Before or after taxes? How many of us have said or heard those words in response to the exhortation to give a portion of our income back to God? Our concern with such legalities illustrates our need to remind ourselves of the true purpose of giving.
The Old Testament standard for giving was the tithe, or ten percent of any property or produce: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.” (Leviticus 27:30). This gift was a response of thanksgiving and an expression of allegiance to God. Failure to observe the tithe was viewed as robbing God, for it belonged to him (see Malachi 3:8-9).
The New Testament assumed that God’s people would give proportionally from their income. Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to set aside a certain amount of money on the Lord’s Day, depending on how much they had earned. This would then be given to other Christians enduring hardship in Jerusalem.
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 1 Corinthians 16:2
Paul’s instructions provide us with a good model for giving today. We should give as God has blessed us. We should set aside money regularly and purposefully. This habit of regular, proportional giving will remind us of several things:
(1) that God graciously provides for us;
(2) that we are responsible to support others;
(3) that we need to use our material treasure to secure spiritual gains.
God’s grace is such that when we give him what is his, he gives generously to us. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10).
While this is not an automatic guarantee that we will receive material blessings every time we give to God, this verse does show us that God will bless us and provide for our needs. Note that the Bible doesn’t teach us to give in order to get. The Bible says that we get in order to give. This reverse perspective makes all the difference. God blesses us so that we can give to others. Instead of trying to manipulate God to nurture our selfish expectations, our giving should come as a response to God’s blessing upon us.
A Way to Say, “I Love You”
Giving begins with the heart, not the checkbook. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, Paul describes the joy of the Macedonian Christians’ giving. He rejoices in their motivation because “they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (2 Corinthians 8:5). Their commitment led to their sacrifice.
Sacrifice means giving up something we value for something we value more. The Macedonian Christians sacrificed because they valued the work of sharing with sisters and brothers in Christ. The greatest sacrifice of all was made when Jesus Christ sacrificed his life because he valued our redemption. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Money can never be a substitute for words, but money can support our words. Our giving is one way to prove that love is real. A generous gift makes love visible in a practical way. That’s why Paul speaks of the “grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7). Our giving touches not only the physical needs of others but their hearts and souls as well.
Putting It Into Practice
Consider the way you give to the Lord. Are you regularly giving a portion of your income? What specific steps can you take to improve the way you give? Also consider how much you should give in proportion to the amount God has given to you. You may not be able to jump from your current level to your desired level, but you could increase your giving by a smaller amount now and then add one percent more each year as you are able.
How has God blessed you? Think not only of financial resources but also of other blessings and talents he has given you. How could you use these blessings to cultivate a greater harvest for the Lord?
How do you use your financial and material resources to say, “I love you”? Have you used them in ways that communicate a lack of care and love? Consider some specific ways you can communicate love by giving to the Lord’s work and to others.
Article drawn from study features in the Spiritual Renewal Study Bible.