Central to being a follower of Christ is being a generous person. This cuts across all of life. Two important areas in particular are money and time—both commodities that seem to be constantly in short supply! While the biblical vision for generosity certainly includes much more than money, it does not include less. The Scriptures give us a blueprint of God’s design for financial generosity. Here are four basic biblical teachings that will help us frame our lives in an open-handed way:
Giving is an act of worship because God owns everything. The starting point for understanding biblical generosity is that God owns everything, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 24:1). This perspective breeds not only radical generosity, but recognizes giving as an act of worship. David prayed at the dedication of the temple, "all that is in the heavens and the earth is yours . . . Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all . . . Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand" (1 Chronicles 29:11–12, 14). One implication of this truth is that we're less like owners and more like money managers who have a fiduciary responsibility to the Owner to invest his resources wisely.
Giving should be in significant proportions. The Bible gives three guidelines:
The guideline of the tithe: In the Old Testament a tenth of one's income was required to the support of the ministry and the needs of the poor. While the New Testament does not mandate this requirement today, it also does not advocate giving any less than a tithe. Regardless, it is a helpful guideline.
The guideline of sacrifice: Paul celebrated the generosity of the Macedonians, who "gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability" (2 Corinthians 8:3). They gave until it represented a sacrifice in their lifestyle.
The guideline of responsibility: Christians are to give "according to their ability" (Acts 11:29). We all have various seasons of life economically, with responsibilities to our families and to our debts. Good planning is often necessary in order to move our generosity gradually into biblical proportions while still meeting personal and legal financial obligations.
Giving should be a joyful response to God's grace. Paul asked for money by saying, "I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:8–9). What a test! St. Paul says that the difference between moralists (those who think that God accepts them because of their goodness) and Christians (who know they are sinners saved purely by grace) is that a Christian wants to give as generously as he or she has received. Put starkly, we always give effortlessly to those things that give our life meaning, to our "gods."
Giving should be systematic and thoughtful. Paul directed the Corinthians to set aside a portion of their wealth each week until he came and received it, in this case for the relief of famine victims in Palestine (See 2 Corinthians 8). Giving "spontaneously" might be a joyful response to God's grace but often doesn't end up being sacrificial. And from a budgetary standpoint, it is very helpful to have dependable revenue streams.
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