To whom do we give?
The New Testament reveals the first church's priority in giving was first and foremost to believers, and once those needs were met, then to unbelievers: "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those of the household of faith." (Gal 6:10)
Even Jesus' statement in Matthew 25: 34-40 where He said at His coming He will be looking for people who have clothed, fed, given water to, and visited the sick and imprisoned was not a blanket statement for all: "Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me." So the focus is clearly to meet the needs of believers first and foremost.
What if all the (traditional church) 'outreach' programs were stopped, and those funds were redirected to giving back to congregation members in need? Then once all the disciple's needs were met they were open to giving to unbelievers. Now there's a thought!
It is a great shame that in the traditional church so many congregation members in genuine need can't get a simple gift of a few hundred dollars to help them through a rough time, because those funds are going to some puppet program in the projects or to pay down the 2 million dollar sound system!
Network of support
One of the attractions (in the natural) of becoming a disciple of Jesus in the days after Pentecost was how they gave to each other directly rather than giving to the temple building, and instead of to temple priests, to the apostles and those in ministry who spiritually fed them, with direct relationships with all.
If you were an unbeliever in those days; a time with no unemployment insurance, no pensions, and you were in need and saw this happy, caring group who loved God, took care of their own, led by humble leadership in fellowship with the people instead of untouchable in the temple, why wouldn't you want to learn more?
Consider the plight of the first century widow who had no family support. With no family, no social security, no means of earning a living in that culture, these women were destitute. But if you were in such a position and a disciple, your needs were met. Acts 6 outlines the infrastructure that arose among all the (home based) churches to be sure these women were cared for, and it took 7 men on staff full time to coordinate it all! Can you imagine the food and supplies and communication flowing between the homes in the city!
If we read Acts 6:1-7 as a stand alone passage we might get the idea the support of the widows was blanket coverage of food and rent for free. But the Bible interprets the Bible, and we realize Paul learned from the apostles and so carried the practice Peter and the others initiated in Acts 6 to his work around the Roman Empire, maintaining consistency throughout the body of Christ no matter where the gospel spread.
So with similar needs in Ephesus, in I Timothy 5:3-4 Paul instructs Timothy how to distribute to widows: "Take care of those who are truly widowed - solitary and without support". But..."If a widow has family members to take care of her, let them do so, learning that faith is applied first at home, caring for parents and grandparents, and this is pleasing to God..."
He goes on to lay down the guidelines to receive support: "At least 60 years old, faithful in marriage, well known for good things such as bringing up children, giving food to strangers, putting people up in her home, helping people in need, and always making herself useful." (I Tim 5:9-10)
The giving of support was a means for them to continue in the giving lifestyle of ministry to others! What if
This wasn't a free lunch, so we can understand back in Acts 6 the widows there were quite active in helping families and the ministry. Placing an expectation on them to give back is consistent with Paul's letter to the Ephesians, for in 4:28 he says (for example) 'Let him who stole, steal no more; but let him get a job so he has money to give to those in need'.
Within the body of Christ first, we should clothe the naked, provide food/drink for those in need, visit the sick and imprisoned, but it is clear that once fed, once supplied, once healed, once released, the expectation is that they in turn will become givers rather than receivers. A hand up, not a hand out alone.
When we understand giving as outlined above, we understand the apostles were on the same level of support as the widow, and with similar expectations of Christian character. They earned their living off the offerings that were given just like the widows did. They were in the fellowship of the people and visited house to house.
I think it is great shame when a minister of any kind, especially a pastor, lives above the average person in their congregation. I greatly admire a man I worked for 6 years, the late Billy Joe Daugherty, for he and Sharon drove average cars, lived in an average house, and by percentage was one of the biggest givers back into his own church and ministry. He set a good example and to this day we try to emulate him.
But that kind of humility is largely lacking in traditional church circles today. And while there are failings on that side of the issue, many in the body of Christ fall short on the flip side.
Paul told the Corinthians "If we sowed into you spiritual things; is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things?" I Cor 9:11
Paul was trying to raise their awareness of how his teaching had impacted their lives, how he had changed their lives forever. He imparted the things of God which develop an unseen infrastructure in a person's thoughts, and outward to life itself; including their relationships and their family. Yet the Corinthians had no appreciation of what Paul had done for them, not a thought about giving back into his life.
Paul held that the highest honor a person could have, and one that demanded integrity and Christian character, was that of sowing spiritual things into people in full time ministry. Therefore, the receiving back of mere carnal things like money and goods which will one day burn away, paled in comparison, though needful in this life. He poured into them things that would stay with them through eternity, yet they wouldn't give him regular financial support (while other churches did).
That's a matter of integrity on the Corinthian's part that he was trying to develop as a part of Christian character, much of which was covered in last week's "Thoughts". Giving is a grace, but it requires discipline, and integrity to give to whom it is right and proper.
In explaining his expectation of support, Paul drew a comparison between a minister of the New Testament with those of the Old Testament priests concerning how each earns a living from the tithes and offerings of the people. Of course ministry-wise that priesthood is done away with in Christ, but in this instance he compares how they earned a living, much as we might compare the OT scapegoat as a type of Jesus' sacrifice, though we realize that goat offering is no longer relevant. The principle of type and shadow remains true however.
"You know its been taken for granted that those who work in the temple live off the proceeds of the temple, and those (priests) who offer sacrifices at the temple eat their meals from what has been sacrificed? Along the same lines, the Master directed that those who spread the Message should be supported by those who believe the Message" (The Message Bible; I Cor 9: 13-14)
What is interesting to study is how the other churches supported Paul, while Corinth at first, did not. In his letter to Lydia and the church in Philippi he thanked them for giving to him twice while he was in Thessalonica, and this was early enough in his ministry they were the only church to do so. (Acts 17, Phil 4:15-16)
But as time went on people began to rearrange their lives correctly, and gave into his ministry, and beyond. In Romans 15:26 he talks of the giving of Philippi, Macedonia, and Achaia, and in I Corinthians 16:1, the churches of Galatia did too. Later of course the Corinthians as well (II Cor 8/9), revealing their growth in this grace as a matter of growing in Christ-like character.
Over the last 6 weeks I've defined through NT eyes the Malachi 3 rain and crops, the Bible teaching on diversity of income, how it is within our authority to change our ability to handle money, to giving being a grace that we are to excel in, to today, sharing priorities of to whom we give and with what expectations.
For some, any discussion of money has to be dealt with as gently as a butterfly with sore feet landing on a flower. Others have never really been taught chapter and verse in a broader sense and so this is eye-opening and readily received, and yet I've only scratched the surface.
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