The Wrong Question
I have never had to convince my daughters they “have to” contribute to the work of the Lord’s church. They have always done so willingly, even enthusiastically. They did when we just handed them a quarter apiece and told them to put them in the plate. And they did when we started giving them their own money to spend as they please. They grew up watching their parents contribute weekly. At some point they asked us why, and we were glad to tell them:
Giving of our means is the New Testament-approved way of providing for the financial needs of the church. Paul told the brethren in 1 Corinthians 16 that he would be coming to collect the funds that were to be set aside for the benefit of needy saints in Jerusalem. They were to take up this collection on “the first day of every week” (v.2). This is the only pattern given for the church regarding financial concerns. The church today has financial concerns within the pursuit of its divine mandate — occasionally regarding benevolent actions, but generally in the areas of evangelism and edification. So we use the same pattern that they used.
Some have observed, correctly, that the passage does not say, “Giving (fill in the blank with an amount or a percentage) is an obligation placed upon every Christian in every era, and Christians sin in avoiding this obligation.” Nor is there any other New Testament passage that gives that command. And so the question is raised in every generation, by people who, admittedly, have much more pressing financial obligations than do my daughters — “Do I have to give on the Lord’s day? And if so, how much am I required to give?”
These are the wrong questions to ask, in my mind. Here are some alternatives:
“Do I want to follow the Bible? The pattern for Christians is clear. Our appeal has always been to the pattern when we want to determine how a child of God is born, or to determine the moral conduct he or she should observe. And we claim the same pattern of authority in other matters of congregational business, including the use of the funds collected. Is it not reasonable to follow the same pattern as individuals as we wait before the Lord?
“Do I want people to hear the gospel?” Admittedly, attending worship services in a bought-and-paid-for church building, led by a financially compensated preacher, is not the only way for an alien sinner to hear words of salvation. And if you are busy about the task of being a “personal evangelist”, feel free to skip this paragraph. But church attendance is a time-tested, culturally familiar way to spread the borders of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. It works.
“Do I want myself and my brethren to grow?” Again, we are not dependent upon the church for our spiritual growth. (At least, we had better not be!) But we all know the help that fellowship can provide. Everyone’s financial contribution helps make that possible.
“Do I want to be involved?” For some Christians, the honest answer is, “No.” But most Christians acknowledge the importance of their association with brethren, both for their own sake and the sake of the group. The contribution is an easy way to assure the ongoing involvement of Christians in the work.
“How much do I want out of my relationship with God and my brethren?” Paul writes, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6) — ironically, in the context of the financial contribution! Those with little or no financial investment in the church are likely to have little spiritual, social and emotional investment there either.
“Am I a giver or a taker?” Most of us are willing to accept the blessings that come from local church membership. But it is selfish to assume we do not owe the Lord and our brethren anything in return. The mind of Christ (Philippians 2:4-5) would serve us well here.
Think about it!
By Hal Hammons
From Expository Files 18.1; January 2011