Thursday, July 23, 2009

God Loves a Cheerful Giver - part 2

God’s Plan for Funding His Work

The seminar that I attended recently on support raising has really been an encouragement. We are enjoying support raising for the first time in our 15 years of ministry! It is mostly due to the truths of Scripture that I came to understand from the seminar. Last time, in the article To Make Tents or not – that is the Question, I was trying to help clarify what tent-making was and how it was used in Scripture to fund Paul’s ministry. Now that we know that tent-making was not God’s ideal plan to fund His work, I want to talk about what is God’s plan.

In 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 Paul defends his rights as an apostle. Central to this passage and this topic of what God’s plan is to fund His work is vs. 14, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” Paul uses some examples earlier in this passage from life and the Old Testament, but this verse leaves no doubt. Notice that it says that the Lord has commanded that those who preach the Gospel should live from it. This is not a suggestion or merely a good idea, but a command. In other words, if you are spending your time preaching the Gospel, it is His command that you are supported from your hard work of preaching the Gospel. By the way, remember that “if a man does not work neither should he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10), so our work of preaching the Gospel is not a call to laziness.

Therefore, if those who preach the Gospel are to receive their living from it, does it simply fall from the sky and land in the lap of those who need it? Again the word of God comes through! Numbers 13:21-32 commands that the Levites were to dedicate themselves to the Tabernacle and the worship of the Lord and that they were not to receive land when it was divided up. They were to be supported by the tithes and offerings of the children of Israel. Notice, however, to Whom the gifts were offered. The children of Israel were to give their tithes and offerings to the Lord and the Levites were to receive from the Lord His provision. This is emphasized in Malachi 3:8-10, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.” The tithes and offerings belonged to God, not the Levites.

In the New Testament we know that it isn’t only the tithes and offerings that belong to the Lord, but all of our earthly possessions, and even ourselves as well. If those who preach the Gospel are to receive their living from the Gospel, then we all should be supporting those who preach the Gospel, whether here or abroad. The cool part though is that we offer it not to the preacher of the Gospel, but to God Himself. To Him it is a “sweet smelling aroma” (Phil. 4:10), but more about that next time!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

God Loves a Cheerful Giver - part 1

To make tents or not - that is the question!

Recently I attended a seminar on personal support raising. It was awesome. Honestly, I was afraid that it would be a lot of sales gimmicks and theological acrobatics. However, it was nothing like I thought that it was going to be. We spent the whole first day in the word of God discovering what God’s plan has always been for funding what He is doing in the world and then discovering biblical perspectives on funding the work of God in the world. Cool stuff! I wished I had this seminar 15 years ago when we first started ministry.

For so long, I’ve thought that the ideal way to support ministry was through tent-making (that is working a "regular" job while doing part-time ministry) and that because it wouldn’t work that well in a good part of the world today (that is the poverty stricken places of the world), we missionaries had to go around and raise our support. However, tent-making was the exception, not the rule, in funding God’s work around the world. Paul was the tent-maker and he was the only Apostle to earn his living from anything other than preaching the Gospel. Not only that, but even Paul didn’t completely fund his ministry through tent-making.

There are three prime examples of Paul working at something other than preaching and teaching to support himself. The first is in Corinth where he met Aquila and Priscilla, who were tent-makers themselves (Acts 18). It is evident that Paul was doing the tent-making until his companions arrived and then he was “compelled by the Spirit” to proclaim the Gospel. It seems that he at least “kicked the evangelism up a notch” when his companions arrived.

It is interesting to note where his companions came from – Macedonia. It was the Macedonian church who supported the church planting work in Corinth (2 Cor. 11:7-9). I wonder if Paul’s companions brought some gifts from the Macedonian church with them when they came. Seeing that gift might have inspired Paul that God wanted him to focus on proclaiming the Gospel, rather than being distracted with making tents.

Another example is in the case of Thessalonica. You may remember that it is to this church that Paul wrote “if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thes. 3:10). What was happening in the Thessalonian church was that they were over-balanced in the doctrine of the second coming of Christ. In fact, they were so over-balanced that they were being idle, and they weren’t being responsible with their time or resources. They had the view of “well, it’s all gonna’ burn anyway!” Paul worked as he discipled them in order to model a strong work ethic against the idleness that characterised their everyday existence.

Interestingly, it was in this setting that Paul received from the Philippians “aid once and again for his necessities” (Phil 4:16). So, even when Paul was working to model a Christian work ethic for a church caught up in idleness, he received support from yet another church. Why would he do this? That brings us to the last example of tent-making.

In Ephesus, Paul apparently did tent-making or something that brought in some income. He told the Ephesian elders that his “hands” had provided for his necessities, and for those who were with him (Acts 20:34). It is interesting to note his reason for this. “I have shown you in everyway,” Paul says, “by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’.” (Acts 20:35) This goes along with what Paul was teaching them in Eph. 4:28. So, similar to the situation in the Thessalonian church, Paul was teaching something by working. In Thessalonica he was modeling a good work ethic to combat the idleness he found there. In Ephesus, he was modeling generosity.

The next article that I write will be more about what God’s plan is for funding what He is doing in the world. Tent-making or working to support oneself in ministry was used in Scripture in a very unique setting and for very specific reasons. It was not the ideal. So, come back soon and find out what God has planned from the beginning. It totally transformed our ministry.