Sharing with believers

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Gal 6:10)

Providing for our natural families

Doing good to all people (the subject of our previous study) includes providing and caring for our natural families, and particularly for our dependants. Paul says that a Christian who doesn't do that has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1Ti 5:8).

If Jesus taught that total strangers deserve our support (Luk 10:25–37), how much more those who are of our own flesh and blood. Jesus criticized the Jewish leaders for encouraging the people to give to God when their parents needed help (Mar 7:9–13).

Paul tells us that the fifth commandment has a promise attached to it:

'Honour your father and your mother…that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.' (Eph 6:2–3)

Do you want things to go well for you? Do you want to enjoy long life on earth? Then honour your parents. Honouring our parents, according to Jesus, includes helping them financially when they are in need.

Providing for our spiritual family

Having made sure that our natural families are provided for, we should then look to the needs of our spiritual family. Our opening text tells us that as we have the opportunity we should do good to all people, but especially those who are of the faith.

Our own blood makes us a member of our natural family, but the blood of Jesus Christ has made us a member of our spiritual family. The Bible says that if we truly love our heavenly Father, we will also love his child (Jesus Christ), and his children (our fellow believers) as well (Joh 1:12; 1Jo 5:1–2).

Providing for the needs of fellow believers forms the bulk of the teaching on giving in the New Testament. In his letters to the church at Corinth Paul devotes almost as much time to the subject as he does to spiritual gifts, indicating its importance. Knowing that, we should pay special attention to what he wrote.

Collection for God's people

Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. (1Co 16:1)

The first thing we are told is that this was a collection for God's people: the people who were close to God's heart. In his teaching on the Sheep and the Goats (Mat 25:31–46), Jesus said:

'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me (v40).'

Those words are often misunderstood. The Greek word translated 'brothers' is adelphos. In the New Testament it's used to indicate either male members of one's own family, or fellow countrymen (it's used in Rom 9:3 where it refers to the people of Israel), or believers in Christ (both male and female).

But in Mat 12:46–50 Jesus made it clear whom he regarded as his adelphos. It wasn't the Jewish race, or the male members of his family: it was his spiritual brethren—his disciples—those who were doing the will of God. So when we supply the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are giving and ministering to Jesus.

While Paul was in Antioch, a prophet named Agabus came from Jerusalem and predicted, through the Spirit, that a severe famine would spread through the entire Roman world. On hearing this the disciples decided to provide financial aid for their brethren (adelphos) who were living in Judea, sending the gift to the elders through Paul and Barnabas (Act 11:27–30).

Antioch was in Galatia and Paul, having instructed the Galatian churches what to do in this matter, was now passing the word on to Corinth. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit has put these instructions into the New Testament, which means that they are relevant to every Christian in every age (2Ti 3:16–7).

Even though they refer specifically to a collection for believers, they follow principles that govern all New Testament giving.

Give God the first fruits

On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money… (1Co 16:2)

As far as we know, the early church met together on the first day of the week, which was the day after the Jewish Sabbath—the day our Lord rose from the dead (ie Sunday). Paul said that on that day they were to set aside a sum of money for their fellow believers who were in need.

One of the requirements God made of his people in the Old Testament was that they should bring him the first fruits of their crops (Exo 23:19). As God provided for them, he expected them to give the first part of what they received to him.

That principle is carried over into the New Testament. Having made sure our natural families are provided for, giving to God (which in this case meant giving to his people) should be the next priority in our lives.

Paul said they were to set aside a sum of money on the first day of the week, not the last day. Giving from what we have left at the end of the week is not the way to give to God. If God is first in our lives then we should put him first. And it was to be done every week. God wants us to give to him on a regular basis; it's an integral part of our worship and service to him.

Some Christians don't give to the Lord every week, they give at the end of the month when they receive their salary. That's fine, as long as they put God first and their giving is regular.

