At this time of year, it can seem like a lot is asked of you. While much of the Christmas season in the U.S. is rooted in consumerism, there are some tangible (and profound) reasons why Christians give. By taking hold of these truths, we can honor God through our donating and gift giving.
At the start of our "Living for Jesus This Christmas" series, here are four reasons why Christians give.
Creation itself testifies to the giving Spirit of God. In the beginning, God creates (Genesis 1–2). The act of creation is rooted in love and compassion: When God sees that Adam may be lonely, he creates a companion in Eve (Genesis 2:18–25).
From the divine imagination, comes creation. And God looks at his creation and gives again. Everything good in our world is based in giving.
But after creation, humanity went astray and mucked it all up. This put us humans out of alignment with God; and it put us out of alignment with the intention of God's creation (Genesis 3).
God once again looks at his creation and decides on a solution; he decides to give. That solution is the gift of Jesus (God the Son). And that's what we celebrate at Christmas time: God becoming flesh in Jesus (Luke 1–2). In Jesus, we have salvation (John 1; 3:16).
In Jesus, we see the miraculous. But the way God comes in flesh should tell us something: Out of what seems to be ordinary, God will do the extraordinary. God chooses an ordinary Jewish family and the savior is born in an ordinary place, in impoverished circumstances. The miraculous comes through the unexpected.
God certainly provides via the completely miraculous: We see this when God provides for the Hebrew people while they're roaming in the wilderness (Exodus 16). But more often than not, God uses other people to bring about his provision. And that also seems pretty ordinary.
This is why Paul pleads with the Corinthian church to honor their obligation to help the impoverished church in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 9:1–15). He knows that God will use ordinary people to accomplish his work. Paul himself also depended on other people when he was imprisoned and mentions these types of moments often in his letters (e.g., Philemon 1; Philippians 5:25).
When people helped Paul, or those he advocated for (like the Jerusalem church), they themselves were changed. Paul emphasizes this:
"You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11 NIV).
Generosity gives us an opportunity to honor God with what he has given us. It enriches our souls. Paul explains this another way earlier in this same passage:
"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:6–8 NIV).
We as Christians are expected to steward the resources we are given. If we give generously, God will give generously to us. That giving from God may not come in the ways our culture can measure, but it will come.
At the core of the Christian value is a value of giving. Let's give this Christmas season.
Jesus fought against poverty and regularly advocated that his followers do the same. Jesus’ ministry can be characterized as one of faith in action. He had faith that the evil that causes poverty can be beat. And he asked that we be people who fight against poverty.
Here are seven life-changing sayings from Jesus about the impoverished and poverty in general. Read them slowly and let the meaning of each sink in.
First and foremost, poverty was personal for Jesus. He was born poor, lived among the poor, and advocated for the poor.
Jesus also shows us that poverty is not merely a nameless thing we fight; it's advocating for people, living in real relationship with them. Fighting poverty is relational.
Poverty should also be personal to us. If we are to call ourselves Christians, we must take action to alleviate poverty.
Jesus cared deeply about the poor. We, as his followers, must do the same. We must embrace the God who came as a poor man, lived as a poor man, and died as a poor man.
Jesus gives us the power to fight both spiritual and physical poverty. When he came as a poor man and died as a poor man and rose as a poor man, he beat evil itself. He gave us the power to beat whatever difficulties we may face.
Jesus is good news to the poor. We must act on Jesus' values—loving others with everything we have, in every moment, in proclamation of the eternal life Jesus offers.
This article is adapted in part from my earlier article: "7 of Jesus' Life-Altering Sayings about the Poor."
When Jesus looks at the world, he sees what can be. Jesus shows us what the kingdom of heaven looks like and asks us to live its principles here on earth. This means turning normal personal economics upside down. This is what Jesus' economy looks like. Here are five ways you can live Jesus' economy.
When Jesus first called his disciples, they dropped everything to follow him:
“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him” (Mark 1:16–20 ESV).
Jesus’ earliest followers literally dropped their livelihoods to follow him—they completely dedicated themselves to him. Similarly, we are called to make sacrifices for Jesus—to show others love by giving, praying, and investing in them. For Jesus, belief and actions are one and the same—you cannot have one without the other. We must be willing to give whatever Jesus asks of us.
To a young rich man, Jesus says:
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21; see 19:16–30 ESV).
