Giving to close the gap (1)

Fred Smith, a well-known Christian businessman based in Dallas, Texas, is a frequent contributor to Leadership magazine. In one of his articles he describes a bull session with several students at Baylor University, on the minimum one could do and still be a good Christian. Suddenly, one foreign student spoke up and said, "I'm not interested in the minimum; I'm interested in the maximum one can do as a Christian." "Then I realized," wrote Smith, "that we were all trying to get into heaven on the cheapest general admission ticket while she was in love with God."

Global vision is not for those interested in minimum Christianity, who are trying to get into heaven on the cheapest general admission ticket. It is for those who, like the foreign student, are interested in maximum Christianity born out of a love for the Lord Jesus.

It's time to check our progress on re-drawing our "T-in-O" maps and sailing according to them. Maximum Christianity is dedicated to grasping a vision of a) God's unchanging purpose for the nations; b) God's view of the nations as largely lost and poor; c) our personal responsibility to be involved in accomplishing God's purpose for the nations; and d) God's promise to Christ to glorify His Name among the nations as our basis for entering and serving in the gap. Having caught this four-fold vision, maximum Christianity seeks to "sail according to its new map," in one of two major ways: serving cross-culturally or living here counterculturally. We've learned that deciding whether or not to serve cross-culturally is not so much a matter of the mystical call as doing practical things such as making oneself available, getting the necessary information, getting prepared and then testing one's skills in the local church-all the while evaluating one's progress. Deciding not to go is an automatic decision to live here counterculturally to enable and encourage those who do go. The first aspect of such a countercultural lifestyle is a commitment to serious and sustained intercessory prayer, both privately and corporately. Such prayer should reflect God's two-fold agenda of fullness and fulfillment; fullness referring to the manifest presence of Christ in our midst, and fulfillment referring to the accomplishing of God's agenda revealed in His Word and in the way He is at work in the world.

Now we come to the second major aspect of countercultural living-our giving, the use of our resources for the accomplishing of God's purpose.

The initial reaction to this topic is often that it really doesn't belong in the church. Haven't surveys among the unchurched shown that one of the main reasons they don't go to church is because "all the church wants is their money"? But money is a subject we cannot avoid in the context of Global Vision. The task takes money, and lots of it. Furthermore, the Bible talks more about money than many of the more "spiritual" and culturally acceptable topics such as prayer and faith. Jesus certainly didn't avoid the subject. The real problem is the way money is talked about in the church. We must develop a countercultural perspective on money and possessions. Chapter 9 will translate these perspectives into ''dollars and cents."


A few months ago I was watching an early morning Christian broadcast while pumping away on my stationary bicycle. Towards the end of the program the preacher referred to a sermon he had recently preached on smoking. At this point, the camera switched to a video recording of the sermon. That lasted a minute or two, until the speaker was just about to deliver the punch line. At that precise moment, the video was cut and we were back live to the preacher who then said, "If you want to know how the sermon ended all you have to do is send..." I was furious at this blatant huckstering and manipulation of the audience. No wonder people believe that all sermons on stewardship and offerings are simply a guise to raise money. But regardless of the shameful, sinful tactics of some, the fact remains that the Bible's teaching on the subject of giving is not to raise money but to set people free from what Dr. Tozer so vividly labeled the "tyranny of things." Let me introduce you to some aspects of this tyrant.

To begin with, he always promises but never delivers the goods. In Ecclesiastes 5:11, we read, "If riches increase so do those who consume them." Sometimes this is true literally. I'm sure we have all read the miserable testimonies of lottery winners who have been besieged by freeloaders, given the money away to irresponsible individuals who have squandered it, who have received kidnapping threats on their kids, and so on. But what of those who never win lotteries or receive inheritances? Verse 11 continues, "What benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?" Parents who have taken kids to amusement parks will know exactly what this verse means. You stand in line for up to an hour waiting to get on a particular ride. Finally you are seated and buckled in. What's the immediate question? "Daddy, what are we going to do next?" Our response is usually an exasperated "Why don't you enjoy this ride first!" So it is with adults when it comes to acquiring things. There is more fun and pleasure anticipating getting something than after we get it. Very quickly our possession loses its fascination and soon our eyes turn to the next thing we can anticipate acquiring. What we often have is no more benefit than to sit and look at it (and when we do, it's boring). In many cases, we don't even have time to sit and look. In the few exceptional cases when we do stay fascinated by what we have acquired, the tyrant goes to work with his second tactic.