Each one of you

…each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income… (1Co 16:2)

Paul instructed that each of them should set aside a sum of money. God expects each of his children, who has an income, to give to him on a regular basis. That was true in the Old Testament and it's also true in the New.

The sum they were to give was to be in keeping with their income. God doesn't expect us to give beyond our means. Paul said that our gift is acceptable according to what we have, not according to what we do not have (2Co 8:12). God doesn't measure our giving in absolute terms, but in relative terms.

In Mar 12:41–4 Jesus was watching what was put into the temple treasury—and he still does. He is the one whose eyes are like blazing fire (Rev 2:18). He sees everything that goes on in his church (Rev 2:19), and he knows how much we give.

He saw a widow put in two very small copper coins and told his disciples that she had put in more than all the rest. They had given out of their wealth but she, out of her poverty, had given all she had to live on.

Jesus wasn't teaching that his disciples should do the same, but that God views our giving according to what it costs us to give, rather than the amount that we give. It can be more costly for a poor person to give £10 than for a rich person to give £1,000.

As the heart leads

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2Co 9:7)

Paul also taught that our willingness to give is more important than the amount we give (2Co 8:12). God wants us to give willingly, from our hearts, because of our love for him and our brethren. God loves those who give in that way. Giving reluctantly does not bless God because it doesn't come from the heart.

Notice that no percentages or figures were mentioned. God wanted them to give as their hearts led them to give. That is the basis of all New Testament giving.

Knowing that God wants us to give, if we pray about what we should give and our hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit, then I believe the conclusion we come to will be in accordance with the will of God. I'm sure those Christians prayed about what they should give and then gave what the Lord laid on their hearts to give.

Giving is godly

Giving is a godly thing. The Word says:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son… (Joh 3:16)

If we truly love—as God loves—we will be a giving people because God is a giving God. A godly person will be a giving person because giving is part of God's character.

John wrote that if anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him (ie he doesn't share his possessions with him), how can the love of God be in him (1Jo 3:17)? The answer is that it cannot be in him because God, who is a loving God, gave. If we love—as God loves—we will also give.

For God to have given material things to the world would have been easy for him because he owns the whole universe, so he gave the most precious thing he had—his only Son.

Imagine what it must have cost the Father to see his Son suffering for the sins of the world. God measures our giving according to what it costs us to give; and he knows how to give sacrificially.

That there might be equality

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.' (2Co 8:13–5)

Many New Testament truths are illustrated in the Old Testament. One such principle is that of equality of provision, which is taught by Israel's experience with the manna in the desert.

On their journey from Egypt to Canaan, God miraculously provided for his people by giving them manna from heaven. Manna was the 'bread' that appeared on the desert floor each morning (Exo 16:13–6).

The head of each family went out and gathered as much as he needed. But the curious thing was that, no matter how much they gathered, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little (Exo 16:17–8).

That was a miracle, but why did it happen? It happened to show that God wants none of his children to be in need. God has provided adequately for his Body worldwide, it's up to us to share it out.

Does God's desire for equality among his children mean that each of us should have the same amount of money, drive the same model of car, and live in the same standard of housing? No. That would be difficult to achieve and I don't believe it's God's will. God wants equality in the sense that each member of the Body should be adequately provided for.

I believe that Christians in the West are currently in a 'Corinthian' position of plenty and it's our duty, in Christ, to supply the needs of our poorer brethren in other countries—distributing some of the wealth that God has so richly blessed us with. How can we do that? In the same way the church at Corinth did.

In those days God organized a channel to enable the money that was collected in Corinth to be delivered to Judea, and today there are channels—Christian organizations—that distribute aid to brethren throughout the world.

No needy people

We read in the Book of Acts that there were no needy people in the church for, from time to time, those who owned (surplus) lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet. It was then distributed to those who were in need (Act 4:34–5).

