With what shall I come before the Lord?
Aaron L. Christie
Regardless of one’s political persuasion—or lack thereof—it seems that the American economy is booming. Unemployment is at a lifetime low. The stock market has had some hiccups, but it still is positive in the long run. Wages are up, but paradoxically, something is down: Personal giving to religious charities.
A giving snapshot
If statistics can be trusted, it seems that Christians gave less than 2 percent of their income to churches last year. But what about WELS members? We are not much different from the rest of Christians in America. Here is a giving snapshot for the large church that I serve in the WELS heartland:
- 3 percent gave 30 percent of all offerings.
- 10 percent gave 31 percent of all offerings.
- 20 percent gave 26 percent of all offerings.
- 67 percent gave 12 percent of all offerings.
Interestingly, the giving levels of my previous parish in metro Chicago lined up exactly with the giving levels of my current parish! My hunch is that your church’s giving analysis might look much the same.
But what do those numbers really mean? Those numbers mean that two-thirds of our members gave less to the Creator of the human body than they did to the local gym to keep that body in shape. They also mean that 87 percent of our members give more to talk/text on cell phones than they give to the One who has spoken to us, once for all, by his Son.
So how much faith does it take to pay for a gym membership or a cell phone bill?
Answer: God knows. And we do too.
Yet many Christians become animated when they hear preaching about money. We are guilty of a major words/deeds inconsistency! We say that we believe that God created—and therefore owns—the world and everything in it. Yet we tip our server 15 percent and tip the Creator of food 2 percent? We need to repent of our self-centered greed, which is idolatry!
Last month’s article discussed the matter of giving first fruits. When we give first to the Lord, it helps us clarify our priorities—placing him first in our lives—not in theory, but in reality. Giving first fruits takes aim at the attitude enclosed in our hearts rather than the amount enclosed in our envelopes. This month the biblical practice of proportionate giving begins the conversation of what “first and best” means for each of us as we decide in our hearts what to give. Proportionate giving means giving in proportion to how God has blessed us. It entails giving a fixed percentage of our incomes (1 Corinthians 16:2). Experience teaches and statistics show that giving amounts are not directly tied to tax brackets and bottom lines, but to the depth of our faith in the promises of our God.
The Scriptures give us several examples of proportionate giving that provide us with an opportunity to ponder the percentage of our own gifts.
- After victory on the field of battle,Abraham gave 10 percent of all his possessions to Melchizedek, the kingly-priest of Jerusalem (Genesis 14:20). He gave a tithe of his significant riches to thank God for the riches of his grace. God would direct his people to give various tithes later in the Law of Moses.
- Thousands of years later, Zacchaeus would give 50 percent of his significant wealth to the poor (Luke 19:1-10). He gave away half of his possessions because he was wholly possessed by gratitude for the salvation that Jesus brought to his house!
- We even hear of two women who gave 100 percent of their income to the Lord: The widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16) gave her last meal to the prophet, and the widow at the temple (Luke 21:1-4) gave her last two small coins.
All of these gifts were given out of gratitude, not under compulsion.
These examples from Scripture lead us to consider proportionate giving from another angle: Proportionate giving is not so much about how much I give, but how much is left over to live on. Abraham offered the Lord a tithe but had 90 percent of a significant amount to live on. Zacchaeus offered 50 percent but had significant resources left over. The two widows gave 100 percent of their income to the Lord. All they had to live on was faith in the promises of a loving Father. And having those promises, they had everything. So how much of God’s gifts do we really need to live on? May God bless that ongoing, prayerful conversation with him!
Like Abraham of old, many Christians find joy in giving 10 percent of their income still today. They do so with a heart that is 100 percent free in Christ and not because they feel they must. For some in our congregations, giving 10 percent is a goal to which they aspire. For others, richly blessed, giving 10 percent may be just a starting point.
No matter what percentage we choose, the encouragement is the same: Give in such a way that demonstrates faith in the power of God’s promises. Take God at his Word. Stretch yourself. Give as a reflection of God’s gracious gifts to you in Christ!
And then tell the devil to go and pinch his pennies!
This is the second article in a three-part series on giving. This series follows the outline of the congregational stewardship program, 10 for 10.
Not long ago the Lord provided St. Paul in Green Bay, Wis., a golden opportunity to consider the matter of proportionate giving. After the funeral of one of our lifelong members, we were surprised to learn that St. Paul would receive about $1 million from her estate. What a blessing!
As our church family gave thanks to the Lord, we began to feel the weight of responsibility: Now what? Our member did not designate how we should use the gift; she simply wanted the money to go to the Lord’s work. She trusted her congregation to make good decisions. We needed to figure some things out. How much of this gift should we save? How much should we spend?
We established a committee to study short- and long-range ministry goals in light of this gift and to bring a proposal to the congregation. Soon the committee wrestled with another question: Should we give a portion of this gift away? There is always plenty of work for our congregation to do close to home, but the riches of God’s love in Christ and the selfless gift of our sister in the faith helped us to remember the Lord’s work around the world. We eventually chose to give a portion of the gift to WELS, trusting that our leaders would use the money wherever it was most needed.
But how much should we give? We wanted to think proportionately, to give in keeping with what we’d been given. In Christian freedom, we decided to use the Old Testament tithe as our example. So we gave WELS ten percent of what we had received, a gift in the amount of $100,000.
Blessed though we were by the gift, it wasn’t easy to agree on what to do with that much money. Yet we gave in proportion to what we were given because of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts through the gospel, the same Spirit who worked in the heart of our sister in the faith. To God alone be the glory!
Author: Aaron L. Christie
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019