These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
The Old Testament gives much instruction on giving. Most people believe that this is summed up by the word ‘tithing’, but it is far more complicated than that. Many other divine ‘taxes’ are mentioned; they are called ‘sacrifices and offerings’. Even tithing (a tenth) is not always that clear. Basically it legislated for the tithing of crops, fruit and animals. The Pharisees included, “mint .. dill … cummin …” (Matt. 23:23), but nowadays what would we include? There were no taxes in those days, so do we take off tax before tithing?
Surely tithing is a less than adequate or fair system. In its day it was comparatively fair and workable, but today at best it may only be a helpful guide. Its main failure is that it rules out the heart and merely applies a law. It also does not take into consideration the size of the need or the size of our income. In other words, if we earn £1,000,000 and we give £100,000 we are still left with £900,000! But if we receive a pension of £5,000 and give £500 we are left with an even smaller amount to live on.
Surely Paul moves us into a contemporary attitude to giving. He writes, “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not” (v.12). The principle is that we give according to our means. Sometimes we have little, in which case others who are well off will give. But when we have an abundance it will be our turn to give. Having said that, it is probably true that it is never a good principle to give nothing – remember the widow and her mite (Mark 12:41-44)!
Giving is not something that is done merely because we have been taught that we ought to do it. God wants us to give out of a glad and generous heart. If we can’t then we might as well keep our money. Yet to do so is to lose out. The question may well be not a matter of how much we give, but of how much we retain.
Thank you Father for the opportunity to share with others the blessing you have given to me. Grant me a generosity of spirit. Amen.
“… at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus …” (v.20) RSV
The story of Dives and Lazarus is one that can make us feel uncomfortable. After all Dives (not his real name, but simply the Greek for ‘rich man’) was not actually doing harm; he was simply not doing good. Sins of commission are easier to spot than sins of omission.
Dives was no doubt good at entertaining and hospitality. He was wealthy enough to enjoy the good life and to feast to his heart’s content. He was using his own money and was part of a huge family (“five brothers” v.28). Nevertheless he was so cocooned in his own comfortable world that he was blind to the needs of others who were right under his nose. Each day he would have to pass Lazarus and no doubt the distress of the man was plain to see (“sores … hunger” v.21), but having probably justified doing nothing the first few times he became inured to the suffering man at his gate. Maybe those first times he had been in a hurry, or had no cash on him or felt that Lazarus was lazy and should be out working.
Is it not easy for us to justify doing nothing? All too soon our conscience becomes quiet and our life carries on untroubled by the suffering around us. And yet God’s concern is for the poor, the oppressed and downtrodden. Many people are in dire straits (in the UK as well as abroad) through no fault of their own.
We can of course reckon that governments should address such problems and inequalities. True. Yet, we are required to do what we can. We cannot help all, but we can help one. God is not asking us to solve the world’s problems. He is asking us to respond in love to our neighbour’s needs.
John makes this point in his first letter. “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
Forgive me, O Lord, when I am so absorbed in my life that I can’t see or respond to the needs of others. Amen.
Giving is good for the soul. It releases the deathly grip that money can exercise over us. It frees us from the love of money, “the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), and it frees us from the fear of losing it or not having it. That is why Jesus is reported to have said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We all know how great it feels to receive an inheritance, a salary/wage packet, or a gift. Well, how do you feel when there is the opportunity to give?
Nobody is meant to press gang you into giving, whether by using bible texts or moral blackmail or any other pressurising tactics. There is no law about giving. In the Old Testament there were laws about giving, including tithing. But these were blunt and somewhat unfair laws. The New Testament principle is that giving is to be freely and generously done. The guidance is that the more we have the more we give and vice versa.
The worst thing is to give from inferior motives. St Paul made this plain in his well known passage on ‘love’. He wrote, “If I give away all I have … but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). We will never find it more blessed to give if our motivation is not love.
