What underlies the Christ-follower's call to give, and why is Christian Stewardship so often a focus on finance?
Jesus, when questioned about his attitude to the Law, pointed to love as the underlying principle of the law (Love God with all that you are and love your neighbour as yourself). And what is Love other than God (God is love)? It is our response to this principle of the Law, to God himself that defines our levels of commitment to God and to the building of his Kingdom.
Proverbs 3 (from verse 5) points us to three principles of giving in the Christian context:
The first is Trust. The question is, “Do we trust God? … to be our provider, sustainer and source of abundant life? What relationships in life are immune from the Trust factor, what relationship can grow and mature without Trust at its core? Jesus points to the poor widow in Matthew 12 (from verse 41) as an example of supreme Trust in God to be her provision and abundance. Paul reflects in 2 Corinthians 8 (from verse 1) how, despite extreme poverty and severe trial, the Corinthian Christ-followers are able to respond with rich generosity (and it is not about the amount, but the act). It is easy to give out of wealth, it is much more challenging to give out of poverty – the ratios are so much closer!
The second is Submission. This is not – and probably never has been – a popular concept, except for those who have the resources to command it. Christ-followers are called to Submit their lives to the will of God, to God’s agenda, to forfeit self-interest, and to look beyond the self to the needs of others, and to the requirements of the Kingdom.
The third is First-Fruits. This is a call to give off the top, not from what is left over. In Jesus’ day a family, having reaped their field of corn, were required to give the first-portion of it to the temple. A responsible family would then have put aside what was needed to plant for the next year’s crop, and the left-over corn would have been divided up for eating over the next twelve months. The demands of modern life have us responding in a reactive manner, often driven by self-interest, easy access to credit, and an over-extended budget. Our modern lifestyles demand that we enjoy the First-Fruits, the needs of others and of the Kingdom forgotten, or marginally acknowledged.
If the above principles undergird our lives, they put priorities in place that help us live lifestyles that place God, his Kingdom, others, at the centre of our concern: relationally, emotionally, financially.
12 September 2006