For those of you new to Free Money Finance, I post on The Bible and Money every Sunday. Here's why. The following is an excerpt from Dollars and Doctrine which deals with the issue of where Christians should give.
By now you have seen why you are called to give and how to go about giving, but one question has yet to be answered: where am I to give? In one sense there is a simple answer to this question--in another sense it is much more complex. The Old Testament gave specific instructions as to where one’s contributions were to go, who was to receive them, and how much was to be given, but the New Testament is much more vague in its instructions of who should receive our giving. Therefore, we will start with the simple answer to this question.
When one attempts to condense the new covenant’s instructions into one basic or primary premise, the following principle emerges: Christians are called to give to those who provide for their spiritual growth.
“The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.” (Gal. 6:6)
“If the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.” (Rom. 15:27)
“If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you...Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:11-14)
Those who provide “spiritual things” are due “material things” from those whom they serve. Primarily, we are called to financially support the needs of those who contribute to our spiritual growth. The most obvious example of this is your church. There is no verse in the New Testament that literally commands believers to give to their church, only the verses above. Many argue that by looking at Old Testament commands to give to the temple and priests, we can logically assume that we should give to our church. Either way, you are commanded to give to the needs of those that lead you and teach you spiritual things. If your church does not meet these criteria, you need a new church. On the most basic level it is evident that our church should be receiving some (or all) of our contributions.
It is important to mention that our giving must be considered just that--giving. A gift. We are not paying for spiritual services the way we would pay the boy down the street to mow our lawn or the mechanic to fix our car. This “purchasing” mentality is degrading to God’s workers, God’s work, and ultimately, God Himself. We must view our contributions as a donation, not compensation. We give that the good work that is going on may continue; that we may continue to reap spiritual gain from these good men and women.
When digging into this issue many, “What if…” and, “What about…” questions begin to surface. The most common question is: “Do I have to give only to my church or is giving to a Para-church organization or ministry the same thing?” Throughout the New Testament we see that many Christians in the early church gave to needs beyond their immediate “church family.”
“For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” (Rom. 15:26)
“I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you [Corinthians]; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need.” (2 Cor. 11:8-9)
“For it is superfluous for me to write to you [Corinthians] about this ministry to the saints; for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them...For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all.” (2 Cor. 9:1-2,12-13)
The early church supplied the needs not only of their local Christian community, but also throughout the world. Believers are called to give beyond their local church. Returning to our original question of whether or not giving to a Para-church organization is the same as giving to our church, the Biblical answer is yes and no. The New Testament does not give a clear distinction between “church” and “non-church.” The best answer I can give to this question is that we should always be giving to the work of the Gospel in the world, but never at the expense of those who minister to us. Giving to a Para-church organization, ministry, or Christian non-profit is an excellent, honorable, and Godly action, but is never to be done in a way that neglects our immediate church family’s needs. If we don’t give to those who minister to us, we are not following the commands of scripture. Outside of this, it is impossible to pin down a theology with any kind of authority. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that Christians are called to give to both their church and beyond.
To wrap up this section, I will offer some pragmatic solutions. Many Christian thinkers have arrived at a simple solution to the dilemma of where to give: tithe (10%) to your local church and then all contributions beyond that go to the places the Lord leads you (even if that is giving more to your church). We are required to give to the places that minister to us, but that does not inhibit us from giving to ministries we are not personally involved in. (All Christians are involved in the work of the Gospel around the world.) The believer’s primary concern with giving is to support those meeting our spiritual needs, then secondly, to support those places meeting the needs of others.
The scripture refers to the money that we give to be set apart because “it is holy to the Lord.” (Lev. 27:30) I believe the Bible requires our contributions to be “Christian.” Our giving is to be in places where the glory of God through the pursuit of Christ is of first importance. Giving to medical research, pet adoption agencies, and your local school’s PTA are all great things, but this is not the portion that a believer has set apart unto God. Just because the IRS treats them as the same thing doesn’t mean we should. The Christian is called to be marked with generosity, and therefore will inevitably find himself giving to many “non-Christian” things, but this must be separate from what he has allocated to the Lord.
Does all of this mean I have to pay everyone that is a part of my spiritual growth? Yes, starting with the author of this book. My mailing address is… only kidding! Obviously we do not bring our checkbook to every Bible study, small group, or Sunday school class. This would appear that we are purchasing services from our brethren. God only calls us to support the needs of His people who have dedicated their professional lives to His service. Your small group leader is not teaching your class to put bread on the table. His needs are met by God through his “day job.” In addition, many of these men and women minister to us out of service to the Lord. To pay them for doing so would rob them of this service. Common sense will usually answer these types of questions; however, the believer that deeply meditates over verses like: “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him,” (Gal. 6:6) might begin to exhibit some strange behavior. What if you approached your small group leader, Sunday school teacher, Bible study leader, or spiritual mentor and said something like, “You have been such a gracious gift to my walk with Christ. For years you have been such a blessing to me. Please allow me to be a blessing to you. Here are two movie tickets. I will watch your children so you and your wife can have a night out…I would like to take you and your family out to dinner…I have reserved a weekend at a Bed and Breakfast for you and your wife to enjoy… Please accept this small token of my appreciation for all that you have invested in my life.” The church must begin to emphasize generosity inside its own walls as well as outside.
“Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all.” (2 Cor. 9:13)
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)