As I’ve noted, nothing tightens the sphincters of Christians, who have their biblical problems of food, freedom and shelter already taken care of, quite like the subject of money.
Specifically, their giving of it.
Just calculate the sermon topics of the Messiah and you’ll notice that money fronts the list of our greatest of idols and gravest of sins.
All too often church people think a preacher’s emphasis on money and generosity is about the cynical bottom line, a rhetorical, alliterative, bible-speak plea to pay for the lights, keep the heat on and- let’s not dance around the obvious- the pastor’s salary.
Of course it is all of that (minus the cynicism), but I think what we miss is that the need for Christian generosity is only secondarily about exorcising our grip on Mammon and even less so about funding the Church’s ministry.
No, more than anything what Christians do with money speaks volumes about what Christians believe about God.
Generosity = Witness
Evangelism is best done not with sandwich board signs, not with screen preaching, not with Gospel tracts or PACs or legislative agendas or door hangers ad infinitum.
Evangelism is best done through generosity.
The most compelling proof of the resurrection is a people living and acting as though some Jew really was raised from the dead.
And therefore we do with our money exactly what he said to do with it.
Not covet it.
Get rid of as much of it as we can.
And pass it on to others.
Don’t believe me? Wonder why I bring this up?
I offer you two contrasting case studies, one modern and the other ancient.
This is from Justin Lee:
“We Christians have often become our own worst enemies. In many communities, our reputation is that of uncompassionate culture warriors, quick to shout about gays or abortion or political candidates, but slow to show grace and mercy in our everyday lives. And these acts of ungrace by Christians have far more power to damage Christianity’s reputation and influence than any attack launched at the church from the outside.
In my book, for instance, I tell the story of my first job waiting tables:
“Sundays are the worst,” one of the servers explained to me. “That’s when the church crowd goes out to eat.”
“What’s wrong with the church crowd?” I asked.
“Oh, honey,” she said. “They’re usually the most demanding, and they’re always the worst tippers. I guarantee you, if you see your table praying before the meal, you can mentally subtract a third from your tip.”
Standing nearby, the manager cracked a smile. “They already gave at church,” he said. “They don’t have any money left.”
In conversations with my server friends across the country, I’ve heard the same sentiment echoed time and time again. As a Christian, I find this infuriating.
In most states, servers are paid only a little over $2 an hour (yes, you read that right), with the expectation that they will make their living from tips. You might not like that system, but if you choose to express your displeasure with it by tipping your server poorly, the only person you’re hurting is the server — someone who is already living on very little money and depending on your tip to help them pay their bills.
As a former server myself, I always tip at least 18-20 percent unless the service was just so unbearably horrible that it destroyed the dining experience. Even then, I still tip, just not as much. If I can’t afford the tip, I don’t eat out, or I eat someplace where diners aren’t expected to tip. Otherwise, I consider paying my server to be part of the cost of the meal.
I think everyone should tip that way. It’s the right thing to do, regardless of your faith, and followers of Jesus are especially called to be generous and give more than people expect. Personally, I’d love to live in a world where non-Christians said of Christians, “I don’t agree with their beliefs, but those folks sure do know how to tip!”
Cliff Notes takeaway: Christians skew stingy.
(It should be added: statistically, most Christians are stingy with their churches too).
But wait! The world Justin Lee longs for exists not in a Platonic ideal but in the Christian past.
This is from Julian the Apostate. Julian became Emperor of Rome in the 4th century after the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Empire. Julian was Rome’s equivalent of a Christian Conservative, attempting to return his nation to the faith of its founding, in this case, paganism.
To his incredulity, Julian found that a harder nut to crack than he’d anticipated.
Despite Christianity being a nascent, counterintuitive religion, Julian couldn’t persuade his countrymen to return to the faith of their heritage.
Not because Christians had correct, compelling dogma.
Not because they advocated the right political positions.
Not because they offered impressive facilities or helpful services.
No, Christianity flourished because Christians were…
To the point of shaming and in turn wowing all other people.
Here’s Julian’s complaint in letter form about Christians, trying to bolster his own pagan priests:
“The religion of the Greeks does not yet prosper as I would wish, on account of those who profess it. But the gifts of the gods are great and splendid, better than any prayer or any hope . . . Indeed, a little while ago no one would have dared even to pray for a such change, and so complete a one in so short a space of time
Why then do we think that this is sufficient and do not observe how the kindness of Christians to strangers, their care for the burial of their dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause?
Each of these things, I think, ought really to be practiced by us. It is not sufficient for you alone to practice them, but so must all the priests in Galatia without exception.
Erect many hostels, one in each city, in order that strangers may enjoy my kindness, not only those of our own faith but also of others whosoever is in want of money. I have just been devising a plan by which you will be able to get supplies.
For I have ordered that every year throughout all Galatia 30,000 modii of grain and 60,000 pints of wine shall be provided. The fifth part of these I order to be expended on the poor who serve the priests, and the rest must be distributed from me to strangers and beggars.
For it is disgraceful when no Jew is a beggar and the impious Christians support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our coreligionists are in want of aid from us.
Do not therefore let others outdo us in good deeds while we ourselves are disgraced by laziness; rather, let us not quite abandon our piety toward the gods . . .
Above all you must exercise philanthropy. From it result many other goods, and indeed that which is the greatest blessing of all, the goodwill of the gods . . .
We too ought to share our goods with all men, but most of all with the respectable, the helpless, and the poor, so that they have at least the essentials of life.”
Cliff Notes takeaway:
The best way to get nonbelievers to profess “I believe in the Risen Savior” is to get nonbelievers to say “Look at those Christians, they’re so…