Church Giving During COVID: Reasons for Optimism
God’s people are still giving, churches are learning from this pandemic, and God is still faithful.
October 26, 2020
When it comes to money, God has had a lot of words put into his mouth. So as well as looking at what the wonderful, merciful, saving, real God does say, when it comes to money, we must also know what he does not say.
That could sound rather negative, but for each wrong view, there is a good and right view to replace it with. But we’re going to begin with where we can go wrong.
Financial blessing simply is not promised to Christians today.
Having said that, it is true that a general principle does remain: God will still bless our obedience. Think of Jesus’ words to his followers when they said they’d left everything to follow him:
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
Jesus is reassuring them that they will never lose out. God is no one’s debtor! You cannot give to God and end up feeling like you’ve got the rough end of the bargain. God blesses our giving.
Jesus can’t mean that if we give up our home we’ll own a hundred more homes. It’s hard to see how that works literally for brothers and sisters. He must mean that God will give us blessing in a hundred homes being open to us, and knowing new family in the church.
Some Christians view money negatively. Since money is so dangerous and deceitful, better simply not to have any, they say. But as a whole theology of money, this isn’t right: God does not love poverty.
In fact, this is the opposite error of the prosperity gospel—it is a “poverty gospel.” Not that the gospel will make you poor, but that you should be poor if you believe the gospel.
We could easily find ourselves excusing selfishness and indulgence. But the key point is to see that the answer does not lie in shunning money, but in using money rightly.
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We do not deny the enjoyment of good parts of creation: a quality cup of coffee, a good computer game, a decent meal out, a high-end mobile, or a relaxing holiday. Of course it can be wrong to enjoy these things—it all depends on our heart attitude.
Perhaps you might not be tempted by the prosperity gospel or the poverty gospel. Perhaps you were sitting comfortably as you read the previous two sections. But we can easily create another category all of our own—where we believe that God likes what I do with my money.
We must not equate our personal financial decisions with godliness and use them as the yardstick by which to judge. What we need is a good deal of self-awareness and honesty, respect for other people doing things differently, and the ability to talk about financial decisions with love and straightforwardness.
It’s worth asking ourselves some questions:
What is the positive other side of the coin (so to speak!) here? Simply that it is perfectly possible that God does like my approach because I have tried to be honest and generous and self-aware.
Of course that should mean I acknowledge that God can like other people’s approach as much as I like mine. Godly discipleship with money does not have to look the same for every person.
This is a tricky one, but it cuts to the foundation of how we see the world. Does God approve of the hard-working man or woman who pays their own way through life? We should begin by saying “Yes!”
People should earn their own living (2 Thess. 3:0). Proverbs also encourages us to work and earn:
“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” (Prov. 14:23)
God does approve of hard working and earning. In some circles that needs to be said, because people feel embarrassed about it.
But here’s the key issue: whether we will recognise and praise, or deny and ignore, the source of our prosperity.
All we have comes from God: our time, our energy, our gifts, the natural resources we work with, the power we use, everything.
So, yes, God does indeed like us to work and earn, and not be dependent on others if we are able to. But we must not think we are ever independent of God.
It is great when people give lots of money! I mean it. It really is fantastic and I want to encourage it. Many rich Christians have done great things with their money down the years: funded the start of new churches; founded training colleges; paid for orphanages. All are fantastic.
But according to Jesus, it is just as fantastic when people give very small amounts of money:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
For Jesus, the quality of the gift is not to do with how large it is. It is both to do with the proportion we give and the heart with which we give.
We can easily start to think we have improved our standing with God if we’ve given a certain amount. We can easily feel proud or self-assured because we’ve been generous, like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story who based some of his certainty that God liked him on the fact that “I … give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:12). We can start to think God owes us because we’ve given so much (which is falling into the “prosperity gospel” trap). We must beware all these tendencies in our hearts.
We can indeed please God and honour him with our money no matter how much of it we have.
The cash-strapped single parent, the person on income support, the student, and everyone else who is struggling to make ends meet can please and honour God with their giving just as much as the financially comfortable middle-class family and the high flying businessman.
God notices all giving, and joyful, sacrificial giving pleases him, no matter the number on the cheque.
This is where we set ourselves (and sometimes others) a certain bar to reach or expected quota, and then say we are being godly with our money.
Perhaps the most common is: God doesn’t mind as long as… I give 10%. Once I’ve given my 10%, I can do what I like with the rest of my income. T
The danger of this approach is thinking that once I’ve ticked a certain box then God’s claims on my life, my priorities and values, and what I give myself to, all evaporate in the financial world.
Here are some other examples of this approach:
God doesn’t mind as long as…
All of these can fulfill a basic requirement we have set ourselves and then give us freedom for everything else. But it is not what God says about how to handle money. And God has a claim on all our money, all our possessions, all our time and all energy.
The other positive side of the coin is that we can ask how we honour God with all our money. Our whole can be dedicated to him and we can learn how our giving, spending and saving is all part of our discipleship.
Wrong thinking always leads to wrong living. That’s as true with money as with anything else. Our thinking on money can go wrong in all these ways and that will change how we live. But wonderfully, the opposite is true, too: right thinking leads to right living.