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27 October 2017

The giving gift and gifts of giving

The giving gift and gifts of giving

Dr Lucy Peppiatt is principal at Westminster Theological Centre.

When I was asked to write a piece on gifts of giving, I immediately thought of a book title by Tom Smail—The Giving Gift. This is a book specifically on the Holy Spirit, but the title makes the point that God is the one who gives generously to generate generous giving. Although I don't want to focus here
just on financial giving, but more on giving in general, the principles of financial giving and giving of our resources or treasures are relevant to all giving in the Christian life. At its heart, our giving needs to be rooted in the nature of God: our understanding of who He is, all that He has done for us, all that He wants for us, and everything we mean to Him. When Jesus teaches on financial giving, that is what he teaches.

When I recently preached on financial giving in our church I studied Matthew 6 and the equivalent passage in Luke 12:16-34 and I came to one simple conclusion: that God wants us to be less fearful and more generous. This, I believe, is where freedom lies. Sadly, there is a general problem at the centre of the Christian life that affects almost all of us, and that is that we reduce God's desires for us to a set of 'oughts' and 'shoulds', a set of obligations. Then suddenly it's not about freedom any more, but rules that become a weight of duty that will in turn only lead to discouragement and inadequacy. This could so easily happen with giving.

We hear Jesus saying clearly, 'don't worry', 'don't hoard', 'don't be afraid', 'sell your possessions and give to the poor.' We know that Christians are called to share everything we have with those in need. But who could ever give enough to meet the needs around us? Who could give enough love, enough time, or enough money, to solve the problems that confront us every day? Even kind and selfless people can't do that, which doesn't bode well for the rest of us who know how selfish we are!

So how do we become less fearful and more generous?

As I studied Matthew 6 it became clear to me that lack of generosity is not just rooted in mean-spiritedness or tight-fistedness, but in fear and greed, and at the root of that is insecurity. Fear and greed prevent us from giving of our money, our time, our skills, and ourselves. Jesus gives us the way  out of both.

He tells us that we shouldn't fear; first because of the immense value that God places on our individual lives, second because God is our provider and the one who cares infinitely for us, and third that He knows what we need.

Firstly it's sad how feeling worthless prevents us from giving. We genuinely believe we have nothing to offer. No one will notice if I don't turn up. Everyone else is more gifted than I am. It keeps us in the background, not offering what we could so easily give. Low selfesteem and a sense of worthlessness can prevent us from giving our skills, our time, and our presence to others.

Secondly, we hoard and even become greedy with 'things' because we fear the future. We fear losing the things that give us identity, status and security. We fear ill-health and vulnerability. We think things will keep us safe, even though we know in our hearts this is not true. Our lives are in God's hands.

Thirdly, we become insecure about our spiritual gifts, which are only given to be given away, but if we want gifts from God to validate or prove our worth or status, we will be defensive and competitive rather than abundantly generous. Rather than just giving everything away and making space for others, we prefer to show things off and hold on tightly to our territory and our ministry.

God's solution for this is to give us His Spirit so that we know who we are in Him and to have an unwavering confidence in His character and His care, and then to practice giving to set us free from fear and greed. This is how we'll be free to give, not out of duty, or to prove our worth, or for recognition and commendation, but out of a fullness of God, the one who gives so generously so that we too can give. Finally, we are set free by knowing the joy of giving, and the only way to do that is to have a go!

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