by James A. Fowler
We can only give what we have been entrusted with. What we do not have is not ours to give.
In his previous correspondence with the Corinthians Paul had indicated that we are to give "as God has prospered us." (I Cor. 16:2). In II Corinthians 8:11,12 Paul writes, "For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have." We can only give in accordance with the means that God has given, what He has entrusted to us.
Many people, usually in response to an emotional plea, have gone out to a lending institution and borrowed money and gone into personal debt in order to give to what they consider to be a "worthy cause." Paul says, "It is acceptable according to what a man has...," not according to what a man thinks he will have in the future. James tells us that "you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow" (James 4:13-15).
Giving what we do not have, giving beyond our means, is presumption! It is presuming on God's grace. It is presuming that we know what God is going to do for us, even in the future. God will not be "put on the spot" or placed "behind the eight-ball." We must not make decisions to give, whereby God seemingly has to follow-through to save His reputation. God will not be manipulated like that. God is to make the decisions. God is sovereign. Yet many times churches and Christian organizations have encouraged this kind of presumption by asking people to make "pledges" of their projected future giving. They have encouraged people to participate in what is sometimes called "Faith-Promise" giving, promising to give whatever amount they believe (presume) God will entrust to them in the future. Such faith is fallacious! Such a promise is presumptuous!
We can only rightfully give what we have been entrusted with by God. When the Israelites gave for the building of the tabernacle, they gave only what they had. They gave of the tangible assets God had entrusted to them.
In II Corinthians 8:3 Paul writes that "according to their ability and beyond their ability they gave...." When Paul says that they gave "beyond their ability", that does not mean they gave beyond their means, beyond what they had. Rather, it means that they gave beyond the level of comfortability. Many people give only enough so as to preserve their "comfort zone." Their giving does not really affect their "standard of living." There is no personal discomfort involved. We have to be careful here. We do not want to infer that every Christian should "give until it hurts." The degree of pain and discomfort is not the measuring stick of Christian giving.
Another variation is the plea that some make for "sacrificial giving." They would encourage us to "sacrifice for the work of the Lord." Usually those encouraging such have a self-serving interest in the so-called "work of the Lord." The only sacrifice needed was that of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, from when He exclaimed, "It is Finished!" (John 19:30). According to the writer of Hebrews, our sacrifice should be the "sacrifice of praise" (Heb. 13:15).
We do not give beyond our means, what we have been given; and we give of what we have only as God directs.
©1999 by James A. Fowler
This is a sequence of articles. Though they were intended to be read in order, each article also stands alone. We've numbered them below so that you may choose to read them in sequential order.
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