There is much confusion in the world today concerning giving in the Church. Many realize that we are commanded to give contribution, but there are often questions about when, how much, and what for.
Before we answer such questions, it is first important realize that everything we have comes from God.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
We use a lot of time discussing how best to use the Lord’s money within the context of the church, but I wonder if we properly appreciate the fact that really all money is the Lord’s money?
My friend and brother in Christ David Baxter once said the following on this very topic: "We use the Lord’s money to pay our cable bill. We buy cat litter and coffee and cigarettes... and sometimes we give a little bit to the church."
Very sobering words!
Taking this all into consideration – recognizing that every physical blessing we have was given to us by God, including money – I hope that we develop an attitude of thanksgiving. With this acknowledgement of and gratitude for God’s benevolence, Christians should have little issue with seeking to emulate God’s example!
Let’s examine a few elementary principles when it comes to giving by answering some of the most general of questions:
How Much Should We Give?
During the Old Testament, the children of Israel were subject to strict guidelines of giving in the form of the tithe. Giving in the tithe meant that you were expected to give 10%. That 10% applied not just to money, but everything they received, including crops, livestock, and other various goods. This tithe went to the Levite priesthood (Deuteronomy 10:8-9), the upkeep of the tabernacle and later the temple (Exodus 30:11-16), and the poor of their own Israelite nation (Deuteronomy 24:19-22). In the New Testament, Christians are also commanded to give, but there is no set amount on how much to give. However, there are still guidelines for our giving!
1 Corinthians 16:2 …Let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper…
In the King James Version this same verse reads: … Let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him…
This verse indicates that, even though there is no set amount that we are expected to give, we should take into account that we should give “as we prosper” or “as God has prospered” us. In other words the amount we give may fluctuate from time to time... there is no set amount established. Suppose that one loses his job and takes on a new job that pays less. God does not expect such a one to give the same amount he did before since he now has less. On the opposite end, when we prosper more, our giving should likewise increase! Therefore, if one receives some kind of raise or prospers by some other means, the amount he gives should reflect that.
2 Corinthians 9:5 Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.
Even though this verse was directed at the Corinthian Christians that they may have their contribution ready before Paul’s arrival, I think that it is also a guideline for us. This implies that there is a degree of preparation involved in the act of giving. We shouldn’t be scrambling to find something, anything to give when the collection plate comes around.
I think we also must have already decided just how much we are going to give before we give, so that our giving is done out of genuine generosity and doesn’t become an act of mere obligation.
2 Corinthians 9:6 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
We are told that, in giving, we will reap what we sow!
2 Corinthians 9:7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.
We are told to give as we purpose in our heart. This means that we get decide the amount that we want to give.
We are told to not give grudgingly. This means that we are to give freely. So while there is no set amount that we are expected to contribute, we still are commended to be liberal in our giving.
We are told to not give out of necessity. This wording refutes the idea that we are to give a set amount such as the Old Testaments tithing system. If we were required by church leadership, or the Old Testament to give a certain amount, that would be in violation of this part of the verse. Under the New Testament law, there is no set amount that we commanded to give. The amount that we decide to give is between us and God!
But, remember: God loves a cheerful giver. We are once again reminded that, despite the fact that we have no set amount that we are required to give, we still must be liberal in our giving!
Recall that Christ praised the widow who made the great sacrifice in giving two mites!
Mark 12:41-44 Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”
Jesus was less impressed with those that gave much when they had much to spare. While the widow didn't have as much to give in total monetary value, she gave everything she had! We see that it is the intent of the heart - not necessarily the amount - that God is concerned with!
When Should We Give?
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 states: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.”
Likely, it is no coincidence that this is also the day that we are commanded to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
It is clearly stated in this section of verses that we are to give upon the first day of the week. Sunday, of course, is the first day of the week!
What is the Contribution For?
Why do we give in the first place, what does this contribution go to?
