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November 15, 2014

Give, Yes, But To Whom?

By Paul Tatham
We evangelical Christians --those who have received God's free gift of salvation-- are a generous lot.

A 2013 study by the Barna Group found that we evangelical Christians tend to give more to charity than others. 

The study reported that 79 percent of evangelical Christians gave money to a church or charity last year, while 65 percent donated items and 60 percent volunteered their time.

Only one percent of evangelicals said they donated nothing at all, which beat the national rate (13 percent) and the rate among those who claim no faith at all (25 percent).

We’re accustomed to opening our wallets and reaching for our check-books whenever there is an emergency need, while continuing to underwrite worthy causes that have been on our prayer lists for years.

We know that “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7) and cling to the promise that “if we give it will be given unto us” (Luke 6:38), both “in this present time and in the age to come” (Luke 18:30). 

But we also take seriously the sobering addendum that “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly” (II Corinthians 9:6-7).

But before we drop that check into the plate and thus salve our conscience into thinking we have done the right thing, it might be wise to see exactly what the Scripture has to say about Christian charity.

Are we to give?

Yes. No question about that. There are scores of Bible verses that command us to be a generous people, “thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:17). And there will always be opportunities to give, since “ye have the poor with you always” (Mark 14:7). Few would argue that true Christianity is, at its core, sacrificial.

Do all Bible verses about charity apply to today?

No. Many Old Testament verses apply only to Israel, a theocracy that ceased to exist in 70 A.D., when the Romans put the final nail in their coffin by obliterating Jerusalem, Israel’s capital.

We must be careful not to misapply directives, meant only for God’s ancient people, to New Testament Christianity

Old Testament Israelites, for example, were to leave part of their harvests for the poor (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 19:9; 23:22). It was part of their civil law but is not applicable to us today.

It should be noted that the charity mentioned in the “sheep and goats” passage of Christ’s Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), applies to the yet future Tribulation. Saved gentiles who demonstrate their faith through their ministry to the persecuted Jewish remnant will be duly rewarded.

One would be hard-pressed to find an example of Old Testament Jews giving to the heathen. They were generous, however, with any heathen who joined their camp and embraced their God.

So can we throw out the Old Testament entirely?

Not entirely, because there could be a timeless principle behind it that is still alive and well. Many of the strange Old Testament co-mingling prohibitions or those that deal with ceremonial defilement, for example, have at their heart the overarching principle that modern believers should not soil themselves with “the things that are of the world.” It’s the principle that lives on.

In the case at hand - the timeless principle of giving - that runs throughout the Old Testament, can certainly be applied today. The underlying truth of those specific acts of charity does not necessarily apply exclusively to Israel. Some can be applied to this age:

·Leviticus 19:18—Love your neighbor
·Psalm 112:9—Give to the poor   

·Proverbs 31:8-9—Defend the rights of the poor   and needy.
·Proverbs 19:17—Pity and give to the poor
·Proverbs 21:13—Don’t close your ears to the cries of the poor
·Isaiah 58:10—Give to the hungry and afflicted
·Isaiah 58:7—Give to the hungry and dispossessed 

Is some charity meant to benefit only New Testament Christians?

Yes. In fact, most of it. As with any subject, New Testament verses having to do with charity must be read in context. Often, they tell us to direct our giving to “brothers” in need, not unbelievers.

Paul directs the church at Ephesus to “support the weak” in their congregation (Acts 20:35). John warns us not to hesitate when it comes to supporting a needy “brother” (I John 3:17). Paul writes about taking collections “for the saints” (I Corinthians 16:1). 

James addresses “brother and sisters” who are destitute (James 2:15). James 1:27 defines “pure religion” as helping the widows and orphans within the church. Acts 6:1 speaks of providing for widows within the church.

Paul tells us to supply the needs of the poor, but the context is that of poor believers (II Corinthians 9:6-7). When Paul writes, “Remember the poor,” he is addressing poor believers from a group of churches in Galatia (Galatians 2:10)

The early church had “all things in common,” a voluntary sharing intended for fellow saints (Acts 4:32-35). Timothy is addressing the body of Christ when he tells us to provide for our “own” (I Timothy 5:8), and to take care of the widows within the church (I Timothy 5:3). Scripture is clear that the church is to take care of its constituents.

Scripture tells us that most of our giving is to benefit fellow needy Christians. Galatians 6:10 is clear on this: “As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”  

We are to take care of our own, first and foremost, while the world comes secondarily—a dictum at odds with much of the thinking in modern evangelical churches today, primarily because it sounds so, well, unchristian.

The bulk of our giving should be for the benefit of fellow believers rather than for the lost. We are not to give to the unsaved so that they will like us and perhaps give our Savior a passing consideration

Our giving to the lost is not necessarily meant as a lure to attract those who are “without the camp.”

When our giving is intended to take care of our own, the world will automatically be interested in joining our camp. The attraction should be to join the camp for those who are not yet a part of it. John tells us that “by this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one for another” (John 13:35).

Is all charity meant to benefit only New Testament Christians?

No. Some Scriptures on the topic are open-ended. The recipients of our generosity are unspecified. Therefore, we can conclude, our giving is intended to benefit both the saved and the lost:

·I Timothy 6:18—“Be generous and ready to share”
·Ephesians 4:28--“[Work hard], so that you will have something to share with one who has need”
·Mark 12:31—“Love your neighbor”
·Hebrews 13:2—“Don’t forget to [be hospitable to] strangers”
·Hebrews 13:16—“Do good and share”

But what about . . . ?

·Matthew 5:42—“Give to him who asks.” This verse is part of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, which has its primary application in the yet future Millennium but with secondary applications for today.

