CTT | Discernment and Discretion in Giving

studyToday’s Completing The Thought (CTT) post will centered around the question of Giving for the Sake of the Gospel. Because the most popular feature of our blog week is our Discernment in Music (DiM) post, our focus today will be on the nature of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) radio stations that are listener supported.

Since we will be speaking about money and giving, I feel it is important to inform the reader of our position on the oft-quoted Malachi 3:10 by those who seek to impose the Mosaic Tithe upon Christians. CTT | Will Man Rob God?

In our area of Georgia, we have two strong (signal-strength) listener-supported CCM broadcast stations, one of which is about to go into their fund-raising week. There are many proof-texts used in church fundraising slogans that we will need to start addressing specifically in our CTT posts. For now, I want to take a more general approach. The intent here is to call my brothers and sisters in Christ to discernment and discretion in their Giving to para-church ministries.

Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians

While modern-day evangelicalism still struggles with the misuse of Malachi in church fundraising, we don’t often get many para-church organizations taking that route. No, instead we generally get more humble appeals to 2 Corinthians 9, beginning in verse 6. Let’s take a look.

2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (ESV) | The Cheerful Giver

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
    his righteousness endures forever.”

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

God does, indeed, love a cheerful giver. That is clearly written in scripture. Paul isn’t teaching that here so much as reminding them of this fact of Scripture. In fact, the standard of scripture is such that we are called to give lovingly to our enemies… a far more challenging call to gracious giving:

Matthew 5:38-48 (ESV) | Love Your Enemies

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Please remember that here, Jesus is preaching the Law, the commandments of God. This isn’t the Gospel. On account of our sinfulness, we all fall short of this perfection of the Father, and so incur more sin. The Gospel of Grace is that by faith we are granted the Righteousness of Jesus Christ, and made free to extend the Love and Grace we’ve received. My point here being that these good works cannot be performed in hopes of acquiring righteousness before God; rather, they can only be performed as the result of a righteousness granted to us by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. An excellent little phrase I find most helpful is:

“God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.” – Gustaf Wingren

So, if Paul isn’t teaching on how to give to please God, what is he doing in this part of his letter to the Corinthians? Let’s read the local and then the greater context of this portion of his letter.

2 Corinthians 9:1-5 (ESV) | The Collection for Christians in Jerusalem

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints,for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

There is great need for the people in Macedonia. They had received word of the generosity and eagerness (zeal) of the Corinthians to send a gift to the churches in Macedonia. This promise has sparked hope and has stirred up most of the Macedonians. Indeed, there is an indication that the promise has been in place for over a year. This is no knee-jerk appeal for “sacrificial giving”. On the contrary, Paul is sending his letter and the brothers ahead of himself and his accompanying Macedonians to the Corinthians in hopes that they might be able to faithfully deliver on the promised gift so that it might be fully ready to be presented as a willing gift; rather than for them to show up and none of it be ready, thus taking the form of an exaction. To put it in modern parlance, imagine telling a close relative that you could help them pay their taxes this year, only to have to scramble on April 14th as you break open jars and start counting coins hoping to make the deadline while that relative is standing on your front doorstep? To the observer, it would seem more like a shake-down than your generosity. Paul seeks to avoid such humiliation for himself, the Macedonians who are in need and have been excited for this gift, and for the Corinthians who made the pledge. What Paul has written is Scripture… but how it gets presented and preached isn’t always faithful to its context.

In the greater context, remember that the first letter to the Corinthians wasn’t a pleasant one. There were problems with divisions and sensuality in worship, mysticism, and sexual immorality. There was also problem with chaotic church worship and unrighteousness in taking the Lord’s Supper, such that many were falling sick and some even died. That first letter was very tough. Titus was sent to them and had since returned to Paul to give a good report (2 Cor 7).  We see in chapter 8, Paul gives a report of the cheerful giving of the Macedonians despite their poverty, and of the outpouring of the Grace of God to them throughout their hardship there. We see in the middle of the chapter how a year ago the Corinthians got involved in the work of providing for the Saints in Macedonia and how they were eager to do it, how Paul was encouraged by the response of Titus, and now Paul here is urging the Corinthians to follow through with what they had started. So we see here in the middle of Ch 8, and again at the start of Ch 9, that Paul seeks to aid the Corinthians in every way possible to follow through with their promise of relief. This must not be presented as an exaction or a knee-jerk “sowing a seed of faith” and “making a sacrificial gift” to please God.

