A Practical Theology of Christian Giving
by Patrick, Bishop of Southwell
"We love, because He first loved us" is a well known verse from one of St John's letters. It states a basic principle of spiritual life. It is equally true to say "we give because he first gave to us". One of the problems with an affluent and materialistic society is that we begin to take for granted that which we have received through the generosity of God. Is that why the custom of pausing to give thanks for food before eating has become the exception rather than the rule?
In contrast during my travels and life abroad, I have invariably found that the poorest people are the most generous. On a recent trip to Northern Argentina, in a small Indian village of great poverty, the people insisted that I accept their gift of the equivalent of £15 (a fortune to them) to help pay towards the cost of my travel. They were reflecting the character of their gracious and abundantly generous God and Father.
The Giving God
Christians recognise the generosity of God in the gifts of his creation, his grace in his son Jesus Christ and the presence of his Spirit with us. Firstly, God in his providence creates and sustains us, meeting our material needs through both the created order, and the care of others for us. Secondly, God as crucified and risen Saviour transforms the desires of the heart of all who turn to him in faith and trust. Thirdly, God the Holy Spirit empowers us to respond in practical ways by using all that he has given to us.
Much of everyday life is determined by economics and personal income. As Christians, the use of our money is a profoundly important and practical demonstration of our faith and trust in God. And the way we use our money and resources is a significant sign of our concern for the coming of his kingdom, and the expression of his mercy, justice and love.
The Giving Christian
As those who know the gifts and extraordinary grace of God, we are accountable to Him for how we use the resources he has entrusted to us. Christians live with four key questions;
In short, it is clear that our giving will always be a mirror and measure of how much we love God and care for our neighbour (Mark 10:21). It will also reveal the level of our commitment to God's mission in the world through his church.
Our giving affects our priorities and relationships.
We can, of course, acknowledge this without doing anything practical about it. So let me suggest a few guidelines.
Christians who believe in the incarnation, that is that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, are realists. If every Anglican in the diocese of Southwell were to give between a fifth and a tenth of their income to the local church on a regular basis, the life and work of the church would not only continue without financial embarrassment but flourish and expand in its impact. If that is what we know God wants to happen, then it is up to each of us to respond with warmth, joy and generosity, as we are able.
There are few things worse than a grudging and reluctant donor. In fact, St Paul reminds us - "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). Such an attitude springs inevitably from a deep awareness of God's overwhelming generosity to us.