I laughed out loud when a well known conference speaker told me that most people give just enough to make themselves miserable. I’ve always tried to be a radical giver. God stirred me up about this many years ago when reading the life of George Muller. I’ve attempted to increase my giving year by year so that a large percentage of the resources He provides come through me rather than stopping with me. An old friend of our family once said, “God blesses a channel, not a reservoir.” I like putting God’s money into circulation. Yet, I am still plagued at times by the thought that I’ve only begun to touch the beauties of giving, and that there is so much more joy and blessing to be spread and to be received, if I would be more free with what God has supplied me.
Perhaps you have a similar story. Are we to become really strange about giving? I mean, are we to become odd or outlandish as believers in the use of our money? Whatever our current giving patterns, how “reasonable” should we be in this area of stewardship?
Giving isn’t about sacrifice. Oh, I know that it is in one way, but in another way of looking, it has only to do with joy. When Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, He meant it. So, we are not just grudgingly meeting endless needs when we give, but enjoying God with every gift given. If you are one of those who stays on the “miserable” level, this article might be especially insightful.
Let’s think through this matter of peculiarity in giving by considering some biblical truths surrounding the question. Taken together these truths will guide us:
1. There are some rich believers in the Bible.
We know that there were some rich people in the early church. They were instructed to be generous, but this does not take away the fact that they were well-to-do. For instance, Erastus, the city treasurer in Corinth, was surely such a man. He is said to have built a city street. Could you do that on your income? I walked on this street recently when visiting the Corinthian ruins. He built it with his own funds, as the inscription states. If we have the right Erastus, and many think we do, he is mentioned twice in Scripture as a friend of Paul, and a fellow believer. Joseph of Arimathea would be an illustration of another wealthy man, one who provided the burial place for Jesus.
In the first letter to Timothy (6:17-19), Paul told him what to say to rich people:
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.
Some men who are respected as good workers cannot help but make money, it seems. Others have inherited money. This is no sin. There is a certain way they are to behave among the people of God, however. They should not live pretentiously. Their money is not their own and is to be used for the needs of the church and the advancement of the gospel in special ways. They are not to trust in riches, but in God alone. By doing so, they will make for themselves a foundation for the future. Many use their money to be secure, but there is actually no security in money at all. It can be used to gain a true security for the future only by using it compassionately.
You can be rich. In fact, almost all Americans live in the top 5% of the world’s wealthiest people. God really does not despise this in itself. But money is more about compassionate use rather than personal use. There are also many snares that accompany wealth as we will see.
2. You can learn to be content with the basics only.
We certainly know that each man, poor or rich, is to run from covetousness as quickly as possible. Just before Paul’s teaching about rich people, he states the following:
For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things you man of God. (1Timothy 6:7-11)
We may have more, as we have already learned, but we are to be content with whatever we have. Paul said “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Phil. 4:11). Some of us may be rich, but we cannot “want to be rich.” If a man is not content, he becomes greedy for more. This greed is dangerous and lays us open to huge temptations. It is a root sin for other evils. It may in fact, cause us to stray from the truth, a damning reality. We are to flee from such things. It takes a very wise person to handle money, because the love of it will destroy us. So, we are to bring our contentment level down to the basics of food and covering. All else should produce a river of praise and gratitude. This is not to imply that we deserve even food and covering. These are just the ground floor of contentment.
We still see in the above passage that it is possible to have money and negotiate through this world as a believer. In other words, a person may be rich and content, without greed, and this will be seen by his generosity. Abraham was such a man, for instance. He had a great deal of true faith, and therefore is said to have pleased God, but he was certainly wealthy. He exuded contentment and trust. It is not money, but only the love of money, that opens up the dangerous way.
Jesus once encountered the Pharisees, saying that what they loved was abominable to God. What did they love that brought on such a statement by Jesus? They were described as “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). They had trust in it and wanted more of it. They were covetous people. They illustrate exactly the opposite of contentment.
3. Giving is all about the affections.
We cannot be legal about money and possessions. We cannot draw a line at a certain place and say, “Everyone who has this much or more is covetous, and everyone who has below this line is pleasing to God.” Lust is a matter of the heart. A poor man may lust for more, and a rich man may have no lust at all. Contentment is also a matter of the heart. “If you gain riches, don’t set your heart upon them” said Solomon.
Generosity is also about affections. Paul took an offering for the Jerusalem church from all the churches. He wrote the Corinthian folks saying that each man should give “according to what is in his heart, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 8:7). Let me quote that verse:
Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.
Paul did not think that a certain amount or percentage of the people’s income was mandated by God for this offering. Rather, it was a matter of personal affection for God and others. If you love greatly, you will have a heart to give more. God loves a cheerful, rather than a coerced, giver. We may, apparently, give all we wish dictated only by our affections.
