During this challenging season, everyone is saying, “What do we do?” The situation forces us to ask deeper, harder questions. This article features six of them related to stewardship and giving. With each one, we explore the example of Paul and his response to the famine in Jerusalem. This process provides six practical insights for helping stewards be generous during COVID-19 and beyond.
1. How much should each person give? Share Your Margin.
Stewards around the world ask this question. Paul offers an international answer. He was sitting in Ephesus and writing the church in Corinth and told them to follow the same directions he gave to the Galatians.
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.” (1 Cor. 16:1-2) (c. A.D. 54)
In a phrase, Paul instructed them to share their margin. Their “extra” would supply someone else’s “not enough.” They were to collect and share it. Paul wanted stewards everywhere to live simply and share promptly.
For some this means you may have to start living on a budget so you know how much you have to share. For others who have a handle on their finances, the issue may be the releasing of the funds. Are you giving according to your means despite the uncertain times?
2. Who should handle the money? Find Credentialed Servants.
Whether you work at a church or ministry and/or give to one, you want trustworthy people administrating the giving. That was Paul’s perspective too, which is why he added this clarification.
“And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.” (1 Cor. 16:3-4) (c. A.D. 54)
To be “approved with letters” would be to have a credential that qualified a person to handle money. Today this might point to a CPA or Chartered Accountant. Engaging such servants enhances trust and encourages greater giving.
Does the church or ministry where you serve and/or to which you give enlist the paid or volunteer service of such people? To find credentialed servants is extra work and may come at an expense, but the cost of God-honoring administration is always less than the price paid for cutting corners.
3. What is an “acceptable gift” to God? Give What You Have.
The idea of “acceptable giving” can be traced to the earliest biblical history. God saw the heart and the offering of Cain and Abel but only Abel’s was acceptable. Why? Consider this clue.
“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Heb. 11:4)
Many scholars interpret “better offering” as bringing his best to God from a willing heart. This is the same kind of giving Paul describes as acceptable.
“For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.” (2 Cor. 8:12) (c. A.D. 57)
Jesus celebrated when people gave what they had. Consider the boy with “five small barley loaves and two small fish” (John 6:1-13) or the widow with “two small copper coins” (Mark 12:41-44). Neither held back anything. Do we? Acceptable giving is giving all we have willingly to God.
4. Why do standards matter? Preserve God’s Reputation.
Back then and now, people blame each other for everything in a crisis. Just turn on the news. Paul knew this so he outlined collection standards and financial controls to exhibit integrity, to avoid the temptation and opportunity for theft, and to keep the effort above reproach.
“We intend that no one should blame us about this generous gift that we are administering, for we intend to do what is right not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of others.” (2 Cor. 8:20-21) (c. A.D. 57)
The same holds true today. We must preserve God’s reputation by doing more than to avoid breaking laws. We must follow standards, implement controls, keep good records, and submit to independent financial auditors as a testimony to a watching world.
After all, what does God expect of us? Paul would say that he cares as much about our gift administration as he does about our gospel ministry. So, does the church or ministry where you serve and/or to which you give follow Standards of Responsible Stewardship?
5. What does God want to see? Sow Bountifully and Cheerfully.
God watches our giving closely. To be sure the Corinthians understood this, Paul used common agricultural language to teach them.
“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:6-7) (c. A.D. 54)
How much we reap is up to us. This is not prosperity gospel thinking (giving to get), but rather how participation in the gospel works. In my life, I have found that you don’t figure it out until you live it out. Serving as a conduit of generous blessing is entirely up to us. When we don’t give, we miss out. Thus, Paul urged them (and us) to sow bountifully and cheerfully because God loves it!
The world sees what we give. God looks at what we don’t give cheerfully, and what that says about our hearts. God does not need the money. He wants our hearts, and he loves resourcing cheerful conduits.
6. What if all ministries affixed a seal? Support Trusted Ministries.
Paul spent about six years in the prime of his career orchestrating an international campaign for needy Christians (c. A.D. 53-58). Part of his routine was affixing a seal to verify the integrity of each collection. We learn this from his letter to the Romans written from Corinth.
“Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” (Rom. 15:28-29, NASB) (c. A.D. 58)
COVID may be with us awhile. The economic implications will last far beyond the discovery and distribution of a vaccine. Financial experts say the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. So, to whom should we give in crisis?
Support trusted ministries accredited by peer accountability groups like ECFA. Around the world these groups of churches and ministries follow stewardship standards and affix a seal to verify compliance. Give confidently to them knowing the money will get where it is supposed to go. Why? The last thing we need in crisis is a financial scandal!
This article was originally posted on the Christian Leadership Alliance Outcomes Magazine on 10 September 2020. For more insights on this topic, check out the recording of the teaching on “Six New Testament Tips for Stewards to be Generous in Times of Crisis.”