A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY
Jesus’ mission during His ministry to the Jews was to lead them into a new paradigm (covenant) in their relationship with God. This meant two things: (1) He had to lead Israel to Himself as the Messiah (the Christ), and thus, the cross. (2) He had to prepare the Jews for the end of national Israel and their new covenant relationship with God (See Jr 31:31-33; Rm 7:1-4). The cross would end the old covenant. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 would end the Jewish state. Jesus’ ministry, therefore, was transitional in reference to God’s work among men on earth. God was transitioning His relationship that He had with all men from creation to the cross to a new era from the cross to the final coming of His Son. During this new era He would work with all mankind through Jesus Christ.
It is crucial to understand that Jesus’ ministry was a time of transition. During His ministry, Jesus made many statements concerning offerings that were meant to transition the thinking of the people to the time when they would accept Him as the Savior of the world. The Jews would be transitioned out of the legal structure of the Old Testament law in reference to offerings into a new covenant wherein there would be grace-motivated giving in response to the cross offering of Calvary. We thus understand Jesus’ teachings on giving during His ministry as teachings to bring the Jews to a time when they would not be governed by law under the Old Testament, but by the law of faith and grace that would, in the context of giving, move them to give far beyond the restrictions of a ten percent tithe. In fact, giving out of the motivation of grace would move them to give beyond their ability (See 2 Co 8:1-4; compare 1 Co 15:10).
A. Golden-rule giving:
On one occasion during His ministry, Jesus said to the Jews the following statement:
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, it will be poured into your lap. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured to you again (Lk 6:38).
Some misunderstand this passage. It is not that giving is an investment plan with God. In other words, some believe that the more they give, the more God will give to them as “interest” on deposited money. They give as if investing in the stock market. This is selfish giving. Our brethren who live in poverty stricken areas of the world would argue that this motive for giving has certainly not helped them financially.
Look at the passage again. Embedded in the statement is the “golden rule” in action. “All things whatever you want men to do to you, even so do also to them …” (Mt 7:12). Now look again at Luke 6:38 above. Jesus first speaks about our giving to others. When we measure out grain to another person, we must “press it down” and “shake it together” in order that a full measure is given. And then, Jesus said, go the extra mile by letting it run over the top of the container. If one does this in his business dealings with others, then others will do the same in return. However, if one tries to cheat a person on the amount of grain that is given for a specified price, then others will cheat you.
Christians must take the initiative to do that which is right and fair to others. Jesus said that they must initiate the lavish giving. They must do so in a manner that will be reflected in how people will return the gift. If this is done, then others will treat the Christian with respect. This is giving according to the golden rule; it is giving according to how one would like to receive. One should give as he would like others to give to him.
B. Grace-driven giving:
Jesus was once in Jerusalem, standing where people came to give the temple tax, which was required of everyone. “Now He looked up and saw the rich men putting their gifts into the treasury” (Lk 21:1). These who could afford to do so, were also contributing their tax. But there was no sacrifice in their giving.
“Then He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins” (Lk 21:2). The poor also came to pay what they were obligated to give. We might think that the poor should be exempt from the temple tax. After all, they were poor and had little of this world’s goods. But they were not exempt. So Jesus just stood there and allowed the poor widow to take ownership of the maintenance of the temple by doing that for which everyone was responsible and no one was exempt.
Jesus spoke concerning the widow’s contribution, “Of a truth I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all” (Lk 21:3). It was “more than all,” because it was all that she had. Jesus said, “She out of her poverty has put in all the livelihood that she had” (Lk 21:4). Mark’s account explains more of what the poor widow did. “… for they [the rich] all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, even all her living” (Mk 12:44). The poor widow was as the Philippians, who would later after the cross, and out of their deep poverty, contributed beyond what was expected of them (2 Co 8:1-4). What makes poor people do this?
Jesus just stood there as the poor widow cast in all her livelihood. He did not tell the collectors to return her contribution. He did not because she was obligated to give, even out of her poverty. When one becomes a Christian, and considers what Jesus sanctioned in reference to the contribution of the poor widow, poverty can never be an excuse not to contribute to the financial function of the body of which one has become a member.
