Blessed are the Givers
Paul the Apostle credited the Lord with having said, “It is more blessed (makarion) to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Our world could not exist without givers. The Church could not function without the generosity of people n fact, life, itself, is sustained by giving. God gave his only Son. Jesus gave His life. And every human being has something to give that others desperately need. The point is that if all of us stop giving then there would be nothing to receive. And when we give, it must not be that which we can spare, even though it too can be profitable, it must be what is dear to us; if, indeed, it is to count.
The story goes that a king held a huge party for his subjects. He asked each of his guests to bring a bottle of their best wine. All of them had just harvested their grapes and were busy making vine. Each one had a good selection in their cellars. But when they were to pour their wine into a big barrel; instead, they poured a bottle of water into the barrel, thinking that the others had brought wine. When the time had come to toast their rich harvest, they went to the barrel to draw. To everyone’s astonishment, they all had poured water into that barrel. An Internal Revenue agent visited a certain minister and requested to see his Church records on giving. The clergyman was curious and delighted to have the inspector view the Church list of donors. After the inspection, the minister asked for his opinion. The agent acted a bit surprised and said, “Frankly, I’m a bit disappointed. After looking at the tax returns of your parishioners and the fine gifts they claim to have given to your Church, I had come to the conclusion that the aisles must have been paved with gold” (Doan p. 110).
At the outset, we must clarify the concepts of money and the tithe. Our world is being run by a monetary system based on collateral. One strong nation’s currency becomes the scale for all other currencies to be measured by. In the Western world, the dollar has assumed that role. It used to be based on gold, but now it hinges on its economy. The income is taxed before allowance is made for living necessities. In addition, we pay mortgages, insurances, rents, and utilities. Most of us take our donations out of our grocery bills. Only eight percent of Christians can afford donating the tenth. The rest of us, like the poor widow, give what we can.
In the Old Testament, the tenth came of the first fruits, harvests, livestock, and profit taking. For Israel, this was the only tax. Later on, the invaders added taxes and so did Israel’s leaders. David actually began to add additional taxes to support his armies and his lifestyle. Solomon taxed the people to the hilt and when his son became king, the nation split in two over taxes. When the harvests were bad, these kings even took human beings and their property in payment. Joseph, son of Israel (Jacob) bought up all of Egypt (people and land) for Pharaoh. By the time Malachi called on the people to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse there just was nothing left. Most of the people had become slaves to a handful of the rich and some of these were foreigners. Circumstances dictated what one could give. Only a wealthy Pharisee could stand before God, in prayer, and brag that he gave the tenth of all his goods. One must ask how was he able to acquire these goods year after year and pay ten percent. Why could that poor publican not come up with a fraction of the tenth? We need to be reminded, that during the days of Jesus, religion was measured by what a person gave. That is why the poor widow with her two mites caught Jesus’ attention.
The first Christians, themselves, believed to be at the end time and they began to dispose of their earthly belongings. When the proceeds were gone, poverty set in and people were begging for help. Paul, whose converts were mostly poor, no longer called for the tenth, but what everyone could do. The other thing Paul asked for was that it be given cheerfully. As far as Paul himself was concerned, only one group assisted him financially. Most of the time, he earned his own livelihood and he preached the good news between working hours. Paul had received the “good news” freely and he freely passed the “good news” on. Paul did not encourage the tithe; he merely offered everyone a chance to give, especially those who had little. He made the best of a bad situation. Above all, Paul did not make giving a means to salvation. Giving was only an expression of gratitude for having received the grace of God through Christ. Paul had only one supreme gift that counted and he called it “agape” giving. Many efforts have been made to understand and to translate the exact meaning of the word “agape.” So far, the old English word “charity” comes closest. It is a free gift with no strings attached and given in the Spirit of Christ for the betterment of those in desperate need. At no time is the giver being considered nor is the gift he gives. It is an outright free grant and never has to be repaid. This rule still is in effect and this can never be changed.
