Brethren Archive

Finance: Maintaining the Work of God.

by Douglas Walter Brealey

THE question of finance is, admittedly, a delicate one, and for this reason, few seem free to speak about it.  Yet the Scriptures have much to say on the subject, and no trace of embarrassment can be detected in the writers who handle it.
In this chapter, we suggest that we should first consider the teaching of Moses, then the teaching of Christ, and finally the teaching of the apostles.  Taken together, both unity and development will be noticeable.
The Teaching of Moses.
In the Levitical economy, there appears to be a distinction made  between Tithes and Offerings; the Tithes were obligatory; the Offerings, in a sense, optional.
(A) TITHES.  These covered the first-born of man and beast; the first-fruits of the earth, and the tenth.
    (a) THE FIRST-BORN. (Exodus 13. I, 2).
God said of the first-born, “It is Mine” (v. 2).  The first-born of man had to be redeemed with a lamb; God accepted the slain lamb in its place (v. 15).  Similarly, the first-born of an ass might be redeemed with a lamb (v. 13), otherwise its neck must be broken, the Israelite might not retain it for himself, it was the Lords.  Every first-born of beast was to be sacrificed to the Lord (v. 15), “the males shall be the Lord’s” (v. 12).
So, it clearly appears that when Israel offered to the Lord a lamb in the place of his first-born, or in the place of the firstling of his ass, or when he offered the first-born male of his cattle, he was not giving to the Lord, he was merely handing over to the Lord that which already belonged to Him.
    (b) THE FIRST-FRUITS.  (Exodus 22. 29).
In like manner, the first-fruits of the land belonged to the Lord, and without delay, these had to be rendered to Him.   God must have His portion before ever Israel had theirs.
    (c) THE TENTH.  (Numbers 18. 20, 21).
For the maintenance of the priestly and Levitical service of the tabernacle of the congregation, God gave the tenth in Israel to the children of Levi.   All that Israel had, they received from the Lord, but from that bounty, He took a tenth for the maintenance of His work. Let us note the exact wording: “. . . behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel,” so that if words mean anything at all, that which Levi received was a gift from the Lord, not from Israel.
From these Scriptures, we see that the first-born, the first-fruits, and the tenth, were the Lord’s and that the rendering of these to the Lord was not giving at all, it was tithing, handing over to the Lord that which did not belong to them, but which always belonged to Him.   Withholding any part of the tithe was, in God’s estimate, robbery!
“Will a man rob God?  Yet ye have robbed Me.  But ye say, ‘Wherein have we robbed Thee’? In tithes and offerings.  Ye are cursed with a curse, for ye have robbed Me, even this whole nation.   Bring ye all the tithes (the whole tithe, R.V.) into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3. 8-10).  Certainly, then, the tithe was obligatory.
(B) OFFERINGS.  Over and above the tithe, Israel had the blessed privilege of giving to the Lord.   Their free-will offerings constituted their giving.  They might give to the Lord after having disposed of the tithe, anything up to the limit of their willingness and capacity.   “If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord . . . he shall offer it of his own voluntary will” (Lev. 1. 2, 3).   According to his ability and willingness, he might bring a bullock or a sheep or a goat, or turtle doves, among other things, great or small, God would graciously receive from His people anything that their hearts prompted them to give Him.
We are prone to sing very glibly:
Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold,
but in the hearing of the present writer it was pertinently asked at a recent meeting in a farming district: “Are you prepared to offer to the Lord a bullock?”
All that Moses taught was confirmed by the Lord Jesus Christ, as indeed, it would be, for Moses was but the spokesman of God.  “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5. 17).
In the particular matter of tithing, however, He seeks to bring back to a sense of proportion some who were very punctilious in this thing, but completely lacking in “weightier matters.” “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23. 23).
“These” refers to the “weightier matters,” but “the other” to tithing which, says the Lord Jesus, must not be left undone.   Here then, is Christ’s authority for saying that tithing is obligatory.  He does not specifically refer to the fact that the first-born and first-fruits are the Lord’s, but rather points the way wherein is the true response to such a position.   “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness” (Matt. 6. 33). 
He also has some pertinent things to say about giving, stressing not so much the fact and privilege of giving, as the conditions under which it can be acceptable to God.
    (a) The life must be right if the gift is to be acceptable.  “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5. 23, 24).
    (b) The motive must be right.  “Therefore, when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do . . . that they may have glory of men . . . But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, that thine alms may be in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret, Himself shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6. 2-4).
    (c) There must be the due recognition and discharge of family obligations.
“Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother . . . but ye say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is Corban, that is to say, Given to God; ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother, making void the word of God by your tradition” (Mark 7. 10-13, R.V.).
   (d) The gift must be impelled by love.   An example of this is found in the offering of the penitent sinner in Simon’s house.  “She loved much,” is our Lord’s testimony (Luke 7. 47).
   (e) The measure of the gift will be the degree of its acceptability.   But the gift will be measured, not by its own intrinsic value, but by what is left when it is given.
“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury, and many that were rich cast in much.   And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.   And He called unto Him His disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast more in than all they which have cast into the treasury; for all they did cast in of their abundance, but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12. 41-44). Jesus still sits “over against the treasury!”  Here in this poor widow’s gift, we have an example of the kind of giving God loves to accept; the giving to the point of extreme self-sacrifice.  But the supreme example of all is found in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  “I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep” (John 10. 11).
As I pass on to the teaching of the apostles, let me do so by quoting His words of exhortation and encouragement: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.  For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6. 38).
