It has been said that the last thing most of us surrender to God is our money. The records of Christian churches, missions and charities indicate an alarming failure by Christians to live out what is revealed in scripture. The aim of this CROSSFIRE is to discuss the motivation for and the practical methods of giving money to Christian work.
Why should I give?
It would be easy to answer this question by saying, "Because God says you should!" While that is true it will be helpful to dig a little deeper so that our motives rest on a surer foundation. As ever in the Christian life we come back to our relationship with God. Whether seen in terms of sonship to our Heavenly Father, our union with the Lord Jesus Christ or our indwelling and filling by the Holy Spirit, the emphasis again and again is that we belong to Him. "I no longer
live", says Paul "But Christ lives in me". The apostle describes himself as a bond-slave of Jesus Christ, someone with absolutely no personal rights whatever, completely and utterly in the hands of his Lord and Master. Despite this position of submission Paul seems delighted at the prospect rather than resentful about it. Indeed he is constantly urging his readers to give themselves utterly in full surrender to Christ. Only as we follow this exhortation do we appreciate the full riches of being a Christian. Implicit in this is the recognition that all we have, as well as all that we are, belongs to God. Therefore, when we move into the area of Christian giving we cannot think of ourselves as benign benefactors or philanthropists; we are merely allocating portions of Another's money to various needs. When a company makes a successful takeover bid it is free to do whatever it pleases with the acquired firm's resources. Jesus Christ has redeemed us lock, stock and barrel and this must include our money, possessions and earning power. This is the springboard from which Christian giving takes off.
Law or Grace?
Now some will rightly point out that Christians live under grace not under law; therefore, they would say the Old Testament laws of tithing are quite irrelevant to the Christian. This is a half truth. Tithing is still the guiding principle but our giving is motivated not by a sense of "I must" but "I am thrilled to". This is part of the response of love. Nobody has to give his fianc e an engagement ring, no court will take him to task if he fails to do so, but just try to stop the young man who is so deeply in love with the girl he wants to marry. It is no hardship to him to save up and buy her the finest ring he can afford. So it is with Christians, "we love Him because He first loved us and sent His Son into the world that we might live through Him".
The root issue of self-centredness
We must recognise that the factors that militate against our joyful giving towards Christian work derive from self-centredness. Self-centredness is the essence of sin. It manifests itself in a myriad of ways; lack of faith; my comfort coming before the comfort of another; a pre-occupation with my own situation and ambitions whilst disregarding the purposes and will of God. Money is powerful stuff. Money talks, it opens doors, it can make for comfort, prestige and power. It can make more money. For these very reasons, though it is innocent in itself, it is one of the key areas where the conflict between "I" and "He", "Mine" and "His" has to be resolved. This is why Satan will do all he can to help us rationalise our meanness and our robbery (Malachi 3: 8 RSV) to make it seem sensible and necessary. How many of us have resolved to get our Christian giving sorted out "when this little financial crisis has blown over" but it never has! How rightly does scripture speak of bringing the first-fruits and of sorting out on the first day of the week the money we shall put aside for the Lord's work. If we do not deal with "His" money first, then by the time we have planned the spending of "our" money there will be nothing left for Him. It is, anyway, all His so it is only right that He should have the first cut!
Some principles involved
Now let us examine the principles of giving a little further. Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20: 35) - a key principle because it is so typical of the Father. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt 6: 21) - what a give-away when we spend so much time adjusting our share portfolio, building society and bank accounts and so little investing in more long-term ventures in the eternal city! Jesus said,
"Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For with the measure that you use it will be measured to you again by God". Many will testify to the evident link between generosity in giving and spiritual blessing received. This is not to say that we should give for what we are going to "get out of it", but it is so typical of the Lord that, when we respond to Him from our heart, He can't resist the longing to bless us. This develops a sort of benign (opposite of vicious?) circle in which His response of love evokes a greater love in us and so on. Jesus said, "I tell you that this poor widow put more in the box than all the others" (Mark 12: 43). Jesus is watching what we give and the attitude towards Him that our giving reveals.
Paul spent some effort in describing to the ebullient Corinthian church what is involved in Christian giving. In his first letter in Chapter 16 there is some instruction showing how a specific financial need was to be met. It will be noted that this giving was systematic
and properly organised on a regular basis so that there would be no sudden demands made. Good stewardship is marked by faithfulness (1 Cor 4: 2) not by random bursts of activity. In the second letter in Chapter 8 he exhorts his readers, using the stimulus of the Macedonian Christians, the secret of whose sacrificial generosity sprang from "First they gave themselves to the Lord; and then, by God's will they gave themselves to us as well" (2 Cor 8: 5). There
was no legalism here, simply the bubbling over of a rich experience of the living God - Paul says that they begged for the privilege of having a part in helping God's people in Judea! Paul emphasises that the principle of proportion should be recognised - "God will accept
your gift on the basis of what you have to give not on what you haven't" (2 Cor 8: 12). He points our that for Christians there may well be some ebb and flow - sometimes on the giving end, sometimes on the receiving end (verse 13/14).
Paul in Chapter 9 reminds them of the principle of sowing and reaping - "Remember that the person who sows few seeds will have a small crop; the one who sows many seeds will have a large crop" (verse 6). Those who are flourishing spiritually always seem to be among the most generous, whilst those who are floundering give little or nothing. In verse 7 Paul summarises the attitude of the giver - "as he has decided", he has thought and prayed about it and got it worked out - "not with regret", this would show a love of money inconsistent with love for the Lord - "not out of a sense of duty; for God loves those that give gladly." The reward for those who cheerfully give to the Lord what is His anyway is part of divine mathematics - "God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause". This reasoning would baffle the chartered accountant but Christian experience will verify it.
