We’re back in our series on the five habits of a healthy Christian. Let’s get started with our fourth habit, which is regular giving. Here we are specifically talking about financial gifts to the local church.
And yes, I know what you’re thinking, “Hey wait a minute, I thought this series was about helping me grow in my faith. You just want me to give you more money!” This is not a bait and switch, I promise! This video series is not a fundraising strategy. We’re talking about this as an essential habit of a healthy Christian because that is how God talks about it. If we didn’t encourage you to give, we would be depriving you of joy and stunting your growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ. So the reason we’re talking about this is for your own joy and growth in Christ.
Biblical Examples of Giving
From the earliest days of the church, the church has taken up collections in order to be able to do its work. In fact, the early church was “selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). The church must have had officers who acted as administrators of those funds, who kept things organized, and who could help distribute the right amount to the right people in order to meet their needs. This was especially important at that time because of the heavy burden incurred by following Christ. Many lost their jobs or were disowned for becoming Christians, so the church banded together to take care of each other.
New Testament giving was based on an Old Testament precedent, the tithe. The tithe was 10% of one’s annual crops and income. The tithe supported the Levites, the tribe whose primary responsibility was to work in the service of the Temple as priests. The New Testament doesn’t prescribe a specific amount, but the 10% rule of the Old Covenant is a useful starting point for the generous and sacrificial giving we’re encouraged to practice in the New Covenant. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus often takes Old Testament laws as a starting point and then raises the bar, saying, “But I tell you…” In many of Paul’s letters, he is encouraging giving and actively raising funds to support ministry efforts and persecuted churches. So there are many examples in Scripture of giving to support God’s work and God’s mission.
Biblical Encouragements to Give
One important reason why we give is because God owns it all anyway. We’re not “owners,” we’re “stewards” of what we have. Psalm 50 tells us about this important truth when it says, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mind” (Psalm 50:10–12). God is reminding His people that He doesn’t ask for sacrifices because He needs the animals. He doesn’t ask for our money because He’s short on cash. He owns it all. It’s all His. And He has no need of anything. He asks us to give not because He needs us; He asks us to give because we need Him. When we realize that everything we have is truly His and comes from Him, then we’re filled with gratitude and we become eager to give back a portion of what He has graciously given to us. God is after our hearts.
Jesus talks a lot about money and possessions, and He picks up on this same theme about the heart in Matthew 6. He tells us not to store up treasures for ourselves here on earth, but to store up treasure in heaven. Why? Because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). It’s not that we love something and therefore we begin investing in it. What Jesus says is that it actually works in reverse. Our heart follows our investments. When we place our treasure in heaven, in God’s hands, then our heart will follow. We’ll grow in our love for God and begin to desire Heaven more and more.
Our giving reflects our attitude toward God. Jesus told a parable about where we place our treasure in Luke 12:16–21:
“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
The man’s problem was not his abundance. The man’s problem was that he didn’t understand where this abundance came from and what it was for. Instead of gratefully receiving what God had given as a gift, he took God’s gifts and placed his faith in them instead. He was foolish. He should have used what God gave him as an opportunity to be rich toward God and to be generous toward others.
When Jesus teaches us about giving, He emphasizes that it is less about the raw amount that we give and more about the proportion and the intention behind it. What counts as “generous” or “sacrificial” for one person will be different than for another, since we all have different financial situations that God has given us. In the Gospel of Mark, we have this story about an observation Jesus made:
“And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:41–44).
God isn’t impressed or partial toward wealthy people just because they have a lot of money to give. What God seeks is a truly surrendered steward.
The apostle Paul uses the example of the churches in Macedonia whose “extreme poverty… overflowed in a wealth of generosity” when they gave “beyond their means, of their own accord” in order to receive “the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:2–4). They considered it a privilege to give, and they gave sacrificially even when they had very little to start with. Paul says that, in reality, they “gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us,” (2 Corinthians 8:5). When we give ourselves to the Lord and to His will in every area of our lives, then God’s grace will work through us. He will use our giving in order to bless others.
Paul even says that this financial generosity and giving mirrors the actions of Christ in His Incarnation. He tells the Corinthian church: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). We should consider the fact that Christ gave up the riches of Heaven and His place of privilege with the Father, in order to come down to this impoverished and broken world. The reason He did this was so that we, who are poor sinners, could be made rich. We get to enjoy the riches of Heaven through His self-sacrifice and generosity.
Paul then gives the practical advice that “if the readiness is there,” if they rightly desire to give what they can, then “it is acceptable according to what a person has” (2 Corinthians 8:11). You can’t give more than you have! But you can give a generous portion of what you do have. That is what God asks of each of us.
Biblical Goals of Giving
To summarize, let me just list a few goals of our giving. Why do we practice the spiritual habit of regular giving? We do it…
- To demonstrate our spiritual commitment to the Lord
- To model the generosity God has shown us
- To support full-time ministry and mission work
- To build up the church
- To participate in God’s mission
- To become surrendered stewards
- To become generous people
- To experience joy
- To store up treasures in heaven
Practical Guidance & Encouragement
The spiritual discipline of regular giving turns our hearts toward God. It opens up the tight grip we sometimes have on the things we own, making what we own and the money we have available for God’s use. When we give regularly, we begin to become more like Christ, we become more generous, more attached to people than to our possessions.
When I think of generosity, I think of specific people I know who are truly generous. They come at all levels of income and wealth. I think of David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby, who has been remarkably generous with his wealth. He has made it a practice, from early on in his business career, to tithe 10 percent of his company’s profits. He has given away millions and millions of dollars to ministries working all over the world. He talks often about being a “steward” rather than an “owner.” I also think of our own church, of the incredible generosity of people like Andy and Joan Horner. They made key gifts that made it possible for us to build our new campus and to further our ministry as a church. And there are countless others I could mention here as well, who are so generous and faithful in giving to First Baptist Dallas, it’s really remarkable.
When I think about generosity from a biblical perspective, I also think about an elderly woman who wrote me a letter a while ago. She said that she is on a very limited income, but she truly believes in what God is doing through our church and wanted me to know she would be giving $80 per month for as long as she can. That also is remarkable generosity that pleases God immensely! The key is not how much you give, but that you give what you can regularly and faithfully, and that this comes from a heart that is truly surrendered to Him.
I hope that this has been an encouragement to you to talk about our fourth habit, regular giving. And next we’re going to turn to our fifth and final habit, which is sharing your faith.