Regarding a poor widow who put a seemingly insignificant amount of money into the offering box, Jesus says:
“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43–44; see 12:41–44 ESV).
The currency of Jesus’ kingdom is different than ours. Jesus’ currency is self-sacrifice and love.
To a man with a recently lost love one, Jesus said:
“’Follow me.’ But [the man] said [to Jesus], ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:59–60 ESV).
Jesus was right there, calling him in person. And this meant the man had to act now. We all have these moments in life: When Jesus tells us to act now, and we have to take him seriously when he says so.
For Jesus, it’s all about God’s kingdom. For us, it too should be all about God’s kingdom. From a different man, Jesus hears:
“‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:61–62 ESV).
There are no hesitations in service to God’s kingdom and there is no looking back—it’s all about what God is doing here and now. It’s all about putting our hand to the plow of God’s work. If you love God, you love the kingdom and you love people. If you love the kingdom, you’re not going to ask yourself what else is important: you’re going to just live for the kingdom.
At the end of it all, Jesus notes that he will recognize those who follow him by whether or not they are caring for the impoverished, outsider, and marginalized. This is what the "least of these" passage is about (Matthew 25:31–46).
Jesus has also given us a mandate to bring the gospel to those who are yet to hear his name. Jesus' economy is not just about alleviating physical poverty; it's also about alleviating spiritual poverty. Jesus tells us to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19–20).
God has asked us to demonstrate our belief by bringing good news to those who feel hopeless. We are called to drop everything for him. This is what Jesus’ economy is all about: envisioning what the world could look like and joining God in the process of making that vision a reality.
Jesus has called us to join him in his work—to believe in it with all we have. The cost may be hard to bear or understand at times, but when it’s put in the perspective of all that Christ has done for us—dying for our sins—it seems like very little.
When God calls us to something great, it is immediately followed by a faith decision. Similarly, every action towards making our world a better place is a faith decision.
For example, when we go about alleviating poverty or bringing the gospel to the unreached, we’re placing faith in what can be. We are looking at the current situation, calling it “not good enough,” and then acting to create a better situation. When Jesus calls us to help the poor, he expects a faith-based and faithful response. This response requires understanding our place in the world.
Jesus’ disciples were not expected to leave the world, but to be part of it—and to be vehicles of change in it. Jesus makes this point in his final prayer for his disciples:
“I do not ask that you take them [my disciples] out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth—your word is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:15–18 LEB).
From the beginning of our faith walk to the end of it in this life, our journey is about being in this world, as actors of change. Faith is not a journey that is about removing ourselves from this place, but one about bringing God’s kingdom to this place. It’s a chance to make change happen that matters—to be empowered to change the course of history for the better.
What we do with faith is as important as coming to faith, for what we do once we come to Jesus is what makes a difference in the lives of others. It’s where change for the betterment of our world occurs.
How is your faith connected to your actions? Is your faith changing the way you live each day, and the way you help others?
This post originally appeared under the title "The Unfathomable Power of Faith."
When the storms of life come our way, when pain suddenly hits, we look to God for answers. But in the process, are we truly asking God the right questions? Are we looking for salvation from the struggle, when we should be asking God to join us in the midst of the storm? Changing the question can change everything.
Drawing on my own experience dealing with the storms of life, and the larger issues our world is facing, I examine John 6:16-21, when Jesus walks on water. I then compare the passage to the other gospel accounts to show how Jesus wishes to join us in our struggles.
This sermon was originally delivered at The Table, a missional church plant, in Bellingham, Washington on October 23, 2016.
Our world is more interconnected than ever before. We could legitimately provide every last person on our planet with access to the gospel in our lifetimes. Here’s why I believe that.
We have better technology at our disposal than ever before. And we can leverage this to bring the gospel to the unreached.
Today, I can video chat with a church planter in the developing world from Washington state. Google Hangouts and Skype gave us all that ability. Potentially, I could on a video call answer a biblical question of a church planter in the field—in a remote village, because pretty soon, 3G and 4G is going to be everywhere. That’s at least the plan of big tech companies—with their efforts empowered by a space company who can now send reusable rockets to space to launch satellites. This is the age we live in, one where any person on the planet can potentially connect to any other person in seconds.
