24. How To Fund Missionary Work
Funding mission work is one of the most contentious issues amongst us. The reason is perhaps that we all personally struggle to accept basic Bible teaching about generosity, materialism and money. Think of what the Hebrew word “Cain” means- for he is alluded to by the Lord as the epitome of the “devil”, the “murderer from the beginning”, the archetypical sinner (Jn. 8:44- perhaps because Adam and Eve’s sin was forgiven, whereas Cain was the first impenitent sinner). “Cain is defined on the basis of a double Hebrew etymology, as ‘possession’ (from qana = acquire) and ‘envy’ (from qana = be envious)” (1). Personal possession is almost- almost- inextricably linked with envy, and led to the lies and murder for which Cain was noted by the Lord. To have a strong sense of our personal ‘possessions’ will lead us into the same sins. Indeed, it’s the epitome of ‘the devil’. The concept of ‘private property’ is indeed a myth. For we die, and leave it all behind. The Mosaic law sought to teach this- because “The land is mine”, what appeared to be a ‘sale’ of property wasn’t really a sale at all- quite simply because the land was God’s (Lev. 25:13,23). And likewise our ‘generosity’, as David observed, isn’t really that at all- for we only give God back what He has given us. In fact, when you think about it, the only ‘thing’ that Biblically a person can say is ‘theirs’ is their partner or family- even though these are also given of God. And so it’s sadly understandable that a materialistic, wealthy society always becomes one that has a low estimate of the family unit and the exclusive sanctity of marriage.
It seems to me that the nameless relative in Ruth 4 was like so many people today. He was interested in getting a bit more land to add to his stack; but he didn't really care for the redemption of his brother, and pulled out of the whole thing once he learnt he would have to marry another wife and have more children. He said he couldn't do this because he would spoil [AV] or endanger [NIV] his inheritance. We know that at this time, strip farming was being practiced- whereby a field was split up into parts, each of which belonged to a different person (Ruth 2:3). By having more children, the man would have to split up his land into yet more parts so that each son had his strips. Ultimately this could lead to the man's total inheritance becoming almost worthless if it was just split into tiny strips because he had too many children. I like how the NIV has the man speaking of 'endangering' his inheritance. He was like so many people- he had say a 20 year horizon, genuinely concerned about what was best for his children in the short term, rather than thinking about his responsibility to his brother. He saw 'danger' in doing that. It could be argued that the 50 year Jubilee law meant that the land boundaries returned to how they originally were after 50 years... so perhaps [although it's hard to work out how the Jubilee law worked in practice] he was worrying about something which only had meaning for the next few decades [if that]. He wasn't a bad man; just one who was fearful and wouldn't look beyond the next 20 years or so. And I suggest the genealogy at the end of Ruth 4 comments upon this- that man is anonymous, his name never went down in history, whereas Boaz who loved his brother and didn't focus solely on his own immediate family went on to be the ancestor of both David and the Lord Jesus Himself.
Having said that it is so hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom- as hard as for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle- the Lord comments that ‘what is impossible with man, is possible with God’ (Mk. 10:27). In first century Palestinian Judaism, this saying was a kind of figure of speech for describing a miracle. If any rich person gets into the Kingdom- it will be a miracle. That’s what the Lord is saying. And He says it to us today. Generosity alone, of course, won’t bring us into the Kingdom. It’s not as if we can buy our way in. But there are major implications that our attitude to wealth is in fact a crucial indicator of whether or not we will be there. God richly gives things to all of us, Paul says; and by our being “liberal and generous [we] thus lay up for [ourselves] a good foundation for the future, so that [we] may take hold of the life which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:17). “The life which is life indeed” is not the lower middle class striving-for-security life of slowly saving and occasionally splashing out on something, building, building up, watching the interest slowly grow, worrying about inflation and the possible need for a new boiler or roof… Much as those things are all part of our human experience in this age, they’re not “the life which is life indeed”. That life begins now, in a counter-instinctive going against the grain of being generous. Making friends of the unrighteous mammon results in the man who had otherwise been somewhat weak in his stewardship being accepted in the end by the Master: “I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (Lk. 16:9). “Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death” (Prov. 11:4). Riches kept in hand will not help us through the day of judgment. But righteousness, which in the Hebraic parallel in this verse refers to the correct use of riches, will deliver us from eternal death. And perhaps Prov. 13:8 also speaks of how our attitude to wealth is a crucial factor in our eternal destiny: “The ransom of a man’s life are his riches”. Just prior to that we read in Prov. 13:7: “There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches”. This verse is actually part quoted in 2 Cor. 8:9 and Phil. 2:7, about how on the cross, the Lord Jesus made himself poor, of no reputation, and now has been so highly exalted. Our living out of the Lord’s cross is shown in our making of ourselves poor. That is surely the unmistakable teaching of this allusion.
