Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Randolph, Wisconsin. Previous article in this series: June 2008, p. 398.
The calling to support her deacons comes to the congregation as a whole, excluding no individual member. Demonstrating this point from Scripture in our last article, we drew attention particularly to I Corinthians 16:1-2 and to II Corinthians 8 and II Corinthians 9.
From the same passages of Scripture we take instruction regarding how the congregation must support her deacons.
Of course, in one word, the congregation supports her deacons by giving. She gives her gifts of time, energy, and possessions, so that the deacons have the means to care for the sick and aged in the congregation. But the congregation also gives the gift of money, which she puts in the collection plate when the offering for benevolence is taken.
How much should we give? And with what attitude of heart? Because the answers to these questions matter to God, He has given direction in His Word regarding those answers.
The reader should bear in mind that what follows can be applied to all of our giving to the deacons for any cause—giving for the general fund, the Christian schools, the work of missions, and other causes for which collections are taken. But specifically we have in mind giving for the relief of the poor, to which subject also these passages in I and II Corinthians speak particularly.
How much must we give?
In answering this question, Scripture does not stipulate a specific monetary figure, nor a percentage of income.
Even in the Old Testament, the care of the poor was not limited by such a figure or percentage. The Old Testament laws required the Israelites to bring the tithe of their increase to the temple, and to pay the annual temple tax of a half shekel. The purpose of such was not the care of the poor, but the maintenance and upkeep of God’s sanctuary. Regarding this half-shekel, God specified: “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less” (Ex. 30:15). It was not money for the poor, but money that even the poor must bring.
The law required the Israelites to care for the poor by simply giving to the poor in his need; lending without usury; leaving the corners of the fields and vineyards unharvested, and leaving the gleanings that fell from the reaper’s hands, for the poor to gather; and willingly redeeming the poor without regard to any personal loss. Two things were to govern how much was given to the poor: first, how great the need of the poor was; second, how much the one giving had to give.
That God does not tell us specifically how much to give for the poor holds true in the New Testament as well. Yet, at least two broad principles do guide us in determining how much to give.
The first is the teaching of Scripture that we must give as we have been blessed. In encouraging the saints in Corinth to give for the needs of the poor saints in Jerusalem, Paul wrote that each should lay by himself in store “as God hath prospered him” (I Cor. 16:2). Again, he told them that they must give “out of that which ye have. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not” (II Cor. 8:11-12).
God gives to each of us a different measure—some have more, some less. And He requires us to serve Him with what we have. Therefore, with what we have we must give for the needs of the poor.
The second principle that guides us in determining how much to give is that we must give generously.
While we are to give as we have been blessed, we are also to give sacrificially. Notice what Paul says to the saints in Corinth regarding the saints in Macedonia: “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves . . .” (II Cor. 8:2-3). The saints in Macedonia also were poor, apparently as a result of persecution. But they did not give little; they gave generously, almost more than they were able to give: “beyond their power.”
In this way Christ gives to us. Our spiritual poverty was extreme; we were unable even to begin to pay the infinite debt we owed God. But Christ bestowed His riches upon us generously, so that the debt is fully paid, and His infinite righteousness is imputed to us. We are rich! God bestows His grace in abundance.
The apostle continues to encourage the Corinthian saints in this regard by reminding them that a man reaps according to that which he sows: “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (II Cor. 9:6).
Too bad, in a sense, when the apostle must convince the church to give for the needs of the poor by telling her how such giving benefits her personally. Too bad when the pastor must preach to his congregation that they are poorer because they do not sacrifice for the poor. But that is what the apostle does here, and we learn from it an important lesson. In giving for the needs of the poor, we plant seed. To the degree to which we give of our earthly means for the support of the poor, we reap spiritual benefits, experiencing God’s blessing to the degree to which we put Him first.
The fruit we reap is not that of earthly material goods. Such an explanation is the error of the “health and wealth” gospel, the mantra of whose preachers is “Give to the cause of my ministry, and God will make you rich.” Rather, the fruit consists of spiritual benefits. This is clear from II Corinthians 9:8, in which Paul identifies that which they shall reap: “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” Also II Corinthians 9:11 indicates this: “Being enriched in everything to all bountifulness . . . ,” where the Greek word translated “bountifulness” refers really to a heart that is single-minded and not self-seeking.
We need this reminder to give for the relief of the poor generously, as we have been blessed.
First, we need it because we so quickly think we have little, when in fact we have much. Often we think we have little because we are not looking at what God has given us, but at how much money we will have left after spending it on all the things we want. We forget that God would have us give for His kingdom causes, including the relief of the poor, not according to what we have after our own needs and desires are satisfied, but according to what He has given us—that is, gross income. Earthlimindedness makes this reminder necessary.
