It has been said that everyone is a leader. Whether they lead well or lead poorly, everyone is a leader whether they admit it or not – whether they are consenting or not. Joseph was no exception. As the baby boy of large family, he was what we might consider “spoiled”. He was favored by his earthly father, but little did he know, he was also favored by his heavenly Father. His earthly father favored him with a coat of many colors, but his heavenly Father favored him with VISION. God blessed Joseph with a positive view of the future that unbeknownst to Joseph was full of purpose. This is how it is with all godly leaders. They are given a vision of the future that shows the future as looking better than it looks like now. If Joseph’s family was already bowing to him before the dream, he would have no need for a vision of it in the future.
In Genesis 37:4, we see that but favor brings hatred. Leaders much accept that being favored by God to carry out something in the world will bring hatred from someone. However, we must keep our eyes on the future and not let the meantime discourage us. When God gives us a vision of the end, He does not inform us about the in-between time. He does not typically give leaders a vision of the journey when He gives leaders a vision of destination. I believe that there is a good reason for this. I believe that if God were to show all leaders a glimpse of the hardships they would face along the way to their actualized vision then most people would be afraid to get out of bed in the morning. If God had shown Joseph the family betrayal, the enslavement, and the wrongful imprisonment, he might have disposed of the variegated coat and the vision!
Another important thing I glean from Joseph’s story of leadership is that his vision was bigger than him and his family. He thought he would simply see the day when his brothers and parents bowed down to him. He more than likely did not see his family doing this begrudgingly. He more than likely did not see this happening in Egypt. He more than likely did not see himself having to wait for over a decade to see this happening. And that is how it goes with many godly visions. As a leader, you will not always see HOW it will happen. And even when you have an idea of how it will happen, it will more than likely STILL not happen that way.
In Genesis 37:5, we see that one of the hardships one might face before they see the actualization of their vision is being misunderstood by those closest to you. Upon telling a family member, a close friend, or a church member the vision God has shown you, you expect them to be happy with you. You expect them to support you. However, perhaps because of jealousy of your purpose in God, they might reject you in order to reject your dream. However, a leader will not give up on the dream just to keep close connections. A godly leader will keep believing in the divine dream coming to pass.
In Genesis 37:8, Joseph’s brothers tried to make him second guess the validity of his dream by questioning his dream. Little did they know, this was not a dream or vision that Joseph concocted for himself out of self-centeredness. It was a divine dream supernaturally downloaded to him by God. As a leader, some people will resent you instead of the God who gave you the vision. They think the dream is about you, but it’s bigger than you and actually includes a huge blessing for them. Nevertheless, do like Joseph and communicate your vision. Whether people like what you are telling them or not, they will still be instrumental in bringing your vision to pass!
In Genesis 37:10, perhaps Joseph’s father was upset with Joseph because he felt that he was the one with the calling from God. He did not have enough foresight to see that God was still bringing to pass the vision He gave to Israel (Jacob) through a vision He gave to Joseph! Leaders have to accept the fact that the people they are leading will not understand that when they support your divine vision that they are supporting their own divine vision. Leaders are to be servants, not self-serving. If people see their leaders as self-serving, they will likely resent them and make them feel guilty about being purposed. After the way that Israel responded to Joseph’s dream, Joseph might have felt some false guilt about knowing that his parents would be bowing down to him.
In Genesis 37:11, the bible says that the vision haters still did not forget the dreamer’s dream. The people a leader communicates his or her dream to may claim not to like, support, or believe it, but they’ll not forget it because they play a part in it!
In Genesis 37:18-20, we see that lack of support can eventually lead to attempts of sabotage. Something that leaders must accept is that some of the people who are to bring the dream to pass with you will conspire to undermine the dream. If a pastor is trying to do something different with his church based on a vision God gave him, there might be a faction on the deacon board that subverts his attempts. If a wife is trying to fulfill a vision to go back to school to get a degree to help others after her kids have gone off to college, her insecure husband might try to sabotage her by making her feel like a bad wife. However, leaders must be “guardians of the vision” regardless of who the vision upsets. This vision is not about the wants of you and your loved ones, but it’s about bringing to pass God’s purposes. Each vision a leader has just plays a small role in God’s great picture and kingdom story. Followers should not resent any vision that would bring God’s purposes to pass. To attempt to overthrow any of God’s visions to man is an attempt to overthrow God’s purposes. Any attempt to resist God would be dangerous and done in vain.
Genesis 37:4 – Favor = Hated
5 – Had a divine vision that he communicated that caused others beneath him or without the dream to hate him and resent the vision
8 – Others will question the vision and try to cause you to second guess it. Once again, those who are not the leader will hate you the more for your vision and your break down of it
10 – Others who think they have a bigger purpose than you will also cause you to second guess the dream and to feel false guilt about it
11 – The haters will never forget your dream even though they claim not to believe in it!
18-20 – The haters will try to kill the vision by killing you! All they see when they see you is someone with divine vision who makes them upset because they have none. (Why are the mad at you and not at the God who chose you without your permission?)
When trying to sell you dream to doubters, it is important to have a person of influence to persuade others to support your dream. However, in Joseph’s case, we see that in Genesis 37:21-22, he just needed one person of influence to dissuade others from killing him (and as a result of that from killing his vision). Even though Big Brother Reuben did not support the dream, he supported Joseph. It has been said that you must buy into the leader before you buy into their vision. Reuben loved his baby brother and so he would not let him die regardless of his vision.
Leaders need people to help sell their dream. Even Jesus used the woman at the well to publicize Him. Leaders need not think that they can pull people in on their own merit. Just because a leader has vision does not mean that he has influence. Joseph had no influence when it came to his vision. However, Reuben as the first-born, had the most influence and respect of all the brothers. He was a God-send that was used to preserve Joseph’s life in the hand of his haters.
One reason people try to undermine leaders is because that vision’s leader may make them feel insecure or inferior. Seeing God use someone who is weaker or younger than you may cause you to resent your life. Leaders must not fuel those fears by flaunting their perceived “superiority” or their favor in the eyes of those they serve. I find it distasteful for a pastor of a very poor congregation to flaunt new suits and expensive vehicles. Perhaps Joseph’s brothers disliked how he pranced around in his multi-colored coat which served as a constant reminder that he was more loved by their father. (In verse 23, it is interesting that before his brothers threw him into the pit, they made sure to tear away his coat as if they could not stand to have him wearing it even if he were to die.)
