Fair implies following an agreed set of rules overseen by an impartial judge with good operational control over enforcement. We all expect this kind of “fair” when it comes to paychecks, voting booths, sports referees and dare I say our parents’ love!
Fair is clearly influenced by our culture and as well as by written rules. For example, it used to be right to give the family farm or firm to the oldest male relative; never the daughter. Birth order not competence determined the inheritance. America started with a lot of single pioneers who were the “other” sons and daughters seeking their fortune away from home.
But our culturally derived “sense of fair” is not the primary standard of Biblical giving. After Moses collected plenty to build the tabernacle, he refused gifts from willing donors who brought their gifts too late! Paul collected money from his Greek Church friends for believers in Jerusalem suffering from famine. But Paul didn’t ask to help Palestinian Samaritan unbelievers hurt by the same famine. These fundraisers were not operating on our idea of fairness which assumes everyone gets the same treatment. They exercised discretion or judgment.
Jesus challenged his disciples’ norm for fair giving when he measured a widow’s 2 mites as worth more than the bags of coins dumped in the collection box by the rich. He also recommended they give whenever someone asked. God seems to judge givers by what motivation them, not the size of the gift. Challenging, but this does seem fair!
The primary “rule” for Christians who give is freewill generosity. We must give generously with a joyful heart. We have two bedrock motives to base our obedience to this rule:
1) All we have comes from Christ. So we are stewards, good managers, using our master’s resources as He intends.
2) Since Jesus gave His life for us, we do owe Him everything.
Here are several Bible commands concerning the practice of giving that do still seem fair:
- If I earn more, then I give more; if less, then less. Moses recommended a flat 10 per cent of our income, our “harvest” (depending on how we earn our money), should be set aside regularly. It wasn’t a tax, but a freewill offering. This wasn’t collected from wealth or after a death. There were no calculations to consider “deductions, exemptions or credits!”
- Our poor neighbors deserve our personal consideration. Groups should create systems to care for the poor and the strangers or aliens who were the refugees of Biblical times. The systems can be modeled after the ones set up in the Law such as a “Jubilee for debts” or a portion of the local tithe collected every third year.
- Evangelists, teachers and pastors who equip us for ministry should get as much of their living FROM our regular gifts as the time we demand of them is worth.
- Parents should pass on a portion from what they earn to their children and not declare everything a gift to the church. Jesus was particularly upset by the Pharisaic implementation of the Jewish inheritance rule of “Corban.” Similar to the Pharisees, the clergy in the Middle Ages asked for indulgences. Parishioners gave unhealthy amounts because they were told their eternal life depended on it which is not only an error of justice, it is theologically awful.
- Rewards for giving are based on motivation not the size of the gift.
- Others may commend large, public gifts. But that motivation disqualifies those gifts from any reward in heaven!