He breeds discontent by making sure that our attention is drawn to several other things that would be even more delightful to look at. That's where Madison Avenue and the whole advertising industry plays a major part. In my undergraduate engineering course I had to take one non-technical course every semester under the broad heading of "humanities." One year I took a course on aesthetics of engineering design. There I learned about a designing tactic called "built-in obsolescence," the deliberate inclusion of a design feature for the sole purpose of changing it next year so as to offer something new to the unsuspecting public. The clothing industry is a classic example. They widen the lapels this year so that next year they can narrow them. They bring back the double-breasted suits this year so they can go back to single-breasted designs next year. They raise the hem line this year only to lower it six months later.

A further refinement of this technique is called "artificially accelerated obsolescence," i.e., put something into the design that will actually speed up the process of the public's disenchantment with the product. Hidden windshield wipers were an example of this technique. In order to hide the wipers, they had to curve the hood upwards as it neared the windshield. In even gentle collisions, the sharp upwardly curving points pierced and shattered the windshields. Realizing this, the insurance companies began charging higher rates for cars with hidden windshield wipers. So off they went on subsequent models.

The bondage of the tyrant in breeding discontent has been graphically captured by C.S. Lewis in his classic The Screwtape Letters. The book contains advice from Screwtape, a senior devil, to Wormwood, a junior devil, on how to tempt and destroy Christians. Listen to this "gem":

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart. Now, since humans need change, the Enemy [God] has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating a pleasure.... So, just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. Thus we diminish pleasure while increasing desire. The pleasure of novelty is, by its very nature, more subject to the law of diminishing returns. And continued novelty costs money, so that the desire for it spells avarice or unhappiness or both.1

Screwtape's advice is being eagerly followed by Madison Avenue. In many cases we can't get what we want; so the tyrant uses discontent to breed resentment against whatever is viewed as the external object or reason we can't get what we want.

For those who can afford to get whatever they want, the tyrant uses another method. He breeds not resentment but anxiety over not being able to get what they want some time in the future. This is what one pastor has called the "spirit of poverty": having lots but enjoying nothing and never being at peace. A telling indicator of the truth of this aspect of the tyrant's power is found in Statistics Canada's repeated findings that, on average, the wealthier the person, the smaller the percentage of his or her income that goes to charitable causes. Those in the lower income brackets typically donate a greater portion of their income to others.

Where does this tyranny end? Tragically, the most devastating consequence is the destruction of relationships. For the resentful, it ends up destroying relationships with their spouses whom they blame for not making enough, or with their spouse's employers for not paying enough, or with their children who are such a financial strain and therefore keep them from getting things. Or it results in resentment of those who have more money than them and so can get the things they want. Those marked by such a spirit of poverty (and anxiety), however, usually destroy relationships by investing most, if not all, of their time in making more money rather than in people. They end up fearing others lest they take away or cause them to lose what they own. No wonder Paul writes to Timothy that "people who want to get rich fall into temptation and into many foolish and harmful desires. They end up wandering from the faith and piercing themselves with many griefs" (1 Tim. 6:9, 10).

Our reaction to being told we are enslaved by a tyrant is to say, "Not me!" When Jesus said to the Pharisees that only the truth could set them free, their reply was "We are Abraham's children and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean 'we shall be free'?"

Before Jesus can set us free, He must first make us aware of our bondage. That's why God emphasizes giving-to awaken us to the presence of the tyrant. Recall Paul's words in Romans 7:7, "I would not have known what it was to covet if the law had not said don't covet.' "Or, to paraphrase it, "I would not have known I was in the grip of the tyrant unless I was told to give generously." The very discomfort we feel when confronted with God's words on the subject of money is an indication of the extent of our slavery to things. But, at the same time, the realization of our slavery is the first step towards freedom from the slavery. Just as we amplified the various aspects of the tyranny, let's amplify the various aspects of the glorious freedom God wants to lead us into.

