The Faith Promise
By Paul B. Smith
“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.
“Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready:
“Lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting.
“Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness.
“But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
“Every man according as he purposth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:1-7).
The first faith promise offering in our times was probably organized by a Presbyterian minister. Dr. A.B. Simpson founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination although a denomination was not a part of his original vision. Dr. Simpson was greatly concerned about world evangelization and the older Alliance churches existed primarily to promote and support foreign missions.
To do this they had a missionary convention every year at which their people were urged to designate a large percentage of their total giving to missions. They still do this. The offering is a commitment of what the people will trust God to enable them to do in the next twelve months and it is generally called a pledge. The Christian and Missionary Alliance churches established the system and led the way for the rest of us in this kind of giving for missions.
One of the revolutionary things about the Alliance conventions was that they dared to urge their people to give directly to missions. They were willing to take this sort of risk, knowing that more might be designated for missions than for the local work. To this day the majority of churches are not willing to take this chance. That is why world missions is promoted, but is included in the total budget of the local church so that a committee can control or recommend the percentage that should be given for missions. Better that it is done this way than not at all, but better still to allow each person to be led by the Holy Spirit to give to whatever area of God’s work he wishes.
The objection, of course, is that the local work may suffer. My experience over fifty years of “faith promise” giving directly for missions has been that as our missionary budget rises our local income increases. This means that we have to be very careful with our local spending, and that’s why we go functional in our buildings rather than plush. This has also been the experience of hundreds of other churches that have dared to adopt the faith promise system of giving for missions.
My father, Dr. Oswald J. Smith, was introduced to this method when he pastored the Alliance Church in Toronto during the early twenties. He describes it in these words: “I became pastor of a church that knew how to give in a way that I had never known.
“I commenced my pastorate on the first Sunday of January. The church was holding its Annual Missionary Convention. Now I knew nothing about a convention. I had never seen one in all my life, so I just sat on the platform and watched.”
The Alliance method of raising money for missions captured father’s imagination, but he was bothered by their use of the word “pledge.” Of course, to them it simply involved a promise to God, but during his days as a Presbyterian minister father recalled that the word sometimes had connotations that some folk didn’t like. In some churches the pledge had become a sort of contract between a person and the church. It could be asked for if it had not been paid. An elder might even be assigned to call on someone at home in order to point out their unpaid balance. Many churches practiced the policy of sending out a semi-annual or quarterly statement that showed how the accounts of their members stood – whether they had paid their pledge or not.
Some of these were rather extreme measures and did not apply to all Presbyterian churches, but throughout most denominations some of these things were associated with the idea of a pledge. My father searched for some word that would express the concept that had always been used in the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches – a word to take the place of “pledge.”
He concluded that the two words “faith promise” would be ideal. This would retain the missionary offering concept of the Alliance people and eliminate the unfortunate connotations of the word “pledge.” Whether or not this was actually originated by father I do not know. However, it is safe to say that it was his ministry that made the evangelical world familiar with the expression “faith promise.” Very few of the tracts or booklets that have been written on the subject can complete their topic without reference at some point to Dr. Oswald J. Smith
There are a few people, knowing little about a faith promise, who think that this is just another good gimmick to raise a lot of money. If that’s all it was, I would still use it for the cause of missions. I am in favor of any legitimate means of urging Christians to give to God’s work. However, faith promise giving has a very solid basis in the Scriptures. We have already noted some of this in chapter eight of Second Corinthians. But chapter nine is more specific.
The Purpose of This Offering (Verse 1)
This offering was not received in order to send missionaries out to preach the gospel. It was for the suffering and impoverished Christians in the church at Jerusalem. It may have been persecution that made it difficult for them to make a living, but at any rate they needed help. Paul and others undertook to raise an offering that would give them relief.
It was a missionary offering in the sense that it was not raised for the needs of the local church. It was carried to Jerusalem and used for others. Regardless of its use, the method remains valid. It does not have to be restricted to world missions. It can be used for buildings, schools, church operation, etc. But in our times it has been most closely associated with missions.
Let’s Provoke Someone (Verve 2)
The intriguing words to me are “Your zeal hath provoked very many.” There are two ways that we can provoke people. Often we do things that make them angry. This is not what Paul is talking about. Rather, we can produce something in our lives or our churches, by the grace of God, that captures the imagination of others and inspires them to reach for higher goals themselves.
Paul prayed for the kind of offering that would make all the other churches look in their direction and say “If Macedonia and Corinth can do that, think what we should be doing,” All of us should ask God to help us live the kind of life and be the sort of church that provokes others to stretch out further for God.
