Few areas of the Christian life can be more misunderstood and frustrating than that of generosity. My entire perspective changed after learning what the Bible actually teaches—suddenly I wanted to be generous. But then I was frustrated by another problem: an unlimited number of needs versus my limited resources. How should I decide where to give? My church, the hungry poor, campus and prison ministries, missionary efforts, radio and television programs, and many other vital ministries needed financial support.
Attitudes in Giving
God evaluates our actions on the basis of our attitudes. John 3:16 reveals his attitude toward giving: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (emphasis added). Note the sequence. Because God loved, he gave. Because God is love, he is also a giver. He set the example of generosity motivated by love.
An attitude of love in giving is crucial: “If I give all my possessions to feed the poor…but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3) What could be more commendable than giving everything to the poor? However, generosity without an attitude of love provides no benefit to the giver.
In God’s economy, the attitude is more important than the amount. Jesus emphasized this in Matthew 23:23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.” The Pharisees had been careful to give the correct amount, but Christ rebuked them because of their attitude. He looks past the amount of the gift to the heart of the giver.
We can consistently give with love only when we recognize that we are giving to the Lord himself. We see an example of this in Numbers 18:24: “The tithe of the sons of Israel… they offer as an offering to the Lord” (emphasis added). If giving is merely to a church, a ministry, or a needy person, it is only charity; giving to the Lord is always an act of worship, expressing love and gratitude to our Creator, Savior, and faithful Provider. Whenever we put something in the offering plate, we should remind ourselves that our gift goes to the Lord himself.
In addition to giving with love, we are to give cheerfully. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) The original Greek word for cheerful is hilarios, which is translated into the English word hilarious. What a picture that creates! We are to be joyful givers.
When was the last time you saw hilarity when the offering plate was passed? The atmosphere more often reminds us of a patient in the dentist chair awaiting a painful extraction. So how do we develop this hilarity in our giving? Consider the early churches of Macedonia: “We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2)
How did the Macedonians, who were in terrible circumstances, “severe trial,” and “extreme poverty,” still manage to give with “overflowing joy”? The answer is in verse five: “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” The key to cheerful giving is to yield ourselves to Christ, and ask him to direct how much he wants us to give. That places us in a position to experience the advantages of giving with the proper attitude.
Stop and examine yourself. What is your attitude toward giving?
Advantages of Giving
Gifts obviously benefit the recipient. The church continues its ministry, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, and missionaries are sent. But in God’s economy, gifts given with the proper attitude benefit the giver more than the receiver. “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35) As we examine Scripture, we find that the giver benefits in four significant areas.
1. An increase in intimacy
Above all else, giving directs our heart to Christ. Matthew 6:21 tells us: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is why it is necessary to give each gift to the person of Jesus Christ: it draws our heart to him. Do you remember the faithful steward in the parable of the talents, and his eventual reward? “Enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matthew 25:21) Giving is one of your responsibilities as a steward, and the more faithful you are in fulfilling your responsibilities, the more you can enter into the joy of knowing Christ more closely. Nothing in life compares with that.
2. An increase in character
Our heavenly Father wants us—his children—to conform to the image of his son. The character of Christ is that of an unselfish giver. Unfortunately, humans are selfish by nature. One essential way we become conformed to Christ is by regular giving. Someone once said, “Giving is not God’s way of raising money; it is God’s way of raising people into the likeness of his son.”
3. An increase in heaven
Matthew 6:20 reads: “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.” The Lord tells us that heaven has its own “First National Bank,” where we can invest for eternity. Paul wrote: “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.” (Philippians 4:17) Each of us has an account in heaven that we will be able to enjoy for eternity. Although it is true that we “can’t take it with us when we die,” Scripture teaches that we can make deposits to our heavenly account before we die.
4. An increase on earth
Many people have a hard time believing that giving results in material blessings flowing back to the giver. Time and again, however, we encounter that very principle in the pages of Scripture. Consider Proverbs 11:24-25: “There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered.”
Examine 2 Corinthians 9:6-11: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…. God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality.”
These verses clearly teach that giving results in a material increase: “…will also reap bountifully …always having all sufficiency in everything…may have an abundance…will supply and multiply your seed…you will be enriched in everything.”
But note carefully why the Lord returns a material increase: “Always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…will supply and multiply your seed for sowing…you will be enriched in everything for all liberality.” As shown in the diagram below, the Lord produces an increase so that we may give more and have our needs met at the same time.
Study the cycle of giving. One reason the Lord reveals that we can anticipate a material increase is because he wants us to recognize that he is behind it. God has chosen to be invisible, but he wants us to experience his reality.
When we give, we should do so with a sense of expectation—anticipating an increase from the Lord even though we have no idea how or when he may choose to provide it. Our experience has shown him to be very creative! Remember, givers experience the advantages of giving only when they give cheerfully and with love—not when the motive is just to get.
Amount to Give
Let’s survey what the Bible says about how much to give. Before the Old Testament law, there were two instances of giving a known amount. In Genesis 14:20, Abraham gave ten percent—a tithe—after the rescue of his nephew Lot. And in Genesis 28:22, Jacob promised to give the Lord a tenth of all his possessions if God brought him safely through his journey. With the Law came the requirement of the tithe. The Lord condemns the children of Israel in Malachi 3:8-9 for not tithing properly: “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you!”
In addition to the tithe, there were various offerings. The Lord also made special provisions for the poor. Every seven years all debts were forgiven; every fifty years the land was returned to the original land-owning families. Special harvesting rules allowed the poor to glean behind the harvesters.
God made another significant provision for the poor in Deuteronomy 15:7-8: “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.” Even under the law, the extent of one’s giving was not to be limited by a locked-in, fixed percentage but was to be adjusted by surrounding needs. The New Testament teaches that we are to give in proportion to the material blessing we receive. It also commends sacrificial giving.
What I like about the tithe is that it is systematic, and the amount of the gift is easy to compute. The danger of the tithe is that it can be treated as simply “another bill” to be paid. If we fall into that sort of attitude or rut, we will not be in a position to receive God’s richest blessings. Another potential danger of tithing is the assumption that once we have tithed, we have fulfilled all our obligations to give. For many Christians, the tithe should be the beginning of their giving, not the limit. And we should never, never close our hearts to the obvious needs we encounter in our path through life.
How much should you give? To answer this question, first give yourself to the Lord. Submit yourself to him. Earnestly seek his will for you concerning giving. Ask him to help you obey his leading. I am convinced that we should tithe as a minimum and then give over and above the tithe as the Lord prospers or directs us.