Your gifts are things that God enables you to do naturally in service to others in the body of Christ. The person who has a gift is able to give it without needing anything in return. And the people who receive the gift generally recognize that the person has a gift. One aid we use to help people discern their spiritual gifts is a spiritual gifts inventory (a separate handout).
Ministry works best, and according to God’s plan, when the people doing the ministry are exercising their spiritual gifts. If we think that God is calling our church to do something, the way we test the call is by publishing the idea to see if some members of the church have the gifts necessary to do the work. If there is no one in the body with the gifts, the time and the willingness to do the work, we can conclude that it is not something God is calling us to do.
Of course, there is some work in the church that no one wants to do. There is no spiritual gift for setting up and taking down tables and chairs, or for cleaning up after church activities. It is the common responsibility of the body. Also, all Christians are responsible for helping the needy, for loving others, including our enemies, and for fulfilling the general obligations of love and obedience. We cannot excuse ourselves from some duty of Christian faith by saying we don’t have a gift for it.
To use our spiritual gifts in the right way, we must develop a true understanding of the nature of the Church. Many people view the Church as a building or as an organization to which they give money or time. They fail to understand that the people are the Church. In the Old Covenant, God lived in the midst of His people in a temple building. In the New Covenant, God lives within His people. The people of God are the New Temple (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19).
Another way this truth is communicated in the New Testament is through the teaching that the Church is the Body of Christ. In first century Israel, Jesus did the work of the Father. Through the gift of the Holy Ghost, we are extensions of His incarnate presence throughout the world. You are a living member of a living body. You are the hand, the foot, the ear, the eye. If you don’t understand this, and fail to exercise your ministry in the body, then the body is without a hand, a foot, an ear, an eye, and other parts must compensate for the absent or inactive parts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12f.).
A story told by one minister illustrates both the wrong and the right view of the Church. He was approached after church one Sunday by a member of his congregation. She was indignant. She said, “I met a man last week who needed food and a place to stay. I called the church on Wednesday several times but no one answered the phone. I had to give him some food and put him in a hotel myself.” Then she said, “Don’t you think the church should be available to help people like this?” The minister responded, “It sounds to me like the church did a very good job of helping him.”
Wherever you are, Jesus is present through the gifts and resources He has given you. It is wrong to think of the church merely as a series of programs it offers. Sometimes people will say, “What is your church doing for people?” What they want is a listing of the church’s charitable programs. What the church is doing for people is not defined merely by the extent of our corporate charities. What the church is doing for people is determined by the sum total of the daily ministries of its members.
It should be stressed that much, perhaps most, of the ministry of the church takes place outside of the church building. We are called to use our gifts in service to others as we go about life from day to day. Our sense of Christian vocation must transcend the idea of volunteering for things at church.
Moreover, we are called to serve God in our life’s work. One consequence of sin and the fall is that work becomes either drudgery or merely a selfish attempt to accumulate. In God’s economy, the primary concern is what we have to contribute to the good of society. Indeed, we will find our life’s work fulfilling only inasmuch as our primary aim is service to God and others, and gain is seen as the by-product. As Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (St. Matthew 6:33).
Stewardship and Finances – Giving for the Spread of His Kingdom
The Meaning of Stewardship
The word “stewardship” is often used in church, but it is less frequent that people really think of themselves as being responsible for the care and use of resources that belong to God. Consequently, talk about giving in church can become an exercise in attempting to extract money from reluctant givers. The church aids and abets this faulty view when it resorts to guilt and gimmicks in stewardship campaigns. If Jesus is Lord in any meaningful sense of the word, then He is Lord of all that we have. What we do with our money is necessarily a matter of faith.
The Biblical Pattern for Giving
The world views money as something to pursue and accumulate in order to get and do more things. The assumption of the world is that having more things will make us happier. From the perspective of the world, giving to God is what we do after we have satisfied our needs and wants.
The Bible reverses the priorities. The rule in Israel was that the first part of all the increase belonged to God. Leviticus says, “All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’S; it is holy to the LORD” (27:30). Tithe means “tenth.” Israel tithed by measuring out one tenth of all the grain and giving it back to God. In Exodus God says,
“Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” (13:3-see also Leviticus 27:32 for the tithe of the flock).
