In this seventh part of the How to live as a Christian series, we are looking at giving – specifically, giving money. Giving financially is really a part of service, which we thought about last time, but it’s less easy to talk about. I think a lot of British Christians don’t like talking about money because many Brits find it uncomfortable. And some Christians are reluctant to talk about money because of greedy televangelists. For example, Creflo Dollar was in the news a few years ago for asking his followers to pay for a $54m private jet! But the Bible does not shy away from talking about money – Jesus had a lot to say about it.
Martin Luther famously spoke of three conversions: the conversion of the mind, of the heart, and of the purse. God cares about how we use our money. It is a part of being a Christian. We can use money well or wrongly – so let’s use money well.
So, let’s look at some Biblical principles to help us use our money well. We’ll start by thinking about how we can use money wrongly.
I wrote about wealth and poverty in the Proverbs series – you might like to give it a read as well.
The love of money…
One of the most famous Bible verses about money (which is often misquoted) is 1 Timothy 6:10. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Sometimes people quote this as “money is the root of all evil”, but that’s wrong. It’s the love of money. Money isn’t wrong in itself, but loving money is wrong.
Why is that? Jesus said: “‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). Money can become an idol – that’s something which we love, serve and trust in place of God. In other words, money can take the place of God in our lives. Money can have a great power over us, if we let it.
Again, it’s important to say money isn’t a bad thing in itself. We need it to buy food, clothes, etc. But, as the saying goes, money is a good tool but a terrible master. It needs to be kept in its proper place. At the end of the day God provides us with the things that we need – not money.
This is why it’s important to give. When we give, we are making a statement that we believe God can and will look after us. We are saying that we trust God to provide for our needs, so we can be generous. And we are saying that God gives us every good thing, so we can give something back to him. As King David said in 1 Chronicles 29:14, “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”
Giving and the concept of tithing
The word ‘tithe’ just means, a tenth. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were required by the law of Moses to tithe. So, for example, Leviticus 27:30 says: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” Israelites were to set aside a tenth of their earnings for the year and devote that to the Lord. So, in the Old Testament, tithing was a spiritual duty.
However, in the New Testament, tithing is not mentioned very much at all. Jesus mentions it a couple of times – Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42. There he criticises the Pharisees for tithing even their garden herbs but neglecting more important things like justice and mercy. But tithing is never given as a command for Christians. In short, Christians are not required to tithe in the same way that the Israelites were.
So why talk about it? Because I think tithing works as a good ‘rule of thumb’ for Christians today. When I started working, I made a habit of giving about 10% of my income to the church. It’s a practice I still continue today. Obviously, some people are not in a position to give that much. A few people may be in a position to give more. But, for the majority of people who are not very rich or very poor, I think 10% is good place to start.
The principle of generous giving
As I said, the New Testament doesn’t really talk about tithing. Instead, the focus is on generosity. Jesus said, famously, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (quoted in Acts 20:35). As we’ve already seen, the Christian life is about love and service, and giving is simply a part of that. But what does that actually look like practically?
The letter of 2 Corinthians talks a lot about giving, particular in chapters 8-9. Let me quote some of it:
Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.2 Corinthians 9:6-8
There are a few lessons here about giving.
- People who give generously will receive generously. I don’t mean that people who give will receive back more financially! It’s so important to say that! But instead, if we give generously we’ll get back far more in other ways. The most generous people I know are also the kindest. There is a rich spiritual reward for generosity. This is why Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.
- God loves a cheerful giver. God doesn’t want us to give reluctantly! He wants us to give, trusting that he will provide, and out of love for the people we give to.
- We should prayerfully decide the right amount for us to give. Paul recognises that not everyone can give the same amount. Everyone’s circumstances are different. That’s fine. We should give generously, but that will look different for everyone.
- God can provide all that we need. We can be generous when we truly believe that God will provide for our needs. If we feel secure with our needs, then we can be generous with the needs of others.
Giving: Putting it into practice
So how do we put all that into practice? Here’s my suggestion.
Firstly, consider how much you want to give. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down with a bit of paper and working out how much you can afford to give. Obviously you can’t give money that you don’t have! As I said above, I think a good rule of thumb is around 10%. But your circumstances might allow you to give more or less than that.
The only thing I would say is, you could look at adjusting your budget to allow you to give a bit more. Could you shop in a less expensive supermarket? Could you buy a few less luxury items per month? Only you know your own circumstances, and I’m not going to lay down any hard and fast rules! But we all have choices in how we use our money, and giving money to the Lord should be an important part of that choice.
Secondly, see if you can give regularly each month. Most churches will accept standing orders. Our church actually uses the Parish Giving Scheme, which allows you to give by direct debit (and they take care of gift aid as well!).
The reason is, if you set up giving in this way, you won’t be tempted to use the money for other things. If you rely on manually transferring the money each month, each time you will be tempted not to. Personally I think it’s better not to have that temptation! Also – it’s far better for your church to know how much money is coming in each month. It makes planning and budgeting so much easier!
Ash Carter, a friend of mine from theological college, has written a helpful book called The Money Mentor which helps us to think through how we use our money wisely.