“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers” (James 1.22)
Last time we thought about the basic choice we need to make in approaching money: are we making it an end in itself, or using it to serve the good purposes of God and the common good of his people. When we get this right, we are with the help of the Holy Spirit building up our Christian character, becoming more like Christ. Out of that character we then have the task of trying to establish good behaviours, practical virtues, that will mean that our actions make a real difference for good in the world. The image of the character of Christ being stamped onto us like a seal or coin is one that we find in the Bible: and the point of the coin is self-evidently not sit on the shelf looking shiny but be put to good use.
In preparing as a diocese to try and get our heads round this matter of money, we asked a good number of people what values they thought we ought to have for the way we handled money as a church. Out of that, with some careful consideration of the Scriptures as a foundation, we came up with nine of them that I would like to commend to you now quite straightforwardly, and then give you some time to consider what practical consequences they might have for you and the church you serve. For you personally as well as for the church because anyone in any kind of leadership position sets a tone for the organisation, so our personal modelling of this matters.
Here are the nine values in the form that they were adopted by our Bishop’s Council:
“Freely you have received; freely give” (1 Corinthians 13.3) We pray to be the generous people of Jesus Christ, responding to and showing his generous grace. Giving is part of our core response to the saving and gracing work of Christ, and our attitude to money needs to firmly make it part of our trust in and service to Him. “Do not lay up treasure on earth.” “You cannot serve God and Money.”
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9.7) Through God’s grace we are enabled to freely choose to give in joy and love, as part of our deepening discipleship, not a tax grudgingly paid, or payment for services rendered. We are not rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s in our Christian giving, but God what is God’s.
“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”” (Mark 12.41-44) As God’s generous grace wells up inside us we will want to give sacrificially to support the work he has called us to, and the poor like the widow in the Temple are often the most generous amongst us. But the more resources we are blessed with, the more we are called to give away. The biblical principle of tithing sets a standard for our proportionate giving.
“Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”” (Matthew 19.2) The generous gifts of those who are well-resourced create a surplus which allows those who are poorer to give less, and in fact to be blessed with additional help, as valued and generous members of the body of Christ themselves.
“Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.”” (Nehemiah 8.10) Indeed, in the body of Christ all are givers and all are receivers, both from each other and from the riches of God’s saving grace. The relationship is that of a family, not a market or a business. We are called to love one another, encourage one another, bless one another…
To the church
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3.10) Although the Diocese is in one sense “the local church” and our good order gathers us around our Bishop and saves us from over-parochialism, we recognise that the life of the body of Christ is expressed in each local congregation, and that it is through the local church meant in this way that the mission and ministry of God’s people is extended to every community we serve. We see such churches not as mere human institutions to be maintained, but as part of the mystery of God’s plan for bringing salvation to the world, and we willingly give to them to that end. The part of our giving to the church that supports the operations of the Diocese is a support for the work of the local church not a diversion from it.
“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (Matthew 10.8) The church is not an end in itself but a God-given means towards the fuller coming of his kingdom. We give not only to maintain its life as it is, but to share through it God’s life with others, so that we all may become people fully alive in God. We can be seen as trustees of God’s mission, passing on its life to the generations to come as well as to those around us today.
“Do I make my plans according to ordinary human standards, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been “Yes and No.”” (2 Corinthians 1.17) We accept the practical importance of being completely clear and open about how church finances, both local and diocesan, are arranged, both to allay concerns about how the funds are being used and to assist local churches in understanding and benefitting fully from them, as simply and helpfully as possible.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6.2) In all this we remember that all we are and all we have comes from God, and we are careful to remain humble before him and one another at all times.
Nine values then: as a disciple of Christ, how can you make these the marks of your practical choices and actions as you follow his Way of Life?
Word document of all four talks: http://wp.me/aoSLL-3oT