4 Truths About Christian Giving

Ministry means service; service means relieving need; need means a lack of something that one cannot well do without.

The ministry of giving has many goals: spreading the gospel, sustaining the church, providing care for distressed individuals (as the Samaritan in Jesus’s story did for the beaten-up, half-dead Jew), and for distressed groups like the Jerusalem Christians, and more. The ministry of giving in all its forms aims to advance the kingdom of God, which becomes reality in human life whenever the values and priorities of Christ’s teaching are observed.

 

1. Christian giving is both a spiritual gift and a discipline of discipleship to our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is a spiritual gift? Paul’s Greek has two label-nouns for identifying any item in this category: charisma, meaning a product of the active, communicative, redemptive divine love that the New Testament calls charis, and we call grace, and pneumatikon, meaning an expression of the life and energy of the divine person whom the New Testament calls hagion pneuma, the Holy Spirit. A spiritual gift, a grace gift as we may well describe it, is essentially a pattern of service in the church that honors Christ, glorifies God his Father and ours, edifies one’s fellow believers and oneself too, and imparts strength and maturity to the church as a whole. Some gift are abilities that transcend one’s natural resources and are supernaturally bestowed in and through Christ; others are natural abilities redirected, sanctified, and activated by the Holy Spirit from within on each occasion of their exercise. Thus, Paul’s intermittent healing powers were a gift of the first type, while his unflagging powers as a teacher of gospel truth were a gift of the second type. Giving, now, is a gift of the latter sort.

In Romans 12:6, Paul writes, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them,” and he proceeds to give examples of this, emphasizing each time that one use his or her gift in the best way possible. He speaks of prophesying (i.e., preaching the word of God), serving, teaching, exhorting, and exercising leadership. Then in verse 8 he comes to this: “the one who contributes [should do so] in generosity.” “Contributes” is a word in the Greek that means “shares” and certainly refers to the sharing of money, as those who have give to meet the needs of those who have not. “Generosity” is a term that also signifies “sincerity,” and Paul probably selects it for use here because it always carries overtones of transparent goodwill being expressed.

So giving or sharing or using money to relieve needs is a spiritual gift, and one who gives generously is as truly a charismatic as one who prays for another’s healing or who speaks in tongues. Also, giving is a discipline of discipleship to the Lord Jesus. Disciplines do not come naturally, without effort. On the contrary, they are acquired and sustained habits of thought and/or behavior that need constant practice if they are ever to be anything like perfect, and they often involve specific techniques of their own.

Christian virtues, of which generosity is one, are disciplines that Christ commends, commands, and models as life qualities that should mark out all his disciples, that is, all those who have committed themselves to learn his way of living. ( e Greek word for “disciple” means learner.)

All spiritual gifts are, from one standpoint, disciplines of discipleship, and if we are not actively traveling the path of generous giving, it will have to be said of us straightaway that we really are weak and deficient in our discipleship to and dependence upon Christ Jesus our Lord—which means that we need, urgently, to change our ways.

2. Christian giving is management of God’s money.

When we set ourselves to think about Christian money management, in whatever connection, from buying groceries to supporting missionaries to investing in industry to financing a holiday, the first thing we have to get clear on is that the money that is ours to manage is not ours, but God’s. Yes, we have been given it to use, but it remains his. We have it as a loan, and in due course we must give account to him of what we have done with it.

That is the point of the word stewardship, which nowadays is in effect the church’s label for the discipline of giving. A steward is someone whom an owner entrusts with the managing of his assets. An investment manager is a steward: he has control of his clients’ assets in one sense, but his job is to understand and implement his clients’ wishes and priorities regarding their use. In the same way, a trustee is a steward: his job is to invest, safeguard, and disburse the money in the trust according to the stated purpose of whoever appointed him.

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