The goal here is not to get into household finances, but rather the financing of the work of the kingdom of God. This relates to household finances at some point, obviously, but the purpose here is to address finances at the kingdom level. The amount of material on this subject in the Bible is simply immense, but many of the passages are neglected in our common preaching and teaching on the subject. This can be the result of fear, or ignorance, or self-pity, but the end result is the same. When God’s Word is squeezed out, for whatever reason, the methods and words of men will always come in to take its place. And when it comes to money, men do have their traditions.
“You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”” (Romans 2:21–24, ESV)
When disobedience is common, there are usually excuses for that disobedience. What are some of them? It is important to note by the way that the excuses, while remaining excuses, are not necessarily false. Excuse makers frequently have a point.
First, the leaders of the church provoke the people:
“And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Cor. 8:18–21).
Paul knew how easy an accusation of financial mismanagement is to make. He also knew the importance of being prepared in advance to rebut such slanders. When this does not happen, Christian leaders positively create reasons to avoid giving.
Second, the people in the church provoke their leaders:
“Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?” (1 Cor. 9:6–8).
When a man has been defrauded—as many Christian workers frequently are—he can be easily tempted to resort to the techniques of the flesh to get “his due.” Financial scandals are a two-way street. This fleshly response was not Paul’s, but you see how the temptation can be created.
The cycle is vicious. Each new excess by recipients of giving and the continued and perpetual reluctance to give are each used in turn by people on the other side to continue what they are doing. Reluctance breeds manipulation, and manipulation breeds reluctance.
So what are the essentials in kingdom financing? In the work of reformation, we want to see the Scriptures govern everything that we do. This applies to financing what we do, and this in turn means that some things will be uncomfortable for the leaders, and other things will be uncomfortable for the people. Things are tough all over.
First we see the necessity of principled giving. Abraham did not give to Melchizedek because Melchizedek had sent him an appeal with blood on the envelope. The principle was that of standing giving (Heb. 7:1-2).
Second, there is reciprocity. There is both giving and receiving. Obedience in this matter is like a dance, or a marriage. Biblical giving cannot function well without biblical receiving, and vice versa. Notice how Paul speaks of it. “. . . no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only” (Phil. 4:15). When God blesses a work, He does so on both ends.
Third, visible integrity and accountability are crucial. In the passage considered earlier (2 Cor. 8:21), we saw that the Bible is not our only standard. It is the only final and ultimate standard, but clear and obvious integrity in the sight of men is an issue. The opinions of the man on the street constitute part of the standard. Testimony matters.
Fourth, what happens must give glory to God. Hezekiah was used to lead the people of Israel in a great reformation. This took money, but God blessed them in the work. In 2 Chron. 31:5-10, when they saw the abundance that God had provided, they blessed the Lord. This does not happen if the whole thing is done secretively. Now Jesus does say that our left hand is not to know what the right is doing. His teaching is clear—no showboating. At the same time, giving in Scripture (and appeals for gifts) occur in the context of the body (2 Cor. 9:1-3). A gracious spur is appropriate in a corporate setting, even when it would be obnoxious individually.
Fifth, requests for money are neither silent nor manipulative. We see biblical giving solicited and encouraged throughout Scripture. The book of Romans is a fundraising letter (Rom. 15:23-24). Philippians is a receipt letter (Phil. 4:15-20). In 1 Cor. 9, Paul is most certainly beating the drum for his current project. But the principle is clear in all cases, and the checks and balances are equally dear.
Sixth, recipients must be givers. The principle here is “freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8). In Numbers 18:25-29, Moses set down the pattern for the tithe. Recipients of the tithe receive in order to give themselves. Givers should seek out churches which love themselves to give. A church which wants to encourage biblical giving must be giving. If you want the people to give, then show them how.
And seventh, we must make our choices with the right set of priorities. It is far better that the work of the gospel is hindered through lack of funds than hindered through scandal, or any other financial taint (1 Cor. 9:12, 15).