II Corinthians 8
“We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches…”(verse 1) Compassion and generosity are not confined to Christians, of course, but they are important manifestations of God’s grace and power working in our lives. Giving is a spiritual gift (Romans 12:6-8). It’s not just a ministry for the rich, either; very often those with less in material terms are more willing to share what they do have.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”(verse 9) The motivation and inspiration for our giving comes from what Christ has already done for us. The Son of God not only possessed the whole universe but had the right to be worshipped by all creation; yet He set aside all that wealth and honour to become a mere human being – and lived a life of poverty, service and suffering, culminating in His death for our sins. And our attitude “should be the same”(Philippians 2:5-8).
It is very tempting for charities (including Christian ones) to pressurise people into giving more than they really want to. But (unless you have a specific call from God to do otherwise) Christians should give “according to your means.”(verses 11,12)
Christians often find it very difficult to discuss money. At one extreme, some churches are too embarrassed to mention it at all and struggle from one financial crisis to another; at the other, some church leaders harangue their congregations on a regular basis, even claiming that giving is a means of persuading God to make you wealthy. The occasional scandals of church leaders who are found to have enriched themselves fraudulently don’t do anything to help the reputation of Christianity amongst unbelievers. Hence Paul’s concern, when making a collection for the poor in the Judean churches, that he should “do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.”(verse 21)
This is a sensitive issue, because it is associated in many people’s minds with legalism. Tithing was an integral part of the Jewish Law, but it predates the Law; it was practised by Abraham (Genesis 14:20) and by Jacob (Genesis 28:22). And God’s promise to bless those who tithe (Malachi 3:10) has been tested – and proved – by thousands of Christians (including myself).
My opinion is this: Christians should not be obliged to tithe (e.g. as a condition of church membership), but we should all give it serious consideration, at least as a guideline. If you dismiss it altogether, it is all too easy to give only small amounts out of our ‘spare cash’ rather than building generosity into our whole lifestyle. (Of course, it is also easy for those of us who are better off to assume that once we have tithed we have ‘done our duty’, when we should probably be giving away far more than 10% of our income!)
Time (Psalm 90:12)
Money is not our only asset. Time can be more valuable than money – and we can spend or waste time, but not save it (not in the sense of storing it up!) Also, none of us knows how much time we have (James 4:13-17). How can we use it wisely? Jesus said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me.” (John 9:4) Paul says, “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15,16) Putting off a good deed may mean that it never gets done! Time, like money, should not be kept solely to ourselves but used for the benefit of other people.