When King David wants to build an altar to the LORD and Araunah offers to give him the piece of land and the animals for the sacrifice, David replies: “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” (1 Chron.21:24) At the end of his life, when David oversees the gifts for building the temple he prays: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” (1 Chron.29:14) Both elements are important when it comes to our finances. When we give, we give from what we have. This is not always easy, because we like to hold to what we have earned. At the same time, we know that we give to the Lord only what He first gave to us. This chapter deals with the use of finances, a touchy subject. It can be easier for some to speak about their faith than to open their wallet. But also our money is to be ruled by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
The Bible teaches us that God, as the Creator of all things, owns everything.
Psalm 24: 1-2; Psalm 50: 10-11
We receive all we have in trust, in order to use it in the service of the LORD. We are stewards.
Leviticus 25: 23; Psalm 8: 6-8; Psalm 115: 16; Ecclesiastics 2: 24-25
To have property, yes, even to have wealth is not wrong in itself.
1Kings 3: 11-13
The book of Deuteronomy often addresses the use of material possessions. Israel will receive the land Canaan as a gift of the LORD, but it remains His. He will give a blessing when they use this gift to serve Him. He will show the power of His curse when they do not respect Him as the Giver or misuse what He gives.
Deuteronomy 8: 11-14; Deuteronomy 8: 17-18; Deuteronomy 15: 7-8
No Israelite really owned land, he received it in trust. This is why each seventh year the land had to have rest (Leviticus 25:1-7), and each fiftieth year all land returned to its original recipient (Lev. 25:8-55). Also in the feast of the first fruits the people were reminded of their stewardship before the LORD. The LORD demands the best and the first of the harvest.
Deuteronomy 26: 1-4
In other customs this came out as well.
Exodus 30: 12; Deuteronomy 26: 12-13
We have examples when the people were willing to give.
Exodus 35 and 36
There were also times when the people did not use their possessions to the glory of God. Take for example the situation during the time of Amos.
Amos 2: 6; Amos 5: 11; Amos 6: 4-7
The Bible teaches that money is not evil in itself, but the people of God have to use it in the fear of the LORD. They may not rely on or live for money.
Proverbs 10: 22; Proverbs 11: 4; Proverbs 11: 28; Proverbs 18: 11; Proverbs 28: 11; Proverbs 30: 7-9; Ecclesiastics 5: 12-19
Without such wisdom believers can come in serious crises.
Psalm 49: 16-20; Psalm 73: 3-12
This is what the wicked are like– always carefree, they increase in wealth.
In the time of Haggai, the people did not give to the LORD. The result was that their harvests failed. The LORD calls them to give to Him first again, then they will have enough food on their plates as well.
Haggai 1: 4-13
In the days of Malachi, the LORD regards not giving to Him as robbing Him.
Malachi 3: 9-10
In the New Testament we read the warnings of the Lord Jesus with regard to the misuse of property.
Matthew 6: 24; Matthew 19: 23-24; Matthew 22: 21; Matthew 25: 14-30; Luke 21: 1-4
In the parable of shrewd manager, the Lord shows that we need to use our money for the benefit of our brothers and sisters. The Lord connects to this a blessing. Faithfulness in material things on this earth leads to eternal reward on the new earth.
Luke 16: 10-12
The church after Pentecost put in practice the teachings of the Lord.
Acts 2: 44-45; Acts 4: 32-37
The apostles were not opposed to possessions as such.
1Timothy 4: 4-5
The apostles had to warn against the misuse and danger of money.
Romans 13: 8; 1Timothy 6: 7-11; 1Timothy 6: 17-19; James 1: 9-11; James 2: 2-6; James 5: 1-6
Office bearers should give the proper example and not be greedy
1Timothy 3: 3; 1Timothy 3: 8
The apostles gave the example in encouraging the churches to contribute for the needy churches in Judea
Romans 15: 26-27; 1Corinthians 16: 1-2; 2Corinthians 8: 7; 2Corinthians 8: 13-15; 2Corinthians 9: 6-7
2Corinthians 9: 11
The fourth commandment mentions the giving of Christian offerings for the poor. The eighth commandment addresses the use of money in our lives of gratitude.
