Christian Giving –
the Way to Spiritual Perfection

Jesus: "There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving."

(Acts 20:35)

God is the greatest of all givers

The Bible is a Book about Giving. The words giving, gift, gives, and give occur over 1,700 times in the Scriptures. The first record of giving in the Bible is that of God. Note God’s first gift to humankind: And God added: "This is the sign of the covenant that I am giving between me and you and every living soul that is with you, for the generations to time indefinite. My rainbow I do give in the cloud, and it must serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth." (Genesis 9:12, 13 NW) God gives without consideration of ethnicity, cultural or social background, sex, or even whether one is good or bad, thankful or unthankful.

[NOTE: The first human to give a "gift" is Jacob’s present to his brother Isau of flocks. (Genesis 32:13)] However, God’s great gift was yet future.

Our Lord’s "indescribable free gift"

2 Corinthians 9:15 describes the greatest gift of all: "Thanks be to God for his indescribable free gift." (Romans 3:24; 5:15) This proved to be the sending of His Son to redeem mankind and prepare a congregational bride for His own Son -- the Church Triumphant.

Paul describes the willing sacrifice of God’s own Son in providing this "indescribable free gift": "Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God's form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took a slave's form and came to be in the likeness of men. More than that, when he found himself in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake." (Philippians 2:5-8)

Paul puts it another way at 2 Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the undeserved kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich he became poor for your sakes, that you might become rich through his poverty." Yes, Christ’s life and death as a perfect human was a perfect sacrifice -- his own gift to all having faith and acknowledging him as Lord.

And, what was our spiritual state or condition when this gift was given? Paul answers: "God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) And the beloved apostle echoes this: "The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10) So, the Giving-God does not practice charity (grace or undeserved kindness) toward only those who love Him, or only toward those who will demonstrate they are grateful (thankful), but also toward those who have not yet come to know Him. His own Son mirrors the character of his Father, Jesus Christ.

Nazarene giving -- part of "pure religion"

Like his Father, Jesus Christ the Nazarene was a giving person. Charity was part of his character. Hospitality was in his nature. First, as Paul wrote above in Philippians, our Lord was willing to become "bread from heaven." (John 6:33, 35) Like his Father he showed a giving spirit, not just to those who were his followers, but also toward those who had not come to know him, including the ungrateful.

Observe the Nazarene’s cure of the man born blind who did not know who healed him. (John 9:24-37) Or, the case of the ten lepers cleansed of their public loathing. Of the ten only one returned to express his gratitude. (Luke 17:12-19) While most persons under intense agony and torture think only of their personal pain, we discover our Lord thought charitably of his mother and almost with his dying breath he commends her care to his beloved apostle John. (John 19:26, 27) His very nature -- his character -- was one of giving.

The Nazarene had much to say on this matter of giving. What kind of giving characterizes Nazarene giving? What he taught was reflected later in an epistle written by a close relative, James. James 1:27 reports: "The ‘pure religion’ from God the Father’s own view includes caring for orphans and widows in their afflictions." Consider some seven principles behind Nazarene giving.

1. Divine Credit in Giving to Whom?

Jesus taught much about giving. He taught there is no "credit" or "reward" in one form of giving; and, in another form of giving there was "credit" or "reward." What type of giving and to whom? Below we combine in a compound paraphrase both Matthew and Luke on this subject of giving.

"You heard that it was said, 'You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies, to do good to those hating you and to pray for those insulting and persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous. Give to everyone asking you, and from the one taking your things away do not ask them back. Also, just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them. For if you love those loving you, what reward or credit do you have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing? And if you do good to those doing good to you, really of what credit is it to you? Even the sinners do the same. Also, if you loan money to those from whom you hope to receive, of what credit is it to you? Even sinners loan money to sinners that they may get back as much. To the contrary, continue to love your enemies and to do good and to loan money, not hoping for anything back; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind toward the unthankful and wicked. Continue becoming charitable, just as your Father is charitable. You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36) [For details on the Sermon on the Mount see the publication Nazarene Mountain Teachings.]

How many "Christians" do you know who have such "credit" with the Father? Do you know "Christians" who give to any asking them -- whether righteous or unrighteous, whether good or wicked, whether enemies or friends, whether thankful or unthankful? If we as "Christians" are credited for this kind of Nazarene giving, what would our account with God look like?

2. Give without an agenda

a. Giving for show

Jesus encouraged giving without a wrong motive or with a political agenda. Matthew 6:1-4 records the Nazarene’s teachings: "Take good care not to practice you righteousness in front of men in order to be observed by them; otherwise you will have no reward with you Father who is in the heavens. Hence when you go making gifts of charity, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, just as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be glorified by men. Truly I say to you, They are having their reward in full. But you, when making gifts of charity, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, that your gifts of charity may be in secret; then your Father who is looking on in secret will repay you."

