The Christian’s Checkbook, Part II: The Christian Manifesto

So, we see that giving is a Christian duty, albeit one to be done with willing cheerfulness. In fact, so much stress does the Bible put on giving that at points it sounds downright socialistic. We are told of the earliest Church in Jerusalem that, “All that believed were together and had all things common and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45). Paul writes as a principle of Christian giving, “But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He that had gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack’” (II Corinthians 8:14-15). That sounds an awful lot like the refrain of the Communist Manifesto: “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.” Most famously, Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give to the poor.

Well, I couldn’t affirm or deny the obligation to tithe, but I can categorically state that socialism isn’t really what the Bible has in mind. For one thing, if socialism was God’s ideal, it wouldn’t have such an appalling track record. Socialism has wrecked countless countries and brought misery to their citizens while capitalism has created the richest societies of all time. When God was designing a state to be governed by His direct decree (Old Testament Israel), He made ample provision for the poor but nowhere insisted on socialism. In fact, two of the Ten Commandments, as Dr. Sproul observed, are designed to protect private property. It seems God recognizes what Lord Kames called mankind’s propensity to appropriate. The Pastorals and James have instructions to rich Christians dealing with them as rich Christians, an underlying assumption which makes no sense if all Christians are to give all their belongings to the poor. After the first few chapters of Acts, you don’t see any of this Christian socialism at work as the Church spreads.

Which leaves Paul’s seeming anticipation of the Communist Manifesto. I think what Paul is getting at is found in his explanation in the preceding verse: “For I mean not that other men be eased and you burdened, but by an equality” (II Corinthians 8:13-14, KJV). I think Paul means that Christians should care for one another such that they all have to work about equally strenuously for their daily bread. It’s a qualitative, not a quantitative, equality. If you want to go above and beyond and snag the really well-paying job to provide more abundantly for yourself and your family, you’d just be prospering through diligence like Proverbs praises.

So, how much should Christians give? Tithing is obviously neither wrong nor unreasonable since God required it of believers at one point. If you tithe with a joyful heart, God certainly won’t be displeased. But, really, the New Testament calls us to give as much as we are able. C.S. Lewis thought a good rule of thumb was that we should give such that it cuts into our lifestyle, that is, that we can’t live at the same level of comfort as our peers in our wage level. That’s Christian sacrificial love right there.

The Christian’s Checkbook, Part I: A Voluntary Duty

I heard a lecturer once who made an observation along the lines that God saves our checkbooks in addition to our souls. That’s sound because the Bible does tell us to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. It’s doubly important in the Western Church, which has more resources than any church in history.

The big question in some circles is whether Christians are obligated to tithe. That question I can’t answer definitively. Tithing (paying a tenth of one’s money and goods) was required of Old Testament Israel, but that principle is nowhere repeated in the New Testament. In fact, when Peter is asked if Jesus pays the temple tax, Jesus has him pay it for Himself and Peter as a concession, not a command. He asks Peter if “kings of the earth take custom or tribute of their own children or of strangers.” Peter answers that they tax strangers, and Jesus concludes, “Then are the children free” (Matthew 17:25-26, KJV). He pays the tax not because He has to but simply so as not to offend. This might indicate that Christians are not bound by Old Testament rules of giving.

Yet give they must. Paul instructed the Corinthians before he visited, “Upon the first day of the week, let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him,” collections for the Jerusalem saints in need. True, Paul wants giving to be voluntary and cheerful, but he does expect it. In Galatians 6:6, he exhorts the Galatians to share all good things with their teachers, and while he himself did not take money from the Corinthians, he adamantly informed them that ministers have a right to be supported by their congregations. As he told Timothy, “The laborer is worthy of his reward” (I Timothy 5:18, KJV). Jesus told two parables where the king gives his servants ancient units of money (a mina in one story and talents in the other) and expects them to use them towards his profit when he returns. In fact, he is furious with the servant in both stories who refuses to do anything with the money entrusted to him. After another parable, Jesus says to, “Make to yourselves friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness” (Luke 16:9, KJV). In other words, we should give voluntarily, but it is still a duty. You could say that about any duty God gives us, like love, prayer, and forgiveness. He wants it done with our whole heart willingly, but that doesn’t excuse us from not doing it just because we don’t feel like it. As in any good habit or duty we need to cultivate but don’t feel like, we have to do it until we love it. We can’t just wait for an enthusiastic impulse, which may never come with that attitude.

Christians have more reason than anybody else to be generous. They believe an all-powerful, all-wise God has promised to provide for them and reward them eternally for anything they give in His name. They believe He has called them to love others as themselves. James famously describes how charity shows forth the faith we have. And consider that God required this giving of people with much less economic stability than us. They were paid daily because they needed those wages for the very next day and had the ever-present danger of crop failures, epidemics, and raids hanging over them.