Q/A 103: What does God require in the fourth commandment?
First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained and that, especially on the day of rest, I diligently attend the church of God to hear God’s Word, to use the sacraments, to call publicly upon the LORD, and to give Christian offerings for the poor.
Second, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, let the LORD work in me through His Holy Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.
Q/A 110: What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?
God forbids not only outright theft and robbery but also such wicked schemes and devices as false weights and measures, deceptive merchandising, counterfeit money, and usury;
we must not defraud our neighbour in any way, whether by force of by show of right.
In addition, God forbids all greed and all abuse of squandering of His gifts.
Q/A 111: What does God require of you in this eighth commandment?
I must promote my neighbour’s good wherever I can and may, deal with him as I would like others to deal with me, and work faithfully so that I may be able to give to those in need.
The Church Order contains several articles that deal with finances
The consistory with the deacons, as representing the congregation, shall be bound to provide for the proper support of its minister(s).
If a minister of the Word, … does retire … he shall retain … his official bond with the Church which he served last, and this Church shall provide honourably for his support. The same obligation exists towards a minister’s widow and/or other dependants.
The Church shall maintain an institution for the training for the ministry
The Churches shall endeavour that there be students of theology, extending financial aid to those who are in need of it.
The specific duties of the office of deacon are …. to gather and manage the offerings and distribute them in Christ’s Name according to need.
In the Form for Ordination, and then especially that part that deals with the deacons touches on the subject of finances and giving. Also the Form for Marriage refers to helping those in need. Among the Prayers, the opening prayer for the Meeting of the Deacons should be mentioned.
Form for Ordination:
They [=deacons] shall gather and manage the offerings and distribute them in Christ’s Name, according to need.
You, deacons, be faithful and diligent in the gathering of gifts and distribute them cheerfully to those who need assistance, especially to the widows and orphans
Take care that the deacons have sufficient means to fulfil their ministry. Be good stewards of all that the Lord has entrusted to you.
Form for Marriage:
Work faithfully in your daily calling, that you may support your family and also help those in need.
Prayer # 15: An Opening Prayer for the Meeting of the Deacons
May He [=Holy Spirit] lead us to them [=those who are truly in need] and help us distribute the alms that have been collected as each one’s need may render necessary, in a spirit of joy, fidelity, and liberality. Kindle fervent love in the hearts of Thy people, that they may generously contribute to the possessions entrusted to them as stewards. Grant us sufficient means to bring relief to the needy. May we discharge the duties of our office as Christ’s ministers of mercy. Give us Thy grace to relieve want by means of material gifts and to instil the comfort of Thy Holy Word into the hearts of the afflicted, that they may put their trust in Thee alone. Bless, we pray The, our ministration and multiply the bread of the poor, that both they and we may praise and thank Thee, while we await the blessed appearance of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, who became poor for our sakes that He might enrich us with eternal treasures.
Since the Lord makes us stewards, our calling is to be good stewards. This applies to how we
As overseers we have to instruct, help and supervise the congregation in being good stewards.
See 2-2: The Service of Mercy.
See 3-8: The Deacons
In our worship services we may show our thankfulness in giving for the ministry of mercy according to the measure in which the Lord has blessed us. This means that the collection is an integral part of worshipping the Lord. The Catechism and Church Order indicate this as well.
The collection for the ministry of mercy is to be distinguished from the regular contributions for the church. When in Lord’s Day 38, q/a 103 the Catechism lists the various parts of the worship service and also refers to the collection, then it speaks of giving “Christian offerings for the poor.” The Church Order in Art. 23 mentions as one of the tasks of the deacons “to gather and manage the offerings and distribute them.” As a separate item both the Heidelberg Catechism and the Church Order also speak of the need to take care of the church and its budget. Lord’s Day 38 says that the ministry of the gospel be maintained, but the way the answer is formulates shows that this is not directly connected to the worship service. The Church Order speaks about financial obligation of the members, e.g. in Art. 10, 13, 19 and 20. Again this is not directly tied to the worship service. We see thus that the offerings for the poor are connected to the worship services, but the other financial obligations toward the church are not.
