July 23, 2013

10 principles to guide your giving

by Jesse Johnson

Money in HandIn the Old Testament, teaching people about giving financially to the Lord’s work was simple—there were express commands dictating when to give and how much to offer, and all the funds went to maintaining temple worship and supporting the Levites. But that system went away with the temple veil, and in its place stands a church that is supported by the generous and sacrificial giving of those that attend.

Which means that it is a basic part of worship to give financially to the church you attend. This is evident in Acts, where corporate worship had giving as a central feature, and it is confirmed throughout the Epistles as well. Thus, giving is a basic discipline of Godliness and the New Testament teaches fundamental principles that should guide how we give. Here are ten of them:  

1)  Everything you have belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). Your view of your finances is grounded in your view of your own position in Christ: namely, Christians are slaves (Matthew 18:21-35, Mark 10:43-45, Luke 12:43, 19:17, John 13:16, etc. ). Our lives were formerly in bondage to sin, but we were purchased by Jesus, and then acquired by the Holy Spirit. We, along with everything we have, belong to God. We are his slaves, and all we have is his. Thus, when you give to a church or an organization, you are not “giving back to God.” All you have is his already!

money falling from the sky2) God is using our possessions to advance the gospel in the world (Luke 16:1-12). While we are slaves of Jesus, our master is not idle. Instead, he is using his servants to do two primary things: build his church, and evangelize the lost. We should view all of our resources through that perspective.

3) In that sense, we are stewards of our master’s resources. We are not anonymous slaves on the fringe of the master’s plan; rather we are all stewards to whom much has been given (Luke 12:48; 1 Cor 4:1-2, 9:17, 1 Pet 4:10). We have a limited freedom (limited by the prohibitions of scripture—in other words, we are not to sin with our money), and we can use our freedom to invest our master’s resources however we see fit. But we know that the money we spend is not really ours, and the day is coming when we will be called to give an account for how we spent it. Remember, what we have is God’s, and he is working through us by how we use it.

4) Thus, our giving should be viewed as investing (Luke 16:1-12; Rom 14:10, 2 Cor 5:10). Knowing that we will be called to give an account for how we spend our money, we should give to ministries that show a return on their investment. We should not fund ministries with vague missions and nebulous results. Rather, we should use our money to make friends in heaven by advancing the gospel on the earth.

church5Our primary giving should be to our local church. In this age of world history, God is advancing his gospel through the work of local congregations. Christians are called to be part of congregations, to use their gifts in those congregations, and to minister to one another in their local church (here are 40 verses that explain that). With that in mind, a believer’s primary ministry is in and through the local church.

6Giving to the church funds the work of the church. Pastors, especially those who preach and teach, should be paid by the congregation for their ministry (1 Tim 5:17-18). Moreover, the needs of the poor in the community (the church community!—1 Tim 5:3-16) are met by giving to the church. In this way, the congregation partners with the church in the preaching of the word and the ministry to the poor.

7Giving to the church is the biblical model for mercy ministry and for missions. Paul’s missionary journeys were funded by individuals through their church (1 Cor 9:6-11; Phil 4:16) . In fact Paul makes a point that he never took funds from any individual (2 Cor 11:9). The same is true with mercy ministry. Paul commanded churches to take offerings on the first day of the week (Sunday) for the purpose of ministering to the poor in other churches (1 Cor 16:2-3, 2 Cor 9:5; As a side note, too many American churches abdicate their responsibility to missions, which of course drives Christians to start funding all kinds of missionaries directly—thus the proliferation of mercy ministry networks and missionaries who are doing all kinds of things except being under the authority of a local church).

offring8Giving is part of the weekly corporate worship of the church. From the first week of its existence, the church in Acts met for worship by singing, praying, studying the scriptures, keeping the ordinances, and giving (Acts 2:45, 4:32, 5:2). This helps us understand how Paul viewed the principles from 1 Corinthians 9 and 1 Timothy 5 being applied. In both of those passages Paul argues at length for how the church should support the poor who are faithful members of the congregation, and how the church should financially support the pastors. But how? He doesn’t dictate who the offerings should be taken or where the funds come form. But the book of Acts describes the weekly giving of the church, and this explains his command in 1 Corinthians 16:2-3 that an offering should be gathered every week when the church meets.