Thus, to have any credit or reward with God in the matter of giving one must be charitable without wanting any honor or glory from others. Thus, our giving is done secretly, as secretly as the left (unknowing hemisphere) ignorant of what the right (knowing hemisphere) hand is actually doing. Only then can we expect a secret reward from the Father.

b. Giving as simony (political ambition)

Some give with the agenda of wanting to gain something by it, usually authority. They avoid giving as described above, for their very purpose is to let the receiver know who is giving. By this they expect some reciprocation. In other words: they buy some future favor by their gift. Their kind of gift has conditions attached to it, be it friendship, corporate ladder climbing, or something in return. The man Simon (after whom "simony" is named) in the record at Acts 8:8-24 attempted to do this and only his genuine repentance could save him from a disastrous fate. Persons in the habit of doing this may refer to their "markers" -- favors in the past for which they now expect a return on their investment.

3. Giving as a sacrifice in worship

Giving is part of our worship of God and obedience to His King Christ. Notice this in Hebrews 10:34 and 13:15, 16, "For you both expressed sympathy for those in prison and joyfully took the plundering of you belongings, knowing you yourselves have a better and an abiding possession. ... Through Jesus let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name. Moreover, do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."

Paul writes in the same view in Philippians 4:18, "However, I have all things in full and have an abundance. I am filled, now that I have received from E·paph·ro·di'tus the things from you, a sweet-smelling odor, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God."

4. Giving as Proof of Faith

The Bible teaches that genuine giving is actually proof of one’s faith. Indeed, it is this "work" which proves one’s faith is alive and well. James 2:14 reads: "Of what benefit is it, my brothers, if a certain one says he has faith but he does not have works? That faith cannot save him, can it? If a brother or a sister is in a naked state and lacking the food sufficient for the day, yet a certain one of you says to them: "Go in peace, keep warm and well fed," but you do not give them the necessities for [their] body, of what benefit is it? Thus, too, faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself." While many point to "spiritual" giving in the form of attending church or preaching to others, such "works" are not what James identifies as proof of faith.

5. God’s love dependent on our giving

Will God love us no matter what we do or do not do? Does God loves us whether we are charitable or not? Note how the beloved apostle puts it in 1 John 3:15-18,
"Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer, and you know that no manslayer has everlasting life remaining in him. By this we have come to know love, because that one surrendered his soul for us; and we are under obligation to surrender [our] souls for [our] brothers. But whoever has this world's means for supporting life and beholds his brother having need and yet shuts the door of his tender compassions upon him, in what way does the love of God remain in him? Little children, let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth."
Two things grip our attention: first, hatred is defined as refusal to help a fellow in need; and, God’s love does not exist where one fails to respond to a need.

6. Everlasting Life and Charity

Our Lord emphasized the basis for his own judgment when he returned in his foretold Parousia. One vital matter rings off the page: charity! Matthew 25:40-46 records the Nazarene’s parable of the sheep and goats:

"And in reply the king will say to them, 'Truly I say to you, To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' Then Christ will say, in turn, to those on his left, 'Be on your way from me, you who have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I became hungry, but you gave me nothing to eat, and I got thirsty, but you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, but YOU did not receive me hospitably; naked, but you did not clothe me; sick and in prison, but you did not look after me.' Then they also will answer with the words, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them with the words, 'Truly I say to you, To the extent that you did not do it to one of these least ones, you did not do it to me.' And these will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life."

Is it fair to conclude from this that charity is a life and death matter, particularly when it comes to caring for the needs of fellow worshippers? Paul echoes this principle in Galatians 6:7-10. Note that his use of the word "sowing" is in the context of "good toward all." Paul writes, "Don’t be under any illusion: you cannot make a fool of God! A man’s harvest in life will depend entirely on what he sows. The man who now sows for his own flesh shall reap there from a harvest doomed to perish; but he who sows for the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap the harvest of eternal life. Let us not grow tired of doing good, for, unless we throw in our hand, the ultimate harvest is assured. Let us practice generosity to all, while the opportunity is ours; and above all, to those who are of one family with us in the faith." (PME, CON, KNX) To Paul "sowing" here is that which does good in charity to others, particularly those within the Household of Faith, even as the Nazarene has it in his parable of the sheep and goats.

7. Giving to "Workers"

In harmony with the above, Jesus taught it was only right and proper to give charitably to those who are "workers" in the great Harvest of God. Our Lord told his apostles when sending them out: "The worker deserves his food." (Matthew 10:10; Luke 9:3)

This statement of the Nazarene is the only direct quotation the apostle Paul uses as proof that "workers" deserve such help from those who benefit from their preaching and teaching. The first is in the case before the Corinthians: "In this way, too, the Lord ordained for those proclaiming the good news to live by means of the good news." (1 Corinthians 9:14. Consider the context from 1 Corinthians 9:1-13). And the second is to the missionary Timothy: Let the older men who preside in a fine way be reckoned worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. For the scripture says: "You must not muzzle a bull when it threshes out the grain"; also: "The workman is worthy of his wages." (1Timothy 5:17-18)

Echoing the Nazarene’s words, Paul sets his own principle in harmony with our Lord: "The man under Christian instruction should be willing to contribute toward the livelihood of his teacher." (Galatians 6:6 PME) He also writes about those who just so assisted him:

"Not that I am speaking with regard to being in want, for I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to be low on provisions, I know indeed how to have an abundance. In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want. For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.