This is in line with the Word of God. Both the Old and New Testament teach the obligation to take care of the needy. Both also indicate that this care for the needy is part of the worship service. From the O.T. we learn that the meals connected to the sacrifices included the care for the needy (Deut. 26:12). Care for the needy flowed out of receiving the blessing from the LORD. In the N.T. we read about the care for the needy in the church soon after Pentecost. Acts 2:42-45 indicates that this care was related to the worship services. At the same time both the Old and New Testament speak of providing for those “employed” in the ministry of the Word. In the O.T. the people were supposed to bring their tithes, but this was not connected to the yearly feasts which celebrating redemption. In the N.T. Paul speaks about the “wages” and “honour” for those labouring in the gospel (1 Cor.9:9; 1 Tim.5:18), but this also was not connected to the worship service either.
The churches of the Reformation returned to the practice of collecting in the worship service for the needy. In the Middle Ages the collections and contributions had come to be regarded as gifts that should appease the Lord. It was part of our good works by which we could earn grace. The Reformed churches stressed that the gifts are tokens of thankfulness (Calvin, Institutes, IV, 17, 44). Although there was some difference among the early Reformed churches with regard to the place of the collection in the worship service (at the end of the service or earlier), there was agreement in that the collection was to be for the needy. Over the following centuries collections were introduced for causes other than the ministry of mercy. This was not in line with the Reformed heritage. We do well to stay in line with the Confessions and Church Order by limiting the collection to the ministry of mercy. The ministry of mercy is not limited to the needs within the congregation but could also include causes like Anchor or CRWRF or Coram Deo. They are all means by which we show mercy to those far away or closer by who are in need. Matters related to the ministry of the Word, such as Mission or Theological College should be part of the annual church budget.
It is the deacon’s office to gather, manage and distribute the gifts of the congregation. The distribution is done within the congregation. At times they may help the deacons of a sister church. They may also distribute the money to other worthwhile causes that fit within the ministry of mercy outside the congregation. They have to inform the congregation which causes they support. As a rule, this is done with the statements in the bulletin.
Lord’s Day 38 of the Heidelberg Catechism states that “the ministry of the gospel be maintained.” The Lord demands that we make sure that the gospel can be preached. This includes among other things the financial contribution to meet the budget of the church. Under the Old Testament the people of Israel had to make sure that work of the priesthood could continue. So also under the New Testament the church is called to make sure that the ministry of the gospel can continue. To be responsible in the use of its money the council prepares a budget annually. It is published and discussed with the congregation. The congregation is allowed to give its input. After all the members are expected to contribute. Involving the congregation encourages the council to exercise proper stewardship.
For further info on the budget, see 3-7, Committee of Administration.
All wage earners in the congregation are expected to contribute on a regular basis according to their blessings. Also young people are stimulated to give their first fruits to the Lord. When a member makes public profession of faith, he promises to be a living member of the church. This involves financial obligations as well. All communicant members therefore receive a box of envelopes. A married couple receives one box of envelops. The contributions are recorded by the treasurer and once per year a tax receipt is issued. Every three months the ward elders receive a list of contributions for their ward.
The contributions to meet the budget are called the Regular Voluntary Contributions (R.V.C.). It is important to distinguish these contributions from the gifts for the needy. We are called to provide for those in need and have to see to it that the deacons have sufficient funds. Besides this we have the obligation to maintain the ministry of the Word. At times members will object to using the envelopes because they feel that it should remain secret what they give. They use the words of the Bible that the right hand should know what the left is doing. However, that text applies to the gifts for the needy, not to the task to maintain the ministry of the gospel. There is nothing wrong with the overseers knowing how much a member is contributing. In the Old Testament the contribution was open to the priests as well.
