Sometimes things that “go without saying” actually need to be said.
My responsibilities of late have required me to review some material that could be utilized by congregations and pastors to help people live financially generous lives. There is much that is good about the material, to the point that I might go so far as to recommend a pilot in the Texas District.
There is one thing that is not articulated as clearly as I would prefer that it be—the motivation for living generous lives. The motivation for living financially generous lives, from a biblical standpoint, is the same as the motivation for any other good work that Christian people are moved to do—the Gospel.
We have been overwhelmed with Christ’s love. He went to the cross to forgive our sins and promises an eternity in paradise for all who trust in him. He has taken us off the road to eternal condemnation and placed us on the road to eternal life. How can we do anything else but love him back in overwhelmingly generous ways?
Biblically, God’s love for us comes first. It precedes our generosity and then motivates it. “We love,” John reminds us in his first epistle, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). After clearly making the point earlier in the chapter that our sins have caused us to be “dead” and that we are saved entirely by the grace of God, St. Paul adds in Ephesians 2: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Eph 2:10
There is an order to theology. For followers of Jesus, the Good News provides the impetus for Christian living, not the exhortations of the law. The Lutheran confessions put it this way: “[Our churches] teach that this faith is bound to yield good fruits and that it ought to do good works commanded by God on account of God’s will and not so that we may trust in these works to merit justification before God.” (AC VI, Kolb-Wengert, p. 41)
Yes, Christians should do good works. It’s the natural result of being overwhelmingly loved by God to want to love him back. And he tells us how to love him back in his Word. One of those ways is to be generous with our finances. (There is some detail in Scripture about exactly how generous, but that’s for another column!) The message should not be, as a mentor of mine once said, “Do do this and don’t do that and God’ll love ya.”
So let’s be generous in our financial stewardship, but not out of any other compulsion than the love that Jesus has for us (2 Cor. 5:14). Maybe it should go without saying—but sometimes you just have to say it!
By Rev. Dr. Jon Braunersreuther
Mission and Ministry Facilitator, Area D