One of the best results of a great faith promise offering in a big church is that it will inspire scores of other churches to do the same thing, therefore the aggregate offering of the “provoked” churches could he far greater than that of the one big church.
Good Results Require Detailed Organization (Verve 3-5)
This passage describes the manner in which Paul organized the offering. It was not done on the spur of the moment. He did not wait until he got there himself and then have the baskets passed for whatever cash or goods the people might give. But rather he planned the whole thing carefully over a period of months. The apostle did his homework, then expected God to bless and bring the necessary results.
Granted, we can do very little of the real work of the Kingdom. We cannot save people, nor fill them with the Holy Spirit, nor force them to give a substantial offering. But we can plan a meeting. We can explain who the Holy Spirit is. We can organize the logistics of an offering, and it would appear that God expects us to do these things, and do them thoroughly and energetically, knowing at the same time that it is God who does the big, essential things.
Three men were sent to Corinth to finalize the offering that was to be received when Paul arrived, perhaps months later, before it was to be carried to Jerusalem. We know that Titus was one of these and the others are not named. The people in the church knew about the need even before these three men arrived. Thus the organization included at least three parts: phase one – advance notice; phase two – arrival of the brethren to finalize the commitments, and phase three – the offering to be received by Paul when he arrived. One of the most scholarly commentaries on this book says about this passage: “It was not so much a question of their readiness to give, but rather of the need for efficient planning to get the money in.”
Paul Held a Pip Rally
Before they left for Corinth Paul took time to explain his plans to the brethren. But in doing, so the Bible says that he “exhorted” them. Some of the other versions used the word “urged.” In either case Paul was pressing home his point strongly. He wanted them not only to understand the plan, but to get excited about the possibilities. In this spirit they would be able to arouse the interest of the Corinthians.
What Did the Brethren Do?
The whole import of the passage is that these three men did not go about actually collecting cash or goods. They were there to find out what people were planning to give when the time arrived. They went to the assembly or maybe to the Christians’ homes to tabulate what the offering was actually going to be.
Perhaps Mr. Jones was a wheat farmer. When the men knocked on his door he was not prepared to give, but when he learned that he had several months before the offering was needed, and that all these men wanted to know was how much he believed God would enable him to give when the time came, he became interested. Now they were talking about something he could do.
Jones may have thought a little bit about who he was and what a man like him could promise. “I own ten acres of corn on my farm outside of Corinth. It’s quite small at this time of year, but when it’s harvested, I’ll give the proceeds to this offering.” Perhaps Titus wrote this information on some first century faith promise tablet with a stylus and the trio left rejoicing at the faithfulness of God and the generosity of Mr. Jones.
But as a matter of fact, they did not have a thing – except a promise based on someone’s confidence in the power of God to help him keep it. The corn was still green. Worms might destroy it before harvest time. The bottom might fall out of the market and make it impossible to sell. Maybe Jones would be too ill to work by then, or he might even be dead. All he had really said was this: “In dependence upon God I will endeavor to give the proceeds of a ten-acre field of corn.” Mr. Jones had made one of the first faith promises.
Mr. Brown may have been a cattle rancher. When the elders arrived at his home perhaps he was a bit embarrassed because at this time of year he was always low on cash. You can imagine how happy he was to learn that at this juncture they were not expecting cash. All they wanted was to tabulate Brown’s expectations, his hopes, his faith in God.
“Well then, that’s easy. Tell you what I’ll do. I have a cow that will soon be having a calf. It will be several months yet, but if all goes well and the calf is born as expected, I’ll sell it and contribute the proceeds.” Once again Titus wrote rapidly on his tablet – “Brown, one calf.”
And the calf was not even born yet. Maybe it would be stillborn. The mother might die before it was born. Brown might not be able to sell it. But what was his promise? “In dependence upon God I will endeavor to give the proceeds from the sale of one calf to the work of God,” and a second faith promise had been made.
Finally, Titus and his two friends knocked on Mr. Smith’s door. Now Smith was a big-time developer. He was almost finished with a shopping center on the east side of town and he had made a bid on the proposed Corinth Subway System. But he had no cash.
There are two kinds of people who very seldom have any money available poor people for obvious reasons, and very wealthy people who have everything invested. Most eminently successful folk make sure that every spare dollar is gaining interest all the time, and do not keep much cash around.
