February 6, 2021
1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we– not to say anything about you– would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. (2 Corinthians 9:1-5 NIV)
Paul is concerned and gets very pragmatic. He is going to help the Corinthians prepare. He does not just pray. He takes action. His concern is not the money, but the impression that the Corinthian church will make on the other churches in Macedonia. There is a connection between these churches that goes well beyond anything we experience today. Why is Paul so concerned about the attitude with which this gift is given? Fundraising is an industry now and the only metric I am aware of is how much money is raised. Paul sees a connection that we do not generally think about.
The church is the body of Christ and we are individually members of it. Local congregations, both gathered and dispersed, are representatives of Jesus in their communities. What was normal for the church in first century has become an exception for the church in the U.S. today. Several weeks ago, I heard a message that made me think about how most of us give and why. It is a challenging message, and you can watch it here. The message was based on this passage from Acts.
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35 NIV)
Very rarely do we think of the local congregation as a distribution center. Yet, that is exactly what is described here. The situation was unusual, as many new believers were not native to Jerusalem, but had decided to stay after their conversion. We do not have financial statistics, but what we know is that the needs of the members of the congregation were met. The passage we are looking at shows that this practice continued and expanded to include the needs of the church wherever they occurred.
Here is the principle: we give through the church, the church then distributes to those in need, people glorify God as they see needs met, and people are drawn to Christ and the church. Notice that the early Christians did not give to the local church, but they gave through the local church. The role of the first deacons in Acts 6 was to ensure that the distribution of funds was equitable. The result was that God was glorified and the church continued to grow. This principle is rarely applied today. Instead, we have a variety of approaches to use to meet the needs of our Christian brothers and sisters, as well as the needs of the community around us.
One option is to give through the government. We pay our taxes and then the government distributes money and services to the places of need. One possible result of this approach is that people glorify government and are drawn to politics as the solution to their need. One source of our political divide is the disagreement about how to care for the poor.
Another option is to give privately and directly. In this approach we choose which needs to address and give directly to the people in need. Depending on the depth of our relationship with those we give to people may or may not connect our giving with our relationship with God. Even if those in need are drawn to a relationship with us, I think it is unlikely that individuals in need will be drawn into Christian community. This may be the goal as bringing those in need into our community often means an ongoing commitment to either meet the need or provide help that enables people to meet their own needs.
Another option is to give privately and indirectly. We choose which ministry is best addressing the needs we care about and give money to them. If the ministry gives directly to the people in need then any relationship developed is between those in need and the ministry. If the ministry distributes through local churches the benefit looks more like the first option. People glorify God and then are drawn to Christ and the church. I.D.E.S is an example of this type of ministry. (International Disaster Emergency Service)
What percentage of my giving to my local congregation goes to meet the real physical needs of people with the congregation and within the community? Overall, 85% of giving to a local congregation goes to the internal expenses of that congregation. (Mission Statistics) What percentage of my giving outside my local congregation goes to ministries that are working to meet real need and to draw people to Christ and His church?
I am embarrassed to say that years ago I participated in a church board meeting where we were dealing with the financial needs of someone who was a member of the congregation. Our decision was not to provide any funds to meet the need. It is our reasoning that I question now. We determined that the government and local non-profit agencies were better equipped to meet the need. We paid our taxes and supported local non-profits and that was deemed sufficient. I think we need to rethink this kind of thinking.