It is the Spirit of God who gives us the compassion and the generosity of spirit to give. We will give according to our means and even beyond our means, as did, for example, the churches of Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1-3). The Spirit will enable us to give not just as a duty but as a joy. That is why today’s reading says that we can give “cheerfully” (v.7). The Greek word gives an even stronger feel: ‘hilariously’! Yes indeed, “God loves a cheerful giver” (v.7).
I believe this abandoned attitude to giving is exemplified in the giving of the widow whom Jesus observed putting her last mite (her all) into the collection plate. In doing this, she gave more than many rich people who put in large sums” (Mark 12:41).
Teach me my Lord to give and not to count the cost. Teach me to give just as you have given to me. Amen.
“Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor” (v.22) RSV
Why should Jesus tell the ‘rich young ruler’ to give away all that he owned? And is he telling us to do the same? Some people have argued that the early Christians sold their possessions and pooled them so that they had ”all things in common” (Acts 2:44). But a closer reading reveals that Peter told them that no one was under any obligation or necessity to do this (Acts 5:4).
Down through the ages some groups of Christians have decided to share their wealth and possession and live in community. Monasteries were based on such a model. Vows of poverty were quite usual. But the Church has never taught that all believers should follow such a practice.
So again I ask, “Why did Jesus tell the rich young ruler to sell all and give the proceeds away?” It seems that this particular young man was suffering from a terminal sickness which is quite common today, namely, addiction to riches. We read that he “was very rich” (v.23).
The only solution to this cancerous growth in his life was amputation. As we have seen previously money is not evil in itself and indeed if rightly viewed and rightly used it is a blessing from God. But this young man had not got the right attitude; he felt he could not live without his wealth. The advice given by Jesus was rejected. The man was sad and so was Jesus.
The great riches had become a curse, destroying life rather than giving life. All of us need to check ourselves from time to time to see if money has got its tentacles wrapped round us too tightly. Like ivy it will gradually squeeze the life out of us. The best cure is to give some money away. You will find it breaks the hold – the spell will dissolve.
If we don’t, then we will find that we are like the camel; we will not be able to pass through the eye of a needle! God will disappear behind a closed door.
Father God, you have been so generous in so many ways. Forgive me when I grab and keep. Deliver me. Amen.
1 What is the description of a man obsessed by wealth?
2 If we do not give but hoard, what is the result?
Money and riches are not filthy. They are gifts from God to be used wisely and generously. They are gifts, whether inherited or earned. Today’s reading describes Solomon’s dream and the promise of God to give him not only wisdom, but also riches. Hopefully Solomon kept in mind the words of his father, David, who said, “All things come from thee, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14).
Everything we have is to be received as a boon and a blessing. God has given us health and strength, brains and talents. And if we use these, then the likelihood is that we will make a living, and maybe a lot more besides. But we couldn’t earn anything if he didn’t enable us to do so.
Consequently nothing that we have or earn is ours. It all comes from God who gives us richly all things to enjoy, but it also comes with the responsibility to share it with those who are poor and in need. Indeed, our money is a blessing to us because it enables us to be a blessing to others.
Solomon spent a lot of money on himself, perhaps too much. For instance, he built many houses and he kept many wives. However, he also amassed an army and erected stables for thousands of horses for the benefit of the nation. His primary contribution was the building of the first Temple in Jerusalem. In other words, his riches were used to benefit Israel.
Unfortunately, his great wealth was achieved at the expense of the taxpayers; a fact that was going to cause the country to split in two when his son Rehoboam came to the throne. It seems that Solomon tried to achieve even more riches than God had legitimately blessed him with.
Nevertheless, our wealth if we have any (!) is always to be received with thanksgiving. While we have it let us use it not only for our enjoyment, but also for the benefit of others.
Thank you, Lord, for your promise always to provide food and clothing. Thank you that I am blessed with so much more than that! Amen.
1 Besides Job’s faithfulness, why else was his prosperity restored?