A Message from Pastor Hale
I was recently told how to use my bank’s bill pay service to send a monthly offering check to Zion automatically. Because of this I don't have to write a physical check and remember to put it in the offering anymore (Sundays are busy, of course, with a lot to do). It removes the necessity of trying to remember this monthly duty and makes it an easy task to plan out our family’s regular giving. But perhaps the best thing about it is that this regular gift comes out first, regardless of all the others ways that money could be spent. I can report it has been working flawlessly for us the last few months. I get an email reminder when the check is made and mailed to Zion by my bank, but it has been completely automatic and hassle-free.
While Christians are not bound to Jewish ceremonial customs, like the tithe, faithful, mature Christians choose to be generous in supporting God’s Word and His public ministers of the Word. And should God get the leftovers—the change and spare dollars we have in our wallet or purse, after the “important stuff” is bought? By no means. Does giving to God’s house get left out due to bad, icy roads, vacation travel, or sickness? Very often it does, due to not planning ahead and making generous giving a regular discipline.
Giving does not make one Christian, but a Christian must discipline his flesh and control his sinful nature, which does not love God. So we should not expect ourselves to be automatically generous and to give faithfully, without some effort, intention, or discomfort. The flesh does not cooperate with the Holy Spirit. We must resist the flesh, which has all kinds of selfish ways to employ time and money. But we are simply stewards for the Lord, who must give an account for our actions. We are not baptized to be foolish, lazy, and ungenerous. People who say, “I have faith, I’m baptized, so I don’t need to go to church or give to support my congregation regularly,” are testing God and not following the Spirit’s direction. This is very dangerous to faith itself. We are not to grieve the Holy Spirit, given to us to produce the fruit of good works.
God does not want giving to be accidental or randomly spontaneous: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7). This conscious decision is to be made in the mind, which is renewed by the Word. The flesh wants to “wing it” and do whatever feels good in the moment. But without some choice and decision no one would be regular at church or read God’s Word. The flesh will not naturally follow God’s will—instead, it resists it. So we must control it and make some effort to do what is God-pleasing. And doing good will also mean some planning and sacrifice.
If we spend more on eating out, gourmet coffee, or entertainment than we give monthly to church, aren’t we signaling our priorities? Let us make a good confession by being intentionally generous. You can’t get closer to God by what you do, but good Christian discipline helps restrain the flesh and its desires. We are to be self-controlled and wise with what we are blessed, not ruled by our passions and a slave to the moment. Christian giving should be intentional, not accidental. One’s congregational offering is not a bill under some sort of legal obligation, but Christian giving is more significant and should come before all earthly invoices and responsibilities. It supports the preaching of the Word of Christ, which gives eternal life. It should rightly be viewed as more important and significant than water, electricity, or natural gas and put in first place in one’s life. Our Lord does not just want to be first in our heart, He also calls us to live a holy life in our deeds to Him.
Of course, to decide to give a fixed amount regularly limits future options. To have your bank send a check automatically to your church, that is a percentage of your income, rules out doing some things that could be fun and opportunities that might come up at the last moment. But we are not to be tossed to and fro by new, exciting things. We are to be content with what we have, since the Lord is the one who gives us our daily bread. Consider what Christ as done for you, and all the spiritual gifts you have in the Gospel. That is why, “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:8). There is no true spiritual generosity without Christ and His forgiveness of sins, which renews a person by the Spirit.
To give first is different than just seeing how much is left over, after living selfishly for yourself. The Jews were required to give firstfruits (the very first portion of their crops and income) as offerings and sacrifices to the Lord, signaling that all belongs to the Lord and that He alone deserves the first of what we are given, not the last leftover bits (see, for example, Deut. 23:1-3). Firstfruits were to be given in faith, believing that God, who owns all, will supply all needs. It was meant to be an act of faith.
While we are not under the Jewish obligation to give a certain percentage of our income, we are to see God in the same light of faith and not worship unrighteousness mammon, thinking it sustains our life and comfort. The Lord Jesus Christ is to be first in all things. Those blessed materially in this age “are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim 6:18-19). Christian giving, that pleases our Father in heaven, is done in thanksgiving for what Christ has already done for us.
Giving seems like a worthless and pointless activity to the unbeliever. It looks like self-inflicted pain. But Christians are to live to please their Father in heaven, not themselves. And He gives promises to us that He will reward the generous. “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed” (Pr. 19:17). Giving to support the preaching of the Gospel is not like paying taxes, since we are not free to ignore Caesar. Generosity, in however we give, is to be of love, motivated by Christ. Paul urged the Corinthians to give, but not reluctantly or under compulsion: “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:5-6). Do you want to reap more, then you must sow and plant more! God multiplies the seed and causes it to be fruitful, according to His wisdom and generosity. We are called to trust His good will in Christ.
Trust the Lord and listen to Him. Your reward is safe in heaven. On the other hand, you can’t take any earthly goods with you when you leave this world. You are not to give out of fearful obligation, dread, or guilt, but love for all our Lord Jesus has done for us. We give and help others because He first loved us. “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives” (Psalm 37:21).
We can be generous, because we have the Lord’s promise and do not have to depend on our own strength or resources to survive and scrape by. On the contrary, glory awaits you in faith: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:20-24). Christ is our firstfruits when it comes to death and life. Resurrection glory has been assured us in Jesus’ rising, so we are rich in God, free to be generous with all which the Lord has blessed us. Christ’s death and resurrection is the pattern for every believer. The firstfruits is significant—it determines how we view the rest. Amen.