In 1 Timothy 6:3, the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” are set in contrast to false teaching linked to money. In other words, bad teaching related to handling riches was present in the community of faith and Paul wanted Timothy to teach only what was “sound” or consistent with Christ’s instructions.
How do we make sure the biblical stewardship instruction we offer is sound? How can we ensure our ministry does not get off track? This post aims at providing a four-fold answer with practical advice for “rightly handling the word of truth” with regard to teaching biblical stewardship (2 Timothy 2:15).
Avoid sending people to slavery
Jesus never used the word “tithe” in teaching His disciples (and neither should we) as it’s OT Law language! The only time Jesus referred to the “tithe” is when He condemned the Pharisees, the keepers of the Law, for being prideful for giving a percentage while failing to demonstrate love and justice (cf. Luke 11:42; Matthew 23:23).
The Apostle Paul reminded the Galatians (and us) that if we teach from the OT Law, we actually send people to “slavery” (Galatians 3:23-26; 5:1). What should we do? Let’s replace OT “tithe” terminology with NT “proportion” language, so God’s people are set free to give as God provides (2 Corinthians 8:11-15).
Steer clear of prosperity gospel
Our teaching morphs to prosperity gospel if we misapply OT covenant promises today. For example, Deuteronomy 15:10 reads: “Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” So I give to get what I want, right? Not!
This text was directed to the Israelites, not us. Teaching it wrongly can foster “if I do this then God owes me that” thinking. Also if we read OT wisdom literature prescriptively, we misread it as telling us how to get what we want, rather than descriptively teaching us God’s ways. The result is “different” gospel, prosperity gospel. Steer clear of it!
Beware of counterfeits that sound good culturally
Do you know what’s in your stewardship curriculum box? Does it contain teaching that promotes cultural rather than biblical messages? For example, some programs literally instruct people to “build wealth” and store up treasures on earth when Jesus explicitly tells us not to do that (cf. Matthew 6:19-20).
Many leading boxed programs offer great “get out of debt” assistance, but because they lack biblical depth, most don’t deal with “the love of money” sin at the root of most financial problems (1 Timothy 6:10). While such programs may sound good culturally, some contain teaching that actually conflicts with God’s Word. Buyer beware!
Obey the teachings of Christ on generosity
My best advice for encouraging “Christian” generosity is to read the teachings of Christ and do what He says. Statistics show that when ministry leaders teach and model the instructions in the Gospels, those they serve grow in grace of giving to the Lord, for reaching the lost, and for ministering to the least. Their giving reflects God’s giving!
In the Gospels we find that Jesus exhorts us to live according to a whole different economy where money is not the answer to all our problems, God is. He warns us that we cannot serve both God and mammon (cf. Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). We cannot live according to the world’s financial advice and God’s. We must choose one or the other.
Jesus celebrates sacrificial giving motivated by love not because He wants to rob us but to help us. He invites us to become conduits of blessing so that our generosity reflects His. Will we? We will if we avoid slavery, steer clear of prosperity gospel, beware of cultural counterfeits, and obey the teachings of Christ on generosity.
Let’s do it!
Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D. (New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as ECFA Press Author and International Liaison as well as Visiting Professor at TEDS among other roles. He has dedicated his life to encouraging Christian generosity as the Generosity Monk. To receive his daily Meditation.
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CLA is grateful to the National Christian Foundation and their support of the 2015 CLA Webcast series.