[They Are an] Offense to the Unbelieving World.
This striving after small gifts, moreover, easily becomes an offense for the unbelieving world. As the world in general keeps close watch over the conduct of the Christians, it does so particularly with respect to the gifts of the Christians for their Church. The world rejoices when it sees a Christian fall, and telegraphs the news over the entire continent, because it sees therein a welcome excuse for its own unbelief. For the same reason, the world is uncommonly happy when it observes that the Christians have much to complain about [regarding] constant financial difficulties in their ostensibly so important work, and [that they] even take recourse to games of chance and dubious entertainments in order to raise money. The Last Day will reveal how many children of the world were offended because of the avarice of Christians in giving for the Gospel, and thereby were lost. That the world takes offense is and remains its own fault. The Lord says: “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” He adds, however: “But woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18:7). Let us think of this in connection with our gifts for Christ’s kingdom, and, by God’s grace, conduct ourselves in this respect before the world, not unto offense, but unto edification.
[They Are an] Offense to the Pastors.
Whoever seeks after small gifts easily gives offense also to his pastor. The pastors also are human and are often tempted by fear of man. If they observe this unwillingness to give and even hear such expressions as “Oh, this everlasting begging!” they lose courage to insist upon the Word and will of God. They then make the rule crooked, and perhaps say: “Give at least of your surplus!” But where does Scripture say that the Christians should give of what they have left over? Neither the amount nor the time and place of their gifts is prescribed for the Christians. But the will of God toward them is that they give gladly and willingly, and that their giving for the kingdom of God should be a matter of primary importance. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things”— the needs of this life—“will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). To say “Give at least of that which you can easily spare” is contrary to the Word of God. We cannot keep from our Christians the truth that they must first of all serve the kingdom of God with their earthly possessions. Of course, this goal is never perfectly attained and never will be. The flesh will prevent perfect obedience. But whatever is lacking in this respect must be acknowledged as a lack and a sin. The Christians should humble themselves before God because of this sin, beg forgiveness for Christ’s sake, and pray God for strength to restrain more and more their godless, avaricious flesh.
We know that the Christians will never attain to perfect sanctification also in other things. But we do not for that reason remove the goal toward which they should strive. We do not tell them: “Avoid at least the coarsest outbursts of the flesh,” but instead we urge them: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). And so we dare not remove for the Christians the goal to make giving for the kingdom of God a matter of primary importance. Otherwise we would probably fall into [the] error of “antinomism,” 3 as Luther put it: We would be good Easter preachers, but abominable Pentecost preachers. 4 Let us cheerfully tell the Christians the full and complete divine truth in this matter. We will then have the Christians, in as far as they are Christians, wholly on our side. Walther reminds us that even the weakest Christian, after the new man, willingly and entirely desires to live for his Savior, who has purchased him with His divine blood.
[They Grieve] the Holy Spirit.
Whoever seeks after small gifts troubles the Holy Spirit, who dwells in him. Every Christian, even the weakest, is a temple of the Holy Spirit. By the faith in the forgiveness of sins purchased by Christ, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). And the Holy Spirit is active in us. He fills us with love for God and the neighbor. He moves us to offer our earthly goods willingly and richly for Christ and His kingdom. If we do not follow the inward teaching and impulse of the Holy Spirit, we grieve Him thereby, and may even drive Him out of the heart entirely. Many a person has in this way lost faith and salvation, because he shut his heart against the needs of the kingdom of God.
[They Are a] Hindrance to the Building of the Kingdom of God.
Whoever seeks after small gifts hinders the building of the kingdom of God here on earth. This is not a small matter. The Son of God became man and shed His blood on the cross in order that a kingdom of God might be built up here on earth. “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46–47). The world still stands for the sake of the preaching of the Gospel (Matthew 24:14 5 ). For the sake of the preaching of the Gospel, we Christians, who really ought to be in heaven, are still on this earth. It is just through us that this preaching should be done. That is the divine ordinance. For the proclamation of the Gospel, Christ wants to use our prayer, our lips, and our earthly goods as well. How dreadful if we hinder this building up of Christ’s kingdom on earth by withholding our earthly possessions!
[By Them,] God Is Prevented from Giving Earthly Goods in Rich Measure.