That is how the believers lived—led by the Spirit of God, following the principle of the manna in the desert—with each one having as much as he needed. But should Christians who have plenty be giving to poorer brethren every week? No, not necessarily. We should make Jesus Lord of our finances and be led of his Spirit.

The collection Paul described in 1—2Co was a one-off gift—something that God wanted them to do at that particular time. The gift was organized by the church, but Christians can give directly to brethren who are in need at any time.

A number of years ago my wife and I felt led to set aside a sum of money each week specifically for the saints who were in need. We gave the same amount to our church as normal, but put some extra aside for the brethren.

We saved it up and prayed about it and then, from time to time, the Lord showed us which needy person in the church to give it to. It was particularly satisfying to give in that way, knowing we were doing God's will.

Jesus said that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mat 4:4); and one of the most pressing needs in the church worldwide is for Bibles and Christian literature.

New converts in poor countries are crying out for the Word of God so they can grow spiritually (1Pe 2:2–3). Most of them have physical food, but they need spiritual food; and those of us in the church who can help them, should help them.

As a young Christian I was once the recipient of such a gift. I was on a low income with a family to feed, and things were difficult. I'd read my Bible through so many times it was falling apart.

A couple in the church noticed this and handed me a box. In it was a brand new Bible; an expensive one with a strong binding. I've still got it; it's one of my treasured possessions. In the flyleaf they'd written: 'To Michael, our brother in Christ. With much love.'

In John's Gospel Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another (Joh 13:34) and in his first letter John explains what that means:

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1Jo 3:18)

Those dear brethren obeyed that command. They were not just hearers of the Word, but doers of it (Jam 1:22); and God will reward them for what they did (Mat 6:2–4).

Importance of sharing

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practise hospitality. (Rom 12:12–3)

Why does the New Testament put so much emphasis on Christians sharing with their brothers and sisters who are in need? Because it's necessary for salvation. Jesus said that loving God is the most important commandment of all (Mar 12:28–30), and Heb 6:10–1 says that we show our love for God by helping our brethren. The apostle John wrote:

For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1Jo 4:20–1)

If we don't love our brethren—and that means helping them when they're in need (1Jo 3:17–8; Jam 2:14–7)—then, according to God's Word, we don't love God. We may think that we do; we may tell him that we do; but our actions prove that we don't. And if we don't love God then we cannot be saved.

Jam 1:12 says that God has promised the crown of life to those who love him. That means that loving God is a requirement for salvation, and we cannot love God if we don't love our brethren. God will give most Christians the opportunity to share with their fellow believers at some stage in their lives. Paul wrote:

At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. (2Co 8:14)

The Christians in Judea would not always be poor; one day God would give them the opportunity to share with their brethren in Corinth, just as the Corinthians had shared with them.

Sins of omission

In Mat 25 Jesus warned of three things that will exclude Christians from the kingdom of heaven:

They are all sins of omission (not doing what we should do), rather than sins of commission (doing what we shouldn't do). By failing to do the things God wants us to do, we sin as much as by doing the things he doesn't want us to do (Jam 4:17).

Some claim that our Lord's teaching on the Sheep and the Goats (v31–46) has nothing to do with Christians, it's about those in the world who help the Jews. But, as we've already seen, Jesus didn't refer to the Jews as his brothers: only his disciples (Mat 12:46–50). Others believe it's about people in the world who help believers during the tribulation (Rev 13:7–10).

If either of those interpretations are true, Jesus was teaching a salvation by works—that a person can be saved purely by performing charitable acts. I cannot accept that. The Bible doesn't teach that man can be saved by good works (Eph 2:9). If that is so then the central event of history—Christ dying on the cross for our sins—was unnecessary.

On the contrary, Heb 11:6 states that no one can please God without faith. These teachings are for us—our Lord's disciples—the people of faith. They describe deeds that should accompany our faith. Man is saved by faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8), plus the deeds that make his faith complete (Jam 2:20–4). Helping our brothers and sisters who are in need is one of those deeds.

