This is the third post in my series on Christians and giving from the perspective of Scripture. (See the introduction post here.) I’ve already stated that giving directly to those in need is the most prevalent method of giving by Christians in the New Testament (either by example or instruction).
However, there are a few examples in Scripture of Christians giving indirectly to others because of need. But there are some common aspects of this type of giving in Scripture that is often missing when Christians give today.
First, as with the first type of giving, there are two primary aspects to this type of giving as found in Scripture: 1) someone is giving to someone else through a third party (an intermediary), and 2) the item given is needed by the person receiving it.
Here are two examples of this type of giving:
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35 ESV)
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30 ESV)
In both of these examples, there is a clear need, and the people give specifically to meet those needs. However, instead of giving directly to those in need, they give through someone else – the apostles in the account in Acts 4 and through Barnabas and Saul in the account in Acts 11.
There is another example of Christians giving indirectly to those who are in need in Paul’s letters. Several times Paul mentions that he and others are collecting money to help believers in Jerusalem who are facing another famine, and he encourages his readers to help out their brothers and sisters in Judea.
Here are a few examples where Paul mentions this collection:
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4 ESV)
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints – and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5 ESV)
So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:5-7 ESV)
(In fact, the entirety of 2 Corinthians 8-9 concerns this collection.)
Furthermore, according to Luke, Paul mentions this collection (and giving the money to believers in Jerusalem) when talking to the Roman governor Felix:
Now after several years I [Paul] came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. (Acts 24:17 ESV)
Again, in these cases, the people were giving to those who were in need, although they were giving it through others – that is, other people were responsible for delivering the help to those who were actually in need. (However, in the case of Paul’s collection, Paul did invite people from each city to accompany him. So, that was actually a mixed case of both direct and indirect giving.)
Indirect giving is probably the most prevalent type of giving among Christians today – at least, among Christians in the Western world. However, in the examples from Scripture, even though the people were giving indirectly, they knew that the money was being used to support people in need. This is different than most of the giving done through churches and ministries today.
(It is interesting that many of the passages of Scripture that are applied to encourage Christians to give to churches and organizations today are found in the Scripture mentioned above.)
What would you add to this discussion of Christians giving indirectly to those who are in need through a third party?
Giving and the Church in Scripture Series:
2) Christians giving directly to others because of need
3) Christians giving indirectly to others because of need
4) Christians giving to other Christians who are traveling from place to place
5) Christians giving to other Christians in response to some service