That Wasn’t Really Para-Church Giving

Yes, you got me there. The other major teaching points in the New Testament concern compensation for Elders within the Church, for the daily distribution, and enrolling of true widows. In fact, a strong case can be made for avoiding para-church organizations, due to their lack of church oversight. These entities are not under Overseers and deacons of the Church. I think this can be a matter of Christian liberty (whether or not to give to such entities) but I urge each of you to practice discernment. For not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one in truth. Not ministry that claims to preach the Gospel does so faithfully.

With that being said, I’d like to offer the following basic checklist of questions that need to be asked of any ministry that claims to do the work of evangelism, the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Is the Gospel being preached? Using the word “gospel” doesn’t actually convey the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, we see throughout the New Testament the warning of false gospels, false teachers, and false christs even coming up from within our congregations. Since we must do the work of noble bereans for our own churches, we must also discern what is being presented as the gospel in these para-church organizations. Do they rightly handle God’s Word? Do they preach both Law and Gospel? Do they call sinners to repentance? In the case of CCM radio ministry, does the radio station broadcast faithful preaching of the word of God? Some radio programs are solid (Grace to You, Truth for Life, etc) while others do more harm than good (Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, etc). Are the songs played on the radio station held to a Biblical standard of sound doctrine? Do the on-air personalities (DJs) rightly handle Scripture in the segments between songs? All important questions.

Is the money going to the ministry? Modern-Day evangelicalism has completely lost sight of this bit of discernment/stewardship. Creflo Dollar engaged in church fundraising to buy him the most expensive personal jet on the market, claiming that it was necessary for the preaching of the Gospel (read more). Seriously. Well, we know he’s a false preacher and a wolf in the pulpit. Something to bear in mind with a lot of these para-church organizations is that in our culture we practice debt-based financing. We get our toys first, hoping that they will “pay for themselves” in the long run. That isn’t a model of stewardship we see demonstrated in Scripture. In the case of CCM radio ministry, is the money for paying current staff and broadcasting fees or is the station trying to expand its advertising or repeater stations?

What is the appeal being made for the fundraising? Are they offering promises they can’t keep? Are they pressuring you to give under compulsion? Are they making promises on God’s behalf that He never made concerning your giving to their business? What are the stated goals of the fundraising endeavor?

Does the Church need these para-church organizations for the preaching of the Gospel? This can be tough to answer. Personally, I’m a supporter of a para-church organization (Covenant Care Services) that fights abortion in the State of Georgia by reaching out to pregnant women with the Gospel, emotional/physical support, and an appeal to offer adoption services at no cost to the birth mother for local Christian families looking to adopt. This organization does not fall under a local church or denomination of church, which in some ways can allow for broader support, but also leaves room for disagreement in some matters of doctrine. Such situations require a great deal of discernment and discretion. Does the Church need this particular ministry? No… but this work isn’t something each local church is doing on their own. As society continues to wage war against Jesus Christ and believers, the day may come when such organizations will no longer be allowed to operate as they currently do, in which case the church will have to step up. As far as CCM Radio ministry, no, I don’t think the Church needs it. In fact, much of the influx of heresy in mainstream evangelicalism is facilitated by CCM and so-called “Christian Bookstores”. A tough article that draws this point out directly can be found at the Berean Research Blog.

Conclusion

God does love a cheerful giver. We who are in Christ and of the Household of Faith, are set free by the Grace of God through Faith in Christ Jesus to do good works. God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does. As God extends Grace to us to be partakers in the Ministry of the Gospel as ministers of Reconciliation, we would do well to give bountifully. For our treasure is not to be stored up here on earth, where moth and rust destroy; rather, we are called to lay up for ourselves treasures in Heaven. 

Colossians 3:12-17 (ESV)

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

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