When I first proposed the idea of a workshop on biblical generosity at a church where I do some teaching, there was part of me that wondered what on earth I was getting myself into. And now, as the date draws near, that voice of doubt has grown louder.
But as I study the Bible and do some other reading in preparation for the workshop, I’ve also been greatly encouraged. I’ve been reminded of key biblical teachings that have long informed my family’s giving, and I’ve seen with fresh eyes other teachings that I didn’t even remember.
Here are some of the teachings that have stood out the most.
Biblical generosity isn’t about God’s need for money. It only takes about a second of contemplation to realize how ridiculous it is to think that God may run a bit short on cash from time to time. But if we need proof, we need look no further than Psalm 50 where he reminds us that he created the world and everything in it, and: “ If I were hungry, I would not tell you.”
God wants our hearts. There are many things that can distract us from our relationship with God, but money is the biggest distraction. In fact, Jesus described money as his chief rival for our hearts. Giving breaks the hold money can have on us because our hearts follow our treasure.
We’re designed to be generous. We were made in God’s image and one of God’s central characteristics is generosity. One of the most well-known verses of Scripture tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
No wonder people say you can’t out-give God. Try topping that gift!
So, if God is all about generosity, and if we were made in his image, that means generosity is woven into our DNA. It’s not surprising, then, that secular researchers who study human happiness have found that generous people are happier than those who are not generous. To live generously is to live in synch with our design.
How shall we then give?
Okay, so far so good. But how do we give? Fortunately, the Bible gives us plenty of guidance.
Choice gifts. Proverbs 3:9 teaches us to give the “firstfruits”—the first portion of any “increase” we receive. For a farmer living in Old Testament times, that meant the firstborn of the livestock or the first portion of the harvest, which Abel got right and Cain did not. For most of us, that means giving the first portion of our paycheck or any other increase we receive.
Financial planners like to say, “Pay yourself first.” God’s Word says, “Pay your purpose first,” and our primary purpose is to love God.
That’s why the widow’s two small coins amounted to a far more choice gift in Jesus’ eyes than the much greater sums given by the elite. She gave proportionately much more.
Gifts guided by the 10% benchmark. Ah, the tithe—certainly one of the most controversial aspects of biblical generosity and perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of Christian living.
Some argue that the tithe is so yesterday, a legalistic Old Testament standard with no relevance in an era of grace. Others camp on Jesus’ statement that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, which, they say, means the tithe is as relevant today as ever.
Here’s how I would wade into these shark-invested waters. The tithe is the historical biblical starting point of generosity, and it is not the intended stopping point.
Ultimately, there were three tithes. Again, we would need more time to unpack that. But tithing is where God started his Old Testament followers.
In the New Testament, when Jesus discussed OT laws, he raised the standards—from murder to anger, and from adultery to lust. We don’t have a clear parallel when it comes to giving, but the principle certainly seems valid.
We would do well to start where God started his Old Testament followers, and then keep going.
Regular/consistent gifts. Paul taught the Corinthians to set aside a sum of money to be given on the first day of each week. Pair this with the teaching to give from our “increase,” and a case can be made for giving each time we get paid.
Quiet gifts. Our giving should not be about getting our name on a plaque or a brick. It should be done without fanfare.
Strategic gifts. In large part, Old Testament tithes were to support teachers of God’s Word and to help widows and the poor. These purposes are also taught in the New Testament (see Galatians 6:6 and any number of verses about helping the poor). Of course, funding the spread of the Gospel is strategically important as well.
How much of our generosity dollars should go to our local church is a point about which there is some disagreement. Some look to Malachi 3:10 as evidence that a household’s tithe should go to the local church, and then offerings above that amount are free to be used to support other Christian ministries. Others say today’s churches don’t typically function in the exact way that the “storehouse” referenced by Malachi did.
At the very least, we can say the local church is typically a wise choice for entrusting a significant portion of our generosity dollars.
Gifts given as an act of worship. Matthew 5:23-24 is a passage I didn’t remember. It brings home the point that biblical generosity is an act of worship. As such, when we give, it matters greatly whether we are living with integrity and are at peace with others.
Gifts given as an acknowledgement of God’s provision. For anyone who works hard, it can be tempting to believe in your self-sufficiency. Regular giving serves as a helpful reminder that it’s God who provides for us. King David’s acknowledgement of God after he and his people gave generously toward the construction of a temple serves as a good example.
Blessed to be a blessing
Another controversial aspect of biblical generosity has to do with the blessings that flow from living generously. There are many verses that speak to this, describing barns “filled to overflowing,” not having enough room to store all the blessings, generosity leading to prosperity, sowing generously leading to reaping generously, and more.
While we’ve all seen this principle over-emphasized in certain quarters, denying it exists in Scripture isn’t the answer either. As with many things of faith, the attitude of the heart seems central, as God teaches us to give not “in order to…” but “because of…” Paul addressed this issue head on when he asked, “Who has ever given to God that God should repay them?” (Romans 8:35)
God is the giver. Anything we give is simply a small portion of all that he has first lavished on us.
There are all types of blessings people experience as a result of living generously, including material blessings, which God’s Word describes as seeds intended for even more generous sowing.
Those are some of the key lessons I’ve learned about generosity through a fresh study of God’s Word. Now it’s your turn. Do you disagree with anything above? What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned about biblical generosity?