Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Normally, money is on the minds of most Americans every April; it’s tax season of-course. And in the past, many of us have grown accustomed to an annual tax refund. April, for past years therefore, has been a somewhat pleasant month. Sadly, this time round – things are different. Anxiety, worry, and even fear are seeping into many hearts as we think about our personal finances. The pandemic of COVID-19 has brought with it not only sickness and death, but it now threatens significant financial harm. No doubt, some of you are facing the threat of a loss of income, if not for yourself perhaps for some close family.
And yet, the reality of these dire times has prompted many other people to offer their time and their money to help those in need. Surely this is a wonderfully Christian response! To feel compassion and pity for the hurting is Christlike. The elders, therefore, have been very encouraged to receive various inquiries from our members, asking simply: “How can I help? What can I do?”
Starting today – in a three-part series – I hope to build a framework to help you think carefully and think biblically about Christian stewardship in the face of difficult financial times. The framework will be assembled around a set of eight principles. Today, I am introducing 2 of the principles. God willing, tomorrow I will follow-up with the next 3; and on Thursday with the last 3.
We start with a principle that is drawn, not from the Scriptures, but from common-grace observation of the pandemic.
1. THE WORST MAY YET COME
While unemployment numbers are already at record numbers, economists and financial forecasters predict economic conditions may well get worse. Of course, no-one knows the future. And yet, as the elders talk to members in the church, this reading seems sound. Many Castleview members say to us, “We are okay for now, but we are concerned about the coming months.”
This means we are probably not yet out of the clear. More jobs will likely be lost. We anticipate that some members may indeed lose their full income or their jobs.
And if that is true – if we are indeed going to experience greater financial hardship down the line – it seems wise now to cut expenses and save. That is what we are doing as a church: we have suspended all non-essential spending. Only that which is essential to our mission is being funded. I would encourage you as an individual to also consider doing this. It might be wise now -- in light of greater financial stress to come -- for all of us to aim to save more than we usually do. By doing this, God-willing, we will better meet our own future needs, and even those that may still arise in our own church family.
It is at times like this, that we should remember Joseph and his wisdom when his world faced a future famine. Like the ant in Proverbs (6:6-8), Joseph made provisions during times of plenty for the coming days of want. (Gen 41:47ff).
And like Joseph, our goal with savings ought to include more than just our individual needs. As Christians, our eyes should be both on our own needs as well as on others around us. As we are able, we should all aim to be that wise man who has treasures and oil to share (Prov 21:20).
For some practical counsel, and for a more extensive discussion on saving for the future, I strongly recommend Brad Graber’s helpful piece here.
2. CHURCH BENEVOLENCE IS DISCIPLESHIP 101
From the earliest days of the Christian church, members took note of the material needs of fellow members, and make plans to meet them. Luke records those early days: “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).
I realize that here I am preaching to the choir – for this church has regularly displayed an eagerness to care for the practical needs of each other. Because of the generosity and sacrifice of so many of you, we have a benevolence fund that is well supplied. Furthermore, there continues to exist a culture here of reaching out, looking for more ways to serve each other. Such open-handedness is no small thing. It is the true pattern of Christian discipleship. To this, I can only say “Praise God! Please keep it up!”
And yet, allow me to develop this idea of benevolence a little further. There seems to be strong biblical evidence to also engage in some kind of benevolence toward sister churches in need.
It appears that Paul applied this principle of benevolence into the relationship between multiple local churches, not just within one local church. In the face of a severe famine, we read in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 how Paul urges churches in Asia to help churches in Judea who were impoverished by the famine.
It is with these truths in mind that the elders have been in regular contact withDaniel Rodas, who leads the church-plants that normally meets in our building, Grace And Truth Baptist Church. Thankfully, that church already has its own benevolence fund. And yet it is very likely that Grace And Truth Baptist Church will face financial difficulties sooner than we ourselves will. In light of Paul’s actions and teachings in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 – if that day does indeed arise – it appears that we should stand ready to offer an eager and generous hand.
There are, of course, many other needs beyond our church, and outside all the congregations in our city. It is good thing to be moved by suffering wherever we encounter. Hopefully, this short series of articles will provide some guidance as you navigate what can easily become an overwhelming scene.
But before we try think of ways to be effective in the wider community with our finances, let’s pause here. Let’s make sure we first recognize one of the primary marks of a Christian. To be a Christian means in live in real community. It means to have a deep love for a particular group of Christ’s disciples with whom we normally meet, regularly and eagerly. And often such love for those disciples involves us sharing our goods to meet their needs.