God has entrusted every Christian with a bounty of financial resources that He commands us to manage wisely and, ultimately, for His glory. A portion of the funds available to us must be used to support ourselves and our families. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalon-ians to work diligently in order that they might provide for their own needs and he indicated the liability associated with an insufficient work ethic (2 Thess 3:10-12). The purpose of this article is to review some of the scriptural principles for giving a portion back to God to support His work here on earth. For general reference on this subject, read 2 Corinthians 8 & 9.
Paul reminds us in Acts 20:35 of the words of the Lord Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and this should be the primary principle that characterizes our financial stewardship. The Lord Jesus Christ is our supreme example: “For your sakes He became poor” (2 Cor 8:9). He gave all that He had at Calvary for us; certainly we should be able to give a significant portion back to Him. Giving is an individual responsibility before God and “every man” will have to give an account to God. A husband and wife are “one flesh” in the Lord (Matt 19:5, 6) with cumulative funds and their giving should be in absolute unity of purpose and amount.
How Should We Give?
Spiritual giving is considered, “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18). Paul gives the example of the Macedonian Christians who gave liberally out of their deep poverty (2 Cor 8:2). If the portion that we give comes from what is left over at the end of a pay period, it can hardly be considered a sacrifice. The character of our giving should be from a willing spirit (2 Cor 8:3, 12). This was to be the primary motivation for the burnt offering that an Israelite brought under an Old Testament covenant and it is that same principle that is so pleasing to God in our lives today. In direct contrast, Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that giving should not be done grudgingly or of necessity. The value of a gift is found as much in the spirit of the giver as it is in the amount given. Our giving should also be done with simplicity or without show (Rom 12:8) and in the spirit of grace (2 Cor 8:7; 1 Pet 4:10) as God has dealt with us. It is also most important that giving be done without a covetous motive or any hope of personal benefit or prestige that one could gain in response from the receiver (2 Cor 9:5). Giving liberally, willingly, and out of a pure heart is most pleasing to God.
How Much Should We Give?
God has not given us an exact formula for calculating the amount of our giving. If He had, it would remove spiritual exercise and replace it with legal obligation, which is contrary to New Testament principles. However, God has given us some general guidelines that we can apply individually with exercise and prayer as the Spirit of God directs us. In the Old Testament, Abraham tithed, or gave one-tenth of his substance (Heb 7:2, 4). In the New Testament, under a new covenant, we are not asked to tithe, nor is there a suggested percentage for giving. It is the work of the Spirit of God dwelling within the believer to exercise the heart and our liberality will largely be defined by the measure in which we are sensitive to the Spirit moving in us. There are three basic principles given to New Testament believers: (1) as God hath prospered us (1 Cor 16:2), (2) as purposed in our heart (2 Cor 9:7), and (3) “bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6). All men are not equal, but all of us have equal opportunity to serve Him to the best of our ability. In the parable in Matthew 25:14, 15, every man was given a different number of talents, “according to his several ability.” The only expectation was that each man would invest wisely and gain accordingly for his Lord when He came back. Our accountability will be to God for what we have done individually, and not in comparison to others (2 Cor 8:12). There will be no reward at the Judgment Seat for slothfulness; therefore, God expects us to live our lives with a purpose in view. This includes our approach to giving and the importance that we place on it. It is most beneficial if we have a goal either annually or by pay period and set that portion aside before all other budgetary matters are considered. It is from this “set aside” portion that the Corinthians were to give as they came together on the first day of the week to worship (1 Cor 16:2). Paul also encouraged the Corinthian believers to have a portion set aside to give to the poor believers at Jerusalem, so that when he came there would be no need for emergency collections that could be embarrassing (2 Cor 9:2-5). The principle of liberality is emphasized, in which sowing bountifully will result in bountiful reaping on the part of the giver (2 Cor 9:6).
To Whom Should We Give?
As members of a local assembly, we have a primary responsibility to support the activities of the assembly as set forth by responsible elders. Our building should be clean, attractive, adequately furnished, and provide a comfortable environment in which to establish a local testimony. The building exterior and the grounds also need to be maintained in a manner that would encourage visitors to come. In most assemblies this will require a combination of giving our time, our talents, and our funds. To have an active assembly, support must also be given to fellowship activities and a gospel outreach into the community. Additional funds are also contributed through the assembly to support full-time commended laborers in the gospel, both in the local area and in foreign fields (1 Cor 9:14, Phil 2:25). Financial support must also be available to assist widows (1Tim 5:16) and saints with special needs (Rom 15:25, 26).
Scripture also supports personal exercise and giving, essentially for the same purposes but with a special knowledge of need in mind (Gal 6: 6, 10). Personal giving should always be in harmony with assembly principles and in unity with elder brethren (2 Cor 8:18, 19). There are men and organizations with fundamental approaches that are crying out for contributions. Some may even sound spiritually worthy on the surface, but our financial commitment should be entirely to those gospel activities structured within the framework of local assembly testimony. One short word about secular giving: in Galatians 6:10, we are encouraged to “do good unto all men,” but Paul quickly adds, “especially to them who are of the household of faith.” When we give to unbelievers in need, such as neighbors or co-workers, it should be with the hope of opening a door for the gospel. In maintaining a good testimony among our neighbors, it may be appropriate at times to make small contributions to well-managed medically related funds (Heart Association, etc.), but responses to telephone or radio soliciting and mail requests have little spiritual justification.
What Should Be the Result of Our Giving?
Giving with a right spirit and a pure motive will generate a multitude of blessings. The gift should result in thanksgiving to God from the receiver (2 Cor 9:11), prayer for a specific gospel work and workers (2 Cor 9:14), a spirit of joy in the giver and pleasure to the heart of God (2 Cor 9:7), and an eternal reward (Matt 6:20). Let us remember that giving is not only a responsibility but it is also an opportunity. We are reminded again by Paul that in a coming day, “Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Cor 3:8).