The Q: “How much should I give to the church?”
The A: “Give whatever you want!”
In a way, New Testament giving is really that simple. That said, Scripture has quite a bit to say about what and how we should want to give. It shamelessly appeals to the Christian’s love for fellow believers in need, their appreciation for the work of the church, and their gratitude for all God has done, namely in Christ. And Second Corinthians, chapters eight and nine is ground zero for the call to this freeing brand of happy generosity in local church giving. Here, we see ten distinct aspects of New Testament church giving, some very practical and all deeply spiritual…
1. NT giving is for MEETING THE NEEDS of the church. (2 Cor. 8-9)
The church in Jerusalem, a thousand miles away and across the Aegean Sea from Corinth, was struggling financially (see 2 Cor. 9:12). Still reeling from the influx of converted pilgrims who had traveled to the capitol city for the feast of first-fruits (Pentecost), the new gathering was unable to, on their own, meet the needs of all the Christians who had settled there after being saved (Acts 2:44-45). They needed help, and this was the first church relief fund or love-offering. This is this practical need Paul and his team intend to meet by way of the generous giving of other Christians in other churches. And it wasn’t the first time he’d done so (1 Cor. 16:1-4). Money would be given to the local church and then distributed and delivered by its leaders to meet whatever the needs were (Acts 5:1-2, 1 Cor. 1:1-3; 9:1-14; 16:1-2, cf. Mal. 3:10). Elsewhere, Scripture speaks directly of meeting the needs of widows (Acts 6:1-7, 1 Tim. 5:9-16), missions and church-planting (Acts 14:1, 1 Cor. 16:5-9), and pastoral leadership (Matt. 10:10, 1 Cor. 16:10-11, 2 Cor. 11:8, 1 Tim. 5:17-18).
Do you know the financial needs of your church?
Is your church’s pastoral leadership adequately provided for?
How is your church helping its needy members?
How does your church give toward community outreach, missions and church-planting?
2. NT giving is a PRIVILEGED OPPORTUNITY. (2 Cor. 8:1)
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia…”
Four times in these two chapter, Paul refers to this love-offering as an “act of grace.” While asking them to part with their hard-earned wealth, he doesn’t flinch. He is convinced he is doing them a favor by organizing a gift for the struggling Jewish church. What a privileged opportunity this is to help sustain the powerful work of Gospel seen in the mass-conversion and mass-baptism of these bold new Jewish believers (Rom. 15:25-29). To support and encourage the world’s very first expression of the church to ever take shape on the planet, right in the heart of Jewish persecution and oppression, what an act of grace the Lord had entrusted to them!
Do you count yourself fortunate to be able to help fund the Great Commission?
Are you humbled to have the opportunity to give to urgent needs in the church?
Do you believe it is more blessed (an act of grace) to give than receive? (Acts 20:35)
3. NT giving is a SACRIFICIAL GIFT. (2 Cor. 8:2-4)
“…for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints…”
Using the Macedonian churches as a model, Paul calls the Corinthian church to give sacrificially. And it’s hard to imagine a more strongly worded example than what he gives them – basically, “these destitute churches were thrilled to give more than they even had to give.” The Macedonians actually appear to give more of their resources than what Paul would have asked them to give (see 2 Cor. 8:12-15, cf. Lk. 21:1-4). This does not keep Paul from using them as an example of sacrificial giving. The axiom is true, “you can’t out-give God.” Paul knew this and therefore could be confident He’d provide for and bless these recklessly generous churches (see 2 Cor. 9:8-11). New Testament giving will restrict our pursuit of status and security, and will limit our familiarity with worldly pleasure and entertainment. Presumably, the Macedonians even went without certain necessities in order to give.
What comforts do you forego in order to give to the ministry of the church?
Where can you save money in order to steward better and free up money to give?
Is promoting the Great Commission of paramount importance in your finances?
4. NT giving is EVIDENCE OF LOVE, proving we belong to the Lord. (2 Cor. 8:5-11)
“…and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you, see that you excel in this act of grace also.I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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 by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter, I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have...”
