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 should I 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 4:3, 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.”
How do I quantify 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).”
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 should I 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: Proverbs 19:17, Matthew 28:19, and Galatians 6:6.
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.
Since the local church is, in essence, a one-stop shop for those three causes, at very least, a solid case can be made that it would be good stewardship to make our home church our first priority for the money we give, and then give to other organizations God puts on our heart.
Some pastors get more specific, teaching that the tithe should go to the local church, and then other God-honoring causes should be supported with money above and beyond the tithe. If you are a member of such a church, I encourage you to do as your pastor teaches.
How can I pay my purpose first?
Part of the conventional wisdom in our culture is to “Pay yourself first.” The idea is that if we are to build a reserve and be able to retire one day, we need to make savings our highest priority.
Saving and investing are important. However, simple, meaningful success is found in paying our purpose first, and the first purpose of our lives is to honor God. Financially, that means devoting the first portion (what the Bible calls Proverbs 3:9) of all that we receive to supporting His work in the world.
If you’re new to the idea of giving truly choice gifts to God, at first it will feel like a lot. Eventually, though, it will feel like it’s not enough.
That’s been my experience. It was difficult at first. Honestly, I didn’t want to. I didn’t even see how it could be possible. But I have discovered the truth of Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There is something about the practice of generosity that increasingly orients our hearts toward God.
As we grow in generosity, we discover that there is great joy in using money to make life changing, eternity shaping differences in the lives of other people.
Other posts in this series on the 11 principles that lead to simple, meaningful success:
- the purpose of money (Principle One: Know Who You Are)
- how to recession-proof your career (Principle Two: Earn Diligently)
- the single most powerful personal finance tool (Principle Three: Plan to Succeed)
- an irrational financial act (Principle Four: Give Some Away)
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