Nevertheless, you acted well in becoming sharers with me in my tribulation. In fact, you Phi·lip'pi·ans, also know that at the start of declaring the good news, when I departed from Mac·e·do'ni·a, not a congregation took a share with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone; because, even in Thes·sa·lo·ni'ca, you sent something to me both once and a second time for my need. Not that I am earnestly seeking the gift, but that I am earnestly seeking the fruitage that brings more credit to your account." (Philippians 4:11-17)

To a disciple who was the fruitage of his work, Paul wrote: "Moreover, if he did you any wrong or owes you anything, keep this charged to my account. I Paul am writing with my own hand: I will pay it back-not to be telling you that, besides, you owe me even yourself. Yes, brother, may I derive profit from you in connection with the Lord: refresh my tender affections in connection with Christ." (Philemon 18-20)

In what kind of life-style did Paul’s fellow Christians maintain him? Did he enjoy what amounts to a high-rise Manhattan view apartment with the amenities of a five-star hotel complete with meals, a full liquor cabinet, medical and dental care, an automobile and chauffeur, as well as a rural apartment? Not hardly, for Paul writes, "Down to this very hour we continue to hunger and also to thirst and to be scantily clothed and to be knocked about and to be homeless." (1 Corinthians 4:11) Despite the help of some congregations and individuals Paul was what amounts to a homeless person who must depend on others for the necessities of life. In no way did he take advantage by becoming an "expensive burden" on any single person. (1Corinthians 9:5; 2 Corinthians 11:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:6, 9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8)

How Much to Give?

Paul had called such charity and giving as part of a worshipful sacrifice. The very word infers giving until it was indeed a sacrifice and not just some token out of a "surplus." (Mark 12:44; Luke 21:4; 2 Corinthians 8:14) How much to give is a struggle with one’s conscience and honesty before God. There are those "Christians" who strive hard to hide their wealth lest some needy person beg their charity. Or, they have "treasured up" certain "savings" which can be touched no matter the dire straits which may befall a fellow. Or, riches and wealth is hidden in property. (Proverbs 13:7) Sometimes a "Christian" gives but never enough to do any good -- only enough to rationalize an "evil eye."

The term "evil eye" is one drawn from the words of the Nazarene. Words most often misunderstood. In his Mountain Teachings our Lord taught, (Matthew 6:22, 23) --

"The lamp of the body is the eye. So, if your eye is focused right your whole body will know the Way."

The Greek involved here is aplous and is variously translated "simple, sincere, generous, single, unclouded." The word occurs in various forms in contexts of simplicity and generosity (Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 8:2), sound or sincere (Mathew 6:22; Luke 11:34), and, liberal. (James 1:5) It seems to us the Nazarene’s subject is how we view matters and if our eye is healthy, and therefore focuses well, we will look properly on things and persons. The simple eye is generous in giving because it does not fret or worry about tomorrow’s anxieties, and so the view or focus on the morrow is bright with gleaming hopes of that "real life" only God can give. (Compare 1 Timothy 6:19 and the real life)

But, if your eye is focused wrong
your whole body will be blind.
So, if the ‘Light’ in you is ‘Dark’ ---
O, how much darkness!

This "evil eye" is variously rendered: KJ: evil; TCNT: diseased; MOF: if your eye is selfish; NOR: if you have poor eyesight. The wicked eye which is wrongly focused is the envious one who cannot be satisfied with those things already possessed but must have more than his neighbor. Or, it is evil in the sense of wanting not to be charitable toward the needy. This kind of eye can think of all kinds of reasons not to help the poor or homeless. Such a wrongly focused eye is covetous. The Nazarene warns at Luke 12:15: ‘With eyes wide open, guard against covetousness, because Life does not come from possessions.’ The "evil eye" is greedy and desires more of what his neighbor has and is stingy when it comes to showing love to his neighbor.

In his much loved work Mere Christianity Oxford professor C. S. Lewis, wrote: "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. ... For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear --- fear of insecurity." (page 82)

In other words if the cost of that luxury cruise far exceeds your true charity, you have serious need to pause and weigh your everlasting life in view of the parable of the sheep and goats. (Matthew 25:31-46) Paul does not command the rich (those with a surplus) to divest themselves of their wealth but he does give "orders" to use their blessings: "Charge the rich in this Period not to be arrogant, and not to rest the weight of their confidence on the transitory power of wealth, but on the God, who richly provides us with all the joys of life. Charge them to practice benevolence, to be rich in good deeds, open-handed and generous-hearted, saving for themselves real security, a genuine foundation for the future, so that they may get a firm grip on true Reality." (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Summary

Christianity and charity are virtual synonyms. The close-fisted and stingy have parted from Christ long ago. Genuine disciples -- friends of the Nazarene -- who truly obey their Lord are identified, characterized by their giving, charity, hospitality after the model of their self-sacrificing Lord. (1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 3:16)

Friends of the Nazarene Publishing

Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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