We are saved by faith but, in his teaching on the Sheep and the Goats Jesus made it clear that on the Day of Judgement everyone will be judged by him, not on the grounds of faith, but on what they have done. Why is that? Because deeds prove, or disprove, faith. We prove our faith to God by what we do (Jam 2:18).

James tells us that faith without deeds cannot save us (Jam 2:14–7). Jesus confirms that truth in this passage, and so does Paul in Rom 2:6–11.

Hard pressed

Paul expected each member of the church to contribute towards the collection for the saints, except for those who were hard pressed (2Co 8:13). What does it mean to be 'hard pressed'? The Greek word means to suffer trouble, distress, oppression or tribulation. In this context it meant those who were having difficulty providing for themselves.

John the Baptist didn't command the person with one tunic to give to him who had none: that would have meant him going without himself. John commanded the person with two tunics—the one who had more than enough—to share with him who had none (Luk 3:7–11).

The question is: Are we hard pressed or not? That is for us to decide. In my opinion, a person is hard pressed only if they cannot afford necessities for themselves and their dependants.

People who can afford luxuries and pleasures, in any measure, are not hard pressed. If we can afford those things for ourselves, we can afford to give to God. We can afford to give to him from what he's given to us over, and above, our basic needs.

Because giving in the New Testament is left to how we feel in our hearts, we have to make sure that our hearts are pure before God (Mat 5:8).

Someone might say: 'I can't afford to give to God at the moment because I'm hard pressed,' when what they really mean is: 'I don't want to give to God because I'll have to take a drop in my standard of living.' Those thoughts don't come from a pure heart.

We have to realize that the standard of living of most people in the West is far greater than what God says we should be content with, ie food and clothing (1Ti 6:6–8). We think we're hard pressed because we live in such a materially rich society. We may be hard pressed compared to those around us, but not according to the Word of God.

Paul told the church at Corinth about what had happened in Macedonia:

Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. (2Co 8:2–4)

Even though Paul taught that God didn't expect them to give to others while they were hard pressed themselves, the believers in Macedonia gave generously despite their poverty. Why did they do that? They did it because of love. Love is the greatest motivating force in the universe. God watched his own Son die on a cross because of love (Joh 3:16).

When I was a child I saw a film that affected me deeply. It was about three children who lived in a village in Eastern Europe. They were very poor, as was everyone else in the village; but they still enjoyed themselves, going out into the snow and playing together.

Then one day their father came home and saw them playing. He went into his shed and made them a sledge out of bits of wood. It was very basic, but they loved it and took turns in pulling each other on it.

One day they went to the edge of the village and came across an old, tumbledown house. They stopped and noticed that the door was ajar. They pushed it open and looked inside. There, in a chair, sat an old woman wrapped in blankets in front of a fire that had gone out. She was very cold.

They looked around for some wood, but there wasn't any; then they looked at each other. After a while they went outside, took an axe and chopped up their sledge for the fire. It was all they had, but they gave it—because of love. They sacrificed their pleasure for her necessity.

The Bible says that love burns like a mighty flame; many waters cannot quench it (Son 8:6–7). People who are motivated by love will do things they would not normally do.

Generosity encouraged

To the church at Corinth Paul wrote:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. (2Co 9:6)

What was he saying? He was saying that if we're generous to God, he'll be generous to us. But if we're not generous to God, he will not be generous to us. Why? Because a man reaps what he sows (Gal 6:7). In the same way Jesus said:

'Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.' (Luk 6:38)

That means that God will give to us in the way we give to him. If we give to him in large measure, he will give to us in large measure. But if we give to him in small measure, he will give to us in small measure. The same truth is stated in the Old Testament:

One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Pro 11:24–5)

The New Testament gives us instruction, advice and wisdom about giving, but it doesn't tell us how much to give: that is left to us…and to our hearts.

Michael Graham
March 2007
Revised June 2012

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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