Here, Paul’s exhortation turns expressly theological, appealing to the new nature of the Christian. This kind of happy generosity comes naturally from people who belong to Jesus. It’s the kind of love He showed us, therefore it is what we expect as evidence from those who are His. The greatest fruit of the Spirit is love, because it never fails, and is in a certain sense, the fruit out of which all other fruits grow (1 Cor. 13:8, Col. 3:14). This love that takes practical action and gives so sacrificially is what proves to the world that we are in fact followers of Jesus. (Jn. 13:35, 1 Jn. 3:10-18).
Humbly and prayerfully consider the measure of your love for the church.
Is there a connection between your affection and your action for the church?
Can your sanctification be seen in an increase in either amount or desire to give?
5. NT giving is based on WHAT YOU HAVE NOW. (2 Cor. 8:12-15)
“…For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased, and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack…”
As heavy-handed as Paul’s words are to this church, they are honest and fair. Any appearance of manipulation is denied flatly here. While the Macedonians are a compelling example of just how sacrificial we ought to be, nowhere in Scripture are God’s people commanded to give to the point they cannot care for their household or fulfill important financial commitments (1 Tim. 5:8). There are those within the anti-Christian stream of “prosperity” theology who twist the principle of the “widow’s mite” (Lk. 21:1-4) to teach that we must be willing to give, if necessary, “by faith” from our debt, presumably with a credit card or a hot check. Besides being largely self-centered, this kind of giving is irresponsible. How freeing to know we may give as we are able, when we are able to do so. And in times of need, we are those for whom the gifts are received. Paul’s knows the Lord of the Church will be sure there are enough who are able to give to help those who are unable. So, that when God restores the prosperity of the previously poor member, the privilege of giving to the needs of others is also restored to him (Acts 2:42).
Do you see your surplus or your lack in a corporate context, as shared resources?
Are you eager to help meet the needs of others knowing God has blessed you?
Are you willing to ask for help when you/your family has a financial/material need?
6. NT giving is a matter of CAREFUL ACCOUNTABILITY. (2 Cor. 8:16-9:5)
“…But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel.And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. So, give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men. – Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them.But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So, I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction…”
Here, we see two things happening and they go together hand-in-hand. One is the careful presentation of the financial need, and two is a careful encouragement to the Corinthian church to do what they had already said they would do – collect an offering for the poor Jerusalem church. We get the impression the church is being not a little reluctant to follow through. And Paul is needing to be clear about his expectations, all while being as gracious as possible. Paul is giving them every reason to pull the trigger and put their money where their mouth has been for a while now. He first reassures the church that their money is being put to good use and is in the hands of faithful and fruitful ministers. He affirms Titus’ role among them and identifies other “brothers” to prove these seemingly wary givers that this is no one-man-band, with Paul as self-interested fund-raiser. Then, he pleads with them to do their part, warning them not to miss this opportunity to give freely and graciously holding them accountable to what they had promised to do.
Do you have reason not to trust those who manage the finances of your church?
Have you made a financial commitment or a pledge you’ve not fulfilled?
Decide now that when held accountable, you will humbly respond with action.
7. NT giving is a GENEROUS INVESTMENT. (2 Cor. 9:6)
“…The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…”
What an encouraging universal spiritual principle. Built into this famously worded principle are several of the truths Paul has already mentioned. Unique to this verse, though, is the concept of investment. He is reminding the Corinthian church that when God’s people give money or material good away in Christ’s name and for the benefit of the church, they are not losing anything, not really. We can see our giving as a seed being planted that will grow where its planted as God sees fit. How gracious for God to work so powerfully within the context of limited man. He needs neither our efforts nor our resources, and yet He invites us to a partnership with Him. And because God is at work using our means to accomplish His ends, we can sow bountifully and with expectancy, knowing He will cause us to reap bountifully. Now, a similar warning is needed here as was needed earlier regarding giving that prohibits us from responsibly providing for our household. Nowhere in Scripture is the Christian promised an apple-for-apple, equal-and-opposite return on their giving. We simply do not know whether now or later, whether materially or spiritually, or whether here or in eternity. However, we are taught that God will reward our giving when it is done happily, in His name, and in love.
