As Midtown has grown in numbers and also maturity we believe it is important for us to teach people who call Midtown home about the spiritual discipline of giving. It’s important for us to grow in generosity as we grow in our understanding of God’s generosity. Giving plays a huge role in helping us have a better understanding of God’s provision and living in faith, believing that all we have belongs to him and that we are simply stewards.
Let’s take a look at some selective passages that talk about growing and maturing in our giving. Giving isn’t just “doing the right thing” or knowing a biblical understanding of the correct percentage of your income that goes to God. Giving is one of those wild things that involve the whole of ourselves: head, heart and hands.
2 Cor 9:7-8
7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
Reluctant giving isn’t giving at all, but the painful process of doing something you really don’t want to do. Reluctant isn’t from the heart, but rather a violation of the heart. It’s not the giving of love, but rather a bitter giving out of dissatisfaction and resentment. This kind of giving changes a church into a market exchange. People want something for their money. Names on chairs, control on boards or the preacher preaching on pet topics. When we give from a reluctant heart, the heart demands payment.
Compulsion giving isn’t giving at all, but doing something the way that it’s always been done in hopes of a greater payoff. Compulsion isn’t thought out, prayed out or an expression of a life devoted to working with the Lord, but rather a return on investment. The return on compulsion is feelings of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness changes a church into a place of hiding. We only show the parts of us that look good, and quickly judge those that fall short of the standard. Joy is no longer found in free grace, but in “measuring up” or the shame of “falling short”.
The greek word for cheerful is “hilaros”, which we get the word hilarious from. Do I need to say more? We should be hilarious about our giving. That seems as impossible to grasp as God’s one-way love of grace and mercy. Yep. It gets crazier. When we are made spiritually alive we are new. That newness comes with the Holy Spirit who brings us gifts to harness and use for the kingdom. Some of our people have the gift of being hilarious a lot!
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, [b ] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Giving is as important a gift of the Holy Spirit as prophecy, serving, teaching, encouragement and leadership. There are people in our church that have the gift of giving, but it’s hard sometimes to see and appreciate this gift because it’s not always connected to the size of the gift. Sometimes we can think large gifts are from people that are gifted givers, but more often it’s the small unnoticed gifts that are coming from gifted givers. Years ago, I was doing street evangelism in London when a homeless man asked me for some money. When I told him I didn’t have anything he asked me to sit down and he gave me a slice of his pizza. “Here, I think you need this more than me.” For the next hour he told me about his love for Jesus. That was hilarious.
1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
This is not exclusive to the poor. We also see this in the lives of people that have plenty. We see this gift exercised in the life of Barnabas.
34 For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
If you don’t think the heart matters, just read the next five verses. Right after Barnabas’s “hilarious” gift, the writer turns our attention to Ananias and Sapphira.
1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. 3 Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’ 5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
This odd couple shows us that it’s a dangerous thing to try to gain reputation from giving to the church. We have to realize this passage is descriptive and not prescriptive. If this was prescriptive then I fear people would start dropping like flies, starting with me! God isn’t promising to punish every one that gives with the wrong motives, but we have to consider that God was making an obvious point to a very young church. Giving mattered, but what mattered more is the heart behind the giving. Imagine a grace that cares more about my heart than what I do with my hands. If we forget this, we will slip into a worldly understanding of money, power and even one another.
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? 8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’[a] you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law-breakers.
It matters how we see people in the church. If we honor people for what they have, we become blind to our own hearts. If we honor wealthy people for what they can give us and not for who they are apart from their money, we are using them, not loving them.
If we know that money has this weird power to change the way we see people, love people and teach them grace, then we should be very careful in how we handle it.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.