Thus we have already reached the matter of the cure of this laziness. When we become cold and freeze, we stand close to the fire; and so when we Christians notice that the love for our Savior and the service in His kingdom begin to grow cold, then we should stand close to the fire of the divine love that is revealed to us in Christ Jesus. There the heart is warmed, and thereby, the “problem of giving,” about which so much must be said and written, is solved. In our homes we have pictures of the Savior in one form or another, probably a crucifix. Now when the question of giving for the Gospel confronts us, and we glance at the head crowned with thorns, then our gifts will take care of themselves, both as regards the right quality and the right quantity; we will give willingly and abundantly. These are not my thoughts, but the teaching of the Holy Spirit—for example, 2 Corinthians 8. In this chapter, the apostle admonishes the Christians to give, and in order to obtain gifts correct in quality and quantity, he holds the cross of Christ before their eyes. In verse 9, we read: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” If we follow this method incessantly, then there will be no lack of “financial activity” on part of the Christians.
The Christians, then, can and will give for the Gospel judiciously, willingly, and in the right measure only when they are acquainted with the business and the needs of the Church. In this point we must remind two classes of people of their duty.
First, the pastors. The pastor has the duty toward the Christians committed to his care to direct their attention to any need that the Savior may have of their earthly goods. By virtue of his office, he must see to it that the Christians in his charge abound also in good works, that they gather together a large treasury of good works in this life and thereby harvest an eternal reward of grace on the Last Day.
The first and main fruit of the preaching of the Gospel is, of course, faith in Christ and salvation. But the good works of the Christians are also an object of the teaching of the Gospel. The apostle Paul impresses this on Titus: “I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8). And again: “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” ([Titus] 3:14). The domain of good works is a very large one, but the foremost good work, for the performance of which the Christians are still in this world, is and remains “Preach the Gospel unto every creature! Show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness unto his marvelous light. O Zion that brings good tidings, get you up unto a high mountain; O Jerusalem that brings good tidings, lift up your voice with strength!” That the Christians may do this most important work is the end and aim of the Office of the Ministry. And in order that the Christians may do this work intelligently, willingly, and in a large measure, the pastor is in duty bound to inform his people continually of the need the Lord may have of their earthly goods.
Thank God, this is done among us! I have noticed at synods how pastors and lay delegates sit with open notebooks and make memoranda of the requirements, which in the opinion of the assembly, the Lord is asking of His Christians for the advancement of His kingdom. On the other hand, we cannot and will not deny that pastors and teachers might do still more to acquaint our congregations with the needs of the kingdom of God. The pastor will have many obstacles to overcome in this regard, both with respect to his congregation and himself.
There are Christians in the congregation, otherwise exemplary, who are very willing to give, and in a large measure, for the needs of the local congregation, but are inclined to oppose the pastor as soon as he asks for gifts in the interest of the preaching of the Gospel elsewhere. This is a very dangerous sentiment, for these particular Christians themselves as well as for the whole congregation. Those who think and act like this deny a part of their calling as Christians and bring it about that the Lord will measure to them in their congregational work with the same measure in which they measure to Him in the preaching of the Gospel elsewhere. The inner history of our Synod proves this. If experience teaches us anything, it is this: Those congregations have thrived best, internally and externally, which have been most diligent and zealous also for the so-called “extra-congregational purposes.”
But the pastor also has difficulties with himself. These, too, must be overcome. Doctor Walther in his lectures on §49 of his Pastoral Theology used to say to his classes:
You will perhaps receive a small salary and thereby be filled with concern as to whether the congregation will supply your most important needs. If the temptation then comes to you to refrain, for this reason, from encouraging your people to give for missions, for the support of the synodical institutions, etc., please remember: There is a divine nemesis (punitive justice). The congregation will become more and more unwilling to supply your own needs. And that is a just judgment of God; for you are neglecting a part of your office. 8
These are sharp words of Dr. Walther’s, but altogether true ones. And they are good for us pastors and teachers inasmuch as we, too, still have the flesh in us. Let us therefore, by all means, to the best of our ability, not neglect to acquaint our Christians with the needs of the kingdom of God and to encourage them to give willingly and liberally! So much for the pastors.
But every member of the congregation, also, is obligated to keep himself informed as regards the requirements of his Savior. At synods I have heard the complaint repeatedly from delegates, when they heard that this or that treasury was burdened with a deficit: “Why did our pastor not tell us this?” Well, we have just finished speaking of the duties of the pastors. But let me put the counter-question: “Why did you, member of the congregation, not inform yourself?” You have the duty as a Christian to keep your own eyes open. Perhaps you do not even keep a church paper, such as the Lutheran Witness or Der Lutheraner, which will keep you in constant touch with the events and the needs of the kingdom of God. It is not only a small, but a very great shortcoming, and truly a disgrace, if there are congregation members who do not read a church paper. They read the daily papers that bring the daily news and market reports. And they should do so because they are also citizens of the kingdom of this world. But since they have received the grace to be citizens also in the kingdom of Christ, they should keep and read diligently a paper that gives them the news of Christ’s kingdom.
The Well-to-Do and Rich Christians
The question has been asked repeatedly whether the well-to-do and rich Christians are to be especially encouraged to giving in a larger measure. This has been denied occasionally and a corresponding practice introduced. I have learned to know congregations in which all voting members gave the same contribution, for example, for the current expenses of the congregation. This made little difference, in this respect, that the contribution was very small, so that the poorer members were not burdened by it. And yet this arrangement was unjust to the more well-to-do. It is a great injustice to the well-to-do not to expect them to give more of their possessions for the kingdom of Christ than those who are in less favorable circumstances. And the well-to-do themselves, as a result of their evil flesh, are in danger of speaking in favor of the uniform contribution, and saying: “It is very fine that we have the rule among us to give only small gifts. In other churches, the rich individuals give large gifts. But we give all Christians the same opportunity, and thus the ‘widow’s mite’ is given high honor in our midst.” Such talk may hide self-delusion and miserliness. Let each one examine himself! The fact is that Scripture contains a special admonition regarding giving for the rich. We read for example, 1 Timothy 6:17[—19]: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” We find this admonition at the end of the First Epistle to Timothy. The apostle Paul has already concluded and said “Amen,” verse 16. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he begins anew with a special admonition for the rich. In the Missouri Synod, we are gradually becoming wealthy too. Let us then, with God’s grace, diligently read 1 Timothy 6:17–19 and act accordingly.
Will the Word of Admonition Bring Any Results?
We have thus encouraged ourselves in a large measure and somewhat extensively to “financial activity.” Will the word of admonition do any good? Surely! For it is written, Isaiah 33:24, of the Church of the New Testament: “And no inhabitant will say, ‘I am sick’; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.” We are assured of the forgiveness of our sin through Christ. Therefore we are strong, strong also with reference to finances. Let us then be careful not to make ourselves weak! May such expressions as “The rich Catholic Church” be outlawed among us. Statistics show that the Protestants are, on the average, more richly blessed with this world’s goods than the Catholics. In addition, we Lutherans are far richer than the Catholics in spiritual riches. Through the pure Gospel, we are certain of the forgiveness of our sins. Thus we excel the Catholics in a two-fold sense. If we do not weaken ourselves, therefore, we will willingly give more for the Gospel than they, under compulsion, give for the deceit of popery. May God grant us this grace!
– Continued from On Christian Stewardship: The Gifts of the Christians
By Francis Pieper
Translated by W. G. Polack