The high challenge of the Lord is also to be seen in how He asks us to exceed
the “righteousness” of the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20). By “righteousness”
he refers to their charity, for which they were well known. In addition
to tithing ten percent of absolutely everything, they gave a fifth
of their income to charity such as widows, orphans, newly-wedded
couples etc. In addition they made anonymous gifts in a “quiet room”
of the Temple. How does our giving compare to that? And the Lord
challenges us that unless we exceed that, “ye shall in
no case enter into the kingdom of heaven”. Radical, challenging
words- that are hard to re-interpret or get around.
Israel In The Wilderness
Israel's wilderness journey is a clear enough type of our own path
after baptism. They were fed with manna one day at a time- this
is so stressed (Ex. 16:4,19,20). There was to be no hoarding of
manna- anything extra was to be shared with others (Ex. 16:8; 2
Cor. 8:15). But we live in a world where the financial challenges
of retirement, housing, small family size [if any family at all]...
mean that there appears no other option but to 'hoard manna' for
the future. To some extent this may be a reflection of the way that
life in these very last days is indeed quite different to anything
previously known in history; but all the same, we face a very real
challenge. Are we going to hoard manna, for our retirement, for
our unknown futures? Or will we rise up to the challenge to trust
in God's day by day provision, and share what's left over? "Give us this day our bread-for-today" really needs to be prayed by us daily. Let's give full weight to the Lord's command to pray for only "our
daily bread", the daily rations granted to a soldier on active duty. It's almost impossible to translate this term adequately in
English. In the former USSR and Communist East Germany (DDR), there was the
idea that nobody in a Socialist state should go hungry. And so if you were
hungry in a restaurant after eating, you had the right to ask for some food,
beyond what you paid for. In the former East Germany, the term Sättigungsbeilage was used for this in restaurants- the portion of necessity. It's this food
we should ask God for- the food to keep us alive, the food which a Socialist
restaurant would give you for free. We shouldn't be thinking in terms of
anything more than this. It's an eloquent essay in what our attitude to wealth,
materialism and long term self-provision ought to be.
Numbers 32 describes how Reuben and Gad didn't want to venture West of Jordan, but wished to just wave goodbye to their brethren and settle on the land which looked good for their cattle on the East banks of Jordan. They asked permission to make booths for their cattle and towns for their children. God eventually agreed and made a compromise with them- but He repeats their words back to them in a different order. They were to make towns for their children, and booths for their cattle (Num. 32:16 cp. 24). Their order was cattle and kids; God's desire was kids then cattle. And time and again one sees the same nexus of thought playing itself out- people put their cattle, their materialism, before their children. And God wants it the other way around. Working mothers, late working fathers, kids in day care from babyhood- all so the family can live here and not there, have this car rather than that one, holiday here rather than stay at home, have the latest toys and gadgets... all, of course, in the name of 'for the sake of the kids'; when it's actually cattle before kids. Interestingly, the names of the towns which Reuben and Gad built, the territory they so desired, only occur in later Scripture in the context of their being part of Gentile territories (Is. 15:4; 16:8-9; Jer. 48:2, 45; 1 Chron. 19:7). So they never ultimately kept hold of that for which they sacrificed the promised inheritance of Canaan. God in His total love and grace was willing to go along with their weakness- He compromised, as it were, by saying they could have that coveted territory if they helped their brethren totally inherit their posessions West of Jordan. Ultimately this never happened, as not all the Canaanite territory was possessed; yet still God allowed Reuben and Gad to have their part of the deal which they never fully kept. And there's great grace in the way that Dt. 3:19 records God saying to them at this time: "I know that you have much cattle". God knew their weakness. He knew they'd never even seen the wonders of the promised land, which was far more fertile than the land East of Jordan. But He went along with them, so miuch did He thirst for relationship with them. And so it is with our cattle-before-kids materialism. God may not cast us off because of it in itself. His grace and love is too strong for that. But by permitting us the compromise, we find ourselves in a far harder situation and a path which long term won't lead to permanent inheritance of the promised land, just as it didn't for Reuben and Gad.
