Christians are to be in their measure imitators of God, the great giver, who “has not spared his own Son, but delivered him up for us all”, and can be counted on to “grant us all things” (Rom. 8: 32). It is also well known that those who give generously to others are enriched in their own souls for “the liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered also himself” (Prov. 11: 25). Indeed, a Christian who does not give will be dried up in his spiritual affections, and although he may have abundance of earthly possessions, he will suffer from leanness of soul (see Ps. 106. 15).
Christ, though He was rich, became poor for our sakes, that we through His poverty might be enriched (see 2 Cor. 8: 9). How many of us, for His sake, and for the sake of those He loves, have become poor? Searching question indeed! Heb. 10: 34 shows that the Hebrew saints accepted with joy the plunder of their goods, knowing that in heaven they had better and more abiding possessions. Indeed, the writer of the Hebrew epistle takes this as evidence that they were not mere professors but had “faith to saving [the] soul” (v39). The history of God’s people provides many similar cases where earthly riches have been given up for Christ or devoted to Him.
How marked was the spirit of giving early in the book of Acts when hearts were still fresh in the love of Christ: “all that believed were together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions and substance, and distributed them to all, according as any one might have need” (Acts 2: 44, 45; see also Acts 4: 34, 35). There was no bondage in this. It was not a legal exaction but the free–will offering of hearts touched by the love of Christ, and energized by the power of the Holy Spirit. Ananias (see Acts 5: 1–10) was, of course, marked by another spirit, but it is in connection with his case that we are distinctly told there was no bondage to give: “While it remained did it not remain to thee? and sold, was [it not] in thine own power?” (Acts 5: 4). Now no doubt there were special circumstances in operation in these early chapters on account of the many thousands detained at Jerusalem by the wonderful new work of God. That may be so, but should we not hold all our possessions at the Lord’s disposal in order to be used for Him as He may guide? Is it not the case that we are not our own, and have been bought with a price (see 1 Cor. 6: 19, 20) and that all that we have is really His, and is held by us merely on His behalf? Sadly, many give only nominal assent to this stewardship. Like those in Mark 12: 44, they may well cast into the ‘treasury’ out of that which they have in abundance, but in no sense are their riches at the Lord’s disposal. It was the poor widow that was the real steward. Giving should never be a painless token, but a sacrifice, and “with such sacrifices God is well–pleased” (Heb. 13: 16).
It is clear from the OT that the Levites, the widows, the fatherless and the poor, all came in for special consideration in connection with the liberality of God’s people. The Levites had no inheritance with their brethren in Israel. Jehovah was their portion, and for them He exacted from the other tribes a tenth of all their increase. This tithe was devoted to Jehovah (see Lev. 27: 30, 32), and then given to the Levites (see Num. 18: 21). We also find that the Levites were to offer to Jehovah a proportion of what they received (see v26). All this is instructive. The Levite was to be cared for, and not forgotten: “take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite all the days thou shalt be in thy land” (Deut. 12: 19). The application of this principle is simple. Those called of the Lord to devote themselves to His service in spiritual things are not to be forgotten—“if we have sown to you spiritual things, [is it a] great [thing] if we shall reap your carnal things?” (1 Cor. 9: 11).
A few verses later we are told that the Lord has “ordained to those that announce the glad tidings to live of the glad tidings” (v14). This is the same principle as the tithes given to the Levites. The Apostle Paul did not use this right for himself, though he did receive from assemblies, but he gives it as that which the Lord set down as a general rule. This of course lays upon the saints at large the responsibility to care for those doing the work of an evangelist. There is no question of salary or hire, but simply ensuring that such have what they need in order to carry on their service. The apostle John writes in a similar way when he commends Gaius for his hospitality towards travelling servants who had gone forth for Christ’s name (see 3 John v7).
As to Christian giving in general, its importance may be seen from the fact that two entire chapters in the second epistle to the Corinthians are devoted to it. The occasion of the lengthy discussion in chapters 8 and 9 was the raising of a collection among the Gentile assemblies for the saints in Judea who were experiencing famine (see Acts 11: 28–30). When we examine these Scriptures, although we see the same general responsibility to give as in the OT, we see also a significant difference. In the OT it was a matter of legal exaction, for all were bound to give according to a fixed rule. Those under law had to give, and they were even told how much they had to give. In the NT it is all of grace, hence the apostle’s exhortation to the Corinthian saints: “even as ye abound in every way, in faith, and word, and knowledge, and all diligence, and in love from you to us, that ye may abound in this grace also” (2 Cor. 8: 7). The apostle calls it “grace” because it is the fruit or outflow of grace in the heart rather than being “of necessity” (2 Cor. 9: 7), and being grace, it naturally has a tendency to “abound” (2 Cor. 8: 7). Furthermore, it connects itself with a willing mind: “For if the readiness be there, [a man is] accepted according to what he may have, not according to what he has not” (v 12). It is not here a tenth that he must pay, as under the law, but according to his willingness and ability: “each according as he is purposed in his heart; not grievingly, or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9: 7). There is a deliberate weighing of the matter. What can I devote to the Lord? How much am I able to spare? How much ought I to give to this purpose, or that? Under the law the tithes were exacted whether a man was willing or unwilling, gave cheerfully or grudgingly. Under grace God counts on the hearts He has touched with His own grace, and expects them to give willingly, leaving it to the love He has put into those hearts to decide how much shall be given. Nothing else suits Him now. He loves a cheerful giver, and unless we give in that spirit, He does not want our contributions. In the language of the apostle, He does not want it “as got out of you” (v5).
