“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)
What are the principles of stewardship that are enjoined upon the followers of Jesus?
How do we give? It is important to remember that a Christian is under grace and not law. There are no “Shoulds” here, but there are principles that govern action, and the above verse shows this very clearly.
How, for example, does the principle of giving translate into the practice of tithing?
Tithing is mentioned three or four times in the New Testament. Jesus acknowledged that the Pharisees were very careful about tithing (Luke 18:12), and he said that they should not leave it undone (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). Tithing, like other old covenant rules and rituals, was a law at the time Jesus spoke. Jesus criticized the Pharisees not for tithing, but for treating tithing as more important than mercy, love, justice and faithfulness.
The only other New Testament mention of tithing is in Hebrews. The fact that Abraham was blessed by and gave tithes to Melchizedek illustrates the superiority of Melchizedek and Jesus Christ over the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 7:1-10). The passage then goes on to note that “when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also” (verse 12).
There was a change of the priesthood from the Levites to Jesus Christ, and this implies a change in the law that assigned the Levites to be priests. How much has been changed? Hebrews says that the old covenant is obsolete. The package of laws that commanded tithes to be given to the Levites is obsolete.
We should honour God by voluntarily returning some of the blessings he gives us — this is still a valid principle, but the only place that a percentage is required is within the old covenant.
So what principles govern our actions of giving?
The way we give comes under the grace of God in Jesus. Consequently, we read 2 Cor 9:7: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Or consider Acts 20:35: “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.’”
Again, look at 1 Cor 16:2 “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”
Acts 2:44-47: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.”
Finally, 2 Cor 8:1-24: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 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. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”
There is no “law” or regulation here, just the reminder of what God is like, of what Jesus said, and the need to care for the vulnerable by intelligent and thoughtful thrift.
The principle is Grace received equals Grace lived.
I want to “reap bountifully”. Remember that verse? “He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.” 2 Corinthians 9:6.
C.S. Lewis once remarked that “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Grace received should equal grace lived. Jesus denounced the man who was released from a crushing debt, and yet who could not offer the same release to one who owed him a very little. And so the verse leads us into the way that we live. Do we live critically, grudgingly, with eyes squinting in distrust, counting our change and quick to notice every slight or possible offence? Do we stand upon our “rights”?
If so, then we are sowing sparingly, and should expect a poor crop when the tally of our life is drawn up. No. Let’s enjoy that word “bountifully.” It suggests living open-handedly, giving to others the way that God has given towards us.
- What about other aspects of giving: time, talents and treasure?
- How intentional should you be about your giving? Or should it all be spontaneous?
- Do you feel that you knowingly withhold from the Lord or are you totally “given”?