Several years ago, a speaker at a missions conference in my church quoted the statistics that show more money is spent on both chewing gum and dog food in the United States than is given to foreign missions.
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these numbers, but I do not doubt them. I do know the IRS reports that taxpayers who itemize give, on average, less than 2.5% of their adjusted gross income for charitable contributions.
I think there are three reasons why Christians who desire to give, don’t give more. First, they don’t know that they can give and still meet the other goals and objectives they have. Second, they don’t know how to give (i.e., they’re not aware of the various techniques available to givers).
But I believe the most important reason people don’t give is that they don’t plan to give. We live lives of being responders rather than planners. It has been my experience that, with planning, giving for a family goes up, on average, about five times what they were giving prior to doing planning. A well-known and wealthy American told me one time, “Any man, especially a businessman, has more uses for money than the money available. Therefore, unless he plans to give, he never will.” A person whose lifestyle is consumptive can never accumulate enough to be able to give substantial amounts of money away.
Giving is never a cause of spiritual growth — it is rather a function of spiritual growth.
There are three relevant questions to ask yourself as you plan to give:
- When should I give?
Preemptive giving is clearly defined in Proverbs 3:9: “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase.” To me, this means that giving should have the first priority over all other uses of money, and therefore I give, preempting all other uses, until I have met that commitment.
“On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come” (1 Cor. 16:2). Not only should I give preemptively, but I should also give periodically. To take this Scripture literally would be to say that, on each Sunday of the week, some amount should be put aside and saved for giving purposes. So the “when” question is answered — giving should be the first priority use of the income, and this giving should be done as it is received, that is, on a periodic basis.
- Where should I give?
When answering this question, we should make a purposeful decision to give where the Scripture says God’s interest is. God definitely commands us to meet the needs of the saints and to fulfill the Great Commission. Thus, our purposes in giving are to give for the needy, for evangelism, and for discipleship in our Judea, our Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth (see Acts 1:8). Giving must be taken very seriously and decided upon consciously in order to fulfill the commands of Scripture.
To address this question, I have found it helpful to build a matrix. Down one side are the biblical admonitions to give to (1) evangelism, (2) discipleship, and (3) the poor, widows, orphans, and the needy. Across the top of the chart are the locations — our city, state, the United States, and the rest of the world. As you review this chart, write in the giving that you are now doing. You will be able to see how well you are fulfilling the biblical admonitions in terms of places and needs.
Giving to your local church should be the best place to give to meet the needs of the saints and for evangelism of the lost — assuming your church follows biblical teaching. In other words, you may meet all these needs by giving to your local church. You may also wish to give to other ministries that address these admonitions. This brings you to the question, “Am I giving all that I should be giving?”
- How much should I give?
The question of amount is not a simple matter. “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Cor. 8:3-5). Therefore, we are not limited in how much we give either by what we can see or according to our abilities, but what God instructs us each to do. That will vary for each family.
There are three levels of giving — the should give level (I should give an amount proportionate to my income), the could give level (I could give an additional amount by giving up something), and the would give level (I would give still more if God increased my cash flow). The how much is not dependent upon a set formula, and it gives us the opportunity to see God at work in our financial lives.
How much to give is not as important as our attitude toward our giving. In 2 Cor. 9:7, we read that our giving should be done “not grudgingly or of necessity for God loves a cheerful giver.” In 2 Cor. 8:9, Paul gave us the example of Christ to suggest the right attitude toward giving: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” So, the attitude of giving must be one of cheerfulness and grace. Freely we have received, freely we must give.