Monday, December 2, 2013

Consider Your Gifts

In the traditional Christian congregation, the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas generally sees an increase in “benevolent” giving. Suggestions abound, usually involving toys for faceless children, canned goods and clothing for the unnamed homeless, or – keeping it closer to home – “upgrades” for the congregation itself. What a perfect time to take up a collection for a new van, a sound system, carpets or a trip for the youth group.

But – if you are really serious about offering a “gift” for the holidays – why not consider that which benefits the spirit, rather than the flesh? The strong majority of monetary gifts received by congregations this year will be completely physical in nature. They are tokens offered … some in sincerity, some to be seen of others and some given simply to make oneself feel better. But surely our God wants more than just a token? Did we learn nothing from Cain and Abel?

“So you have a better suggestion than giving to homeless orphans, Jonathan?”

As a matter of fact, I do. “Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, [7] a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table.[8] But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? [9] For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” [10] But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. [11] For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me”” (Matthew 26:6-11).

The poor will always be there … in abundance … but how often will your minister be there to faithfully preach the word of the Lord? How often will your Sunday School teacher continue to present godly, biblical lessons? How often will the elder come to visit you and pray with you, offering sage wisdom from the Scriptures? Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you.” Perhaps this would be an appropriate time to do so … to say thank you … to consider what has been spiritually provided to you.

I'm not asking you to take food out of a child's mouth. If you feel so inclined to give a gift for the meeting of physical needs, by all means do so. But “it is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’” (Matthew 4:4).

If the apostle Paul were currently alive and preaching, would you support him? There are people out there today sending $19.95 to spiritual charlatans for sa upposed blessing and a prayer cloth. Certainly I don't recommend the support of false teachers, but why would we ever be reticent about providing financial support to those who have truly been appointed by God as preachers and teachers “in faith and truth” (1 Timothy 2:7)?

Not all did support Paul though. He wrote to the church at Phillipi, saying, “at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; [16] for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. [17] Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account” (Philippians 4:15-17).

The Philippians apparently were the only ones who recognized the spiritual value of what the apostle was providing at that time. But such recognition not only met the apostle's needs, but profited the Philippians spiritually. The hope I have in writing this article is that you would so profit. Jesus taught that “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, [46] and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). I pray you would be so motivated in the consideration of your gifts.

Frankly, the majority of giving during the holidays is either driven by consumerism or emotionalism. Neither of those will produce a spiritual result though. What is it that you find valuable? If you need a heart transplant, you will find the best surgeon. If your car needs engine work, you will secure the best mechanic. If you want to save big on your taxes, you will find the best accountant. If you are in legal trouble, you will hire the best attorney. But concerning the word of the Lord, people are content to follow shepherds leading them in the wrong direction and to listen to the mediocre preaching of those whose highest title is “good Joe.” Where is the desire for “better things”? For “things that accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6:9)?

Ever hear the old saying, “You get what you pay for?” Nowhere is it more true than in spiritual matters. If you pay for a bowl of fake fruit, don't be surprised to find it inedible. “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2). But if you buy a Rolls Royce, you expect a quality product. Unfortunately, there are – among our churches – many “old junker” preachers and teachers. I do not say that concerning the quantity of dollars they are receiving, but regarding the quality of instruction which they are providing.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2). I've never heard a Bible college graduation ceremony that doesn't somehow work this verse into the program, yet why is it never taught to the graduating preachers or to the hiring congregations that “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7)?

The saints in Jerusalem were losing everything materially in their stand for Christ, yet they were still willing to share the word of the Lord with others. Paul writes to those who had received the good word of God, “Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. [27] Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things” (Romans 15:26-27).

Notice how the apostle makes a clear distinction between the spiritual and the material? And it is obvious that the spiritual is the more valued commodity. No wonder the early church were “selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45).

What a shame to see the ideal vs. the real though. In Acts 4, “the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (Acts 4:32). Come Sunday, some family will claim a tag off of a Christmas tree, buy a $20 pair of shoes for someone they don't know … and feel good about themselves.

In Acts 4, “all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales [35] and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.” This season, your pantry will be cleaned out of all your old canned goods … and you will receive an emotional lift because you dropped a bag of groceries off at the church building and never even saw where it went?

Certainly, it's a shame that there are people in financial difficulty. But the real shame is that Christians are not recognizing the real value of receiving sound spiritual instruction. “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” (1 Corinthians 9:7). “The plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops.[11] If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” (1 Corinthians 9:10-11). “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? [14] So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13-14).

“Why is it you preachers are always begging for money?”

As Paul said, it is “not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account” (Philippians 4:17). I want those who are reading this to realize that there is greater value in what you have received spiritually than in what you possess materially. And if giving a gift this season is really what you feel you need to do, then let it be according to the Scriptures. “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Galatians 6:6).

The church is supposed to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). So let's start supporting those who provide us with truth. “Buy truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding” (Proverbs 23:23).

I guess that's my real point in this article. What are you supporting … the local institution or eternal truth? What are you buying with your gifts … an emotional placebo or that which feeds your soul? If you know a preacher or teacher who is more than just a scratcher of itching ears, then give your gift to them. As the word says, “we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth” (3 John 7-8).

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