Spiritual Discipline Series
This year, Expository Files will features 12 articles on Spiritual Disciplines For Every Christian. Our writers will convey to us from the Bible, the simple disciplines that need our attention, to please God and be effective, disciplined people.
Most Christians are very familiar with the biblical teachings about giving. We have heard numerous sermons on the topic, and on each first day of the week we are reminded of the obligation for each one of us to give “as prospered” (1 Cor. 16:2), “not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Too often we limit the application of these giving principles to what we offer in worship for the work of the local church.
While I would not dare to discount the importance of employing these exhortations in regard to our first-day giving, I believe there is ample scriptural evidence that they should motivate us to cheerful and “liberal sharing” toward all (2 Cor. 9:13). Even though it was “concerning the ministering to the saints” (v.1) that was foremost on the apostle’s agenda, the principle of “sowing bountifully” (v.7) has a broader application. While we have a special responsibility to do good to “those of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), the same passage tells us to seize opportunities to “do good to all men.”
As Christians, we have a responsibility to those who are poor. Scripture teaches us that “The righteous considers the cause of the poor” (Prov. 29:7); the virtuous woman is one who “extends her hands to the poor” (Prov. 31:20); and one of the qualities of a good man is “He has given to the poor” (Psa. 112:9). We who are “rich in this present age” (and that’s most of us) are urged to be “ready to give, willing to share” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Furthermore, we are promised, “Blessed is he that considers the poor” (Psa. 41:1), and “he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he” (Prov. 14:21).
Whether giving toward the work of the church or toward other worthy needs, the ability to do so cheerfully will be a blessing to the recipients, and an even greater blessing to the giver. It is pleasant to receive gifts (especially when we are in need), but most of us have learned that it is even more pleasant to give gifts. Indeed, it was the Lord Jesus who coined the well-known saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Ac. 20:35). He should know, because He was a giver!
Cheerful giving is a learned ability. On an occasion when I was passing the collection basket during worship, I was impressed with a young couple who were teaching their toddler to give by letting her put some money into the basket. I was amused when with one hand she held tightly to the money while with her other hand she was trying to take some of the money that had already been placed in the basket. Given a few such opportunities and some positive reinforcements, I’m confident she will soon be letting go of her dollar and will be happy to do so.
There is an old saying which suggests, “Give until it hurts, and then keep giving until it quits hurting.” What this implies is that cheerful giving takes practice. The more we take opportunities to give (especially to the truly needy), the more pleasure it will bring. While giving is an obligation, as we grow spiritually we will come to view it more as an opportunity. The obligatory aspect of giving is due to the blessings we have from God. One of the ways we thank God for the blessings He bestows on us is to show generosity toward others while always giving God the glory.
We are told, “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase” (Prov. 3:9). The following verse suggests that doing so will result in having “plenty.” This is a recurring theme in the book of Proverbs. Consider the following examples: “The generous soul will be made rich” (11:25); “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given” (19:17); “He who has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor” (22:9); and “He who gives to the poor will not lack” (28:27). These inspired words of wisdom are consistent with Jesus’ teaching: “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use it, it will be measured back to you” (Lk. 6:38). I can’t help but believe that the poor widow who gave “all the livelihood that she had” (Lk. 21:1-4) understood this principle better than most of us.
Even though we have assurance from God that He richly blesses generosity, becoming rich must not be the motivation for our giving. William Barclay, in his commentary on Luke 14:12-14, writes: “If a man gives to gain reward he will receive no reward; but if a man gives with no thought of reward his reward is certain.” Our motivation for doing good should be a natural response to what the Lord has already done for us. The grace that we have received is ample reason for us to “pay it forward” by being gracious toward others. The apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Corinth, used the example of the “grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia” as the motivation for joyful giving even in the face of “deep poverty.” They were willing to give even “beyond their ability” and seemingly had to beg Paul to receive the gift. This, the apostle said, was possible because they “first gave themselves to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
Perhaps the example of the Macedonians “first giving themselves” reveals a key to cheerful giving. Earlier we noted that Jesus was a giver. Not much is recorded about Jesus’ monetary giving—perhaps because He practiced what He preached about not doing charitable deeds “before men, to be seen by them” (Matt. 6:1-4). Even so, we know that He and His disciples gave to the poor, because the one who would betray Him complained when some expensive oil was used to anoint Jesus instead of being sold and given to the poor (Jn. 12:3-5). But beyond whatever monetary gifts He gave, He gave Himself. Besides the ultimate gift of His life on the cross, He “went about doing good” (Ac. 10:38) by healing people. It is true that Jesus’ miracles and signs were done so that people would believe that He is “the Christ, the Son of God” (Jn. 20:30-31), but they were often performed at times when He was “moved with compassion” (i.e., Matt. 14:14).
Needless to say, if we will first give ourselves to the Lord, we will be well on our way to being a cheerful giver. If we truly give ourselves to the Lord, we will also give ourselves to others. This is borne out by Jesus’ description of the judgment scene where He made it clear that one who does good to “one of the least” does it to Him; and, conversely, one who fails to do good does not do it to Him (Matt. 25:31-46). From this we learn that our giving goes beyond just giving of our money.