However, we must not forget God’s sovereignty. Joseph HAD to go to Egypt to fulfill God’s vision. So whether or not he was favored by Israel, whether or not he had a pretty coat, whether or not he had such a dream, God’s sovereignty would have made sure he made it to Egypt. Sure God could have gotten Joseph there a less painful way, but this is the way God chose to do it. Genesis 37:25-28 shows that God, in His omniscience and sovereignty, moves traffic and hearts just in time to keep you on schedule to fulfill the vision. Nothing and no one can disrupt the plans of God. Leaders must not become bitter when their haters are used according to God’s sovereignty. They were just instruments. Leaders must not become arrogant when they are used according to God’s sovereignty. They too are just instruments.
21-22 – But God will raise up someone that will prevent your demise – thus the dream’s demise (thus their insecurity’s and inferiority’s demise). Someone will inadvertently support you (and thus your dream). You need people of influence to add credibility to your vision. Big brother Reuben saved his life (and the vision)!
23 – Your haters will pull off other unrelated things that made them jealous of you. Ex. They’ll try to get you fired and take your man!
25-28 – God will persuade your haters to do acts that move you in position to fulfill the vision!
Leaders must always remember that it is God who gave you the vision and favor to bring about His purposes. There are not exactly YOUR visions, but they are God’s visions. Because they are God’s visions, He will bless those who are carrying out His visions. We see in Genesis 39:2-5 and 23 that God is WITH the one with a vision. Philippians 1:6 lets us know that when God begins a good work or vision in a leader that He will bring it to completion. Favor and good success will follow God’s leaders who live lives to fulfill divine visions.
Something that is very important for leaders to remember is that they are to have a moral code by which they will govern their lives on their way to fulfilling their purpose. We see in Genesis 39:7-12, Joseph did not take advantage of a temptation to have sex with a married woman. Even though it cost him three years in jail, I am sure he did not regret turning her down. He was so ethical and grateful for his blessings that he could not fathom betraying those who blessed him. Sometimes leaders who lead righteous lives will suffer wrongfully for it. Godly leaders must resist the temptations that will doubtless come their way. Leaders are attractive to others because they have things that most people do not have. Many women go for a man with power, influence, position, authority, anointing, etc. They also may have more money with which to make poor decisions. A pastor has more opportunities to travel around the country without his wife which leads to more temptation for adultery. A pastor has more access to other people’s money which leads to more temptation for stealing. But leaders must NEVER give in to temptations which are simply Satan’s way to prevent God’s purposes from coming to pass. Don’t help the devil hurt God, leaders!
Leaders must decide early which principles will govern their life. Joseph’s principle was loyalty and gratitude. He was so loyal to God and Potiphar and he was so grateful for his blessings that he refused to sleep with this married woman. As a side note, it is important for leaders not to find themselves in situations where their “good can be evil spoken of”. Leaders should use wisdom and refrain from being alone with people other than family members so that lies will be unfounded. Because Joseph allowed himself to be alone with this woman, she had access to his clothes that she later used to get him into trouble. (Notice a theme with people taking Joseph’s clothes to undermine him?)
Chapter 40 of Genesis shows us that Joseph’s gift of prophetic dreams and interpretation of prophetic dreams was not just to be put on reserve for the destination. Joseph was also to use his gifts along the journey to assist. While imprisoned for righteousness sake, Joseph used his gift to bless two people, a baker and a cupbearer. This was pivotal to Joseph’s own dream being actualized.
Leaders must not be “grand” when they see they have a vision and purpose. Some leaders feel that once they are called that they are too above the little person. They may feel that if God has called them to be a megapastor that they are too big to accept small church invitations to speak. However, godly leaders must serve others regardless of how irrelevant they may seem to their bigger vision. Because Joseph was kind enough to serve (interpret) for these two men, one was able to bless him in turn in the future when the time was right. Leaders should never underestimate the small tasks they do. They all serve a purpose in the great scheme of things. You never know which of the acts that you chose to do will reap a greater harvest in the future. It’s not your job to determine who is irrelevant to your purpose. It is your job to serve others your gift and leave the rest up to God.
Chapter 41 of Genesis should comfort all misunderstood leaders. Someday, your vision and dreams will be understood and believed. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a great dream that has definitely come to pass. The actualization of your divine dream will be apparent to all the doubters. The dream will happen just the way God said it would in God’s timing. We see in Genesis 42:6 that God will not only move traffic and hearts but also climate and clouds to bring about His purposes.
Chapter 44 and 45 shows that Joseph still kept his morality in the face of those who doubted his dream and who tried to bring about his demise. God gave him understanding after so many years of uncertainty that his vision had come to pass. It’s hard to stay bitter when God makes everything better. Leaders should have a trust in God and a spiritual maturity that causes them to act Christ-like even when being mistreated for no good reason. Leaders should trust that haters are part of the process when someone is called of God. Leaders should understand that it is very difficult from secular-minded persons to understand a God-given dream. Joseph was able to see that this dream was not about him but about God and His purposes. Joseph was able to see his haters are divine assignments he was to bless and preserve. All things work together for the good of them who love God and are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Leaders must trust God’s sovereignty.
Genesis 45 has Joseph explain the vision more clearly to his brothers. Joseph realizes that God had a plan to preserve a remnant of people of Jacob so that they would not perish from hunger in the famine. Joseph said God “sent me before you to preserve life”. Joseph saw the bigger picture. A leader should be able to see the bigger picture and be able to explain this vision to his followers. It is difficult for followers to follow people to a place about which they have no idea. Godly leaders don’t try to make their followers feel bad for not understanding the dream. Joseph told them not to be distressed or angry with themselves for the poor choices they made concerning him. He was too busy being purposeful to be petty.
In Genesis 46:2 God explains to Israel that all along, He was trying to make a great nation out of Israel and his descendants. Israel might have been envious at first of Joseph’s dream, but he can now see that it was actually a way to advance him! Sometimes the people you lead can’t see that your dream is actually going to support their dream! When people get mad at their visionary pastor for raising yet more money for a larger church building, they may not be able to see that in that larger building, there will be a room set aside for them to begin their ministry. To subvert other anointed persons is to sabotage themselves! In Genesis 47:11, Joseph was able to give them the best land in Egypt. In Genesis 47:27, we see that Joseph’s family was greatly blessed because of him.
Lastly, we see that in Genesis 47:31 just as in Genesis 43:26 that the dream will come to pass after all. After all the betrayal. After all the tears. After all the heartache. After all the temptations. After all the lies. After all the jail time. After all the drought. After all the famine. The dream that God gives a leader will come to pass because God will see to it that it does!
Genesis 39:2-5, 23 – God is with the one with a vision
7-12 – Have values that will guide how you will live on your way to your destiny. There will be secular temptations trying to get you off track, but never give in!
