The Next Faithful Step
A Pastor's Reflection
“But when you give alms, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
“All who believed were together and had all things in common.”
Money is so personal. It is generally considered rude to ask someone how much he or she makes or how much they spent on something, whether it is a house or a coat. And it is an especial social faux pas to enquire about how much someone gives away. All that is very personal and is no one else’s business. And this often puts the church in a very bad position. I have yet to meet another pastor who likes talking about money to their congregation. Sure, it may not be so bad to talk to other congregations about money, but the people who actually pay you? It is all very awkward. Add to this the shysters asking for people to send them money and promising some sort of divine financial harvest in return for their “faithfulness,” and the church begins to be in an even more difficult place when it comes to talking about money.
For my family this has been part of the gift of tithing. We don’t have to talk and talk and worry about what we will give. We don’t need to ask advice. We know what they goal is and it is a fairly simple matter of making a rudimentary calculation. But I wonder sometimes if we hid behind our tithe. It is a calculation and so we don’t have to talk about our values when it comes to money. We don’t have to talk about how it makes us feel to give. Not that it is all about how one feels about giving (again, this is one of the gifts of tithing—it’s not an emotional but mathematical calculation). But we don’t talk much about the joy of giving or the stress/reluctance that comes with giving. I have come to realize that even in my own family where we have a fairly predictable and standardized way of giving, it still feels so private—and it’s our money that we are reluctant to talk to each other about.
This came out in greater relief when our best friends were wondering about buying a house. They wanted to make sure that they were being financially wise—which to them meant not living outside of their means and not putting themselves in a situation where they were not able to freely give because they were spending everything they had on their own well being. So they asked if they could come over to our house and talk. We are in no way financial gurus, but we love our friends and if they wanted to talk, we would be there for them. What they came over with was a complete layout of all their income and expenses. Everything. They laid bare their financial lives to us completely. And it was impressive. Not impressive in what they were making or what they were giving or what they were spending, but it was impressive in their recognition of the deep spiritual importance and power of money—so much so that they wanted to put it out there like a prayer concern or confession. They wanted their private lives to be publically accountable.
In our family’s effort to tithe, we have not needed to be as thoughtful about the relation of our finances to our spiritual life. Our friends’ openness was a challenge, not to print out our financial records and pass them out, but to be more think harder and more openly about how our money and giving impacts us. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:3 make financial privacy easy. Don’t let your left hand know what you right hand is doing—could anything be more private? But Jesus’ words appear to be much more directed at humility than privacy. And so the communal nature of the financial lives of the early Christians in the book of Acts isn’t as at odds with Jesus’ call to secrecy as it might appear with a superficial reading. After all, what could be more humbling than open and honest talk about what we do with our money?