Rev. D. A. Ross
PAUL, in writing to the Corinthian believers, devotes a considerable proportion of his epistles to the duty of giving to those saints who were poor, and to other needy causes. The principle of regular Christian giving is laid down in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” The Apostle adds in verse 3, “And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.” Paul wrote not only about giving to poor believers in the church at Jerusalem but also to others in the churches in Rome, Galatia and Philippi. Another important passage on the subject is 2 Corinthians, chapter 9.
The principle and practice of tithing (that is, of consistently giving a proportion of ones income to the cause of God and the support of the poor) was not new to the church in the Apostles time, for it had come down to it from the Old Testament church. The Apostle Paul treats it as an ongoing and essential work in the church of God. The principle was confirmed at the first public gathering of the New Testament Church during Pentecost, as we see in Acts 11:27, “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”
The Scriptures also give several reasons why we should so support the church of Christ and engage in such works of charity not least that it is a duty laid upon us by God. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:” 2 Corinthians 9:7,8.
The fact that we are created in the image of God, our Creator, who distributes gifts to mankind, is sufficient reason why we should give. Gods benevolence is evidenced throughout the world by His providing for His creatures, from the greatest of them to the least. It is incumbent on us, therefore, each according to our circumstances and ability, to provide for others in need. Parents are to provide for their children, the husband for his wife and family, children for their parents who come to old age and we ought to be ready to provide, when necessary, even for a needy neighbour. Each of us, in our various positions of responsibility, is to contribute to needy causes as the Lord prospers us. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith,” Galatians 6:10.
One of several motivations to this duty is the fact that to give to the cause of Christ is a great privilege, because we give to the noblest of all causes to contribute to the Kingdom of God is to contribute to the greatest of all Kingdoms. It is a privilege also since it is a service to God, required by Him. To give to the poor, for example, is to give to God Himself. “He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to the LORD,” Proverbs 19:17. And it is a privilege to give to needy saints because they are the people of God. Surely, too, giving for the maintenance and spreading of true religion is a great privilege. To be permitted to put our hand, in this way, to that great work is an honour bestowed on us by God.
Indeed, the fact that God pities us in our ignorance and directs us as to right actions, one of which is giving, is in itself a tremendous privilege bestowed on us. Alas, many consider it an irksome bondage to have to support anything pertaining to the cause of Christ. The fact is that it is a great honour to be in a position to support so noble a cause.
Another motivation is the commendation, in the Word of God, of various individuals who did works of charity. The Saviour commended the widow who contributed all that she had, “even all her living,” Mark 12:41-44. Mary is commended personally by the Saviour when she anointed His feet, “Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.” No doubt, it is by way of commendation that it is said of Martha, who along with others provided supper for the Saviour, “Martha served,” John 12:1-9. The Apostle Paul speaks highly of Phebe: “She hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also,” Romans 16:1-2. He also commends the Macedonians who, like the widow whom Christ commended, were exceedingly poor, yet gave liberally; see 2 Corinthians 8:1-4.
These examples are given so that we would not only note them but also follow them. The greatest example of all, of course, is the giving by the Lord and Saviour, Christ Jesus. The apostle sets His example before the Corinthian believers having exhorted them to the duty of giving, he goes on to say, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich,” 2 Corinthians 8:9. No person can attain to this height of liberality, however noble his giving the Saviours giving, because of the dignity of the Person who gave, the nature of what was given, and the circumstances of the giving, infinitely exceeds any human giving. Nevertheless, we are to consider what Christ Jesus did for His people, and seek to be imitators of Him.
To fulfil our obligations regarding Christian giving we need the grace of God. In 2 Corinthians 8:7, Paul speaks of the grace of giving: “Therefore, as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also,” that is (if the term “grace” be understood to mean the grace of God), abound in the grace of a God-given concern for the support of needy causes a kindly and practical endeavour to help those in need. It is true that by the common grace of God some people abound in acts of kindness. However, the special grace of God and the Holy Spirits influence enable the Lords people to give of their money and other possessions to the glory of God, and in love to Christ and His people. “A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you . . . and cause you to walk in my statutes.” Ezekiel 36:26, 27.
As to the purpose in giving, Paul, when exhorting the believers in Corinth, had in mind the special need of poor saints throughout the church. This need remains today. In Great Britain we do not have great numbers of believers in poverty, but in other countries it is quite common to meet believers who are in very poor circumstances, for example, in Eastern Europe and Africa. The Saviour reminds us: “The poor always ye have with you” so the necessity for giving will continue to the end of time. “The righteous considereth the cause of the poor,” Proverbs 29:7.