Genesis 40 – Your vision is not just for the destiny, but it can also be used for the journey. You can help others along the way. And what you do for the small guys along the way will later result in you having open doors for the destination,
Genesis 41 – Your vision will be apparent before all – believers or otherwise.
Genesis 42:6 – God will move land and sea to make HIS vision come true through you. People will make your vision come true without even knowing!
Genesis 44 – A leader will bless the people He is intended to bless and lead even if they betray Him. He sees them as a divine assignment and he sees their betrayal as working together for the good of God’s vision.
Genesis 45 – A godly leader with vision does not resent those resent him and his godly vision. Rather he sees all thing working together for God’s purpose. Joseph saw the betrayal (and residual hurt) as necessary to sustain the Israel (Jacob) and all of his descendants. The betrayal led to 8
Genesis 46:2 & 47:11&27 – The folk who hated on your dream will eventually realize that it will bless them too!
Genesis 47:31 – They will all bow just as the vision said.
I’ll never be popular, or well-liked. I’ll never have a totally easily life without challenges or difficulties. The reason for this is simply because I believe that truth matters. I am convinced that truth matters. I believe that people should hear and be told and know the truth. Because of that, most people will not like me. I will be labeled as judgmental, as a troublemaker, as a party-pooper, as a rain on one’s parade.
But I will not be silent.
Because I am a mouthpiece for God, I expect to be at odds with the world. Because I have no intentions of turning on God, I expect a world bent on silencing me. But in spite of it all, I will cry aloud.
This is because TRUTH MATTERS. It really, really matters.
If truth did not matter, I would not care if my loved ones dated the wrong person. If truth did not matter, I would eat and drink whatever I wanted without any regard for my health. If truth did not matter, I would not waste my time and money enrolling in a Master’s level seminary program to learn how to better tell people the truth that they someday will die and will face the wrath of an omnipotent God with the power to condemn them to eternal punishment.
Unfortunately though I cannot pretend in that way because TRUTH MATTERS.
It matters that you understand that you only get one body in a lifetime. It matters that you do not marry and produce children with the wrong person who will wreck the lives of your offspring. It matters that you obey a God who can destroy both body and soul in eternal fire. I know these weightier things matter because much smaller truths matter.
Does it matter if you and your boss agree on your pay rate? Does the truth matter about whether or not they are paying you $3 an hour or $30 an hour? Does the truth matter whether or not the sign which says “Bridge Out Ahead” is true or not? Does the truth matter of whether or not the person you are about to engage in unprotected sex with has the HIV, Hepatitis, or Herpes virus? Do these things matter? Of course, only because TRUTH MATTERS.
The thing about truth is that IT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU. A lie will never happen to you. I can tell you that the Tooth Fairy will fly in through your ceiling and give your daughter a quarter for her tooth. But if will never happen. I can tell you that Santa Claus will descend down your chimney to leave presents in time for Christmas morning. But it will never happen. I can tell you that the Easter Bunny will hop through your backyard to leave dyed, hard-boiled eggs and a pastel, shrink wrap-covered Easter basket full of candy and toys and fake grass. But it will never happen. So because it will never happen, I don’t waste my time talking about it. But what matters is what will happen. The truth will happen to you. The reason for this is that TRUTH COMES FROM THE TOP DOWN. In other words, truth comes from God down to mankind. That is the reason it will happen because God can make it happen.
Contrary to popular belief, truth does not come from the inside out. Neither does it come horizontally from person to person. In other words, a fellow human being cannot create eternal truth and then make it true for you unless it is first true from God. In other words, if God says that you will live to be 100 years old, a person can push you off a bridge at age 30 and you’ll simply come up wet. If God says you will be married at the time of your death, you can rest assured that before you die, you will have been at someone’s altar for a wedding. No human can create a truth that God does not agree with.
Truth is eternal; that is why humans cannot make it. Only God can. God knows the end from the beginning. He knew the death dates of every human that would ever be born before the earth was created. Nothing has caught God by surprise. God wasn’t surprised that you got pregnant at age 16. He wasn’t surprised that you lived a homosexual lifestyle for 10 years before you got married in a heterosexual union. He wasn’t surprised that you got addicted to heroin at age 20 because He knew all the truth and facts before they occurred.
In this post-modern society, we are taught that truth is subjective. We are taught that what may be true for you may not be true for me and vice versa. For example, they will teach you that maybe Christianity is the way you will get into heaven, but it will not be the way Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims will get into heaven. They will teach you that maybe you have to be heterosexual to please God in a relationship, but not them. They CLAIM to believe that truth is not objective. It is not from the top down, but they CLAIM to believe that truth comes from within or from whatever is popular in culture at the time. What was true for the 1700’s may not be truth now. What was true from the 1950’s may not be true now. What was true even yesterday and what will be true tomorrow, will not necessarily be truth today for them. But that is a lie. Truth is truth from the beginning because truth does not change because truth knew from the beginning what would be. Why would truth change its mind? Truth would only change its mind if it didn’t know all the facts. But it does!
Truth is not created day by day. Truth is REVEALED over time. God lets His truths be discovered. Don’t think for a minute that if you get married to your soulmate that you MADE that person your soulmate. What happened was that God KNEW it was your soulmate all along and He LET you find him. He LET you discover that truth. You didn’t make it true; it was true. Barack Obama didn’t just happen to become the first black president. God knew from the beginning that it would be so. He didn’t just luck out and win the vote. God knew. It doesn’t mean God chose him, but it means that God knew the truth about who WE would choose.
As you can see, it’s best to discover truth as soon as possible. It saves a lot of wasted time, money, energy, tears, blood, etc. There is one benefit to denying truth however. It seems to temporarily postpone what one does not want to feel at the moment. For example, if the doctor tells me that I have Stage IV pancreatic cancer with 6 weeks left to live, I will be very hurt by that truth. So I may want to deny it in order to postpone those overwhelming feelings of paralyzing, crippling fear. But regardless of what I lie to myself about at the time, it will not change the truth that will happen to me. The lie that I will live to a ripe old age of 92 will only provide temporary comfort. But even while you tell yourself that lie, you can already rest assured that every few seconds, the truth will be screaming loudly, YOU WILL DIE IN A FEW WEEKS! YOU WILL DIE IN A FEW WEEKS! YOU WILL DIE IN A FEW WEEKS! Now you may not die in exactly six weeks. You may die in four or you may die in 6 months, but you will die. You may not die from complications of the disease in 6 weeks because you could die in a car accident immediately after leaving that doctor’s office or you may die of a self-inflicted fatal gunshot wound in 5 weeks. But do not lie to yourself and say that you will live to be 92 if you still have this disease (not unless God Himself tells you that you will because remember only God knows all the truth). What is fact to the doctors doesn’t necessarily have to be truth to God. The doctor can say your prognosis is 3 months, but if God says, “You’ll live 30 more years,” then God’s truth will ALWAYS trump the doctor’s prognosis. Doctors only talk about what their limited experience and studies have shown them, but they cannot talk about what God has ordained. The doctor can say you’ll die in 6 months, but God can say, “You’ll die tonight.” It will happen as God has said.
