Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The early church and giving

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about giving and instructed them like this,

‘On the first day of the week each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income’

This indicates that giving should be regular, systematic and proportional. Later on, in the second and third century, Iranaeus, an early church father said, ‘The Jews were constrained to regular payments of tithes. Christians, who have liberty, assign all their possessions to the Lord, bestowing freely not the lesser portions of their property since they have the hope of greater things.’ In other words – it’s all His!

Augustine even put it this way – ‘let him render tithes and out of nine parts let him seek to give alms.’ In other words, there’s the principle of the tithe as the starting point of giving and then you ‘give alms’ on top of that – that’s showing mercy by giving to those in need.

So how are we doing with this? You might say to me, ‘Steve – you are always talking about grace. Doesn’t grace mean that God loves us – even if we don’t do anything that comes close to this?’ And you would be right! The message of grace is that God’s acceptance of us in Christ is not dependant on our performance. We cannot earn our salvation – we couldn’t earn it before we came to Christ and we can’t earn it afterwards, either. But – it would be a misrepresentation of the message of grace if we took it to mean, ‘I don’t need to pray, I don’t need to read my Bible, it doesn’t matter how I live my life... and it doesn’t matter what I do with my money!’

Randy Alcorn wrote this, ‘I will listen to the Christian who says ‘Tithing isn’t meant for us today’ – provided that he gives regularly and that his giving exceeds the tithe.’ Now there’s a statement to make us smile – and think! That’s the message of grace. Under the grace of the law it was a tithe – surely under the grace of Christ it can’t be a lesser amount... can it?’