The Action of Giving
Tim Temple

Introduction

What do you think of when you think of spirituality, of being deeply spiritual? I think most of us tend to think of spirituality in terms of deep Bible knowledge, lengthy times of prayer, or prominence in the Lord's work. But this is not only an incorrect idea, it must be very discouraging to the average believer who can never envision these things as being a part of his or her life. Often believers conclude that they will never be all that they should be spiritually because of this misconception. They just don't seem to fit the pattern in their own minds of what they think of as a great Christian.

These aspects of spirituality are legitimate and should not be ignored. We all need to spend time in prayer; we need to spend time in the Word. We have said plenty about that in the past, but there is something else that proves our love for God and that God looks at as a mark of spirituality, something that is completely aside from those other things, and that is our use of money and possessions for God's glory. It is something that God has included in His plan that is designed to demonstrate our spirituality.

Those spiritual qualities of the Christian life can be faked. People can claim that they do those things, but there is not much way we can know unless we can observe them over a long period of time. Those things can be pretended, but the use of our possessions, the way we handle our finances and what we do with our material goods shows us up for what we really are. When God designed an economic system, it was as if He was saying to us Christians, “Put your money where your mouth is. You say that you love Me; you say you care about your fellow man, well here is a tangible way that you can demonstrate it.” In fact, this may well be the only reason God created money in the first place. Therefore, giving is a legitimate and important subject for believers to study.

Last week we talked about the subject of giving in general—the attitude that makes giving possible in the first place. We are doing this because as a church family we are faced with the opportunity to build a new facility for our church and the opportunity to trust God for the money that is needed to do that. Today we want to think about the logical next step in the process—the action of giving, those things that are involved in the decision-making process of giving.

Many Christians would simply dismiss this concept with the idea that giving on a regular basis is simply a matter of giving God His ten percent, being faithful in your tithing. But actually the Scripture gives a much broader picture than that, a picture that would better be characterized as stewardship. We want to look at as much of that concept as we can today. In doing so, we will think about three things: the source of possessions, the stewardship of possessions and the secret behind possessions.

The Source of Possessions

Let's talk first about the source of possession to get the basic idea of stewardship. The first thing that we need to be reminded of is that everything we have comes from God in the first place. Let's look at James, chapter 1, verse 17:

James 1:

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

Then think about Matthew, chapter 6, verses 25-34, the passage about God's clothing the fields and the flowers and us. Take verse 30, for example:

Matthew 6:

30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

God has promised to provide everything that we need—our clothing, our food, whatever we need. The best proof of that is the way He provides for the birds and the flowers and the other features of nature around us. So the Scripture teaches us that everything we have comes from God.

But not only does He give us everything we have, I Corinthians, chapter 6, verses 19-20, tells us that we are His possession. Those are the well-known verses that say, “You are not your own; you are bought with a price.” Not only do we belong to God because He is our Creator, but also because He bought us. He paid for our sins with the death of His son on the Cross, and so what we have here is a kind of double indemnity. We belong to God, but besides that, He provides us with everything we need. Thus the proper concept of the Christian and his possessions is the concept of stewardship.

Since the steward is not as common a household word as it was in Jesus' day, perhaps we need to look at an example of it. We find such an example in Luke, chapter 16, verses 1-8:

Luke 16:

1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
5 So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

The details of the story are beyond the scope of this discussion, but it does illustrate the function of a steward. A steward, in that first century Roman world, was a person on the household staff, often a slave, who had complete control over the finances of the master of the house. Today we might think of him as a business manager or the chief financial officer of a corporation. He had the responsibility to see to it that the groceries were bought and the bills were paid, that kind of thing. Verses 5-6 show what complete control he had over his master's finances. He had the power to actually change the figures in the financial statement. It was wrong for him to do that, but the point is that he had the power to do it. At the same time, verses 1-2 show that the master was ultimately in control, so this is the picture of Christians and the things that God has entrusted to us.

The interesting thing about that is that I Peter, chapter 4, verse 10, refers to us believers as “stewards of the manifold grace of God.” God has given us certain possessions. He has given some of us more than others, and that is within the scope of His own perfect will and His own perfect plan, but to every one of us He has entrusted certain things. Then He has commissioned us to administer those things for His honor and glory. Obviously, He expects us to use some of those possessions and that money to meet our own daily needs—food, housing, clothing, and those kinds of things—but He also expects us to use some of it for other purposes to which He will direct us.