A Wealthy World
Wealth is increasing in this world. Even a number
who were previously without doubt ‘poor’ do in fact have enough
over these days to buy a few of those extra luxury things which
the Western world is so obsessed with. And many in the West end
up receiving legacies from relatives, when they’ve already got themselves
nicely established in life. They’re strapped [in God’s eyes] with
extra cash. So are we to just hope on the Father doing a miracle
to save us? Do we realize the grave importance of what the Lord
is warning us of here? It seems to me that the Father has given
us a way of escape. The enormous explosion of the Gospel in these
last days has brought forth a huge harvest of converts amongst the
genuinely and desperately poor of this world. The blind and lame,
as it were, have been desperately herded into the feast, after so
many others have rejected the call. And thanks to the communication
revolution, our world-wide family can relatively easily respond
to those needs. Is this not a wonderful, Divine way of escape for
the ‘richer’ segment of the brotherhood? An escape, no less, from
condemnation…? “The liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal
things shall he stand” (Is. 32:8) makes the same connection- the
generous will “stand” in the last day because of their generous
spirit. Indeed, being in covenant with God may even depend upon
our recognition of the fact that all human wealth is from God: “Thou
shalt remember… it is [God] that giveth thee power to get wealth,
that he may establish his covenant” (Dt. 8:18). The great
paradox is that by giving to others with love, this ‘profits me’
(1 Cor. 13:3)- we lose, we give, in order to gain spiritually. But
that gain can only be known by experience. These words of mine in
themselves can’t make you feel what it’s like. We each have to go
do it. Realizing
that what we appear to own in life is not actually ours but God’s
brings with it a great sense of freedom. No longer is there the
endless anxiety about what is ‘ours’, and the need to keep it for
ourselves. Indeed, the Hebrew word translated “free” is also that
translated “liberal” or “generous”. Hence in 2 Chron. 29:31 we find
that “as many as were of a free heart [offered] burnt offerings”.
Actually that Hebrew word is usually translated “prince”, the idea
being that princes were wealthy enough to be ‘free’ and therefore
generous if they wished. But any of us can have this noble
/ free heart, we can act like wealthy people whatever our poverty,
in that we are free from the ties of materialism which bind so tightly.
The Holy Spirit appeared to the
apostles as “cloven / parted tongues” (Acts 2:3), giving to each
man what each needed (Eph. 4:8-13). In response to this, we read
that the apostles sold their possessions and “parted them [s.w.
“cloven”] to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:45). Likewise
Paul speaks of how God gave the Spirit gifts to every member of
Christ’s body, so that there was no part which “lacked” (1 Cor.
12:24). And he uses the same idea when telling the Corinthians to
give their excess funds to provide grace / gifts for their brethren
who “lacked” (2 Cor. 8:15). The simple picture, which even in different
circumstances abides for us today, is that God’s thoughtful and
specific generosity to us, His giving us of unique gifts as we ‘have
need’, should lead us to materially assisting those likewise who
But we’re not, of course, to give from fear of condemnation. The spontaneity of giving is of course exemplified by the ‘love communism’ of the very early church. They just counted all that they had as common. What they did was not organized, not compelled by a strict set of rules about giving [as e.g. in the contemporary Essene community, or as in the tithing churches of today]. It was a voluntary, sincere abandon of love and generosity and resignation of self. The early Christians “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property” by the state (Heb. 10:34). There was a joy felt amongst them because of their loss. This is a totally counter-instinctive feeling- to be joyful because you lost or gave away ‘possessions’. The Philippians likewise gave out of a deep joy at giving away; the abundance of their joy resulted in their liberality (2 Cor. 8:2). And let’s not think that the early church were necessarily all dirt poor. The Christians of Heb. 10:34 had property which was plundered- and still they gave support to the poor saints in Palestine (Heb. 6:20). A case could be made that Luke’s account in his Gospel and in the Acts actually emphasizes how wealthy and middle class people came to the Lord- e.g. Joanna wife of Chuza, Cornelius the Centurion; Dionysius; Sergius Paulus, governor of Cyprus. Perhaps a reason for this was that he dedicated his works to the “noble” [Gk. ‘well born’, ‘wealthy’] Theophilus (Acts 1:3). Luke, it seems to me, was writing to Theophilus because he wanted to convert him. And so he gives other examples of wealthy people who had also converted. He was urging the middle class to allow the radical call of Christ to reach to them.
