Why I Give to the church
Every stewardship season I review why I give to the church. I would like to share these reasons with you.
- I give because of my own spiritual need to take the would-be god Mammon off the throne so that God alone can be King in my life. The only way to knock Mammon off the control center throne that it keeps trying to claim is to subvert it by doing the exact opposite of what Mammon wants me to do. Mammon hoards, so I give. Mammon is fear-based: “maybe you don’t have enough yet, so hang on to what you’ve got.” I claim that, like my money says, “In God we Trust.” Well, if I trust in God to provide “enough” then I have to prove it by refusing to listen to Mammon’s constant chatter of fear. Mammon always says things that are partly true (the best lies are always partly true). Mammon says “the future is uncertain”.
True enough, but the future is in God’s hands, and therefore I will not fear. Mammon says, “Prices are rising.” True enough, but God is faithful, and so I will trust him. Mammon says, “Just this month, you need it.” True enough, I always can find reasons for “needing it” – I have a mortgage, a child in college, an adolescent at home, and auto-repair expenses. Yes, and next month I’ll have similar reasons, and the next month after that the same. But I will believe that God can and will provide for me this month, so I will reject Mammon’s temptation to withhold. There are a million little tricks Mammon tries to play with my my heart and my mind. For the sake of my own spiritual life, for the sake of my faith in God who is the only and the true source of my security, I will give.
- I value the church, so I give to make sure that I support it. I have been a member of a variety of churches in my life. None of them was perfect; all of them were comprised of humans like me. All of them nurtured my faith, week to week. All of them provided me with opportunities for worship and prayer, study and ways to serve. All of them fed me spiritually through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. All of them provided me with a community of people who encouraged my faith, taught me in Sunday School, visited me in the hospital, and helped me through painful times. All of them gave me a way to celebrate Christmas and Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost. I was baptized in a church, as were my children, and someday the church will conduct my funeral service as a witness to the resurrection. I love the imperfect church because it is the church of Jesus Christ, my Lord. The church was his idea, and so I value it. Of course, as with everything else I value, I prove it with my support.
- I care about the ministries and missions that I support though giving to the church. I care about the people who are victims of disasters, so I am glad to be able to support them through my giving to the church which supports Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. I care about people who need decent housing, so I am happy to support Habitat for Humanity through my giving to the church. I care about the people who need the Christian Service Center’s food pantry and “hand up” out of their crises. I am proud to be able to support, through the church, Presbyterian missionaries who are at work on my behalf all around the world. I have signed up to receive, every day, an email message with that day’s page from the Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study, so I can be aware of and pray for missionaries from Brazil to Burundi, and all points in between. The same could be said for all of the missions and ministries our church supports. I care about those ministries, and I support them through my giving to the church.
I support the church through my giving because I believe God expects me to, and I want to be obedient. God required the tithe, that is the first ten percent of income, from his people, Israel. They were harshly criticized by the prophets when they were lax and irresponsible about tithing. Read Malachi 3:8-12 – the language is really tough. Failure to tithe was called “robbing God.” That was the Old Testament; what about the New Testament? God still expects his people to give. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 we read,
“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
God expects us to “sow bountifully.” It sounds to me as if a tithe would be the minimum of “bountifully.” I believe God expects me to tithe, so out of obedience, I do. As with every other way in which we have opportunities to obey God, I believe that blessings follow obedience. But that is not why we obey – to get blessed. We obey because God is God; the blessing is simply icing on the cake.
There are some ideas that are NOT reasons I support the church.
- I do not support the church because there is a budget to meet. Yes, there is a budget, but I would support the church with my tithe even if all of the budgeted expenses were covered by an enormous endowment, because of the four reasons I just gave. None of those reasons go away, even if the budget is flush. I don’t tithe because we need to repair an air conditioning unit or pay the light bill. I may respond to a special request and give over and above my tithe if there is a special need, but with or without a need, I would still give to the church.
- I do not give to the church for tax reasons. I am happy to take every deduction I can take, but my taxes have nothing to do with the four reasons I listed above. If the government takes away the charitable deduction, I will simply have to learn to live with less. And yes, God will help me figure out how to do it. By the way, in many other countries, there never has been such a thing as a charitable tax deduction – there certainly was no such thing during the time of Jesus in or Paul in the days of the Roman Empire! Taxes have nothing significant to do with the motivation to give to the church.
- I do not give because the church is one of my charities. I do support some other charitable organizations (although, not much, compared to my church support). Charities are causes I believe in which I support with “expendable income.” In other words, I support them when I believe I can afford to. That is almost the exact opposite of how and why I support the church. The church is not a charity holding out her hand for left-overs. The church gets the “first fruits” of my income – not the dregs from the bottom of the barrel. The church is God’s church, Christ’s bride, the body of Christ; Jesus died for the church, she is not one among many “good causes” but rather is the unique vehicle of God’s grace in action in our world.
- I do not support the church because all my other needs and most of my other wants are taken care of. I still have bills to pay. I don’t go out to eat or buy new clothes nearly as much as I feel tempted to. I don’t have all the “stuff” that looks so fun in the commercials. I don’t take all the trips I would love to take. Big deal. I am not suffering. In fact, I have things the Kings of England and France never dreamed of: heat and air-conditioning on demand; hot water on demand; ice cubes on demand; pure water at the tap; machines that wash my dishes and my clothes, and even dry them for me; I have fresh fruit and vegetables all year around; I have spices, nuts, even sugar and salt (in moderation). If I want to go somewhere, I don’t saddle a horse, I get into a clean, dry temperature-controlled car – or plane! I have music anytime, any style I want, from all over the world, from all the world’s best and all the world’s popular composers, performers and musicians, and I have all of it in high quality stereo headphones. I have excellent doctors and safe and effective medicines. I even have a dentist who never lets me feel pain! No, I don’t have “everything” I could want – but there is no such thing as having “everything” a person could want, is there? As scripture observes,
“They eye never has enough of seeing….” (Eccl 1:8)
There are many things I have regretted spending my money on. There are the things that didn’t work as they were advertised to, or that broke quickly, or became obsolete when the new model arrived. There were the things that were supposed to be fulfilling or thrilling or meaningful that turned out not to be. There were the things that were great while they lasted, but did not last too long compared to the price I paid. There were the things that I didn’t really need and didn’t end up using. There were the dumb mistakes, the impulse purchases, the “good money after bad” expenditures. There have been a lot of things I regret spending money on. But I have never regretted supporting the church. My stewardship has not always been what it should. There have been times of failure on my part. I regret them. But I have never regretted the times I have been responsible, faithful and obedient. I have never lacked anything essential. I have never gone hungry or homeless. I have been blessed.