This is the first in a short series of articles about giving, started by an old article written by Asher Intrater, which you can read here.
In this article we are going to consider the motive with which people give. Having been in Messianic Jewish and church groups for over twenty years, I have lost count of how many times I have heard people extolling the virtue of giving to Israel-based projects or ministries, or – still enthusiastically, but much less vociferously – to diaspora ministries whose purpose is Jewish evangelism.
When people are asked why they are so keen to donate to these types of ministries, if they haven’t already volunteered the information, many will cite God’s words to Abraham:
Genesis 12:3 I will bless those who bless you
They are also usually very specific in quoting just those first few words of the verse and not the rest of the verse that refers to a corresponding reciprosity in cursing, and all the families of the earth being blessed in Abraham. Often words to the effect either of, “Who wouldn’t want to be blessed” or “I don’t want to be cursed” accompany this. As an old campaigner, I have heard these words and the accompanying tone of voice too often for this to be simply coincidence. There are two things going on here that need a little thought: motivation and applicability.
The first issue is that of motivation. Is giving to Israel or Jewish ministries actually self-serving? Do people bless simply in order to be blessed? Is this another variation of the vending-machine view of God? If I put in the right money, I’ll get out a chocolate bar. Yeshua spoke clearly to this attitude when He taught:
Luke 14:12-14 When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.
If we simply give so that we may receive a blessing, what good is that? Essentially, we haven’t given anything, we have simply attempted to buy God’s favour.
The second thing is whether these words actually apply to believers in Yeshua at all. In Abraham’s case, they clearly speak of the nations, of those who are ‘other’, not Abraham or his family. Yet “In Christ”, which is one of Paul’s favourite ways of describing those who follow Yeshua – whether Jew or Gentile – is equated with being children of Abraham. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains that:
Galatians 3:7 it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.
He goes on to quote the last phrase of Genesis 12:3 – “In you shall all the nations be blessed”, deducing that:
Galatians 3:9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Christians, then, are part of Abraham’s family and so receive the blessings from the nations. Likewise, they are to be God’s agents in returning His blessing on them. There is no blessing in helping a family member with their finances or resources – it is just what family members do for each other.
When we give, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9, we should do so cheerfully and willingly, as we have prepared to give week by week. We should make a clear gift, not expecting any return or reward either in this life of the next, without encumbrances or obligations upon the recipients about how or where the gifts are given. Missions find non-designated donations much more useful than those that are designated to a particular project or cause. This allows them the maximum flexibility in how the funds can be used without needing to come back to the donors to ask if the funds may be re-applied to another project or area of work.
We have evidence in the Bible of the diaspora communities of the first century providing famine relief to the believers in the Land during a time of famine:
Acts 11:29-30 So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Paul wrote in several letters about this practice continuing:
Romans 15:26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.
1 Corinthians 16:3 … when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.
This was a normal Jewish practice already undertaken by the existing Jewish communities around the Mediterranean. Paul extends the obligation to the Gentile membership of the Yeshua-believing communities, saying:
Romans 15:27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.
Notice that Paul’s words could equally apply to diaspora expressions of Jewish faith in Messiah that are serving and blessing the local churches and congregations. They too should be supported by Gentile congregations who receive teaching and blessing from them.
So What Should I Do?
It is important that the part of the Body of Messiah that has gives to help support those parts of the Body of Messiah that do not have. We should be prepared to assist those parts of the family or household of faith that have a vision or a need that is beyond their means to supply. We should also
seek the guidance of the Spirit as to where He wants the kingdom resources to be deployed. This may change from time to time and we must listen for His instructions.
Giving to projects that work to bring Jewish people to faith in Yeshua is a good thing to do. So is giving to ministries that work around the world to share the gospel, feed the poor, protect the vulnerable, heal the sick and provide teaching and education. All these are close to God’s heart.
We should always check our motives to ensure that we are giving selflessly, not seeking or expecting a blessing in return. We should give in good measure, as we have been blessed, without depriving those local to us or those who are dependent upon us.