Once we realize that all we have is God’s, then the question becomes one of stewardship. What are we going to do with that money? Serious Christians have always realized that a portion of their money should be given to Godly causes. When I present the No Debt No Sweat! Seminar at churches across the country, I like to share the following three principles of Godly giving.
Principle #1: God Expects Us To Give From Our First Fruits
There is a concept about first fruits giving that is taught in Scripture starting in the Old Testament with references well into the New Testament. I’m no theologian but my understanding is that first fruit sacrifices had to do with God’s expectation that His people should always set aside the first part of their crops and produce as a thanks offering for His goodness. Additionally, these first fruits were to be unblemished—the best available. Simply put, the idea was that the first and the best always belonged to God.
It is my personal conviction that Godly giving today is at its best when this principle is kept in mind. One passage that has become the marching orders for the Diggs family over the years is: "Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine." (Proverbs 3:9,10, NASV)
Years ago our family made the decision to give to God from the top. By that I mean that God gets the first part of our income. We would give up a lot of other expenditures before we would fail to give our gift to the Lord. It also means that we give from our gross income. When we determine the percentage we plan to give, that percentage is based on gross income before we deduct taxes, Social Security, or Medicare withholdings.
Am I trying to lay down a legalistic formula here and say that everyone has to do it just like us? No. But I am suggesting that every Christian needs to spend time in prayer and soul searching to determine how to best honor God from his or her financial wealth.
The best time to formulate your giving strategy is now. I have learned the hard way the importance of planning our giving before life’s pressures come to bear. It’s much easier to hear God’s prompting without the stress of too little money, or the temptations that come with having too much money. If we wait until there is financial stress in our lives it’s too easy to compromise and excuse a selfish attitude.
One strategy that helped us was to open a separate bank account to set money aside just for spiritual giving. We even titled it the "First Fruits" account. This way, when we received income we deposited a percentage of it directly into our "First Fruits" account where it sat until we had a need for it. This little discipline helped us in two ways: First, it kept us from accidentally mixing God’s money with our other funds and spending it. Secondly, it served as a clear, tangible reminder that those dollars were spoken for. They belonged to God—they were our first fruits to Him.
Principle #2: Giving Should Be A Joyful Experience
Has anyone ever given you something with a scowl on his face? You knew he really didn’t want to do it, but someone else was forcing him to release the goods. Maybe it was your little brother when your mom forced him to share the ice cream. Possibly it was a dishonest client when the judge ruled in your favor in a civil case. Or, maybe it was a sales manager who resisted paying your commission until his boss told him to do so. Sure you ended up with the money—but you went away feeling like you needed to take a shower!
If you have ever had such an experience, then imagine how God must feel when His children—the ones He has gifted with life itself—are too selfish to share with others.
The simple point is: We have been given, so we can give. When we fail to understand this we break the heart of God!
Paul opened the window to God’s mind this way, "Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7, emphasis mine, NASV)
Maybe it’s a slight exaggeration, but to help me remember this point, I have written the word "hilarious" in the margin of my Bible next to "cheerful giver." This helps me stay focused when it comes to giving. And it helps me overcome my natural tendency to find excuses not to give.
Principle #3: We Should Give As We Have Been Given
Remember, God doesn’t expect us to give what we don’t have. There is no place in Christian giving for competition or comparison to others. Each Christian’s giving is a very personal experience—based on his or her financial ability. From the earliest days, God has made allowances for the financial disparity between His people. In Old Testament days, the better-healed Jews were expected to bring a sacrificial lamb, while poorer followers were permitted to bring less expensive doves and pigeons.
I think of Matthew 6 as the "when you" chapter. On three different occasions in that chapter Jesus says, "When you," in referring to the Christian disciplines of giving, praying, and fasting. In each case He gives His followers directions on how to give, pray, and fast. Interestingly, Jesus makes a strong point of the very personal, private nature of each of the disciplines. Listen to what He says about giving:
"When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret: and your Father who sees in secret will repay you." (vv. 2-4, NASV)
Since our giving is never to be done for human acknowledgement or praise, the only One left to please is God. And, He doesn’t care how many dollars you give compared to anyone else. Paul says it well in 1 Corinthians 16:1,2:
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches in Galatia so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come." (emphasis mine, NASV)
Just Like The Pharisees…
While most of us wouldn’t admit it, Christians today fall into the same legalism the Pharisees used to succumb to. We tend to systematize, organize, institutionalize, and ultimately, sterilize our faith.
Trouble is, Christianity is a religion of the heart. God looks at our intentions. Rather than trying to develop a neat, tidy giving technique—why not lay it all before God. Ask Him to lead your heart and open your spiritual eyes. Then giving will become a joy instead of a duty.
Steve Diggs presents the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar at churches and other venues nationwide. Visit Steve on the Web at www.stevediggs.com or call 615-834-3063. The author of several books, today Steve serves as a minister for the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville. For 25 years he was President of the Franklin Group, Inc. Steve and Bonnie have four children whom they have home schooled. The family lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.
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