In 2 Corinthians 9:8-10, notice that at all times we will have what we need. God has promised to cheerful givers that they will never lack because they have given. What He does not promise is material abundance. Beware of Christian or pseudo-Christian organizations or people who teach that we should give in order to get. At least one such organization I heard about recruits workers by asking them whether they wouldn't like to be driving around in Cadillacs and enjoying the comforts of an indoor swimming pool while it's snowing outside. Material sufficiency, not abundance, is what God promises.

Then in verses 9 and 10 He promises spiritual abundance. While it is wrong to teach that givers will prosper materially, it is certainly biblical to promise that givers will prosper spiritually, precisely because we are set free from resentment, anxiety and the resulting broken relationships.

Further, in verse 10, God promises to increase our store of seed. Not only material sufficiency and spiritual abundance but increased resources for ministry and fruitfulness in ministry are promised. Bread represents food but seed represents what we sow in the ground to get more bread. Thus, as we give, He will enable us to multiply our resources so that we are able to give even more and reap the harvest of righteousness.

God's Word also ties our attitude to money and our fruitfulness in ministry very closely. In Acts 3, when Peter and John were confronted by a beggar, they uttered those familiar words, "Silver and gold have I none... but in the name of Jesus rise up and walk." Yet we know that whenever people in the early church sold houses or lands, they brought the money to the apostles' feet. Lots of money passed through their hands, but they could still say "silver and gold have I none."

In sharp contrast, the story is told of an earlier pope who brought the famous theologian Thomas Aquinas into the Vatican's treasury and said to him, "Well, Thomas, the church cannot say any more 'silver and gold have I none.'"The godly Aquinas replied, "Neither can she say, 'In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk.'" Fourteen centuries later, when the current pope heard about John Calvin's death, he is said to have remarked, "The power of that infidel lay in the fact that he was totally indifferent to money." The world says money is power; Jesus says a generous spirit towards things is the key to spiritual power.

Can you imagine a greater contrast? The tyrant urges us to get. But what he promises, he never delivers. Instead, he breeds discontent leading to resentment, anxiety and broken relationships. God tells us to give; as a consequence, He gives material sufficiency, spiritual abundance and multiplies our resources for ministry. That's the first countercultural perspective on money.

In the second perspective, God not only multiplies our resources for ministry to others, but tells us that in the process of giving we are actually ministering to Him. It is an act of worship.


Culture says, "I give to keep the machinery of the church going." Counterculture says, "I give as an act of worship and gratitude to God." In Hebrews 13:16 we read, "do not forget to share with others. For with such sacrifices, God is pleased." And remember, Hebrews was written to teach that all sacrifices had been put away now that Jesus had died and risen again. Yet here God is pleased with two kinds of sacrifices-our praise and our sharing with others. We can't get all excited, then, about praise and enthusiastic worship and stay cool about the whole matter of financing the fulfillment of God's purposes through generous giving. And the opposite is also true: We can't buy our way out of worshipping God in other ways by giving money. That would be just as sacrilegious as the practice of selling indulgences to forgive people's sins. Precisely because our giving is an act of worship, God emphasizes the importance of the attitude with which we give.

1) Let's begin with Malachi. Israel had returned from exile, the temple had been rebuilt and full sacrificial worship had been restored. But sadly, their worship had deteriorated into mere externalism with no heart at all. They were bringing blind, lame and defective animals to the priests for sacrifice. And not because they didn't have any good animals; they were reserving them for their governor. Even though they had been allowed to leave captivity in Babylon, they were still under Persian rule; the king of Persia had appointed local governors to oversee them. Evidently, the governor was in the habit of receiving gifts from the subject nations, in this case sheep and cattle from the Israelites. So the Israelites' priority system was clear: Me first, my human bosses second, and God gets the leftovers.

You can guess what sort of message that kind of offering sent to the surrounding nations as to the worth of Israel's God. All He deserved was leftovers. No wonder God sent Malachi to rebuke them. The prophet said, "Shut the doors of the temple. Stop lighting useless fires upon the altar. My name will be honoured among the nations and pure incense will be offered to My name." To paraphrase, "Stop! Cancel the worship service! Turn the heat and lights off, go home! If all you are going to give me is leftovers, then, I don't want it. That sort of worship will only tell the nations around you that I'm not worth much. I'll fulfil my global purpose without your help! The nations will bless My name but you might as well go home."

