Christ and Christian Giving - Selections from J. I. Packer

Dr J I Packer, one of the greatest Christian writers in the modern world, years ago, regularly preached at JPC when visiting our then Church Warden, Raymond Johnston, his friend from student days. Now in his mid-eighties, Jim Packer, with the wisdom of old-age, has recently written four meditations on 2 Corinthians entitled Weakness is the Way (IVP). The following are extracts (minimally edited) from one of the four meditations.

Biblical basics on money

What is money? A medium of exchange and a means of gaining power and influence in your circle of society. Many view money as a kind of magic: the more they have of it, the more they want; the more doors they expect it to open for them; and, not surprisingly perhaps, the more reluctant they are to part with any of it. The result? Idolatry: we end up worshipping our investments, our possessions, and our bank balance. Jesus saw this and warns us against it: "You cannot serve God and money" (Matt. 6:24). Paul, also, warns of the money pitfall:

"Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils" (1 Tim. 6:9–10).

So, what should we do when our basic needs have been met and we still have money in our pockets; when we find that doing whatever it is that we do professionally to earn our living, as we say, and that presumably we think of as service to others and so to God, is actually making money for us and the money is piling steadily up? Jesus and Paul give the same answer. Use the money, not for yourself, but for God and God's people; use it to spread God's kingdom; use it to help persons in need. See yourself as manager, steward, and trustee of God's funds, honoured by the responsibility you have been given but totally accountable to God who gave it to. Paul directs Timothy:

"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nought to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They 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. 6:17–19).

It was Luther, so we are told, who said that everyone needs three conversions: conversion of the mind to gospel truth; conversion of the heart to embrace the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Master; and conversion of the wallet or cheque-book, the laying of one's money at Christ's feet. Luther certainly knew that getting sin out of the driver's seat in relation to our money is one of the most difficult dimensions of the sinner's repentance. Today, pastors often tell us that when people become Christians, the last thing in their life to be touched by God's transforming grace is regularly their wallet. When directed to commit their time, talents, and treasure to the Lord, giving him financial control starts later, goes slower, and takes longer than does the forming of the other two habits, presumably because the inner resistance is stronger.

A comic strip I enjoyed showed a mother, with a bawling baby in her arms, chatting in the street with a friend: "What's the trouble with baby?" "Oh, he's teething." "And your husband (who is sitting on a bench in the background, his open-mouthed agony matching that of the baby)?" "Oh, he's tithing." Tithing as a life commitment to Christian giving at 10% annually is always a good start, but however much it is commended from the pulpit, it is constantly evaded by those in the pew. To motivate generous giving goes against the grain of the fallen human heart, and so it is always hard labour.

Money and our management, ministry and mind-set

First, when we set ourselves to think about Christian money management, in whatever connection, from buying groceries to supporting missionaries to investing in industry to financing a holiday, the first thing we have to get clear on is that the money that is ours to manage is not ours, but God's. Yes, we have been given it to use, but it remains his. We have it as a loan, and in due course we must give account to him of what we have done with it. That is the point of the word stewardship, which nowadays is in effect the church's label for the discipline of giving. Society (which Scripture calls "the world") sees each person's money as his own possession, to use as he likes. Scripture, however, sees our money as a trust from God, to be used for his glory: "All that is in heaven and in the earth is yours … All things come from you, and of your own have we given you" (1 Chron. 29:11,14). Such is the constant biblical perspective.

Secondly, Christian giving is ministry with God's money. Ministry means service; service means relieving need; need means a lack of something that one cannot well do without. Paul calls his great plan of financial help for the Christian poor in Jerusalem "the ministry for the saints" (2 Cor. 9:1) because the poverty of the poor is denying them necessities of life. The ministry of giving has many goals: spreading the gospel, sustaining the church, providing care for distressed individuals (as the Samaritan in Jesus's story did for the beaten up, half-dead Jew), and for distressed groups like the Jerusalem Christians, and more. The ministry of giving in all its forms aims to advance the Kingdom of God, which becomes a reality in human life whenever the values and priorities of Christ's teaching are observed. It goes without saying that in this ministry, all God's people are meant to be involved.

Thirdly, Christian giving is a mind-set regarding God's money. A mind-set, or mentality as we may prefer to call it, is a characteristic attitude, a habitual orientation, an entrenched desire, and as such a matter of motivation and purpose. Christian giving aims at pleasing and glorifying God and never settling for what is clearly second best. That raises the question, how much should one give? Specifically, should we tithe? Some seem to think that tithing is like paying God rent: when we have given him 10% of our income, the rest is ours. But no, it is all God's. What Paul tells the Corinthians is not that they should raise their share of the collection for the Jerusalem poor by tithing, but that if they give generously to God, he will give generously to them (2 Cor. 9:6,8,11,13).

Paul's appreciation of the Macedonians for giving "according to their means … and beyond their means, of their own accord" (8:3) suggests that his answer to the question, "how much should one give?" would be, give all you readily, easily, and comfortably can, and then prove your zeal and wholeheartedness for God by giving something more. In the light of Jesus's commendation of the poor widow who put into the Temple Treasury or she had, it is natural to suppose he too would answer our question by challenging us along these lines. This is how C.S.Lewis was thinking when he directed a correspondent who had put our question to him, "Give till it hurts." It may be a good idea to practice tithing as a crutch until we get used to giving larger sums than we gave before, but then we should look forward to leaving the crutch behind because now we will have formed the Christian habit of giving more than 10%. When the amount to give is in question, the sky should be the limit, and the word of wisdom, "Go for it."

Motives and methods

Four "Be-attitudes" (imperatives about Christian living) suggest some motives.

First, be grateful to your gracious God - "for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). Secondly, be generous to your needy neighbour - every person whom you meet, or who confronts you, whose need, once you see it, you must do your best to relieve, like the Good Samaritan. Thirdly, be given to Christ your Saviour as his disciple and be self-giving to others. Fourthly, be a glorifier of God. Generous giving, in particular, will ordinarily give rise to this effect (glory to God), as will all the forms of single-minded obedience and service to God that others see in us.

And Paul teaches four points about how we should give.

First, giving should be voluntary and cheerful, and not cause you are hounded for money: "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7). Secondly, giving should be deliberate and thoroughly thought out, taking account of all the pre-existing financial claims that we are under obligation to meet. Maximal giving must not lose touch with reality and become irresponsible, any more than it should invoke the Corban" evasion of the Pharisees that Jesus dennounced in Mark 7: 9-13. "If the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have" (2 Cor. 8:12). Readiness with realism is what he is commending. Thirdly, giving should be wisely managed. Paul understands Christian fellowship to require of him (in his collection for Jerusalem), and of everyone else, a threefold relational concern - to trust, to be trusted, and to be found trustworthy. Fourthly and finally, giving, where possible, should be cooperative. Giving fair shares - fair in the sense not of all parties giving equal amounts, but of all being equally committed to giving all they can and so helping each other to reach the target (2 Cor. 8:10-15), deepens fellowship wonderfully.

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