|Once, my family and I had lunch with a another family from our church. We enjoyed our time at a local restaurant. The lunch was great and the conversation meaningful. I don’t recall what we talked about that day. I only remember what happened when the check arrived.|
Lunch was our treat and we were insistent on paying for everyone. Only because our main guest was a little pushy, too, did we agree to leave the tip to them.
For several weeks before that day, I had emphasized giving as an act of worship. Because of how God has blessed us, it’s a joy for the Christian to give in response. I’m always curious to know what people remember about the sermons and Bible studies I share.
If I forget what I talk about, surely you do as well, right?
One of our friends that day remembered well. “Pastor John,” she said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you’ve been saying about giving.” We had already convinced her that we were paying. So, I wasn’t sure what she wanted to say that related to any of my messages. You never know what’s coming next when a parishioner tells you they’ve been thinking.
“You’re right about giving. I’ve always had what I’ve needed. God has provided for me. So, I’ve decided. I give one dollar for a tip every time I go out. Now, I’m going to give two dollars.”
I love telling that story. Most people who hear it think how funny it is that someone decided to tip a dollar more. I hear something else. I hear a widow living on a fixed income giving more of herself to someone else because she is thankful. I hear someone who doubled their giving!
But there’s something else that strikes me more.
It’s how she came to that decision. In her words, she had “been thinking” about how to respond to God’s grace. This wasn’t a compulsive action. She wasn’t showing off or being frivolous with her tip. Instead, she first put thought into why she wanted to give more. Then she considered how she could respond to what she knew about God’s provision.
To me, that’s the best way for us to discover how our giving can glorify God.
At the heart of giving is trust in God’s promises. Giving is sharing with others what you have, but it’s also more. What you give to and what you give of yourself is a sign of your trust that God will continue to provide for you.
There is no such thing as a generous Christian. Because of what we know God has promised us, Christians are generous. Now, some of us may need to learn how easy it is to be as generous as God wants us to be. That’s fine. We’re all growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.
That dollar extra in tip taught me a lot about my attitude toward giving. It helped me think more about how I give and what I’m willing to give.
And don’t worry. I added to the tip that day.
|Is it ever okay to not help someone? It’s hard to go away from a reading like today’s and not entertain such a question.|
As a reminder, the church in Ephesus had issues. Namely, false teaching had spread and caused all kinds of problems. The apostle Paul’s first letter to the young preacher there, Timothy, addressed this. His letter included encouragement and instruction. All preachers could use encouragement and instruction from time to time. I imagine Timothy’s youth and limited experience warranted a lot of both.
One of the issues facing the congregation is how to care for real widows. Real widows were older women who had nothing. The church was to honor them by supporting them. Apparently, not-so-real widows among them wanted the same kind of honor. For the not-so-real widows, the money only helped them support their idle way of life. So, Paul offered specific instructions to Timothy on how to handle this problem.
How was Timothy to decide which widows merited the church’s help?
The first qualifier was age. A real widow was over sixty and had only had one husband. She also had to have been someone with a faithful reputation. As far as Paul was concerned, all younger widows need not apply. They’re probably too focused on getting remarried than they are on living for Christ. Instead of learning the virtues of faith, they are learning how to be gossips and busybodies. Paul’s solution for Timothy is to get those young widows married; don’t put them on the honored widow list.
Let’s consider what is happening in the passage. I’m not convinced this is a once-for-all instruction for every congregation to follow. I say that because I have to ask, Do all young widows fit Paul’s description? Of course not. Plus, am I supposed to marry off young women of the church?
Paul is addressing a particular congregation dealing with their own issues. Let’s be careful, then, with the parallels we make to our own circumstances.
One conversation we can have takes us back to our original question, Is it ever okay to not help someone?
If we’re asking Paul, the answer is obvious. In many ways, our environments have changed in a couple thousand years. So, blanket requirements from the Bible taken out of context might not be all that helpful to us. At the same time, people haven’t changed all that much. There are still those who don’t mind taking advantage of anyone’s generosity.
So, yes, there are some times it’s okay to not help someone.
My experience tells me to be careful. I know we deal with limited resources and we want to honor God and those who make those resources available. But deciding who is worthy to receive our help or not is a delicate matter.
When it’s obvious, it’s obvious. Most times, though, it’s not so clear. I know you probably think about this from time to time. How do you decide how and when you help someone?