Truth can hurt, but lies can destroy. For example, let’s say you really want to marry a particular person. Some people would rather believe the lie that they will live happily ever after, but God knows if that person is going be an abusive, raging alcoholic who will leave you for another man or woman after a few months of marriage. Sure, the lie is more dreamy, but remember that a lie cannot happen to you. But the truth will always happen to you.
I have committed myself to sharing the truth with people. Because of my humanity, my delivery may not always be tactful. But may it never be said that I did not share the truth with people when I knew it. If God gives me discernment to see into your situation, if God gives me a close relationship with you, and if God tells me the bad that will come of it if you do not make some changes, then trust me to tell you the truth.
The dilemma that comes up then is that people question your love from them. Why is it that people equate lying with love? They feel that if you choose not to lie to them about what makes them happy, then you do not love you. For example, I believe that godly marriage should be between one man and one woman. But if a loved one of mine chooses a homosexual relationship, they will more than likely want me to give them my blessings (despite the fact that God does not), and they want this done all in the name of being loving and nonjudgmental. But how loving is it for me to see you headed towards certain destruction and heartache and to turn a blind eye and to offer you a smile as you head there? Love will say STOP! DON’T! RECONSIDER! Love does not always say, DO IT! GO AHEAD! I SUPPORT YOU 100%!
And that is why I will not be popular in this world. I will be seen as the enemy. I will be seen as judgmental. I will be seen as harsh. But at least the eyes of God, I will be seen as His mouthpiece. I will only tell the truth.
“The proclamation of grace has its limits. Grace may not be proclaimed to anyone who does recognize or distinguish or desire it…The world upon whom grace is thrust as a bargain will grow tired of it, and will not only trample upon the Holy, but also will tear apart those who force it on them.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If you’ve been raised in the American church any length of time, you’ve heard of or experienced the traditional and time-honored “Altar Call”. This is a call that is administered typically at the close of a church service after the sermon and before the offering. This call is a petition – a beckoning if you would – of the lost souls in the church to come down the aisle and to stand at the altar to do business with God.
In the church settings in which I was raised, one would seldom do just one altar call in their life. If you were like me, my cousins, and my sisters when we were young, we went to the altar to get saved just about every few weeks. Guess it was like a bad perm – it didn’t take the first time. But yet in spite of the fact that it may not be sufficient to save you once and for all, altar calls are very popular and expedient. But are they EFFECTIVE? Do the people who respond to altar calls “STAY saved”?
Usually it is people of Pentecostal, Charismatic churches who have repeat offenders respond to the altar call. But what do we know about the origins of it? Who executed the first altar call? Believe it or not, It wasn’t done in the New Testament; it was first done by a man by the name of a Methodist evangelist named Charles G. Finney in the early 1800’s. He was the first to ask people to come forward to the pulpit – as well as the first to refer to his services as “revivals”. He also popularized the after meetings and the spontaneity style of preaching in young pastors.
Many will admit that gospel presentations have become more diluted and brief over the years. The appeal may be just as urgent, but the message is not as detailed. In other words, instead of telling people who would come to the altar the extent to which their lives much change if they so choose to follow Christ, evangelists sometimes give a brief one-minute review to save time. But is this time-saving technique the reason for so many false converts?
Billy Graham is well-known for his altar calls of old. He would ask people to come to Christ at his huge evangelistic meetings, and over the time of his ministry doubtless thousands have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
While doing a research paper and reading the book, “The American Church Experience” by Thomas A. Askew and Richard V. Pierard, I stumbled upon an interesting paragraph. Referring to another evangelist – not Billy Graham – it said, “In a series of meetings held in Boston in 1906, he is said to have won 2,550 “decisions” for Christ. By then it was customary to judge a revivalist’s success by the number of “decision cards” turned in during a campaign.” Wow. That’s pretty interesting. So it was common for evangelists/revivalists/soulwinners to tally up the decisions for Christ? So, could it be that if it was seen as a competition for some, that perhaps some might do anything for a response just to get their tallies up?
I believe it is important to see how the altar call MIGHT have been created from a biblical idea. Perhaps verses such as “behold, I stand at the door and knock” gives one to think that we must knock on the door of someone’s heart by giving an appeal to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Perhaps the verse “The day you hear His voice, harden not your heart” gives one to think that it is the job of the evangelist to make sure sinners hear God’s voice and to encourage them to respond to an altar call. But what has history shown about the effectiveness of altar calls? Do they “work”? Is the proof in the pudding? Let’s look to none other than the founder himself. What had he to say about the effectiveness of the altar calls he made during his ministry?
Charles Finney, at the end of his life, rejected the fruits of his altar calls. He said, “I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction and into a state of temporary repentance and faith. But falling short of urging them up to a point where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in him they would of course soon relax to their former state.”
Wow! Really? Did the founder of altar calls turn his back on his own “invention”? And could we have we worked out the kinks yet from the first model?
(Side Note: Now I do understand that this could taken at the risk of making the logical fallacy known as genetic fallacy. This fallacy is a line of reasoning that concludes that if there is a defect in the origin of a thing or claim, then that should be used to discredit the claim or thing. In other words, someone might argue, “Just because the founder of altar calls realized that HIS altar calls were ineffective, that does not have to mean that all altar calls done by any person after him are also ineffective.” This is similar to the ad hominem fallacy that would reason that if Charles was ineffective then anything he did was effective.)
One of his contemporaries (a man who worked alongside him in ministry) said, “During 10 years, hundreds and perhaps thousands were annually reported to be converted on all hands. But now it is admitted that Finney’s real converts are comparatively few. It is declared even by himself that the great body of them are a disgrace to religion. As a consequence of these defections, Practical evils, great terrible and innumerable are in various quarters rushing in on the church.”
Wow! Another quote that speaks disparagingly of altar calls due to their dastard results of false converts. His contemporary seems to imply that in spite of the joy of reporting the number of decisions for Christ, evidence is apparent that only a few of those great many were actually converted. And of the false converts, they have remained in the church wreaking havoc as lost souls would be expected to do.
