Expectations for Giving in Christ’s Love
Giving is only truly giving if it is done in the love of Christ. We are told to love the Lord our God with all our heart, to love our neighbor as ourself, and to love one another as Christ has loved us. Giving for any lesser reason (to control others, to get glory for yourself, to escape false guilt) is a perversion of the gospel (see Galatians 1:7). These commands can be called Christ’s law of love. (Note that neither “law,” “rule”, “standard”, nor “precept” is a “dirty word” when rightly used and understood.)
St. Basil the Great said that this life is no accident, but is a training ground so that we rational beings may learn to know God. This is relevant to our stewardship of what we have, and to our giving, especially during the period from September through December, our annual “Giving in Stewardship Emphasis Season.” How shall we apply Christ’s law of love to our giving in Christian stewardship?
Let us review what we have considered together over the years. God’s word written, Holy Scripture, and Holy Patristics, our chief Orthodox sources, address three major topics in giving: motives, methods, and results. If we internalize what our sources have to say on these themes for our lives and our parishes, we will do well!
Before you roll your eyes, be glad that we have largely reviewed motives already. God loves us. For God so loved the world – us – that He gave his only begotten Son to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). This is good news (gospel), and it is good news that motivates us to give!
How else has God shown his love to us? He has shown his love in everything any of us has now, has ever had, or will ever have. Take a breath. Do you like that oxygen? Now, say, “Thank God!” Still have a job or a pension? Say, “Thank God!” Got a family? “Thank God!” Are you getting or continuing an education? “Thank God!” Get the idea?
Saying “Thank God” repetitively – and meaning it – is doubtless a good thing to do (Ephesians 5:20). But what should be our further response to God’s love for us? We are to do for others as God has done for us. He loves us and gives to us; we are to love others and give to them. Further, doing to others as we would want them to do to us is a key to all rational and ethical relations (Matthew 7:12).
Though “giving” sounds totally good, there can be bad motives in giving. Jesus pointed out the most obvious one in Matthew 6:1–4: self-glorification, or feeding our own pride, which is ultimately idolatry. Another can be using our power to give to get other people to do what we want.
Let us review the second topic: methods. Occasionally people, lingering over coffee at church, will say something along the line of “There are no standards of giving.” That’s nonsense. God’s precepts, rules or standards for us are “pledging, tithing and offering.” Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers testify to these three standards.
1) Pledging is “promising to give tithes and offerings in the future,” and it dates to the 5th century B.C. (Nehemiah 10:28–39), when the people of God promised in a written document to give tithes and offerings in the future. See also 2 Corinthians 9:1–5, concerning “a pledge” that the Corinthians were to make of future offerings for the relief of famished Christians in Jerusalem. In ancient times and today, pledging makes planning possible.
2) Tithing is giving ten percent, a tenth, of one’s annual increase (Deuteronomy 14:22). The first biblical instance of this is Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek (2000 B.C.; Genesis 14:21). See also Malachi 3:6–12, and our Lord’s instruction on “not neglecting” tithing in Matthew 23:23. Tithing predates both Judaism and Christianity, and is found in both. It has always been a way to express one’s commitment to God. Tithing orders household budgets and our lives. “Tithing” appears 37 times in Scripture, Old and New Testaments. Tithing is giving directly to the “storehouse” (today, often the parish general operating fund). Tithing is based on a comparatively simple calculation, moving the decimal point one place to the left on our total income – or our increase – and drawing a check.
3) Offering is to give or sacrifice or present something to God as a mark of respect and love. See Psalm 96 [95 LXX]:7–8 “Bring an offering and come into his courts” (in a worship setting), and Matthew 5:23–24, where our Lord says that, after reconciliation, we are to “come and present your offering.” “Offering” appears 710 times in Scripture. “Tithes and offerings” also apply to church workers and clergy, not just laity (Numbers 18:26). Offerings are our gifts to God – and to godly needs – without necessarily any set reference to proportion of our increase or income. (For a widow’s one hundred percent offering, see Luke 2:1–4.) Choices about giving offerings are matters of individual prayer and determination: what do we believe God wants us to give, in love, from what He has given us, in love?
Giving is definitely not all there is to stewardship. Stewardship is a very large topic, concerned with all our relationships to God and to each other. We are each stewards of God’s gifts to us. God has given us many obligations. Giving is just part of this. For example, Scripture tells us we are to care for those of our own households (1 Timothy 5:8); if we do not, we have denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers.
Giving “tithes and offerings” to others, including church organizations, for religious reasons, when one’s own children are hungry and naked, is false religion indeed. Do not let others force you to give if you do not believe, because of your other godly responsibilities, that God wants you to do so. You answer directly to God for your own choices. On the other hand, this reminder is not an invitation for us to “weasel out” of our general Christian responsibility to give. Surely no one ever told you that being a Christian steward was going to be easy!