We must realize that the moment we decide to put our money in the collection plate that it has already become God’s money. We have no say in how we think this money ought to be used. What we do with this money is subject to the guidance and restrictions of God’s Word. God’s money is subject to God’s rules and is to be used for:
- Continuation of God’s Work
Through our weekly giving to the church, we are contributing to the continuation of God’s work. We ensure that there is a place to meet, supplies for teaching, and income/reimbursement for preachers.
2 Corinthians 9:10-15 Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
Through giving to preachers of God’s Word, we are “supplying seed to the sowers”!
1 Corinthians 9:7-14 Whoever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.
- “True Widows”
1 Timothy 5:16 If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.
This entire section of 1 Timothy is dedicated to restrictions on giving to widows. In this sense, the widows are female members of the church who have not only went through the tragedy of losing their spouse, but also the loss of a possibly vital source of income for their households! "True widows" appear to be women who will not be remarrying and are in dire financial straits. It is evident from this section of verses that the church has a responsibility to supply for these “true widows” in their need!
- Needy Saints
Contribution also plays a role in providing for the needs of Christians that have fallen on hard times.
Acts 2:44-45 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Acts 11:27-29 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.
Romans 15:24-26 … whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.
Notice that in the previous verses that the contribution of these Christians was given to fellow Christians.
General Benevolence: Giving Beyond the Collection Plate
In addition to giving to support the Church’s work through the collection, Christians additionally ought to be involved in giving out in the world.
However, we must recognize that there is a difference between our obligation as a whole and our duty as individuals. As we established in the previous examples, our first-day contribution may be for needy saints, but there is no evidence that the first century churches were involved in general benevolence as a group. Within the church, the pattern seems to be Christians giving to Christians. We do not read of churches acting as charitable organizations that collected and distributed funds to those not in the church.
It seems callous and cruel to say that the church’s mission is not to supply for the non-believing poor, but according to Biblical example it isn’t the church’s responsibility to care for those in need outside of the church.
We do, however, read of an obligation individual Christians have to be involved in these types of works! According to Biblical example, it is individual Christians who are commanded to give to the less fortunate outside of the Lord’s body!
1 Timothy 6:18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share…
2 Corinthians 9:8-9 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. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”
Once again, we see that God desires that we be "cheerful givers" and that He is pleased when we give freely, just as He has!
The worldly pattern celebrates charitable giving in a variety of ways. This is contrary to the Biblical pattern however…
We we give we must keep in mind that our charitable works are to be done in a discreet manner and not for show.
Matthew 6:1-4 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
As with all things pertaining to God’s righteousness, it appears that God is less concerned with the deed itself as He is with the intent of the heart behind the action, which leads us to our final point…
The Role of Grace in Giving
It’s very easy to get caught up in the basic commandment of giving recorded in 1 Corinthians. In fact, most of us probably offer that scripture as an explanation of why we should give and simply leave it at that. But I hope that through this lesson we have considered that there is more going on than just simply giving because we are commanded to.
Consider Paul’s follow-up teaching in 2 Corinthians in which he discusses the “grace of giving”:
2 Corinthians 8:1-4 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
We read that churches of Macedonia were commended for their liberality in giving not just according to their ability, but even beyond that! Paul continues by telling us why this was the case:
2 Corinthians 8:7-8 But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others...
Notice that the relationship between grace and giving is highlighted by Paul. He even goes as far as to say “I speak not by commandment” because grace can’t be commanded; Grace is offered freely by the giver! As Paul points out it is through such grace that the sincerity of our love is exemplified.
Paul essentially says here that God desires us to have a grace toward others approaching what He has for us. When we see needs around us we ought to respond with the same grace that God has demonstrated.
Notice how Paul brings this point home in the following verse by reminding us of Christ’s example:
2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
Conclusion: Remember to WHOM You are Giving!
At the beginning of the lesson we discussed the fact that we need to remember from Whom all our blessings from.
Just as importantly, we need to remember to Whom we are supposed to be giving!
The next time that we set out to give, whether it be within the assembly, or through our own individual benevolence, let us remember the words of Jesus:
Matthew 25:34-40 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
Essentially: When we give, we give to Christ Himself!
Since that’s the case, let us examine ourselves... Are we giving as we should?