Stewardship of Giving: The Financial Costs of Missionary Work

I had a colleague in the school where I taught many years ago who asked me what it cost in monetary terms to win a soul for Christ.  It does cost money to carry on gospel work, but our small sacrifice could never be compared to what it cost our God to provide eternal salvation. The merchant who was seeking goodly pearls sold all that he had in order to buy one pearl of great price (Matt 13:45-46). The parable speaks to us of a giving God, the One who gave the very best of heaven for sinners like ourselves.

Prices for goods and services almost never go down; they go up. This means that we need to be checking our own budgets to make sure that we are giving more towards the rising costs of spreading the gospel. We belong to the Lord, spirit, soul and body. We should acknowledge that great truth in every department of our lives, including the use of our money. It may be true that many believers do not take giving to the Lord’s work or needy people seriously, but generosity of spirit and sharing resources should characterize earnest believers. God has opened His hand for us in freely providing salvation, and He expects us, as His children, to be sharing and caring. This is a very high standard, but by the grace of God, we can rise to the challenge. Our lives are short, opportunities to help in the spread of the gospel are passing, and we are exhorted, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith”(Gal 6:10, KJV).

God’s servants in every part of the world face the same realities of rising prices. It costs more to print gospel tracts than it used to. Gasoline to drive into the back country with the gospel is more expensive.The car wears out and has to be replaced. The family needs three meals a day, a roof over their head, clothing for the children, and air fares to help them visit the homeland. They have gone forth in dependence upon the Lord to provide all their needs, but God uses His people to support their work spiritually and materially.  Missionaries overseas do everything that they can to mitigate the costs of living abroad but the costs keep rising. Wherever it is at all possible, the Lord’s servants do well to let the local believers build or obtain their own meeting place. The locals do best when they support themselves, but the missionaries look to the homeland believers to support them.

It is a challenging task to spread the gospel in a world that is departing farther and farther away from God. Satan is busy trying to tear down whatever is of God. This is where homeland support is critical. A missionary in a far-off land is lifted in spirit when encouragement arrives via email, or when a birthday gift arrives in the mail for their child. Many homeland believers love to hear accounts of success from foreign fields, but there are many missionaries who refrain from telling of days of discouragement when things are not going well in the work that they are trying to do for the Lord. Homeland Christians can be fickle in their support of the servants of the Lord. Faithfulness in carrying out God’s will in the service of the Lord should be recognized by homeland believers. Some fields are very hard places to preach the gospel. It is important that the homeland believers try to understand the conditions, whether they be spiritual or material, in order to be able to pray and support the work more intelligently. Those believers who are well taught in the Word of God will want to support and encourage those who engage in teaching the truth of God (Gal 6:6).

It would be interesting to estimate the cost of living for a missionary family in a far-off land. Prices of food, clothing, and shelter would probably be comparable to the homeland. We would need to think about air transportation, the cost of fuel for vehicles, rental for buildings, educational costs, and medical costs; the total would probably shock us. It is true that God will provide for His servants, but we must remember that God uses His people in the homelands to provide for His servants.

Paul was fulsome in his thanks to the Philippians (4:14-19) for their practical fellowship gifts. Their gifts had a spiritual dimension. They were sacrifices because they had cost something, and their motives were the highest because they were giving to the Lord. Their giving was not just a “one off” event, but they remembered God’s servant repeatedly. Paul was imprisoned in Rome when their gifts arrived, so it was a wonderful expression of their love and fellowship with him in his time of need. The first chapter of Philippians shows how the assembly was participating in the spread of the gospel through their prayers and faithful remembrance of God’s servant. “I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds and the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace” (Phil 1:7, KJV).