A letter was written to Finney by another co-labourer in 1834 stating – “Let us now look over the fields where you, and others, and myself have labored as rival ministers. And what is now their moral state? What was their state within 3 months after we left them? I have visited and revisited many of these fields and have groaned in spirit to see the sad, frigid, carnal, contentious state into which the churches have fallen – and fallen very soon after our first departure from among them.”
Yet another quote of dismay about the altar calls’ effectiveness. Seems as if after weeks or even a few months of someone walking down the altar to “get saved”, they become as dogs returning to their own vomit and pigs returning to the mire. The Bible says it is better to have never known Christ than to know Him and then to turn one’s back on Him. Is this what altar calls have been doing? Leaving people in a worse state than they were in when they first came? This man is not just hypothesizing; he actually went to visit the converts. And they were not any better and were probably left worse. Let’s look at one more quote:
B. B. Warfield said of Asia Mayhem long-time friend of Charles Finney: “That everyone who was concerned in these revivals suffered a sad, subsequent lapse. The people were left like a dead coal which could not be reignited. The pastors were shorn of all their spiritual power And the evangelists among them all and I was nearly personally acquainted I cannot recall a single man who did not after a few years lose his unction and become equally disqualified for the office of evangelist and that of pastor. Thus the great western revival ran out into disaster over and over again. When he proposed to revisit one of the churches delegations were sent him or other means used to prevent what was thought of as affliction. Even after a generation had passed by (Warfield notes) these burnt children had no liking for the fire.”
I heard of an interesting metaphor that reminds me so much of this quote. It was by one of my favorite preachers, the late Dr. Adrian Rodgers. He said that when someone first hears the gospel, they are on fire like dry wood. They blaze bright! If you have heard the gospel the second time, you’ll still catch fire, but you won’t be as bright because some of the wood is already been burnt. On the third try, they’ll flicker like and ember, but no flame. But after a few more times, their heart will be hardened like a charred piece of wood or coal. It will no longer light or even flicker. And that is what this man says of the great revivals of that period. They left it impossible for someone to be relit. Here’s one more quote:
“…involving a high rate of apostatizing (90+% according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association). So that means that out of the thousands of people who came to the altar at a Billy Graham crusade, only a few were saved or stayed saved?
Seems to me that the turnover rate was very high. I would even call it a recidivism rate. Many of these sinners spent a little time in reform only to return back to a life of sin. It turns out that even in the very beginning of the altar call practice, the altar call was not very effective. I wonder why. I think there are a few reasons the altar call has not been effective:
- It is not biblical. Evangelists did not ask people to come forward in a synagogue to repeat a sinner’s prayer. And because God did not sanction altar calls, He is not obligated to move during them or to cement what is done during them.
- It is not detailed enough. These evangelists only give a very brief summary of Jesus and salvation. If it was more detailed, 99% of the people coming up would have stayed seated or sat back down instead of repeating the prayer and becoming false converts. The way is narrow and hard, and most people are not interested in living as God commands.
- There is not enough being done to disciple these “converts”. Many of them will leave that church after saying the sinner’s prayer and will not return for follow-up. After birthing a new believer, he must then be raised up by discipleship. A baby left to his own defenses will be a casualty in no time.
- Salvation comes by the faith in the saving work of Jesus – not in walking down an aisle and reciting a 12-second prayer. If you really believe the gospel in its entirety, you do not have to repeat a prayer that was made up less than 200 hundreds years ago. The people in the early church did not have to recite a prayer before all. They just knew in their hearts that the gospel message they heard was true. And there are people reciting the sinners’ prayer who do not believe the entire gospel so they will not be saved regardless of what they recite.
- Many altar calls as used for bragging rights to show off how many people responded to one’s impressive preaching style or fire and brimstone, fear techniques. This means that the main concern is not the work or move of God, but the work of man. As Finney said himself:
“Salvation is the work of man.”
So how did the early church of the New Testament lead people to Christ? Was it a quick introduction to Jesus Christ? Was it done at a pulpit with emotional music? Let’s look at one of my favorite examples in the book of Acts which gives great insight about how to bring souls in to the Kingdom and the church. There are MANY other examples, but for the sake of time and length, I’ll just post one passage. But I am working on another post with the other examples.
Acts 2:37 NOW when they HEARD THIS they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what SHALL WE DO?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized EVERY ONE OF YOU in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our GOD CALLS to himself.” 40 And WITH MANY OTHER WORDS he bore witness and CONTINUED TO EXHORT them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who RECEIVED HIS WORD were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.42 And they DEVOTED themselves to the apostles’ TEACHING and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the PRAYERS.
In Acts 2, we hear that only when people HEAR the Word of God, only then will they be convicted enough to ask what they must do in response to God’s Word. We also hear that it is necessary that God FIRST call them to Himself. You don’t come to Him on your own. You don’t initiate; you only respond. And this is what I like most about this passage that I think many preachers leave out in their evangelistic appeals. Verse 40 says, WITH MANY OTHER WORDS they witnessed about Jesus. They didn’t do a one-time, hitter-quitter altar call. They spoke plenty about Jesus’ identity and work and also CONTINUED to exhort them about saving themselves from the lost. We see that ONLY after receiving the word of the preacher did they become baptized and added to the heavenly roster. And those who did believe, repent, and get baptized didn’t just get bored and walk away after a few weekends. They DEVOTED themselves to the teaching and fellowship and prayers! It wasn’t a quick decision that as we say, “Will only take a minute.” Not only will it not just take a minute, IT’LL TAKE YOUR WHOLE LIFE! Your whole eternity even! We try to rush through the altar call as if we’re impinging upon the rest of the sinner’s Sunday plans. But the truth of the matter is this: If they don’t want God impinging upon their Sunday dinner plans, they’ll not be pleased with the fact that He’s about to hijack their whole life! If they’re too busy to spend a couple of hours discussing the One who they approached the altar to give their souls to, then they obviously do not have the desire to spend the rest of their life serving them. And you cannot have a full relationship with someone in five minutes. Let those in a hurry forget about it; you’re wasting their time, and they’re wasting yours. And like any other healthy relationship, you have to be DEVOTED, have FELLOWSHIP, and COMMUNICATE with the person you are in relationship with. Nowadays, we seem to just tell people that they just have to recite some words and their relationship can never be broken. FALSE. Relationships MUST be maintained. You can’t have a relationship like that.
In closing, I am not against altar calls per se. I am a “product” of several of them. But I believe something must be made clear. 1. If you believe the gospel and fully intend to respond as God requires to it, then you are already saved without repeating the sinner’s prayer.
2. You must know that it does not stop here; it’ll take a lifetime of obedience and self-sacrifice and faith in Christ.
3. Do not think that the reciting of a few sentences made you born again. The most it can do is testify to the fact that you already are.
