03 April 2020

Why We Give

When I was growing up, many of my friends from other churches believed that they were supposed to give exactly 10% of their income to the church. This is called a tithe, and it is a common practice in many churches. I never understood this. Nowhere in scripture is a tithe demanded of Christians. God does not demand an obligatory tenth of your income. However, that is not to say that Christians are not to give. In fact, we are to give so much more than just income.

In Mark 10:17-31, Jesus is approached by a rich man who wishes to "inherit eternal life." Jesus reminds the man that goodness comes from following God's ways, but the man answers that he has kept all the commandments. Then Jesus tells the man how God's ways are more than a list of commandments, they come from the heart.

This rich young man did not want to become a disciple, he wanted to buy eternal life. He would rather pay a tithe, or follow yet another rule. That is why when Jesus tells him to "sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me," he cannot.
This is the meaning of the parable that "it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom." The man was so burdened with possessions that he could not fit through the gates of Heaven carrying all he possessed.

It seems like a radical message that Jesus would intend for the rich to give everything they have to take care of the poor. And in Acts 4:32-35 we see that this is exactly what Jesus intended, as it is what the First Century Church practiced. "For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need." At first glance this seems like an early form of communism, and the story in the next chapter does little to make it seem any less so.

In Acts 5:1-10, Ananias and Sapphira sell their land and place the money at the feet of the Apostle Peter, just as many Christians had been doing. However, they decided to keep a bit of the money for themselves. God strikes them down for their sin, so the text tells us, but what exactly was their sin? It could not be keeping the money for themselves. There is nothing sinful about keeping your money. However, that wasn't the only thing they did differently from their fellow Christians. They told Peter that they were giving him the entire sale price, not a portion, but all of it. Their sin was that they wanted to look as generous as their peers while lying about how much they actually gave. They could have given any amount, eve3n nothing, so long as they did so honestly.

We see again in 2 Corinthians 8:9-15 that the Apostle Paul asks the church in Corinth to give to the church in Jerusalem that "your abundance at this present time supplies their lack, that their abundance also may become a supply for your lack; that there may be equality. As it is written, 'He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack'". Here we see not a binary division between rich and poor, but a cycle of giving, of caring support between believers.

Further, in 1 Corinthians 9:1-18, Paul reminds the Corinthian church that those who work to spread the Gospel deserve to earn their living doing so. He reminds them that no worker, soldier, or even beast of burden works for free, they all reap the reward of the work they do. In verse 10, he even states that a worker should receive a share. Years ago, when I worked at a certain popular coffee shop, I calculated that if every customer gave a 15 cent tip (5% of a $3 latte at that time), that I, and every other barista, would make triple our hourly wage. Most workers do not earn a "share" in any meaningful sense.

When you give, you give so that those who work to spread the Gospel do not go hungry, but also to feed the poor in your community and in communities abroad. We never know when lean times will come and the only way to get through them is to be generous that our generosity may be returned as in Luke 6:38, "for with the same measure you [use], it will be measured back to you."

Peace be with you.

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