When I’ve explicated the above principles, people always look at me and ask: “But how much? How much do we have to give?” Unfortunately, this is the wrong focus. Regardless, the New Testament does discuss principles we can use to decide how much to give. Some desire to begin their giving with a tithe and then use these principles on top of that; others just use these principles. However, if we apply these principles consistently and honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine many Christians in the U.S. giving less than ten percent. If someone were to tell me they couldn’t afford to give ten percent, but said they wanted to give more, I would probably ask them if they wanted to sit down and go over their budget. Materialism is one of the top reasons Christians don’t give as much as they could; another reason is the confusion between what we “want” and what we “need.” For example, as normal as “high speed internet” is, it is still a “want” and not a “need.” Hopefully these four principles will open our eyes and convict our hearts of our failure in giving … even to those giving more than ten percent.
Christian giving must be heart-based giving. Scripture in both Testaments commands that followers of God decide the amount to give based on our “heart.” Now, the “heart” in the NT does not refer to emotions, but more to resolve, sound judgment, or the seat of decision making. Sometimes it is even translated “mind.” In the OT, giving based on this principle can be seen in Exodus 25:1–2; 35:5, 21–22; 36:6. In these passages it becomes utterly clear that the giving of the Israelites, based on this principle, was an abundant offering. So much so that Moses told them to stop giving. Also, in 2 Corinthians 9:7a, Paul says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart.”
Christian giving is also to be based upon our income. The amount we give is expected to be related to our income. In 1 Corinthians 16:2a, Paul says, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper.” We give according to our prosperity; we are not asked to give above or beyond our prosperity. This is usually referred to as “proportional giving,” that is, the more a person makes, the higher percentage of his income he will give. See also Deuteronomy 16:16–17; 2 Corinthians 8:3, 12.
Another principle in deciding the amount of giving is based upon the needs present. We should consider the needs of those ministering to us and the needs of fellow saints. Regarding the former, 1 Corinthians 9:1–14 is clear that “those who proclaim the gospel [are] to get their living from the gospel” (vs. 14b). Our pastors should never be worrying about their bills. If an unexpected bill arises, we should give above and beyond to meet that need. Note that one of the requirements for becoming an elder is that he is not greedy. Therefore, by placing him in this position we have already decided that he is not after money and can be trusted in this area. 2 Corinthians 8:13–14, 9:12 discuss the Corinthians meeting the needs of other Christians. The latter verse says that gifts for this purpose are “also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.” Note that when a congregation decides on a budget for the year, that becomes the "need" of the congregation. When we see that the offerings are less than the budgeted amount, we should strive to increase our giving.
Finally, we should give generously. However, we are not asked to give so much that we need an offering ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 8:2b–3, 13, Paul says, “But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. . . . Of course, I don't mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality” (usually I cite from the NASB, but the NLT made this verse much clearer). While different people might define “generously” differently, if we take a close look at our priorities, motivations, and the needs of others, in our hearts/minds we know whether our gifts are generous or feeble. Furthermore, God, who provides us with all we have, also knows the intent of our hearts/minds as we give. See also Philippians 4:17–18.
These four principles for the amount of giving should lead nearly all American Christians to give beyond a measly ten percent. Our goal in giving should be to increase it as much as possible. Don’t settle for ten percent when God has provided you with the resources to give beyond that.
The Amount of Giving
Definition: Giving is based upon the amount determined in one’s heart
Scripture: Exodus 25:1; 35:5, 21–22; 36:6; 2 Corinthians 9:7
Definition: The value of the gift given is expected to be related to the income of the offerer
Scripture: Deuteronomy 16:16–17; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:3, 12
Definition: Meet the needs of those ministering and of fellow saints
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:1–14; 2 Corinthians 8:13–14; 9:12
Definition: Give generously, but not to the point of personal affliction
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:2–3, 13; Philippians 4:17–18