The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:3-7, the story of Melchizedek in Genesis 14:14-20 and the story of Jacob in Genesis 28:22 confirm the principle that the first and best, the tithe, belongs to God. This standard of giving was assumed in the New Testament. Jesus, as a pious Jew, tithed. While Jesus criticized the motives of the scribes and Pharisees, he commended their meticulous practice of tithing (St. Matthew 23:23).
The people of Israel were also instructed to be generous to the needy (Deuteronomy 15:7, 8, 11). They were told not to harvest their entire field, and not to pick up what fell to the ground. They were to leave some fruit on the vine, on the tree and on the ground for the poor to eat.
These giving priorities match up with the Summary of the Law. Jesus said the two great commandments are to “love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “to love your neighbor as yourself” (St. Matthew 22:36-40). God’s people are to honor God with the first part of their income, the tithe, and are to be generous to those who are in need.
Tithing and Covetousness
Tithing is part of the answer to covetousness, which the New Testament explicitly links with idolatry (Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5). To be an Idolater is to worship the creation rather than the creator (Romans 1:25). Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the LORD’S and all that is therein.” However, in the Original Sin, man said of the creation, “It is mine.” Giving the first part back to God is the symbolic way we acknowledge God’s ownership of all that we have. It is the way we undo the Original Sin and say to God, “This is yours.”
Tithing helps to detach us from our money. One company CEO said in a Forbes Magazine article, “When I began to tithe, I found a freedom from my possessions. I don’t hold on to things as tightly anymore” (Irrational Act, Rich Karlgaard, Forbes.com, 02.14.05). As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).
The Blessing Promised for Faithful Giving
One problem we have with the practice of tithing and generosity is that the devil has done a good job of teaching us his faulty math. The devil teaches us that giving is a zero sum game in which one person’s gain must lead to another’s loss. Thus, if I give ten dollars to someone in need, he is richer and I am poorer.
The Bible teaches that generous giving enriches both the giver and the recipient. There are numerous Bible passages that make this point:
Proverbs says, “Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine” (3:9).
In Malachi, God says, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse…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.” (3:10).
In 2 Corinthians we are told, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (9:6).
Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).
The Evidence in the Lives of the Faithful
The evidence for these promises is found in the lives of those who have made tithing and generosity part of their practice of the faith. There is a well known story of a man who began to tithe from the proceeds of his business and gradually increased his giving over time. God so blessed his giving that he came to the point where he was able to give away ninety percent and kept ten.
There are also stories of people whose faithful stewardship lead to a different kind of blessing. One man began to tithe from the proceeds of his business, which subsequently went broke. He was asked, “Did you lose everything?” He replied, “No. I still have all the money I gave away.”
God does not promise us a particular outcome for our faithfulness in giving. Rather, He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Because God always rewards our faithfulness in ways that more than compensate for what we have given, we will always be better off for having been faithful stewards.
The Tithe as an Act of Faith
The biggest barrier to the practice of tithing is fear. We are afraid that if we give the first part to God we won’t have enough left for the needs and wants of life. This is why tithing is an act of faith. We have to give to God first and trust that He will be faithful to His promises. As Hebrews says, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Conclusion – A Rule of Life
The Church refers to one’s habits of prayer and worship as a “rule of life.” One’s rule of life states how often and according to what form or pattern one will pray each day. It states one’s commitment to worship God in His Church each week, one’s frequency of confession, one’s habits of fasting (cf. BCP pp. 1-li) and one’s habits of stewardship.
To be a Christian is to live in union with God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Ghost. Union with God is cultivated by habitual and diligent prayer. We are able to obey the commandants of God only through the grace that God gives (cf. BCP p. 289). Regular reception of the Sacrament and habitual prayer are prerequisites for faithful living.
Developing your own Rule of Life is a central part of becoming a disciple of Jesus. Take some time to establish one. Write your rule down on a piece of paper and put it inside the Book of Common Prayer or Bible that you use each day. Please note that a rule is a guideline and not a legal document. When you fall short of fulfilling your rule, simply begin again the next day. One’s rule of life may need to be adjusted from time to time as life circumstances change.