by Travis Rymer
God cares a lot about what we do with our money. How do we know? He talks about it a lot. There are numerous passages in the Bible that teach about giving (1). Randy Alcorn noted the surprising fact that Jesus talked about money more than anything else, including heaven and hell (2).
This tells us money plays an important role in our spiritual lives. The reason is that unlike many other important areas of life, whether or not we give is an indication of heart devotion (Mt. 6:19-24). It reveals our functional god as it directly touches our faith and security – two fundamental aspects of trusting in the Lord.
No wonder Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Its important to see that the location of our treasure is where our hearts are – not merely where they will go. This means that where we store our treasure, is where our hearts reside. Certainly, we can work to change this by giving (this is what Jesus is encouraging in the preceding verses), but first, its a locator to find our hearts.
Of course, even if we know this, many questions come up. “How much should we give?” “Is tithing still a thing?” “Where should we give?” “What about hardships, debt, and cost of living?” And many more. Some of these questions I hope to answer here, but for many practical questions, we should all discuss this topic with friends in the church who also want to honor God. If giving is a heart locator, then its an important part of our discipleship.
Reasons to Give
The Bible holds out many reasons we should give – all of them full of hope. Giving has the power to free you from slavery to the master of money (Mt. 6:22-24). Its a tangible act of faith whereby you declare, “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me” (Heb. 13:6). Do you have trouble trusting God daily? Give and see how He will take care of you! This will not only help you with this, it will grow your trust in God in all areas of your life. At the same time, it is a weapon against the love of money cultivating contentment – something we’re all tempted with (Heb. 13:5).
Giving travels where you cannot. Giving to the work of Gospel ministry joins us to that work whereby we become actual participants in it (3 John 3:8). Do you want Gospel fruit in places you’ve never traveled? Give to international missions! On top of this, believe it or not, the Bible actually promises rewards in heaven. Paul said to the Philippian church, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” Or consider how Jesus contrasted saving on earth to store up treasures now with giving on earth to store up treasures in heaven (Mt. 6:19-22; Mt. 19:21-22; cf. 1 Tim. 6:17-19). The one who gives to those who cannot repay will be repaid at the resurrection of the just, Jesus promised (Luke 14:14).
Churches have a responsibility to provide for their pastors. Galatians 6:6 teaches us to share our material blessings with those who teach us God’s word. This is certainly talking about money, but it actually, goes beyond money by saying, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” When we give, we avoid withholding the wages of those who deserve it. “You shall not muzzle an ox when it tread out the grain” (1 Tim. 5:17-18). When we do not give to support those who teach us, we muzzle the ox and fail to honor God in this way (cf. Luke 10:7). The same is taught with more detail in 1 Corinthians 9:8-14. Together, church and pastors share in the spiritual “crop” by teaching, receiving, and giving.
Beyond this, in our church, we have the added commitment we make to one another in our church covenant. We believe the covenant reflects the Biblical teaching on giving and therefore promise to one another to “work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines. We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, and the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.” Contributing cheerfully fulfills our words to each other.
There are negatives to not giving of course. For all that was said above, the opposite is true when we don’t give. We shut the door on all these blessings and disobey God.
Reasons to Give Less
Got it! But are there times we might give less or not at all? Are there legitimate reasons to pull back or focus our money elsewhere? Maybe, but more often than we might think, the answer should be no. Its unwise for a Christian to have a period of time where we are not giving at all.
Since giving is an indication of where we place our trust, obedience to God, cultivates freedom from the love of money, participates in Gospel work, stores up treasures in the world to come, and rightfully pays our pastors, we believe it is spiritually damaging to cut this out of our normal discipleship. Where else in Scripture does God put qualifiers around obedience and trust?
Knowing our hearts propensity towards greed, we should be very careful when considering this question. Without the help of others, we can be blind to our motives. However, there might be reasons why you might give less than others or than at other times for a short season.
The law of Moses made provision for those who were poor, and while the offering was less, they still gave (Lev. 5:7f; 12:6-8; 14:21f ). Maybe you are currently unemployed with no income or because of hardship your income is less than your needs. Maybe debts have gotten out of hand. Maybe the care of a family member requires unusual expenses (1 Tim. 5:16). In such cases the responsibilities are multiplied.
And yet, while poverty might lower the dollar figure you might give, it might actually increase the sacrifice. The widow’s mite was of more value than the rich person’s big check (Lk. 21:1-5). The Macedonian churches “overflowed in a wealthy of generosity” despite their extreme poverty (2 Cor. 8:1-4). It would seem then that a provision for hardship is not the same as grounds for lacking generosity. In fact, having a surplus from which we give might deceive us into thinking we are generous when we are not.
Given the reasons to give, there are good grounds for making sure you still participate in the grace of giving while working to change your situation. Jesus’s teaching in the sermon on the mount about giving is in the context of anxiety about our earthly needs (i.e. how will I pay my bills, clothe and feed my family). This is truly something to think about. If fear of lacking is preventing you from giving, that fear is in direct contradiction to our Father’s promise to provide our every need. Let us not trust in what’s in our hands, but Who is in heaven!
When Should We Give?