All the sudden, the issue of training and empowering church planters is far simpler than it has ever been. And the interconnection between those who sponsor church planters and the church planters themselves is greater than it has ever been.
Imagine the potential for global discipleship in this world. I first realized this when I was sitting next to a church planter in Bihar, India and he showed me the screen of his Motorola flip phone. On the screen was my bio on JesusEconomy.org. He said, this is you, right? I was first surprised by how good our website looked on his phone—leave it to me to notice that first. But my second thought is what changed my life: If this guy can look up my bio on his phone, right here while we’re talking, what if I put a study Bible in his hand? What if I gave him a full Bible dictionary and a Bible translation? What if I gave him Bible studies in his native language? And, of course, we can do this. We could even send him video courses on SD cards. We could put any piece of information in his hand.
This is our world. It is more interconnected than ever before. And it means completely rethinking missions.
If our churches thought long and hard about their budgets, we could—like the churches of Paul’s day—pool our resources to bring the gospel to the unreached corners of our world (see Romans 15:26–29). If we sponsored indigenous church planters, it’s surprisingly cost-effective to fund missions.
The church should be innovating in this space. And in the process, we should be thinking holistically about how we approach poverty and reaching the unreached—thinking about how we care for a person’s soul, mind, and body. We should be leveraging every opportunity possible to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
The fact that the gospel has not reached every people group on our planet is an injustice. And it’s an injustice we can correct.
Likewise, it’s an injustice that the people of our planet do not have clean water. And with technology we can do something about. It’s an injustice that everyone on the planet does not have access to economic opportunities. And in this world, in this time, we can do something about.
Justice is a central cry of the Bible. The works of the prophets are full of calls to create a more just world (Micah 6:8; Isaiah 1:16; Jeremiah 22:3; Amos 5:23–24). Isaiah put it this way: “Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!” (Isaiah 1:16 LEB).
Jesus himself told us that he will distinguish between those who truly know him and those who do not by what they do for the marginalized, outsider, prisoner, and impoverished (Matthew 25:37–40). And we know from James that true religion is loving the hurting and the poor—the widow and the orphan (James 1:26–27).
Indeed, it is unjust when a child has to go without clean water, healthcare, or education. It is unjust when a parent doesn’t have access to a fair paying job that can lift their family out of poverty. It is unjust that there are millions of people who have never heard the name of Jesus. Let’s do something about it.
Let’s innovate the bring about a future of missions where every last person has heard the name of Jesus and experienced his love.
How should Christians handle business, money, and address poverty? What should be our perspective? I address these questions by examining Luke 16, which is one of Jesus' most difficult parables. Luke 16 has perplexed interpreters for years but its message is life changing. I delivered this sermon at The Table, a missional church plant in Bellingham, Washington on May 8, 2016.
Every narrative, every act, is a call and response related to faith. Faith in—or for some, faith in nothing at all—is a thread that weaves throughout our lives. Jesus of Nazareth recognized this and questioned the religious status quo; he confronted people who used religion for power and gain.
Jesus was a rabbi whose followers believed he was God incarnate and who sacrificed their own lives to represent his teachings—they refused to back down from his message of love and the claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. This is how incredible Jesus was—that he prompted a movement of people dedicated to living sacrificially for the sake of others. In their minds, love had come down as Jesus and changed everything about their lives. They believed that Jesus’ resurrection had given them freedom to live in full relationship with God and to spread his message of love and peace over the sword and hate.
Jesus articulated the incredible power of love. He spoke of how religion can and should be used for bringing love and peace to our world (Matthew 5:9; 22:37–40; compare Matthew 26:52). Because God is love, as Jesus' follower John put it (1 John 4:8).
Religion, though, tends to distort the eternal message of love for power and individual gain. Religion has been wrongly used to justify the Crusades, slavery, segregation, and acts of terror.
Each of us needs to represent, in our actions, a better solution. We need to express our belief in self-sacrificial love.
Jesus is an example of someone who faced oppressive religion and said, “You've heard this ‘hate your enemy’ and ‘get an eye for an eye’ ... but I tell you this: Love your neighbor, including your enemy” (see Matthew 5:38–48).
We can summarize much of Jesus’ message as: Be generous to those who persecute you, condemn you, stand against you. Live sacrificially, for the betterment of the impoverished, marginalized, outsider.