Second, we need it in order to hold before us that giving for the relief of the poor must be a matter that we take seriously. According to that which we have been given, we are to give generously! To do this, our decision as to what we will put in the benevolence fund cannot be an afterthought; we may not merely give our leftovers. Rather, we must seek first the kingdom (Matt. 6:33) in this area also.
How are we to give?
First, we are to give with sincerity and simplicity of heart.
To the word that indicates this, used in II Corinthians 9:11, we have already referred. In that passage it is translated “bountifulness,” but in II Corinthians 8:2 “liberality,” and in II Corinthians 9:13 “liberal.”
The word indicates that we must give with pure motives, with a sincere heart in genuine love for God and the neighbor, and with the genuine desire that the needs of our poor brothers in Christ be relieved.
The purpose of our giving must not be that others might notice and think highly of us for what we have given. We must not give thinking that we will earn God’s favor. In this way the Pharisees gave. Tithing mint, rue, and all kinds of herbs (Matt. 23:23, Luke 11:42)—in other words, being scrupulous in their outward obedience to the law—they did so for the praise of men.
The poor widow was different. We recognize that her giving was not for the cause of the poor, but for the maintenance of the temple and its service; but the manner of her giving is the point for the moment. She did not give for the praise of men, but for the praise of God—and she received that praise from Jesus Himself, her Lord and Savior (Luke 21:3-4).
For the sake of clarity, let me say that both the Pharisees and the widow were giving, not for the care of the poor, but for the general upkeep of the temple. But how they gave applies as well to giving for the poor.
Secondly, we must give willingly and cheerfully. Not only did the saints of Macedonia do this (I Cor. 8:3: “they were willing of themselves”), but Paul also required the saints of Corinth to give “not grudgingly, nor of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (II Cor. 9:7). In this way the Holy Spirit lays on all of us this obligation.
To give grudgingly is to give, literally, “out of pain,” wincing with every dime dropped into the collection plate, because it is one fewer dime one can spend on himself. To give of necessity is to give simply because it is required. God does require us to give; but if that is the only reason why we give, we are not giving and obeying from the heart, in love. To give willingly and cheerfully is to give because we want to give, and because we find joy in giving.
Thirdly, we must give trusting God to supply our needs. He who gives grudgingly is not manifesting this trust. He who gives grudgingly is like the farmer who takes the grain that he has reserved from last year’s harvest for this year’s seed, and who sows it sparingly, because he thinks that the more he sows, the less he has to eat. He does not trust God to cause that grain to spring forth and bear much fruit, thirty or sixty or an hundred fold!
That we must give trusting God to supply our needs is implied in II Corinthians 9:6, in which we are reminded that we reap according as we sow. It is also taught in II Corinthians 8:15: “As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over, and he that had gathered little had no lack.” Paul quotes from Exodus 16:18, which speaks of the effect of God’s miraculous provision of manna on every Israelite. None had too much; none too little. While in Exodus this is spoken regarding gathering, in II Corinthians 8 Paul applies it to distributing. As the saints in Corinth had much, and the saints in Jerusalem little, the Corinthians were to give for the relief of their brothers. In the way of doing so, the saints in Corinth would notice that they did not lack.
That we must trust God is also the point of the words of Jesus to the disciples in Matthew 6:33, with reference to giving for any kingdom cause: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” And note the promise that Paul gives the saints in Philippi (the Macedonians of whom he speaks to the Corinthians), when they have given him a gift: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Fear not, ye Philippians, that in giving a gift to me, you will suffer want! God will care for you, too!
So must we give for the relief of the poor—trusting God to know what we need for the future, and to supply us with our daily bread day by day.
Trusting in God, we will give liberally and cheerfully!
By nature none of us will give for the relief of the poor this way.
After all, we might reason, some of them are poor due to their own fault, their own mismanagement of funds, their own poor choices with regard to vocation and jobs. Why should I suffer because of their own faults? Or we might say, the poor can turn today to the government to find help. Let them turn there, and leave me alone!
So selfish are we by nature!
By the power of God’s grace, and by that power alone, we can give as God requires us to give. The same grace that sent Christ to give Himself for us! The same grace by which we are justified in Christ, giving us reason for gratitude! The same grace by which we are renewed and sanctified, so that we have the life of Christ Himself in us!
God makes this grace abound in us. Therefore, we give willingly, cheerfully, trusting in God, with simplicity of heart, generously, as God has prospered us. And we reap spiritual benefits!