[b]Giving To God And Giving To The Poor[/b]
[i]by Zac Poonen[/i]
Giving To God
The Israelites gave the Lord about 15% of their income - their tithes (10%) plus other offerings. The principle behind "tithing" is described in Deut. 14: 22 & 23 (Living) thus: "The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your life". When the Israelites gathered in their harvest they had to give God 10% of it, as an acknowledgement of the fact that they had received everything from Him and wanted to give Him first place in their lives. But gradually tithing became a ritual and a burden, even as it is to many believers today! Under the new covenant, the same principle remains - of giving God first place above Mammon. But how much should we give to God now? The New Testament says that we must give as God has prospered us (1Cor 16:2). But the important thing now is that whatever is given must be given cheerfully (2 Cor.9:7). Luke 6:38 tells us that if we give, it will be given to us too. But if you give with the hope of receiving back again, then you may be disappointed - for God looks at the motive in all giving and then you may receive nothing at all from Him. It is only those who give cheerfully hoping for nothing in return who will actually receive God's best.
I heard of a brother once, who although he didn't earn much, never seemed to lack anything that he needed in his home and he was never in debt either. When someone asked him the secret of his life, he said, "From what God gives me, I shovel some back to Him and He keeps shovelling back to me again. And I've discovered that God has the bigger shovel!!" We always get more from God than we give Him. 2Corinthians 9:6 says, "He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully". It is a well-known fact everywhere that I preach against tithing. But what people haven't realized is that I preach something more difficult than tithing - giving 100% to God joyfully. This is what Jesus preached. He told the Pharisees who were under the Law to give 10% to God (Matt.23:23). But He told His disciples, who were going to be under the new covenant after Pentecost, to give "everything" (Lk.14:33). This is what I too have sought to practise and preach for the last 40 years. If we honour God He will honour us. If we seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first, all the earthly things that we need in this life will be added to us (Matt.6:33). God is not foolish to give us all that we want, for He is wiser than us earthly fathers. But He is faithful to give us all that we need. There is a vast difference between what we need and what we want. The promise in Philippians 4:19 is that God will supply all our need. We must also learn to be wise in our giving. Many poor people give faithfully, but not wisely. They give money for what they think is God's work. But their money only enables some unfaithful Christian worker somewhere to live in grand style. Such poor people may be sincere but they are not wise. We must know where exactly our money is going and how it is being spent.
Giving To The Poor
We are commanded to "do good to all men and especially to those of the household of faith" (Gal.6:10). We have a responsibility to help those who are poor among believers everywhere. But we have to be careful that we do not draw people to the church whose main aim is to get some financial benefit from the generous people in the church. The only way to avoid such a danger in a poor country like India is by ensuring first of all that a person first proves himself to be a true brother in a local body of believers. Only then should he be helped financially. Otherwise we will be adding parasites to the church and not disciples. In Acts 4:34, we read that there was not a single needy person among the early Christians, because those who had wealth helped those who were poor. Nobody compelled the rich to give to the poor. They gave freely, from their hearts. But many believers do not have wisdom in helping the poor. They give foolishly with a soulish generosity, to the wrong people. This results not only in the Lord's money being wasted, but also in parasites being added to the church, who come only for the help that the rich can give. A lot of such giving is done by rich believers with the aim of becoming popular with the poor and attaching those poor people to themselves. If only small amounts are given and that too occasionally, this may not be serious. But whenever you plan to give large amounts or regular support to someone in the church, it is always better to seek the advice of some godly elder brother who has more wisdom than you. Besides, those elders are more likely to know who in the church are in greatest need.
The early Christians were humble enough to acknowledge their lack of wisdom in such matters. That was why they gave their gifts to the apostles to be distributed to the poor. But those apostles never touched any of that money themselves. Peter and John who received all those millions were so faithful to pass on that money to others, that they could say to a poor beggar once, "Silver and gold I have none". All the money passed through their hands, without anything sticking to their hands. That was why they retained the anointing of the Spirit until the end of their lives. The story is vastly different today, where so much sticks to the hands of the preachers who receive money. What about lending money to those who want to borrow from us? I remember, when I was working in the Navy, a believer in our local church approached me one day for a loan. I knew that God's Word said, "Give to him who asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you" (Matt.5:42). The man told me that he would return the loan the very next month. So I gave him what he wanted. But the next month he could not return the loan and asked for some more. I earned a large salary, lived very simply and did not have a family. So I had plenty of money to spare. I gave him some more money - and once again the next month, when he asked me again. A little later, this man backslid and began to drink and waste his money. When I saw that, I told him that if he had money to give to the devil like that, he might as well return my loan, so that I could give that money back to the Lord. He became very angry with me and told me that I was harassing him. So I stopped asking him to return my loan.
I then went to the Lord and asked Him where I had gone wrong. He showed me my mistake. The Lord told me, "You treated that money as if it were your own. It was actually Mine. You should have consulted Me before giving it, even as a loan." If someone had given me ten thousand rupees to keep safely, and you, knowing about it, came and asked me for a loan from that money, I would have told you that I would have to ask the owner of the money before giving you the loan, for it was not my money. But I did not do that in the above case, because I did not recognise that my money was the Lord's. If I had actually forsaken all (to the Lord), as Jesus commanded (Luke 14:33), then I would have told that man that all that I had was the Lord's and that I had to consult the Lord about it. But instead, I mechanically obeyed the letter of Scripture and thus lost some of the Lord's money. Even the devil quoted a verse to Jesus once. I should have compared Scripture with Scripture.
We must certainly be willing to give to those in need, but we need to ask the Lord about it each time. We must live by "every word that proceeds from God's mouth". When we meet someone who is genuinely in need, if we seek the Lord, we will get a witness in our spirit as to whether to give him money or not. For all you know, the man asking you for help may be "a prodigal son" whom God is disciplining "among the pigs". If so, any money you give him will only hinder him from returning to the Father's house and not help him. Thank God that we don't have to live under the Law today with its rules and regulations, but by the leading of the Holy Spirit Who will tell us in each situation, dynamically, what we are to do or not to do.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon