I've been struggling with what it means to be a giving person. In particular, I've been struggling with what it means to be a giving American Christian.
What is my responsibility to give? What does God ask me to do with what He's given me as a citizen of a country with a strong economy?
Paul’s Instructions for Giving
The Apostle Paul has the most to say about giving in his Second Letter to the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 9:6-11:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 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. 8 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. 9 As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
Paul says that we should give what we’ve decided in our hearts to give. But how do I discern what to give in my heart? And how do I ensure that I'm not sowing sparingly?
In the chapter before this, he said:
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. (2 Corinthians 8:1-3)
Here, Paul commends the Macedonians for giving out of the poverty, just like Jesus commended the widow who gave her last two coins. The Macedonians gave more than they were able.
The Goal of Giving
Paul reveals what the goal of giving is when he writes:
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)
The goal is equality. But in what sense? Making sure no one lacks basic necessities? Raising others up? How far?
The following verses seem to say that I need to lower myself and sell my possessions to raise others up.
2 Corinthians 8:9:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
And people whom Jesus commended or condemned for their standards of giving only include the one who gave everything and the one who refused to give everything.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Models of Giving
So, what model of giving should I follow? Tithing as the Old Testament commanded? Giving all as some of these verses indicate? Matching what I spend on myself with what I give to try to achieve some sort of equality?
And what does equality mean? Do I really need to lower myself to the living conditions of the poorest person so that I can raise them up?
I imagine that if God doesn’t want them to live in the conditions they’re in, he doesn’t me to either. So, is there a way that I can determine what the basic necessities are that God wants for every person and then, lower myself to those standards and not go beyond them so that I can spend everything else on others?
If that could be a valid method of deciding what to spend on myself, I would say that God wants the following for each person, including myself:
- Nutritious food
- Clean water
- A well-maintained living space
- Spending money to enjoy a hobby and celebrate God's blessings
- Money to give small gifts to others
Some people might say that people also need emergency funds and savings accounts for retirement. But is that what Scripture says?
2 Corinthians 8:14:
At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.
As Christians, we need to first give, then let others give to us when we need it. Maybe that means helping us to cover a medical bill or a large house repair or taking caring of us in our old age.
Changes in Spending to Increase Giving
Here are some questions I’ve been asking about my own spending. You might benefit from them as well as you seek to increase your giving.
1. Which is cheaper for you? Living in a house or living in an apartment? Is there a way to share the expenses of your living arrangement with a roommate or even another family?
2. What can you do to lower your grocery and food expenses? Can you grow some of your food? Make more of your food rather than buying prepackaged meals or going out to eat?
3. How can you spend less on utility bills? Can you bump the thermostat a few degrees up or down to lower energy costs? Can you deliver your own trash and recycling to the local processing facility?
4. If you’re a family with two or more drivers, is there a way to reduce the number of vehicles you need? Maybe one person can drop the other at work, or you can carpool with someone else to avoid paying for a second or third vehicle?
5. How much money do you really need to spend on your home or yard? It’s good stewardship to maintain what you have, but do you need to make those home improvements or have the nicest landscaping?
6. What about insurance costs? Will your employer allow you to opt out of their health insurance program to buy into a Christian cost-sharing health plan?
7. How much money do you really need to spend on hobby or relaxation activities? Can you do something that costs less but would give you the same amount of enjoyment? Can you spend money on those fun activities less frequently?
I’m sure you can think of other ways to cut costs in your life. These are just a few that I’ve been wrestling with as I head toward the goal of equality. The less I spend on myself, the more I can spend on raising others up.