I am confident after nearly 3 years of working with churches regarding giving and generosity, that when Christians avoid the topic of generosity, it robs from them a profound and accurate biblical indicator of spiritual health. Generosity is one of the few things that can be practically seen and tracked in regard to our spiritual growth, discipleship, and health. How you choose to spend your money becomes an unbelievable indicator of what really is really happening in someone’s heart.
What I’m making an appeal for is not your money but your heart. I’m not the pastor of your local church and I’m not asking for your contributions to any ministry, so hopefully, you can trust that what I say is void of money as a motive. I want to share from the Word of God, what it really says about giving and generosity.
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” Ecclesiastes 5:10. He who chases money as the ultimate pinnacle will have a meaningless life. This is to say that if you’re pursuing money as the answer to whatever your emotional, or spiritual issues are, it’s never going to solve them. You will never have enough money to be content to walk in the fullness of life. My former pastor used to share stories of friends of his who were incredibly influential people and had 10’s of millions of dollars. There are countless stories of these people reaching the pinnacle of wealth, some of them even reaching a specific number they’ve been chasing their whole life, only to feel just as empty when they reached it, as when they started with nothing.
Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” This is such a sobering and powerful scripture. Letting us know that you ultimately have to betray one of them. Who will it be? Either God or money.
1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Hebrews 13:5-6, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper.””
Now let’s be clear…Money is not bad. I think it was Jimmy Evans I once heard say “Money is neutral”. But just like any other object in our life, we can begin to focus our core desires on, and worship money, to love money as a god, and that will ultimately lead to great issues. The challenge is, there is a fine line between seeking financial gain in a healthy way and it becoming destructive. Like most things, I feel like you need a regular check of your motives and condition of your heart when it comes to money.
Jesus talks about money more than almost anything in the new testament, and the Bible as a whole is riddled with the discussion of money. I believe God’s design was such that men are inclined to serve money and not him and must make a regular practice to give away some, so as not to become a slave to money. I would argue that significant spiritual maturity is impossible until you deal with this issue of serving money, how you see it, how you understand it and the most important of those aspects is how you use it. Why do I say this? Because how you respond with giving is also typically an indicator of how you view the gospel and salvation. We’ll get into that in a couple minutes.
Let’s look at Matthew 23:23. ‘”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. ‘
He’s basically saying you tithe but ignore the important things. You’re willing to split up the fine spices that you have but you don’t care for the widow the orphan or the marginalized and you look down on others who don’t live up to the fake facade you’ve portrayed outwardly. I would argue that American Christians largely ignore both! They’re not giving and they’re not focused on true justice mercy and faithfulness. There are exceptions amongst you out there and thank God for you, but the large majority of Christians in the US show up on Sunday, consume a sermon, a smaller handful of them read their Bibles regularly and pray when they need something from God. Giving of money is just the beginning. It’s actually the easiest because it’s a renewable resource. Time is not. The time you can’t have back. You can always make more money, God willing. We are called to invest time, energy AND money into the mission of sharing the gospel.
Let’s look into the why behind being called to this life of generosity. In 2 Corinthians 9, we’ll pick it up in verse 6, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.””
We do NOT give under compulsion or requirement. The heart of a transformed, mature follower of Jesus Christ does not give out of guilt, shame, condemnation or out of compulsion. That’s not the heart by which we are generous. Instead, there is a transformation of our souls when the grace and mercy of God is freely lavished upon us in Jesus Christ. We become recipients of a free gift of salvation, and as God is gracious to us, we begin to operate graciously. As we experience and understand the generosity of God, we become more generous.
Now here’s the challenge I see occasionally: There are people who are reading this who grew up in the church, accepted Christ at an early age and never really lived out a life of debauchery or anything crazy. If you’re one of those people, you might even feel you don’t relate to the grace of Jesus everyone else talks about because you weren’t really “saved OUT of much”. You’ve always lived a pretty great life and been kind and caring and moral etc. The ‘before’ you and ‘after’ you aren’t really any different.