One does not become a member of the body of Christ in order to be financially supplied, but to supply the needs of others (see Ep 4:16). Those who cry out poverty in an attempt to exempt themselves from that which is their duty to do, need to talk to this poor widow. We would never consider robbing God by failing to return to Him what is rightfully His. The poor widow new that in order to take ownership of her relationship (partnership) with God, she had to sacrifice all that she had. No one else can pay for our partnership with God and fellowship with the universal body of Christ. If we do not give our gift for our partnership with God and the body of Christ, then we are not manifesting our thanksgiving for what He has done for us. This is why the poor Macedonian disciples begged Paul to take their contribution for the famine victims of Judea (See 2 Co 8:1-4; more later).
Christianity is about being godly. And godliness is about giving. If we are not giving as the poor widow, then certainly we are not seeking to live godly after the God who gave His only begotten Son in order to give us something that was free, but so costly on the part of Jesus. Our sacrifice for the work of God, therefore, is our signal to God that we want to partner with Him in His universal ministry to take the message of the cross to all the world.
It is interesting that the poor widow gave all her livelihood without any knowledge of the grace of God that would later be poured out on the cross by the One who stood by her as she cast in her thanksgiving gift. If she so gave simply to assume her responsibility as a faithful Jew, then how much more should we be willing to give as faithful Christians who have a full knowledge of the cross? Does her faithfulness in giving according to law bring judgment on our unwillingness to give in response to grace?
As Jesus took Israel to the gift of the grace that was revealed on the cross, He not only taught on the subject of giving, but He also, through the example of poor widows, sought to reveal that which was coming. Those who could be His disciples in the future would not live under the limitations of the legal tithing of the Old Testament law. The motive for the giving of His disciples would be increased greatly because of the grace that would be revealed. They would experience in the cross of Christ something that was far beyond their imagination. God would work something wonderful through His Son that would draw out of people giving beyond their imagination. Those who would seek to take ownership of the new covenant they have with God would no longer make their offerings according to law, but according to grace. And once one realizes his salvation by grace, there is no limit to what he will give, and thus, no limit to the joy of offering to God in response to what God has done for us through the cross. This is the secret to cheerful giving.
When we study through all the instructions in the New Testament concerning giving, the secret to understanding the Holy Spirit’s instructions is discovered in the reason why the poor widow was willing to give all her livelihood in order to take ownership of God’s business. The Christian does not now give according to law. He gives in order to take ownership of the new blood-bought covenant of grace that he now has with God. It is not that we are trying to buy legally into this covenant relationship with God. The opposite is the truth. Because we have come into this covenant through our obedience to the gospel, we now “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Ph 2:12). Since we have been saved by grace (Ep 2:8), we are now God’s “workmanship”(Ep 2:10). It is as someone said, “Man, you are now on the ship, so get to work with your contributions.”
In order to take ownership of the ship we are now on (the church), as the poor widow took ownership of her covenant relationship with God through the old covenant, we must understand that we are only stewards of all that we possess. Her sacrificial giving was a manifestation of her appreciation, not for the purpose of paying for an entry fee into the covenant, but in thanksgiving for the covenant. She gave in thanksgiving of the covenant that she and all Israel had with God. As the poor widow, the Christian manifests his appreciation through sacrifices in order to take ownership of the house of God, of which he is a part (See 1 Tm 3:15).
No matter how poor one might think he is, if he desires to be a part of Jesus’ ministry, and to show thanksgiving for the covenant of grace, he must respond to grace with a free-will offering according to how the grace was freely and lavishly poured out on him. However, if we seek to respond to the free and indescribable grace of God through law giving, then we have not yet discovered the spirit of cheerful giving. When preachers cry to the people to give their tithe (tenth) according to law, they are actually cheating the people of cheerful giving according to grace.
NOBLE STUDENT RESEARCH: To all the students who want further information on the passing of the Old Testament Covenant that God had with the nation of Israel, please read Law and Covenants, Book 6, Biblical Research Library, www.africainternational.org