9Giving needs to be sacrificial and generous. If a person is in love with money, they are at risk of harming their soul (1 Tim 3:3, 6:10). A person cannot serve both God and money (Mat 6:24, Luke 16:13). If a person thinks that money can procure happiness, then that person doesn’t understand either money or happiness, and they certainly don’t understand the gospel. Thus, being selfish with your money shows that you don’t see yourself as a slave or a steward, and you invite the wrath of God upon you (Mat 18:22-35). Thus, a simple mark of Christian faith is generosity with your money towards your church. This is why God loves a cheerful, sacrificial, and generous giver (2 Cor 9:7).

investment10Giving to the church should be your best investment. If you understand 1-9, then hopefully you are at a place where you view yourself as a steward of God’s possessions, and you want to use those possessions to advance the gospel by the means of evangelism, missions, caring for the poor, and the preaching of the word. You understand that how you use your money in this life will be judged by God, and you want to store up for yourself treasure in heaven rather than on earth. You know that the best way to do that is through funding the preaching of the gospel and missions. So now what?

Well, your church should be your best investment. Not only is the church the place God has called you to give as a matter of principle, but beyond that, your church should be doing all of those things better and more efficiently than anywhere else. Your church should be viewing ever dollar spent as an investment from the people who gave it, and they should be using the funds to advance the gospel around the globe, as well as to fill the pulpit with strong teaching. In this sense, giving to your church is the most simple and most efficient way to be a steward of your money. You can’t spend time researching every missionary or every missions agency that asks for money—but your elders can. You can’t go around the world preaching the gospel—but your elders can take your money, and link it with those who do go. You can’t spend all week preparing to preach on Sunday because you have an actual job—but your elders can take your money, and use it to support someone who can. And if your church is not using its money wisely (and by wisely I mean that they are not investing your money in things that bring eternal reward), then it is probably time to find a church that understands their calling. If you can’t trust them with your finances, you certainly shouldn’t trust them with your soul.

Giving in the New Testament was obviously expected to be both systemic (through the church), and sacrificial. And when it is both, it prepares you well for the judgment seat of Christ, where you will be rewarded for how you used your money in this life (2 Cor 5:10; cf. Luke 19:12-26).

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Christopher Engelsma

    Shouldn’t we be concerned how our money is spent? isn’t one of the principles of wise giving that we try to maximize the effectiveness of every dollar we donate? What if my local church is wasteful and wants to spend thousands on new parking lots, A/C, etc. etc.?

    • Great question, Christopher. I tried to capture that under #10. Your local church should be your best investment, and frankly there should be trust between you and your elders. If your church isn’t concerned about the advancement of the gospel, then it is probably time to find a new church!

      That being said, I know that there are often misunderstandings between the church leadership (who know the details of the budget), and those who simply hear things like “thousands on A/C.” In my experience, often when the details are understood, things that previously sounded excessive suddenly make sense. Churches need A/C. The A/C at my house was almost 10k, and churches are significantly larger than houses. In some cases, cities or counties can fine churches for not upgrading their A/C units. Thus getting new units, even spending 100’s of thousands on it, is a wise thing to do–and it does help the gospel go forward. Who is going to attend your church if it is 100 degrees and there is no place to park? So without knowing the details of your situation, I’d say that if you don’t trust your church to handle their finances well, you should find a church you do trust. But I’d hasten to add that part of what handling your finances well looks like is using it on AC and parking, to help the meetings of your church continue to spread the gospel and equip the saints.

      • Christopher Engelsma

        good points but we live in different times. when deacons spend other people’s money, they do so in a way that is inherently inefficient. recall Milton Friedman’s four ways to spend money. When people spend other people’s money, they spend it inefficiently. There is no way to alter this basic fact of human nature. Nowadays, with technology, I can help out people directly and cut out the middleman (i.e. the deacons). I can send books to prison inmates, when a guy at church loses his job, I send him a money order directly, or I can go to a site like kiva.org and support some third world entrepreneur directly. I guess….I just don’t see much need anymore for the deacons. ?

      • Barbara

        Jesse, fine article and reply. I realize that, since God structured the church and that deacons “who are filled with the Holy Spirit” should be appointed, I can give happily knowing God knows it all and is our head. If leadership is in the hands of Godly men, and we pray for them, HE is our assurance.

    • Johnny

      Likewise, what if the local church wants to make improvements using debt instead of using church resources. Similar concern there as well.

    • Cathy Wagner

      If your church is wantonly wasteful, then perhaps, you should find a new church. But what may be “waste” to some, might be “wise investment” to others. That gray area we should leave with God. I don’t feel compelled to go over my church’s financial records before I give. I don’t demand that my church justify each and every expenditure for me. There will be waste… There will be mistakes… There will be poor investments for the church is made up of imperfect, broken people.

      Relatedly, I believe those who ignore the homeless—prejudging that they will waste your alms on alcohol, drugs, and lottery tickets—they are wrong. More than how the homeless will spend our offerings, God looks in on our hearts and how we steward all He has given us. If a homeless person uses your money to buy a beer, is that any worse than how you would have spent that $5 on a latte, or a craft beer at a trendy pub? Father remove that log from our own eyes before we call out the specs in others.

  • Johnny

    I think another good step is a fresh reading of David Platt’s “Radical”, for a fresh reminder that mansions are what should await the believer in heaven, not on earth…

  • “Rather, we should use our money to make friends in heaven by advancing the gospel on the earth.”

    I like this view!

  • ispeakout

    Doesn’t Luke show that Jesus and His disciples were supported by women through their private means? I believe in giving through and to the church, but I see nothing wrong with supporting missionaries that are under other churches or mercy ministries that are recommended by churches or have people who have home churches…so long as they are not straying away from the Gospel.

  • METOWNSEND Townsend

    I think we should support, with $$, the local church in which we worship and serve. I also think we should sow into other ministries as the Holy Spirit directs.
    We are His arms, His legs, His voice, His disciples while here on earth and His ministry functions through the donations, service, prayers and support of the body.

  • Steve Hardy

    Jesse–thanks for providing such a concise and thorough discussion about giving in the New Testament church. It’s often frustrating to hear people talk of ‘tithing’ and cite Old Testament scriptures to support it. I usually take the opportunity, if it’s available, to ask them if they’re going to give the entire tithe, which I’ve seen well-explained as closer to 27%. The puzzled expressions are usually fun. As you point out so well, it’s not about a percentage, it’s about our attitude, and, even more, our worship.

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  • Still Learning

    What I don’t understand is that the Bible says there will be poor people. But every Christian refuses to believe they are one of them. So they will do whatever it takes to not be poor by working a second job, moms working and putting their kids in daycare, third job,…etc.

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  • Practical Question

    What would you counsel someone to do if they are really struggling to make ends meet? We are praying now and trying to figure out what to do since we cannot care for the needs of our family the way we feel like we should. We aren’t giving our children a nutritionally diverse diet because produce and meat are expensive. We can’t afford a lot of the medical expenses our children need. However, we have felt that at minimum we should give about 10%, we want to be generous, but it is hard to see that money go. I read your article on tithing and agree that taking 10% out as a mathematical formula can be a Pharisee-like action that is void of a love for the church and God. I think it has at times been for us as well. Question is though, what would you recommend to the family that is genuinely struggling? Should we still give that amount and trust God that he will provide? What does it practically look like to give sacrificially? What things are ok for us to sacrifice, what things are not?

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  • Diane

    ” Question is though, what would you recommend to the family that is genuinely struggling?”

    I see no one addressed your questions, so I would like to. First, I want to say that I have no problem with giving to one’s local church. That said, if you are struggling to the degree that your children are not eating a nutritionally diverse diet, then the church should be tithing TO YOU. Your brothers and sisters should be assisting (those who can). If they are not, and if the leaders at your church are not willing, you need to find a different church. (Especially is the pastors’ children ARE eating a nutritionally diverse diet consisting of meat and produce and receiving medical care.)

    “Should we still give that amount and trust God that he will provide?”

    No. The bible says that if you do not provide for your own family, you are worse than an unbeliever. God understands … and expects you to care for your children. If you can afford to give a FEW dollars on Sunday, well and good and there is no need to feely badly. Corinthians teaches we are to give out of what we have, not out of what we do not have. You do not have it. You should not be expected to give what you do not have. The church should be assisting you.

    “What does it practically look like to give sacrificially? What things are ok for us to sacrifice, what things are not?”

    Unless your pastor/s are poorer than you are, I would simply not worry about it and go about the business of being the best caretakers you possibly can be to your precious gifts from God…your children…who are your foremost ministry.

    • Terry

      May I add that we absolutely should give to those IN NEED! Many people have lost jobs and homes. The other side of this coin, no pun, is that some are refusing to provide for their family because the “right” job hasn’t presented itself. If you have a family and you are physically capable of working you must not depend on the goodness of others to keep you. It is strictly reserved for those cannot help themselves. Let’s be discerning and give freely and cheerfully to those in need and councel, not enable, a brother or sister who is unable to budget or, because of generations of affluent American culture, cannot determine the difference between necessity and luxury.

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