These next few sentences may feel a little brash, but it’s just a healthy biblical reminder. How we understand the depth of generosity Jesus showed towards us is to recall this reality: that no matter HOW good we live on earth, either before or after we conversion through receiving Christ, we all have fallen short of God’s measure and because of the fall we each earn and deserve eternity in hell, separated from the presence of God. If it wasn’t for the grace of God to save us, through Jesus, no matter how good or moral we are, that eternity would be our reality. News flash, you didn’t even decide to choose Jesus. You were given the Holy Spirit in a way that led you to the confession of faith. The Bible says apart from the Holy Spirit, no one can say “Jesus is Lord”. You were shown ridiculous generosity and are called to model Christ in generosity.
The foundation of Christian generosity is that our salvation is from God alone, so also our new life is from God alone, all the joy, hope, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self- control those are all attributes of the Spirit of God, given freely to us. Where this is fully understood, Christians are generous. Where this is not understood, they’re not. When we think we’ve earned it, or that we chose it, we destroy ample opportunity for generosity to flow through us.
Let’s take a look at 2 Corinthians 9 again, now verse 10. ‘He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.‘ What this is saying is your money, job etc isn’t yours. The ability to wake up and breathe today was a generous gift from God. The ability to go to work and have a job to make money is a gift. If you went to school for marketing and did well, your ability to thrive in that area and do well is all a gift.
Consider it this way: Were there people that attended school with you that didn’t make it through? Yes. We’re there even people that graduated college with you who are nowhere near as successful as you are in business? Aren’t there always well-meaning people with a great work ethic that struggle? Yes. I could intern with the best illustrators at Disney for a decade and my drawings would still look like they’re done by my 2-year-old son Asher. My wife is an incredible photographer and my eye is just NOT the same as hers for what a great photo looks like. Why? Because God has gifted some with certain abilities and others with different abilities. What you have comes from God and thus all that you have, time, energy, job, food, house, money etc you are just a steward of.
Now the point of all this generosity talk: What happens once a Christian understands the grace and generosity of God and starts to pour out generously as a response and worship? Verse 11, “you will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the news of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”
The message version says it this way: “wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.”
Your generosity will produce in OTHERS the praise of God. You see, it’s not about you and me. This is about how God chooses to gift us things in this life in order to bless others and point them to him.
This is done with your talents and gifting as much as money and time. Think about a few examples in the NFL, bear with me here if you don’t like football.
Tim Tebow is a well-known individual who was generous with his time and used his fame and platform of football success to bring glory to God in his actions and his public words.
Russell Wilson a man I know through experience to be a sound man of faith literally dedicates most of the Tuesday’s of his life to visiting the Seattle Children’s hospital and blessing sick kids with his time, energy, attention and often gifts.
My last example is Derek Carr who signed a new 5 year $125 Million contract, and when asked what he planned to do with his new payday he set an example in both words and deeds: “The first thing I’ll do is give my tithe like I have since I was in college…” Carr said. “…giving $700 on a scholarship check. That won’t change. I’ll do that.” Now you don’t receive all that money up front in your first year, but all together that’s $12.5 Million in giving to the church. That doesn’t take into account what he gives to nonprofits and other people he supports: “The exciting thing for me, money-wise, honestly, is that this money is going to help a lot of people,” Carr said. “I’m very thankful to have it and it’s in our hands because it’s going to help people, not only in this country but in countries all around the world.” Wow, he said he’s excited to give and thankful that it landed in his hands. Why? Because his hands are open where others might not be, and he knows how that affects the world for the gospel.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Some of you would say, “well it’s easy to give 10% or 20% or whatever when you’re making $125 million. But I can barely pay my bills and I’ve been buried in student loan debt etc.” I would recommend to just start somewhere. Here is what I guarantee you: You can be generous regardless of your circumstances.
Whether that is $20 a month in giving to the church, or you forgo your once weekly Starbucks and instead buy someone else lunch and you serve in your church, pick up trash, or even mow the lawn of someone elderly in the neighborhood. Generosity starts in the heart of the Christian as a response to God’s generosity towards us. I say spend this week praying that God would reveal a deeper understanding of his generosity and show you ways you can also be more generous above and beyond just your giving to your church.