Paul taught the Corinthian and Galatian churches to give each week “on the first day of the week” (1 Cor. 16:1-3). From this, we can learn that we are to give regularly. Additionally, he wrote, “each of you is to put something aside and store it up.” This tells us we should plan to give.
The Old Testament example is the best of your “first fruits” (Ex. 23:19; 34:26). For example Deuteronomy 26:2 says, “…you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.” This came with the promise of God’s overflowing provision (Proverbs 3:9-10).
Many people fail to plan and end up making last minute decisions about giving or reach for spare cash in their pockets when prompted by the weekly offering. We don’t realize this promotes less giving and can even lead to feeling constrained by the pressure of the moment crowding out cheerfulness from our hearts. Planning helps us give generously, cheerfully, prayerfully, and regularly.
How Much Should I Give?
In the Old Testament we read that Israel was required to give a tithe of their yearly increase. A tithe is 10%. Jesus affirmed this in Matthew 23:1-3; 23. Prior to the Law, Abraham payed a tithe to the King of Salem showing that this was a recognized, prelaw standard (Gen. 14:20). For this reason, many people believe tithing to be the benchmark.
However, the New Testament does not repeat this command, but like the rest of the law places it in the sphere of grace (3). When the New Testament talks about giving, it opens the category up with words like “willing,” “cheerful,” “generous,” and “sacrificial.” Consider 2 Corinthians 9:1-15. Instead of a percentage, the New Covenant standard is faithfulness. That’s why a tithe has been called “the training wheels of giving” (4).
So, for some, 10% is a good benchmark to grow towards. Maybe you’ve never learned to give and are looking for a place to start. Aim for 10%. If you have reasons to give less than 10% do what is necessary, but do not fail to give. You might start with a percentage that challenges you and look to increase that each year. Set a number that is faithful and be faithful with it. In the meantime, work to resolve the issues of debt, income, or temporary burdens you face that prevent further giving. It is a gift to be able to give to others. Work to set yourself and family up to be able to participate in this opportunity.For others, 10% is a good benchmark to grow from. If a tithe is easy for you, it might be sufficient, but is it generous? Some are given the spiritual gift of “giving” (Rom. 12:8). This gift is likely associated with the additional responsibility of greater resources than others. Paul urges such people to exercise this gift “with generosity.”
While you may or may not have the same fear of lacking (though certainly possible) to prevent you from giving, the expression of trusting in the money in your hand rather than the God who gives is the same. Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share, storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the coming age so that they may take hold of what is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
Don’t miss the powerful contrast in the last line. “…so that they may take hold of what is truly life.” This life, its gifts and treasures, are a shadow of true life.
Where Should I Give?
The Old Testament is instructive for us again to get our bearings. In Israel the tithe was to be sent to the temple – the “storehouse.” The Levites were paid through this provision. Further offerings were “free will offerings” and local needs of the poor in their community were to be met as they arose by those close to them.
The same principles are applied in the New Testament. Passages like Galatians 6:6 and 1 Timothy 5:17-18 point us to our local churches as the first priority. Benevolence was coordinated on a corporate level at times as well (Acts 4:34-35; 2 Cor. 9; 1Tim. 5:9ff). Missions seems to have largely been done through the churches’ coordinated giving (3 John) though certainly through individuals as well.
For these reasons, the priority of our giving should be to our local church. If we are faithful in this, we can then look out to the myriad of other opportunities for greater fruitfulness (Gal. 6:10). Resist the temptation to let others carry your church while you give somewhere else. Each one has our own responsibilities.
What if Our Church Is Meeting Budget?
Its a reasonable question to ask. Its logical to say, “If everyone else is meeting the budget then I’m free to give elsewhere.” Yet, how do I share in the ministry if I am not personally invested? If others are contributing, but I am not, how do I avoid “muzzling the ox”? Are we fulfilling our covenant if we also do not give?
A large part of the formation of our budget is based on what is given. If we exceed budget, we will seek to increase it. Where giving increases, the ministry can grow with it. We are able to increase missionary support, purchase a building for our needs, plant additional churches, hire needed staff, help the poor among us, and more. If the church budget is of concern, this is something to speak to your pastors about. Otherwise, it is an area in which to trust and submit to them by faithfully supporting it.
Its helpful to remember that the local church is the most important organization on the earth. Only the local church has the responsibility to take the Gospel to the nations. While other opportunities are needed and worthwhile, they should come after faithfulness to the body God has given us.
Excel in This Grace
Have you considered that rather than a burden, giving is called a “grace” (2 Cor 8:7). In fact, its called a grace in which we are encouraged to excel. “But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you —see that you excel in this act of grace also.” Everything we possess is a gift and none of it will last. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).
Knowing this, let’s make plans to grow in this. Let’s encourage one another and seek to excel in this also.
(1) Certainly, money is only one form of many ways to give, but the Bible specifically focuses on giving out of our tangible assets as a baseline to all other forms of generosity. This is not to ignore other types of giving of time, sacrifice, service, gifts, skills, etc…
(2) Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, p. 3-4.
(3) “Grace” not being freed from giving, but freed to the power and freedom of giving. Grace is far more than pardon. Romans describes it as the power of the Spirit’s influence and the sphere of Christian existence (see 5:12; 6:14; et. al.).
(4) Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions and Eternity.