This, of course, was Smith’s first response to the brethren. Everything was tied up – caught at a bad time, etc. Once again they patiently explained the nature of the offering. “You don’t need any cash. This is not a pledge between you and some church. No one will ever ask you for it personally. It’s between you and God. If for some reason you suffer a financial reverse, the only explanation you will have to give is to God. We are asking you to make a promise based on who you are and your faith in the power of God – your dependence upon God. We may drop you a note to thank you for making the promise and when Paul gets to Corinth in a few months he’ll announce to the church that it’s time to take the money to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. If, at that time, you are unable to give, no one will ever know it except you and God. We will not ask you for it in person.”
“Under those conditions here’s what I am going to trust God to enable me to do: if the transaction with the shopping center works out all right and I don’t lose my shirt on it, and if I get the subway contract, in dependence upon God I will endeavor to give five hundred denarii (about $8,000).”
Out came the stylus again and Smith’s faith promise was recorded. As the three men walked down the street they rejoiced – ten acres of corn, one calf and five hundred denarii. But all they really had was three promises – the commitment of three men who had said in essence that if God made it possible for them to secure this money they would give it to Paul for the Jerusalem Christians.
The Reaping of Faith – Not Cash (Verse 6)
The reward that this verse offered was related to the commitment of these people. The cash offering had not even been received at this time. All the people had done was to make a promise based on their faith in God to enable them to keep it. In its proper context the verse should read: “But this I say, He who commits himself with reserve can expect to reap in accordance with his promise. He who promises with a big heart and a deep confidence in God will reap in proportion to his promise. It all depends upon who you are and what your station in life may be and upon how great is your faith in God to help a person like you to fulfill your promise.”
The “Golden Test” of Faith Promises (Verse 7)
The seventh verse sums it all up by reminding the Corinthians that they should give relative to what they had in their hearts. There was no salary in their hearts, no bank accounts and no cash. The only thing that any of us have in our hearts that can be the basis of an offering is faith in God which gives us a horizon of purpose that is beyond our dreams.
Three Roads to a Financial Miracle
Once the promise has been made to give God something that is not already in our possession and may depend upon a great many unseen things that could happen in the future, how does God enable us to give the money and keep the promise?
As I look back over my own life, my years in the Peoples Church and my experience in scores of other missionary conferences, I can boil the answer down to three major ways that I have seen the faith promise of thousands of people miraculously made possible by God.
* Moonlighting for Missions. Some years ago one of my elders came to me and asked for special prayer. I assumed that he was ill or was facing a critical problem in some other area of his life. When I questioned him he said that there was no great problem; he just wanted to keep a faith promise he had made. However, when he told me the amount, I thought he had made a very unrealistic commitment.
He had filled in an envelope and said that in dependence upon God he would endeavor to give ten thousand dollars to the world missions work of the Peoples Church during the next twelve months. Now there were a few people in our church who could give that much money, but Henry was not one of them. He was over seventy years of age and was retired on a very small pension. I felt that it was quite foolish for a person in his financial bracket to expect God to enable him to give ten thousand dollars to missions. I was about to point this out to him when he told me his plan.
“I can live adequately on my pension. However, I am in excellent health despite my age, and I am going to find a job and work for missions. Whatever I make over and above my pension is already committed to this year’s missionary offering, and I believe I am still strong enough to earn at least ten thousand dollars or more. Pastor, I want you to pray that I will find a job and that God will keep me in good health.”
That day Henry and I made a sort of covenant: I would pray, he would work, and God would get the money. For more than seven years now Henry has been able to give in excess of ten thousand dollars per year. Generally, he gives it to me in person – a thousand dollars at a time.
But, you protest, that isn’t a miracle at all. The man just worked for his money. Anyone can do that Yes, anyone in similar circumstances could get an extra job and work for missions. But how many do? You see, that’s the first miracle that he did it at all! After a lifetime of work he had every right to retire and enjoy his last years. But as far as joy is concerned Henry is much happier than most of the retired people I know. He is not just waiting around to die. He is living an extremely fulfilled, active and meaningful life. At his age a lot of folk do not have this option. They are unable to work fro many different reasons and God knows all about it. What a miracle, that this man was not only able, but willing.
The second miracle in this is that Henry got a job. Usually, this is very difficult or virtually impossible for people over seventy. And the third miracle is that God kept him in good health for at least seven years.
Sometimes God performs a financial miracle in our lives by enabling us to get a second job, or in some way earn additional money that makes it possible for us to keep our faith promise. We have been able to “moonlight for missions.”
* Save here and spend there. For others, the miracle happens when God shows us some areas of our lives where we can cut back on our regular spending so that we will have enough to overspend for world missions. This is a valid procedure and we do it in many areas of our lives.
