Some people’s view of Christianity is of a preacher in a multimillion-dollar church who has a private jet, Rolex, a fine tailor-made suit, and a $150,000 sports car. When this man asks people to support the ministry by saying things like, “Sow a seed and reap a sevenfold blessing,” I can understand why people might be offended. This kind of prosperity preaching is a false gospel.
Of course it is okay to have wealth. It’s a great responsibility. I don’t want to condemn anyone for having money, but I think it is fair to say that lavish living clutters the gospel’s beauty. It will be hard for anyone to listen to the gospel from a preacher who lives like a king. There is need for wisdom and sensitivity here, since everyone is responsible to have a clear conscience before God about their own life style.
The Challenge and Promise of Generous Living
God calls Christians to generosity. He calls Christians to give. This challenges me. It challenges everyone. It’s hard to give. It’s hard to know how much to give. Some giving is stupid; some giving is wise. I am not going to stipulate how much money it’s okay to have. I don’t think that is the real question. Instead, I want to give you a sense of what giving means to God. I want you to see how God is shaping and molding a Christian’s heart to care for others—the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. God is a God who gives his life away. Jesus said,
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:11,17–18)
In his book God So Loved, He Gave:Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity, Kelly Kapic shows that a Christian’s life is one which participates in God’s own generosity. Christians, like God, pour out love to others. Kapic writes,
With the gift of the Spirit we have not only been made recipients of God’s grace, but we are now being transformed as participants in the movement of his divine generosity....Those who receive the Spirit of God’s Son are therefore brought into this intimacy, into this divine life, into God’s family. (Kapic, 108–109)
Just as Jesus, out of love, generously gave his life for the sake of the world, Christians in response are to receive what God gives and give in return. This is not simply a command. This is the life into which God has brought Jesus’ disciples. A Christian will give. That is God’s promise. He will work in the hearts of Christians to encourage their participation in God’s life of giving and receiving.
The Generous Back Story
The apostle Paul, the one who was most responsible for the spread of Christianity at the beginning, was anything but a rich man. A backstory in the New Testament tells of the early church’s concern and care for orphans, widows, and the oppressed. As Paul traveled around the Mediterranean world preaching about Jesus and sharing the gospel, he concerned himself with raising money for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul understood that God had called him to generosity. His preaching and caring for the poor were in complete harmony. Consider six points about the church’s background.
- In the Old Testament God cared for orphans, widows, the poor, and oppressed (Exod. 22:25; 23:3, 11; 30:15; Lev. 14:21; 19:10, 15; 25:35; Deut. 15:7–11; 1 Sam. 2:8; Ps. 9:18; 12:5; 35:10; 40:17; Isa. 9:17; Jer. 49:11; Ezek. 22:25; Amos 4:1; Amos 5:11).
- God calls harsh treatment of the poor, needy, and oppressed an injustice (Lev. 19:15; Jer. 22:13).
- God’s people were to have the same concern for justice as God did (Neh. 5:1–13; Ps. 41:1).
- God has promised to bring justice to the poor and needy (Isa. 11:4; 29:19; 61:1).
- Jesus had the same concern for the poor as the God of Israel (Luke 4:18; 7:22; 14:13; 18:22; Mark 12:40).
- Yet, Jesus understood that the God of Israel’s concern for the poor was greater than physical need. It included salvation (Matt. 5:3; John 12:1–8; Luke 4:18; 7:22).
The Gospel of God’s Generosity
Jesus gave up his life to save people in need in this sin-shattered world. Paul gave himself to this same mission. This is why Paul preached and sought care for people’s physical well-being. He gave himself to a ministry of preaching and prayer that called the church to participate through receiving and giving. You and I receive salvation through spoken words; thus, you and I speak words of mercy and grace to others. You and I receive a salvation that includes the restoration of all things; thus, you and I seek to bring physical restoration, along with spiritual restoration, to the broken. These are not things you or I must check off from a list of obligations. These are things God has promised to do for you and me.
The church’s ministry has a gospel focus, but good works are part of the giving and receiving in which the entire church participates. Every Christian has something to give. Some have the ability to help people in financial need. Some can support gospel missions. Some can teach or preach. But all can spend time, share a meal, say a prayer, comfort the lonely, or help hurting people. It may not always seem like much, but you can give out of what God has given, and God has given you and me a great salvation received by faith alone. God has promised full restoration—physical and spiritual. What you receive now is only the beginning (Rom. 8:18–30).
This time in life is marked by suffering. You will feel a lack. You will have needs, both spiritual and physical, but God promises one day to end all pain and suffering for those who place their trust in Christ alone. The church may sometimes fail to care for the needy, but God will not fail you.
Concerning any area of disagreement on third-level matters [i.e., disputable issues that shouldn’t cause disunity in the church family], a church will have two groups:...