The Basic Biblical Priorities Are Simple And Straightforward
Our God is a giving God. Giving is one of his attributes. Christians should take great joy in being able to reflect and share in God’s attributes through the act of giving. Should Christians exact a tenth of all their income to the local church? How are believers to gauge their giving? Both the Old and New Testament help us sort out and resolve the confusion many feel about giving. The basic biblical priorities are simple and straightforward. Giving comes first. The following six principles of giving teach us how to give:
1. Give Secretly
Giving is an intimate act between the giver and God. It is a practice that is privately guarded and secretly performed. Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Mt 6:1). We forfeit our reward with our Father in heaven should we openly practice and proudly announce our giving before men and women. The giver is accountable to God and to no one else—it is virtually no one else’s business. The giver should seek God’s responsiveness in obedience to the act of giving rather than people’s admiration in the hypocrisy of exalting oneself (Mt 6:2-4; Lk 18:9-14)).
2. Give Generously
How much should we give? We find two types of giving in the OT. The first type is tithing meaning one-tenth. The second type is the freewill offering, a gift that is over and above the tithe (Ex 36:3). In fact, in the OT we find several types of tithes—one for the alien, the orphan and the widow (Deut 14:29). Others were for Israel’s social and cultural needs as well as for the support of the government (1 Sam 8:11-18). Tithing of all crops and herds was required for the support of the Levites and priests (Lev 27:30-33).[i] The New Testament does not give emphasis to the importance of maintaining the Old Testament tithe practice.[ii] The model of giving today equates that of the OT freewill offering—a voluntary act by the individual rather than a mandated act by the law. Though the freewill offering was not a straightjacket approach to giving, no fixed amount or percentage of income, it was not without scriptural instruction (2 Cor 9:6). It went beyond the letter of the law to the practice of giving in the Spirit of Christ (2 Cor 3:6). Giving allows us a concrete demonstration of our faith in God under grace.
3. Give Purposely
A third principle of giving is found in 2 Corinthians 9:7a where Paul says, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind…” One with a made up mind has come to terms with a heart purposed for giving. This entails planning ahead by deliberately thinking through our giving in advance even before the act is carried out. Yet we ought not to forget that there exists an act of freewill giving that was experienced in the OT—giving that flows freely and spontaneously from a thankful heart. People gave of their time, talents, and finances, not out of a sense of duty or in anticipation of a promised blessing, but out of a grateful life given by a generous God (Ex 36; 2 Chr 35; Ezr 1:4).
4. Give Cheerfully
In the second half of 2 Corinthians 9:7b lies a fourth principle: “…not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Giving purposely guards the giver in being robbed of the joy of giving. A cheerful attitude before God is the goal of the giver. Anything less, grudgingly, forced or last-minute, dampens the state of cheerfulness. A planned timeframe that is reasonable and purposeful cause us to cultivate a spirit of gladness in our giving.
5. Give Sacrificially
The fifth principle is found in the story of the widow’s offering that amounted to all she had. Jesus used her example saying, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mk 12:41-44). There is a great difference between the contribution of the rich and the commitment to of this poor widow. The former cost them nothing in that it was of no great consequence to give what they didn’t need to exist and depend on God for. While the latter did not hold back all she had to survive on in the knowledge that God will ultimately take care of her every need. By faith we give sacrificially of what we have in order to fully depend upon God for our daily bread (Mt 6:8,11, 25-34; Phil 4:19). Why should the widow selfishly grip her last two copper coins in order to subsist rather than trust God with empty hands that he can fill it with her needs and thrive by daily depending on him? We also need to be mindful that Jesus gave himself as the prime example of giving, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
6. Give Proportionately
The sixth and final principle reminds one to give in proportion to your prosperity. Paul wrote, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn” (2 Cor 16:2). Consistent with the NT approach to giving, the apostle did not put forth a hard and fast rule on specific amounts or percentages from what one earned, but reminds believers that giving should be done in proportion to the extra income that God blesses one with (Deut 8:1; 1 Chr 29:1). We should not only give regularly, but also proportionately to the One who prospered us in the first place (1 Tim 6:17). Financial prosperity in our lives should not give us license to spend it as we choose. It is not our ticket to a self-indulgent lifestyle that embraces luxury nor is it a lax lifestyle that curbs our spending habits. Prosperity in one’s life means a greater opportunity for engaging in the godly attribute of giving. As God enriches our lives, we need to take inventory of his gracious blessing and reevaluate the portion we ought to return to him for the furtherance of his work in the kingdom.
In the practical sense, the OT tithe has been absorbed into the NT teaching on giving. It has not only paralleled the freewill offering practiced in the OT, but also exhorts us to give secretly, generously, purposefully, cheerfully, sacrificially, and proportionately on a regular basis with a thankful heart toward a giving God.
[i] Albert J. Johnson, A Christian’s Guide to Family Finances (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), 43. According to Johnson, “The role played by tithes in supporting the nation and the needy has largely been taken over by the government.” The OT tithe, as we know it, has been replaced by government’s form of taxation. Taxes today are collected and apportioned for welfare, social security, arts and sciences, and other government expenditures.
[ii] Ibid., The few references to tithing address the abuse of the tithe (Mt 23:23; Lk 18:11-12). Hebrews 7:5-9 is the exception in which the tithe was brought out to prove a point concerning the priestly order of Melchizedek.
© 2009 Gicky Soriano