When Paul was en route to Jerusalem with a gift for the poor saints there, he requested that the Roman assemblies pray for him (Romans 15:30, 31). One of the reasons, of course, was the danger which awaited him at every turn. But he also requested that they pray that his "service ... may be accepted of the saints." Why was Paul concerned that his service might not be accepted by other believers? Why was he requesting prayer for this?
One possible reason was that Paul was faced with the concern that his gift might be viewed as a bribe, as a way of trying to "buy" the acceptance of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. Here was a gift from Gentile churches to poor believers in Jerusalem. Was this Pauls ruse for ingratiating himself with those in Jerusalem? Was he trying to obligate the Jewish believers to accept Gentile believers on an equal footing?
Suspected motives, embarrassment, a sense of obligation, humiliation - all these are involved when financial gifts pass between believers. A believers giving to the needs of another believer is actually the most difficult form of giving and requires the highest measure of spiritual care on the part of both the giver and the recipient.
Yet this form of giving is mentioned several times in our New Testament as being part of our Christian responsibility and privilege. "They would that we remember the poor; the same which I was also forward to do" (Galatians 2:10). "But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he hath denied the faith" (1 Tim 5:1-11). Giving to distant believers in foreign lands whom we may never see is much easier than giving to saints who are in the same assembly or area.
Occasions for Giving
Giving can result from several different situations. An individ-uals need may be apparent. A recent setback in health or business may create sudden need; an unexpected tragedy to home or property from a natural disaster can overwhelm most families and their monetary ability to respond. Believers, in true fashion, rise to the occasion and meet the need financially.
At times, however, need is not so apparent. Believers, to their credit, do not make a habit of broadcasting need and looking for financial help. Yet, exercised believers have been known to have burdens placed upon their hearts by God. These burdens have been in response to needs they would never have known by simply "observing" the exterior.
But we are creatures of extremes. Most believers would feel a reluctance to accept money from another. But then there are occasions when believers have gone into debt and turned to the assembly, asking for financial relief. Each of these situations is different and requires individual care and exercise.
Giving to Needy Saints
Every assembly and every believer ought to have some exercise about this area of Christian responsibility. As a young boy, I remember a box which was at the back of the hall upon which was neatly written, "For needy saints." In our affluent society, most of these boxes no longer exist. Yet, the exercise should still be present because the need is still present.
Giving to needy saints in other lands or in response to major tragedies such as hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters is common. Giving to help needy saints in "third-world" countries is also common. These are genuine sScriptural displays of love one to another.
The embarrassment and awkwardness involved in giving to other believers can only be prevented if giving, and receiving, are done in the right spiritual condition. If my giving is truly "unto the Lord," then I have absolutely no expectation of anything in return. That includes any sense of obligation or indebtedness on the part of the recipient. I am giving because of my indebtedness to the Lord, not to create a further indebtedness on the part of others to me. If my giving is "unto the Lord," then I will view it as a privilege to give and not a burden.
How can we avoid the problem, however, of receiving and giving when it is someone we know? As a recipient, if I receive a gift as "from the Lord," then my sense of indebtedness will be directed toward Him. That does not remove from me the obligation to acknowledge the sacrifice which others have made. But my ultimate thanksgiving and indebtedness is to the Lord who is the source of all.
Giving to Asking Saints
But what of those rare occasions when believers have gone into debt and then turned to the assembly for assistance? Should believers who have sacrificed to make funds available to the assembly "give" to assist some who have not shown the same care in their stewardship of material things? All would agree that the Lords money should not subsidize wasteful living. But each case would have to be judged on its own merits (or demerits). Some may have gotten into debt by circumstances beyond their own control. A period of assistance from the assembly might well enable them to get "back on their feet" and to resume a life marked by a good testimony and faithfulness in material things.
Then there are others who have been marked by a careless and thoughtless attitude toward their financial responsibilities. Here, brethren would rightly request the privilege of creating a budget and establishing some accountability for any assembly funds given to assist in time of need. A periodic review and re-assessment of the brothers financial state would be in order and in keeping with our need to be good stewards. To give without any requirement for accountability would be to encourage fiscal irresponsibility (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 12).
As believers, we are given the opportunity to "make ... friends of the mammon of unrighteousness." That does not mean that we "buy" the friendship of other saints. But it does mean that we use everything which God has given us for the good of others. This not only glorifies God, but also furthers the depth of fellowship between believers.