Where does giving fit in with wise financial planning? These days it seems that pastors, churches and ministries are constantly asking for my money. In the process, they're always talking about the importance of giving and telling me that it's a crucial part of the Christian life. I'm not sure I buy this argument. What's your perspective?
For Christians, the decision to give is not primarily financial in nature. It's rooted in 1) the nature of God and 2) our relationship with Him.
John 3:16 tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave …" This declaration isn't simply an evangelical promotional slogan or an effective witnessing tool. It's a revelation of the heart of God and a summation of the meaning of the Christian life. If there's one thing the New Testament teaches us, it's that God is love, and that those of us who claim to believe in Him ought to love one another as He has loved us (1 John 4:8, 11). And the message of John 3:16 is that love gives.
This, then, is the theological or spiritual basis for Christian giving. But how does it work itself out in the context of everyday life? On the practical level, we give because we know something. In Christ, we have realized three inescapable truths: 1) we belong to God; 2) we have received much; and 3) money matters. Let's take a closer look at each of these important biblical ideas and find out how they mold our motivation to give.
1. We Belong to God
"Do you not know," writes Paul to the Corinthian church, "that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit … and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price." (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). Christians, according to Scripture, are the Lord's special possession – a "a peculiar people," as the Authorized King James Version puts it (1 Peter 2:9). If, as believers, we have no claim even to our own persons, it's safe to assume that we must also forfeit ownership and control of our possessions. Everything we have and everything we are is a gift from the Creator of our souls – after all, "what do you have that you did not receive?" (1 Corinthians 4:7)
This is not to mention that even in a larger and more general sense – in a way that has implications even for those who are not part of the family of faith – God is the Owner of everything that exists. Ultimately, it all belongs to Him. "The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness," writes the psalmist, "the world and those who dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1).
If God owns everything, it should be obvious that He alone has the prerogative to determine how it should be distributed and used. And if His purposes can be summed up in the single word "love," we can safely assume that He intends His wealth to be applied to the task of blessing other people. Our role is to act as faithful stewards of the abundance He has poured out upon us by giving in accord with His will.
2. We Have Received Much
God's grace toward us is abundant – excessively so. If we would simply stop and take stock of our blessings, we would quickly see how truly overwhelming is the Lord's generosity toward us. This statement applies to believers in every condition and situation, for in Christ we have become heirs of God's kingdom (James 2:5; Romans 8:17) and of the unlimited assets that pertain to it: "For all things are yours … and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
According to the Bible, abundant blessings imply weighty responsibilities; "for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:48). The message is clear: our possessions are to be used not merely for our own enjoyment but for the benefit of the world around you. "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8).
Of course, this doesn't mean that giving is to be approached as a grim, oppressive duty. "Let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). Our responsibility to give is primarily a response to God's generosity. It's an expression of joy and gratitude for the bounty of God's goodness – like the gift of the woman who demonstrated her indebtedness to Jesus by anointing His feet with a jar of costly ointment. She loved much, Jesus said, because she had been forgiven much (Luke 7:47).
3. Money Matters
Finally, if we want to make sure that our giving is thoroughly biblical in nature, there's one last observation we'll need to add to the other two. Although the generosity with which we express our response to God's grace entails everything we are and everything we have – our mental, emotional, and spiritual assets as well as the physical – we dare not miss the point that the Lord is especially concerned about the way we use our material wealth. As Randy Alcorn points out in his book The Treasure Principle, 15 percent of everything Christ ever said relates to the topic of money and possessions – "more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined."
Why should this be so? Because the God of the Bible, unlike the gods of many other religious systems, attaches great value to the physical, material aspect of His creation. The physical world belongs to Him because He made it; and He made it in such a way that it declares His glory (Psalm 19:1) and reflects His invisible attributes (Romans 1:20). That's why, at the end of the sixth day of Creation, He was able to look at everything He had accomplished and conclude that it was "very good" (Genesis 1:31).
This is why James tells us that it is not enough to give in a spiritual sense only. When we minister to others, we have to minister to the body as well as the soul: "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?" (James 2:16) Herein lies the real significance of money from the biblical perspective. While it's true that the love of money is "a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10), it should be equally obvious that money is a powerful tool – the most powerful tool we have at our disposal when it comes to providing for basic material necessities.
All of this sounds good in theory, of course. But the joy of giving can't begin to flow in our lives until we make a commitment to put these scriptural principles into practice. If the thoughts we've tried to communicate here are unclear to you, or if you'd simply like to discuss them at greater length with a member of our staff, please don't hesitate to give our Gift and Estate Planning staff a call. They would be happy to listen to your concerns and assist you with some practical suggestions. You can contact them Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Mountain time at (800) 782-8227.
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