G. B. Fyfe, London
Our subject this time indicates an aspect of the assembly's functions which is very seldom taken up in the course of public ministry. Perhaps too little attention is paid to it in some local assemblies.
Closely allied to assembly finances, of course, is the question of Christian giving, for the disbursement of the funds is determined to a large extent by the liberality of our giving. Guidance in giving is formulated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16. 2. He also refers to the subject in 2 Corinthians 8-9.
As to the principles of Christian giving, these may be defined as follows:
1. Give Periodically - "upon the first day of the week".
2. Give Personally - "let every one of you".
3. Give Purposefully - "lay by him in store".
4. Give Proportionately - "as God hath prospered him".
5. Give Promptly - "that there be no collections when I come".
"He gives twice who gives quickly" 3 the Latin proverb runs.
Admittedly, the collection referred to by Paul was for a special purpose - the relief of the needy saints at Jerusalem, Rom. 15. 26 - but the principles enunciated by him have also a general application. Clearly, then, there should be nothing haphazard or erratic about our giving to the Lord. The communication of our substance is in itself an act of worship, a sacrifice with which God is well-pleased, and we should not forget it, Heb. 13. 16. There would be no need for persistent appeals for money if we observed the simple principles laid down as guide-lines for our giving.
The exemplary conduct of the Macedonian assemblies in Christian giving is highly commended by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8.1-9, which may be summarized thus:
1. Their Exercise in Giving - "in a great trial... the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality", v. 2. This is surely sacrificial giving in a marked degree.
2. Their Eagerness in Giving - "beyond their power they were willing of themselves'*, v. 3. They had a willing heart. If the hearts of God's people are warm and right, the giving to His servants and for His service will be spontaneous and liberal.
3. Their Example in Giving-The wonderful statement concerning the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is introduced in verse 9 not so much as an exposition of doctrine as by way of exhortation and example. He is the supreme Example in the grace of giving. He gave Hitnself- His all-for our spiritual and eternal enrichment.
The Control of the Funds - the Men for the Task.
We have been considering the matter of Christian giving under the aspect of our corporate contribution to the assembly funds. Each member of the local assembly has a responsibility to communicate of his substance in this way, according as the Lord has prospered him. Weekly collections should be counted by the treasurer, and checked by another responsible brother, so that the matter is done fittingly and in order. Decisions regarding the disbursement of the funds may usually devolve upon the overseers, Acts 11. 30, who will take into account the wishes of the assembly as a whole. The treasurer himself must be a man of unquestioned integrity, and competent to handle with care and proficiency the financial affairs of the local assembly. The accounts should be audited by a suitable brother, and the financial statement of receipts and expenditure presented annually to the members. Brothers wishing to do so, should have opportunity of raising questions or requesting explanations or offering suggestions at a "business" meeting of the assembly. It is important that the financial transactions should not only be conducted with absolute honesty, but manifestly seen to be so.
As regards the men for dealing with the assembly's finances, guidance is afforded in the operations recounted in Acts 6. The men selected there were to have the full confidence of the saints. They were to be men of undoubted integrity; men of wisdom; men full of the Holy Spirit - those who could be counted on to perform their task without partiality, in the fear of the Lord, and for the material benefit of His people. Men of this calibre can with confidence be entrusted with the finances of the local assembly.
The Allocation of the Funds - the Methods Employed.
The subject of the actual disbursement of the gifts is not one upon which we would presume to write dogmatically. A few comments, however, may not be out of place. Broadly speaking there are usually two areas of disbursement for the saints' offerings. Firstly, the week-to-week expenses of the meeting premises and their amenities have to be defrayed. The financial requirements, too, of the various forms of local activity have to be drawn from the funds, such as Sunday School and Youth Work, Gospel outreach and the facilities necessary for it in literature, tracts, etc. Then the second area of disbursement is the extensive field where the Lord's servants exercise their service. This may relate both to Gospel efforts embarked upon in our own land and the work of missionaries carried on overseas. Prayerful consideration is called for in the policies adopted by each assembly for the distribution of the saints' gifts specially earmarked for missionary work, and the wholehearted concurrence of the Christians in the allocations to the different servants or projects should be sought. It need scarcely be mentioned that missionaries and home-workers commended by a local assembly will be the first priority in terms of financial support by that company of the Lord's people.
There are those who maintain that our offerings to God do not really begin until after we have met the necessary expenses of the premises - their lighting, heating, cleaning and redecoration and repairs as required. These are amenities (they rightly say) which contribute to our comfort and convenience and can scarcely be regarded as positive giving to the work of the Lord. The worlding, after all, has to pay for the comfort and facilities of his meeting place, be it a club or a cinema or a restaurant, they argue. Perhaps, however, this may be drawing too fine a distinction as far as Christian giving is concerned, for do not the amenities we have mentioned assist, albeit indirectly, in the service of the assembly both Godward and manward? Nevertheless, this view, if considered, may help us to estimate the proportion of our offerings which actually goes to promote productive service by the preaching of the Gospel and in the upbuilding of the saints. An intelligent glance at the annual balance sheet of the assembly finances will show the ratio between what we spend on expenses and what we devote to evangelism! Sometimes such an examination may suggest an adjustment is advisable.
In rounding off this article it may not be inappropriate to allude briefly to a matter in which almost every assembly is involved - the defraying of the expenses of visiting speakers. For obvious reasons ministering brethren very rarely make reference to this aspect of assembly responsibility. Although it is seldom the writer's own experience, we do hear from time to time of those who serve the saints being on occasions "out-of-pocket" through their basic expenses not being covered. Of course we all agree that "these things ought not so to be", James 3. 10. In these inflationary times it may be worth while for us to take a fresh look at the expenses we offer our invited speakers. Train and bus fares are regularly being increased; the price of petrol goes up; meals en route are more expensive.
But to end on a higher note we quote from the Word itself, "God loveth a cheerful giver", 2 Cor. 9. 7.