Jesus called the rich, the powerful, and each and every person, to account (see Matthew 5–7; 23). He says to live self-sacrificially for the marginalized and to practice a faith rooted in serving others. Jesus even claims that this type of love is how he will recognize his true followers (see Matthew 25:31–46). Something to ponder there—sacrificial love is how Jesus recognizes those who know him.
In one of Jesus’ last messages to his disciples before his crucifixion, he focuses on serving others. With his carpenter’s hands, he washes the dirty feet of his disciples (see John 13:1–17). This is a living testimony of sacrificial love. He shows them what true love means.
Just prior to his arrest, Jesus says, “love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13 LEB adapted).
These teachings are, in large part, what led to Jesus being crucified. He called those in power to change their ways and they killed him for it. Jesus died for this love and for the full weight of every wrongdoing we commit against our brothers and sisters.
Later, the book of James will summarize this message of love as: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27 LEB adapted).
Let us live as people who don't give into the pressure of our world to place ourselves before others—let's not let that nonsense stain our vibrant colors of love. Let's place the refugee, outsider, impoverished, imprisoned, and voiceless before ourselves. Let’s answer the call of love in word and deed (compare the book of James). This should be the narrative of religion woven through our lives, through our existence.
Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice. And his currency is love. This is true religion.
Charity is central to the Bible’s message. But did the biblical writers intend for us to give every time we’re asked? I don’t think so.
If you’re in a room full of Christians discussing charity, you can almost guarantee that you will hear someone quote this line from Jesus:
“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42 NIV).
At first reading, it certainly seems like Jesus is telling us that every time we’re asked for charity that we should give. But this verse is not actually about charity. Let’s look at the larger context. Just before Matthew 5:42, Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:38–41 NIV).
Jesus is first addressing how we handle a conflict or dispute. He is telling us that it’s simply not worth it to spend your life in a court battle, seeking revenge, or attempting to take justice into your own hands. Jesus is also telling us to be generous, even to those who treat us poorly. The larger question about this passage, then, is not what we should do with Jesus’ view on charity but what we should do with Jesus’ view on lawsuits, revenge, and those inconvenience or wrong us. And how about those who ask for a loan but don’t deserve one? That’s what Matthew 5:42 is really about.
Jesus is still suggesting unbelievable generosity; in fact, he is suggesting we show incredible love to even those who wrong us. But we can’t, for example, use this passage to justify giving every homeless fellow on the street money. Wouldn’t God have us use more intelligence in our giving? Paul the apostle has some thoughts on this.
The issues that happen with charity today are not new. As long as charity has existed, there have been people who misuse it and abuse it.
An early example occurred at the church at Thessalonica. Paul the apostle tells the Thessalonian Christians:
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 NIV).
There were some among the church at Thessalonica who refused to work (see 2 Thessalonians 3:7–11). Paul knew that a swift action had to be taken to stop the abuse of charity. He goes on to say:
“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10–12 NIV).
Paul’s rule is simple: If you’re able to work and there are available jobs, you should work—you don’t need charity. Charity was a mainstay of the early church (see Acts 6:1–7). Thus, it’s easy to envision how some in the community had decided that they simply no longer needed to work. There may have been some other theological confusion involved (compare 2 Thessalonians 2:3–5), but the plethora of available charity certainly seems to have been a contributing factor.
The problems with charity at Thessalonica also involved people finding themselves with too much time on their hands—and thus becoming “busybodies.” That’s Paul’s not-so-technical way of saying: “They’re sinning, and causing you trouble, because you made it easy for them to do so.”
If we continue to give handouts to those who refuse to work, we will continue to see an abuse of charity. We will also continue to see other problems in our churches and society. That is the conclusion of Paul’s logic—and it’s a lesson we need to take to heart.
But this doesn’t stop Paul from suggesting that people give or consider the impoverished (see Romans 15:25–29; 2 Corinthians 9). Instead, Paul is suggesting a more intelligent approach be built into our giving. Paul is suggesting accountability and real, authentic relationships that call people to a higher standard.
When it comes to giving, we should be intelligent in our approach. The biblical solution is to love people sincerely, which requires making them more than charity cases who receive handouts. The biblical answer is to be generous but smart.
“When you give … do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). This saying epitomizes the mystery of Jesus’ sayings. What does Jesus really mean by this saying?