We use the word contribute. This word means: to give together with others, or to give for a common purpose. The word contribute brings out that we do this together. The apostle Paul speaks about this in 2 Corinthians 9, referring to the ingathering of the manna. The R.V.C. is not an assessment, nor a membership due, but evidence of thankfulness towards the Lord. We use the word “regular” in connection with this contribution. The regularity of the contribution shows the commitment. It should not be that we pay whenever we feel like it. The council does not give the congregation a set time period, although it favours a weekly or monthly contribution. This contribution is also voluntary. The Lord loves the cheerful giver. This also means that we must give according to the measure in which the Lord has blessed us.
Each year Council indicates the average amount expected from a single member and from a married couple. This is a touchy and difficult matter. We do not want to give the impression that R.V.C. is an assessment. Members who legitimately cannot make this average should not feel that they are falling short when they are doing their best. On the other side, members who can do better, should not hesitate to give more. The average is in that sense a guideline. Monthly the income figures are published in the bulletin, to inform the congregation whether more is needed or not.
The ward elders receive a report of the contributions in their ward every three months. Once a year the consistory goes over these figures. This is usually done in September, prior to the home visit season. In this way the consistory can decide whether this matter should be addressed with a particular member or family. This way the elders, when dealing with this at the home visit, have the backing of the whole consistory. The drawback of this set up is that if the time the home visit takes place several months later the decision of the consistory has faded to the background and the elders may even forget to address it. Nor is there much opportunity to follow up on it. The elders may contact the members whenever they receive the quarterly statement.
What is the duty of the elders in regard to the contributions? Some elements are:
The church has a treasurer and a bookkeeper. The treasurer is member of the Consistory.
For the task of the treasurer:
See 3-7 Committee of Administration.
For the task of the bookkeeper is:
See 3-7 Committee of Administration.
Prior to presenting the new budget to the congregation the Council appoints several audit committees, to audit the books of the treasurer, of the deacons, and of other committees that use funds under the supervision of the Council. These audit committees report to the Council prior to the congregational meeting in writing. The congregation is informed of these reports and they are placed in the archives.
Maintaining the ministry of the gospel includes the support for the minister and his family. The Church Order gives several stipulations in this regard. In the Letter of Call the church promises to provide for the minister and his family. This is worked out in an agreement added to the letter of call. Twice a year the ward elders visit the minister and his wife to ask about the financial situation. They report to Council. The report is discussed without the minister present. He will be informed of Council’s decision after re-entering the meeting.
The book of Proverbs shows that being able to handle money and possessions wisely requires wisdom. Often you notice that lack of funds is due to mismanagement. There is a task for the elders and deacons to instruct in such situations. This instruction requires wisdom as well. It is easy to hurt people in this regard. Not everyone can do the same with the same amount of money. Yet, such education is important. We must also encourage parents and grandparents to instruct and help children and grandchildren. We live in a greedy society. We live in a wasteful society. This does not bypass our homes either. We want a certain standard of living and a certain amount of luxury and comfort, but at what costs does this come? It is necessary to teach contentment and frugality. We must also warn against the easy use of credit, and promote the use of a budget and saving. This instruction should start at an early age.
The eighth commandment which requires that we are not to steal also implies the command to work faithfully. The Heidelberg Catechism then also states in Q/A 111 that we must work faithfully to be able to give to those in need. The Bible warns against stealing, and unfair practices, but also against laziness and calls us to be useful with our hands. Dealing with finances then also involves our attitude toward work.
If you lend to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a money lender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbour’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.
Leviticus 25:35; Proverbs 6:6; Proverbs 9:17; Proverbs 12:24; Proverbs 18:9; Ephesians 4:28
1Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2Thessalonians 3:6-13
We witness in our congregation an increase in the number of mothers who go out to work. Many explain that this needs to be done in order to make ends meet. This can be true, but it should not be forgotten either that this may be done not only to make the school payments but also out of a desire to maintain a certain lifestyle or to cover up a lack of financial management. We do well to talk about this with the family involved if we have concerns.