Updated: May 16, 2020
How much should I give?
If you’re part of the church, maybe that’s a question that you’ve wrestled with. We want to know how much is enough. Or maybe what we really want to know is how little is enough to still be considered good.
Thousands of years ago, when God gave the Law to Moses, he made it very clear how much and how often his people were supposed to give. There were so many regulations regarding the different tithes and offerings that were expected of them. The animals, crops, and resources that they gave helped to supply the practical needs of their religious system such as supporting the priests and Levites and providing the materials needed for the tabernacle/temple and their festivals (Lev. 23, Ex. 20, Ex. 25:1-8, Num. 18:21). There was also a justice component to their giving in which they were commanded to give specifically to feed the immigrants, widows, and orphans among them (Deut. 14:28-29). When all was said and done, the amount that the Israelites gave was at least 23% of their income and possessions.
The tithes and offerings had some practical purposes, but above all, God wanted his people to give as a way of recognizing that all they had belonged to the Lord (Deut. 26:9-10, Psalm 24:1), to remember God’s goodness to them (Ex. 13:14-16), and to show that they trusted him to continue to provide for them (Mal. 3:10). God never desired for his people simply to follow a set of rules. He has always been concerned about our hearts.
So what does this mean for us today? Are we supposed to give 23% of our income? What about the 10% that so many of us in the church have been taught?
If we look at what the New Testament says about giving, the answer is not so simple. While the purposes and values of giving are still very much the same for us today, the regulations that applied to the Israelites thousands of years ago no longer apply to us.
Instead, we are simply told to give generously.
That’s a lot more grey than a command to give 10%. It requires that we work it out with God rather than following a certain rule. And that’s what God wants. He wants us to wrestle with him. He wants us to be challenged by him. That’s what faith looks like.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 says,
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 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. 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.
When I think of a cheerful giver, I think about my daughter, Ava. At a very young age, she started to notice people experiencing homelessness as we would drive around. We had some conversations about it, and she responded by saying, “If they need money, we should give them some of ours.” Then, a couple months ago, she acted on those words. She grabbed her piggy bank and took some money out of it and put it in a jar. She then went around to the rest of our family and asked us to put money in the jar as well. What started as some coins from a little girl’s piggy bank ended up as a $50 donation to a local organization that works with homeless families.
Then, a few weeks ago, Ava decided that she wanted to give more money. This time she emptied out her piggy bank and put everything that she had into the jar. She didn’t give out of obligation or compulsion. She gave because she saw a need, and she knew that she had something to contribute. She was able to give so cheerfully because she trusted that even if she gave everything she had, she would still be taken care of. She would still have everything she needs.
That’s what God calls us to.
We might think that it’s easy for a kid to give like that because they don’t have bills to pay or a family to feed. But God calls us to be cheerful givers. He calls us to that childlike faith where we trust that He is going to provide for us no matter what so we give generously when we see a need.
I trust that God will provide for my every need because I’ve experienced it for myself. About 10 years ago, I was working for a non-profit organization and we were going through an especially difficult financial season. Donations were down and we weren’t bringing in enough money to make payroll. But each one of us on staff still felt strongly that God had called us to the work we were doing so we stayed faithful.
At one point, I had no money left. I had no gas in my car. I had no food in my cabinets. I had been living off Jell-O for a few days. And I cried out to God. I said, “I need you to come through because I have nothing.” And God responded.
I started receiving envelopes of money. There was one that came in the mail with no return address. I found another on my bed after a group of friends had been gathered at my house one night. I ended up receiving more money than I needed to buy food and pay my bills for the month, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. My response to such an abundance was not to keep the rest of the money so that I would have enough for the next month. Instead, I felt that I had to give some of it away. I was able to share it with some of my co-workers, and we made sure that everyone’s bills were paid.
During this same time, our Executive Director got a knock on his door and one of our neighbors from the low-income community where we worked gave him an envelope full of cash. He had gone around the whole neighborhood telling people about our situation and asking them to contribute. Our neighbors who were living in poverty themselves – these people who were living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to get by – gave what they could to us.
My neighbors understood that we are not called to give only when we have plenty. We are also called to give when we ourselves are in need. No one is exempt.
In Luke 21, we see Jesus sitting in the temple and watching as people put their offering into the treasury. He sees many rich people put in their obligatory tithe out of their surplus. And then a poor widow comes and drops in two small coins. Jesus says that this poor widow gave more than everyone else because she gave all she had to live on.
God isn’t pleased when we just give what we don’t really need. He wants us to give generously in a way that causes us to depend on him. And it’s through that dependence on God that we experience such an amazing freedom.
The reality is that there will always be enough if we trust God. When we start to fall into the scarcity mindset where we think that there isn’t enough to go around and that we need to hold on to what we have, then we have begun to believe the lie that Satan has been telling from the very beginning. In the garden of Eden, he told Eve, “God is holding out on you. You can’t trust him. You need more than what he has given you. You can take things into your own hands to make sure that you have enough.” We need to recognize that as the lie that it is.
As people who claim to follow Jesus, we are called to trust God. We trust him when he says that he will bless us abundantly and that he will provide what we need at all times if we give generously.
As the church, we give because we trust in a God who is generous and faithful and good.
If you consider how you handle your money, would you say that you trust in God’s generosity and goodness?
How have you experienced God’s generosity and goodness in your life?
How is God calling you to trust him and respond to his generosity and goodness?
This blog post is an excerpt from a sermon. If you’d like to listen to the whole sermon, click here.