05 May 2008

the living church (7)

John Stott, The Living Church (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007).

Chapter Seven: Giving
"Christian giving is an extremely important topic on the contemporary church's agenda.  Local churches are often preoccupied with financial concerns, and worldwide I doubt if there is a single Christian enterprise which is not hindered and hampered by lack of funds" (111).  I suppose this is Rev. Stott's way of saying that my church isn't alone in its tendency to jump off the deep-end when it comes to finances and *church business* - as though financial meetings are the church business and the ministry end of things is not.

In reflecting on this aspect of the church, Stott gives ten principles.
1. "Christian giving is an expression of the grace of God" (112).  On this, see 2 Corinthians 8:1-6, where Paul refers to the generosity of (not the church, but. . .) of God.  The grace we have received is our inspiration to give.

2. "Christian giving can be a charisma, that is, a gift of the Spirit" (113).  Along with other gifts of the Spirit, we have been called to a certain life even though some are more slanted toward various aspects than are others.  "Many of God's gifts are both generously bestowed in some measure on all believers and given in special measure to some" (114).  It is as though he anticipates the argument: No, naming it as charisma does not mean some people do not have to give.

3. "Christian giving is inspired by the cross of Christ" (114).  On this, see 2 Corinthians 8:8-9.  In light of the cross, how is it that Christians remain stingy?

4. "Christian giving is proportionate giving" (115).  On this, see 2 Corinthians 8:10-12.  I am reminded of the superb study which draws the same conclusion (among others): Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches (Downers Grove: IVP, 1999).  A review of materialism and giving in Scripture will show that our best attempt at achieving the biblical ideal is in the 'graduated tithe' approach.

5. "Christian giving contributes to equality" (116).  On this, see 2 Corinthians 8:13-15.  Stott contends that this does not mean egalitarianism (a socialistic approach to income and lifestyle), but that it provides an equal opportunity for those in need.  ". . . equality sees an end to extreme social disparity" (118).

6. "Christian giving must be carefully supervised" (119).  On this, see 2 Corinthians 8:16-24.  Although this could easily (and often does quickly) turn into the abuse of power and control within the church, Stott is right to include it into the discussion.  Our ability to disrupt a practice does not make such practice inherently bad, but that we need to continually surrender ourselves to Christ.  Sometimes in order to ensure that the church is not disrupted by money we need to take extra steps to safeguard the giving process.

7. "Christian giving can be stimulated by a little friendly competition" (121).  On this, see 2 Corinthians 9:1-5.  Sometimes the *fun* of giving needs to be infused.

8. "Christian giving resembles a harvest" (122).  On this, see 2 Corinthians 9:6-11.  Stott provides two 'harvest principles' here: a) we reap what we sow; b) what we reap has a double purpose - for eating and further sowing.  This is not a case of Paul's endorsement of the prosperity gospel, but that the means we receive have an ongoing purpose.

9. "Christian giving has symbolic significance" (124).  "Paul looks beyond the mere transfer of cash to what it represents . . . for it was a deliberate, self-conscious symbol of Jewish-Gentile solidarity in the body of Christ" (125).  How we give demonstrates what we believe.

10. "Christian giving promotes thanksgiving to God" (126).  Throughout the passage in 2 Corinthians which has been used in this chapter, Paul returns to the notion that when the Corinthians give there will be an increased thanksgiving and praise to God.

"What an awesome privilege we have in helping others right across the world to give glory to God.  Releasing more of the money which he has entrusted to us as stewards will end in this.  And to increase thanksgiving to God for the sake of his own glory is surely our highest goal" (127).

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