These lines are not written because there is a lack of Christian giving in our churches. To my knowledge there is not. The head of a family who gives twelve to twenty dollars a week to the church and pays from a thousand to thirty-five hundred dollars a year in school tuition does not have to be exhorted to give. But there are reasons why we should be confronted by this topic nevertheless. First, the high financial sacrifice for the needs of the covenant is borne primarily by the married heads of households; the young, single person, although he contributes, usually does not do so to such an extent. In fact, usually the level of his giving is quite low; occasionally it is nothing. There is evidence that the richest, untapped resource in our churches is the single, young, working man or woman. Worldly affluence and materialism afflict us. Some would need eight arms and legs to operate all the vehicles they possess: cars, campers, trail bikes, boats, snowmobiles. For all of us, but primarily for these, the following is helpfully offered. Secondly, there is the danger that we become weary in well doing, that long years of giving begins to exact a toll. Cheerfulness is replaced by grudging duty, grateful thanks by automatic offering. Thirdly, this article will serve as an opportunity to consider the practice of tithing that is a common practice in many churches, and, one learns on the mission field, in the lives of many individual saints. To the subject of tithing we hope to turn our attention next time.
Implied by the term stewardship is the relationship of proprietor and servant. The original compound word means to serve in a house, to manage a household or an estate, to be a trustee in charge of the property of another. This relationship is well illustrated in the Parable of the Talents as found in Matthew 25. Stewardship involves responsibility, for it is a position of trust. Care must be given to the property of another. It involves, secondly, accountability. As the steward manages his master’s estate to the best of his ability, he does so in the expectation that his master may return at any time and demand an accounting. It is the prerogative of the master to judge whether the steward has been faithful or not, and to treat him accordingly. Thus stewardship is not merely a formal relationship, but it is an ethical obligation, a matter of the heart. The good steward devotes his time and energies in the place he is called to labor with love to his lord and master. The evil steward seeks his own welfare and in so doing is a cheat and a thief; the good steward constantly asks himself, “Do I have my lord’s welfare at heart?” This ethical aspect is emphasized by Paul in I Cor. 4:2, “Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.”
Although there is stewardship among men due to the relative “ownership” of goods by man and the unequal distribution of those goods among men (and hence the eighth commandment), ultimately all things belong to God. This absolute ownership of all things in the universe by the Creator, Sustainer, and Governor lies at the heart of Christian giving. All things are of Him and through Him and unto Him! The earth and its fullness, the world and they that dwell therein, the beast of the forest and the cattle on a thousand hills, the silver and the gold, our children and ourselves, they are all the LORD’S. (Ps. 24:1, Ps. 50:10, Hag. 2:8, I Cor. 6:20)
Having finished the great household of the universe, God condescended to make man a steward of the earth with work to do. (Gen. 1:28) In Adam the human race receives all things of the earth, its wealth, its relationships, its time and opportunities, its truth and ideas, in the steward relationship. Man is blessed in order that he might bless God!
This single honor, once enjoyed, soon lost, typified throughout the Old Testament, is restored perfectly and irrevocably in Christ. In Christ we see that it is blessed to give rather than to receive. Consumed with zeal for His Father’s house, the faithful Servant gave Himself unto death although He was tempted not to give at all. And God looked upon His Servant, was well-pleased, and gave Him a Mediator’s glory. In this perfect giving of Himself, Christ did four things: 1.) He removed the curse from us for our selfishness and our greed. 2.) He delivered us from the sin of seeking self instead of God. 3.) He gave us an amazing example to guide us in our stewardship. 4.) And He restored us to a right relation of stewardship through the enabling power of His Spirit. Underneath were the everlasting arms of the mighty Savior God, Who in His Son reconsecrated us unto Himself, so that our consecration, our royal priesthood, begins not with material things but withourselves, and then the things we have and do.
For the saint of the new dispensation, giving falls under the law of liberty, under the rule of the new heart which knows no constraint but only willingness. Accordingly, the New Testament gives us these guidelines for stewardship and giving, which, you will notice, require of the child of God an involvement of his will and discernment:
1.) Priorities—Giving for the cause of the kingdom, whether that be church, poor, missions, seminary, Christian school, is giving that comes first. Giving for these causes ought to come from the cream of the paycheck, not as an afterthought or only if there is enough left over. That this is a valid application of Jesus’ words, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” is seen from the words he immediately adds, “and all these things shall be added unto you.” All these things refers, according to the content of Matt. 5, to such things as food and clothing. Although first in this text has the idea of primary principle and not numerical order, to keep these words does require that we have an order of priorities as far as our spending is concerned.
