Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Principles for Giving in the NT-The Amount of Giving

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
Heart-Based 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

Income-Based Giving
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

Needs-Based Giving
Definition: Meet the needs of those ministering and of fellow saints
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:1–14; 2 Corinthians 8:13–14; 9:12

Generous Giving
Definition: Give generously, but not to the point of personal affliction
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:2–3, 13; Philippians 4:17–18


J. B. Hood said...

Great posts! Thanks so much for this Dave--I'm enjoying this series as I think this is very important material, even if it won't make either one of us the second biblical scholar to appear as a guest on The Daily Show!!!

I'm not so sure that we need to make "avoiding personal affliction" a prority. Paul wants to make it clear to the Corinthians that this is not his goal in asking them for money. But he doesn't hold this out as a principle to abide by. And if we do in our context, do we then run the risk of providing a back door to non-necessary material concerns? I.e., I'd love to sacrifice...but I need money for my needs (translation=lifestyle: nice retirement, nice car, botox, high speed, whatever). I hear far too many folks in the US talking about money and giving and warning against "asceticism": true we don't need to make asceticism an arbitrary benchmark (New Law), but warning 98 percent of Americans about this is like warning Eskimoes against the dangers of heat stroke...

dacroteau said...

I guess I should nuance this. I would say that based on the context in which this occurs (re: the "avoiding personal affliction" phrase) that we should never enter into that kind of giving flippantly. For example, earlier in that same chapter some are described as giving beyond their means. That's great! When God leads, give abundantly; give beyond what you think you can handle. But, don't assume that you should give beyond your means de facto.

That last statement was great :-)

Alan S. Bandy said...

de facto, de facto, de facto.