Our spirituality always has a physical concrete material expression. It is not enough to just tell a poor hungry man, “God bless you.”
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? James 2.16
In Isaiah 58, God even made a stronger illustration. He said, true fasting is not just about feeling sorrowful or putting on sackcloth or throwing ashes on your head. True fasting is also (I added that word, also) about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.
One fine African American lawyer said, in the end, God will not ask you how many you have evangelized, or how many churches you have planted (or how big was your congregation). In the end, what God will ask you is: did you cloth the naked, did you visit the prisoner, did you feed the hungry, etc. (see Matthew 25.31).
Our material possession is the main indicator of our spirituality. How we use our wealth says so much about how spiritual we are.
Today, we have wrong theologies about wealth. We think that wealth is measured by how much we have or possess or accumulated. But the bible measures our wealth by how much we have given away.
Today we look down on the poor and admire the rich. We equate wealth with righteousness and we think (and look down on the poor as a result) that poverty is equal to being cursed by God. We think that because we are rich, that therefore we are okay with God.
I had a friend came to me long ago. She was so excited to share about a blessing. Someone gave her a house and lot! I was envious. So I said, how do you know it came from God and not from Satan. She never talked to me again.
If we are envious, here is what a godly mentor told me one day (when he noticed me admiring his new BMW two door). He said, Raineer, at the end when Jesus returns and everything is burned with holy fire. The only difference between you and me is this: my pile of ashes will be bigger than your pile of ashes.
We can no longer say today, it is more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom than for a camel to enter the eye of a needle. We shame the poor and idolize the rich. Materialism has entered the church completely.
A pastor friend in Tampa, Florida rightly said that Americans know how to give but they do not know how to share. What is the difference? When we give, the recipient becomes merely the object of our charity or generosity. When we share, we declare to the world and to the recipient that we don’t own our wealth. We are only stewards.
Proof texting has made it possible to justify our wrong lifestyle using the Bible. The prosperity gospel is especially to blame. We can just select any bible verse or verses in the Bible to justify our excessive consumption or overly extravagant lifestyle. The cure for proof texting which is mainly a deductive approach is to use a thematic approach, utilising overarching themes like covenant and creation (see N.T. Wright). Immediately, our bible interpretations will stop being narcissistic or self-centered. Salvation after all is not about us, or about our happiness. We will not go to heaven when we die (damn the rest of the world). God called us to be vice-regents, to be stewards, so in the future we will rule over creation and this time, make it work. It is certainly opposed to the idea of everyman for himself, or my food is my food and my house is my house.
When we become Christians (born again), Jesus became Lord of our lives. As Lord, he decides everything. We turn over everything to Him so He also owns everything.
David said it poignantly when he was going to allocate land for the building of the temple.
But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it (the land). I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 2 Samuel 24.24
When we became Christians, Jesus became Lord and that meant that in everything, He makes the decision, not us. He decides whom I will marry, where I will work, how I spend my money, etc. The Lordship of Jesus penetrates into the most important dimension or level of my life and money happens to be the most important of them all.
Martin Luther thus said, there are three kinds of conversions: the conversion of the heart, the conversion of the mind and last, the conversion of the pocket. The last, he said, is the most difficult.
Jesus said it too,
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6.24
In 1Timothy 6:10 it says:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
As stewards, not owners, the rich cannot spend their money just as they wish. They cannot just buy an expensive car, just like that. They cannot just buy an expensive house (I did not say home because most of the time, the rich don’t even live in their expensive houses). Some rich houses are so big their toilets are bigger than most of the homes of most of the people in the world. They cannot just spend millions on an expensive vacation somewhere only the rich can afford.
Stewards don’t do that. Perhaps, it is intentional that there are many poor so that we will learn to give generously. Stewards are supposed to be God’s hands and feet to the world. It’s really an exciting job being steward.
Why rich Christians think wrongly on this, why they think they are owners, may come from a wrong belief about how wealth is generated. Many rich Christians look down on their poor Christian brothers, saying, if these poor brothers would only work as hard as we do and also be as smart as we are (which means, they want to teach the poor how to work harder and how to become smarter), they would cease being poor.
This is so wrong. For one, the poor actually work harder than the rich. Also, there is no scientific correlation between hard work/brilliance and becoming wealthy. We all know several people who work harder than Bill Gates and are so much smarter, but who are not rich.
The bible instead teaches that becoming wealthy is a gift from God.