There are a number of other places in the New Testament where this same kind of reference is made, so it is clear that one of the ways that God looks at us is as stewards or managers of His possessions on earth. Nothing that we have really belongs to us. God has just placed them at our disposal to manage them for Him. That includes not just our money, but our talents, our education, our place in society, our spiritual gifts, whatever you number among your possessions.

The Stewardship of Possessions

Those are the things that have to do with the source of possessions, and that leads us to the actual subject of our study today, the stewardship of possessions. If we are to be stewards of these possessions, how do we go about it? If we are to be stewards of these possessions of which God has made us administrators, how do we go about it? The Scripture reveals several aspects. First, there is what we might call routine stewardship , the practice of regular giving. We will go into that in more detail in a minute.

The Grace of Giving

A second aspect of stewardship that is known as the grace of giving is described in II Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 8:

II Corinthians 9:

8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:

This is the promise underlying a faith promise, which we will be talking about in more detail, the Lord willing, but I want to just touch on it here by way of preview. This is the principle of seeing a need that lies off in the future and promising God that you will do something about it and trusting God to enable you to do something about it. It is also the promise that applies to giving during times when we ourselves might be in need. Haven't you ever felt a desire to give to some need even though you were in a time of financial need yourself? God can make that possible if we will trust Him to do so. He will give us the grace to give. That grace may take the form of some money that we don't have right now, but that He will supply to us. Maybe a bonus at work, or an unexpected dividend on an investment, or a gift from someone else. It may take the form of the grace to adhere to our budget more strictly or to do without something that we want for ourselves in order to give to that need. The grace of giving is another important aspect of stewardship.

The Gift of Giving

A third aspect of stewardship is the fact that giving is listed as one of the spiritual gifts in Romans, chapter 12, verse 8. That has a couple of implications. First, it means that, as with each of the other spiritual gifts, God expects it of all Christians. For example, Jesus gave The Great Commission to all Christians. He said that each one of us should be trying to bring other people to know Him, but at the same time, He has especially gifted some people to be evangelists. He expects all of us to show mercy to others, but He has given some Christians the gift of showing mercy, and so it goes through the whole list of spiritual gifts.

When we know about the gift of giving, our tendency may be to think that those are the people who should do all, or at least most, of the giving. As with all of the spiritual gifts, every Christian should do it, but God especially equips some believers to do it. We should respond as best we can when we are faced with the need and leave what others are going to do in the Lord's hands.

Routine Stewardship

Now, of those three aspects of giving, the one that we want to zero in on in this study is the first one, routine stewardship—regular giving, that giving that God expects all of us to do. The really basic principles about it are found in one verse: I Corinthians, chapter 16, verse 2. This verse was written as a part of a letter to the Christians who lived in the city of Corinth concerning an offering the Apostle Paul was taking up for the Christians in Jerusalem. There had been a terrible famine in their area, and Paul and other church leaders felt led of the Lord to ask other Christians in other cities to help them financially. In explaining that offering to them, he wrote these principles which really apply to any giving to the Lord's work. He says there in verse 2:

I Corinthians 16:

2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

A Public Responsibility

This one verse gives us four specific principles of giving, whether it be to a special offering like Paul was taking or to any other kind of giving that God leads us to do. First, this verse tells us that it is a public responsibility, something that all Christians should do. Notice he says there in the first line, “…let each one of you…” This is not just for the rich or those who have reached a certain level of success and financial responsibility. There were some wealthy Christians in Corinth and there were some poor Christians there. In fact, one of the problems in that church that had caused Paul to write his first letter to them was that there was a division between the rich believers and the poor believers in that church. They weren't treating each other the way they should as fellow Christians. Regardless of that, Paul said, “Let every one of you, rich and poor, get prepared to give to this offering.” God expects every believer to be involved in giving to His Word.

The amount is not so important as the motive. Do you remember the story in Mark, chapter 12, when Jesus was watching people putting money in the offering box at the temple? Did you know that God watches what people put in the offering? Have you ever stopped to think about that? I can just see Jesus maybe leaning up against one of the pillars of the temple and looking across the way to the box where offerings were placed, just watching. But as He watched, He saw an impoverished widow coming among the other givers and placing a very small amount in the box. It was an amount that would be basically a half penny if we had that small amount in our monetary system today. But, Jesus prounced that tiny amount that widow gave the biggest offering of the day. He explained that the others had given “out of their abundance,” but she gave “out of her poverty.” He said, “She gave all that she had.” We may determine the amount of our gift, but it is God who determines the value of it.

