Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Nehemiah 5 - How unjust is my giving?

Nehemiah 5 is a fascinating chapter both as a study on leadership but also as it exposes the human heart.  The people come to Nehemiah with very real problems; giving up time to build the wall has left them little time to work their own land and families are facing very real hunger problems(v2), a famine has exacerbated the problem meaning some are having to mortgage their properties in order to eat(v3), others are having to put their sons and daughters up as collateral on loans they are obtaining from fellow Jews(4-5), some are defaulting or unable to pay because of high interest rates and therefore sons and daughters are being indentured servants to pay the debt.

Its easy to miss here in Nehemiah but this is not affecting everyone the same way.  Some in Jerusalem are not effected, the nobles and officials are the ones Nehemiah challenges because they are the ones who are well off and oppressing the poor.  The work of building the walls is affecting the poorer workers disproportionately and the wealthy are not giving proportionately to their income.  That is in effect what Nehemiah leads them to do, to not just stop the oppression of the poor but to be generous(v9-11).  To provide proportionately to their income.

As I've studied that it has struck home because I know that same situation plays out in our churches.  If we appeal for money for salaries and other things there are those who will give sacrificially in a way that makes life hard for them.  Whilst others of us give out of our wealth but not in a way that is sacrificial, not in a way that is proportional to what we have.  I remember hearing of one church where they worked out that if every member of their congregation was made unemployed but gave 10% of their benefits the churches income would actually increase.  That is staggering.

Nehemiah also links generosity with our money with fear of God.  Our giving is an act of worship.  It is not disconnected from our worship, it is a core part of our worship.  The same link Paul makes when he speaks to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8).  Nehemiah also warns of the seriousness of not giving generously so that the poor do not disproportionately bear the burden, as he makes them take an oath and shakes out his robes(v13) in a vivid picture of the curse on those who do not stop the oppression and act with generosity.

I know in the UK we are squeamish in talking about money, but the Bible isn't.  It calls us to give generously as we have been generously given to in Christ.  It calls us to closely link our giving and our worship, in fact they may even be thought of as index linked.  Imagine what a difference it would make if we set the example and lead our churches to such generous giving that God's name was honoured.  What would it look like for our churches to engage in proportional giving?  What does it mean for us as individuals?

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