According to George Barna, only 3-5% of Americans tithe. Also according to George Barna, the average donation by adults who attend U.S. Protestant churches is about $17 a week. According to Ron Blue, incomes have gone up 9-10 times in the last 20 years while giving has gone down about 50%. According to Ron and Sylvia Ronsvalle, if members of historically Christian churches in the United States had raised their giving to the Old Testament’s minimum standard of giving (10% of income) in 2000, an additional $139 billion a year would become available.
These are a few statistics on the current state of giving. They are not very encouraging. The trend in society today is toward getting, not giving.
Giving is the highest thing that we can do with our money. Luke tells us in Acts 20:35 that to give is better than to receive. When we spend money, we are receiving something. When we are saving money, it is with a goal in mind. When we give money, we receive no physical, material possessions.
What does it mean to give? A good definition of giving is to let go, to deliberately choose to receive nothing in return for our money. When we give we expect no compensation. When we give we place our money in someone else’s care. When we give we transfer possession, relinquish, or surrender our money.
We ought to keep in mind here that we are stewards. We are not really giving. We are managing on behalf of God and giving to others on his behalf. When we say that we give it is true only to the extent that God first gave to us.
What explains the statistics in the introduction? Why is giving so low? What hinders giving? There are several reasons. The primary reason is debt. People wake up in the morning and sing the little song “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” Credit cards, student loans, cars, and houses all have payments. It is hard to give to charity when all of our income is going to pay for our stuff. The second reason is poor money management. When there is no plan of spending, i.e. no budget, the income we earn just goes in every direction until it’s gone. The third major reason is not enough money. Jesus said in Matthew 26:11 that the poor will always be with us.
There are many good reasons to give, but first let’s look at why we shouldn’t give. We should never give so that we can get more. Do not be greedy. There is no financial formula in Scripture that says that the more money you give the more money God will bless you with. We should never give as a form of a bribe. There are many references in Scripture that associate bribery with the ungodly. We should never give for our prestige. We are instructed very graphically what God thinks of us when we try this. Ananias and Sapphira tried this in Acts 5 and paid for it with their lives.
There are many reasons why we should give. The primary reason we should give is exactly because we are stewards. When we give we remind ourselves of our position of steward. We remember that what we give is not ours, but God’s.
Another reason to give is that the act of giving makes us less selfish and more Christ-like. We place others higher than ourselves. We humble ourselves just as Jesus did, and we become similar to him.
A third reason to give is because it is an act of praise and worship. All giving is an act of worship, but giving is explicitly commanded to take place on the Lord’s Day. Giving is a part of keeping the Sabbath day holy.
A final reason to give is because we have been given so much! Not one of us can say that our needs are not met. We live in the United States, the richest country in the history of our planet.
God has placed promises in his Word to those who give. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10). Here God both throws down a challenge to his people and a promise to those who take up this challenge. God says that when you give he will provide and bless.
This leads to the second idea, which is found in Matthew 6. Jesus tells us to lay up treasure in heaven and not to worry about our earthly possessions. We are shown here that Jesus will provide for us while on this earth. We are also shown that when we give our money, which is part of our whole walk in life, we are laying up treasures in heaven. Just as in Malachi, God tells us here that when you give he will provide and bless.
We all agree to give, but how much should we give? Some have been given much and some little. What guidelines can we use? We can come close to the proper mindset by asking some questions from the point of view of a steward. The owner will ask, “How much of my money will I give to God?” but the steward will ask, “How much of God’s money will I keep?” The owner will ask, “Do I want to buy this?” but the steward will ask, “How will this purchase affect my ability to advance God’s kingdom?”
There is disagreement on how much we should give today. The Old Testament clearly teaches tithing. Jesus agrees with the practice in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42. In the middle of his railing on the hypocritical Pharisees, he actually commends them on one thing: the tithe. He approves of the giving of 10%. I Corinthians 16:2 is often cited as a rebuttal. It reads, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” It is said that we are to give as “God hath prospered” us and that this does away with the tithe.
The way I view I Corinthians 16:2 is that it does not do away with anything, but merely implies that our giving should be proportionate to our income. What proportion then? I find no other proportion mentioned in the New Testament, so I fall back on the only proportion mentioned, the tithe. Also, I have heard it said (and agree), “When in doubt, give, because you can’t outgive God.”
Who should the tithe go to? The church. The church then has the responsibility to give to those who are in need. Those in need are the widow (I Tim. 5:16), the poor (Matt. 26:11), and the pastor (I Cor. 9:14).
It is not enough to know that we have to give, how much to give, and who to give to, but it is also very important that we give the right way. We need to have the proper attitude when we give. There are three attitudes that we need when giving. The first is that we fulfill the great commandment while giving. We need to give out of love for God and love for others. This is thankful giving. This is willingly giving to God because he gave so much for us. The second attitude is to give cheerfully. “God loveth a cheerful giver” (II Cor. 9:7). This again emphasizes thankful giving. The third reason is to give purposefully. Again, II Corinthians 9:7 says, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give.” Giving should be a conscious and deliberate action.
Giving God’s money away is the best thing we can do with it. Placing God first is the most rewarding thing we can do with God’s money. When we meditate on the gift of salvation God has given to us and consider again how much material prosperity we have been given in this country, we can’t help but be thankful for the love and goodness he has showed to us. We prove through our actions that we are a grateful people, grateful for the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. It is because of him that we have, and it is to him that we give.
Larry Burkett, Business by the Book (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998).
Larry Burkett, Your Finances In Changing Times (Chicago: Moody, 1993).
“The Christian and Money,” Southwest Summer Seminar 2002.
Crown Ministries, Inc., Practical Application Workbook (Longwood, FL: Crown Ministries, Inc., 1996).
Dr. David Jeremiah, Investing for Eternity (San Diego: Turning Point for God, 2003).
- W. Pink, “Tithing,” http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Tithing/tithing_01.htm, http://www. pbministries.org/books/pink/Tithing/tithing_02.htm.
Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace Revisited (New York: Viking, 2003).