Thursday, April 3, 2008

Urban Legends About Giving, Part 5

I don’t owe the poor anything.
God teaches us that we do in fact owe the poor, although not in the way we might think. In God’s economy, serving those in need is serving him, and failing to serve those in need is failing to serve him (Matthew 25:31-46). Romans 13:8 says to owe no debt to others except love, and Jesus teaches that loving others means caring for them in the same way we would want to be loved. How would we want to be cared for if we were poor and needy while others were rich? Clearly, we would want help getting our basic needs met. If this weren’t clear enough, Jesus makes the same point in story form in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In short, providing care for the physically and emotionally wounded; being a parent to an orphan or unwanted child; providing job training and economic empowerment; and providing emergency relief after famine, war, disease and natural disasters are all possible aspects of the Christian’s debt of love. That is what we owe the poor.

Giving would chip away at my investments, and that would be bad stewardship.
Giving would deplete my savings, and that would be bad stewardship.
Giving would subject me to tax liability, and that would be bad stewardship.
It is both wrong and unnecessary to set the different components of godly stewardship against one another. These three objections share a common theme. God does indeed want us to be good stewards (Luke 16:10-12). And good stewardship certainly can include high return on investment (Luke 19:12-27), saving for the future (Proverbs 6:6-8), and the prudent payment of taxes (Matthew 22:21). But even more than any of these things, godly stewardship involves generosity. It is easy to place things like our desire for a comfortable, pleasurable retirement ahead of our responsibility to give generously. But in the words of Jesus, to do so is stupid (a literal translation of Luke 12:16-26), for this present earth will not last. God has given us the kingdom and the promise that we will possess the new creation, and the fitting response is not to be stingy with what he has given out of fear or self-centeredness, but to give generously to the poor and so lay up our treasure in heaven (Luke 12:32-34). The desires to compound our wealth, save, and carefully plan our tax liability, while legitimate, do not undo our obligation to give to the Lord and his kingdom mission. God is fully aware of the state of our bank balances and the pressing cares of this world, and he summons us to give generously all the same.

If I were to give to the church, it would only contribute further to the greed and corruption among church leaders. (funny one, it would actually contribute to less stress!)
It is of course true that greed and corruption are entirely inappropriate among church leadership. But does our giving really foster these evils? For one thing, biblically speaking, we don’t give to the church; we give to the Lord. Now, it is true that the normal means of giving to the Lord is through his church. But as long as we think of our giving as mere “membership dues” paid to the church, we miss the point completely. Second, it is not our place to impugn the motives of the pastor or other church leaders. We should beware of issuing condemnations, lest we be judged in the same way (Matthew 7:1-2). In addition, the elders of the church are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17), so a critical attitude toward them is doubly inappropriate. Third, if a Christian is truly concerned that his church leaders are living in willful sin, then the thing to do is to approach them about it through biblical channels to seek their repentance (Matthew 18:15-20), rather than just angrily withdrawing one’s gifts. The question we must ask ourselves is: Do my church leaders need to repent of their greed (which is possible), or do I need to repent of my own attitude toward them (which is also possible)?