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

CTT | From Glory to Glory

Growing up in Pentecostalism, there was always a focus on “what God is going to do” either in us, for us,  or through us in Earth. In Pentecostalism, “It is Finished” seems to morph into “It will be finished for those who are filled in the Spirit”. We’ve looked at a lot of the Pentecostal proof-texts here in our CTT posts, today we’ll look one that is used to justify the Pentecostal push for the “new” and why they are always talking about being “in transition” or how we can’t “live in the past” or “rely on former glory”. It is most recognizable in the NKJV

2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NKJV)

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Most of the time this gets truncated down to a cliche of “from glory to glory”, as a rationale for some teaching that the Holy Spirit is progressing Christians from one level of power to another. In “Presence” theology, term glory is often used to describe the presence of the Holy Spirit or the Shekinah Glory. Is that the referent here in Paul’s letter? Is Paul talking about a repeating cycle of progression from glory to glory to glory… until Christ’s return? Well, let’s look at what Paul is teaching here beginning at the first verse, paying special attention to the word glory. I’m going to switch to the ESV, but I’ll link the passages with ESV and NKJV side-by-side.

2 Corinthians 3 (ESV) | Ministers of the New Covenant

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Now this is a wonderful Gospel passage. The chapter begins with Paul asking of the Corinthians if they need to prove their ministry to them. He makes reference to others who needed “letters of recommendation”, and Paul tells them point-blank, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all“. Notice how quickly he takes the concept of “letter of recommendation” and creates a teaching point contracting a letter written with ink on paper vice a letter written with the Spirit on our hearts. He’s going somewhere with this. He then makes a shift from ink to letters in stone and compares the letters carved on stone against the letters written with Spirit on hearts. What is Paul comparing? He’s comparing the Law given to Moses with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In verse 6, Paul is closing out who they are, they are Ministers of the New Covenant (the Gospel) not of the Law but of the Spirit. For the letter kills (Law) but the Spirit gives life (Gospel). Paul went into detail teaching the purpose of the Law (to expose sin) and how the Spirit of Christ sets us free from that sin in Romans 8. Paul does not dismiss the Law outright. The Law is beautiful and it is of God, but it does kill us by exposing how wretched we are in comparison to a Holy God. You see in verse 7 Paul refers to the Mosaic Covenant as the ministry of death. That’s what the Law does, it kills us Justly. The due punishment for our sin is death. The Law makes that clear. And that Law, the ministry of death, came with such glory that Moses had to veil his face. That law which was to be brought to an end in Christ Jesus (who fulfilled the Law) was not without glory. However, once Jesus Christ, the Messiah, had come in His Glory, He would surpass the glory of the Law and the ministry of death. The glory of what is permanent, the Spirit of Christ, far exceeds the glory of the Law that was brought to an end in Christ. In fact, now that Christ has come the Law has no glory at all by comparison.

So we see that Paul isn’t talking in vague generalities here, nor is he suggesting there is to be some succession of glory that Christians or the Church are supposed to experience before the return of Jesus Christ. Paul is very specifically addressing the New Covenant’s replacement of the Old. The Glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, written on our hearts allows us to behold the glory of God with unveiled faces. Why? Because in Christ our sins have been paid and His righteousness has clothed us by faith. Those who would seek to remain under the Mosaic covenant, have no boldness or hope of being made righteous in His sight, not to the extend that we who are in Christ Jesus have.

Romans 3:19-20 (ESV) 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The veil remains over their hearts. They’ve rejected the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God and His finished work on the cross. But this isn’t just about the Jews who rejected Jesus. This is about all who have rejected God. For before Jesus arrived, the only glory on earth, the only hope of salvation was Israel, which means all others were lost. Notice, Paul says that the whole world may be held accountable to God. But now that Christ has come, the former glory of the Law is no more in light of the Permanent and Greater Glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

There are several passages the speak to the growing and learning and coming to fullness of Christ who is the Head of His Church. This isn’t what Paul is conveying here when he summarizes this picture of 2 covenants and how we are being transformed from one degree of glory (the Law) to another (the fullness of the Gospel). Until the day of our resurrection in Christ, we don’t graduate from denying our selves, taking up our crosses daily, our sins being mortified in the flesh by Faith in repentance and being forgiven and made righteous in God’s sight by faith in our risen savior, Jesus Christ. When Christ returns, we’ll finally be rid of this body of death and will see what for now we must hope for by faith in Christ. To suggest, that there would be any interim greater glories is to undermine what Paul is teaching in this letter to the Corinthians.

Romans 11:32-36 (ESV)

32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

CTT | Sow a Seed?

If you’ve spent any amount of time listening to a televangelist or traveling revival preacher or faith healer you’ve undoubtedly heard the “principle of sowing and reaping” leading into a charge or challenge or even command to “sow a seed offering” into their ministry. Is that biblical? No. God did not institute a money tree. There are no “money seeds” that you can sow to reap money as the fruit of a money tree.

Which came first?

