Dec 2, 2013

Concentric Circles of Charity: Instructions for Christian Giving

Randy WhiteBy Dr. Randy White
Randy White Ministries

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For many years, Christians in some circles have been taught that they are supposed to "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse," and church-based special offerings for things like missions, benevolence, and the building fund are to be supported "above and beyond the tithe." We've now heard the mantra so long that we rarely stop to question the longstanding tradition that's been set.


Is the Tithe for the believer today?

In the past, before I grasped a dispensational understanding of Scripture, I taught Malachi 3:10 as an instruction to believers today. However, once I began to interpret the Bible in a literal, historical, grammatical fashion (like I read any other book), I realized that Malachi 3:10 is a message to the Levitical priests who were neglecting their priestly duties. One of those priestly duties was to bring a tithe of the tithe to the storehouse for the operations and upkeep of the Temple. The non-Levitical populace was to bring a tithe of the fruit of the land to the Levites, who did not have their own inheritance of land from which they could earn a living. In fact, it would have been against the Mosaic Law for a non-Levite to give his tithe to the "storehouse." To do so would have been robbing from the Levites.

Those who preach the tithe today probably aren't preaching the finer points of the tithe as it is really presented in the Law, because obedience to the laws of the tithe wouldn't be socially acceptable in the church. It seems to me that the law of the tithe has been reworked in the modern church for its own purpose, then presented to the people as an eternal decree from God.

Should a believer give 10% of his or her income to the church, or to charity in general? I think it is a wonderful starting point. Or perhaps we should be more motivated to be like Zacchaeus, who gave half of his possessions. Whatever we give, our giving should not be under compulsion, "for God loves a cheerful giver." Our giving should be in response to the gratitude of our heart for the blessings we receive from God in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Where should the believer give?

I believe in what I will call "concentric circles of charity." I think we should give generously, and cheerfully, with an eye to New Testament instructions for our giving.

Circle 1: Have you taken care of your own household?

1 Timothy 5:8 says, "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (NASB). If an unbeliever will take care of their own household, surely a believer would not do less.

Jesus had some strong words about the practice of giving money that should be used for the care of family.

But you say, 'If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),' you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that." Mark 7:11-13 (NASB95)

It isn't hard to find a preacher today who preaches the very thing which Jesus condemned: that the tithe should go to the church, off the top, even if it means not taking care of father or mother. I am afraid that many pastors preach storehouse giving for self-serving financial reasons, and those same pastors are unwilling to lead their churches to provide even the most basic financial assistance to families within their church.

Circle 2: Have you taken care of Christian ministry?

There are two categories of Christian ministry that should be included within the concentric circles of charity. First is giving to ministries which provide the giver with his, or her, spiritual nourishment. "The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him" (Galatians 6:6, NASB95). Paul is abundantly clear that those who feed the soul should be cared for by those whose souls are fed. Over the past years, many have shared that they no longer have a church to attend where the Word is taught, and their soul is fed with spiritual truth, yet pastors of these same churches are heavily compensated for the work they're not doing.

As the false church strengthens in numbers, God will continue to strengthen His remnant and provide Shepherds and teachers. I can think of no greater way to ensure good, Biblical teaching than to enable these teachers to spend their time in what they do best: study, preparation, and delivery of God's Word. Whether the ministry is performed within church buildings, or not, God says to take care of those who teach and lead you.

However for most, the basic resource for Biblical teaching is their local pastor through their local church. A church should make sure that their Pastor is cared for, unencumbered by worry, and unhindered by endless tasks of ministry that take him away from his most important ministry of "prayer and the Word."

The second category of Christian ministry is to those ministries which may not directly impact your life, but which carry out God's work that you could probably not do on your own. Listen to Paul as he commends the church at Philippi for supporting his missionary journey:

"But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:10–19, NASB95)

This church was not directly fed by Paul, but they were very grateful for the Gospel work Paul was doing in his missionary efforts. Do you know that Paul traveled nearly 8,000 miles during his three missionary journeys? This certainly became an expensive venture, and the church at Philippi understood that financial resources were needed. In their concentric circles of charity, the Philippian believers supported the missionary work of Paul. We should desire for God to use us in His work through our giving.

Circle 3: Have you taken care of fellow believers?

In Galatians 6, we are given this financial instruction:

"Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." (Galatians 6:9-10, NASB95)

The specific "do good to all people" instruction can be taken to refer to all kinds of good, but it would be impossible, in context, to remove the financial aspect from this teaching. Because "all people" includes more need than we can ever meet, we are taught to begin with "the household of the faith."

Does your giving include taking care of those with whom you worship, serve the Lord, and fellowship? Is there someone in your Bible study, or in your church, that would be blessed if you came alongside to help them bear their burden? Our concentric circles of charity should include people—real people with whom we serve the Lord, others with whom we work or interact on a regular basis, and then those far-away whom we've never met, but whose need we are aware.

Circle 4: Have you taken care of Israel?

Finally, we receive an important word about God's work in Israel, from the pen of Paul (who would be accursed if it would help bring about the salvation of his kinsman in the flesh). Speaking of the financial gifts from Macedonia and Achaia, Paul says:

"Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things." (Romans 15:27, NASB95)

Do you know that we are indebted to the Jewish people? Our entire faith is built upon a Jewish Carpenter, and the words of Jewish Apostles and Prophets. Today, when we see the work of God in re-established Israel, we know that God is in the process of fulfilling both the physical and the spiritual promises to Paul's kinsmen. Because it is such a clear work of God, don't you want to join Him in this work through financial support for that which He is doing? While giving to Israel will not be our primary distribution point for our Christian charity, we should see that it does receive some of our charitable giving, being part of the concentric circles of charity.