It is a hidden problem but a real one nonetheless. It is a ball-and-chain for many churches. It is a silent blight that spoils the fruit upon the vine. I refer to a grudging spirit.
We are warned about it in the New Testament. Paul urges, ‘let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7). Paul is writing specifically about monetary giving but the principle applies much more widely, embracing the giving of our time, our energy, our support and our love.
The verse delineates the grudging spirit. Grudging actions do not flow from the heart but are done under duress – to keep up appearances or meet the expectations of others. They are reluctant rather than ‘cheerful’ – Paul suggests that only those who act with ‘a willing mind’ are loved and accepted by God (2 Corinthians 8:12).
Peter warns even church leaders to beware a grudging spirit. ‘Shepherd the flock of God’, he writes, ‘… not by constraint but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly’ (1 Peter 5:2). Underline that word ‘eagerly’! How much eagerness for the glory of God and the welfare of the church do we see today – whether in leaders or followers?
It was the absence of eagerness in serving God that earned the Laodiceans such solemn strictures from the Lord: ‘because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth’ (Revelation 3:16).
As he exhorts the church at Corinth to demonstrate their eagerness and keep their promises, the Apostle sets before them the pattern of self-giving that they (and we) should imitate: ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich’ (2 Corinthians 8:8-9).
A grudging spirit may manifest itself in many ways. Let’s start where Paul starts, with financial giving. Do we give sacrificially, like the Macedonians – who ‘first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God’ (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)?
How many Christians today give a tenth of their income to the Lord? While I do not advocate strict tithing, should we give less under the new covenant than was required under the old? Are we guilty of robbing God (Malachi 3:8-12)?
Surely Malachi’s challenge is still relevant: ‘”Bring all the tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in my house, and prove me now in this”, says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing that there will not be enough room to receive it”.’
But of course it does not stop there. We demonstrate a grudging spirit when personal priorities keep us from the house of God. Many who profess Christ as Lord are ‘too tired’ to attend more than one service on a Sunday or ‘too busy’ to darken the door of a midweek meeting.
The Scripture says that our love for ‘the brethren’ is evidence that we have passed from death to spiritual life (1 John 3:14). But how can we demonstrate that love if we absent ourselves from the ‘togetherness’ of corporate worship, study and prayer? How can we encourage the pastor and our fellow believers if we simply fail to appear?
Let me ask a final question. Do you have in your church a person whose eagerness for Christ and his people stands out like a beacon? Who is always there, always quick to volunteer, and faithfully responds whenever asked to do something for the Lord – no matter how menial or inconvenient the task?
‘Yes’, you may reply, ‘I know just such a person!’
If that is indeed your reply, it saddens me. Why? Because every Christian should be like that, so none should stand out from the others! What we so often consider ‘outstanding’ and ‘exceptional’ in terms of devotion to Christ and his church ought, surely, to be the norm.