Are you still waiting patiently for some patristic references beyond scripture? Conciliar Press has a wonderful, inexpensive booklet entitled Tithing, by Fr. Ballew, from which the following two examples are drawn.
In the second century A.D., Saint Irenaeus wrote that Christ was referring to the tithe when He said to the Twelve: “To his Disciples, who had the Lord’s Levitical substance (i.e. the tithe), He said, ‘The workman is worthy of his food’” (Matt. 10:10). Then Irenaeus went on to refute those who said “the law of liberty in Christ” freed them from giving a tithe to the Church: “And the class of oblations in general has not been set aside; for there were both oblations among the Jews and oblations in the Church, but what is changed is those who offer, for the offering is now made not by slaves, but by free people” (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter XVII, 2–3).
After discussing the requirements of God and especially of the Jews in the Old Testament, Saint John Chrysostom (4th century A.D.) makes this comment on Ephesians 2:10: “For what did not they of old do? They gave tithes, and tithes again upon tithes for orphans, widows, and strangers; whereas someone was saying to me in astonishment of another person, ‘Why, such an one gives tithes!’ What a load of disgrace does this imply, since what was not a matter of wonder with the Jews has come to be so in the case of the Christians? If there was danger then in omitting tithes, think how great it must be now!” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume XIII, First Series, page 69).
We need to make a habit of giving as God has instructed us. Scripture and the Fathers are good sources, but we need to summarize and declare their teaching to each other. One of the best continuing ways to do this is by parish constitutions and/or by-laws, which state clearly what the expectations are and where they come from. In the bylaws there should be provision for our accountability. One mechanism for doing so can be found the “Determination of Voting Members of the Parish.” Here is an example, an excerpt from Article IX of the by-laws of St. Elias, Atlanta:
All otherwise eligible adult members of households are “voting members” for the following year, provided by 31 December … the head of the household... has
A. pledged in writing to give tithes and offerings the following year or to be moving toward giving tithes and offerings of the household income for the following calendar year – usually, but not necessarily only – to the general and special funds of St. Elias; and,
B. declared in writing (for parish budgetary purposes) approximately how much money the household pledge will probably mean in donations to St. Elias over the year to come...
We have considered motives and methods and we have but one more, results. The results of giving are three: blessings to people, thanksgivings to God, and challenges to us.
First, a word of caution: it is essential to hold to true religion and flee magical thinking in any form. A great distinction between the two lies in the fact that in the Christian religion we choose, with God’s help, to love and to obey Him. In the most common form of magic, human beings attempt to control the supernatural, thus reversing the order.
For example, Malachi 3:8–12 contains a promise of every sort of overflowing blessing when giving “tithes and offerings.” Christ’s similar promise of the normal results of giving is Luke 6:38: “Give and it will be given to you.” So, shall I give “tithes and offerings” in order to get more blessings from God? There are blessings directly related to giving, but these are results of giving with God’s motives and methods, not causes for giving “in order to get more things from God.” That would be magic and not true religion. Be careful!
It is normally a joy to give, and that joy is a major blessing. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Provided we stay within God’s motives and methods, from the perspective of the giver this joy is an incredible blessing, impossible to describe to a non-giver; one must experience it. Try it. You will like it!
Giving results in thanksgiving to God (and closeness to God) by those receiving the gifts (2 Corinthians 9:11–13). True, “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” but if one is starving in Jerusalem in 55 A.D. and one is sent food money in the name of God by the Corinthians, or (today) by International Orthodox Christian Charities, one will thank God!
Giving according to God’s motives and methods, results in new challenges to do good works that He has prepared in advance for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:8–10). The median household income in the U.S. currently is fifty thousand dollars. The two hundred households with this median income in a medium-sized parish would have total income around ten million dollars. A tithe, or ten percent, of this would be one million dollars for the parish operating fund. The tithe is not a tax nor dues, so never suggest to anyone that he “owes” any fixed amount! This total is just what current income levels would produce if two hundred average households gave according to God’s motives and methods. Note that this does not include offerings, which are above the tithes. So what is the challenge for us here?
Managing ministries with an operating budget of one million dollars a year would challenge many middle-sized parishes. With God’s help it can be done, because that is why He gave those parishes that money in the first place! God has already provided the talent and time to put that treasure to work. Look around you at the world and ask God, “What should we in this parish be doing here and now?” If we give with God’s motives, and according to his methods, the result is that we will be able to ask such an excellent, challenging question and, by his grace, discover an answer.
John Truslow, Archdiocesan Stewardship Team