Our money and possessions are not for our benefit alone; they are for sharing. But this is where it is easy to get bogged down in the detail. How much should we share? And who with?
Our first priority should be our local church – our immediate Christian ‘family’. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10) One notable characteristic of the early church was the readiness of believers to share their possessions with one another (Acts 4:32). They didn’t give only out of surplus income, but were also ready (if the occasion demanded) to dip into their capital reserves (Acts 4:34).
This is where generosity begins – but it mustn’t end there (Matthew 5:46,47). We are part of the worldwide church, and have a responsibility to help our brothers and sisters in other countries too. And we are commanded to “do good to all people” – not just our fellow-Christians. There will be people with needs in our own local community (the homeless, for example), as well as overseas.
No individual (or family) will be able to give money to every charity or cause. Taking account of our own financial circumstances, we have to decide which organisations we are going to support (small or large, local or overseas) – and then do it wholeheartedly (and regularly, if possible). Every Christian will decide differently; and so, between us, we will cover a wide range of needs.
Giving to the church
It’s worth noting that most of the financial giving recorded in the New Testament is for just two purposes: helping the poor, and supporting full-time Christian workers (apostles/missionaries and church elders). The early church had no ‘overheads’ – no church buildings to construct or maintain, no electricity bills, and no denominational bureaucracy to pay for. Such things are unavoidable in the modern world, and have to be included in church budgets; but they need to be kept to a minimum. Building projects, in particular, can swallow up enormous amounts of cash (and time spent on fundraising), with far less Scriptural basis than is generally assumed.
God does not `tax’ His children (Matthew 17:25,26). No Christian is obliged to give anything to anybody; so it is very doubtful that a church can insist on tithing as a condition for membership. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-4) was not that they failed to give the church the entire proceeds of a sale and kept some of it for themselves (Peter made it clear that they were perfectly entitled to keep it all if they wished to), but that they made a pretence of being much more generous than they actually were.
Sadly, there are few if any churches whose treasurers have no financial headaches. Most church members give far less than they could, and this is not just a modern problem; the Jews who returned from the Exile found all kinds of excuses to put their own interests above the rebuilding of God’s Temple, causing God to complain, “My house remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.” (Haggai 1:9) Do we need to be nagged with regular sermons on giving, bribed with prosperity gospel promises, or coerced by membership contracts into supporting our own ministers and maintaining our own church buildings? Shame on us!