There is a difference between being a Christian in response to law and being the same in response to grace. The difference is often revealed in one’s contributions. Those who have become Christians on a legal basis in response to law-keeping often seek to give according to law. On the other hand, those who respond in their lives to the grace of God always give more.
In writing to Christians in Rome, the Holy Spirit, through the hand of Paul, reminded the Roman Christians, “You are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). If we consider this truth in reference to our contributions, a vast difference is seen between those who respond to legal giving according to law and those who give out of their gratitude for God’s grace.
For example, in order to extract contributions from the hands of those who live by law, preachers have often resorted to law in order to inspire guilt in the hearts of the “lawgivers.” The desired result is that at least a few coins are dropped into the collection plate. At the most, one will confine his or her giving to ten percent (the tithe). When such grudging givers do flip in a couple coins, or give as much as ten percent, they go on their way, having satisfied themselves that they have given according to law. And thus for another week they have the church leaders off their backs until another call for contributions is made again the following Sunday.
This law-obedient religious culture is more common than not. In order to inspire more contributions, therefore, what preachers often do is ignore the gospel of grace in order to bring the people under law. They take the people back under the tithing commandment of the Sinai law that was given exclusively to Israel as part of the Sinai law. In doing so, they have ignored grace for the sake of law, and thus have reversed what the Holy Spirit said to the Roman disciples. Instead of reminding the people that we are under grace and not under law, we often seek to inspire the contributors to give because of the tithing law of the Sinai law. In doing so, we forget motivating people to give in response to the grace of the cross. If we seek to inspire people to give, we must preach the gospel of grace, not law.
We must not forget that grace is far more powerful than law in reference to motivating people to live and give. To illustrate this fact, we would journey back to the Israelites when they were initially born as a nation at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It had been only three months since they were delivered as a culture of people from Egyptian captivity. But it was at Mt. Sinai that God signed a covenant with the people, and thus the nation of Israel was inaugurated into existence. Tithing was a part of the Sinai law that God gave as a condition for keeping the covenant. We must remember, however, that the people at the foot of Mt. Sinai did not initially give in obedience to the tithing law, for it was not yet given.
On the contrary, at the time when the people were truly grateful to God for His grace in delivering them out of Egyptian captivity, they were inspired to give. It was only by His grace that they stood free at Mt Sinai. They could not have delivered themselves. So when it came time to contribute, Moses did not quote a “tithing law” to them. He simply informed the people that there was a need to contribute to the construction of the tabernacle that God had commanded them to build. Grace took it from there.
It was grace that motivated the people to give, not law. The Israelites’ appreciation for their deliverance from captivity because of God’s grace was so powerful in their hearts that the builders of the tabernacle had a problem. They came to Moses and said “The people bring more than enough for the construction work [of the tabernacle] that the Lord commanded us to make” (Ex 36:5).
The Lord had commanded that the tabernacle and its furnishings be built. A specific task was to be completed, and contributions for the materials were subsequently needed. Then the people, because of their gratitude for being delivered from captivity by the grace of God, exceeded what God required. Now notice what the preacher Moses had to say to the people:
“Then Moses gave commandment and they cause it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, “Let neither man nor woman make anymore work for the offering of the sanctuary” (Ex 36:6).
Now listen to this: “So the people were restrained from bringing more” (Ex 36:6). The people gave in order to fulfill a need, but they gave out of appreciation for God’s grace in delivering them from captivity. Their contribution was so bountiful that they needed to be restrained from giving. This is the power of grace over law in reference to contributions.
This same giving in appreciate for grace was clearly illustrated during Jesus’ ministry. It was revealed in the heart of a poor widow who had not yet experienced the grace of the sacrificial Son of God on the cross. Nevertheless, she spiritually grew past giving in fulfillment of law requirements. On a particular occasion, Jesus witnessed contributions that were being given into the temple treasury. He was standing and watching the people make their contributions. “He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins” (Lk 21:2). As a testimony of her heart, He said of the poor widow, “She out of her poverty has put in all the livelihood that she had” (Lk 21:4). This contribution was certainly more than ten percent. It was one hundred percent. This is what grace will do to one’s heart in reference to giving. Sometimes we must have so little in order to appreciate how rich we are because of the grace of God.
Law will never move one to the point of giving one’s last two coins. When the traveling salesperson, Lydia, and the government employee, the jailor, responded to the gospel in the city of Philippi, the Holy Spirit gave a testimony as to how far grace will take one’s heart beyond law. Only a few days (At 16:12) after their obedience to the gospel, and when Paul went on to Thessalonica from Philippi, Paul later wrote of their mission giving: They sent “once and gain for my needs” (Ph 4:16).
