Previous article in this series: January 15, 2013, p. 177.
A ready cheerfulness to give () and a giving according to how God has prospered us ( ) are important elements in the believer’s giving to needy causes, especially in the church. But are these the only elements in the good giving of benevolence or other gifts, especially to fellow saints who live on the poorer side of an economic gap? In connection especially with missions in developing countries, it should be understood that also the exercise of godly wisdom is an important part of proper cross-economic giving.
Wisdom is the virtue of knowing the true God. In that right knowledge of God, wisdom does things in the right way according to God’s commandments. Wisdom works towards the best goal, which is the praise and glory of God.
God demonstrates His wisdom when He gives us the riches of His truth in Christ Jesus through the means of the preaching of the gospel. This shows that the best way for us to know and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ is under the preaching of His Word. Our wise God works our salvation in this way so that none of us “should glory in His presence” and so that, when we glory, we “glory in the Lord” (). Thus, God gives us poor sinners the wealth of His salvation in the best way for the best goal of His own glory and the praise of His glorious grace.
Similarly, our giving to the needy should be exercised in the best way to the goal of the glory of God. Rather than becoming a stumbling block with regard to the preaching or a cause for problems, our giving should serve their life of thankfulness unto the Lord in all areas of their life. Wise giving must have as its first priority the spiritual well-being of the receiver unto the glory of God.
Wise giving is emphasized in connection with the work of the deacons in the church. This is taught in the Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons, which is used when elders and deacons are installed into church office. In the explanation of the work of the deacons, the Form points out, on the basis of Scripture, that the deacons must use “discretion and prudence” in the distribution of alms only on legitimate objects of benevolence. The exercise of discretion and prudence is necessary in order to prevent any misuse or abuse of benevolence and so that the distribution of the mercies of Christ may serve its good goal in the hearts and lives of the genuinely needy.
This exercise of wisdom applies not only to the work of a diaconate in its congregation and local region, but also to its work through its missionaries and its contact with diaconates of sister-congregations in cross-economic, cross-cultural, and international relationships. And just as the exercise of wisdom is necessary in the work of deacons in cross-cultural, cross-economic situations, so also is it necessary for the individual believer to exercise wisdom when he may have opportunity to give in various ways to fellow saints in a poorer country.
Cross-economic giving with wisdom will recognize and submit to God’s providence that sets the reality in life that some of God’s people do not have and will probably never have access to the level of health care that exists in wealthier, western nations. It is easy for those in wealthier countries to observe those in a poorer country and quickly to conclude that, since the people of that developing country have less wealth and prosperity, they are automatically and always genuine objects of benevolence. That would not be a correct conclusion, since we believe that God in His providence distributes daily bread according to His wisdom, so that some have more and some much less, according to their divinely-determined economic level of living. One whom we might judge to be an object of benevolence in a wealthy nation with a need for daily bread might not be a benevolence case in a poorer nation.
Cross-economic giving with wisdom will reckon with the reality of wage differences, annual incomes, recessionary cycles, calamities, governments, persecution, class oppression, and other factors. We need to understand as best we can the providentially-determined economic disparity that might exist among God’s people internationally. We need that information so that we can understand the impact that a well-intended $50 gift might have on someone whose daily wage may be only $5. This awareness of how massive a cross-economic gap can sometimes be will help the more wealthy givers to avoid a problem in which their cheerful generosity might easily far exceed the actual need and, as a result, cause some unintended harm.
Cross-economic giving with wisdom should also reckon with the fact that the saints in poorer nations have an obligation to keep the fourth commandment to their utmost to support the ministry of the Word of God and the seminary schools, as well as their own poor. This is their duty according to the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 38. Our giving cross-economically should not become an intruding wedge between the people of God and their sacred duty to give for the support of their own pastors and to their poor to the utmost of their ability and with cheerfulness. Cross-economic giving with wisdom will help the saints in their kingdom obligations, not become a hindrance to the work of the local church or the calling of the believer.
We may be thankful that the King of the church provides the gifts of deacons to His church in every nation where He gathers her. He provides to His faithful churches men of wisdom and understanding in the office of deacon. These men, whom the Holy Spirit endows with the gifts of compassion, diligence, and wisdom, know the cultural and economic times in which they live, know how human nature operates in those economic situations, and know what to do. Deacons are the great help that Christ has given to His church catholic so that believers may be guided, instructed, and encouraged to act wisely and orderly also in cross-economic giving.
Now, in cases where a missionary is sent to a poorer nation and at first there is no diaconate, the Lord may raise up under his preaching and office men who have the gifts to become deacons. Their wise input about questions of benevolence and financial assistance will be needed by the missionary as he administers benevolence in behalf of and in consultation with the diaconate of his calling church. This illustrates the point that the exercise of wisdom in cross-economic giving, by an individual or a diaconate, to a church or individuals in a poorer country, will require some information and input from the local deacons, foreign missionaries, diaconates of calling churches, and mission committees. These men have the information, knowledge, and experience of the realities of the cross-cultural and cross-economic situation. These men will know and can tell you very quickly and accurately by e-mail or by a telephone call whether there is a need for benevolence or individual gifts as a result of a storm or some other physical disaster that has affected a developing country in which we have missionaries, mission contacts, or sister churches. The input and information from those ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ in the cross-cultural and cross-economic situation will help to prevent misuse and abuse of the benevolence or love-gifts of God’s people, and it will direct those gifts in the best way to the best goal.
There are encouraging examples of this wise, informed, wisely guided, cross-economic giving. In these examples, wisdom was exercised carefully by churches and by individual believers in their significant monetary gifts for the earthly support and, most importantly, the spiritual benefit of those on the poorer side of a cross-economic gap who needed benevolence or could truly benefit from some financial assistance. That kind of cheerful, generous, and wise cross-economic giving needs to be encouraged. That kind of giving will be of lasting and edifying help to the saints on the other side of a cross-economic gap for their work in the service of Christ and His truth in their land.
Our goal is that our giving may indeed reflect to fellow saints in need the mercy of the Lord, so that they glory never in man, but always in the Lord alone, whose mercy endures forever. Our aim in wise cross-economic giving is that the saints, in whatever economic situation they may be placed by God, may glory in Him alone for the glorious riches of salvation in Christ to His poor sinners.