However, if I am not prepared to give then there is a blunt warning: “he that sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly” (v6). If we have received grace from God, then we ought to “abound to every good work” (v8, my emphasis), and not to do so will be to our loss. How many are dried up in their souls, because they sow “sparingly”—yet how much spiritual blessing results once God is brought in! Hence “he that sows in [the spirit of] blessing shall reap also in blessing” (v6). God Himself “supplies seed to the sower and bread for eating” and “shall supply and make abundant your sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness” (v10). Thus God provides the financial and material prosperity that enables us to give, then multiplies blessing upon our giving, resulting in a rich return to Himself and to us. What a fresh perspective this puts upon material giving!
Let us not suppose, either, that because a tenth is not exacted as under law, it does not matter whether we give that much or not. It is so easy to loftily dismiss those who follow the ten per cent rule as being ‘under law’, but how are we demonstrating that we are ‘under grace’ when our giving falls far short of theirs? Indeed, should a Christian not give more liberally than an Israelite? Grace does not insist on a contribution, but if the heart is living in the sunshine of Christ’s love, will it not yield up its stores more bountifully than under law? Where the Israelite was faithful in giving, the Lord blessed him in his basket and in his store, and while the Christian's blessing is of another order, the Lord will honour such as are faithful in this responsibility.
Does the assembly give as such? Yes indeed: it seems clear that the writing of the epistle to the Philippians was on the occasion of their having sent, as a company (see Phil. 4: 15), an offering to the Apostle Paul by the hand of Epaphroditus. They had also sent once and again unto his necessity (see Phil. 2: 25; 4: 10–18). Elsewhere in the NT, the Apostle would not make himself a burden to the assembly at Corinth (see 2 Cor. 11: 9), although it does not follow that he might not have received from individuals there. Yet while he would not receive from the assembly in Corinth, he did from others: “I spoiled other assemblies, receiving hire for ministry towards you” (v 8).
The apostolic directions on how money collections are to be organised is given to us in 1 Cor. 16: 2: “on [the] first of [the] week let each of you put by at home, laying up [in] whatever [degree] he may have prospered”. First of all the individual is to provide a store, out of which gifts can be drawn as the occasions arise. If the saints generally acted on this principle, and laid aside on the first day of the week as the Lord had prospered them, how many precious stores of money there would be to meet the many needs in the body of Christ! How many poor and needy and tried ones would be made to rejoice through the bounties of God’s people! How many servants of the Lord, ready to faint under pressure, would take fresh courage, and go on with thankful hearts! Would not the Lord be honoured, and would not fresh blessing be the result—the windows of heaven be opened? How true is the proverb: “honour Jehovah with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy vats shall burst out with new wine” (Prov. 3: 9, 10). The token giving that is so typical of collections today is put to shame by what we read about some of the first Christian saints: “but we make known to you, brethren, the grace of God bestowed in the assemblies of Macedonia; that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty has abounded to the riches of their [free–hearted] liberality” (2 Cor. 8: 1, 2). Need more be said? Indeed, they gave not only “according to [their] power” but “beyond [their] power” (v3, my emphasis). Is it not true that in many places the weekly collection has largely degenerated into a mere form, in which the gifts bear little or no relation to how the givers are prospering? The divine wisdom in arranging for the collection to be on the same day as when the Lord’s Supper is typically observed is at once apparent, for God well–knew our niggardly hearts. How could we not give abundantly when we are reminded of the One who “being rich, became poor, in order that ye by his poverty might be enriched” (v 9)?
Of course questions often arise as to the exact means by which collections are to be arranged, and how they relate in a practical way to our partaking of the bread and wine, but it is best to be as simple as possible about such things. If we get occupied with side questions on which the Bible furnishes us with no explicit answers, then we are in danger of losing sight of the great question, namely, the duty and privilege of giving. The great thing is to attend to the giving—to do it, and not forget, nor neglect, to do it (this may be why the apostle insists on it being a systematic, weekly event).
Others ask how wide should be our giving in a day of collective breakdown. The general principle is clearly that “as we have occasion, let us do good towards all, and specially towards those of the household of faith” (Gal. 6: 10). Certainly there may be grounds for it not being right to associate ourselves with particular groups or persons, but this is no excuse to never look beyond our own ‘circle’. Indeed, there is something quite abhorrent about money simply circulating between affluent Christians as ‘hire’ for preaching, when there are real needs among God’s people elsewhere in Christ’s body. You cannot say “if one member suffer, all the members suffer with [it]” (1 Cor. 12: 26), if all you are prepared to do is say “Go in peace, be warmed and filled; but give not to them the needful things” James. 2: 16)! Again, “but whoso may have the world’s substance, and see his brother having need, and shut up his bowels from him, how abides the love of God in him?” (1 John 3: 17). The matter is very solemn and searching.
In conclusion, may the Lord stir us all up to give, according to the grace we have received, our hearts aglow with the love of Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and in whose presence and glory we shall soon have our part, leaving behind us all that is of earth and all that we have failed to devote to Him, and finding, as treasure above, all that has been given as unto Him. May we remember that we have brought nothing into this world, and neither can we carry anything out of it (see 1 Tim. 6: 7) and, above all, may we recall the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20: 35).