4. Because time does not permit the evangelist painting the picture of the entire gospel story, please make sure to get an understanding of the entire picture because you might not even want to become a Christian once you hear all that it entails. (Remember the story of the rich man who was unwilling to sell all he had to follow Jesus?)
This is a YouTube video link to the quotes I used:
“A truly evangelical sermon must be like offering a child a fine, red apple or offering a thirsty man a cool glass of water and then staying: ‘Do you want it?’ We must be able to speak about our faith so that hands will be stretched out toward us faster than we can fill them.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
1 Corinthians 11:17 – But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not….27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself….33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Ever been to a church service where communion was being observed? And before they administer it, they ask for a moment of silence for everyone to do some serious self-reflection to check whether or not they are worthy of taking communion. By communion they mean drinking a tiny cup of grape juice and eating a small, square wafer. If you don’t feel particularly saved that day, you pass on taking communion. For example, if you were drunk and turned all the way up at a party just the night before, you would not take communion. If you had premarital sex within the last week, you would likely not take communion. You decided that because you did a visible, more intense sin, then you are unworthy to take communion.
Is that what we read in the above verses of 1 Corinthians 11? In the verses I selected, we see that Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth about a problem that he has heard about and/or observed during their communion times. But let’s get the facts. These people were not being chastised by Apostle Paul because they were arranged in lines taking turns drinking grape juice and eating small crackers. They did not have preset amounts of juice and precut unleavened bread. What we now observe as communion was at that time more known as a “love feast” which we hear briefly mentioned in Jude 1:12 – “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves…”
How they did communion at that time is that it was more like a potluck. The believers who could would bring a dish or meal to the designated location. And they would fellowship and eat. As Jude says, it was a feast. And we know that a small vial of juice and a small wafer is far from feasting. Paul says that when they meet for communion, it’s not for better but for worse because for one, there are divisions among them which actually can be helpful in that it distinguishes the trifling people from the genuine people. Paul then goes into detail about why he is scolding them; he is scolding them in this letter because they are not eating to the glory of God in love for their fellow saints. Paul says that 1. There are divisions/factions within this church. 2. Some people begin eating before everyone arrives at the feast to eat which leaves the latecomers hungry. 4. The early eaters (and drinkers) are drunk! 5. The early comers humiliate those who are late (which might have been because they lived further away from the meeting place); and because Paul said the humiliated people are also the people who have nothing, it implies that the late comers are hungry also because they could not afford to bring food to the potluck (or else they would not have been hungry no matter how late they came).
In other words, they are not discerning the body. Body could simply mean the symbol of Jesus’ body – wine to symbolize His blood and unleavened bread to symbolize Jesus’ “leaven-less” (sinless) flesh.
1 Corinthians 10:16 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Or it could mean the body of Christ which is the church as we read that Paul wrote in these three verses.
1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Ephesians 5:23– For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Colossians 1:24 – Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ‘s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
Or it could mean both.
But clearly, if we read this passage, we see that Paul is disappointed in how the early comers and those who could afford to bring food would eat without regard for whether or not the late comers or poor people would have something to eat. He says that they are not coming together for the Lord’s supper because everyone in the body isn’t even there to eat! They did not discern the body of Christ in that they showed no concern or respect for Christ body of believers. And I would add that it was disrespectful to act gluttonous and to be a drunkard with something that symbolized such a precious person as Jesus Christ. (Apparently, there was wine at these feasts.) But how dare you drink up all the wine and eat up all the food. Paul asks a rhetorical question about whether or not they had houses to eat and drink in. It wasn’t that they couldn’t fill up, it’s just that they filled up at the expense of the other Christians who were en route to the supper. If you were so hungry, you should have gotten a snack at the house! Again, we do not have these problems at most of our churches because we have a prepackaged amount that is the same for everyone whether or not you are the first or the last person to participate in communion. So we don’t have to worry about gobbling up all the crackers and guzzling down all the juice. So since these conditions aren’t possible in our church settings of today, how can we make the principles apply in our context?
I would say that we should beware of how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters before we take communion. Sure, you might not have eaten their share of the communion, but in what other ways have you not been discerning of the Lord’s body. How have you treated your brothers and sisters at your church? We tend to think of those “more intense” and visible sins such as partying and sleeping around when we “examine” ourselves. But Paul here is talking about examining ourselves in how we treat our brothers and sisters. Maybe you weren’t at a party the night before. And maybe you didn’t lie on a test. And maybe you didn’t fornicate earlier that weekend. But did you put division between you and another church member? Did you humiliate them because they came to church late? Did you make them feel ashamed because they had less to give than you? Did you see yourself as better than them because you are richer? I believe that in this passage, THOSE are the things Paul wants us to examine ourselves concerning. Of course, if you are backslidden or reprobate for whatever reason, perhaps you should make matters right before you partake of Christ’s body symbols (whether or not your sin had something to do with mistreating a brother or sister in Christ), but just make sure you read what PAUL is saying in this passage and not missing the main point.
(By the way, I asked a couple of my seminary professors about this topic, and they said that they do not see that this passage is saying that a person who sinned that week(end) couldn’t participate in the feast.) 🙂
Acts: 2:36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…47…And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Seems like the order here for church membership is 1. Knowing for certain that God made Jesus Lord and Christ. 2. Asking a believer what your response should be. 3. Repent. 4. Be baptized. 5. Receive the Holy Spirit. 6. Be added to the church after being saved according to the LORD’S recognizing you as being saved.
At a supervisor’s meetings several months ago, my pastor said something very interesting. He said it was his job to pastor sheep, but instead, he’s been feeling like he’s supposed to be a zookeeper. How profound! The Bible often uses shepherding terminology when referring to God’s people. So the pastor is supposed to shepherd the sheep of his pasture. But instead of him tending to docile sheep, pastors lately appear to be shepherding a bunch of wild animals! Must be hard! Especially since we know that pastors are not qualified to keep zoo animals.
But WHY are all these zebras, lions, giraffes, apes, snakes, and etc. found in churches so much nowadays? Sure, the churches of the New Testament contained their share of a wild one, but it was not characteristic of the church to be FULL of them to the point that they outnumbered the sheep!
I hadn’t thought of the reason why until one of my seminary professors talked about the topic. The truth was so common sense, but it was so unlike how I had been raised to believe. So it was shocking to me when I first heard what he had to say about people joining churches. A few of my seminarian classmates disagreed, but what my professor said made so much sense. He said that at his church, they did not extend the “right hand of fellowship” to just any ole’ body.
