2). Give based on faithfulness, not results. Besides legalism, giving to get, and giving to get rid of sins or pay for grace, there is another wrong way that Christians have come to think about giving. I mention it here because it fits the context of giving to support the preaching of the Gospel. This fallacy is one that modern Christians have picked up from the world around them. It concerns results. Often, Christians will donate only to ministries or churches that produce big, visible results. It is as if the investment mindset has crept into Christian giving. You might be shocked to learn (at least I was) that there are now businesses that “help Christians put together a sound donation portfolio of ministries that produce results.” Just as Wall Street investors want to put their money behind obvious winners, Christians have come to feel that they should give only to those ministries that appear to produce the biggest bang for the buck. Ministries are judged by how many Bibles they distributed, how many hungry they fed, how many people came forward in their crusades, etc. Churches are judged by how many thousands they are bringing into their massive structures. Even our modern emphasis on financial efficiency is results oriented. When we look at what percent of a ministry’s income is spent on fundraising and administrative expenses, for example, as opposed to the work we expect them to be doing, we are really saying that we expect to get as many results per dollar as possible. But what are those results?
Are such results the criteria the Bible tells us to look for? No. The Bible shows us that we should evaluate Christian ministries by their faithfulness to God’s Word. As we have already read in many Scriptures above, God tells us to be faithful to His Word and to support the preaching of His Word. The results are up to God. Often, those ministries that are most faithful to His Word are among the smallest because God, in His good will, has sovereignly determined that this is the way it should be in this age. Also, the visible results of faithfulness to God may not show for many years. We must remember that God has His timetable, and we should not try to impose our schedules and expectations on Him. When we attempt to judge God’s work with such human criteria, we can cut ourselves out of having a part in ministries that God judges faithful.
To look at this another way, many even obvious cults are very successful by worldly standards, are financially sound, attract large numbers of people, and do “good works.” But it should be evident that Christians are not to support them. Just because we think a ministry is producing solid results, or because it claims to be doing so, does not necessarily mean that God is blessing that ministry or that we should support it. God does not judge by the outward appearances that men usually use. Instead, He looks on the heart: “For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b). Because sin so easily clouds our judgment, we must be sure to be led by the guidelines God gives us; we must look to faithfulness to His Word, the Bible.
It is common to misunderstand Jesus’ words when He said, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20), as meaning “by their results.” But in the verses that immediately follow, Jesus tells those who in His name have “done many wonderful works” that He never knew them: “depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23). Why did He not know them? Because they did not know Him through His Word. The “fruits” that we are to use as criteria in examining a ministry are their words, their faithfulness to the Bible. The contrast is between those who are faithful and those who are “false prophets” and “ravening wolves” (verse 15). It is between those who build their lives and ministries upon the rock and those who build them upon the sand (verses 24-27).
3). Give to needy brethren. Are there both poor people and affluent people in your church? There should not be. The Bible clearly instructs us to care for our needy brethren. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:16-17). And, in 1 Timothy 6:17-18, Paul writes, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.” (Remember that “communicate” in the language of the King James Version means to share.) The end result should be that the poor do not remain poor.
Of course, I am not saying that poor people who can work but refuse to should be allowed to syphon off the resources of those who work hard to make a living. Paul addresses this problem: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Sadly, however, a Rush Limbaugh conservatism has crept into the church that has allowed us to conveniently dismiss all poor people, even other Christians, as lazy and shiftless and undeserving of our help. Such thinking should not have a place among God’s people. Other factors besides an unwillingness to work can cause people to be poor.
The idea that Christians should readily share with those in need, especially their brethren, is found throughout the New Testament. Earlier in this article, we saw God’s people represented as sheep feeding and clothing the poor (Matthew 25:35-45). We have also seen that Jesus told the rich, young ruler to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor (Mark 10:21). Luke quotes John the Baptist as saying, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11). If you have excess beyond your needs, share it with others. In Luke 12:33-34, Jesus instructs, “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” How often have we read such statements and not realized their radical nature? As we go about our daily business, how do we “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive”? (Acts 20:35).
It is interesting that when Paul, Barnabus, and Titus went to Jerusalem, James, Peter, and John did not interfere with the work they were doing among the Gentiles, except to tell them, as Paul says, “that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do” (Galatians 2:10). Paul gives us further instruction in Galatians 6:10: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
Now let us try to read Acts 2:44-45 without bringing into our minds modern concepts of capitalism and communism, which are completely foreign to the context of Acts: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” Now, if you have read this far, you might not be surprised to learn that the Greek word translated “common” in this verse is related to the Greek word translated “communicate” in Galatians 6:6 and 1 Timothy 6:18 discussed earlier in this article. It means, “belonging to several.” In other words, they shared what they had with each other so that no one was in need.
This is explained in more detail in Acts 4:32, 34-35: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common…. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” No one forced anyone to give his possessions to someone else (modern socialism), and no one said there was no such thing as private property (modern communism). This was all done voluntarily, as each person was led by the Spirit to share with his brethren in need.
Some are critical of this sharing in the early church and say that it led to poverty in the Jerusalem church. But the Bible says that the need in Jerusalem arose because of a drought (Acts 11:28-30). And, more importantly, the Bible does not criticize these Christians for sharing. So, how dare we criticize them and, by so doing, judge the Bible? Is not the Bible supposed to be our standard for belief and practice? Of course! Then we had better start doing what it says.
3). Give to our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? Jesus answered this way: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:30-37).
Of course, if the man who helped the man in need was his neighbor, then the man in need was the helper’s neighbor. That answers the question. The person we come across who is in need is our neighbor and, therefore, the person we are to love as ourselves (see Luke 10:27; Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Leviticus 19:18). Earlier, I quoted Galatians 6:10, which says, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Our first priority in caring for others is to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we are also to help those in need whom God puts in our path. By the way, when we help our neighbor, we are to do it in the name of Christ. That is, at the very least, we should make certain that our neighbor understands that we are not helping because we are “good people,” but because we are Christians. As we have opportunity (and we should try to create that opportunity) we should tell our neighbor the Gospel. Also remember, as I have mentioned, supporting ministries that faithfully preach the Gospel is also a way to help our neighbor.
What have we learned? We have learned that false teaching has wounded many Christians’ view of giving. They either see giving as legalistic tithing, or as a way to get, or as a way to alleviate guilt. Also, many are afraid to give except to ministries producing concrete results as judged by man’s standards. And we have learned that God instead wants us to give to those who faithfully teach Truth, and to the poor in the church, and to our neighbor in need; and we are to do so voluntarily, freely, and cheerfully. We are to give as we determine according to our ability. Our ability may be more than our old patterns of thinking allowed, especially when we consider the luxuries we in our society heap upon ourselves with the excuse that we “need them.”
To get over our old ways of thinking about giving, we will need to seek God’s help in prayer. But we will also need to start breaking out of our old patterns of thinking by giving in the ways the Bible instructs. This breaking out of the old patterns can be very freeing (I always think of Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol), which, after all, is what the Truth always does: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
Copyright © 2004-2009 Peter Ditzel