How Should We Give?
Over the past few months, I’ve shared how the Holy Spirit led me to start a prayer gathering following my time in San Francisco with the house church movement there. Our Southwest Florida group has prayed together for nine months. Along the way, we added folks and saw others leave to form groups on their own. The Holy Spirit has worked in individual lives and collectively as a group. Each week as we gather, we see the Holy Spirit moving among us. We’ve witnessed physical, spiritual, and emotional healing. Personally, I am overwhelmed by what I see the Holy Spirit doing among us. I am more excited about this gathering than anything I have done in the past thirty years of ministry.
Recently I sensed the Holy Spirit was forming two prayer gatherings out of the one group. Several couples regularly attend another church in the area. It seemed to me that the Holy Spirit was forming one prayer gathering made up of those members attending the same church, and another gathering made up of those of us who were not connected with a local traditional church. I brought up the idea at a prayer gathering in early April. Much to my surprise, the folks in attendance that night were excited about moving to the next phase in our gathering – becoming a house church. The decision was made to move forward. Those who wanted to attend their home church were encouraged to continue gathering with those in their home church. The remaining group decided to have our first service as a house church on Easter Sunday morning.
On Easter Sunday, we gathered for a potluck breakfast, and then had a time of discussion, a time of prayer, and communion. All agreed that the Holy Spirit had brought us to this point, and we would rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us into his design. During our discussion, one of the members asked, “What do we do about our giving?” You may question this as well. Here’s my approach.
How does giving work in a house church?
There are several types of giving mentioned in the New Testament. As the New Testament church was formed, there was a spirit of generosity moving among them. “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45, ESV). Later in the book, Luke describes people selling houses and land and giving the proceeds to the leaders of the church to distribute to those who had needs. There was a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others. In this instance, folks were bringing financial resources to the church leaders to distribute as needed. This is what we commonly think of when we think of giving to the church.
Another type of giving is mentioned in John’s writing. He writes about a personal responsibility to meet the needs of those around us. This is what he says:
“If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18, ESV).
Here we see a personal responsibility in the area of giving. When the Holy Spirit brings someone into our lives and shows us a need they have, it is our personal responsibility to meet the need if we have the resources to do so. Again, there is a sense of sacrifice involved. In this instance, it is helpful to remember that we, as individuals, are the church. The Holy Spirit may bring someone with a need across your path. According to this model, if you have the ability to meet the need, then meet it. Do it in the name of Jesus! Remember, you are the church. Be the church! It is exciting when we are set free to give in this way!
In my personal life, I take this type of giving seriously. This type of giving goes far beyond giving money to the leaders of a church body to distribute. It means personally entering into the world of an individual and meeting their need. This way of giving requires I live with sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I need to know that the Holy Spirit is leading me to meet a need. Once that is clear, then I move forward. This is vital. This is why listening to the Holy Spirit is so important.
Through the years, this approach has led me to meet the needs of many individuals. At one point, I cleared out my savings account meeting other people’s needs. At another time, I cleared out my retirement account meeting needs. Meeting needs may not involve money. It may involve time, service, or other resources. On two different occasions, God led me to invite a homeless person to stay with me. This shouldn’t seem exceptional. It should feel normal if we understand what John is teaching. How many extra bedrooms do we have? In the two instances I mentioned, I did not even have an extra bedroom. I had a couch. How many couches do we have? Remember our example of the early church. There was a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others.
At this point, I imagine I am freaking out some of you. The reason this makes some uncomfortable is that we tend to view our responsibility to others through the lens of an American, instead of through the Scriptures.
The American dream is exceptionally individualistic. We are taught that if we follow our dreams, we can succeed at anything. Work hard. Make lots of money. Live comfortably. You’ve earned it! Conversely, since we live in a land of opportunity, we may subconsciously think that someone who has needs is not applying themselves. It’s their fault. They should work harder. They must have wasted time and money they had. When confronted with someone who has obvious needs, we tend to look the other way. But is this how Jesus taught us to live?
I think about the story we commonly call, “the Good Samaritan.” It is an interesting conversation between Jesus and a lawyer. Here is what Luke wrote:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37, ESV).
Loving our Neighbors as Ourselves
This manner of giving fulfills the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. The end of the story shows the motivation behind this type of giving. It is characterized by mercy. In the Hebrew language, the word for mercy conveys the idea of bending down to someone of lesser position to hear a petition or request. It reflects the relative position of two individuals. In the story of the Good Samaritan, one party has resources, and the other does not. The one with the resources met the need of the other, and by doing so, showed him mercy.
Jesus concludes, saying, “You go, and do likewise.” His words ring out across the centuries to those in our generation who claim to follow Jesus. Love your neighbor as yourself. Selflessly love others. Show mercy. Meet needs. You personally go and live like that.
At some point, our little gathering of believers will likely have a bank account set up so we can pool our money together for the leadership to distribute to meet needs. We have no building and no paid staff, so we don’t need any money for ourselves. For now, we are individually setting aside what we believe the Holy Spirit is leading us to give and looking for those divine appointments to share with others in need. It is exciting to give like this!
I am the church. You are the church. We are the church. Not a building. Not a denomination. You, me, us. We are the church. For so long, we have thought of the church as a place we go to, but that is not accurate. A church may meet together in a building, but the building is not the church. We are.
It seems to me, the original question remains. If we are the church, how should we give?
I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.
For more on the model of prayer used in our prayer gatherings, see the blog post here: https://timothymark.com/teach-us-to-pray/