The time of year has come when we begin to be inundated with appeal letters from Christian and not-so-Christian organizations, all dramatizing their needs. This can become a bewildering and even disillusioning experience for those who really want to serve God and support his work. It might help you gain a proper perspective if you could regard those approaches the same way that you regard all advertising or sales brochures.
Once you carefully decide to buy a certain car, you don't worry about whether or not you should also buy two other makes and models. If you're happy with your brand of toothpaste, you don't get annoyed or anxious when you see other brands being touted over the one you regularly use. You don't become dissatisfied with your own home simply because new houses are being advertised. Nevertheless, some gracious, loving Christians react in that very manner to money appeals. They feel anxious, even guilty, because they cannot support every ministry that approaches them. Worse yet, some tender-hearted Christians divert their giving from their own churches and legitimate ministries in order to send funds to the organization that tells the saddest story, boasts of the most dramatic results, or otherwise uses manipulative techniques.
As the leader of a mission wholly dependent on God to move through his people to provide the support of Jews for Jesus, I feel that I must once again say what I've said before: As a Christian, you are obligated to support your own church or home congregation first and above all.
Pastors cannot say this. One reason they can't is that they are caught in a dilemma. They want to encourage their people to give in support of missions and Christian works; on the other hand, they know that the least worthy organizations are often the ones that do the most clamoring to promote themselves.
I am not saying that you should support only your local church and its ministries. God has led the most dedicated Christians to support his ministries outside of and in addition to what can be done by the local church. Nevertheless, spiritually sensitive Christians realize that their local congregation that ministers to them should have prime consideration in their giving.
I get disgusted when I hear an otherwise good Christian radio program that closes with the appeal, Send your tithes and offerings to __________." I say to myself, "Offerings, yes, or at least maybe; tithes, no!" Tithing, or giving 10 percent of one's income, is a good beginning standard. Praise God! Most Christians are able to give more than just 10 percent, and a good number do. But if a person is only tithing, his own church should have primary consideration. You wouldn't think much of a wage earner who gave to every indigent beggar to the point where his own family had no food on the table for lack of funds. Yet that's exactly what many Christians do in their giving.
Five years ago when I first mentioned that concept in this Newsletter, many were shocked. I guess somehow they thought that I, the leader of a faith mission, should be saying, "Support our mission first." I don't know that anyone supported our ministry less for my telling them that their first concern in Christian giving should be their local church. Since that time, however, I have received numerous letters asking about giving, tithing, etc.
One man, an old-age pensioner, wrote in anguish that he loved his church and had been a tither until his forced retirement. Because of a catastrophic illness, he had lost his home and savings. His pension was so low that he was living in one room and staying alive by eating canned dog food. He was anxiety-ridden over not being able to tithe. Belonging to a church that regularly scheduled sermons on "stewardship," he understood his pastor to be preaching from Malachi 3:8 that non-tithers were robbing God—a passage, incidentally, meant for the people of Israel living in the land. That poor man was tortured with guilt, never questioning the presumption that if a Christian did not give 10 percent of his income, he was guilty of feloniously witholding God's due. He expressed deep shame and despair, saying, "I want to believe that God would provide if only I would trust him by tithing. Sometimes I wonder if I have enough faith even to be saved." That man was a victim of some over-zealous preaching on stewardship. I told him that his assurance of salvation should be based on Christ, not on his ability to give—that he was saved by what God had given him, not by what he gave God!
I do believe in proportionate giving, and I think that 10 percent of one's income is a good starting place. Furthermore, I won't quibble about whether the tithe should be from gross income or net income. That question removes the subject from the realm of the true nature of Christian giving. In conjunction with that, my next statement may be even more shocking: If you feel that you cannot give or do not care to give to support your local church or any Christian cause, then you should not give!
You see, only you can take upon yourself that obligation of giving to God. Theologically speaking, you could be saved if you never gave one donation to your own church or any other Christian cause. God does not love you more because you give a great deal or less because you give less. The basis of Christian giving is not giving according to some obligation, but giving out of love for God. The clearest teaching on giving is found in II Corinthians 9:7: "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver." What you give or do not give is a matter of what is in your heart. God loves us all anyway; but he has a special affection for those who cheerfully want to do without things because they love him.
A while back, another friend of our ministry wrote that he was giving us substantial support because he belonged to a church that did not believe in bringing the gospel to the Jews, or at least didn't want to support any Jewish mission. I didn't tell that person what I should have: namely, that if he belonged to a church that was unwilling to support missions other than what could be controlled by his denomination, perhaps he ought to look for another church. If you cannot wholeheartedly give the major part of your donations to support your own local church and its projects, you ought to think seriously about changing churches.
Of course you won't find a perfect church in your neighborhood—or in this world. And if you ever did, it would no longer be perfect after you joined it because we are all imperfect people here on earth, striving to grow toward the perfection we will achieve only in the heavenly presence of our Savior. Meanwhile, you need to belong to a church and you should support it in proportion to your income and resources. For the good of your own soul, you need to be a giver more than your church or any Christian organization needs to be the recipient of your donations. If you don't know that church membership includes an obligation to support the ministry of that church, you are indeed a rather shallow Christian. Then perhaps you ought to review first of all, your commitment to the Lord, and second, your commitment to your church.
I do hope that you will be able to continue to support your local church first, or to make that your priority for the first time if you have never before considered the matter. And I hope that as God prospers and leads, you will be able to uphold our Jews for Jesus ministry as well.
Whatever you do, it's important to remember that all of your giving is an act of worship and devotion to God. That's the way we receive gifts to our ministry because that's the way we believe they are given. True giving means giving up something. You could enjoy the worshipful act of being a sacrificial giver more than you could enjoy what you would be giving up. The key lies in contemplating what God has given you, what it cost him, and how pleased he was when you accepted his gift of salvation in Christ. The more you realize what God has given and continues to give you, the more you'll enjoy the worship of giving to him. So go ahead and enjoy—a lot!