The matters of giving and receiving.

Two Sides

13For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.  Philippians 4:13-14

So many Christians have memorized Philippians 4:13. Especially in the West we seem to love this verse. It gives us hope. It calls us to persevere through difficulty with Jesus. And that is exactly what Paul has to say. Much of our obedience to Jesus as Christian leaders requires us to enter periods of plenty or periods of hardship with a sense that it is “me and Jesus.”

But this verse is not meant to be a triumphal declaration for individualistic Christianity. I’m afraid we may use the verse to condition a hyper-individualistic expression of the motto, “Its just me and Jesus.” Paul is actually setting his struggle in the context of community. He knows Jesus is sufficient. Paul also knows Jesus calls His people into a life of service to each other to share in the troubles of others. The NIV translates verse 14 this way, “Yet, it was good of you to share in my troubles.”

Our experience of pain is truly our own. Pain is subjective. However, while our experience of troubles may at times seem to be just about “me and Jesus,” we are still meant to be a person in community. Paul knows the Philippian congregation cares about him. In fact, he accounts in verses 15-16 that they were the first to support him financially when he set out to Macedonia. Support through difficulty can be received when you are a person in community. Paul describes it as the matters of “giving and receiving.” The exchange the Spirit of God brings to the community of Jesus is not just of money, but is also of encouragement, a listening ear, exhortation, prayer, prophetic words, comfort, songs, Scripture, and sacrificial service.

Are you taking the time to make connections in your church?
Are you entering into the graceful exchange of giving and receiving?

God says, “Eat the tithe!” and gives us awesome instructions on how to be a generous community.

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22 “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. 23And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 27And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you. 28 “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. 29And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.                                                         Deuteronomy 14:22-29

With a few conversations and internet searches you will know that the critique of tithing and the church abounds. Yet throughout the Scripture, tithing, (regularly returning 10% of your income to the Lord) is connected to celebration, care and mercy, and blessings.

Celebration
This is amazing! God says, “Eat the tithe.” God gracefully commanded the tithe so we can be free and generous as a community. His vision for people is one in which their response to Him and to His deliverance into the abundance of His provision is to honour Him regularly. As we honour Him we invite our family to celebrate God and His grace towards us. Gather with your family, I would suggest your larger church family, and eat the tithe!

Care and Mercy
Every three years the tithe was also to be gathered in the local community for the care of those engaged in leading the work of God’s people and for those who are especially vulnerable in the community: the “foreigner,” the orphan, and the widow. Jesus critiqued people who tithed and neglected the weighty matters that tithing was meant to support: justice, mercy, and faithfulness toward people. He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” Matthew 23:23-24 Tithing supports our community’s gracious generosity for the benefit of vulnerable people, people under pressure.

Blessings in Our Work
The tithe and the gracious generosity its connected with comes with the promise of God’s blessing in our work. I’m going to make “the interpretive leap here” and connect the promise to our life together in the church. God says he will do an amazing thing when we give for the work of our church: He will “bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” In the age of “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:17-19), God promises that our regular giving response to His grace towards us will yield more. As Bill Hybles has observed, God can get us not only from “A” to “B” (the basic vision of enough in our society) but also to “C,” doing and accomplishing far more good that we can imagine!

Generosity Ripples

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11You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!  2 Corinthians 9:11-15 

Throw a pebble on a pond and watch the ripples spread. Grasped between the fingers and flung to the middle, that single stone reached its target and sank, but the affect went to the edges. Like a pebble on a pond, money given may meet a temporary need but the generosity makes lasting  waves. Generosity ripples.

Paul inspires the church in Corinth by showing them the multifaceted impact of their financial gifts. When we take the stuff of earth and leverage it for the work of the Gospel and the life of the church we make waves.

  • God makes our generosity possible… over and over.
  • Our generosity produces worship and thanksgiving toward God from the immediate beneficiaries and from the people who benefit from the life of the church and her servants in Great Commission labour.
  • Our generosity is a ministry serving God and the church.
  • Our generosity flows from and drives us deeper into the Gospel of Jesus.
  • Our generosity produces affection, prayer, and appreciation of God’s grace.
  • Financial giving is only a small ripple of the awe produced by God’s most awesome gift for us — Jesus Christ.

What a privilege! Generosity ripples into eternity! Let’s make waves.

Do we all need a gift-economy network?

More than once Richard Heinberg’s book The End of Growth left me feeling like the sky is falling.  However, any survey of markets over the last four years seems to show the trend of no or little growth.  He argues that sustainable networks of economic interaction will have to be built on something other than debt and raiding of natural and human wealth.

I keep finding myself returning to his “economic history in ten minutes” and his reflections on the transition from gift economies to trade economies.

“With more and more of our daily human interactions based on exchange rather than gifting, we have developed polite ways of being around each other on a daily basis while maintaining an exchange-mediated social distance.  This is particularly the case in large cities, where anonymity is fostered also by the practical formalities and psychological impacts that go along with the need to interact with large numbers of strangers, day in and day out.  In the best instances, we still take care of one another–often through government programs and private charities.  We still enjoy some of the benefits of the old gift economy in our families and churches.  But increasingly, the market rules our lives.  Our apparent destination in this relentless trajectory toward expansion of trade is a world in which everything is for sale, and all human activities are measured by and for their monetary value.

Humanity has benefited in many obvious ways from this economic evolution:  the gift economy really only worked when we lived in small bands and had almost no possessions to speak of.  So letting go of the gift economy was a trade-off for houses, cities, cars, iPhones, and all the rest.  Still, saying goodbye to community-as-family was painful, and there have been various attempts throughout history to try to revisit it.”   The End of Growth, p. 29-30.

Do we all need a gift-economy network?  I think so.  We’ve renamed it social capital.  But there’s still a rub even there.  Relationships won’t last under the weight of what people take from them.  Vibrant and resilient relationships are build on what we willingly give to them.

Vancouver is abuzz with the longing for the community-as-family life.  (See the Vancouver Foundations most recent study.)  However, its our conditioning in the trade-economy that keeps us from the generosity and sacrificial approach required to include others in our circle of friends of family.

We all need a gift-economy network.  Perhaps the best way to get one… is to start giving.

Haiti Disaster Relief

The Vancouver Sun has a suggested list of organizations Canadians can choose for Haiti Disaster Relief giving.  The Canadian government will be matching gifts given to a number of these organizations.  My number one suggestion is to give to those who already had staff on the ground in Haiti.  If you had a relationship with an organization or orphanage before the earthquake in Haiti they will likely need your help now too.