I also believe you rarely can “afford” to give until you start. Something happens in our hearts, our actions and also in God’s response, that somehow makes it possible for us to continue with faithful generosity.
Billy Graham would put it this way. He has said, “We have found in our own home, as have thousands of others, that God’s blessing upon the nine-tenths, when we tithe, helps it to go farther than ten-tenths without His blessing.”
My wife and I started giving in faith during seasons where we had almost nothing and we never once have gone without. We always had enough. It kept our heart pure regarding money so that when the time came that we were able to make a lot more, giving it away was still a core part of how we navigate money.
The nature of God doesn’t change. His character doesn’t change. Thanks to the amazing sacrifice on the cross on yours and my behalf, those who are Christ followers no longer fall under the law. The attributes of God, however, are transcendent. One of which is around the area of the blessing related to the tithe. A tithe means a 10th or 10%. We are no longer under the curse of the law when we don’t tithe because Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf. He did not abolish the law, so the blessing of God for fulfilling His law still stands true for you and me in Christ.
Malachi 3:10-11 says: ‘Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.’ This happens to be the only area of scripture where God says to test him.
He demonstrates this principle again in the New Testament In 2 Corinthians 9:6, where it says “’The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.’
Some would say, well we’re not under the law anymore so that verse doesn’t stand true. I believe and agree wholeheartedly we’re not under the curse of the law and we are heirs in Christ under a new covenant with God. You are no longer cursed when you don’t tithe, the same way you’re not cursed when you don’t honor your mother and father (even though you should, it will honor and obey God when you do). I do believe that the PRINCIPLE of giving a large portion of what God has given us, has been seen as a trend through scripture from the beginning. Cain and Abel and Abraham all demonstrated sacrificial giving and the principle of the tithe was mentioned at times in scripture before the law was introduced.
The way I see this is the early people of God did not each have the Holy Spirit leading their individual lives, their flesh ruled them apart from the law’s guidance. The Levitical priesthood would likely never have had what it needed to survive if a law wasn’t in place to mandate giving to them. We now live as Christians with God himself, the Holy Spirit, living in us and guiding us. When we yield to Him and truly grasp the fullness of God’s generosity towards us, we won’t be able to help but be generous. We’ll be generous to our spouses, kids, church, missions, friends and the greater community. We will quickly blow past giving away 10% of our income and likely not even realize it. It will not be about the tithe because you’ll have left the limits of the tithe behind long ago.
When we live according to a design of 10%, our inclination will also be to stop there. As humans, we always have a tendency to do exactly just enough. The law of God wasn’t abolished by Jesus but fulfilled. Grace cannot exist without the existence of law and our failure to fulfill it completely. When we understand the generosity of our God, well exceeding giving 10% of your income should become an exciting goal. Our motive is gratefulness, not religious execution or disciplined practice. Expect to give above and beyond 10% and ask God how much he wants you to give and where it will go.
We have always given above and beyond a 10% amount in our home and the last few years we’ve been praying each year that God would put a number on our heart that we should be prepared to be open-handed with. It usually scares us. It’s usually tough to swallow at first. The amazing thing about the way God works is if he calls us to it, he’ll ensure we’re able to do it. That’s been exactly what has happened in our life. We are blessed with every need fulfilled as we focus on giving first rather than getting. Our budget is built around how much is left over. We do not build our budget around our needs and then give the remaining. This is why we’re told to “decide in our heart and give cheerfully , not reluctantly or compulsively.”
Remember, the local church survives and thrives SOLELY on the giving from the people that call the church home. There is no other form of support for the church. Do not just be a consumer. When you give to your church you’re actually giving God the chance to more deeply write your name into the story of His bride, and also the salvation of others. Let God lead you into depths of generosity that the law can’t. Be ready to go above and beyond in your generosity, because we serve a God who went above and beyond for us on the cross.