THE OBJECTIVES OF GRACE GIVING
To whom and what should we give? As we consider grace giving, is there any biblical guidance regarding the people and causes we should support with our finances? The answer is readily apparent from specific instructions given by the Apostles and from the practice of the first New Testament believers.
The primary aim of grace giving is to glorify God. Hebrews 13:16 says of grace giving, “. . . with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” But our financial offerings are not burned up on an altar. They provide practical benefit to someone or something. The New Testament specifies who and what should be the targets of our giving.
As I have studied and restudied this topic, I have observed two main objectives of grace giving. They are helping people in need and supporting Gospel work.
HELPING PEOPLE IN NEED
This has great prominence in the New Testament, which is why I list it first. I wouldn’t say it’s a higher priority than the other objective, but it is often marginalized in comparison. It isn’t in the scope of this article, but believers and church leaders should thoroughly study and consider the implications of the New Testament principles and pattern of giving to help people in need. The Scriptures provide clear instructions and examples. It is abundantly clear that helping people with material provision during times of genuine need is elemental to New Testament Christianity.
Let’s look at the relevant Scriptures. Note that Paul, Peter, James, and John all address this.
Believers In Need
As stated in previous articles, 2 Corinthians 8-9 contain the most extensive instruction on financial giving in the New Testament. Here Paul taught the principles of grace giving and applied them to helping other believers who are in need. He called their financial offering “the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (8:4) and “the ministering to the saints” (9:1). The purpose of it was to “supply their lack” (8:14). The “administration of this service . . . supplies the needs of the saints” (9:12). Paul was not introducing anything new. This was the practice of Jesus’ followers from the founding of the church (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35). This kind of giving should flow naturally within the body of Christ.
Paul also exhorts believers in Romans 12:13 to manifest love for others that includes “distributing to the needs of the saints.”
In 1 John 3:16-17, John uses the example of Jesus laying down His life for us to urge us “to lay down our lives for the brethren.” He then pointedly applies this principle, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
Both Believers and Unbelievers
According to Galatians 6:10, Paul says we are to “do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Our responsibility is first to other Christians, then to anyone, including unbelievers, in our circle of awareness who has a need.
Orphans and Widows
The familiar words of James 1:27 tell us that true religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.” To “visit” means to look after and care for. Those left behind after the death of a loved one often experience material needs in addition to the need for comfort. This is an opportunity for the body of Christ to practice the grace of giving.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 Paul makes it clear that we are not responsible to help those who will not work to provide for their own needs. In fact, those who refuse to work and who depend on others to provide for them are considered disobedient to God. One of the great challenges of providing relief to the needy is discerning whether someone is a worthy cause or not. In being generous, we need to be good stewards as well, and not enable those who habitually rely on others to support them.
Grace giving is our response to God’s grace to us and a reflection of it. Anyone who has walked with God has experienced His gracious provision during times of material need. One way we can reflect His grace is by helping others who lack. Our generous assistance is not merely a humanitarian deed, it is an act of worship. As the writer of Hebrews says, “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (13:16).
SUPPORTING GOSPEL WORK
This second objective of grace giving includes the people who are engaged in the work of spreading the Gospel and in establishing and leading churches.
Giving to those involved in spreading the Gospel
Paul asserts the general principle behind this objective in 1 Corinthians 9:7-14. He defended his right to receive financial support as a preacher of the Gospel, even though he was reluctant to actually accept it. His argument for this right in verse 14 is taken from Jesus’ teaching, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” This is either a summation of Jesus’ instructions such as Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:8 or a quotation of unrecorded teaching by Jesus. Paul spent his life spreading the Gospel. He taught that it was right for those reached with the Gospel to provide materially for those who ministered to them spiritually. He asked them, “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?” (verse 11).
In our present day, this would include missionaries, church planters, and others engaged in Gospel-spreading ministries, of which there are many examples – rescue missions, orphanages, campus ministries, and more.
Another key passage that presents Gospel work as an objective of financial giving is Philippians 4:10-20. Paul expressed his deep gratitude to the Christians in Philippi for providing for his material needs. He said, “. . . in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only.” He thanked them because they “. . . sent aid once and again for my necessities” (verse 16). He even called it “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (verse 18). Their generous gift to support Paul’s Gospel-advancing work was an offering to God. Thus it is clear that when we give financially to support those who spread the Gospel we are performing an act of worship toward God.
A third key passage on this objective of financial giving is 3 John 5-8. John commends Christians who “send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (verse 6). The ones they supported are those who “went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles” (verse 7). It seems these were individuals who traveled to share the good news of Jesus with people who needed to hear. They did not rely on unbelievers for their support, but accepted the help of brothers and sisters in Christ to help them on their way.
Giving to those who shepherd churches and teach the Word
In addition to people engaged in direct evangelism, there are those who do the Gospel work of shepherding churches and teaching them the Word. These carry on the work of those who first shared the Gospel and started the churches. Paul refers to them in two places. The first is 1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’ “
An “elder” is one who holds an office of leadership in the local church. My belief is that the New Testament terms of “bishop,” “elder,” and “pastor” all refer to the man or men who hold the primary leadership positions in the local church. Paul’s instruction contains the dual role that pastors have, of leading (“rule well”) and feeding (“labor in the Word”). He states that it is right for those who do this as their life’s work to receive compensation worthy of it.
Paul gives a similar instruction in Galatians 6:6, specifying who should provide this material compensation. “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.” It is the biblical responsibility of those who benefit from the leadership of their pastors to, according to their ability, provide for the material needs of those men.
The Scriptures do not speak specifically to financial provision for facilities and programs. These often constitute a major percentage of a church’s budget. While the primary objectives of our giving include the people who evangelize and shepherd, it seems legitimate to fund properties and programs that help accomplish Gospel work and facilitate church life. The extent of this of course is up to individual believers and church leaders.
The final article in this series will continue in a practical direction as I will share specific suggestions for How to Implement Grace Giving.