The great English preacher, Campbell Morgan, captured the essence of Malachi's message when he defined sacrilege, not as taking something out of the offering plate but putting on it what you don't need and will never miss.

In the Gospels, Jesus underscores the same message. Recall the widow who threw her two mites into the offering box in the temple. It was all she had. If we're honest, we find ourselves saying, "Surely we aren't all supposed to do that. If we give away everything we have, we'll become a burden on society. Anyone who does that is a sentimental, although well-meaning, fool." But Jesus wasn't in the habit of commending foolish sentimentality. Why, then, did He commend the widow for her action? I believe the answer lies in the insignificant amount of her gift. If that's all she had, she already was totally dependent on others. She didn't become a burden to society by her giving. If she had kept her two mites instead of giving it to God, she might have been able to buy one more meal, at most. But the act of giving even the infinitesimal amount she did have spoke volumes about what she thought of God. That's what Jesus was really commending. It was a pure act of worship unrelated to the amount.

Moving to the epistles, we find the same emphasis on attitude in giving. Look again at 2 Corinthians 8:11, 12. Twice Paul refers to the willingness of the giver. The gift is acceptable only if the willingness is there. The opposite is clearly implied-an unwilling gift is unacceptable to the Lord. Then in 9:7 we read that giving is to be neither reluctant nor constrained but rather cheerful (literally hilarious). You might ask how it is possible to give with hilarity or joy. The winter 1987 publication of World Relief's quarterly news update describes the plight of some very poor people in Bangladesh who attempted to earn a living by pulling carts called rickshaws. These vehicles seat two people at a time and were powered by a bicycle. But the men were too poor to own a rickshaw. So they had to rent them from rich owners at exorbitant rates. At the end of the day the operator had to pay a certain amount to the owner regardless of whether he made that much or not. If he fell short, he had to pay 100 percent interest per week on the difference. Can you imagine the misery and heartache of working all day and then having to go home to hungry children and wife, empty handed and owing even more money than you did at the start of the day?

A Christian worker was so burdened by this tragedy that he started a new program. With the help of World Relief he began a small factory in which he trained blacksmiths to manufacture these cycle rickshaws for $300. Then, using money donated by Christians in North America, individual operators were loaned $300 to buy these rickshaws. Within seven months, the men had earned enough to repay the loan in full, had learned how to maintain their rickshaws, and had invested five percent of their earnings into a savings account. They now owned their rickshaws and were freed from the tyranny of the oppressive owners. Further, the $300 was now available to help another owner.

I was so taken by this program that I added it to my giving list. One morning, as I was praying for these rickshaw pullers, two pictures filled my mind. The first was a dejected rickshaw operator returning home after working all day, having given all his earnings to a ruthless landlord. I pictured him entering his shack and breaking the terrible news to his hungry family. Next to that picture, I envisioned the same rickshaw puller seven months after having received a "life loan" (as World Relief calls it). Again he returns home after a hard day's work, but this time the proud owner of his machine, with a bag full of food for his family and five percent left over to deposit in a savings account. My heart welled up at the sheer joy of being able to be a small contributor to the process by which the first picture became the second. Tell me, what could I have bought with that $300 that would have given me the same joy? I can relive those two pictures over and over again; 10 years from now it will still give me joy.

A magazine published by Wycliffe Bible Translators tells about Sadie Sickler, a houseparent in the Philippines who looked after missionaries' children when they were at school. She loved books and gladly loaned them to others so they could benefit from them. But her most treasured books she kept in a footlocker under her bed. One night as she lay in bed, she heard a faint, rustling, gnawing sound. She got up and searched the room, but found nothing. She heard the noise again and this time, traced it to her foot locker. She opened her box. To her chagrin she found, not her treasured books, but a pile of rubble-termites had eaten them all. What she hoarded she lost. What she freely gave and shared, she kept. The tyrant promises, but never delivers. God promises and keeps on delivering joy. The first is temporal, the second eternal.

In the next chapter, we'll consider such questions as, "How much should we give and to whom?" But in order to put any related principles and suggestions into practice, in order to live and give counterculturally, we have to first of all learn to think counterculturally about money. We must be persuaded by the grace of God through the Word of God that giving is God's way of setting us free from the tyranny of things and that giving is an act of worship where attitude is all important.


1. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (England: Collins, Fontana Books, 1942), p. 126, 127.