When you enter the promised land, don’t forget when you have become wealthy, and you say to yourself, “it is my hard work and talent that has made me wealthy.” But instead remember the Lord your God, that he is the one who made you wealthy and so affirms his covenant with you (He will bless you and bring you to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey), which he swore to your ancestors, just as he is doing today. Deuteronomy 8.17
There is also a wrong belief that when Jesus said, the poor will always be with you, He was actually saying, it is useless to help the poor because there are just too many of them. Our helping will avail nothing because it will just be too little against too many poor.
This grew out of the assumption (thanks to Thomas Malthus who unfortunately was wrong) that there are not enough food or money or resources in the world for everyone. This is so wrong. There is enough food and resources for all.
When Jesus quoted that phrase from Deuteronomy 15, the real meaning was this: the poor will always be with us because we are greedy and we will not share.
10% of the people of the world own 90% of the wealth of the world is proof enough. If this does not scandalize you, I don’t know what will. The other proof is this: The biggest problem in America today is obesity. And all the food that Americans throw away is more than enough to prevent all the deaths in the world from hunger.
In the first three centuries of the church, it was even common for people to think that the rich did not own their wealth and that it was the poor who owned them. In short, they owed that wealth to the poor.
Many Christians who are rich think they have given tithes when they give 10% in their churches. But often, that money really went towards their own comfort. The rich rule the churches and they demand that the church building have an air-con, carpets and chandeliers. They also demand fat pay for their pastors so they can get the best preaching on Sundays. They want the best Sunday school teachers so their kids are taught and properly cared for while they worship. In short, they have not given to God, they have only given to themselves.
Actually, the poor give more than the rich do. The poor readily give more than 10% of their incomes. If we measure giving not in terms of amount but biblically, in terms of percentage, we easily see this. If I tell our congregation in our rich church that they must strictly give 10% of their incomes, half of the congregation will leave us.
I once preached in our rich church and a famous movie star (always so generous) responded by handing a check for a million pesos. We were shocked. But on closer analysis, it actually reflected less than 1% of her gross profit. When the rich give a million pesos, we want to elect them as elders. However, when the poor give 500 pesos to that rich church, we wont even issue him a proper receipt even if that represents more than 60% of his gross profit.
Some will try to wiggle their way out by asking, if that 10% is on gross or net of income. (Our wise pastor had a smart reply: do you want your blessings GROSS or NET?).
There are many kinds of giving but tithes or any offering is first dedicated to the poor. It is given to God in order to express righteousness in a concrete way. Yes, a portion is given for the salaries of those who teach the Word but like Paul, they also have to struggle with desiring to preach the Word for FREE!
In short, you still have not given your tithes at all. You have just given money for your self, your comfort. You still need to give your tithe, according to the Bible: to give it to the poor.
Here are different kinds of giving you might want to study.
The first kind of giving in the bible is the tithe or 10%. It is always on gross profit (not gross income, meaning, you remove cost of goods, although in the olden days, the harvest was counted on the gross income level without deducting the cost of seeds and planting).
There is a lot of faith involved here. If your faith grows when you give, then you have given correctly, in the right spirit, not legalistically.
When you graduate from the tithes (given to the poor and not to your church), now it is time to learn how to give joyfully. This is the second kind of giving.
Paul taught us to be cheerful givers. We must learn to laugh. Cheerful giving does not care at all about whether we give 10% or 5% or 40%. What matters is how joyful we are. Of course, if you are a sneaky bastard who just wants to get away with not giving at all, you can hide here but remember God can see your heart. So, this likely means, more than 10%!
The model woman at the end of Proverbs (what a wonderful way to end Proverbs; with a woman!!!), is described as someone who can LAUGH at tomorrow!
Giving is supposed to make us laugh (not with derision but with so much joy and freedom). If you can’t laugh when you give, then you cannot please God (especially if you are resentful or frowning when you give). The people described in Acts 5 illustrate this point:
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Our resentment is equal to withholding a portion of our money from our giving like Ananias and Sapphira.
We say this is the correct amount due to God but we are resentful. Then it is the same as not giving the correct amount at all. The reason is this. The money actually belongs to you and you are free to give or not to give. When you give with resentment, you are actually saying God is forcing you to give in a way making it appear God is stealing from you.
God wants a cheerful giver. The element of being forced to give must be farthest from your heart. The opposite of that is joyful giving. Our joy comes from being used by God to bless others. This comes from grace. We give to those who cannot give in return.