This oft-quoted saying of Jesus comes from the middle of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). This long sermon is full of parables, proverbs, rebukes, and commands. The Sermon on the Mount, in many ways, functions as the center of Jesus’ practical teaching—his teachings about how Christians should live. Thus, when we attempt to understand any one part of it, we must ask ourselves: What does Jesus want to teach us, practically?
Jesus opens this particular section of the sermon with a caution:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1 ESV).
There are some people who only do good when it can be seen. Their goal is to be recognized for their generosity. We need look no further than the monopolizers, Rockefeller and Carnegie, to see an illustration of this type of giving. Rockefeller and Carnegie were even in a competition for who could give the most—who could out philanthropize the other one. But their efforts were not merely about giving; it was about empire building. They were trying to create lasting legacies in their own names, so that they could live forever in the annuals of history. And it worked.
Does Jesus’ rebuke mean that the philanthropic labors of Rockefeller and Carnegie were in vain? Certainly not. There are many great things in our world that only happened because of the generosity of Rockefeller and Carnegie—whole non-profits and institutions owe their start to Rockefeller and Carnegie.
But where is the reward for efforts done for the sake of recognition? They are left right here on earth, where they occur. Jesus makes clear that those who seek recognition get their reward here, not in heaven. Their reward is the praise of other people. Jesus elaborates on this, saying:
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:2 ESV).
Thinking of local Jewish leaders of the Pharisee and Sadducee party, Jesus uses the analogy of someone sounding a trumpet before giving to the impoverished. He could be alluding to some regular practice at the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus could be recognizing that most people made a very big deal about their giving. Without recognition, the wealthy likely thought they would lose some (perhaps even all) of the benefit. Jesus calls this type of behavior hypocritical. But why is it hypocritical? Answer: power.
Those who give out of a desire to be recognized are really seeking popularity. And popularity is a tool of power. If people believe you are generous, they are likely to be more trusting. And if they trust you, they will do business with you. For many wealthy people, this is why they give—respect of peers and their local community. Most often they give out of guilt (expectations) or to seek respect (power). And neither reason for giving aligns with God’s priorities.
Furthermore, giving is often a method of expressing power. If I supply for another person’s needs, especially when being recognized for doing so, the person I give to will feel indebted to me. At the very least, they will be forced to compromise some dignity in accepting my charity. Thus, for Jesus, the setting of giving was critical. He understood that all these things could be involved in the giving process.
This does not mean that giving done in vain is useless to God or his work. It can still be used for great good. But there is a better way. In this regard, Jesus says:
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3–4 ESV).
For Jesus, it’s all about intent. This is his concern. But does this mean that we should never give publicly? Does it mean that we should never tell the stories of those who give? What about the stories of those who receive? To answer these questions, the next section of Jesus’ sermon is enlightening.
Jesus’ view of prayer, which is explained in the next section of the sermon, is very similar to his view of giving (Matthew 6:5–8). He explains that prayer should be done in secret. Yet when it comes to prayer, we know that Jesus does not intend for us to merely pray in secret or to merely pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:6, 9–13). We know this because Jesus himself prayed publicly (e.g., John 11:41–42). And we practice public prayer, just as it has been practiced for thousands of years (and is reflected even in the book of Psalms).
When we read Jesus’ thoughts on prayer, we know that he is providing us with a model, a modus operandi. He is telling us that the majority of our prayers should be private—that we should seek an intimate relationship with God the Father. He is also telling us to be careful why we pray—to watch our intentions.
The same is true of Jesus’ view on giving. Intent is the guiding principle (see 2 Corinthians 9:6–7; Micah 6:8). We must ask: Why are we giving? When we expose our giving to others, why do we do so? When we tell the stories of the impoverished being empowered, why do we do so? Are we ensuring that each step is done with dignity, honesty, and for the right reasons? Are we seeking God’s glory or our own?
Our guiding principle should be giving privately. While we will at times make exceptions to the principle, we must only make exceptions for the sake of God’s glory and ministry. It must have a larger purpose and intent in mind. And we must continue to glorify God whenever recognition comes.
We must also trust God with our giving. Rather than contemplating the loss of funds, we must trust God with our donation to his ministry. We must watch the intent of our heart and make sure we are in a place of generosity. We must give out of a desire to do good for others and to glorify God in the process. This is Jesus’ way.