Week 4: Giving

Celtic crossLenten Reflection

Read Exodus 17:1-7

Central to Israel’s wilderness experience, is the experience of thirst – that is, an all-pervading consciousness of the absence of something we need. Their reflex reaction is to want to return to the place they know and understand, even though it is the place of their enslavement. But at the time of crisis, God provides water. Later, Jesus will describe himself as living water (John 4:13; John 7:37-38).

  •  Light a candle and spend some time reflecting: in times of crisis, when we thirst for resolution, where do we turn? Do we believe that God can quench our thirst?

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Giving: What’s the problem?

[The next three weeks of this series – giving, savings & investment, and debt – are all essentially about money. Obviously money is a matter that is central to our home economies, however, it is also a matter of central concern to the Bible.]

We live in time when people are wealthier than ever before, but when generosity in financial giving is declining. The National Church Life Survey estimates that, on average, Christians give only around 2% of their income. Central to this decline in generosity is changing perceptions about what people ‘really need’ for an adequate standard of living, and therefore how much they feel they can spare to give away. In 2002 a survey by the Australia Institute found that 62% of Australians felt they did not have enough for ‘what they really need’!

At this same time, people are faced with unprecedented competition for the charity dollar, characterised by increasingly aggressive and sophisticated marketing by a bewildering array of charities.

  •  How much do you think your giving habits are pressured either by ‘a tight household budget’ or aggressive marketing by charities, or both?

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What does the Bible say?

Read Matthew 6:24

Before we can think about giving (or savings and investment and debt in the coming weeks) we need first to consider  Jesus’ teaching on money. In this short text, Jesus names succinctly the fundamental issue which virtually all his other teachings on money (and there are many) address: that is, money is more than a simple tool for existing in the world, it is a spiritual force that competes with God! The word used here (translated as ‘wealth’ or ‘money’ in most versions) is actually Mammon – a pagan god associated with death. One way of reading Jesus’ hard teachings on money, especially those calling for renunciation of some form, is that part of their concern is to break the power of Mammon in our lives.

 Read Deuteronomy 26:12-15

The Hebrew tithe (which simply means ‘tenth’) was a structured form of giving based on some profound theological convictions. Firstly, it rested on the conviction that everything we have ultimately comes from God, and it is therefore and act of remembrance and thankfulness. Secondly, it served a function to ensure of a community of enough for those without means: ‘the Levite, the alien, the orphan and the widow’. Thirdly, the context of the tithe was one of communal sharing and celebration, as opposed to what we would call ‘hand-outs’; that is, it sought to bring together a community rather than create distinctions.

  •  Is the concept of a tithe – that is, a decision to give away a set percentage of your income in a structured way – something you find worrying or liberating?

Read Matthew 5:42 and 6:1-4

These two short texts capture the challenging call of Jesus, which goes well beyond the idea of tithing (structured giving). Here Jesus exhorts radical generosity to the needy which is uncalculated and risky. In 6:2 the key word derives from the Greek word eleos (translated ‘alms’ in some Bibles), which means a response of mercy. However, while Jesus clearly commends such generosity, he also gives a strong warning against the ulterior motives which can creep in to giving, particularly self-justification and social recognition. Like in so many things, Jesus’ teaching about giving concerns both heart and action.

  •  How do we cultivate habits of spontaneous generosity?

 Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

The Apostle Paul here exhorts the Corinthians to generous giving by drawing on the example of Jesus’ self-giving and the story of the manna in the wilderness, where the object is that none should have too little and none should have too much. For Paul, the object of giving is the constant circulation of abundance towards need, so that there will be ‘equality’ (or ‘a fair balance’ in some translations).

  •  Do we perceive our material and financial situation to be one of abundance or scarcity? When think about this question, who or what is our reference point for answering?

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What changes can we make?

When thinking about giving, there are three basic questions to work through:

  • how much do we give?
  • who do we give to?
  • how do we give (what is the place of structured giving and spontaneous generosity)?

[NB. In this area of the Household Covenant we are focusing only on financial giving.  Actually, perhaps the most important things we can give is our time, however, goals around this are better placed under the Work & Leisure area of the Covenant. This area, and the next 2 areas of the Covenant, are really honing in on the issue of money.]

 Ideas for Household Covenant Goals

[NB These ideas are merely listed as examples to stimulate your thinking. They should not be seen as something you need to do! To be of any use, Household Covenant goals need to be self-identified, and suitable and relevant to your own life context and circumstances. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ goals, only steps on a journey.]

  • Commit to give away a specific percentage of your annual income away, and develop a giving plan of how you will give and who to.
  • Explore the idea of a graduated tithe: determine a base income at which you will give away a base percentage of your income (eg. 10%). If your income rises (faster than inflation) then increase the percentage you give (eg. for the first $10,000 income rise, increase giving to 15%; for the next $10,000 income rise, increase giving to 20%)
  • Decide to make one generous gift in the year, beyond any giving plan, to an organisation or person who you feel is doing good work in the world, yet is little recognised, and in need of encouragement.
  • Consider adding one new dimension to your giving this year (whether by redistributing what you already give, or increasing your giving). Possibilities might include giving to: a faith community; overseas development and humanitarian work; work amongst the disadvantaged in Australia; Christian mission work; ecological conservation and restoration; a campaign for justice.
  • Explore pooling your giving (or a portion of your giving) with others, to fund some innovative work in your local area or within your faith community.
  • Commit to keeping your eyes open for whom a financial gift (even a small one) might be a help or an encouragement. Think about how you could make such a gift anonymously.

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[Those getting posts via email may not notice comments made by others – to see these you need to visit the blog site.]

  • What questions or struggles do you have in this area?
  • What things have you tried or heard of?
  • Do you know of any useful insights or information (websites, articles, books)?

 

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