It is tempting to imagine a world where there are no needy people, no weak nor infirm or elderly. A society of robust, healthy and strong people is very attractive. That society can grow quickly and will have less problems. But really, we cannot live without the poor and we cannot mature without them. It is grace that makes us more than human. We become divine in the process when we are able to give to those who cannot give in return. This is also the dynamics working inside of God. Jesus could just have left, got up and went, when the going went rough, when we wanted to crucify him, but he did not. If he left, he would have denied himself. He would not be God anymore. God cannot help but love. This love is agape, a kind of love that loves even when we are not loved in return. It is not susceptible to the law of diminishing return.
The third form of giving is sacrificial giving. The Macedonians illustrated this: they gave beyond their means, freely, as I can testify, said Paul (2 Corinthians 8.3). It is likely more than what the cheerful giver gave and certainly more than 10%, or more than the normal tithing.
The American society will not let people live simply (no car, no house, no insurance, no medical insurance). They will kill you if you do. The word poor is actually contrived in America. Their society forces and makes people poor.
This is the way capitalism works. You must spend more than you earn or else the whole system will break down. It is spending that fuels capitalism. Everyone must be working themselves upward, towards becoming more wealthy, meaning, buying more, owning more and enjoying more.
There has to be several brands of cereals in the grocery even though a couple will suffice. We have to try the other more expensive steak or wine. If I wanted to go shopping in America, I just go to my relative’s garage to find what I want. People there buy so many things they don’t need and fill up their garage with it.
Buying an expensive car or a big house is also a status symbol. It is a direct disobedience to Jesus to live simply and give generously. American churches according to reliable statistics give less than Canada or the UK churches. Even the country is unable to give the agreed 1% of GDP they signed years back. Of the total giving of the church, less than 4% actually reach the poor.
How can we spend millions when millions are going to bed without their supper? If we are God’s hands and feet, we will think twice (even thrice) about how to spend our money. Living simply will be the first thing we will do (which means the Jaguar or the house in Alabang is already out).
We are more than hands and feet however. Abraham was called as one man but he was called to be a nation with people that no one could number. The Christians are first and foremost a people, the people of God, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. We are called to demonstrate the kingdom together as a people. We are called to be an alternative to the world’s system of greed and competition.
That is why we are called brothers and sisters. Although this has no meaning today, it is worth bringing it back to the church once more. This is a good way to bring about community in the church, a community that demonstrates kingdom living.
It is actually dangerous to have Christian house helpers or domestic helpers. We have millions of our Filipina in Hong Kong and Singapore and Saudi working as domestic helpers. They are often abused and paid miserably. Many will try to squeeze as much from them to try to get their money back so they wake them in the middle of the night or feed them close to nothing (there is a Singaporean couple just recently convicted for trying so hard to starve their house helper to death).
The rich do not need to seek equality with the poor. The rich often demand a tit for tat in most things. If the poor get one hundred pesos, they also want the same amount, if the poor get to ride, they also want the same treatment. The rich can just say, I don’t need such equal treatment because most of the time, I have money and they don’t, most of the time, I have more than enough food and they don’t even have food, and most of the time, I am riding comfortably in my own car and they either walk or commute.
The rich can thus afford to lose or be disadvantaged vis a vis the poor. In short, it is not necessary to always count your change or seek equal share. Justice often will look uneven or lopsided in those situations in favor of the poor. But what often happens is worse. The rich will try to squeeze as much from their servants or drivers to get as much service from them vis their salary in order to get their money’s worth.
Why is it dangerous to hire Christian house helpers? If you are a Christian and your helper is a Christian (or you have led her to Jesus Christ inadvertently). Then you are in trouble because she is really your sister in Christ and she is family now. She should sleep in a bed like yours, for this is the way you treat your own blood sister. She should also eat the same food as you do and even eat together with you during meal times because that’s what you would do to your own sister. You would not wake her in the middle of the night. In fact, you would even be very generous with her, giving her more than the lawful wages (which is the opposite of trying to squeeze as much service from her to try to get your money’s worth). This is how we demonstrate kingdom living to the world, by living as brothers and sisters.
Many Christians today who have Christian helpers or drivers or other, still treat them like slaves or servants, and not as brothers or sisters. When they worship in church, these servants are wearing their servant’s uniform and standing at attention waiting on them at the entrance or in the car outside the church. What should happen is this. These servants must sit side by side with them in the pews as they worship God because they are our brothers and sisters. This is the lesson in the Epistle of Paul to Philemon, that Onesimus and Philemon are now brothers and sisters, and no longer just slave and master.
The fourth kind of giving is a contest. We want to out give God. Although no one can out give God, God still invites us to do so. It is an Olympiad and He promises to always win. If we give one hundred, He will give one thousand. Oh, how exciting this contest is. It is only open to those whose hearts have been set free from material possessions.