Especially in our generation, we hold wealth- any wealth- in the full knowledge that our Lord could return at any moment. James 5:3 brings out the paradox- of hoarding up wealth for the last days! The Greek for ‘hoarding up’ means ‘to reserve’. And this is just what our flesh tells us to do- reserve ‘our’ wealth for a rainy day, for long term security. It’s as if James foresaw that in our last days, this would be a particular temptation. In the context of writing about the approaching end of the age, Paul commented that because “the form of this world is passing away”, therefore those who buy anything should “be as though they had no goods, and those who deal with this world as though they had no dealings with it” (1 Cor. 7:29). Of course, this was taught millennia ago by the Mosaic law of Jubilee- that whatever land you bought wasn’t really yours, because the land is God’s. And again, we are not to be “anxious”, because “the Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5). And there’s nothing like managing our “wealth”, however small it may be, to make us “anxious”. Paul’s not saying we shouldn’t buy, sell or ‘deal with this world’. He’s saying we should do so as if we’re not really doing so, as if this is all an act, a sleepwalk, something we do but our heart isn’t in it.
I have at various times studied why the early church went wrong. How did the high idealism of Acts fritter away into the apostasy and hollow emptiness of ‘mere Christianity’? One of the reasons seems to me to be associated with their attitude to wealth. The band of poor men who followed the Lord around Galilee were replaced by wealthy bishops and pontiffs. Even as early as AD 144, the Roman church gave Marcion 200,000 sesterces when he left the church. This was a huge sum, enough to buy ships with (2). Instead of meeting in homes, churches were built and lands acquired. Money and legacies were hoarded rather than spent. And even worse, the attitude of the church leaders became obsessed with money. The writings of their leaders came to focus upon it quite wrongly. The so-called “Acts of Peter” [written during the second century] keep stressing how converted people supposedly gave all their money to Peter or to the church, encouraging readers to do likewise. According to this uninspired book, when the wealthy woman Chryse was converted, she supposedly gave 10,000 gold denarii to Peter in gratitude. This nonsense is quite sickening; it reflects nothing more than a greedy desire by church leaders to build up large capital. Such obsession with money on an organizational level will lead us astray too. Generous we must be, but directly to the poor and those in need, rather than to any church body as an organization or institution. The writings of the early church fathers contain some interesting commentary upon the Lord’s radical teaching about money: “You cannot serve God and mammon… give to whoever asks you” (Mt. 6:24; 5:42). The radical import of these statements was watered down. Is there not amongst us a similar tendency to water down the radical demands of the Lord’s teaching here?
So, should we literally ‘sell all we have and give
to the poor’, as the Lord bids us, finally breaking out of the mire
of middle class mediocrity by real, radical, concrete action, in
obedience to our Lord? Nobody could really criticize anyone who
did. For His words- from the lips of a Man who at times had not
where to lay His head- hardly sound like they were meant to be taken
figuratively. In my opinion, no amount of gymnastics with the text
or exegetical tricks can legitimately rob those words of their obvious
meanings. For those of us who can’t fully rise up to them, I have
to say [and I hope, desperately, this isn’t mere sophistry] that
there is a teaching that we should have an attitude to
wealth that says: ‘This doesn’t exist… I don’t really personally
possess this’. In the early church, “no one said that any
of the things which he possessed was his own” (Acts 4:32). I wonder-
and maybe I’m clutching at straws and justifying us all- if the
emphasis is upon the word “said”. Their attitude was that
they didn’t personally possess anything. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
to buy and sell and deal in this world, as if we didn’t really buy
anything or gain a thing, as if it’s all somehow performed by us
as in a disconnected dream. And this is surely what the Lord was
teaching us in Lk. 14:33: “Whoever of you does not renounce
all that he has cannot be my disciple”. Renouncing is something
we do in our hearts and deepest feelings and attitudes. Have we
truly renounced it all? Even if there are still bank balances
and pension plans and property deeds and cars and treasured possessions…
made out in our name. Have we in our hearts renounced them?