Money, itself, must not be an end in itself. It has been invented to be a means to an end. Money replaced the exchange of cumbersome goods and materials. But it never was regarded equal in value to a human being. Then someone came up with the idea to enslave humans and coerce them into forced labor to pay off their debts. Now, to this day, humans are evaluated by how much money they make. They are judged by their taxes and found worthy of credit by the amount on their paycheck. Repeatedly, we are offered free credit with the fine print on top or at the bottom, “For fast approval please submit your W-2 and 1040 for the last two years.” This is a bit of a problem when one is retired or self-employed. What it all amounts to is that a man’s word is only as good as his pocketbook. The signature on a check has replaced the handshake. Mammon indeed has become the supreme ruler of our world. His mark is numbers that look like 666 and are similar to $$$ our dollar sign. This has turned the love of money into the root of all that is evil (I Timothy 6:10). Success, in our day, is measured by the amount of money we have. And that puts most of us into being nobody.
We give because we expect to receive something in return. It is doing a favor for expecting a favor. The bigger the donation, the more public notice we receive. We are never told that this huge gift has come from some who have exacted a dollar at the time from millions of clients. It is his skill to exact that has made him a success in the public eye. And we honor him for being so generous. Now, let us stop right there, and ask where does his generosity go? It goes to projects, worthy of course, that further exalt the giver. Seldom are these enormous gifts designated to feed the hungry. In the words of Jesus, “You give the tenth of your spices, your mint, your dill and your cummin; but you neglect the more important things of the law, namely justice, mercy and truthfulness. You are leaders, so blind, that you strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24). This amounts to a man who builds a town, but starves his own family. This is like the man, who built bigger barns, only to feed himself (Luke 12:13-21). And this nation, like ours, stands big in the eyes of the world, excels in costly ventures; yet, our nation cannot alleviate its social problems. Our nation seeks to protect the world from some madman with expensive military power; yet our nation neglects to see the social threat from within. One fraction of what is spent on weapons or on space exploration would more than give this nation a face lift.
Jesus insisted that alms be given and that the beggar should not be refused. There was to be no trumpet blowing, and the left hand was not to know what the right one was doing (Matthew 6:1-4). On the day of reckoning, He will single out those who did things without knowing they were doing them. This group did not seek recognition, but the “well-being” of the hungry, the naked, the sick, or the falsely imprisoned. They did not even strive to have their names imprinted in the book of records in heaven. They were surprised when they were to be honored at Christ’s banquet (Matthew 25:34-40). They must have been more surprised, not to find those present, who were glorying in what they were doing in the name of Jesus. Their glory did not compare with what these quiet social servants were doing to alleviate human misery. Jesus, on another occasion, suggested that if anyone made a party, he should invite those who could not reciprocate. He mentioned specifically the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. These people had no way of repaying for what they were receiving (Luke 14:12-14). Jesus also mentioned one banquet where the rich and invited guests disqualified themselves and were replaced with people of the streets who could not return their host’s favor (Luke 14:15-24).
Jesus praised those who gave without expecting something in return. Jesus did not hesitate to use them as examples for others. Examples serve to correct our attitude on giving and stimulate our output. The people that Jesus drew attention to were and still are such examples. Also, it was not just money that they were giving. The widow who gave her last two pennies was the only one who was admired for her sacrifice of money (Mark 12:41-44). She had given in faith and out of love for her faith. All the others were giving from their surplus, in order to comply with regulations. By law, the widow had nothing to give. The other donors were not following the law. They were giving from their surplus and from the top of their income. Their giving did not come from their food money, but from their leftovers. That has been the difference in most of the giving for religious purposes. Very few give up their bread for the Lord. The followers of Jesus only had one lad who was willing to share his five buns and two fish with others. The disciples themselves were afraid to part with it. Perhaps this is one reason, why the Lord stopped multiplying giving because we are afraid to hand over all that we have. The parable of the talents has those who gave their money doubled. The one who hid it and sat on it lost it at the end (Matthew 25:14-30). And that is the difference between a makarios and a Scrooge.