Echo is 3 weeks in to a conversation about the spiritual dimensions of our relationship with money. It might not seem like something spiritual, but Jesus taught that there is a connection between our money and our heart. Money matters to God because money matters to us. So, to address some of the issues we have with money (and they are MANY!) we have to understand that our problems with money have spiritual roots. You can basically do 4 things with money, once you get some:
• Spend it.
• Give it.
• Save it.
• Invest it.
The connection between your heart and your wallet becomes especially clear in the area of giving, something we explored this week in Echo. So, why should we give as a matter of personal and spiritual discipline?
First, We give to support the local church. Paul talks more about the practice of giving in his letters to the church at Corinth than anywhere else. Check out this passage in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 – Paul roots the concept of church support in the New Testament in the concept of Old Testament “tithing,” a system that supported the function of the temple and provided for the priests. The idea Paul is trying to communicate is that it is right for those who work to preach the gospel to earn their living doing so. In the Old testament, the operation of the temple rested on this system: the ones that facilitate worship in the temple feed their families on the gifts brought to the temple in worship to God. This is the origin of the practice of supporting the leaders of the church with the gifts of the church members.
But giving to the local church is more than just giving to support the pastors and staff that facilitate the programs of the church. It is also giving to the work of God in the world, which comes through the ministry of the church. Sometimes the church gets criticized for being an “inefficient charity,” because a large percentage of its money goes to church services and programs instead of to helping the poor like a food bank or orphanage. Now, our church does those kinds of things, too, but I want to challenge this assumption. I think the local church, especially a good church, is the best charity there is. What the church does with all its programs is make disciples – it teaches people to walk in the ways of Jesus and to live out the mission of Jesus into their culture. Saying the church is a bad charity is like saying a medical school is a bad hospital: we are in the business of helping transform people – people that leave the church and go into their culture on mission. If the church is doing its job, it should be helping selfish people caught up in greed and gain and materialism become missional servants known for compassion and generosity. Who do you think started all the food banks, orphanages, free clinics, and such? MANY of them were started by disciples of Jesus. And that is what the church makes. So, the church is behind MUCH more actual help to the world than it gets direct credit for. Remember, our goal with money is to be a blessing to the world as God blesses us. Maybe the best way to do this is to support the ministry of making disciples in your local church.
The second reason to give we find in the New Testament is to give to support each other. Look at 1 Corinthians 16:1-5. The situation here is not that of regular church giving, like that used to support the teachers and pastors, but one of a mercy offering – a gift to help someone in crisis. This passage might answer some of the questions about “how” giving was done in the early church. “On the 1st day of the week, set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income.” They were expected, 2,000 years ago, to budget and plan with their money to help meet the needs of other people. This is not haphazard or random, but something planned and prioritized. It comes out 1st, and it increases as our income increases. This is about being available to help when people around you run into trouble. This would include giving to charities that help people and causes of social justice, especially good ones. In the Bible, there is a special emphasis on helping widows and orphans – taking care of people with no one else to take care of them.
Lastly, and most importantly, we give as an act of worship and thanksgiving to God. One of the most important texts about giving in the New Testament is 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 This passage is addressing the same situation Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 16: a collection is being taken in Greece and Macedonia to help the impoverished believers in Jerusalem. Here, Paul gets to the most important element of giving: what happens or is supposed to happen in the heart of the giver. We have clichés that hint at this: “It’s better to give than receive” and so on. We say this, but if we are honest, we don’t always believe it. Sometimes it hurts to give. This is the root of the problem we have with money, and here Paul gives us good medicine. We have a hard time giving because we love money. Paul teaches here to give generously and cheerfully. This happens only in a heart where the ownership issue is settled. From this kind of heart, giving is an act of mercy to the needy and an act of thanksgiving to God. This is the most important part of our relationship with money – our motivation and allegiance. It is about surrender. I don’t give grudgingly because I have surrendered my resources to God (or better, I recognize they are His to begin with!). The talk in this passage about prosperity should not be viewed as a strategy for gain. This is not “give to God so He will make me rich.” That attitude is exactly the opposite of what this is about. It is about a reality of peace and surrender and generosity that goes DEEP in our hearts; so that we don’t just do the right things with money but we feel the right way about money.
So, a New Testament picture of giving looks something like this:
• It is regular (habitual). Giving is not impulsive. It is not something you make emotional decisions on, based on the manipulative pleas of a fundraiser. It is something you plan and prioritize. Giving is a budget priority. It is not “leftovers.”
• It is joyful. What happens in the heart is an act of surrender and worship to God. It feels good, because there is life in surrender. Your heart rejoices to be a part of God’s kingdom work. It is not something you do reluctantly, but something you do enthusiastically.
• It is generous. What is generous? Well, in the Old Testament, the “tax” system of tithing that went to support the temple and the poor was 10% of your wealth or goods. When we define what “generous” looks like now and in our lives, we should take this into account. The average person that claims the Lordship of Jesus over their lives gives about 2.5% of their income to the church. This doesn’t sound very generous. How much should you give? You and Jesus need to answer that question together.
Discuss with your teen:
-If our local church could not continue doing ministry and vanished tomorrow, what would you miss? Is the value we place on the church reflected in our financial investment in the church?
-What do you think is the difference between a good charity and a bad charity?
-Why do you think the Bible warns to give “what you have decided in advance to give,” and not impulsively?
-Why do you think giving is important to God? Why is giving important to us?