Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:28h “. . .to him that needeth.”
Verse 28 provides a thorough analysis of, and remedies for, thievery. “Let him that stole steal no more”–Paul was a realist and an optimist; he knew there were thieves within the church at Ephesus, but also believed these people could, by God’s power, overcome this sin. “But rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good”–Paul offers honest and honorable work as a substitute behavior for stealing. “That he may have to give”–we labor to secure some property which is private, and some which is not private. Some thieves are not takers, but withholders, retaining what rightfully belongs to others. Paul now ends this verse by directing our attention to a group with whom we should be sharing what we have.
The Bible recommends three recipients for our giving. Our present text teaches us to give to the poor. By saying “to him that needeth” Paul is being true to his Jewish roots. The Old Testament, a book of compassion for the underprivileged, tells us to render special care for the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers. This mind-set carried over into the early church. Believers sold houses and lands, and then donated the receipts to the Apostles for the poor (AC 4:34-37). Early Christians also provided disaster relief, sending money to famine victims in Jerusalem (AC 11:29).
The Bible teaches us to give to our families. “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 TM 5:8). This refers to caring for aged parents, especially widows. Jesus Himself is our example. On the cross, He made sure His mother would be taken care of (JN 19:27). We are to care for our parents. We wage earners must also be sure to meet the needs of our spouse and children before our own desires are met. Our priority on “others” applies at home as well as in the marketplace and in the church.
The Bible’s third and most important recommended recipient of our giving is God. Since we cannot give money to YHWH directly, we give instead to His causes and to certain people who labor in His causes. Bibles, tracts, Christian books, and other literature need to be published and distributed. The Gospel needs to be proclaimed via radio, TV, and every other medium available. In addition to causes, we give to certain laborers. Paul encouraged Christians to give to enable certain people gifted and called by God to minister on a full-time basis. In the context of mission work and itinerant ministry, Paul said, “The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 C 9:14, NASB). In the context of local church leadership, Paul, referring to financial remuneration, says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 TM 5:17, NASB).
The Bible teaches we should give money to the poor, our families, God’s causes, and God’s called leaders. This truth places a tremendous stewardship on the Church, Christ’s body on earth. Each local church must spend funds entrusted to it in ways which agree with these Biblical, God-ordained guidelines. As the leading undershepherd of this flock, my responsibility is to help us accomplish this goal. I want to assure you, we are, as best as we know how, truly trying to do right with the funds you give.
Our church provides for the poor through our prenatal clinic and our gifts to Habitat for Humanity, Crisis Pregnancy Center, children’s homes, the rescue mission downtown, Clearinghouse, our AIDS caring project, etc.
Our church provides for families, ministering to people “from womb to tomb.” We begin with Cradle Roll before a baby’s birth; we provide a bereavement ministry after a death. In between, we seek to make every effort to provide an environment in which people of all ages can learn of God’s redemptive love. We have ministries specifically tailored for preschoolers, children, teens, college students, single adults, senior adults. We provide classes on marriage enrichment, parenting, and other family concerns.
Our church provides for God’s causes. We send money to the Baptist World Alliance, and to our beleaguered, yet nevertheless still great, national convention. Portions of our offerings go to the foreign and home mission boards, and to our six seminaries. We help support our state convention, and our local association. We are sponsoring a new local mission, Heartbeat Church. We give money to the American Bible Society, college BSU’s, and to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. We are still on target to give a million dollars to all mission causes within this and the following four years.
Our church provides for God-called leaders. Much of our mission money pays missionary salaries. Here locally, we now have five full-time staff members, men who have sensed the call of God to be leaders in a local church setting. The money we provide them is in direct obedience to the spirit of the New Testament. As the leaders of this fellowship, we are trying to be faithful stewards of the money you give in order that when you give money to our church you can confidently feel it is given to the Lord.
The burden of proper disbursement of funds rests squarely on the church and its leadership as a body. The burden of proper giving rests squarely on the church and its leadership as individual members.
