What to Give, What to Give...

Deciding what to give someone else isn't just a challenge at Christmas time or on birthdays. For the Christian, deciding what to give to the Lord's work is an ongoing challenge. As a pastor I've had numerous people inquire over the years into what the Bible actually teaches about our giving. "But wait," we might say, "that's not a difficult decision at all. God specified in the Bible exactly what we're supposed to give: 10% of our gross income." That's true, the Bible did say that. However, it's not quite that simple.

Different Day, Different Law
The Bible taught God's people to give 10% of their gross income to the Lord in Leviticus 27:30-32. Notice, that's Leviticus: the law for God's people under the Old Covenant. But we're under the New Covenant now. Leviticus is the same book that also taught God's people to avoid eating pork and to bring an animal to the priest and have it killed for their sin. But we don't do those things anymore. I'm quite the fan of good, thick-cut bacon, and in almost a dozen years of full time pastoring I have (thankfully!!) never seen anyone bring a goat to church on a Sunday morning so I could slaughter it for them.

You see, part of the reason people have asked me over the years what the Bible teaches about giving is that they hear "you should give 10%; it's in the Bible," regularly, but they sense that something is amiss because that's Old Testament Law. And they're right. Sometimes I think evangelical teachers & preachers might be guilty of cherry-picking the pieces of the Law of Moses which suit our purposes, and leaving aside the rest.

Now, the question of how to correctly and consistently apply the Law of Moses to Christians today may need another post by itself (perhaps some thoughts on that should be the next post?). But for now, the important thing to note is that the strict 10% giving law is one we're no longer under. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says that we should give "not under compulsion", so it's clear that being forced to give a certain amount is not the Biblical ideal. That doesn't mean the 10% standard is meaningless (more below), but it does mean it's not our rote obligation.

The Good and Bad with Law
And that's a good thing. In fact we usually like the idea of a law going away; of personal freedom, and of making our own choice. But let's be honest, a strict law in the Bible does have some advantages. For one thing, I know exactly where I stand with God! Did I give 10%? Then I'm good with God. Clearly defined lines provide a ready answer to the question 'am I giving enough?', and as such they provide a sense of security.

But there's a downside too: clearly defined lines also provide a limit on personal growth. After all, if I knew that God required me to, say, read my Bible three times per week, would I have incentive to read it more than that? Likewise, if I'm supposed to give exactly 10% and I do so, the result is that an "I've done my part" mentality sets in, and this actually de-motivates me from further growth.

New Testament Giving
So then, we're back to the question: how much does God want me to give?

Rather than specifying a specific amount of money to give, the New Testament provides 4 principles which every Christian should use to evaluate - and plan - their giving. All 4 principles can be found in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9, as well as throughout the New Testament. My suggestion is to give your giving plan some concerted thought at least once per year, and let these principles shape your giving plan.

Principle #1 - Generosity
2 Corinthians 8:3-7 tells us to excel in the grace of giving, up to and even pushing the limits of our means. Clearly, we're to give generously. But how much is "generous"? God leaves that to each individual to determine. But that's not as undefined as it might sound at first. After all, we know generosity when we see it, don't we? We also know its opposite - stinginess - when we see it too. When a man who earns $200,000 per year gives $100 to a local charity, we don't call that generous. Nice maybe, but not generous. He can afford it. But when a family of 6 living on $25,000 per year scrimps and saves so they can give the same $100, we rightly say 'wow, that's generous!' In the same way, as you look at your income, your spending, and your giving, would an honest, third-party observer look at what you give and call it "generous"?

Principle #2 - Cheerfulness
2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us that whatever amount we give, the giving is to be done "cheerfully". This isn't really about how much I give, but rather about how I feel about the act of giving. Does my money leave my hand reluctantly? Does my heart sigh when I write that check to my church because I think of all the things I could do with that money for myself? Does giving feel like a burden? Or is it a joy? God cares very much about where our hearts are at in the giving process. In 2 Corinthians 8:3-4 Paul lauds the Macedonian churches because they literally begged to give. It was not a burden, but a joy! That's what God wants from us.

Principle #3 - The Precedent
I mentioned above that the Old testament 10% tithing law still has some relevance for today: it serves as a precedent. God no longer stipulates a specific amount that his followers must give, but when he did he specified 10%. So based on that precedent, if I give less than 10% now, it is not likely that my giving would be considered by God as being "generous".

I've heard the 10% giving standard referred to as God's "training wheels" for giving. I think that's a good metaphor. With a bicycle, the point of taking the training wheels off is not so that you will ride you bike even slower, but that you would really take off and go much farther and faster than the training wheels allow you to. So it is with giving. God once stipulated 10%, and now he takes that mandate off of us and says "give cheerfully and generously!" with the goal being that we would delight in doing much more than that.

Principle #4 - Reward
Some Christians are uncomfortable with the Biblical doctrine of eternal rewards, but we shouldn't be. 2 Corinthians 9:6 makes the point clearly and forcefully: if you give a lot now, you'll enjoy a bigger reward for all eternity. Why does God tell us this? To motivate us to fund his kingdom now. It's difficult to get excited about giving more when it feels like a loss. But it's far easier to get excited about it when we realize that the more we give, the more we gain in eternity. Biblical giving isn't a net loss, it's a net gain.

But this requires having an eternal perspective; that is, living this life in light of the next. When I sit down to plan my giving, am I thinking only about this year, this month, or this week? Am I 100% focused on the needs and expenses I have right now, and how much I can afford to let go of today? Or is part of my thought process focused on eternity, and how much of God's kingdom I want to have made happen when I stand before God? Remembering that today's sacrifices = much bigger reward later is a powerful motivator to give.

Give Like Eternity Depends On It
These 4 principles...



shape the Christian understanding of giving. When we fully embrace what Christ has done for us, and when we become captivated by his future plan for a redeemed life on the New Earth full of God's goodness and glory, giving takes on a whole new meaning. The reasons we give change, and consequently the amounts we give do as well. As we fund the expansion of God's kingdom rather than of our own little kingdoms, more and more people come to understand who Christ is and experience his forgiveness. But if God's people become too fixated on life here and now, others may miss out on the gospel of Christ.

God wants us to give like eternity depends on it. Because it does!

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