Sunday, June 22, 2014

What If Your Church Was So Well Off No One Had Needs? - Part 8



Community, Social Justice, Giving and Evangelism

Last time in part 7, I talked about "The Obine Community" that spawned a whole town). This time I'm talking about a much abused scripture verse.

Bible Giving And The Widows Mite



Frankly there is a lot of abuse of the scriptures on giving and sacrifice.

There is also a lot of ignorance about it, some at least, if not most of it, because of the abuse.

Possibly the most abused is the widows mite (Mk.12:42; Lk.12:43). It’s not unusual to hear preaching, laying guilt trips on congregations using this and other scriptures, to the effect that we need to give more sacrificially like the widow.

Whilst I acknowledge that sacrifice is integral to our giving, Scripture is also very clear that giving should be a thing of joy (2 Cor.9:6-9). Again and again Scripture makes provision for the poor. Your requirement to give is affected by your ability to give (Lev.1:1-FF). In contrast to much of the preaching on giving in our modern pulpits, which consistently increases the burden on the poorer members on the Christian community?

There is no doubt that the widow gave well beyond her requirements. Much more so than people realize. Some preachers love to hammer home the point that she gave everything she had. But she gave much more than even they like to acknowledge. Don’t forget that part of the tithing of the people of Israel was assigned to the care of the widows and orphans. To those who could not look after themselves in that society. It is quite possible that what the widow gave was what she had been given from the temple funds.

Any preacher who harps on about the amount the widow gave, should ask themselves: "since I am supported by the people of my congregations (i.e.the Temple) then logically, according to my own preaching, should I do likewise and hand my entire wage back to the church?" I'm not convinced that most if any would be prepared to do that.

From this it’s interesting to realize that the richness of the temple was always in direct proportion to the richness of the people. It follows then that the richer the temple was the better off the poor should have been.

The widow’s mite despite how it is misquoted, is not a template on how we should all give. If it were then what would we make of 1 Tim.5:8 "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (New International Version). Rather the lesson is that giving should not be about the value of the gift (i.e. it's true monetary value), but about the value of that gift to the giver. In the widows case, all that she had for that day. This is born out buy the sacrificial system of the people of Israel where the quality of the sacrifice was what was emphasized over and over again not the size; unlike those who put the emphasis elsewhere.

God’s economics is an economics that declares that when you have enough your rich. Not, if you are materially rich you are blessed by God and assured of salvation because of that. This is the lesson of the Rich Young Ruler (Matt.19:16-ff; particularly verse 25-ff). The disciples like every other Israelite, operated on Deut.28; with the assumption that being rich meant you were saved. But Jesus turned the whole concept of Blessing on its head in the sermon on the mount Matt.5.

This is what Jesus meant when he gave us His prayer "Give us today our daily bread"(Matt.6:11). That it's Ok to be materially rich, if that is what you need to do what God requires of you in this life. But if God wants you to be materially poor, then that is enough and we should see it as enough. It's not that we shouldn't aspire to greater and greater things but we must be sure it is what God has called us to do. God only promises to provide what we need (i.e for the job He has for us to do) and that is what we should look for. It's all about having enough.

When enough is not enough, that's when it's "harder for a rich man... than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle" (Matt.19:24).

I remember when I was younger that it was quite popular to try to explain this verse by saying that one of the gates to the temple was call Needle Eye. The argument was that it was this gate that Jesus was talking about.

It is always amazing to me, the length that people will go to try to justify being rich. Lets face it, this story is just nonsense. Riches bread a desire for the things of this world and sometimes corruption.

With all the above as our guide: sacrificial giving is where we work out how much enough (which is not the same as how much we can comfortably afford) and give the rest away. The spin off is that God blesses us in anyway he wants; Matt.5 or Deut.28).

It's not about trying to live on less and less so you can give away more and more and it's not about all giving up work because "god will provide". You still have to be responsible; you are just responsible with enough.

Next time I'll talk about Proper Accounting.

Richard

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