Genesis 1:9-13 (ESV) | The Third Day

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

As with all of creation, God made the plant/animal/person first and provided them with the ability to reproduce via seed. Of the fruiting plants, the seed is found in its fruit. Why am I making a big deal about this? Because seed comes from harvest. Also, seed is bound to its own kind. There is indeed a principle of sowing and reaping, but the relationship between the seed and the harvest is fixed.

Christian Giving

Galatians 6:1-10 (ESV) | Bear One Another’s Burdens

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Here, we see the Apostle Paul encouraging the elders and spiritual leaders to pastor the congregation, particularly those caught in any transgression so that they might be restored. Pastoral care must be done carefully, gently, and humbly. These good works are sowing to the Spirit. Paul then says  Let the one who is taught the Word to share all good things with the one who teaches. It is fitting for a pastor’s needs to be met by the congregation he shepherds, and for the church to seek material aid from other churches.

2 Corinthians 9 (ESV) | The Cheerful Giver

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.

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. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Verse 6 gets abused heavily by extortionists in the pulpit. Notice verse 10, God supplies the seed to the sower. Our giving is to be a willing gift, not as an exaction (v5). There is no quid pro quo going on here, yet that is often how this verse is preached. God will multiply our seed for sowing and in crease the harvest of righteousness in keeping with how we sow. But pay attention to the fruit, in which we find the seed. Remember Gal 6:8a, For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption… seed bears after its own kind. Proverbs 22:8 (ESV) Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail

Is God bound by the “Principle” of Sowing and Reaping?

There is a very dangerous implication in much of the fleecing sermons alleging a so-called “principle of sowing and reaping” and the compulsion to “sow a seed offering” (of course into their pockets), and that is the implication that unless you “sow a seed offering” God is unable to bless you. Many of the more brazen con-artists (false teachers) will rattle off a list of things God can’t do for you unless you “sow a seed” into their ministry: career advancement, miraculous healing, recovery, financial blessings, etc. So, is God limited by your failure to “sow a seed”? No. He isn’t bound by this so-called principle. We’ve spent the past several weeks of our Gospel Wednesday segment looking at the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel According to Matthew chapters 5-7. Let’s look again at what Jesus taught in the middle of the sermon:

Matthew 6:19-34 (ESV) | Lay Up Treasures in Heaven

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The money-grubbers will twist this passage to say “you can’t serve God and Money; therefore, you should give them your money so that God can then be allowed to bless you”. That statement cannot be justified in this or any other passage in the Bible. If you are being coerced into to giving so that you might obtain a financial blessing, you are actually being tempted to “Lay up for yourselves treasures on earth“.  You cannot serve God and money. So attempting to “sow a seed offering” by diverting money you owe your creditors so that God will be forced (quid-pro-quo) to bless you with more money is folly. God looks at the heart, and He is not mocked, what you sow you will reap. If you sow to your own flesh, from it you will reap corruption.

Identify the Tree

So, we’ve established that is it right for us to give, and to give generously, willingly, and cheerfully, particularly to those who have taught us God’s Word. But we also see there is danger in sowing to the flesh and in sowing sin. We need to learn to identify the false teacher. Again, let us turn to a portion of the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV) | A Tree and Its Fruit

15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

The fruit of a false prophet is what he teaches, his doctrine. Reflecting back on the third day of creation, remember that the fruit is for bearing seed. A false teacher who brow-beats the congregant compelling them to give him money in exchange for some undetermined blessing from God is sowing to his own flesh. And there are many hidden in the church. Jesus taught against it, charging us to beware of false prophets by their fruits. Paul charged Timothy to be on guard against such false teachers right after giving the qualifications for Elders.

Titus 1:10-16 (ESV)

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

Those are indeed very strong words of rebuke. A sermon that is taught specifically to raise funds via quid-pro-quo promises is false teaching. That individual should be silenced. The role of the pastor is to preach and teach the Word of God, not raise funds, and not to compel others to give money and NOT to offer promises that God will bless those who give them money in ways He won’t bless those who do not give.

Conclusion

We are to give willingly, generously, cheerfully, and faithfully to the ministry of the Gospel. We are to take care of our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ not just in our own local church but in the Church abroad. We are also to share good things with the one who teaches the Word of God, our Pastors and Overseers. However, we must also be on guard against false teachers/prophets, those who would seek to selfish gain and who are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work. There are no Biblical money trees, and those who lay up treasures on earth will lose it all to moth and rust. Do not be like them. You will know them by their fruit. Trust in the Lord and in His Word. He who takes care of the birds who neither sow nor reap will also take care of His adopted children. Be anxious for nothing. God does not need our good works, our neighbors do. So do good works for others as an extension of the Grace you’ve received from God.

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV) 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus, Jorge

Christmas in July? | Giving

A local Christian radio station is currently in full-swing with its “Christmas in July” campaign. They are currently supporting a wonderful outreach for an organization that ministers to victims of domestic violence, so I fully support the cause. My question is, what is the purpose of invoking the “Christmas in July” theme? Several of the station promos are of the Christmas variety with “the most wonderful time of the year” jingle, and on-air DJs promoting the “season of giving to each other”. But is that the focus of Christmas?

