Thursday, April 3, 2008

Urban Legends About Giving, Part 4

I'm saved, so it doesn’t matter how much I give, or even whether I give at all.
It is right to say that being saved is what matters most, but wrong to conclude that giving is therefore irrelevant. In no way does giving (or any other good work) secure God’s favor. However, once we have been made new by the gospel, that same gospel changes us through and through, causing us to practice generosity (and other good works) out of thanksgiving to and love for God. Thus, while a person’s giving does not in any way determine his salvation, it is an excellent indicator that salvation has come to him. It is the grace of God, not our giving, that saves us. But once we are saved, it is the same grace of God that makes us generous givers. In fact, the Bible says, if we claim to be saved but refuse to give to people in need, then we may deceiving ourselves about being saved in the first place (James 2:14-17). In other words, it is precisely because you are saved that it matters how much you give.

God loves a cheerful giver, but I am not cheerful about giving, so it’s better not to give at all.
God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), but this is not to say that we should wait to give until we feel particularly cheerful about it. As with so many areas of the Christian life, obedience in giving can be hard work. The joy might only come during or after the act of obedience. But the same God who loves the cheerful giver (v. 7) promises to give us the grace we need to give cheerfully (v. 8). He gave us the gift of his Son; surely we can count on him for this as well. We should all aspire to joyful giving. But the best way to cultivate joyful giving is to ask for the Lord’s help and start giving.

I don’t owe God anything.
Actually, we owe God everything. God can even require our children from us, as he did from Abraham (James 2:14-24). The Bible repeatedly refers to God as the owner of all things and all people (see Psalm 24:1 for an example), especially those he has redeemed from sin and destruction. God created us, and if we put our hope and faith in Christ, he has purchased us. This makes him not just our Savior but our Lord as well. Therefore, we owe him everything. But since he knows what is best for us, giving back to him and to others is not the same as obeying a tyrannical king. Instead, we are obeying a ruler who is also a loving Father. He wants us to experience the joy of giving. We participate in caring for others and serving God not only because he commands it but also because it is in our best interest to do so.

I don’t owe my church anything.
We probably owe our congregations and leaders far more than we know (Philemon 19), for churches are God’s vehicles to bring salvation and discipleship to the nations. Counting the ways we have been blessed by our church and other churches is a great way to learn how the love of others (expressed in their giving for missions, pastoral salaries, resources, projects and buildings) has had an eternal impact on us. Even if we see little blessing now (perhaps because we haven’t counted those blessings), we benefit immensely from past blessings bestowed by others. We should seek to provide the same blessings for others. Paul says we should owe no debt to one another, except love (Romans 13:8). Jesus and Paul agree that loving others means loving them like we love ourselves. Providing for the needs of others in our churches (possibly a nursery or a youth pastor even if you do not have children; counseling for married couples even if you are single; and especially supporting evangelism and mercy ministries for those in physical and spiritual need) is part of our debt to love others as we love ourselves. We must pray for the desire to love and serve our churches as he has commanded.