I play golf father badly. As a matter of fact I really only need about five clubs to play the kind of game I do – one wood, three irons and a putter. Going through the production of choosing from a full set of clubs in an elaborate bag doesn’t really make all that much difference, but when I do play golf I use the works – every club, an extra putter and an umbrella as well.
Sometimes when I return from the game and go to put away the big bag and many clubs, my wife will ask. – Why do you spend all that money on your golf game? You know your game is bad and that four or five clubs wrapped in a piece of canvas is all you need. Why spend the extra money’!”
And the question is valid, but so is my answer. “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t even dance, and I figure that if I save all that money in those areas of my life, I have a right to spend more than is necessary on my golf game. I’m not interested in those other things, and for me they are no big problem, but I do like golf. All I’m doing is saving in one area so that I will be able to spend in another.”
Sometimes my wife spends more money on clothes than I think she should. She knows what our income is and, therefore, she must be aware of the fact that the Smith household should live within the confines of our own financial bracket in every area. When I question her about spending too much for clothes, she throws my answer right back at me, “I don’t smoke … etc.”
For some Christians the overspending is on cars, houses, food, furniture, hobbies, etc. They feel that this is legitimate. I can squeeze here and stretch there, cut back here and add there, save here and spend there.
When this principle is applied to a faith promise offering it is a miracle – first that we are willing to do for world missions what we have always done for our golf game, our clothes or our vacations. The second miracle is that instead of spending the extra money on ourselves we are led by the Holy Spirit to give it to others.
I am not suggesting that we should not apply this principle of “saving here to spend there” on these other areas of our lives, but only that we at least put world missions in the same class – that is, something that excites and concerns us so much that we are willing to save in some areas as a response to our Lord’s command. Faith promises can be kept by “saving here to spend there” and this is indeed a financial miracle.
* Money from Nowhere. I have put this last because it is less common than the first two miracles, but also to emphasize the fact that God does sometimes provide the money for missions from a totally unexpected source – as if He just dropped it into our laps. Many of our people have been able to complete their commitment because they received an inheritance that was not expected. Sometimes it comes in the payment of a bad debt that had long since been written off. Lots of folk have received increases in salary that were not normal in their kind of work. A few – very few – have received money in the mail, as if from nowhere.
In 1975-76 we decided to build a new high school that was urgently needed. We have close to seven hundred students in our Christian schools from pre-kindergarten through grade thirteen. The new building was going to cost well over a million dollars. The leadership people of the school asked me to make an appeal to our school parents to give substantially in the form of promises that should be completed within six months.
I was sitting on the platform at some academy function awaiting the time to make the appeal. I had decided what my approach should be: “Your children attend this school, therefore, you have a greater obligation than anyone to make major contributions,” and so on. While I was thinking these things the Holy Spirit spoke to me. It was not in an audible voice, but a sort of response of my heart to God’s Spirit. He was saying that before I could ask other parents to give, I should give myself. My daughter was one of those students.
This seemed fairly logical, and in what I thought was a generous spirit, I determined to give fifty dollars. No sooner had this thought come into my mind than that inner voice spoke again: “Paul, fifty dollars won’t do. Promise a thousand.” I argued a little longer – pointing out to God how heavy my commitments were and that I didn’t have an extra thousand dollars, but I lost the debate, and started my appeal to the other parents by telling them that God had led me to promise a thousand dollars. Where I would get it I did not know, and at this juncture I hadn’t even discussed it with my wife. I knew we didn’t have it, but I believed that somehow God would provide it.
The following day I received a rough draft of our financial statement for the past year. In the course of studying it and looking for any substantial changes from the figures of former years, I noticed one very minor detail. My salary was a few dollars lower than it had been the year before, despite the fact that I had received a raise. It didn’t upset me at all. I knew that there could have been tax deductions or changes in some of the benefits that would easily explain the difference. However, I knew that some of the members of my board might question it, so I needed to know the answer.
My business administrator came to my office two days later with the answer. It was one of those bad news and good news things. The bad news – they had made a mistake while putting the payroll on computer and some wrong information about my salary had been fed into it. The good news – that the church owed me more than two thousand dollars in back salary!
When I received that check, I sat down and wrote my own check in the amount of one thousand dollars for the school building. I had been able to keep my promise in full within five days after I made it. To me that was indeed a financial miracle of the first magnitude.
Now, this sort of dramatic answer does not happen in most cases, but it is not all isolated experience. Over the years I have talked to many people who did experience this kind of dramatic response to their faith promise.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”
Article “The Faith Promise” excerpted from “The Senders, World Missions Conference and Faith Promise Offerings”. By Paul B. Smith.