That they aren’t really mine. I have no personal long term
security from them, because they’re not mine. I’m just
holding in stewardship what God gave me. And not D.H. but the Lord
Himself drives the point home- if we have any other attitude
to these wretched things, these almost-nooses around our
necks, then we are not His disciples. It’s one of the scariest
thoughts for 21st century Christianity. The fearless,
gripped-by-Jesus approach to life which we see in the early church
is the very opposite of the passivity of our post-modern world.
We are called to a passionate, emotional life; a life where we each
have someone to save, someone to die for, to live for, to sacrifice
our self for. And this approach to life will naturally take care
of how we use ‘our’ money. It is the passion-less life which results
in a mean, careful approach to the spending of ‘our’ resources for
others. Not only does all this imply we ought to be generous when
faced head on with the needs of others. James 1:27 defines the essence
of Christianity as ‘visiting’ the fatherless and widows.
But the Greek word occurs also in Acts 6:3, translated ‘to
look / search out’. We are to actually search out others’
needs, go to them, imagine what they might be in need of and supply
it- rather than waiting to be confronted by those needs. It was
of course exactly in this sense that God ‘visited’ us
in the gift of His Son.
Job 31:24,25,28 speak in dire and chilling terms
of trusting in wealth- and note that these words come from a rich
believer who lost it all: “had I put my trust in gold, or
called fine gold my security [cp. assurance and insurance policies,
bank balances, portfolios of investments… banknotes stored
under the carpet, jewellery hidden in a corner of some peasant home]…
this would be a crime for condemnation; for I should have denied
God above”. It’s noteworthy that Job claims that despite
having been the wealthiest man in the Middle East, he never put
his trust in it. But that shouldn’t lead us to think that
we can so easily handle the possession of wealth. For to possess
wealth leads most people to trust in it. And if we do this…
this is a crime calling for our condemnation, it’s a denial
of God, an effective atheism. Attitudes to wealth are that important.
In 2 Cor. 8:4,5 Paul parallels giving to the poor believers
with giving our own selves to the Lord. Every act of generosity
to the Lord's people is a giving to Him personally. Paul had obviously
grasped the huge implications of the Lord's teaching that whenever
His people are cold, thirsty, in need... then He is in such need,
and every ministration to them is a ministration to Him. 2 Cor.
8:9 teaches that our response to the Lord's sacrifice should be
giving to others until we are poor, reflecting the Lord's
making of Himself 'poor' to the extent of being left naked and dead,
hanging upon a stake of wood. We must review all our generosity
in this light. Is it a giving of our abundance, or is it a giving
until we make ourselves poor...? The practical implications of this
Sharing God's Spirit
Ps. 51:11,12 speaks of God's "free spirit"
[or 'willing spirit' ASV], paralleling it with God's Spirit, His
"presence", the "joy of thy salvation". All
those terms are to me parallel. The spirit of God is His presence,
His salvation, joy, freedom. The Hebrew translated "free"
really means 'generous'- the generosity of God's Spirit / mind /
ways is shown in His forgiveness and saving of us. If God's spirit
is His character, then, it is free, joyous, generous etc. Human
beings can also have a "free heart" - the same Hebrew
word appears translated like this in 2 Chron. 29:31 etc.- i.e. a
spirit of generosity. When we have this, we are reflecting the "free
spirit" / attitude of God. Whenever we are generous, His Spirit,
with all its generosity, dwells in us and becomes our spirit. It
is in this sense that I see a window into understanding the gift
of God's spirit into the heart / mind / attitude of the believer.
If God's spirit is free / generous, then so is ours to be; if His
Spirit is joyous, just, true etc, then so is ours to be. In this
sense we receive of His Spirit by reflecting His free and generous
mind to others.
(1) Martin Hengel, Property
And Riches In The Early Church (London: S.C.M., 1974) p. 1.
(2) Adolf von Harnack, Marcion
(Berlin: Heinrichs, 1921) p. 24.