This stained glass depicts Jesus in the regalia of a Byzantine emperor. While Jesus clearly rejected the power and authority of the state, this image helps remember that he made claims to greater authority than any human being or institution.
When talking about money and the perspective which the bible gives, the starting point is the “Lordship of Christ.” Basically this refers to Jesus’ claim of being Lord, Ruler, or King of every aspect of life. There are not some areas in which he is deeply concerned then others towards which he is indifferent or mildly interested. He says all of your life belongs to me. If such claims to authority or influence happened in any relationship we might say that such a person is controlling to the point of obsession. But if Jesus is God – the one who made us, the one who upholds the universe moment by moment, the one who knows what is best for us, the one who laid down his life to redeem us, and the one who conquered death – then his rule over every bit of our lives begins to make sense. Thus, there is no area that is off limits, no categories in which we can say, “Jesus, this is none of your business.” As I’ve done a quick mental inventory, every New Testament author speaks about money in one respect or another. In this way, money is just another area of which the Christian must manage according to God’s blueprint.
The second perspective on giving money that we see in the bible is an emphasis on the heart. Jesus statement, “where your treasure is, there your heart will also be” is recorded both in the Gospel According to Matthew chapter six and the Gospel According to Luke chapter twelve. In Matthew, Jesus is talking about giving in secret for the praise of God rather than giving publicly so that others recognize you. He then goes on to say that we cannot serve both God or money, as one must ultimately master us. Thus, giving is always about the heart. Martin Luther, the protestant reformer, said “there are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, the conversion of the mind, and the conversion of the purse.” True allegiance to Christ will involve all three, so that if the purse (i.e. use of money) does not change over time it is an issue of incredible concern because of what it implies about the soul. Giving expresses our love for God, for his people, and the progress of his cause in this world.
The third perspective on giving is that it is commanded. In the sixth chapter of Matthew, which is cited above Jesus says, “when you give…” In this simple use of “when” he implies that his followers will give. The apostle Paul roots the generosity of Christians in God’s own generosity to us in Christ, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” With a clear precedent in the Old Testament Scriptures we see in the earliest records that Christians were marked by generous giving of their resources (See Acts 2-4). It is also important to note that simply because something is commanded, that this does not exclude joy and heartfelt willingness. The commanded to love God does not somehow impinge on us authentically responding in love to him. Thus, being commanded by God to give in now way contradicts the bible’s command to give cheerfully and willingly.
The fourth perspective that the bible provides is that giving is a privilege. Again, the apostle Paul in the second letter to the Corinthians,
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–
Their generosity is attributed to the “Grace of God” being giving to them, which is an incredible privilege. Furthermore they are held up as an example in “begging earnestly” to participate in the relief of poor Christians in Judea. Whether in giving, or in any area of life, it is a privilege to obey God and participate in his cause in this world. In serving God with our resources we become more like our savior, do good to others, store up eternal wealth, see God’s faithfulness, and are encouraged in our faith. I remember a friend writing how he was so deeply encouraged in his faith by his own generosity. It went something like this: “money was very tight, yet I still obeyed Jesus in giving of my meager resources. Then in retrospect I looked at the situation and said, surely God has given me a new heart for I never would have done this before.”
Next week I’ll write about some of the practices of giving that we see in the New Testament.
*This is number 2 in a series on giving. Week 1 is Giving our Money (and other precious things).
I draw on works from others, particularly David Sherwood, the Sr. Pastor of our mother church Trinity PCA in Providence, RI.