One of the problems throughout the history of the Church has been the problem of looking at the other guy and seeing how much he is giving and being upset that we can't give as much as he did or, on the other hand, committing the serious sin of pride because we are giving more than he did. Don't worry about how big or how little your gift may be in regard to what somebody else is giving. You give what the Lord enables you to give and what He leads you to give and forget about what somebody else may give.

Proportionate Giving

A second principle of giving here in I Corinthians, chapter 16, verse 2, is that it is to be proportionate. Notice the phrase, “…as he may prosper…” I am reading from the New King James version of the Bible, which is a newer translation in more modern English, but I actually like the way the old King James version put it. It says, “…as God hath prospered him.” Second Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 7 says the same thing in a little different way. It says, “…as he purposes in his heart.” The word purposes there is a translation of a Greek word that has to do with priorities. The idea is of deciding what has the top priority in our finances, not just whether or not it will fit the budget or what it will do to the tax picture. It has to be more than just deciding where the tithe will go this month. Giving can be, and God wants it to be, a spiritual exercise. It should not be just a routine, automatic thing. It should be a blessing to give.

Let me just mention in passing that the New Testament does not teach tithing. Let me quickly say that it has a great deal to say about giving, but technically speaking, the practice of tithing was an Old Testament practice. If this is a shock to you, you might get the tapes on I Corinthians, chapter 16, II Corinthians, chapters 8-9, where I have taught about it in more detail. Suffice it to say that the New Testament's principles of grace giving are based on this matter of stewardship, managing God's assets on His behalf. That calls for careful thought and prayer and decision-making, not just being able to figure out a percentage rate and then giving that.

Giving in Private Deposit

A third principle of routine giving in I Corinthians, chapter 16, verse 2, is that it is to be in private deposit. This is suggested by the phrase, “lay something aside, storing up.” The structure of this phrase in the Greek text is such that it means, “store it up for yourself.” Again, the old King James translation is more clear. It says, “Lay by him in store.” What this implies is a system of some kind by which you accumulate money for giving to the Lord's work as it is needed. Maybe it would be a checking account or a savings account, or just an envelope that you keep under the mattress to which you regularly give money out of which you can give to the Lord's work. You see, this puts the responsibility directly on the individual believer to trust the Lord to direct him or her to what he or she should give to. At Abilene Bible Church we print a detailed giving guide in our bulletin so that the Lord can direct people to what He would have them give.

This rules out what some churches call storehouse tithing whereby you do all your giving to the church and the church distributes it for you. The New Testament does not teach that. The New Testament teaches that you are responsible for your giving. You should decide how much of that giving is going to be done to the church and how much you are going to give to other ministries or individuals. Now, a part of that deciding that we are supposed to do is to ask the Lord for His direction. Giving should always involve praying. Do you see how personal this is supposed to be and how much fellowship with the Lord it should involve? I say again what I said a few moments ago, giving can be, and should be, a great blessing.

You should definitely support the church. That should be the primary place where your spiritual needs are met. That is the place where you can expect yourself and/or your children to be married. That is the place you count on to minister to you in times of illness and other kinds of need. It is the place you turn to at the time of death and funerals. It should be a priority in your giving, but God will probably lead you to give to other ministries, too. You are to decide where the money goes, prayerfully, of course, perhaps asking for more information, but ultimately you make the decision.

The Secret Behind Possessions

We have talked about the source of possessions and the stewardship of possessions, so the final thing we need to consider about stewardship is the secret behind possessions which is detailed in II Corinthians, chapter 8, verses 1-5:

II Corinthians 8:

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;
4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.

The Christians in Macedonia were very poor, verse 2 tells us, maybe as poor as some of the Christians in Jerusalem. Paul refers to their deep poverty there in verse 2, but they wanted to give to the offering that Paul was collecting for the poor believers in Jerusalem, according to verse 3. In spite of their poverty, they gave so much that they actually had to beg Paul to take it. Verse 4 refers to their “imploring Paul with much urgency,” to take their gift. Reading between the lines, I can just hear Paul saying, “Oh, no, you folks need this money for yourselves. You shouldn't be giving your grocery money away,” or something like that, but “they begged him to take it.”

The question that may be on your mind right now is, “How in the world did they do that?” The key is in verse 5, and this is the key to all giving: “They first gave themselves to the Lord.” You see, the principle of stewardship involves giving yourself to the Lord, realizing in actuality that everything you have has come from Him and that you are just His steward of those things, committing yourself to live in that way.

Conclusion

Giving is not something that we should be embarrassed to talk about, but neither does it need to be something that we have to harp on all the time. For the believer who understands the concept of stewardship, it is something that will come naturally and that will be a great blessing.


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