We live in a society indoctrinated by a culture of borrowing. Many begin their adult lives in debt, we are mortgaged up to our eyeballs, credit cards are maxed out, and our cars are on finance. Disposable income is a thing of the past as debts continue to mount.
This culture is transforming how we give to our local church. For millennials with zero-hour contracts and 100% mortgages, giving anything is very difficult, and tithing can be virtually impossible.
The context I serve in is a depressed, ex-mining valley where most of our congregation of working age are unemployed or on income support. There are few student loans, just universal credit. Tithing these benefits would bring in just £7 a week per person, so our little church would need over 100 members simply to cover basic costs.*
The early church
In the opening chapter of Dr Luke’s second book, Acts, we meet a church similar to many in the Welsh valleys; small in number, low in resources, desperate, and fearing imminent closure.
In Acts 1:4 Jesus told his remnant to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This has often been interpreted as a period of inactivity. In recent decades many of our churches have stagnated waiting for the next Revival that would miraculously remove them from their desperate financial position. But what we see here in Acts 1 is not simply a church obediently waiting, but a church proactively serving the Lord in expectation for God’s Spirit to move. The leadership of the church were not simply sat on their hands waiting for blessing. They prepared themselves for it. In verse 11, the angels told them to stop daydreaming and get on with the work, and so they did! By faith, we must do the same!
Their first task was to replace Judas Iscariot with Matthias. Judas Iscariot had become an embarrassment, he took money to betray Jesus and bought a field with it (Acts 1:18). His actions could reflect badly on the church’s ability to handle money and our Lord for choosing such a person to serve as treasurer (John 12:6). So Peter works hard to explain to the crowd that Judas Iscariot was chosen for a reason – so that scripture could be fulfilled (Acts 1:16).
Judas Iscariot was chosen to show us the nature of sin and how it can affect even the closest of Jesus’ followers (you and me). Judas Iscariot spent three years with Jesus, he saw wonderful things and was given freedom and authority in the church, yet when it came to the crunch, Judas valued thirty pieces of silver more. Judas Iscariot was chosen to be an everlasting challenge to our love of money (Matthew 6:24).
Is there a bit of Judas in us?
Are we willing to go without, for the gospel? Are we more interested in buying a patch of this world over what we can give to our local church? Do we come close to Jesus with a kiss on a Sunday morning and then run off with our thirty pieces of silver to spend elsewhere? Do we put the one who gave us his life in second place behind our worldly desires? Do we spend more money a week on newspapers, coffee, phone credit, cigarettes, cinema tickets or takeaways than we spend on supporting our local church?
I know this is a strong challenge. When it comes to the parting of cash eyebrows are often raised, but for your church to continue to be a force for good in your community the gas and electric bill, insurances, maintenance costs and Pastors all need to be paid. If we do not give through the provision that God has provided us with today, gospel lights will go off.
Some give their time as a substitute for cash. Volunteering for the local church is a wonderful thing to do, and it is the only way auxiliary ministries can run. But it is spiritually unhealthy to say that the time you give is instead of any donation. Judas Iscariot gave every day for three years to Jesus, yet he still rejected God and died in a field of blood.
We do not begrudge paying fast-food restaurants and give joyfully in exchange for a juicy burger. Yet when the collection pot is passed around our church, where people come to feed on the far more valuable word of God, we have all been guilty of reluctantly parting with whatever small change we have floating in our pockets.
What should giving look like in today’s church?
Giving to the church is not a case of how much; what matters is whether you are giving sacrificially to God’s work. Jesus valued the poor woman who gave out of her poverty far more than the wealthy man who filled the collection pot (Luke 21:1-4). A £100 a week flippantly thrown in by a millionaire is not as meaningful to God as £10 a week given from someone on universal credit.
I advise our new converts, who are keen to give but strapped for cash, by asking them how many packets of cigarettes they smoke a week and advise they start by giving one pack to God. Clean lungs, clean heart! Then they can grow their giving based on how the Lord leads them.
Sacrificial giving, however much that is to the individual, reaffirms that you value the gospel above the material things of this world; it reaffirms your faith in the spiritual rather than a reliance on physical means. Sacrificial giving is the duty of a Christian and is a spiritually healthy thing to do regardless of how much time you give to the church.
If the cost of a Happy Meal is all you can sacrificially afford to give each week, then praise God and give it cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). But if you value the work of the gospel less than your small change, or whatever you have left after indulging yourself in the desires of this world, let the example of Judas in Acts 1:18 be a challenge to you.
Supporting the church is a joy to the Christian, and if the principle of sacrificial giving is applied in our waiting for God, he will bless (Luke 16:10).
So to answer our question: what should giving look like in today’s church? It should look sacrificial.
*Noddfa is funded largely by outside donations and support from the Particular Baptist Fund.