Publication: One-to-One, Winter 2006
You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t take it with you.” Money is a major theme in our culture, and competition for it comes in a cacophony of voices from every angle. Even though Christians can also get caught up in the “what can I buy now to make me happy” syndrome, most polls show that those whose beliefs are classified as evangelical are the most likely to share their wealth.
So, let’s assume that those who are reading this really do want to do God’s will with regard to their money. Jesus’ most basic teaching on money was “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” where rot and insects can’t destroy it. We have to believe that Jesus was the smartest, best informed investment counselor you could ever consult. But, how do we respond to his seminar on “lay up treasures in heaven”? We can’t FedEx it there, nor can we do electronic transfers to the Throne room. Obviously, we have to give it someplace here on earth in a way God considers to be a legitimate gift to Him, and one that is registered in heaven. The question is to whom, when, where, why? Don’t you sometimes wish Jesus had been a little more specific?
One basic way of interpreting a Scripture is to see what light other Scriptures have to shed on it. Another way of clarifying the meaning is to see what the people in the Bible actually did to obey those teachings of Jesus. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to put those two methods together by going through the New Testament to look at every occasion of giving by believers, and to see how they gave in obedience to Christ’s teachings. The results were quite surprising when compared to our giving habits today.
I found a record of thirty-four direct references to actual giving. Of the total record of New Covenant offerings, giving to the poor included eighteen of the thirty-four. While I am not saying that proves anything, it is a significant comment about the way early Christians used their money. It is probably a clue to which we ought to pay close attention.
Beyond that, I found that seven of the remaining references are clearly incidents of giving to the missionaries of the day, the apostolic teams who were taking the Gospel beyond the borders to those who had not had any chance to hear of God’s mercy through Christ Jesus. Four more instances show that much of the giving to the poor was through those missionary teams. The longest passage on giving in the entire New Testament has entirely to do with giving to the poor through the missionaries of that day – chapters eight and nine of Second Corinthians.
It seems to me the clear indication is that the priority of New Testament Christians was to give to the poor and to provide for those who were taking the Gospel to those who had not heard. Apparently, they had confidence that this was a way to get treasure into heaven.
What does all this mean in our world today? It doesn’t take much research to find that the poorest people and nations today are the ones that have not been reached with the Gospel. Nineteen of the poorest countries are also unevangelized. Those same nineteen countries include 45 % of the world’s population, but only 6% of the missionaries. Poverty is rampant where the Gospel has not given people a new hope and worldview.
The other group of poorest nations is in the southern half of Africa. This area has been evangelized, but the Gospel has not penetrated deeply enough to change the culture. Add ruthless dictators, AIDS epidemics, and wars like the one that killed three million in the Congo; it would be difficult for anyone to believe they can ever get beyond mere subsistence.
However, sound Bible teaching can reverse that. God did not create poverty; man did. Physical poverty is rooted in a culture of poverty, rooted in cultural values that retard and resist development, trapping people in destitution. New believers there need to learn that God does not just distribute what is available; He creates that which is not, and gives people the ability to increase, to “create wealth” (see Deuteronomy 8:18). Productivity, even in those settings, can come from faith that God can bless what we do and make it increase. That concept must be taught and modeled for those who have never seen it work. To do that, someone has to go there; that’s where the missionaries come in.
The average income in most of these nations is less than $1 per day. Orphans and widows go without because people can hardly feed their own families. The economy doesn’t improve because people have nothing to begin a small business, or no training to get a job. More than half of the world still lies in this decaying kind of poverty. As followers of Christ, we must be touched by their horrifying situation.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Follow the pattern of the early believers, and give a good portion of your income to help the poor. “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed.”
GIVE THROUGH PEOPLE YOU TRUST. Much money intended for the poor never gets there due to poor stewardship by certain organizations. Give to missionary teams or organizations you know personally, and who have integrity.
GIVE TO GROUPS WHO ARE CREATING NEW OPPORTUNITIES. Simply feeding people is not enough. The old adage of “give a man a fish and he will eat today; teach him to fish and he will eat every day” applies here. This is called “development work” – creating ways for people to earn what they need while improving the local economy as well.
For instance, IOM missionaries are creating micro-enterprise jobs and businesses in such places as the tsunami center at Banda Aceh, in Bangladesh, and in Morocco. In Africa, we have programs to teach pastors to model agricultural work and progress, and to stock small animal farms. We own boats that ship their crops to market. We also help children get into schools who would otherwise grow up illiterate and to be a drain on the economy.
At the same time, we are also taking the Gospel where it has not been heard. One third of our missions are in “closed” countries where missionary teams can only go as business people or relief workers. When they do, they bring a Kingdom message of real hope, plus tangible means of help where people are really hurting.
Whatever you do, don’t forget the poor. “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered” (see Proverbs 21:13).
Scripture Reference: 2 Corinthians 8, 9; Deuteronomy 8:18; Proverbs 21:13
Gary Henley is a member of the International Outreach Ministries (IOM) Board of Directors. He served as the President and Executive Director of IOM for twenty years, traveling widely and encouraging missionaries around the globe. In addition, he spent twenty-six years as a church planter and pastor.