The Blessedness of Cheerful Giving
IN Christendom today there seems to be a lack of cheerful giving. Since the Holy Scriptures make it clear that God blesses the cheerful giver, one who gives neither grudgingly nor under compulsion but from his heart, what are we to think of church fund-raising practices?
What of church-sponsored bingo games and raffles? What about the popular money envelopes that call not only for the date of gift but the name of the giver and the amount enclosed? What about passing the collection plate? What about the increasing tendency to discourage small gifts by embarrassing one into giving larger amounts, perhaps more than one can afford? “The priest in a small French village,” reports the Readers Digest of February, 1963, “has increased his Sunday collections by using a butterfly net as a collection box. Coins fall through the net. Only bills are large enough to be accepted.”
Are such methods conducive to the blessedness that comes from cheerful giving? They certainly do provoke doubts, because voluntary, cheerful responses are repressed, and the happiness that comes from giving may be stifled. We should gain much happiness from Christian giving, for the apostle Paul exhorted the older men of an early Christian congregation: “Bear in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, when he himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’” (Acts 20:35) But when one feels compelled to give, either because of curious glances or frowns, then there is a loss of happiness. Also, those who give large sums out of the desire for prestige have their reward, ‘the glory of men,’ and they lose out on the blessedness Jesus spoke about. (Matt. 6:1-4) Though much giving today is hardly cheerful giving, it has not always been that way. Consider the early Christians.
CHEERFUL GIVING OF EARLY CHRISTIANS
How did they give? Says historian Edward Gibbon: “A generous intercourse of charity united the most distant provinces, and the smaller congregations were cheerfully assisted by the alms of their more opulent brethren.”1 Their giving was cheerful because it was entirely voluntary. Says church historian Neander: “The care of providing for the support and maintenance of the stranger, the poor, and the sick, of the old men, widows, and orphans, and of those who were imprisoned for the faith’s sake, devolved on the whole community. This was one of the chief purposes for which voluntary contributions at the times of assembling for divine service were established.”2
There were no paid clergy, no tithing and no passing of collection plates among the early Christians. “In her days of pristine simplicity, the ministers of the Church supported themselves by their own labour.”3 “In every place of worship, however small, there was a box, where all worshipers deposited their offerings.”4 The time of giving and the size of the gift were entirely voluntary. Wrote Tertullian, who became a convert to Christianity about 190 (A.D.): “Every man once a month brings some modest coin—or whenever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering.”5
So wherever the early Christians met they had a box in which one could drop whatever he would like to contribute. Small sums were never discouraged. The early Christians knew what Jesus Christ said about the widow who contributed two small coins of very little value—that she had in reality dropped in more than all the other contributors. (Luke 21:1-4) They knew the principle that the apostle Paul set down: “For if the readiness is there first, it is especially acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what a person does not have.” (2 Cor. 8:12) When there was a special need, the early Christians set aside what they could give according to their financial prosperity: “Every first day of the week let each of you at his own house set something aside in store as he may be prospering.”—1 Cor. 16:2.
Such kind of giving brought many blessings to the givers. They were giving from their heart, and it brought them happiness. They also had God’s blessing upon their giving, and the way the money was used brought benefits to many persons. The result was the blessedness described by the apostle Paul: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. In everything you are being enriched for every sort of generosity, which produces through us an expression of thanks to God.” (2 Cor. 9:7, 11) The apostle explains that such giving did not end in meeting the wants of fellow Christians, but it resulted in an overflowing tide of thanksgiving to God. Such giving proved the reality of their faith and glorified God.
The early Christians did more than assist fellow believers; they assisted nonbelievers by bringing them the good news of God’s kingdom. When the early Christians materially assisted the apostle Paul in his missionary work, they could feel that they were advancing the interests of God’s kingdom. They felt like the apostle himself, who said: “I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with others.”—1 Cor. 9:23.
CHEERFUL GIVING OF CHRISTIANS TODAY
True Christians today want to be like the early ones, who enjoyed the blessedness of cheerful giving. Where may one find this kind of giving? By visiting one of the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s witnesses you will see it. At their Kingdom Halls and other meeting places, no matter how small, Jehovah’s witnesses have a box where one may place contributions. The box is never passed around. All is voluntary and one can drop in what he wishes. No one is embarrassed, ridiculed or honored. Funds contributed are not used for the salary of the presiding minister but for the upkeep of the hall and to expand the good news of God’s kingdom in the particular locality.
The more than 22,000 congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses throughout the world also recognize the need to advance the good news, not only in their own locality and country, but also worldwide. For that reason, congregations, when they are able, pass resolutions to send certain amounts to the Watch Tower Society, which directs the worldwide preaching of Jehovah’s witnesses. When a number of congregations of Witnesses meet at circuit assemblies, they not only contribute for the renting of the larger hall but they often pass a resolution to send a contribution to the Society.
Not only do congregations and circuits of Jehovah’s witnesses contribute directly to the Society for furthering the preaching work, but so do individuals. They do this by sending their contribution to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 124 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn 1, New York. Those living in lands outside the United States send their gifts to the local branch office, the address of which appears at the back of most of the Society’s books and booklets.
Though Jehovah’s witnesses do not make pledges, obligating them to give specified amounts, they recognize the principle set forth in Paul’s words: “Therefore I thought it necessary to encourage the brothers to come to you in advance and to get ready in advance your bountiful gift previously promised, that thus this might be ready as a bountiful gift and not as something extorted.” (2 Cor. 9:5) The early Christians felt it right to state in advance what they would like to give, so plans could be made. To that end each year many individual witnesses of Jehovah write a note to the Society saying that during the year they hope to be able to contribute a certain amount directly to the Society to advance the Kingdom work worldwide. It is not a pledge but merely an estimation of what they would like to give and hope to give, Jehovah willing. The Society appreciates this, and no one is reminded when he is unable to give what he had hoped. All is voluntary. Never does the Society look down on a small contribution. Some Witnesses in various lands can contribute only a small amount, like the widow of whom Jesus spoke. And they may even have to save quite a bit and do much planning to send that small amount; yet the amount is not the factor. They know the blessedness of cheerful giving.
How does the Watch Tower Society use contributions, to the blessing of all involved? Last year, for example, the Society was able to spend more than $2,600,000 to aid missionaries and special pioneer ministers in preaching God’s kingdom earthwide. The Society also spent $470,000 to help circuit and district servants to meet expenses incurred in visiting congregations of the Witnesses to encourage them in their ministry. Further, this year 104 ministers were brought in from many parts of the world for special training at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, expenses paid. The Society also maintains eighty-seven branch homes and offices, operating printing plants at some of them so that the Society’s publications, such as this journal, may be distributed worldwide on a small contribution basis.
Though Jehovah’s witnesses contribute to the Society directly and to their local Kingdom Hall, their giving does not end with voluntary financial support. They give also of their time and energy to help others learn of God’s kingdom. “The whole Church” of the first two centuries, observes one historian, “was essentially a missionary society.”6 They were all cheerful givers. By following the example of those early Christians, rather than the pattern in Christendom, the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses is enjoying today the blessedness of cheerful giving.
1 History of Christianity, by Edward Gibbon, p. 177.
2 The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries, by Augustus Neander, translated from the German by H. J. Rose, p. 156.
3 Early Church History, Edward Backhouse and Charles Tylor, p. 263.
4 History of the Christian Church, by John F. Hurst. Vol. 1, p. 360.
5 Apology, translated by T. R. Glover, p. 175.
6 Martyrs and Apologists, De Pressensé, p. 20.