“If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12, NIV). In the following pages, Decision explores the Bible’s guidelines and promises for giving, as well as how some Christians have uncovered the joy and freedom of stewardship.
More than any other topic, pastors seem to avoid teaching about stewardship and giving. Christians are not hesitant to give, but they are leery of being told how to give and certainly, how much they should give.
The recent downturn in the U.S. economy brings fear, and we may try to hold on to whatever wealth we may have. Giving away money does not seem to be the thing to do right now. The “good life,” whatever that was perceived to be, may never be the same.
Modern culture thrives on “no money down” offers, delayed payments and discounted interest rates, with little thought of the future implications in a changing world. A similar approach has influenced Christian living standards. Many Christians have lowered the perceived cost of what is required to follow the risen Christ. Jesus stated that those who would follow Him must deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow Him (Mark 8:34). Christ’s followers are to first give of themselves. “Anyone losing his life because of me will find it” (Matthew 10:39, HCSB).
Any understanding of giving that doesn’t begin with the total surrender of self and all things to Christ cannot begin to approach the meaning of Christian giving. All things–currencies, land, property, goods and services–will lose value at some point, resulting in discontent, struggle, restlessness and disillusionment. But the worth of a soul exceeds the total wealth of the entire world, Jesus said (Mark 8:36).
When someone secures a loan, the lender requires a financial statement and asks some key questions: What are your assets? What do you do? From these two questions the lender determines the person’s worth. But this is only his financial worth. We must not forget that life itself is a gift. The breath of life is from God, and our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15). Time is a gift. Our prayer should be, “Teach me to number my days that I may develop wisdom in my heart” (Cf. Psalm 90:12).
What Is a Pure Gift?
Here is the key to understanding what the Bible defines as stewardship: Every Christian is a steward. A steward is a trusted, responsible servant over all that is entrusted to him, which encompasses all of life.
Biblical giving differs from philanthropy. Philanthropy often comes from surplus resources and often provides tax advantages that benefit a wealthy estate or individual. Although wise stewards will take advantage of these benefits–allowing them to give even more to the Lord’s work–these donations may not involve sacrifice.
Jesus watched people giving money in the huge, trumpet-shaped containers in the temple. Many rich people were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came by and gave two coins worth about a half-cent. Jesus took His disciples aside and said, “I assure you: this poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury. For they gave out of their surplus. But she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed–all she had to live on” (Mark 12:42-44, HCSB).
The value of a gift is judged not only by its size but also by the attitude of the heart and the motive behind it. Lasting memories often come from small gifts. Jesus said, “If you give a cup of water you do it as to me” (Cf. Matthew 25:31-46). The young boy who gave his small loaves and fish to Jesus saw them transformed to feed thousands of people. The result was that many said of Jesus, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come” (John 6:14, NIV).
As a general principle, it is accepted that a Christian should at least give a tithe–10 percent of all income. But then people ask, “Is that 10 percent before or after taxes?” Here, two errors emerge. First, the Scripture teaches that the tithe belongs to the Lord–it is not to be discounted.
Second, if our chief motivation is to receive a tax advantage, it calls our devotion and obedience into question. We want to know, “How much can I keep?” and “How little do I have to give?” Is this not an insult to God? Like any other spiritual devotion, the giving of time, abilities and wealth never should be determined by self-interest or the withholding of possessions. The purer the gift, the deeper the meaning.
The Gospels record an experience in which a pure gift was given to Jesus. The gift–unsolicited and unexpected–came from His follower Mary. At a dinner she broke the seal of a very expensive oil, poured it on His feet and then wiped them with her hair. It is fair to imagine that she had treasured this possession for a very special time, maybe for her wedding day. The fragrance was so powerful that it filled the house where they were having dinner. No obligation could have prompted this expression of love. Her act was spontaneous, deliberate, thoughtful and sacrificial.
The reaction was explosive. Judas challenged her actions, and, surprisingly, the other disciples chimed in, criticizing Mary and Jesus. “This fragrance could have been sold and the money given to the poor,” Judas said. People often think that they know how a giver should give. Judas was stealing from Jesus’ account; he wasn’t interested in the poor. He wanted the money for himself. Generosity is always an embarrassment to greed.
Deeper still, Mary’s gift was personally to Jesus Himself. The disciples’ criticism of it implied that Jesus was not worthy. But on the contrary, when you realize the worthiness of Jesus–the Son of God and the only Savior and Lord–no explanations or apologies are ever needed to justify generosity.
Mary’s gift designated Jesus as her Lord. Her action anticipated the cross and His sacrificial death for the sins of the world. Jesus saw her heart and interpreted the deeper implication. He was indignant at having to defend this gift. Imagine the loving Lord Jesus, just days before His suffering and death, having to explain such tender and loving devotion.
Mark records His response: “Leave her alone. … She has done what she could; she has anointed My body in advance for burial” (Mark 14:6, 8, HCSB). What perfect insight to the most sincere gift, for God only requires of any believer to do what he or she can. When we give what we can out of God’s gifts of life, He promises to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
A believer’s giving is never unnoticed. Jesus said of Mary, “Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9, HCSB). There is value in anonymous giving, but Mary’s public gift became an example of heartfelt devotion. It is known worldwide. It enhanced the Gospel. It was befitting of the Gospel. Our Lord Jesus gave His all, and her gift mirrors that.
Openly acknowledged gifts do not limit the Gospel; they advance it. Givers encourage others to give and advance the work of Christ. They challenge ingratitude and remind us of the debt of love we owe to God. Mary invested in the future of redemption and received a return on her gift with dividends that have benefited believers up to now. And it will continue to be so until the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The scope of Scripture provides examples and principles for giving. David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:14 reveals the necessary attitude: “Who am I,” he asks, “and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your own hand” (NIV).
“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Proverbs 3:9, NIV). This defines giving as honoring to the Lord and defines the priority in giving. Guidelines are consistent throughout Scripture as to why and how any believer should give to God.
Giving must be the gift of one’s self. Self-denial is the beginning of discipleship and the formula for giving. The Apostle Paul challenges the reluctant Christians in Corinth to give like the Macedonians. “They … first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:5, KJV). You will hesitate to give to the Lord’s work if first you have not given yourself to the Lord.
Giving is proportional. The amount of any gift will be according to the prosperity of the individual. King David said, “I have given all of my private treasure for the building of the temple” (Cf. 1 Chronicles 29:3). His example is a challenge to all the people to give at their level of sacrifice. Christians in the first century were told, “Let every one of you lay aside as God has prospered him” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 16:2).
Not all people can give the same amount. It has been said, “Not equal gifts but equal sacrifice.” The affluent person who gives proportionately less does not feel the sacrifice of giving as would someone with a fixed income who gives in spite of his or her needs.
Giving is an investment for eternity. The impact of stewardship is eternal. Countless stories could be told of every gift to Christ and His kingdom. Jesus promised His followers, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29, NIV). He also warned them not to value temporary wealth. “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth. … Collect for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20, HCSB).
Giving is generous and joyful. Remember, “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7, KJV). The Apostle Paul commended the Macedonian Christians when “out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2, NIV).
Giving pleases God and will be remembered. The Book of Hebrews emphasizes this. “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16, NIV). “For God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you showed for His name” (Hebrews 6:10, NIV).
There has never been a time when the preaching of the Gospel and ministry of Christ needed financial support more than now. The lostness of mankind never changes; the power of the Gospel to save never changes; and Jesus’ command to go into all the world never changes. In His day Jesus said, “The harvest is great and the workers are few” (Cf. Matthew 9:37). What would He say of this generation?
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38, NIV). ©2008 BGEA