I believe that it is more fulfilling to give a gift than it is to receive one. Do you believe that this is true? According to Jesus it is. He is recorded as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).” So why is it that many of us find it difficult to give at times, especially when that giving is in the form of offerings given to religious organizations?
According to some data I saw recently, giving among American church attenders has declined steadily over the past several decades from 4.5 percent to around 2.5 percent. During the same period, income has actually risen a bit. This leads to the question, why is it so difficult to give? Though there may be several factors at work, there is a fairly easy one which can be taken care of immediately: ignorance of what the Bible says on the subject. Here is a brief summary.
Giving is a vital act of worship. As far back as Genesis 14 (that’s around 2000 BC) the giving of a tithe (10%) was seen as an act of worship. Abraham and the patriarchs of Israel (Isaac, Jacob, etc.) gave a tithe of their income to the Lord as a sign of their gratitude and devotion. Likewise today, when we give money for God’s glory we are saying, “Thank you for your many blessings in my life. All I have comes from you, Lord, and I am giving you back a token of what is really yours anyway.”
Giving is something required of God’s people. For one thing, it was commanded in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 18:21, etc). In reality, the Law given through Moses mandated that Israel give much more than ten percent annually. The first tithe was to be given each year to the Levites, whose job it was to instruct Israel in the Law and lead its worship. A second tithe was to be set aside by each family to provide the resources necessary for them to attend the religious festivals which God appointed for them. A third tithe was collected every three years to care for the poor. So, according to my calculations, this amounts to 23 1/3 percent each year to be set aside for the Lord’s use.
In the gospels of the New Testament, Jesus affirmed that people should uphold these laws about giving. You may recall the story in Luke 21:1-3 in which Jesus commended the poor widow for her sacrificial obedience in giving. Likewise, the New Testament church was urged to give sacrificially to the Lord’s work and to the needs of those around them (1 Corinthians 9: 3-12; 2 Corinthians 8:1-13).
Giving is God’s way of helping us to love him more. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus taught that wherever we put our treasure is where our hearts will be. If we place primary value on material things, our hearts will inevitable follow. If on the other hand, we place the highest value on God’s glory and invest in that, then our dearest love will be found in those things as well. I have sometimes heard people complain of being spiritually dry and unresponsive. There may be many reasons for a situation like this, but according to Jesus, one of them is that a person may have no spiritual passion because they have given nothing for God’s sake. Giving with an attitude of faith can rekindle spiritual passion.
Not only does the Bible tell us what giving is all about, it tells us how to give as well. For instance, God’s people are to give sacrificially (1 Chronicles 21:24), quietly (Matthew 6:3-4), regularly (1 Corinthians 16:2), purposefully and cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Some might argue that all of this was given to people hundreds of years ago in cultures much different from our own. Let me see if I can apply these truths about giving to our current situation.
- Include regular giving in your family budget. If ancient farmers, merchants and livestock owners could set aside resources for God’s use, so can those of us who live and work in the Twenty-first Century. You will never give significantly if you don’t plan to do so. Add this as an item in your family’s spending plan and patterns. Make it a matter for prayer. Don’t forget to teach this to your children as you train them in financial matters.
- Use the ten percent as a general guideline. The New Testament makes it clear that believers in Jesus are not under the regulations of the Law of Moses, but under a new law of grace. This however does not mean that we are not expected to give substantially. Certainly giving 10% of income marks the lower limits of what most people would call substantial giving. Begin where you can. Perhaps if you were to begin with the current average of around 3 percent, you could make it a goal to work toward 5 percent within a few months and then to match the 10% tithe within a year to eighteen months. Just begin somewhere and aim high.
- Though some say they cannot afford to give, the truth is that we can’t afford not to. I have personally travelled to some of the poorest countries in the world over the past decade of my life. As an American, it has surprised and humbled me that people whose earnings are in no way comparable to my own modest income often give regularly to support God’s work. They do this, not only for that which is going on among them, but for the advancement of the Kingdom in places very far removed from their own countries. Seeing this has caused me to rethink this objection quite radically. All of us have something to give—if not money, then other resources or services we possess.
- What types of things and organizations should we give to? For Christians, the vast majority of ministry takes place through bodies of believers known as local churches. Therefore, it would seem right that a high percentage of our giving would be channeled to and through the churches of which we are a part. Ministry costs money, and though most local churches are extremely frugal, there is still a bottom line. Such basic ministry budgets deserve to be funded, especially when those budgets have been drawn up with due representation from the people and placed before the congregation for approval. There are also ample opportunities for special offerings and ongoing projects outside the local church. All such appeals should be personally screened for integrity, efficiency and long-term gospel effectiveness.
- The Bible is very clear that God’s people remember the legitimate needs of the poor (Galatians 2:10). This can take the form of contributing to a local church benevolence fund or to organizations which specialize in helping people not only survive, but become contributing members of society as their circumstances allow. You may want to also consider helping people personally in some thoughtful, tactful and respectful manner.
- Finally, we each ought to maintain the discipline of giving as an ongoing expression of love for God and gratitude for his care for us. In other words, giving should be a deliberate and cultivated habit. It should be something we come to be known for as individuals and as those who carry the name of Christian.
Well, there you have it: a basic overview of what the Bible says about giving. It really isn’t very complicated. If you love God, you will give back to him some of what you have been given, so that the things which matter to him can take place. So now that you know what the Bible teaches, the real issue is how your giving will change and what you will do to make sure it does!