·Luke 18:22—“Sell all you possess and distribute to the poor.” This scenario, in which the rich young ruler approaches Jesus and asks what he has to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tests his commitment. It should not be interpreted as a formula for either our charity or as a means for the lost to enter Heaven.

It should cost us

That Sunday morning the pastor was preaching on giving, focusing on the fact that our giving should indeed be sacrificial. Later in the service, as the offering plates were making their rounds, the man sitting next to me smiled, ceremoniously dropped a dime into the plate, and whispered, “Ouch!” I had to suppress my laughter, for I knew that the guy was typically a more sacrificial giver than that but that we both needed a chuckle.

The whole point of story of the widow’s mite, recorded in the gospels, is that our giving should be proportional to how much we are able to give. Giving that doesn’t “cost” us isn’t really giving at all.

So to whom should we give?

So far, we have established that . . .
·We should give
·Some giving does not apply to today
·Most of our giving should be for the benefit of fellow Christians
·Our giving should be relative to our income

Now we come of the crux of our investigation; to whom should we give?

Whether our giving is to benefit the saved or the lost, we are to use common sense. When Jesus sent forth His 12 disciples, he warned them that because they were going forth “as sheep in the midst of wolves” they needed to be as “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16). Surely such caution would apply to us today in our benevolence decisions.

Using godly discernment in our giving, then, would apply to the following:

·Christians are not to give to everyone who has his hand out. Many of us operate under the premise that it doesn’t matter who we give to, as long as we give. Supporting the Red Cross, or any other secular cause, will do just fine. The Bible does not support the idea that we are to blindly toss our money at just any cause that tugs at our heart strings.

·Secular charity organizations have a huge constituency of unsaved donors from which to draw. Christian charities, in contrast, have only the body of Christ. Our priority must be to support Christian groups that promise an eternal payoff.

·This does not rule out secular organizations entirely. But we should support only those that allow us to couple our giving with some kind of “plug” for Jesus—the name of the sponsoring church or Christian organization, distribution of Christian literature, allowing us to share our faith verbally, etc. If a secular organization wants only our wealth, while prohibiting our witness, there is little possibility that our efforts will yield eternal benefits. Such support is wasteful of the Lord’s money.

Our charity should center around offering the lost the “living water” of salvation (John 4:10) and not “water” that is merely temporal. What is the real benefit of raising money for clean drinking water for Africa if it is not connected with the “living water,” which is far more important? Too much charitable giving by Christians meets only temporal needs and is an end in itself. We should focus, instead, on charities that result in eternal dividends.

·A question that often arises is whether or not we should give to panhandlers? Should I give to that homeless guy at a traffic light who promises to “work for food”? Quite frankly, I’m hesitant. Even if I hand him a gospel tract, along with my dollar bill, I have little faith that it will be read.  

Furthermore, studies show that the majority of modern-day beggars actually are not homeless, are not willing to work for food, are addicted to drugs or alcohol, have arrived at their sad state as a result of poor choices, and are able to make a decent living by simply awaiting handouts. 

Our contributions may make us feel warm and self-satisfied, but they typically do little good. In fact, they may very well do more harm than good by enabling such indolence to be rewarded. Perhaps the most charitable thing we can do is to let natural consequences force slothfulness to impart its own lessons. 

If Christians are warned that if they refuse to work they are not entitled to eat (II Thessalonians 3:10-12), how much more does such a standard apply to the lost? We are never instructed to support those who are simply lazy, whether Christian or not, living off the kindness of others. 

Even the Old Testament practice of leaving some of the harvest for the poor (Leviticus 19:9) required some work on the part of those who benefitted. It was not outright charity. In Timothy’s instructions regarding the care for church widows (I Timothy 5:3-16), each widow had to clear several hurdles in order to qualify for benevolence.

Should we give to just any Christian organization?

Just because a charity includes the word “Christian” in its name does not necessarily mean that it is doing a commendable job of bringing the lost into the kingdom and mentoring them into solid followers of Christ. Some Christian outreaches are doing an effective job, some aren’t. Some function on a lean budget that makes every donated dollar count, while others siphon off a disproportionate percentage in “administrative expenses.”

We need to do a little investigating to ensure that a Christian organization is getting the most bang for the buck. A church treasurer once told me that it boils down to “CPS—cost per soul.” Although his analysis may have been a tad crass, he certainly had a point.  

There are only so many Christian dollars to go around, so it would behoove us to stretch each dollar by determining which Christian agencies are making the biggest impact for eternity.

Far and away the most important tenet of our giving must be the gospel—the good news of eternal life made possible by Christ’s payment on the cross. Meeting the physical needs of the lost is certainly part of the equation, but our top priority must remain the saving of their souls. 

I get tired, quite frankly, of all the wastefulness of evangelical churches with their ends-in-themselves social involvement that has little to no gospel connection whatsoever. 

In fact, much of the involvement doesn’t even make a connection to the church that is sponsoring it. Recipients don’t even realize that the donations they are enjoying came from “that generous church down the street.” If they did, they might be intrigued enough to drop by the church to check it out.

Many Christians involved with purely social outreaches believe that they are carrying out the Great Commission.  

They fail to realize that the Scriptural way to bring about true social change is to work first on changing hearts. If someone gives his heart to Christ the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his life and society as a whole inevitably benefits.

Summing up . . .

·We should give.
·Some giving does not apply to today.
·Most of our giving should be for the benefit of fellow Christians.
·Our giving should be relative to our income.
·We should use discernment when deciding whom to support. Not all charities are created equal.

·We should support secular charities only if we are able to leverage such involvement into a Christian witness of some sort.
·We must be careful in supporting agencies or individuals that do more harm than good because they foster irresponsible behavior.
·We should support Christian charities that squeeze the most bang from each buck.
·We should support Christian charities that put evangelism as a top priority in their mission statement.