by James A. Fowler
There is a continuing responsibility of availability for the Christian. Again of the Macedonian Christians, Paul reports that "they gave of their own accord" (II Cor. 8:3). They gave voluntarily, willingly, eagerly. They wanted to participate in the grace of God. In fact, in II Cor 8:4 Paul says, "they were begging for the grace of participation in the support of the saints."
Most of the "begging" we see today is not Christians begging to participate in a particular grace-expression of Christian giving. It is usually the manipulative fund-raisers begging, pleading, appealing, making their pleas for donations to their cause. What a perversion, to turn "Christian giving" into mere fund-raising. They have honed it into a statistical science as they put on their "stewardship campaigns." They can predict within a few percentage points how much will be extracted as they psychologically manipulate people to trigger their guilt and emotions. Local congregations receive almost weekly solicitations from organizations wanting to put on "stewardship campaigns" and share in the profits.
Raising funds is not Christian giving! Many religious organizations spend large percentages of their income on raising more funds. Radio and television "ministries" have been known to spend as much as fifty percent of their ministry air-time to raise funds.
I was appalled when a pastor was selected by the other pastors to "take the offering" at a community service because he was adept at "taking an offering." What they meant was that he was a psychological manipulator, a religious promoter, who knew how to extract money from people. Tragic!
It is not Christian giving unless we freely choose to participate in God's grace of giving, prompted by God, and not manipulated by man! Notice what Paul says in II Cor. 9:7, "Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion..." We are to "choose beforehand" to give, convinced that this is what God wants to do through us. We must beware of impulse-giving, which can be so easily manipulated emotionally. They show us graphic pictures of starving children and tell gruesome stories of human suffering, which play on us psychologically, activating pity and false-guilt.
A pastor friend had so many missionaries coming to share their work and yanking at people's heart-strings and purse-strings, that he determined to avoid impulse-giving by only receiving gifts for the missionary one week after he had departed. People would then have time to "purpose in their hearts" what God would have them to share. Paul was doing a similar thing in I Cor. 16:2,3, so as not to allow his personal presence to be an incentive for impulse-giving or social approval-giving.
Christians are to give as they have "purposed in their heart, not grudgingly or reluctantly" (II Cor. 9:7). If we are convinced this is what God wants to give through is, there will be an eager willingness. It will not be like "pulling teeth" or extracting funds.
You do not have to give! It is a choice. You certainly do not have to give in order to be a Christian; that would be a criteria of "works." Once you are a Christian and the Giving God and the Love of Christ lives in you, then you want to give. God wants to express His character through you. But it is still a choice, a choice of faith.
Paul says that our giving is "not under compulsion" (II Cor. 9:7). The root word means "to bend the arm." We do not give because our arm is being bent and we are being coerced, pressured or manipulated. Paul was not manipulating the Corinthians Christians to give by competitive rivalry with the Macedonian Christians or vice-versa. There was no "contest" to see who could give the most, no comparisons to spur one another on and play one against the other, no thermometers displayed to see who could meet their goal the soonest. These are perversions of Christian giving.
Neither was Paul encouraging the Corinthians to give because of what other people would think, to safeguard their reputation. Giving for social approval is not Christian giving. Jesus exposes such giving for social approval in Matthew 6:2-4:
"When therefore you give alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."
An example of the consequences of giving for social approval is relayed in Acts 5:1-11. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for lying about their giving.
Christian giving is a choice as one has purposed in his heart before God. It is a choice that should not be manipulated by emotion or mandated by percentage.
No study of Christian giving would be complete without discussing the gross misunderstandings that many Christians have about tithing. Yet Paul does not even mention tithing in this extended reference to Christian giving here in II Corinthians 8 and 9. For good reason! The ten percent tithe so often advocated is not a new covenant, New Testament, concept. In the old covenant tithes were levied to support the priesthood, but in the new covenant every Christian is a priest, "priests to God" (Revelation 1:6) in a "royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9). Christians are not under the compulsory obligation of Old Testament tithes!
Richard Plache writes of the "tithing fallacy" and states,
"Tithing was instituted as a law in the second year after the Exodus. ...it was intended to provide the Levites with sustenance and payment for their services.
Christian giving is not a matter of compulsory mandated percentages! What often happens when the ten percent tithe is regarded as "Christian giving," is that people think that the ten percent belongs to God and the ninety percent is mine to use as I please. But, as has already been explained, it all belongs to God as owner and giver. All things are one hundred percent His, and we are to discern how He wants to utilize all one hundred percent of it.
The only ones ever authorized to receive tithes were the Levites. Ever since the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., it has been impossible to keep the tithing law. This is the reason Orthodox Jews, who still believe in the validity of the old covenant over their lives, do not tithe! No one is qualified to receive tithes now that the priesthood and temple have gone.
...it is absolutely impossible for anyone today to truly obey the...law of tithing." 6
Some Christians pride themselves saying, "I'm a good Christian giver; I've never withheld God's ten percent!" Is that not the same kind of logic that might say, "I've got a good Christian marriage; I've never committed adultery!"? Such logic is to miss the entirety of the positive factor of Christ's life in us.
Christian giving is total-life giving! Not "under compulsion;" not mechanically mandated; not legislated, perfunctory giving.
Those religious leaders who are honest enough to admit that tithing is not a Christian obligation are often quick to construct another form of obligatory moral duty. They want their members to feel a sense of obligation, a sense of "have to" or "ought to," so that there will be consistent income to pay the expenses of the organization. So they refer to the "law of giving," the "principles of love-offerings," wherein the giving of Christians should supersede what was required of Israel, just as the new covenant supersedes the old covenant, and thus Christian giving should supersede ten percent. But this is still a percentage-based sense of obligation that is not consistent with true Christian giving.
Worse yet are those who try to "lay on" Christians the obligation to "pay God back." There is no way we can make payment for services rendered. Such is to lose the understanding of God's grace altogether.
6 Plache, Richard, Op cit., pages 3 and 4.
copy;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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