The New Testament is clear that Christians should give. It is not optional for New Covenant believers. Below are a few things to consider around giving, that I believe will help us think biblically and joyfully about the privilege of giving.
Christians give joyfully. The essence of the Christian life is that of joyful sacrifice. Sacrifice means that we part with something valuable to us. If you’re like me, I don’t always like parting with things which are valuable to me. But, in the New Testament, we’re not only called to sacrifice, but to do it joyfully. It doesn’t matter what the preacher, teacher, or blog tells us is the best “principle” for giving — if we miss the foundational understanding of joyful sacrifice, most everything else regarding giving becomes legalistic.
We want to steer far away from any kind of legalism, and understand that Christians give, not out of compulsory duty (the law), but out of a joyful heart of gratitude (grace): “God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8).
Christians give generously. The opposite of generous is stingy. When I think of stingy, I think of someone who’s miserable and stodgy, like Ebenezer Scrooge. I’ve never known a generous giver who wasn’t joyful. I have known several stingy people who were bitter. They seem to correlate. Christians aren’t misers. From Genesis to Revelation, you won’t find one word which calls for God’s people to be anything but generous in their giving.
Not everyone can give as generously as others amount-wise, and that’s why Paul wrote, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). John the Baptist preached a similar message of generosity: “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11).
Christians give on purpose. The New Testament also presents several reasons, or purposes, that Christians give. We are not blind givers, chucking our money in the offering plate, online, or however your church takes up collections, with no thought of the purpose of our giving. Our giving is both thoughtful and on purpose. We are doing it as an act of gratitude for God’s abundance in our lives, because we understand that our giving serves a greater purpose.
Your giving finances missional endeavors. Your giving helps alleviate the financial burdens of those called to minister to you (and others). Your giving helps with nuts-and-bolts needs such as materials, rental costs, and day to day expenses of “running” a church. Your giving helps tend to the poor and needy among you (James 2:15-16; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Ultimately, your giving helps in various ways to reach those who do not know Christ with the Gospel (1 Timothy 5:17; Philippians 4:15-17).
People rightly like to believe their giving is helping or bringing about changes for the better. That is why charities never give the impression they’re ‘begging’ for money like many churches often do. If the cause and purpose is honorable, and the fruit of giving is tangible, people will have no reservations or fears about generously and joyfully giving to support it.
Christians give as worship. God ordered it so that our giving was an act of worship. Giving acknowledges that all we have is from God, and though he doesn’t need it (Acts 17:25), our giving says “Lord, you gave to me, now I give back to you.”
I know it’s easy to criticize the excesses of the church over the years. Untold millions have been spent on facilities, properties, and other material acquisitions while there are starving people in the community. This does cause the thoughtful Christian to pause and consider how his/her giving is being stewarded. I believe “acquisition syndrome” as I call it, is spurred on more from a desire to do the right thing and to be modern than to simply be wasteful.
Good intentions aside, however, I do believe the church should re-evaluate what it spends its money on. Even the appearance of wastefulness is not a good thing. If we are honest as churches, our giving is spent mostly us-ward, and not to the poor and needy. As I mentioned earlier, some things are necessary parts of ministry. Advertising costs, office supplies, various registrations, websites, salaries, etc. have to be financed somehow (if we expect to reach outwardly in the digital age). I can attest from experience that there are costs involved in almost everything in our culture, not just church-related things. As my parents rightly said about a gazillion times: “It doesn’t grow on trees.”
Let’s think about that before we decide that giving should be relegated to a secondary matter. It isn’t. Giving is worship. Worship is never a secondary matter.
Is giving always about money? Time is as valuable as money. Energy spent on kingdom service is worth something. Paul spoke about our entire lives being a sacrificial offering to God (Romans 12:1). Pastors should spend time emphasizing that giving includes money, but is more than just money.
Should Christians give to get something back? As much as we laugh at the corny televangelists who are on at 1 a.m. hawking their “sowing and reaping principles,” I’ve heard many an otherwise doctrinally sound Baptists teach that if we give, we can expect to get something monetarily back from God in return. God’s word never says this, it stems often from a misinterpretation/misapplication of passages such as Malachi 3:10.
I won’t get into a discussion on Malachi right now, but suffice to say, mishandled, like all scripture, it can cause grievous injury to others. Pastors/teachers need to consider the lady who gave 15% of her income every week with joy, only to lose her job, home, and material possessions. She eventually ended up on government welfare, and never attained her previous financial status. Worse, she lost faith in God and the church because she had heard the promise that, if she gave faithfully, God would in turn take care of her financially when the “dry seasons” came. When God didn’t “come through” for her as she’d been promised, she was understandably hurt, confused, and angry.
It’s dangerous thing to turn an Old Testament promise to Israel into an application to New Covenant Christians. The blessing of giving spiritually supersedes the material blessings God may give us. Christians do not give in order to get back, much less get back in the same manner as they gave.
Is there a set amount for giving in the New Testament? Arguments abound here. There isn’t any evidence in the New Testament that there was a set amount of money to be given by Christians each week. Certainly, there were amounts set on Old Testament Israel, but the church isn’t Old Testament Israel. Paul said we give “as each has purposed in his heart” and “in proportion to our faith.”
If tithing was as important as many churches would have you believe, it certainly would’ve been reiterated in the New Testament, particularly because much of the NT was written to non-Jewish believers who had no idea there ever was a tithe. So, my advice is: be careful when attempting to impose Israel’s laws on the New Covenant church.
When someone asks how much they should give, my answer is: As much as you can, as often as you can, as purposefully as you can, as faithfully as you can, and as joyfully as you can. This seems to answer the question biblically: “How should Christians give?”