On the Issue of Giving

The following letter was received (edited):

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How much should we give?

In my church we practice giving tenth of our earnings to God but at times my family gives more.

The problem is when a person or let’s say a friend comes to ask for money particularly every month with all kinds of reasons. My husband is very generous that even when we don’t have enough for ourselves he will still give. My worry is these person whom we lend money to is not genuine in asking. He is a teenager with very high desires. Because of these at times my husband and I cannot see eye to eye on this matter.

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Response:

I believe what the Lord would have me say to you about your particular situation is that you should not feel obliged to give anything if you don’t have peace about it. Let’s look at a few Scriptures:

In 1 Timothy 5:9-10, Paul explicitly exhorts Timothy NOT to put widows on the “special support” list unless they have met a number of very STRICT qualifications! They must, in fact, be at least 60 years old. They must have “lodged strangers”. They must have “washed the saints feet”. They must have “relieved the afflicted”. They must have “diligently followed every good work”. In other words, they must have demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are 100% fully committed to the cause of Christ. Notice that these people are receiving back blessing according to what they have given. They have sown good seed, and now they are old and needy. Paul says that UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES they are elligle to receive back — but not unless!

A second passage which comes to mind which may be used by some to “counter” this first passage is Matthew 5:42: “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” However, if we examine it carefully, and deal with the passage in its righftul context, we find that the passage is not teaching that we should literally give to everyone who asks us outright without examining their needs and without sincerely asking God if this is what he wants us to do. Otherwise, a passage like Matthew 7:6 could not also be true, which exhorts us “not to give our pearls to swine”. To understand this passage (Matthew 5:42), we need to understand that from Matthew 5:21 to Matthew 5:48 Jesus was using a set of examples to describe the antithetical (opposite) behavior of the “scribes and Pharisees”. He was rebuking them for their heardness of heart.

That is why Jesus said, “… if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). That is why he said, “…if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:40). That is why he said, “…if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:41). And finally, he said, “Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:43). I am indebted to Martyn Lloyd-Jones for his supremely excellent teaching in this regard (see “Studies In the Sermon on the Mount”, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, IVP & Eerdmans, 1959-60,1971,1976,1991). Jesus was not laying down here a “law” that we had to do these things in order to be spiritual. Rather, he was giving us a set of extremes which was at the “far end” of where the scribes and Pharisees were. In other words, he was “polarizing” the debate about what it meant to be selfless: he was causing it to go to extremes in his example, so that it would provoke the Scribes and Pharisees (and us all) to think about it. But to obey the law is futile without allowing this law to be tempered by the Spirit. After all, as the Scripture says, “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

If what Jesus said was “law” (to be carried out literally, under every circumstance, without regard for the Spirit), then he himself failed in his own law, because when he was struck during the time of his trial he did not literally “turn the other cheek”, for we read: ‘When he had said this, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”‘ (John 18:22-23) Rather than actually “turning the other cheek” in a literal sense, he actually rebuked the man who struck him and gave him something to think about! Forevermore, the man would have these words resonating in his ears, yes, even long after Jesus had departed: “Why do you strike me? … why do you strike me? … why do you strike me?” There again, Jesus was after the man’s heart — that was the main issue. For Jesus to have “turned the other cheek” would have been to have missed out on a golden opportunity.

I hope you can see then that the issue of the Christian life is not law, but spirit. If we simply “carry out the words of the law” then we will actually be abiding in death: “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life”. (2 Corinthians 3:6) Our fate is not in the hands of others, who ask us for money, and, because we are obedient to the letter of the law, therefore put us in debt! (We would eventually become angry against such a person and even against God, would we not?) No, but rather, our fate is in the hands of ourselves, who can choose to abide in the ways of the Spirit, which brings a whole change to our situation, yes, even wonderful life itself! Jesus knew the tendency of his followers to be “overly soft-hearted” sometimes, and to misinterpret what he was saying (as though the law meant life, which it did not), which is why, in Matthew 7:6, just shortly after his discourse on how *not* be a scribe and Pharisee, he said, “do not cast your pearls before swine”. In other words, “Wake up and smell the roses, my friend! There are people out there who will eat you for lunch, if they could! They would take everything that is on your back, your very clothes themselves, so don’t just give away that which is precious to these people!”

The bottom line in this regards is that of stewardship: We are called to manage that which God has given us carefully, and wisely!