This past Christmas season (2013), we looked at the Biblical context of Christmas in a 4-part series:

No doubt in your local church there has been at least some debate regarding the focus of our Christmas celebration. While the textbook answer to the question of Christmas is “we celebrate the birth of Christ”, often times what we see demonstrated pays homage to a jolly fat elf character mystically delivering gifts to kids according to their deeds for the year (via omniscience?). Gift giving is the theme of the season overall, but on the day of Christmas the focus is generally on the gifts we have given each other. I’m all for celebration for the right reasons, and in our family we do celebrate and take part in gift giving; however, we do not in any way endorse the demigod santa or any other such mystical nonsense.

So then, since the textbook answer to the question of Christmas is “Jesus”, why is it that we leap to “Christmas in July” to describe a call to give gifts in July? Now, I am not against giving, and the Bible clearly teaches that we are to be loving, giving followers of Christ. I agree with giving to solid, biblical ministries throughout the year and I have no problem with fund-raisers or giving drives for a particular outreach. The problem I have, is with the mixing and blending of themes in the marginally biblical practice of “celebrating Christmas” as the world does, for the world’s reasons. The problem is in how we teach, preach, and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Should we be so quick to employ clever marketing at the expense of sound Biblical teaching? I don’t think we should.

So, let us take a look at how Paul fully developed the concept of giving in his letter to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (ESV) 1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.

8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

Second Corinthians is a wonderful book. I strongly encourage you to read through it as Paul gives an account of his ministry, and that of Titus and the brothers, and even shares how thankful he is that after boasting in their faithfulness, the report given by Titus proved true. The churches of Macedonia suffered extreme poverty yet demonstrated a wealth of generosity and begged for the favor of taking part in the relief o the saints. I believe this is part of the world-wide famine prophesied by Agabus in Acts 11 (I have not thoroughly searched this out, so it could be related to a later hardship). Nevertheless, Paul here is testifying of the wealth of generosity experienced by those in a sever test of affliction and extreme poverty. They want to give what they can to take part in the relief of the saints, the needs of the body of Christ. In sharing this testimony, Paul’s emphasis here is in the readiness of the church in Corinth. It is acceptable according to what a person has, not of what he does NOT have. Paul is urging that they be ready so that out of their abundance, the church at Corinth can supply for the needs of the other churches. Notice in verse 15 that Paul is quoting scripture. Let’s look at the passage he is quoting.

Exodus 16:13-21 (ESV) 13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” 17 And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

The children of Israel wandering in the desert, having there needs met by God the Father. Notice here how Paul is setting up the paradigm for giving. Since God is already providing the mana from heaven, the first goal is for God’s people to gather up what they will eat in the day. Some gathered more than others, and then those with gathered extra gave from their excess and those who gathered too little did not lack. Notice that God provided it all, plentifully and by His grace, not by the works of the Israelites. Also noticed, that those who hoarded and broke God’s law then had to deal with the spoilage and the worms. God is sovereign. God gives the increase, and the measurement allotted each. Therefore, Paul was reaching back to this historic provision of God for His people as the basis and foundation for the giving out of readiness that he encouraged the Corinthians. Let’s skip the next portion of 2 Corinthians 8 (Paul’s praise of Titus) and catch back up in chapter 9.

2 Corinthians 9  (ESV) 1 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 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. 3 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. 4 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. 5 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.

6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 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. 9 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. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Notice, that it is not we who provide the seed; rather, it is God who provides the seed and the bread. In doing so, He will also multiply the seed He provided and increase the harvest of our righteousness, the righteousness He imputed to us through Jesus Christ. Anyone who tries to tell you that this passage teaches that you must give out of your lack in order for God to provide is teaching this principle upside down, and is potentially fleecing the flock. Another key to this encouragement from Paul, is that he isn’t “springing” this onto the Corinthians. He is simply reminding and encouraging them to be ready to give out of their excess as indeed they had already committed to do. Nothing here is a knee-jerk, heart-strings ploy promising health and wealth in proportion to their “seed” money. But I digress, this letter comes at a time when several of the churches are in need, and those churches to whom God had provided excess (beyond their need) Paul was encouraging them to continue in faithfulness and freedom in Christ to do good works.

To close out this post, let us look at the latter portion of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian Elders:

Acts 20:17-38 (ESV) 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

Quite the charge and warning. May our Elders, Pastors, Teachers, Brothers, and Sisters do likewise. When you give, give cheerfully, abundantly, and freely, taking care of the body of Christ. Be ready, be prudent, be good stewards of God’s gifts (law, Gospel, and provision) so that when a need arises you will be ready to take part in the relief of the saints. Continue to preach the Gospel to every creature until the ends of the earth.

May the Lord Bless and keep you,
In Him,
Jorge