Whoever seeks after small gifts thereby prevents God from giving him earthly goods in rich measure. God acts according to the rule laid down very clearly in Luke 6:38 and in many other places: “Give and it shall be given unto you.” This does not seem to agree in individual cases, because the ways of God with individual men are often so involved that it is difficult to distinguish the threads. God sees what is hidden from our human eyes, namely, just why poverty or a small amount of earthly possessions are necessary to keep an individual on the narrow way to eternal life. But in many instances, even we will be able to observe that the liberal giver is richly recompensed by God. I know people who have made themselves rich by giving. They sought, in the matter of giving for the Gospel, not only after small gifts, but made use of certain circumstances to excuse themselves altogether, and behold! Their financial prosperity suffered severely. And what they left their heirs was not a blessing for these, because it was “tainted money.” That money is accursed which has been kept or inherited by depriving the Lord and His Gospel. God have mercy on us all! May He teach us to know this sin, repent of it, receive forgiveness through Christ’s blood, and then withstand this damnable miserliness!
But are not Christians often poor because the fear of God does not permit them to take advantage of many financial opportunities through which the children of this world enrich themselves? Surely. The Holy Spirit indicates this when he says: “Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked” (Psalm 37:16). But in many cases, the poverty of Christians, or a small amount of earthly possessions, is due to the fact that they give so little for the kingdom of God. God speaks to His people through the prophet Malachi: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. And thereby put Me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10). This is true not only of the Old Testament, but also of the New, as we see from Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
[By Them, the] Wrath of God Is Brought Down Upon the Individual and His Country.
Whoever seeks after small gifts draws down the wrath of God upon himself and the land in which he dwells. Read the first chapter of the prophecy of Haggai. The Jews had returned from the captivity and busied themselves gathering possessions and building homes for themselves. After they had taken care of themselves, they intended to build the house of the Lord. Through the prophet Haggai, the Lord shows them the impropriety of such action. “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD…. Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” [Haggai 1:2, 4]. And the prophet also shows plainly the punishment that should follow upon this sin. He says: “‘Consider your ways. … You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. … Because of My house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills’ “[Haggai 1:7, 9–11]. In the New Testament, God speaks of the same sin in terms no less sharp: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked” [Galatians 6:7].
If we have drought and other plagues in the land, it is certainly a punishment upon the unbelieving world, which does not heed God’s Word and is ungrateful for bodily blessings. But we Christians, too, should examine ourselves at such times to see if we have not perhaps become an evil for our land through our ungratefulness and our miserliness toward the Gospel. The world is blind, but we Christians are wise. We know that all earthly goods come from God. We also know that through Christ, we have heaven and salvation. In addition, we know that God gives us bodily and spiritual possessions primarily for the purpose of serving the preaching of the Gospel. If we build our own houses and let the house of the Lord lie waste, then we must look upon drought and other plagues as a judgment of God, which begins first of all in the house of God, that is, in the Christians. It is high time, then, to repent, also to have public services of humiliation and prayer, and to give up seeking after small gifts for the Gospel. Luther carries this out in his foreword to the prophecy of Haggai, which he concludes with the words “God intends to share their food or they’ll not have any.” 6
[Because of Them,] God Will Withdraw the Gospel
Finally, whoever seeks after small gifts, instead of large ones, in giving for the preaching of the Gospel thereby induces God to withdraw the Gospel from him. That is the end, the greatest misfortune, that can come upon us. Luther’s complaints about Germany are well known. He states, time and again, that in his day, Germany had the Gospel as clear and pure as never before. But Germany’s attitude toward the Gospel was one of sleepiness and indolence. Only a few gave willingly in the interest of the Gospel. This sin God would punish by the withdrawal of the Gospel. He [Luther] writes: “They (the ungrateful ones) will lose both, the temporal and the spiritual. For upon this sin the heaviest punishments must necessarily follow, and I believe most certainly, that the congregations in Galatia, Corinth, etc. were brought to their ruin through true teachers” (St.L. 9:748). 7 Let this be said for our own warning. At the present time, we, too, have the Gospel as pure and unadulterated as the Christians in the days of the apostles. Let us then take heed to show ourselves truly thankful to God for it, also by giving willingly and bountifully for the Gospel, so that it may be preserved among us, and through us, be spread far and wide.
– Continued from On Christian Stewardship: The Gifts of the Christians
By Francis Pieper
Translated by W. G. Polack