Maybe you’ve seen something like this: someone holds out a twenty dollar bill, but when the other person starts to pull it away, the first person holds on to it with a death grip. They only let go after an imposing glare or a final meaningful remark. The point of such an act is about control. Even when the money finally leaves their hand, the hovering presence of the giver still follows the money around, breathing down the neck of the receiver. This cash comes with strings attached.
Scripture tells us plainly that the borrower is the slave of the lender, but it seems that something similar happens between receiver and giver. Not quite slavery, since ownership isn’t involved, but maybe renting, since there is an exercise of control, or influence at the very least.
When we are the recipient of such a present, we can instantly tell the difference between that experience and being given a gracious, open-handed gift, and we tend to resent the attempt at control, even if we are in real need. When we’re on the receiving end, we call it manipulation.
On the giving end, however, we often call it stewardship. We take legitimate concerns about wasting resources, enabling foolish behavior, and so on to justify an extreme skepticism and a paternalistic attitude towards our money that perverts careful stewardship into skinflint stewardship. We just can’t quite let go of our “gift.”
The problem is that when we hold on to our money under an overly rigorous idea of stewardship, we let go of faith, hope, and love. Faith that trusts God when He tells us to give to everyone who asks. Hope that cheerful, generous sowing will reap a bountiful harvest. Love that gives and does not hold back.
My target is not wise and careful stewardship. I’m not calling for us to dump cash blindly out of an airplane or even suggesting that giving away money ought to be the default option for helping the needy. What I am saying is that when opportunities for giving arise, our selfish hearts are quick to hold on to our resources until certain conditions are met. Then, we try to cover the tracks of our selfishness by setting a high bar as to what it means to be the “deserving” poor. We suddenly need to know all kinds of things about the person’s situation, the reasons why they need help, their plans for using the gifts they get, etc. Then we need to verify that they are telling the truth. We must assess, prioritize, and evaluate the effectiveness of our gift.
Is this really what Jesus is calling us to do when He tells us to give cheerfully and generously without making our neighbor wait until tomorrow? Is that what the Good Samaritan did? If your idea of stewardship makes it easy to look on the Good Samaritan as a wasteful and profligate giver, then you have misunderstood Christian charity. When we give a gift in Jesus’ name, we are called to give freely. Will we sometimes give to someone who doesn’t really need it? Yes. Will some of our gifts be wasted by the recipient? Yes. Might we be able to think up a “better” use for our resources? Yes.
But God knows all that. He could have called us to investigative giving. He could have given us supernatural heart-reading insight to unmask lazy hustlers. But the God who rains down blessings indiscriminately on the righteous and the good is more concerned with shaping our hearts to be cheerful, open-handed, generous, and prompt givers than He is with balancing heaven’s checkbook. As Proverbs 21:26 says: “the righteous gives and does not hold back.” God wastes tremendous resources on the undeserving. Don’t be afraid to give like God.