Common Questions About Biblical Generosity
- Thursday, April 19, 2012
In a recent post, I described generosity as An Irrational Financial Act, going on to explain why it’s actually essential for anyone who wants to experience simple, meaningful financial success.
With this post, I’d like to answer two very common questions about generosity.
How Much to Give
I believe the first principle to follow when deciding how much to give is one that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. I call it The Principle of the Choice Gift, which is very much a matter of the heart.
It comes from the experience of Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel. As described in Genesis 4, when they were young adults they each brought gifts to the Lord. Cain brought “some of the fruits of the soil,” which scholars have explained means he gave a portion of his crops, but not the best portion. By contrast, Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” In other words, he gave a choice gift.
Their gifts said much about their hearts, and the Bible says, “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.”
Quantifying a Choice Gift
One of Pascal’s most famous quotes is: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” In other words, it’s difficult for us to fully understand the motives of our own hearts.
When it comes to generosity, our hearts may lead us to give truly choice gifts, or not. That’s why it can be helpful to get a bit more specific in answering the question: How much should I give?
The historical biblical starting point of generosity is a tithe, or 10 percent of income. As Randy Alcorn points out in the best book I’ve ever read about biblical generosity, it’s where God started his Old Covenant children: “Does God expect His New Covenant children to give less or more? Jesus raised the spiritual bar; he never lowered it (Matthew 5:27-28).”
At the same time, the Bible teaches that 10 percent is not the intended stopping point. After all, it encourages us to give both tithes and offerings. And besides, while 10 percent may be the choicest of gifts for a person making very little, for a person making a lot, 10 percent may be far from a choice gift.
So, my counsel is to base the amount that you give on a percentage of income, using 10 percent as a benchmark – a place to move toward if you’re not there already, and a place to move beyond if you are.
Where to Give
When deciding where to give, the Bible clearly reveals three causes that are important to God where our financial gifts can support His work in the world: The poor, those who don’t know Him, and those who teach His Word.
The local church is typically all about those three causes. It is usually active in helping to meet the needs of the poor in its community and elsewhere. It introduces visitors to God and often supports missionaries in other parts of the world who are spreading God’s Word. And, of course, it is a primary source of our biblical instruction.
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