We are to give also for the maintenance of the Christian ministry. Paul specifically addresses this purpose in writing to the Churches, and commends them for their efforts. “Ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction,” wrote Paul to the believers in Philippi, highly commending them for supporting himself when he was in straitened circumstances. See Philippians 4:10-19. The Churches had to contribute not only to the maintenance of Pauls own ministry but also the ministry of others who were required by God to devote their lives and talents to the spread of the everlasting gospel. Such men were to receive their maintenance from believers. “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” 1 Corinthians 9:11. “Let him that is taught in the word communicate”, that is, by giving contributions, “unto him that teacheth in all good things,” Galatians 6:6. This, of course, is the purpose of the Sustentation Fund in our own and certain other Churches.
The upkeep of true religion is a responsibility laid upon us repeatedly by the Word of God. In the Old Testament there was that notable and voluntary work of the children of Israel when King Joash “was minded to repair the house of the LORD”. A chest was made to receive the money donated by the people, and was placed “at the gate of the house of the LORD”. Such was the liberality of the people that the priests emptied the chest “day by day, and gathered money in abundance” (see 2 Kings 12, and 2 Chronicles 24). The duty of contributing to the maintaining of the ordinances of the church of God, and the spreading abroad of the Word of God, continues into New Testament times.
As to the results of attending to this duty, one is the approval of God. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister,” Hebrews 6:10. Not only is the approval of God given, but also a bountiful blessing is bestowed on the giver. Not only is good done to the recipient but also to the donor. “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward,” Mark 9:41.
There is also the advantage of donors being prayed for by believing recipients. Having commended the Corinthian church for supplying “the want of the saints”, the Apostle speaks of “their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you,” 2 Corinthians 9:14. Such prayer brings down the blessing of God upon those who give, because “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” James 5:16.
Again, there is the promise of temporal blessings to those who are liberal to the cause of Christ. “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine,” Proverbs 3:9-10. Indeed, we are assured that if we give in a liberal manner we shall not only not be losers, but shall have bountiful returns. “He that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully,” 2 Corinthians 9:6.
A further spiritual gain is that believers are encouraged by the tithing of fellow believers. The act of giving is an evidence of the givers subjection to the gospel of Gods grace, and when believers see this evidence of conformity to the Word of God and obedience to Christ in one another they glorify God (see 2 Corinthians 9:13). Examples of giving to the cause of Christ also result in encouraging some of those who are themselves slow to give, so that they become more diligent in their duty. This encouraging of others is what the Saviour intended when He said, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you,” John 13:15.
One of the greatest blessings flowing from giving to the cause of Christ is that of the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it,” Malachi 3:10.
A further matter emphasised by the Scriptures is that giving ought to be done in a certain manner. We must give with the definite purpose of obeying God and glorifying Him. It is not to be a forced obedience, but free and willing not with a covetous spirit which hinders our giving as freely and as fully as we should. And we are to give with the utmost cheerfulness, remembering that in supporting the cause of Christ we give to the noblest of all causes, and bearing in mind that what we possess comes, in the first instance, from God Himself, and that we give only a little of what He has lent to us in His gracious providence. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver,” 2 Corinthians 9:7.
It ought to be remembered too that however much we give to the cause of Christ, it cannot be reckoned as too much. The widow gave her last two mites she did not think to keep one mite for herself, and the Saviour did not say that she gave too much. She gave all she had. If a millionaire gave his total millions he would, in one sense, give no more than the widow. “But she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living,” Mark 12:44.
Finally there are disadvantages of not giving or of giving sparingly to the cause of Christ. Obviously, we will limit our benefits. “He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly,” 2 Corinthians 9:6.
The most serious result of refusing to give to the cause of Christ is the removal of the ordinances of the gospel from that area. God has ordained that gospel ordinances be maintained and spread abroad by the liberal contributions of its friends. It is abundantly evident that the gospel could not be maintained by the apostles or spread abroad without the assistance of well-wishers. When Christ sent out His disciples to preach on one occasion He plainly instructed them that while attending to that work, they were to receive the hospitality offered to them in the homes which took them in, Luke 10:7.
There are many ways of removing the gospel from any one place, or of preventing its spread to another. One sure way is to withhold the contributions required for supporting the work. God has ordained the means of maintaining gospel ordinances if we refuse to adopt the means, gospel ordinances must inevitably disappear. How solemn! If we value the gospel for ourselves and for those coming after us and also for those who do not presently have it, we will surely support it with our substance.
Finally, we see that Paul, in dealing with the duty of giving, draws the attention of the Corinthian believers to another example of giving the supreme example of God giving His own dear Son. “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift,” 2 Corinthians 9:15. God gave the greatest of all gifts, His well-beloved and only begotten Son. He gave Him ungrudgingly, most willingly, and in love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” John 3:16. This ought to be the great incentive to us to give of our best to the cause of Christ.