You mean to tell me that if at a Sunday morning service someone were to walk down the corridor and ask to join the church that you would turn them away? Sounds pretty harsh, wouldn’t you agree? But that harsh response would actually be the most appropriate response. Why on earth would you grant a total stranger total access to all the precious members of your church? Why would you allow a person you know absolutely nothing about to be considered a member who is allowed to join whichever ministry or auxiliary s/he chooses so that they can unleash whatever they please?
Would you employ this method of giving a stranger access to your home? To your job? To your car? To your children? To your husband? Wouldn’t you want to at least know an adequate amount of information about a person before you give them the keys to your apartment or vehicle? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the lady you just hired as your babysitter or the teen you just hired as your dog sitter? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the sexy lady your husband is considering hiring as his secretary? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the roommate you chose from Craigslist? Most certainly!
However, we are much more lax about who we let join our churches. We figure, “I caught them, and I’ll let God skin them!” (Thinking of them as fish.) We figure that regardless of who or what they are, if we get them to come to biweekly services, that God will fix whatever issues they have. Unfortunately, God has not promised us that in His word. He did not say to let any and every one who walks down the aisle and who fills out a membership form with their name, address, email, phone number, etc. and that He will some day make them sheep regardless of whatever kind of snake, wolf, or dog they came in as.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely know that God can change a person’s nature. He changed mine! But what I am saying is that we should take some time to see who we are granting access to in our churches. Be careful not to be letting a lifelong pedophile to join the children’s ministry. Be careful not to let an undelivered homosexual, adulterer, whoremonger sign-up to do independent counseling for people struggling with the same issues. Be mindful not to let a liar and a thief work in the finance department. I don’t care how full of tears their eyes are when they come to join the church, GIVE THEM TIME TO SHOW WHO THEY REALLY ARE! Because after the tears dry, their true nature will come out and wreak havoc in your church.
Remember the order of being BIBLICALLY saved according to this passage in Acts 2. It didn’t say 1. Here a vague, incomplete mention of Jesus. 2. Agree that as your grandmother said, you ought to be going to church regularly. 3. Go the altar to publically acknowledge you are joining the church for whatever reason. 4. Fill out the church’s paperwork. Now if you already KNOW the person who is coming up to join, that’s fine because they know what your church is about and what your church is against, so they will have no surprises and neither will you. But if you let a stranger join, they will have joined prematurely only to regret it because they know nothing of your church’s practices or doctrines. And they on week three of being a member, they are upset because they don’t believe women should have to wear dresses or that men can’t marry other men or that they have to give 10% of their paycheck to your church. Let them go to your church’s orientation first so that they can make sure that this is the fellowship they want to join.
I notice in the Acts 2 order that God did not add any to their group any who were not saved. Any who did not show evidence of belief. But even this detailed account does not give enough information about the significance of what occurred the day of Pentecost. There were many Jews who traveled back to Jerusalem for the holy day/holiday known as Pentecost. They had come from many different nations. And when they arrived, they encountered this Christian sect of about 120 members. And they overheard Galileans speaking in their 17 different languages. They were amazed. So they were all ears when their “main guy” began to preach about Jesus Christ. And they were so impressed that 3,000 believed that the same Jesus that the Jews had crucified was in fact the Messiah about whom the Old Testament had prophesied. So they asked what should they do in appropriate response. Let’s revisit the passage to see if he gave them a brief, incomplete gospel message or an adequate amount of information to prove to them that Jesus was indeed the Christ:
Here are a few observations I gleaned from these passages about church membership/qualifications: 1. It must be based on a true, biblical belief in Jesus Christ. If your view of Jesus or gospel of Jesus is not biblically sound, then it cannot save anybody, let alone put them into God’s true church. 2. This biblical gospel will lead to conviction in one’s heart. It cannot just be head knowledge; it must be acknowledged in one’s heart of hearts which only the Holy Spirit can do because only He can convict. 3. This heart conviction will inevitably lead to an immediate response of asking what one should do which the answer is repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit because the Lord has indeed called them to Himself. 4. Once that happens, one should – as Peter did – “with MANY other words bore witness and CONTINUED to exhort them”. This says to me that we should not give some perfunctory introduction to Jesus and expect people to truly understand what they should know because they commit the rest of their lives and indeed their eternities to Him. 5. Once and only after the words of the gospel are received should the listener be baptized because baptism represents a public acknowledgment of a personal belief and transaction with God. Because first a personal transaction has occurred (conversion of one’s soul), then a person can be considered as being a member of Christ’s body, the church. AFTERWARDS, these persons should be devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachings and fellowship with the other true believers. And as verse 47 says, people were only being added to their number as they were saved (and might I add BIBLICALLY saved).
Enough is enough! We ought to stop granting people membership in our churches just to get them on the roster so that we can brag to other churches about how many hundreds of members we have. So what if you have the fewest members of your friends’ churches? I’d rather have 200 sheep than 1,000 wolves in sheep’s clothing raising hell in God’s church. Be content with your faithful few. And why do you want so many members anyway? Do you just want them for bragging rights? Do you want to be considered a mega-church pastor? Do you want their tithes and offerings? Many churches will only ask for a person’s tithes after they have been added to the church membership roll. So is that why you want them? Certainly one can pay a mortgage off faster with 1,000 tithers than 200 tithers. But will it be worth it? All the heartache, all the low retention rate, all the scandal? Do you want to be known as the church full of fools wherein “ain’t nobody saved in that church” or the church where “all the members sleep around”? So when you attend these church growth seminars, just know that it’s not God adding to His church, rather it is you adding to YOUR church. It’s not God adding saved sheep, but rather it’s YOU adding a bunch of “zoo animals”.
I don’t see a problem with these wanna-be/future members visiting however often they please, but just let them visit until they get saved for real. THEN add to them to your church.
2 Corinthians 9:7 – Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
This is one of the most quoted Bible verses during a worship service during the offering segment. God loves a cheerful giver. Usually when people hear this, they try to act more cheerful when giving to their church. I mean, who doesn’t want to be loved by God? But let’s not forget the preceding verse. It reads each one MUST give as he has decided in his heart. You MUST do this. You MUST give this way. You MUST give as you decided to give.
Apostle Paul goes into further detail when he says you must not give reluctantly. The Greek word used here for “reluctantly” comes from the Greek word “lype” which means:
- sorrow, pain, grief, annoyance, affliction
- of persons mourning
In other words, let’s say that when the church requested $50, you felt annoyed, angered, bothered, grieved, worried, anxious or any other negative emotion. You should not give with those feelings. If giving it would bother you, you shouldn’t give it. How many times have you been in a church service and they ask for a “small amount of $200” and your eyes roll or you elbow your friend beside you or you raise your eyebrows or drop your jaw in unbelief. That is NOT the attitude you should have behind giving cheerfully. If it doesn’t bother you and if you want to, by all means GIVE IT! But if you do not, DO NOT! This is not the gospel according to me, it is BIBLE. Paul used this Greek word for a reason.
