CHRISTIAN GIVING Part 2
In the recent study called “Christian Giving Part 1” the most complete NT statement on the subject (2 Corinthians 8 & 9) was considered in some detail. This study noted that translators had used an English word, ‘liberality’/’liberal’ (or ‘generous’ in later versions) which suggested the size or extent of the gift, to represent a Greek word haplotes/haplos, which really meant ‘sincere, simple, unaffected,’ and related to the heart attitude or motive of the giver.
At least seven reputable linguistic authorities give the correct rendering of ‘sincere’ etc. and appear unable to explain the translators’ preference for ‘liberal’ or ‘generous.’ Two of them openly acknowledge their difficulty with the common rendering: “The passage from single-mindedness or simplicity to liberality is not quite obvious” (Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament), and “In all the others liberality is, at best, very doubtful. The sense is unusual, and the rendering simplicity or singleness is defensible in all the passages” (Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament).
This particular example occurs three times in the two chapters concerned, and it brings to the passage a completely different impression from that which is intended by the original text.
There must be a peace in our giving. Otherwise all the spiritual benefit of it to us is lost. Too often the Christian is urged to give generously (i.e. beyond their means) in the belief that blessing will surely follow. The reality is that blessing follows obedience, and to be obedient it is only necessary to lay all things at Jesus’ feet and allow Him to lead. The principle of Christ’s pre-eminence in all things applies equally well to the amounts of our giving, just as it does in everything else. We approach Him to ascertain the amount, rather than strive to copy His generosity.
The true figure, which we arrive at by seeking the Lord on the matter, will give us peace. Recall the words of the apostle Paul in part of the passage we looked at closely in the previous study. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8).This is an assurance that just as God has promised to provide all our material needs (“that you, always having sufficiency in all things”), so He has included what He requires us to give (“may [also] have an abundance for every good work”).
God supplies all that is required of us. This is true of Christian giving as it is of all things in the work and ministry of the Church. Consider Romans 12:3-8.
The spiritual effect of translators distorting the meanings of individual words such as haplotes, has been the stealing away, or theft, of the average Christian’s peace in giving. It has led many to burden themselves beyond what they can comfortably sustain, which in turn has meant they have become begrudging givers. This is not God’s way. “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity (i.e. without any sense of compulsion); for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7).
Many leaders of the Church over the centuries have been only too eager to grasp these misunderstandings in Scripture, and popular Charismatic teaching is no exception. There are a couple of NT verses that are frequently quoted by them.
Those who promote ‘generous’ giving in the power of the flesh, often refer to the Old Testament practices of Tithing and First Fruits. The first and most obvious point to make about this reliance on the Old Testament, is that the Old Testament should always be interpreted in the light of God’s most recent written revelations to His people, which are found in the New Testament. Christ did not displace the Law, but He is the fullness of the Law, or the Law completed. God’s commandments to the Jews were meant to be obeyed by them in the literal sense, but for the Christian they supply patterns and principles that he or she then recognizes, as the sanctifying grace of Christ works them out in their lives.
·Tithing comes from the OT Hebrew word asar, meaning ‘to give a tenth.’ Its NT Greek equivalent apodekatoo also means ‘to give away a tenth’. Both terms refer to God’s instruction to give back to Him 10% of income. The difference is that while the Hebrew word was intended to be taken in the immediate sense by God’s OT people, the Greek word contains no such intention for God’s NT people. When the words tithe/tithes/tithing are used in the New Testament, they refer to the Old Testament practice of tithing, which still applied at the time of Christ’s ministry on earth. They do not apply to Christian giving, or the time after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Christians are not expected to give 10% (or even an approximation of that figure) of their income or wealth. What principles or patterns can we therefore safely glean from this OT practice? Very few. Certainly that we are meant to give back to God a portion of what He has given to us. Perhaps it also provides an indication that the amount we give is neither so small as to be insignificant, nor so large that it becomes onerous by cutting into the physical necessities of life. But probably not a lot beyond that.
·First Fruits refers to God’s instructions to the Jews that they honour Him, the source of all their provision and blessings, by returning the first of their increase. This included the first-born child, the first progeny of livestock, and the first fruits (or the initial yield) of harvest. There is no indication in the New Testament that Christians are required to apply this Old Testament practice literally. The Greek word aparche (meaning ‘an offering of first fruits’) is often applied to spiritual things, such as the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer as the first fruits of the full harvest of the Cross (Romans 8:23), or to those “who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” as the first fruits of all who are not yet on this path (Revelation 14:4).The principle to be gleaned from the OT practice of first fruits is related to the heart-attitude of honouring God; by recognising He is the source of all things, the Author of our blessings, and that He should have the first share of what He has granted us, rather than the begrudging last.
Most of what has passed for teaching on the topic of Christian Giving is without foundation in Scripture. It is based on misleading translation and false interpretation. (I did not intend this conclusion and neither did I expect it). In reaching this conclusion, it is necessary to state that this in no way denigrates a genuine spirit of generosity in the Christian giver. It remains true that Christ’s generosity towards us is breath-taking. He became poor in the things of the Kingdom that we might become rich. He chose death that we might have life. But we cannot give back to Him what He has not first given us. To give of the flesh rather than the spirit is not acceptable. It simply cannot stand.