The apostles continued the teaching of the grace of giving, both by precept and by practice.
(A) BY PRECEPT.  Every matter of vital importance for the child of God is dealt with exhaustively at least once in the Scriptures, often more than once.   The subject of Christian giving is dealt with exhaustively by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.  We commend those chapters to the careful and prayerful study of the reader, but for the present purposes, we will learn from them certain principles which appear upon the surface.
The essential and primary thing in all Christian giving is the recognition that we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6. 19); hence the exhortation to the Romans: “Present your bodies a living sacrifice” (ch. 12. 1), and the acceptance of this position by the Macedonian churches who “first gave their own selves to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8. 5).   If there is a clear understanding of that at the beginning, it will become equally clear that what we call our own is actually the Lord’s and the most scrupulous care must be taken in the use of it.   We will weigh up before Him the matter of our stewardship and settle in our minds what He would have us expend on ourselves and what should be done with the rest.
Having settled that question honestly before God, let us notice the principles in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 which regulate Christian giving.  I take the principles in the order in which they appear in these chapters, and the first of these is the principle of the open hand (ch, 8. 2), “their liberality.”
The apostle comes back to this again before he closes the subject of giving, and as he begins, so he ends on the note of ‘open handedness’ in Christian giving—“he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (ch. 9. 6); “being enriched in everything to all bountifulness” (v. 11), and “your liberal distribution” (v. 13).
The supreme example of liberal giving, and the unanswerable argument for it, and incentive to it, is in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (ch. 8. 9).   “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift” (ch. 9. 15).
Let us also note carefully that liberality is not a grace limited to the rich who can afford to be liberal, but the very soil in which it flourishes is ‘deep poverty.’   “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit, of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (ch. 8. 1, 2).   How constantly in Christian experience do we see this very thing obtaining.
The second is the principle of the willing mind.   “For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing . . .” (ch. 8. 3); “a readiness to will” (v. 11); “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath and not according to that he hath not” (v. 12).   “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver” (ch. 9. 7).
This brings us to the third principle, namely, the principle of the cheerful heart.   Those who give liberally and willingly will discover the joy of giving and the truth of the word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20. 35).  Then as we give, let us do it cheerfully; our hearts will be made glad and God will bless us.
In conjunction with this chapter, consideration should be taken of 1 Cor. 16. 1-3 where three other principles are introduced, namely: Giving should be with Regularity: “Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store.”  Systematically: “. . . lay by him in store.” Proportionately: “As God hath prospered him.”  My own conviction is, that, if under the law, the tenth was the minimum that Israel might render to the Lord in addition to the first-born and first-fruits, under grace, it could not be less.  And if, under the law, giving did not begin until this was disposed of, is it reasonable to suppose that we shall be accredited with giving until this same minimum is handed over to God?
Then after that, let us give proportionately as God has prospered us, yet not forgetting in this the discharge of all our earthly obligations so that yet another principle of great importance emerges, giving must be honourable.  “Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us; providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Cor. 8. 20, 21).   To give to the Lord’s work at the expense of parents (Mark 7. 11-13), children and households (2 Cor. 12. 14; 1 Tim. 5. 8), tradesmen, etc. (Rom. 13. 8) would not be honest, neither would it be acceptable to God.   The apostles taught not only by precept but by practice.
(B) BY PRACTICE.  “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).
Acts 6. 1 speaks of a “daily ministration” with needy widows particularly in view.  In Gal. 2. 9, 10, James, Cephas, and John gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas with the injunction that they “should remember the poor, the same which I also was forward to do.”
In addition to the actual practice of the apostles themselves, the early Christians in apostolic days exercised this same grace, and collective gifts are mentioned in several places.   In the church at Antioch, “every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judæa; which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11. 29, 30).  The church at Corinth sent a collective gift to the saints at Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16. 1-4) by the hands of Titus and another brother appointed by the churches (2 Cor. 8. 18, 19).   On several occasions, the church at Philippi sent collective gifts to the Apostle Paul (Phil. 4. 15, 16).
It is, moreover, worthy of note that apart from the Philippian gifts, the last of which was sent to Paul through the medium of Epaphroditus (ch. 4. 18) the other collective gifts were handled by two brethren, and in the case of the “daily ministration” of Acts 6, “seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom” (v. 3) were appointed over that business.   This apostolic practice was both wise and good; it was wise that the church’s money should be handled by at least two, appointed by their brethren; it would give confidence and close the mouths of any who might otherwise suggest that there was fraudulent dealing.   Moreover, it was good that such a heavy burden and responsibility should be shared, and not be on the shoulders of one.  It is very worthy of note that in that first appointment of deacons to handle the finance of the church, they were to be trustworthy men of unblemished character, “of honest report”; spiritual men, “full of the Holy Ghost”; and men of business acumen “full . . . of wisdom” (Acts 6. 3).
Here, then, is an outline of Scripture teaching on the all-important subject of the grace of giving.   It is the earnest desire of the writer that his own soul may be searched and brought into conformity to the Word of God, in this, as in all other matters; and it is his humble prayer that it may lead to the soul exercise of every reader. 
Were the whole realm of-nature mine,
That were an offering far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
 From: “The Church – A Symposium”


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