In my experience, the last Sunday in December has traditionally been the biggest Sunday of the year for tithing to the church. As we get ready to go to our respective houses of worship for the last time in 2013 many of us will be looking for a way to unload some extra money in order to avoid taxes and get that last little boost of good cheer out of the holiday season by giving to those “less fortunate”. While I like to think it is out of altruism that many of us will do this, when I look at it honestly I know that for me at least there is a little bit of selfishness involved as well. With the government offering me a tax credit for all the money I gave a way in 2013 I want to make sure I maximize that much as I can. In so doing it becomes less about the giving and more about what I can get back in return.
It’s with that in mind that I wanted to write today and remind us all, myself included, that there are certain types of offering that God clearly rejects.
Yes – Giving money to the church and other charities can be sinful and we need to know how.
First off Jesus tells us that our giving must be done in secret.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:2-4]
Now I have never experienced a load of fanfare around giving but it could be argued that even submitting a receipt to the government for that all important tax credit is a violation of this command. More to the point though, you need to be willing to give even when the tax credit is off the table. Giving to organizations and individuals that aren’t registered charities and don’t issue receipts just because they need the help and are doing good work should be enough.
I wonder what would happen to charitable giving in this country if the government were to remove this incentive entirely. There would certainly be some worthy organizations that would have to close their doors but the church itself should be able to continue. If you are giving to your church simply because you get a tax credit you really need to re-examine why you are there in the first place and I would argue that you should probably save us all the effort and just stay home, which brings me to my next point.
Elsewhere Jesus reminds us that giving is secondary to relationships.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24]
It is more important to have good standing relationships within your community than to give lots of money to the church. In fact God may reject your offering entirely if you don’t. This hits especially close to home at this time of year. Many of us are coming off family gatherings that may have been difficult or strained, family is the place where we are most fully known and that is not always a good thing. After the holidays are over we often run back to the relative safety of our chosen communities where we are with friends to lick our wounds and recover from the open exposure of difficult family relations. The temptation will be to give out of relief and gratitude for that safe place but be careful not to give out of guilt or spite to those you may have wronged in the process. This type of gift will certainly be rejected by God.
So, as the last Sunday of 2013 is upon us please do give a final gift to your church or favorite charity but remember, do it out of love for God not for financial gain or as a way to pay penance for any broken relationships that you may have caused along the way.
Happy New Year.