The spirit behind our giving is always this contest (a contest between God and us). God loves contests. He wants us to put Him to the test (see if he will not open the windows of heaven if we give).
The contest is most apparent in the statement: give and it will be given back to you, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing. If you give a hundred, God will not be outdone, He will give two hundred. This is how the contest works.
I cannot count how many times God has out given me. Recently, I spoke in a doctoral class and they gave me an honorarium. I was with my team when we went to the slums where the class was held. So, on our way home, I gave all the honorarium to my teammates. They were so happy. But perhaps what they don’t know is that the day after, someone gave me three times what I gave away.
Our mission group has one favorite verse. It is more blessed to give than to receive. This is what has kept us alive and growing ever since. Our definition of success is weird because of this: that the poor becomes a giver and not just a receiver.
We minister exclusively to the poor and when we ask the poor to give, they give us that shocked look: why? We don’t even have enough and you tell us pa to give? Many of the poor will attend bible study, or accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior or even attend church every Sunday but they will not give.
After more than 25 years of work in the slums, we have seen that the poor when they are truly and genuinely saved, they will give generously. They have taught us that a sign they are saved is they will give.
I use this illustration to teach this truth: Look, Simon gives Juan a brand new cellphone. Does Juan have a blessing? Yes, they will all say. What about Simon, does he have a blessing also? Yes, he too has a blessing they would answer. But who has more blessings, Juan or Simon? They would scratch their heads and reluctantly say, Simon has more blessings because the bible says, it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Because of this, our community can always engage in a contest, of who can give more. We don’t just have a blessing because we have received something. We are blessed even more when we are able to give. Our wealth and possession are actually opportunities for us to give more. We should always aim to be channels of blessings and not (kapit tuko) hold on to them like geckos.
This was the power of Mother Teresa. It did not matter if you gave her one million dollars or ten million dollars. She will always spend all of them in one day. Her goal was always to be able to distribute all that as fast as she could. She did not even want to hire an accountant for fear that that would mean one person less helping in the distribution.
Paul taught something more radical actually. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul wrote these scary words: “Jesus, although He was rich, became poor in order to make others rich.” This is actually the model and momentum of the church. The church must seek to become poor. It is unbiblical for the church to have a surplus. The church like Mother Teresa must always seek to give everything away.
Someone may complain and say, this is unrealistic. How can we pay salaries and utilities if we become poor. Actually, for those who do not know God, this might be difficult. But if you have already experienced the contest I mentioned above, you wont even think this way.
We adopted this policy of Mother Teresa years back in Ondoy when the entire Metro Manila was flooded. It was the scariest moment in our lives. There were so many in distress and we tried to distribute relief goods as fast as we could. I think we received more than ten million pesos worth of relief goods in that period.
The poor came to our office desperate to help too. They said, they had no money to give to those in distress but they had hands and feet that could serve, repack, sort, lift and deliver. They wanted to take part in giving also. They came first light and stayed till midnight, coming back each day till the crisis was over.
We always made it a point that none of those good we received stayed with us for more than 24 hours. We told everyone, it would be a sin if that happened. So, when a call came midday for help from a community that had not received any help for three days, we panicked because all our relief goods had been distributed.
I called Suy Sing (a major supplier of grocery items) to deliver P40,000 pesos worth of goods we would deliver to that community in need. I could not really honestly afford that much purchase. I would use my credit car and perhaps repay over six months. I was really scared. And as Suy Sing staff was processing my purchase on the phone, a truck drove up filled with relief goods more than enough for that community in need. We were saved. I immediately withdrew my credit card.
The lesson is this, no one can out give God. No one is faster on the cheque than God. God will always be faster. We will never run out of money if our goal is to out give God (so money for salaries and utilities will never run out also).
Our community is composed of very poor people doing church planting. We have been able to plant many churches despite having no money. We are also growing in number each year. When our people complain (like in the desert with Moses) about how they have no more food to eat, we remind them that when they have money they stop praying and we are no longer able to plant churches.
The last form of giving is the most exciting one. I learned this from a beautiful couple (Anthony Pangilinan and Maricel Laxa). Years back, when their son was found to have a heart disease needing expensive surgery, many in the church helped and they were able to bring the child to America for the operation. After it was all over, Anthony stood on the pulpit to thank our church members. But he was angry. He said, many of you gave so now, I have to work hard to out give you all because I know that it is more blessed to give than to receive. His desire was revenge. This is what we call vindictive giving, to give more than you receive.