted the heart behind the act of giving. This scripture is perhaps his first recorded words on the topic.

Matthew 6:1-4
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of people in order to be seen by them; if you do, then you have no reward stored up with your Father who is in heaven. Therefore, when you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets in order to be praised by people. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your charitable giving is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will repay you.

Clearly Jesus was most concerned about the attitude of heart of the one giving, more than the act itself. Is giving (or any other righteous act) done for personal recognition? Giving done with the proper heart is noticed by God and He will reward giving which comes from a good heart.

The debate over whether the tithe or tenth is required has raged among Christian communities for years. Some claim that since Abram gave a tenth to Melchizedek (before the giving of the Law of Moses), that it is therefore a universal law. Some say Christ primarily fulfilled the requirements of the sacrificial offerings of the law by his death, but this did not negate the tithe. Still others claim that since the tithe is not mentioned in the writings after Pentecost then it is simply done away with. I believe we can find wisdom in each of these positions.

Abram gave a tenth to Melchizedek. We aren’t told whether God instructed him to do so or not. But he went even further and divided all the spoils of the war among his allies, keeping nothing for himself (Gen. 14:1-24). Using Abram’s example alone we could argue for giving one hundred percent of our increase! The wisdom of this record is that Abram gave out of recognition of the spiritual blessing he received from the priest of God, not out of a duty to do so. And he gave the remainder to those who stood with him on behalf of his nephew Lot.

The tithe was instituted to provide funds for the tabernacle and those who served the people. Jesus not only fulfilled the requirements of the sacrificial laws, but he also satisfied the requirements of the whole law, one of which was the tithe. Today, the body of Christ, his people are the temple of God and there is no holy building or Levitical order to care for. But, if one is seeking to find a percentage to give, the tithe or tenth is a reasonable place to start. However, I believe there is a better way to think about giving.

Following Pentecost there is no record of anyone teaching the tithe or receiving tithes for the work of ministry. Instead, we find numerous scriptures which support Jesus basic tenants regarding giving. Giving was done for the poor (Rom. 15:26, Gal.2:6) for any of the followers of Jesus who had needs (I Cor. 16:1,2, 2 Cor. 8:14) and to support those who serve as leaders in the body of Christ (I Cor. 9:6-14; I Tim. 5:17,18).

Returning to Jesus’ teachings that giving is first a matter of the heart. We ask, “Why should I give”?

2 Corinthians 9:6-8
“Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Let each one give as he has previously decided in his heart, not grudgingly, or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace come in abundance to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you can have an abundance for every good work.

We give for the same reason we plant seeds. Because we desire to see the beautiful growth of life only God can perform. If we have a mind of giving to get, we are deceived. God is not our magical ATM machine that converts our single one-dollar bills into twenties! But when we give, we are “laying up treasures in heaven” where God is keeping an account and will reward those who give with the proper heart and for the right reasons.

Considering Jesus warnings that money can capture our heart, steal our joy, and keep us from honoring God, perhaps we should ask ourselves a new question. Rather than “How much should I give?”. Maybe we should be asking, “How much should I keep?”.  When I approach the subject of giving from this perspective, I am confronted with a genuine question about my own heart, “How much is enough”? Am I seeking to build bigger barns like the man in Luke 12? Or maybe I am careless and negligent like the ten virgins in Matthew 25. The one couldn’t get enough. The others ignored their duty to remain vigilant and were found missing when the blessing arrived.

Most of us in America have far more than we need to survive. So, asking, “How much should I keep” hits at the heart of our natural tendencies toward greed and selfishness.

So, in this “Season of Giving” may we each take time to reflect on our many blessings, open our hearts of compassion and give to whomever the Lord directs us to.

All My Love,

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