Ten Principles of Christian Giving -- Part 2
- 2002 30 Dec
In II Corinthians 8 and 9, the Apostle Paul develops ten principles of Christian giving. In this installment, John Stott explains Principles 4 through 7.
4. Christian giving is proportionate giving.
"And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have." ~ II Corinthians 8:10-12 (NIV)
During the previous year, the Corinthian Christians had been the first not only in giving but in desiring to give (v.10). So now Paul urges them to finish the task they had begun, so that their doing will keep pace with their desiring. And this must be according to their means (v11).
Thus, Christian giving is proportionate giving. The eager willingness comes first. So long as that is there, the gift is acceptable according to what the giver has, not according to what he has not (v.12).
This expression 'according to his means' reminds us of two similar expressions which occur in Acts. In Acts 11:29 members of the church in Antioch gave to the famine-stricken Judean Christians 'each according to his ability'. In Acts 2 and 4 members of the church in Jerusalem gave 'to each according to his need'.
Does this ring a bell in our memories? In his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) Karl Marx called for a society that could "inscribe on its banners 'from each according to his ability' and 'to each according to his need'".
I have often wondered if Marx knew these two verses in Acts and if he deliberately borrowed them. Whatever our politics and economics may be, these are certainly biblical principles to which we should hold fast. Christian giving is proportionate giving.
5. Christian giving contributes to equality.
"Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little'." ~ II Corinthians 8:13-15 (NIV)
Paul's desire, he explains to his Corinthian readers, is not that others may be relieved while they are hard pressed, for that would merely reverse the situation, solving one problem by creating another, but rather that there might be equality (v.13). He goes on to repeat his argument.
For now, Corinthian plenty will supply the needs of others. Here, Paul illustrates this principle from the supply of manna in the desert. God provided enough for everybody. Larger families gathered a lot, but not too much, for nothing was left over. Smaller families gathered little, but not too little, for they had no lack (v.15).
Thus Paul put the affluence of some alongside the want of others, and then called for an adjustment; that is, an easing of want by affluence. This 'equality' for which Paul calls may be said to have three aspects.
First, equality is not egalitarianism. God's purpose is not that everybody receives an identical wage, lives in an identical house equipped with identical furniture, wears identical clothing and eats identical food - as if we had all been mass produced in some celestial factory! No.
Our doctrine of creation should protect us from any vision of colorless uniformity. For God the Creator has not cloned us. True, we are equal in worth and dignity, equally made in God's image. True, God gives rain and sunshine indiscriminately to both the evil and the good. But God has made us different, and has given his creation a colorful diversity in physique, appearance, temperament, personality and capacities.
Secondly, the equality we seek begins with equality of educational opportunity, for to educate is to lead people into their fullest created potential, so that they may become everything God intends them to be.
For example, equal educational opportunity means not that every child is sent to college, but that every child capable of benefiting from a college education will be able to have one. No child should be disadvantaged. It is a question of justice.
Thirdly, equality abolishes extreme social disparity. Julius Nyerere, ex-President of Tanzania, said in his Arusha Declaration that he wanted to build a nation in which 'no man is ashamed of his poverty in the light of another's affluence, and no man has to be ashamed of his affluence in the light of another's poverty.'
In other words, if we are embarrassed either to visit other people in their home, or to invite them into ours, because of the disparity of our economic lifestyles, something is wrong. The inequality is too great. It has broken the fellowship. There needs to be a measure of equalization in one direction or the other or in both. And Christian giving contributes to this equality.
6. Christian giving must be carefully supervised.
"I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it." ~ II Corinthians 8:16-24 (NIV)
The handling of money is a risky business and Paul is evidently aware of these dangers. So he writes both that 'we want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift' (v.20) and that 'we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men' (v.21). That is, he was determined not only to do right, but also to be seen to do right.
So what steps did Paul take? First, he did not handle the financial arrangements himself, but put Titus in charge of them (vv.16, 17) and expressed his full confidence in him (v.23). Secondly, Paul added that he was sending along with Titus another brother, who was 'praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel' (v.18). Thirdly, this second brother had been 'chosen by the churches to accompany' Paul and carry the gift (v.19;cf. 1 Cor. 16:3). Thus the people who carried the offering to Jerusalem had been elected by the churches because they had confidence in them.
In our day it is wise to take similar precautions against possible criticism. In this connection we have reason to be profoundly grateful for the wisdom and integrity of Billy Graham for declining to handle his organization's finances, for accepting a fixed salary and refusing all 'love offerings', and for ensuring that audited accounts are published after every crusade. Similarly, we are grateful for the formation of ECFA (the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) that sets standards of financial accountability for Christian organizations.
7. Christian giving can be stimulated by a little friendly competition.
"There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. For I know your eagerness to help and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we - not to say anything about you - would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given." ~ II Corinthians 9:1-5 (NIV)
Paul had been boasting to the Macedonian churches of Northern Greece (e.g. Philippi) about the eagerness of the Achaean churches of Southern Greece (e.g. Corinth) to give, and the South's enthusiasm has stirred the North to action (v.2).
Now Paul is sending representatives to Corinth in order to ensure that his boasting about them will not prove hollow but that they will be ready as he had said they would be (v.3).
For if some Macedonians were to come to Achaea with Paul, and were to find them unprepared, it would be a huge embarrassment to Paul, and even a public humiliation for him (v.11). That is why Paul was sending the brothers in advance, in order to finish the arrangements for their promised gift. Then they would be ready and their gift would be generous and not grudging (v. 5).
First Paul has boasted of southern generosity so that the northerners will give generously. Now he urges them to give generously, so that the northerners will not be disappointed in them.
It is rather delightful to see how Paul plays off the north and the south against each other. He boasts of each to the other, in order to stimulate the generosity of both. True, competition is a dangerous game to play, especially if it involves the publication of the names of donors and the amounts they have donated. But at least these verses provide a biblical base for the concept of matching grants. We can all be stimulated to greater generosity by the known generosity of others.
Read Part One of this series. And don't miss Part Three tomorrow.
(c) 2002 by John Stott Ministries. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Generous Giving, Inc.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Stott has authored over 40 books, including the classic Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ, and The Contemporary Christian. Based in London, he travels extensively overseas, especially in the Third World, speaking mainly at seminars for pastors and at student conferences. He is also the Founder and Honorary President of the London Institute for Christianity. Visit www.johnstott.org.
ABOUT GENEROUS GIVING, INC.
Generous Giving (www.GenerousGiving.org) is a non-profit ministry that seeks to encourage givers of all income levels - as well as ministry leaders, pastors, teachers and professional advisors - to fully understand and embrace what it means to live generously according to God's word and Christ's example. It offers an array of practical tools like books, study guides, quarterly briefings, eNewsletters, and an exhaustive online library of news articles, statistics, Bible studies, and sermons on generosity. It also hosts the Generous Giving Marketplace (www.GGMarketplace.org), a Web site that introduces givers and Christian ministries to one another through a searchable database of hundreds of giving opportunities from scores of Christian ministries worldwide. Generous Giving is privately funded and does not solicit donations.