No strings attached

Posted: August 13th, 2011 | Filed under: Christians and poverty, The church | No Comments »

In Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England, we read that, in the 18th century, Eleazar Wheelock secured a royal charter “for the education & instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land in reading wrighting and all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing and christianizing Children of Pagans as well as in all liberal Arts and Sciences; and also of English Youth & any others.” A small fortune was raised from benefactors across Britain who sought to offer the benefits of education to Native Americans. Unfortunately, Wheelock had duped these generous donors, and those working on his behalf, and used their money to create Dartmouth College – which educated primarily English students. Did Wheelock’s deception undermine the blessing of those who gave?

In our era, the pendulum of Christian giving has swung the other way. When seeking to help believers in need, all too often we insist on controlling how our money is spent. When we give, we insist that buildings are built and equipment is purchased consistent with our view of what’s best. Impoverished believers overseas, for example, may receive gifts that we believe they need and never see the supplies for which they are most desperate. Cultural differences, or our own shallow understanding of the beneficiaries, may cause us to question how needy believers use our gifts and spend our hard-earned money. We give with strings attached, and we’re not afraid to play the marionetteer. Is it true Christian giving when we won’t relinquish control over spending?

There’s no question that Christians should give until it hurts. If the suffering church of Macedonia could give “as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability”, then how much more should we, who live in the prosperous Western world, give sacrificially? All that we have – talents, time, and resources – belongs to the Lord: Our offering must be 100 percent, not a 10 percent tip. In giving to others, we acknowledge this important principle, demonstrate to the world our willing obedience to God, and establish strong bonds of Christian love across the church universal. We answer the Bible’s clarion call for equality. Not to give is open defiance against God.

The model for Christian giving is laid out clearly in the Bible. When the church at Antioch, for example, learned of an imminent need in the church at Jerusalem, they decided to send relief, “everyone giving as much as they could.” They entrusted their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem. This model is repeated elsewhere in the New Testament: Members of the local church offer their gifts to church leaders – and then let go of the purse strings. Giving church leaders deliver these gifts to receiving church leaders. Finally, leaders in the receiving church distribute gifts based on local need.

According to John MacArthur, the primary motive of Christian giving is not human kindness, human philanthropy, a desire to satisfy conscience, or a desire to do well. What motivates followers of Jesus Christ to give sacrificially is the grace of God at work in our hearts. We lay our gifts at the feet of the Savior, with no strings attached, knowing that, no matter what the outcome of our giving, we can trust completely his divine sovereignty. We are blessed for the act of giving, not for the results of giving.

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