The power of the grace of God at work in the hearts of the first Christians in Philippi did not stop with supporting only the mission efforts of Paul when he went on to Thessalonica. A few years later when there was a famine in Judea, the Philippians’ appreciation for the grace of God once again stirred them into action. Grace worked so powerfully in their hearts that they gave as those Israelites who responded overwhelmingly to give to the special need of building the tabernacle. Paul wrote the following to some forgetful, if not stingy Christians in Corinth who conveniently forgot to follow through with their promise to give to the saints in Judea: “Moreover, brethren [in Corinth], we make known to you the grace of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia,” the province wherein the city of Philippi was located (2 Co 8:1).
As the poor widow who gave her last two coins, so also the Christians in Macedonia in whose hearts was also the spirit of grace. Paul continued, “In a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality” (2 Co 8:2).
There are some who ungratefully assume that they are too poor to contribute. They should make this excuse to the crucified Son of God who impoverished Himself of heaven in order to deliver us from the captivity of sin. Some in their knowledge of the sacrificial offering of the incarnate Son of God on the cross are still unwilling to give as the poor widow who had no knowledge of the extent to what the Son of God gave up for us.
Paul was not finished with the gratitude of the poor disciples of Macedonia. “For I testify that according to their ability [they gave], yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Co 8:3). We can only imagine what Paul felt when the poor Macedonian saints offered him their contributions to take to the suffering saints in Judea. We are sure he was somewhat reluctant to take their contributions.
The Macedonian Christians seem to have sensed that Paul was reluctant about taking their contributions for the famine victims of Judea. So they did something quite remarkable. Paul wrote of the incident that they were “begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Co 8:4).
The saints in all of Macedonia knew that if they were to have fellowship with the worldwide body of Christ, they too had to give to the special need in Judea. And in their case, no one used his or her poverty as an excuse not to give to the general collection. They knew that they were individually poor. Nevertheless, they also knew that if they gave collectively, then the combined contributions of the universal church would be substantial. But everyone had to give individually. If they did not give individually, then they, as members of the body, would have had no fellowship with the universal body of Christ.
If we allow the grace of God to work in our hearts, then He will do through us “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power [of the gospel of grace] that works in us” (Ep 3:20). Law will never get one to the limits to which grace will take us in reference to giving. A “tithing law” will get one grudgingly to ten percent. But grace will move one cheerfully to give his or her last two coins.
For those who walk in gratitude for the grace of God, the ten percent tithe is too restrictive. Unfortunately for some, because of the power of grace, they would rather stay under the law of the ten percent (tithe) and forget the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. It is more convenient to live under the restriction of the tithe (ten percent) than to be motivated beyond measure by grace.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians from prison, he reminded them of the example of the Son of God: “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Ph 2:5,6). Subsequently, on His gospel journey to bring us into the loving arms of God, the Son of God “made Himself of no reputation” (Ph 2:7). He was made “in the likeness of men” in order to go to the cross for us in order that we go into the riches of eternal heaven (Ph 2:7,8). If the Son of God could do this for us, then certainly there is no limit to which we can go for Him. If we claim to be disciples of this God in the flesh who was nailed to an old rugged cross, then there is no excuse to withhold our resources from supporting His continued mission.
By the time Paul finished the revelation of Philippians 2 in reference to the awesome sacrifice of Jesus, he was surely overcome with emotion when he inscribed the following words: “But what things were gain to me [before I obey the gospel], those things I have counted loss for Christ” (Ph 3:7). The Holy Spirit allowed him to inscribe more emphatically: “I count them refuse [Gr. dung] so that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:8).
We have too many among us who were baptized according to law, but did not respond to the gospel in appreciation for the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. Those who are disciples by law will often continue to walk according to law. Subsequently, they will often contribute as least as possible in order to comply only with law.
We believe that many Christians are still living according to law in this manner. They do so because they are reminded every Sunday by the preacher that they must tithe according to the Sinai law. But we must remind ourselves that Christians are no longer under the restrictions of the Sinai law (See Rm 7:1-7; Cl 2:14). Christians are under grace, not law. Therefore, when Christians live according to the gospel of grace, it is an entirely different way of life. Paul explained:
“For all things [in reference to the gospel] are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15).
If a Christian does not understand what Paul just said in this statement, then he or she is still living under law and not under grace. It is only when we live by the grace of God that we will be cheerful givers in giving beyond measure, just as the early Christians.
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The Godly Giver