Verse 28 has taught us to work in order “to have” and “to give.” The question is, how do we know how much to keep and how much to give away? Are we left on our own to decide the amount? Is this totally a subjective matter? Many believe it is. Forty percent of evangelicals say faith in God is the most important thing in their lives, yet those in this group who make $50,000 to $75,000 a year give an average of 1.5% of their income to charity, religious or otherwise, while spending 12% on leisure pursuits (Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 31). I think there is a better way.
Let me approach this matter by stating my philosophy of life. Seeking to be a Biblicist, I try to use the Bible as my sole rule “of faith and practice.” Scripture is to determine what we believe and how we act. In making decisions about life, I seek a Bible command, lesson, or principle which matches my given situation, and then try to implement what I learn. For example, due to my being a Biblicist, I spanked my children (PR 13:24), though many now condemn the practice; I believe we should be good to animals (PR 12:10); care for the environment (GN 1:26); never co-sign a note (PR 6:1-3; 17:18; 22:26); and I have Ruth do our home finances (PR 31:10ff).
For all issues in life, turn to Scripture. Believers are not under the Law, but neither are we under anarchy. There is no virtue in casting off Biblical principles of guidance. Spiritual giants of the ages have been disciplined saints “who have applied great and godly principles to their lives with relentless rigor, triumphing over the lax tendencies of the flesh” (MaCauley). If no Biblical command can be found, seek a guideline or principle.
Regarding how much to give, one command, guideline, and principle predominates–the figure of 10%. Some think tithing should be discarded as a standard of giving because they deem it part of the Mosaic Law. The latter is a fallacious assumption. Tithing was practiced long before Moses. The Law merely confirmed it. Abraham, over 400 years before the Law, was under no command to give Melchizedek a certain amount, and chose to give 10%. The Criswell Bible well says, Abraham commenced tithing (GN 14:20), Moses commanded it (DT 12:6), Jesus commended it (LK 11:42).
Christ spoke of Pharisees who “pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin” (MT 23:23). This was about the most trifling example one could give of the duty of tithing. Jesus scolded the Pharisees for having “omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” He told them to do these “weightier matters,” yet “not to leave the other (their tithing) undone.” Jesus affirmed their tithing should not be omitted. He did not discount tithing, but presented it as a beginning practice to be added to.
In many areas Jesus made former requirements more stringent. He came to fulfull the Law by lifting it to greater heights. Laws against murder were raised to laws against hate. Laws against adultery were elevated to laws against lust. Laws making divorce easy were lifted to laws making it difficult. The law of identical retaliation was raised to turning the other cheek. Loving our neighbor as ourself was elevated to loving others as Jesus loved us. Jesus came raising standards of deportment. Is it logical to think He singled out the area of giving, and lowered its standard alone?
I must admit, I have a real problem preaching about money. In our culture, due to abuses revealed in recent years, many see churches as gyp joints, and preachers as charlatans. Also, people often get angry when I preach about tithing. The left-hip-nerve beneath the wallet is the most sensitive one in the body. This anger about discussing tithing is ironic, because what we keep creates more misery for us than what we give away.
Often, the things we labor for are the very things making us miserable. In a former pastorate, a couple in our church retired early and decided to do volunteer mission work in Africa. They were materially successful–big house, good clothes, nice cars, etc. She was a registered nurse. He had been a Naval Air Pilot, and then took an upper level management position with McDonnel-Douglas Aircraft. To go to Africa, they began the tedious process of tying up affairs. They tried to rent out their house, find a place to store furniture, and tend to other details regarding physical assets. Nothing worked right. They finally made the difficult choice to sell all their physical assets. They divested themselves of everything, literally ending up owning nothing tangible except a few clothes and keepsakes. Before this, they had been nervous and anxious, but afterward, the wife said, “I have more peace than I’ve ever had. I did not know how bound I was by things.” Maybe, for our own good, we need more, not fewer, sermons on giving. Maybe we are enslaved by the very things we are clinging to. Jesus meant it when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (AC 20:35).