And if we use the English dictionary definition of the word “reluctant” it would mean that you thought twice about giving what you’re giving because you did not want to give it for whatever reason. That means with your pen paused a centimeter above the check you were writing, you reconsidered giving that higher or lower amount of money. Let’s say you are asked to give $50, but as you pull out your checkbook you write the date, sign your name, put the name of the church, and put the intentions of the check on the “For ___” line. And then as you go over to the dollar amount side of the check to the right, you wonder if you really want to give the $50. You decide that you would rather give $20 because you won’t have enough money to put gas in your car after church. Or you decide that your account only has $50 dollars in it and you are yet waiting for an earlier $5 check to clear. Or you just decide you don’t trust what this particular church is going to do with the $50. If you are reluctant to give the $50, but have no problem giving $25, $35, or even $49.99, then you should give as the Bible says, as Apostle Paul says which is as you decide in your heart.
Or let’s say on your way to church, you decided that you would love to give $100 to the church. If you decided that in your heart, then give that. BUT if you feel reluctant, you shouldn’t give it. It doesn’t say God loves a reluctant yet generous giver, but rather that God loves a cheerful giver. And listen, this is not saying that you should give an amount reluctantly, but paste a fake smile on your face and pretend you are enjoying giving it. If you give $20 with joy in your heart, but the $50 with resentment and regret, then God will not honor that gift above the $20. Now the pastor or church might appreciate it for bills’ sake, but not God. And we are giving as God would have us to give which is cheerfully, as we decided in our heart, and not reluctantly.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. He also says that we are not to give out of compulsion. The King James Version uses the word “of necessity”. Whichever version you prefer, the Greek word they all used is “anagke” which according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance means:
- necessity, imposed either by the circumstances, or by law of duty regarding to one’s advantage, custom, argument
- calamity, distress, straits
In other words, you must not give just because there is a necessity imposed because by the circumstances or because you have it to give or because it’s just custom. Let’s say a particular church needs $100 more after they raise the initial offering. And then they come back saying they need $100 more. Let’s say you are the richest one in the service and they all look to you to make up the lack. You don’t have to give just because they need it or because they have it IF YOU DON’T WANT TO. Now if you want to, by all means, go ahead. But don’t do it because there’s a need or because you have it especially if you do not purpose in your heart to do so and if you will regret it and if you will not give it cheerfully. That is not how God wants you to give. It’s not my opinion – IT’S BIBLE! Paul used this Greek word for a reason.
But I believe that just as important as these two verses is the verses above in verse one that give the CONTEXT for this instruction on giving. This passage in 2 Corinthians 9 is referring to Apostle Paul asking the church in Corinth to give donations or contributions to the Christians of a poorer church. Here are verses 1 and 2 which give us the background information for verse 7:
For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many.
These verses are referring to how Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to minister to the Saints financially. He knew how great givers were in Corinthians, so he even bragged about them to the Saints in Macedonia how that the Saints in Achaia were ready to give a year ago. He even says that their zeal for giving provoked many more others to want to give like them.
See even here in the previous letter what Paul wrote to the same church at Corinth about giving to the poorer Saints:
I Corinthians 16: 1-3 – Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.
Here we read that Apostle Paul had not only told the church at Corinth how to give, but he had also given orders to the churches in Galatia how to give. And the directions were as follows: On the first day of the week, he wanted them to have some donations ready according to how God had blessed them. He would come once a week to get the donations. This did not have to be money because God might have prospered them with animals or crops. He wanted them already laid up in storage so that he did not have to wait around for them to bring all the things to him when he got there; he wanted the things already gathered. And when he would come, he would have whoever they selected – whose names would be written within their letters – would be sent by Paul to bring their liberality to Jerusalem. So either it was the Saints in Jerusalem who needed the donations or perhaps Jerusalem was to be the “distribution center” for the donations. Either way, we know from verse 1 that the collection was for the Saints. It was not to be stored up for the pastor or the church to just have. It was to be immediately distributed to the Saints in need. Interestingly, it did not say it was for poor Jews or poor pagans, just for Saints.
Now let’s go forward into Paul’s second letter again, but let’s go to verses 3-5 of 2 Corinthians 9:
But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 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.
These verses seem to confirm that perhaps the church at Corinth had an issue with being READY with their collections. Verse 3 says “be ready”. Verse 4 says “not ready”.
David Guzik says in his commentary about verse 5:
“Paul was very concerned that giving be a matter of generosity and not a matter of grudging obligation. God Himself never gives out of an attitude of grudging obligation, and neither should we. To be generous, in the Biblical idea of the word, has more to do with our attitude in giving than with the amount that we give.”
That is why he kept telling them to have it ready because he felt that if what they had purposed was already set aside beforehand, he wouldn’t have to worry about the brethren begging for them to give a certain amount or for them to give more than they would have given had they not asked. Imagine this. Let’s say that an hour before church service begins, the pastor asks each member to pray about and to decide what they will give beforehand and write it on a check or on the envelope. Then when offering time comes, he does not ask for a particular amount; he simply passes an offering basket around wherein people put their previously filled-out offering envelopes. This beforehand preparation will not leave room for he pastor to beg for more or to tell them how much he needs. So he will not come across as greedy. All he has to do at this point is RECEIVE. He does not have to auction out blessings or employ scare tactics or give a 30-minute rant about the importance of giving to the church. So the people leave trusting their pastor is not money-hungry and the pastor is doing offering God’s way and encouraging his members to be cheerful givers whom God loves. (However, I understand that this can be anxiety-provoking for a pastor who has a high mortgage note and who knows how much he needs to raise each week in order to pay the bills.) There may be other bible verses that speak to giving to pay the church bills, but this is not one of them.
So pastors and church members, when we hear these two passages from 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 9, remember that they refer to giving to poor Christians. The principles still can apply to giving of any contexts, but we should not forget these passages in their original contexts. We should not manipulate others to give more than they purpose. If they want to give 2 pennies, don’t beg for more. If they give sparingly, they’ll reap sparingly, but that has nothing to do with you. That’s between them and their pocketbook and God. Yes, you may prefer more offerings because the mortgage or utility company needs it regardless of cheerful giving, but spiritual giving has nothing to do with a high mortgage that you chose or with the utilities. It has to do with giving to needy Christians. And if your offerings aren’t even been giving to the poor Christians, you need to consider giving more to the poor anyways.