Paul concludes by mentioning some of the results that will come. First and most obviously, needs are met. There are vast areas of need and opportunity which continue to be unmet because of the meanness of God's people. The results of these needs being met is an outpouring of grateful thanks to God (verse 12). The final thought is so beautiful as to be quoted direct - "And so with deep affection they will pray for you because of the extraordinary grace God has shown you. Let us thank God for His priceless gift!"
To whom should I give?
As Christians, our first call is clearly the support of Christian ministry. This does not mean that we should ignore deserving charitable work in which we have a particular interest. Examples would be Service and professional benevolent funds, charities maintaining services that we might need to call upon (Royal National Lifeboat Institute!!) and local charitable work. These are legitimate obligations but our first priority is God's work. Taking the Biblical emphasis on spreading the Gospel, many Christians feel it right to support at least one overseas mission. It is sensible to concentrate one's interests and support; this may involve giving time and prayer as well as money. Being in the Service environment it is natural to expect a keen interest to be taken in Christian work both in the individual's particular Service and in the other two. Likewise this interest should extend both sides of the officer/other rank boundary. A third category would be one's local church. The proportion directed here will depend to some extent upon how the money is to be used since not all churches disburse their funds to causes that necessarily reflect a purely Christian emphasis. The fourth category includes more world-wide social concern where disaster and famine needs are crying to be met. It is important to ensure that moneys given reach the intended recipient since it is sadly true that much that is given to this kind of work finds its way into the wrong pockets. TEAR Fund is a Christian relief fund
that is scrupulously careful to ensure that needs are met on the spot. OCU members have several times been involved with particular projects. The fifth category are the various para-church groups like Scripture Union, UCCF (formerly IVF) and the rest that do so much to help Christians
at large. A few generations ago such work did not exist and it is all too easy to assume that this work will always go on, but like every other Christian work, it needs prayer and funds.
There are several ways to give money whereby tax has been, or can be, recovered:
- Covenant with a charity. This is the most common method. The donor undertakes to give out of taxed income a fixed amount each year for a minimum of 4 years, and the charity recovers the income tax paid on it. In these days of inflation an extra covenant can be taken out after a year or two, or a larger covenant can be substituted for the existing one. The objection that some people have is that they are committed to giving to a particular charity for at least 4 years. Covenants may be prematurely terminated as explained below.
- Block/Deposit Covenants. Lump sums can be donated by those, for example, who prefer NOT to enter into a protracted commitment, yet, by simple documentation the Charity can benefit also from recovery of the related Income Tax element. At present OCU prefer that sums to be so processed are not less than 100.
- Using a charitable trust for income distribution. An annual amount can covenanted to one of the various trusts set up to facilitate giving to charity. The trust recovers the tax, and adds it to the amount available for distribution. The donor can arrange with the trust for standing amounts to be given to particular charities, and other amounts can be given at any time within the total available. The trust makes a small charge to cover the administrative costs, typically
3% of the gross amount given<186>.
- Using a charitable trust for gifts of Capital. Stocks and shares, property or capital, may be given to a charitable trust free of capital gains and capital transfer tax up to 100,000 if the donor dies within one year, but otherwise unlimited, and the interest and dividends will then be available for distribution to charity. The trust will recover the tax paid, and add it to the amount available. This method is particularly attractive to those who pay investment income surcharge and/or higher rate tax. Conditions vary between trusts. The amount charged for administration is typically between 1 and 3% of the gross interest received.<185>
- Setting up a personal trust. It is possible to set up a personal trust, with similar object ives to above, administered by the donor. It will probably be necessary to employ a solicitor to set the trust up.
Supporting a missionary
Money can be given to the missionary's society as a designated gift for their individual support. If you wish to support missionaries in general, money should be given to the OCU Missionary Fund, which sends funds to a number of missionaries in turn, these missionaries being ex-service officers in most cases.
Supporting other OCU/OCFs
Other OCU/OCFs can be supported by donating to the OCU International Fund, and tax can be recovered upon covenanted gifts. Money can also be given to the International Fund to promote other work in this field, such as in bringing officers of other countries to British or International conferences.
- Who can do it?
Anyone who pays standard rate tax in the UK can enter into one or more of the schemes described, and remember that for tax purposes a man and wife can be treated as one, so that a non-earning wife can take out a covenant based on her husband's
income. All covenanted sums have to be shown on one's annual tax return so that the Inland Revenue can check that sufficient tax is being paid to finance the covenants in force.
- What is a covenant worth?
This will depend upon the standard rate of tax in force at any time. For 1 given, the charity can recover an additional sum from the Inland Revenue which equates to the tax paid in earning that sum [eg. an extra 43p when the tax rate is 30%].
- Termination of covenants.
All covenants are automatically terminated on death of the donor. If a donor is hard up or wishes to cease giving to a particular charity, the charity should be informed and asked to accept postponement of the payments due. It is unlikely that the charity will insist upon the covenant being completed, and the postponement can last indefinitely. If the donor no longer pays tax, money can still be given to the charity, but postponement of payments on the
deed of covenant should be arranged.
Suggested further reading:
"Money Talks" by Tom Rees
"Giving Again" by David Bubbers
"The Stewardship of Money" by Fred Mitchell
"Giving is good for you" by Malcolm Widdecombe
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