Why should I give?

This is going to appear perverse – a bit like mum saying “it’s for your own good” as she tips cod-liver oil down your throat – but one of the main reasons for being generous is that “giving is good for you”. It may be good for the recipient too, but, believe it or not, you benefit most from being generous. You really do. Here is the main reason why – giving breaks the power of money.

Jesus Christ is famous for wise sayings, here’s one: “You can’t serve two masters: you’ll be devoted to one and not the other.” (Matthew 6:24). When you choose to follow Jesus you choose a new master. But the old master doesn’t give up control over our lives just like that. Our eyes are often turned as he continues to display his tempting wares. Not least in the realm of money.

The old master uses money to exercise control over us. We were kept behind bars of false security, fake masks, greed and fear and although the new master has unlocked the cell door we are sometimes hesitant about opening it, walking out and leaving the bars behind.

Giving is the view beyond the bars. Giving is about freedom. Giving opens the cell door and sets us free. Giving breaks the power of money.

In a famous speech to graduating students, David Foster Wallace, the post-modern novelist who died in 2008 said, “If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough.” That’s the sort of power the old master can exercise over you – perpetual dissatisfaction, envy, striving for more.

Most of us have worshiped money and things: we have given them our attention, we have orientated our lives around them, we have taken our identity from them. But we’ve also found that money is a deeply unsatisfying idol.

Let me explain how giving both reveals the problem and solves it. Although money is spiritually neutral – what we do with it is a crystal-clear indicator of the freedom of our spirit, the health of our soul and which master has power in our life. This is how giving reveals the problem:

  • We learn about tithing (for example, giving a tenth of our income to our church) from those who go before us;
  • So we look at our spending plan and realise that something will have to give – if we are to give (for those with surplus it will mean digging into our security blanket or into the amount we save. To those who are just-about-managing it means letting go of something – maybe the cable subscription or meals out or the second car or the catered holiday or the phone upgrade).
  • The pain we feel at that realisation correlates exactly to the level that the old master still has influence over us.
  • If you sense yourself drawing back from giving, it’s an indicator that something from the old has a hold on you. An idol is unmasked.
  • You’re being tempted to edge back into the cell, to get behind those bars. And, imprisoned in your desire, your surrender to Jesus is exposed as partial – as He might also have said, “having a foot in each canoe is a miserable place to be.”

If the problem is the idol of money, what is the solution? Giving. Giving breaks the power of money in my life. We still have money troubles, we still have to learn about how to deal with bills and debt and savings. But when I give generously and with joy, the cell door swings open and I can walk in a new freedom where the idols of money and things no longer have power in my life.

Why should I give? Because giving sets me free. Because giving is good for me. Because giving breaks the power of money.

David Flowers

First published by Stewardship in February 2019


How much should I give?

(First posted by Stewardship)

How much should I give – or – what proportion of my income should I give?

Before we can answer that question we have to agree on one key biblical principle: God owns it all. In 1 Chronicles 29:14 King David acknowledges this after he and his people have given generously for the building of the temple, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

Once we have agreed on this principle we could rephrase the question, “If it all belongs to God, how much should I keep?” Either way, the bible reflects a characteristic of most cultures by describing the offerings made to God or to people of influence. In Genesis 4 we read of Cain and Abel bringing offerings to the Lord and then in Genesis 14 we find Abram giving a tenth of his loot from battle to the local King. Sometimes there is simply the invitation to bring an offering and sometimes it is given a specific proportion: one-tenth, which is where we get the word “tithe”.

The people of Israel were an agrarian nation so when they are eventually given their Laws, the giving instruction is described as dedicating the first tenth of their produce to God, “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees … is holy to the Lord… The entire tithe of the herd and flock, every tenth animal … will be holy to the Lord.” Leviticus 27:34. This is the accepted “starter for ten”, so to speak. The people were then directed to make other forms of offerings on top of this, some prescribed and some more spontaneous.

When we get to the New Testament we can assume that Jesus adopted the same doctrines, there is no hint to the contrary. The thrust of Jesus’ teaching was toward generosity and selflessness and so, if anything, he would have encouraged us to give more not less. Likewise, Paul urges us to “sow generously”. 2 Corinthians 9:6. The technical term “tithe”, or the specific proportion, one-tenth, is rarely mentioned. Paul goes on to say that we should each “give what we have decided in our heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves us to be cheerful in our giving.” 2 Corinthians 9:7. We may well infer that one-tenth is a starting point and we are called to make offerings over and above.

If you are on a low income, giving one-tenth (or any amount) is a sacrificial step because it may well impact on how much is left to spend on basics such as heating and food. If you are on a good income then it is less sacrificial (but feels more difficult the more you earn).

So, how much should I give? Here’s my suggestion: take your benefit statement, payslip, cashflow forecast or investment report and pray over it, “Thankyou Lord for all you have given me. How much can I give back to you?” Start at 10% and see if the Lord prompts you to give more (or less). After that, when you plan your budgets, start with the amount you want to give – remember how the Israelites gave the first of their crops and cattle – and then ask the Lord how you should use the remainder of your money and resources.

When we do this, start with acknowledging that God owns it all and start our financial planning with our giving, the tithe becomes an act of acknowledgment, thanks and worship (not a temple tax or a spiritual subscription). And what happens next is a miracle. God does something special with the maths and we find that the 90% we live on after giving the first 10% away seems to go further than the 100% we used to live on when we weren’t giving anything!

So, start with 10% of your income and then see what happens and listen out for further instructions!