2.) Liberality—The liberty of the new dispensation saint may not be turned into license, as if we stewards think we give according to what we can get away with. The rule is that we give as freely as we have received. In close connection with this liberality, of course, is the obvious guideline of contributing as we are able (Deut. 16:17) or as the Lord has prospered us (I Cor. 16:2). With some God is pleased with a few pennies, with others a large portion of their incomes, and this according to one’s station in life.
3.) Cheerfulness— In II Cor. 9:7, cheerfulness stands in contrast to a grudging attitude and a forced feeling. That the Lord loves a cheerful giver implies: a.) That the giver wants to give. He understands the relationship in which He stands to His Father in heaven, and he is altogether pleased by this relationship. b.) That the giver has faith, faith in the promise of God that all other things shall be added unto him, and to give rather than receive is blessed. This conviction makes cheerful! c.) That the giver is thankful. He is aware of his own poverty and wretchedness. He is deeply conscious of the fact that all that he has has been given him of grace. That the Giver of every good and perfect gift should so enrich such a sinner compels him to give out of a grateful heart. Perhaps it can even be said that this cheerfulness, so pleasing to God, is the outstanding characteristic of true giving!
4.) Without show—Speaking of the Pharisees who loved to give on the street and in the synagogue with the purpose of being seen, Jesus warns with the words, “They have their reward.” The only reward for showy giving is what happens when the show is made. We are to give humbly, privately, secretly. It is a matter between the individual’s heart and God in heaven who rewards the secret giver openly, and no one else. This completely private aspect of a steward’s giving has one exception, or perhaps it could be called one specification. The giving for various covenant causes by the head of a household ought to be shared in some way with the remaining members of the household, so that especially the children know what is going on. Certain things in life are not so much taught as caught. This is so true of values! If the youth of the church are to be faithful stewards, if they are to share in the blessedness that God promises to the liberal giver, if they are to demonstrate cheerfulness with all its rich implications, then they will have to see these things in their fathers! God will use sermons to lead them in the right direction. God will grace the verbal lessons we give our children with understanding and compliance. But above all else, God will crown ourexample so that we have followers. Lessons are being taught in the home without a word being spoken. Our attitudes oftentimes become the precise attitude of our young. How urgent, then, that both the fact that we give and the way we give are held before them at home.
5.) Regularity—”Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store . . . . .” Paul instructs the Corinthian saints. The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day XXXVIII, makes this weekly giving a matter of worship, a matter of proper Sabbath observance. Each Sunday we appear before the Lord with thanks in our hearts and gifts in our hands, confessing that all that we have is His, desiring that His kingdom may be extended and may come, showing our love for the poor. Those churches that have a weekly benevolence offering are certainly following the catechism closely. More, the practice of giving on the Lord’s Day is so proper because that day itself is a reminder of our Christian liberty. Through His death and resurrection, Christ has put an end to all the shadows and types, and has clothed us with perfect freedom. Since giving is a splendid expression of this freedom, it is proper that with regularity we contribute on the first day of the week. And finally, this regularity is also beneficial with respect to the point that was made above, the instructing of our seed. Those who have few periods of income throughout the year, such as when crops or herds are sold, ought to plan in such a way that they have gifts to offer each week, and gifts to distribute to their children for giving each week. Long periods of time during which Dad and Mom put in only a little silver can only have a harmful effect.
6.) One other point needs to be made here that is a bit hard to name. What we have in mind is that our giving ought not to be conditioned by regarding certain outside influences. Two come readily to mind. The danger can often be present with us that we give with an eye to what someone else or what the rest give. This is not so much a danger with our weekly offerings as it is with special drives. We notice or think we notice what others are giving, we notice how our income or style of living compares to those others, and then we serve notice that we will give just so much. Clearly this is a grudging violation of the truth that each one stands responsible and accountable to God by himself. Secondly, it is not impossible that some are encouraged to give because the contribution is tax deductible. We may certainly deduct for tax purposes whatever the law of the land allows, but personally I feel bad that notes to this effect are included in literature distributed in our midst. That ought to be far from our minds when we consider prayerfully what God wants His stewards to do! Let us give with simplicity!
May these lines move us closer to the position of King David when he exclaimed after the offering was received for the temple, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee. . . . .I know also, my God, that Thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of mine heart have I willingly offered all these things.” (I Chron. 29:14, 17).