Many years ago, as a young preacher, I received a package in the mail from an anonymous source. It was a copy of the book Try Giving Yourself Away by David Dunn. To this day, I don’t know who sent it to me even though I tried hard to trace it by postmark and handwriting. I’ll admit that at first I wondered just who it was who thought I needed the message of the book, but after reading it, I realized that we all need to give more of ourselves to others and, in so doing, will add joy to our own lives as well as to others. It is good to give money to those who need it, but it is also good to give of ourselves. Someone has said, “He who gives money gives some, he who gives time gives more, and he who gives of himself gives all.”
Sometimes giving money serves only as a temporary solution to a bigger problem. When a lame man asked the apostles Peter and John for alms, they recognized that his need was something greater than money could solve. This caused Peter to say, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you” (Ac. 3:6). We can’t do what Peter did, but we may have ability to help the poor and unfortunate beyond our monetary means. When confronted with an apparent need, we would do well to identify the real need and work to resolve it instead of simply applying a “band-aid on a bullet wound” and potentially becoming an enabler of irresponsible behavior. Please don’t misunderstand. There definitely are times that call for a “band-aid” in order to stop the bleeding.
It is true that we cannot possibly respond to every call for help from people in need, for even Jesus noted, “the poor you have with you always” (Jn. 12:8). This truth is reason enough that the benevolent work of local churches is limited to needy saints; for, if not, we would have no resources for spiritual works. Nor can we as individuals give to every worthy cause; but we still need to “not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16). Because of the frequency of appeals from professional panhandlers and other irresponsible people, it is easy for us to ignore those with real needs. I have occasionally regretted giving to some who proved to be charlatans; but more often I have felt regret when I have “passed by on the other side” (i.e., Lk. 10:31-32) and not given to help ones who may have really needed help.
Giving to the Local Church
We have an outstanding example of cheerful giving in the account of the startup church in Jerusalem. The special need motivated them to share their belongings, even selling their possessions in order to divide the resources among those who had need (Ac. 2:44-45). When the need continued, these believers who are described as being “of one heart and one soul” (Ac. 4:32) even sold lands and houses to fulfill a need. Of special note was a man named Joses who sold a piece of land and “brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (vs.36-37). It was cheerful, sacrificial giving like this that justified the apostles’ nicknaming him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”
Hopefully, each one of us is aware of the need to provide funds for the local church of which we are a part. I know there are some church members who suggest that there should not be an ongoing need for a church treasury, advocating that collections be taken up only as a specific need arises. Thus they are not very “cheerful” about giving each first day of the week. It is shortsighted, to say the least, to think that there is not a perpetual need in each local congregation requiring funds. Even if a congregation has no meeting place costs, there will surely be costs involved with efforts to reach the lost. It’s one thing to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38); but it’s another thing to put your money where your mouth is. If our goal is to do what Jesus said He came to do—“seek and save that which is lost” (Lk. 19:10)—then we will be happy to contribute to that cause.
Thankfully, most Christians understand the ongoing need for their local congregation to have funds available not only to care for needy saints but also to edify the local saints as well as reach the lost here, there, and everywhere. The only time faithful Christians lack cheer in giving to such causes is when the funds collected are horded or wasted rather than being used effectively. Bloated church bank accounts with no use in sight will certainly dampen the joy of giving. Elders and other men in leadership roles can help promote cheerful giving by challenging the membership with worthy uses of the church treasury. While working with the Paris Avenue church in Peoria, Illinois, in the mid 1970s, there was a time when we decided to purchase a single half-hour primetime slot on a local network television station in order to preach the gospel. It was so well received that we wanted to purchase another primetime slot on the same station but lacked the funds to do so until one brother spoke up and said, “The money will be in next Sunday’s collection plate.” It turned out that other brethren also answered the challenge, resulting in several hour-long primetime call-in programs.
Other deterrents to cheerful giving might be living beyond one’s means or merely trying to keep up with the world’s standard of living. In our culture, there is an ever-present temptation to obtain every luxury even if we have to go into debt. One who is laden with debt may blame this circumstance for his inability to give liberally. This will certainly wring the joy out of whatever he does give.
The question is sometimes posed regarding just how much one is required to give to the work of the Lord. Unlike the Law of Moses wherein a specific amount was prescribed, the law of Christ does not mandate a tithe (10%) but puts us on our honor by instructing us to give “as prospered.” However, if we consider the many benefits most of us receive in addition to our base salaries, we may discover that tithing might not accurately reflect our true prosperity. Also, if we consider the superior spiritual blessings we enjoy “in Christ” which were unavailable to the Israelites, perhaps we will be moved to cheerfully give at least as much as they.
Through the prophet Malachi, the Lord accused Israel of having robbed Him (3:8-9). Then He challenged them to “bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and prove Me now in this…if I will not open for you the doors of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (3:10). If God was willing to so bless national Israel, think what He will do for spiritual Israel if we cheerfully give as prospered.
It may take time for babes in Christ to learn the joy of giving to the work of the local church. As one grows into a mature Christian cheerful giving to the work of the Lord becomes a natural response to the love one has for the Lord, His church, and its mission and work. He no longer asks, “How much do I have to give,” but instead, “How much am I able to give?”By Al Diestelkamp From Expository Files 23.7; July 2016