9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight
10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless,
11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Shortly we are going to have a congregational meeting and adopt a church budget. I assume that we are going to adopt a budget. I have not even contemplated what would happen if the congregation refused to adopt a budget. In this hectic season, you may have your own personal budget for Christmas shopping. I hope you saved a spot on your budget for giving to the church.
Americans are generous in their giving. The figures are astonishing. For example, as of the close of 2005, we gave $1.78 billion to aid in recovery from the tsunami in Southeast Asia and $3.12 billion to the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That is not government aid. That is money given to those causes by individuals. Large as those numbers are, however, they are just a drop in the bucket compared to total charitable giving by Americans. Figures for 2005 and 2006 are not yet available, but in 2004, we gave $248.5 billion to U.S. charities. Some of that came from foundations, bequests and corporations, but most of it, more than three-quarters of it, was direct giving from individuals. What’s more, since it is impossible to capture all donation records, the actual number is probably even higher. Most Americans do not even take tax deductions for their giving. In 2004, Americans deducted $40 billion for charitable giving, but we actually gave more than six times that amount. So, Americans, when they give, are mostly not looking for deductions on income tax. They give because they want to give. [The Giving Tree.” Time, December 26, 2005, 90-91.]
This second Sabbath in Advent is a good time to celebrate our generosity because during these days before Christmas, charitable organizations flood our mailboxes with requests for new donations. It is Christmas, many people are in a giving mode, and the charities, the non-profits, know that.
Those who track charitable giving, however, have noticed a change in how some of the money is being given. This applies particularly to cash that comes from wealthy givers. Increasingly, they give their money to health care and education causes, such as funding a hospital wing or providing scholarships. In fact, of that $248.5 billion donated in 2004, less than 10 percent went to organizations that directly help the poor.
Now that raises a flag for Christians. Are we really giving our money in the right way to the right organizations? Suppose you make a donation to National Public Radio, which is a nonprofit organization, but it is also a station, which you listen to and therefore you get something back for your donation. Understand that I am not putting down NPR. I am a fan. But the question we need to ask is when we give to a non-profit organization, is that the same as giving a dollar to a homeless person on the street? And if that dollar you give to NPR, or your favorite college, or some other non-profit, means that you don’t have it to give to the hungry, does that reflect on your compassion and your faithfulness in following Jesus?
It might be interesting to ask those questions of the apostle Paul, for Paul was one of the first Christians who had to think about the end user of our charitable donations. The letter to the Philippians is a good place to start, for Paul identifies the Christians of Philippi as generous people. In fact, his letter is a kind of thank-you note for the gifts that have been sent to him personally through Epaphroditus — gifts to make Paul’s confinement more comfortable. As Epaphroditus prepares to return home, Paul writes this letter for his visitor to take back to the church. Now in I Thessalonians Paul tells us that he was “shamefully mistreated at Philippi” (2:2). He was flogged, imprisoned, eventually run out of town. But, for all that, the gospel had prospered there, and a church had grown up that felt a special loyalty to Paul, and helped him as much as they could.
With that in mind, we can understand why, in v3, Paul says, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Their friendship, their support for his ministry, their passion for the gospel, all are sources of joy for the apostle.
Beginning in v9, Paul tells them that he prays for one thing more for them: “that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
When Paul prays that their love may overflow, he uses the same word Jesus uses when talking about loving both neighbors and enemies — agape. So, Paul is calling for that love that arises out of the will and results in acts of goodness toward others, but Paul adds something else. He prays that their love might be guided and informed with “full insight to help you determine what is best.”
You need to love, but you need to use your common sense so that you do not love foolishly.
That sounds like a good rule for charitable giving. Paul says that it is worth the effort to “determine what is best,” because that is part of what helps us to be ready for the return of Christ Jesus. So lets apply Paul’s insight to our giving.
First, giving something is better than giving nothing. That comes right out of Jesus’ statement that loving our neighbor is second only to loving God. Loving our neighbors is not optional behavior for Christians; therefore, giving to our neighbors is not optional. For some of our neighbors, the only way we can express our love is by contributing money to help alleviate their suffering. If that is the case, do it.
This is also another way of saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Paul says he knows that the Philippians hold him in their hearts. He is not talking specifically there about what they give, but later in the letter he does indicate how their love was expressed in giving: “You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account” (4:15-17).
Notice that Paul describes our giving as a “profit that accumulates to [our] account.” So if we want to look at the bottom line in our spiritual account book, our profit for this quarter is not what we made but what we gave. If we give to someone, then that person benefits by what we give, but we also benefit by what we give. Clearly then giving something is better than giving nothing.
Second, giving and being taken advantage of is better than giving nothing. Some of you know that I was taken advantage of this week. A couple told me a story, and I believed them and gave them food and lodging. Later, I found out that their story was pretty much a complete fabrication. But I say again, better to give and be taken advantage of than not to give at all.
Paul says that in performing loving acts we should make the effort to “determine what is best.” Obviously we want to help people who need help. And we should made what efforts we can to determine that the individuals and organizations we give to are actually using the money in the way they should.
For example, some fund raisers are run by professionals, and they may get 80 or 90 percent of the funds. If you give a dollar, the charity actually receives maybe a dime. So we need to do our research on things like that. About ten years ago, Bonclarken hired a firm to run their capitol funds drive. It was a disaster. ARP’s were turned off by this “professional” approach to fundraising, and refused to give. Maybe rightly so.
The point is we should find out where our money is going. But we are always limited in what we can do, and sometimes we may discover that we have been conned. This is no shame on the giver; This is shame on the con artist. If you have been taken, in your generosity, you are not the sinner, they are. Of course, on discovering that we have been taken, we should stop giving to that individual or organization, but we should not stop giving. An occasional scam should not stop us from trying to help others.
In the nature of things, when we try to help, we are vulnerable. You might be taken advantage of. That is the chance you take when you try to be the kind of loving person Christ told us that we ought to be.
A man tells you, I are stranded in York. I need some gas for my car, I need a place to stay overnight. What are you going to do? A woman says I have hungry children to feed. Its Christmas. Are you going to let children go hungry? Of course not.
And you make your decision. Now if we had the resources of SLED, we could find out everything about everybody, but we do not have those kind of resources. We mostly look a person in the eye and decide on the spot if he or she is telling the truth and give accordingly. If the person turns out to be dishonest, then shame on them, but blessings on you for your willingness to love your neighbor.
Finally, giving is about gratitude. At Advent, everyone is thinking about gifts. No one much is thinking about the attitude of giving. The Attitude is gratitude. We give to the church of Christ out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us. We help each other out of gratitude for what others have done for us.
Of course we should use wisdom and intelligence in our giving, but we should be careful not to develop a hard, judgmental attitude. Rather we should use our minds as well as our hearts, so that when we react in Christian love, we do, as far as we can tell, that which is most needed and most helpful.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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