There has been a lot of teaching about money in the church, especially about "sow and reaping". I am concerned that this teaching can make God's blessing sound like "magic" and the church sounds like a "cargo cult" (One day ships and planes will come loaded with material goods). There is a widespread belief that God will one day make us rich. This has done considerable damage to the church.
We must understand that there are only three ways that God can give money to a Christian.
God can bless our work. If a person is an employee, they may be given extra hours, a bonus, an increase in pay, or a big redundancy cheque. If the Christian is self-employed, God can bless them by developing their business. If the Christian is an investor, God can bless them by guiding them in the choice of good investments. In each case, the Christian has to be diligent and work hard to get the blessing.
God can use a miracle to provide money. When Jesus needed money to pay the temple tax, he sent Peter to catch a fish. Peter found a coin in the fishes mouth (Matt 17:27). In this situation, God used a miracle to provide Peter and Jesus with money. This kind of miracle is relatively rare, even for Jesus. His needs were mostly provided by his supporters (Luke 8:3).
In this case, I presume that God did not create a totally new coin (this would have been inflationary). Rather, a fisherman must have lost a coin overboard and the fish must have swallowed it. The miracle was in leading Peter to the fish, not in creating the coin. Elijah being fed by the ravens is a similar type of miracle (1 Kings, 17:5,6).
Sometimes when people are in desperate situations, God does provide for his people through creative miracles. The best example is the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:13-17) and the feeding of the one hundred (2 Kings 4:42-44). Other examples are the widow's oil and flour used to feed Elijah (1 Kings 17:5,6) and the widow's jar of oil (II Kings 4:3-7). There are two interesting things about these miracles. Firstly, they were to bless other people, and not for the servant of God. In two cases, the beneficiaries were widows (for whom God has special concern). Secondly, God only provided food; he did not provide money. The woman who assisted Elisha was able to get money, but primarily to settle her debt.
Giving and sharing are at the heart of the Christian faith (Acts 2:45). The main way that God will bless a Christian with additional money is by prompting other Christians to give him some. Sometimes he will prompt non-Christians to give to us (Exodus 12:36). However, non-Christians are not so good at hearing God speak, although they are sometimes better at giving.
Sharing is a manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:44,45 4:31-33).
These are the only three ways that God can bless us with extra money. The first is important, the second will be in rare emergencies and the third is the most common. This means that there is no "easy money". When praying about money problems, Christians often expect that God will answer with a creative miracle. As this is not the normal way that God works, they are often disappointed. He will more often use one of the other two methods.
Paul often received financial support from other Christians (method 3). God may have sent an occasional storm to damage people's tents and increase the demand for tentmakers (method 1). However there is no biblical evidence that the Lord provided money to Paul through creative miracles (method 3). We should expect a similar pattern in our lives.
Paul clearly stated the principle of sharing in 2 Cor 8:8-15. God has set the world up so we have to share. All people have different abilities and needs, so wealth and income are inevitably unequal. Yet Paul says that equality is an important goal (v13). This does not mean that all Christians should have exactly the same amount of money. Rather it means that every person should have what they need. People have different needs. Like the manna, no one should have more than they need or less than they need (v.14-15).
God has left us with a dilemma. How can we achieve this type of equality in a world that is inherently unequal? Most human philosophers have agreed with this goal, but they don't agree on how it should be achieved. Robin Hood tried to achieve it, by robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Socialists try and achieve it by taxing the rich and giving benefits to the poor. Neither of these methods has worked.
The Christian answer to the dilemma of equality in an unequal world is sharing. Those who have more than they need should give to those who don't have all that they need. This behaviour was modelled by Jesus, who was rich, but became poor, so that we might become rich (v. 9). Christians who are rich should give to those who are poor, so they have all they need. This is a very radical vision, but the church has not taken it seriously. If we really got hold of it, the income distribution within the Christian community would be much more even than in the world. In reality that is not the case. The church has some who are extremely rich and others who are extremely poor; it is no different from the world.
John reinforced Paul's message about money in an even more powerful way. He said,
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3:17)
This follows on from verse 10, where John is talking about laying down our lives for our brothers. He is saying that sharing with other believers is a measure of the love of God within us. Inequality in a Christian church is a sign that the love of God is missing.
Paul gave a similar message to Timothy.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasures for themselves as a firm foundation. (1 Tim 6:17-19)
We are commanded to be generous and willing to share.
Perhaps there should be less teaching about giving to the church and more teaching about giving to other Christians. I certainly find it hard to hear God telling me to give money to another person, especially if they have not always handled their money wisely.
Transfer of Wealth
The great irony of our time is the fact that many Christian programs are short of money. There are many prophecies that God is going to take the wealth of the world and give it to the church. I have my doubts about this.
The church in the west has enormous wealth. If we were to total the incomes of all the Christians in the West. it would be an enormous figure. It would far exceed the national income of the Roman Empire in Jesus time. Likewise, if we were to add up the value of all the assets owned by Christians in the western world, it would be a huge value, immensely larger than the wealth of Solomon. The assets of the church itself are also immense.
The modern church is far richer than the early church. Applying the Parable of the Talents, Jesus has given us hundreds of talents compared to the one given to the early church. Yet the early church has done far more with its one talent, than we have done with our hundreds.
Unless we learn the power of sharing, it is unlikely that God will take the wealth of the world and give it to the church. He could not trust us. More likely he is thinking that it would be better if we had less wealth, so we would be distracted by it. He is more likely to take some wealth off us and give it to Christians in the third world, who really do need it.
The Power of the Tenth
A simple example of the power of sharing is as follows. If ten people will give one tenth of their income to an eleventh person (who has no income), that person will have an income which is equivalent to the average income of the ten people supporting him.
This means that ten people can support one person in full-time ministry. That means a church with a hundred members could support ten full-time Christian workers. If some of them are in third world countries, where the cost of living is less, the church could support up to fifteen full time workers. Many of them could be evangelists. If the church was to apply this approach, which is just a variation on tithing, it could have a much greater impact on the world.
In a church that has learned to share, it will be much easier to live out Jesus' command not to worry about what we need (Matt 6:25-34). We would not need to worry, because we would know that Christians would give to us when we have a need, just as we would give to them when they have a need. Sharing wealth and income really frees Christians up to seek first the Kingdom of God.