We may give just as we want to give. We may be as generous as we desire to be, provided all other biblical family obligations are taken care of. If we were to give away even what was necessary, in the long term, to take care of our family, then we would be worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). I’m saying “long term” because the widow who gave two mites was praised by Jesus for giving all she had to live on. But if she had dependents, she would not be right in giving that away all the time. Also, if we give what belongs to another through debt, we will not be giving our money at all, but his. But if we have money and possessions that are truly ours, we are free to give them, reducing our possessions as much as we wish, in support of the body of Christ or the advancement of the kingdom.
It is fascinating to note that Christ never spoke ill of persons who gave to Him all they had. The woman who anointed Jesus with the perfume that was worth a year’s wages was praised for her action. The widow mentioned above, who gave all she had to live on, was said to have given more than all the other pretentious pharisaical givers put together. The disciples who gave up houses and lands, and daily life with their family, to follow Christ, were to receive much more of the same now and in the future world.
4. Christ already owns it all.
We can go further than this: All believers are required to give up all their own possessions, according to Jesus. He said, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). The right to own anything is given up when we come to Jesus.
This last point is worth pondering. If all rights to ownership are gone, then it is really not so difficult to reduce our possessions in favor of the Kingdom. No, not at all, if we really understand our promise. We should have made all we own ready for the Master’s use at the beginning. When He comes calling for things or cash, it is His prerogative to do so for it fully belongs to Him already. That is the foundation of all our possession-reduction and gift giving.
Yet, even though it belongs to Him, we may still choose to give it for the advance of Christ’s cause. He let’s us maintain a stewardship of His possessions. And He is not put off when we make investments of His goods and His income in the Kingdom that He established. That is a privilege we get, an enjoyment of giving what belongs to Him. We don’t deserve such a nice arrangement. I may give 50% or 80% or more of my income, if I wish. It’s really up to my desire. In fact, Jesus even motivates me to do this by saying that I am to lay up treasure in heaven through giving (Matthew 6:20).
5. Money and possessions must be evaluated in terms of the war.
I gained this insight years ago from Ralph Winter, former head of The Center for World Evangelization. He said that we should think of our relation to possessions like we would if we were soldiers in a war. We don’t want to drag much along that is unnecessary in a war. Think of the foolishness of taking so many possessions with us that we can hardly carry out our responsibilities at all. We should have the best kind of items which are pertinent to functioning effectively in the war, but should settle for whatever gets us through life otherwise.
As an illustration, I travel to speak in conferences, so I need a good vehicle for that. I also use the computer constantly for writing, so having adequate equipment is crucial to carrying out my part of the battle. It would be foolish to have poor equipment for writing if my express responsibility in the war is to write. A church also meets in my home, so I need a house with adequate room. It does not need to be elaborate, but fitting to do the best I can do in the battle. But, I may not need the best music recording equipment, or sports equipment, because, for me, these items do not constitute necessary tools for the battle. They may be that for others, but not for me.
6. We are one Body, therefore we actually give to ourselves.
We are part of Christ’s body; we are all one. And we can use the sharing of funds from one part of the Body to the other to make the Body work well. We are really helping ourselves when we do this, because we are one with the other believers. Also, the Body of Christ may well expand because of our generosity.
7. It is really more blessed to give than to receive.
We know the blessings of giving, surely, already. There is little that can be more exciting. Because your heart follows your gifts, liberated giving will make you focus on heaven and God. “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also,” Jesus said. Someone may ask you how you can enjoy life. The answer should at least include this: “I am happy and fully satisfied in God because I’ve chosen to give generously. I’m blessed because I get to be a blessing to others.”
When my brother and I were young pastors together, we tried to put this lesson into practice. When we would feel somewhat flat spiritually, we would give something away that we really liked. The result was always joy. Giving is a key for producing joy. Remember this when you are prone to be depressed.
Where does this leave us?
If it is permissible to be rich in the Body of Christ provided we don’t want to be rich, and if, whether rich or poor, we set our contentment level at the lowest possible place (food and covering); if giving is about the heart after all, and if Christ owns all of our money and possessions in the first place; and, if we are in war and should live like it; and if our giving actually helps the Body of Christ of which we are a true part, or expands it; and if it is really more blessed to give than receive. If all this is so, then, we are totally free to be far more generous than we have ever considered before. We may give as much as we please. And, we may feel that we are not doing ourselves a disservice in any way by giving a much larger percentage of what God has given us. We can be outlandish in our giving.
“God loves a cheerful giver.” So, be that way, in whatever way you can, for the sake of your own joy, and for the freedom from the tyranny of things you will exhibit to others, and for the immeasurable benefit you can be to the Kingdom of God.