Do you have strong confidence that God sees, uses and rewards you for your gift?
Where have you perceived blessing or reward from God for giving generously?
Are you excited to give and filled with anticipation for how God will use it?
8. NT giving is a gift given VOLUNTARILY AND CHEERFULLY. (2 Cor. 9:7)
“…Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver…”
Many Christians tithe. That is, they give ten percent, off the top, of all that they earn. This is fine and, for the majority of people, is quite a sacrificial gift (Lk. 11:42). For most, giving ten percent will force you to adjust your operating budget around your giving. But you will notice Paul does not mention an amount or a percentage here. In fact, nowhere in Scripture are free-will offeringsgiven a minimum or a cap. In the Old Testament, tithing was not primarily a giftto God, but more like taxesrequired in order to fund the national budget of Israel. Because Israel was a theocracy, Levitical priests and other ministers were essentially employees of the civil government. The Levite's tithe (Lev. 27; Num. 18; 2 Chron. 31; Neh. 10), the Festival tithe (Deut. 12), the poor tithe (Deut. 14), and other tithes were made law to ensure adequate leadership, a thriving society, and common welfare (Lev. 19,23,25; Exod. 23). The annual giving required of the Israelites was around twenty-five percent, if not considerably more. All giving apart from that required to run the government was voluntary (Gen.4,8,14,28; Ex. 25,36; Deut. 15,16; 1 Chr. 29, Prov.22). This explains the harsh judgment when tithes and required offerings were not given (Mal. 3).
In their first-century context, Caesar’s tax-collectors demanded a certain percentage from the Corinthians. Today, our federal and state governments do the same. Paul, on the other hand, is not asking for a percentage, but for a happy willingness to give as much as they are able. He is perhaps most clear in his first letter to this church when he wrote, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (1 Cor. 16:2). Other translations say, “according to your income.” Therefore, the New Testament Christian must first consider his income, the needs of his family and then voluntarily decide how much of what the Lord has provided he is able to cheerfully give to the work and the people of the church.
Tithing has biblical precedent, just as long as you feel free to either give less or more.
Do you feel coerced into giving or does your church encourage prayerful consideration?
Have you noticed that you’re becoming more and more of a cheerful giver?
9. NT giving is done by FAITH IN GOD’S future provision. (2 Cor. 9:8-11)
“…And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God…”
This truth pairs well with considering giving an investment, except goes even farther. Paul encourages the church to give trusting God can and will make them “abound” in grace, that is in all the provisions necessary, in every way to be a blessing to those around us. The sowing principle teaches us God will provide for us in any way, in His perfect time and according to His perfect will. This point teaches us God will provide for us (enrich us) in every way imaginable in order to be continue being generous and experience an ever-increasing harvest of righteousness. It’s a subtle difference, except that it further intensifies our trust in God to care for us, freeing us up considerably to care for and give to the needs and the ministry of the church (Matt. 6:31-33).
Do you truly trust the Lord to provide for you?
Where do you see fruit of righteousness due to trusting the Lord in this way?
Does an increase in your income automatically mean an increase in your giving?
10. NT giving is a way to THANK GOD for all He’s done. (2 Cor. 9:12-15)
For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
Paul wraps his entire campaign in a bow of thanksgiving to God. This ought to be the church’s ultimate motivation to dig deep – God has given richly of Himself to them, in Christ. Paul admits, in verse twelve that this is all to meet the need and ease the financial burden of this new church, then says, “but, it’s more than that!” All of the overflowing generosity he has referred to up to this point all stems from our overflowing gratitude to God for how sacrificially, voluntarily, and cheerfully He has given to us. Such gratitude is the fountain-head from which all these attitudes flow: generosity, trust, humility and love. Even my ability to earn wealth comes from Him (Deut. 8:18). Because of all He’s done for us, ultimately because of the Gospel, we are not our own; we belong to Him, and therefore all we have belongs to Him.
When it comes to money, do you believe you are simply stewarding God’s resources?
Do you give in a manner worthy of and consistent with the Gospel?
Are you conscious of how your giving encourages the faith of others and glorifies God?
So, how much should you give?
Give however much you want! And based on what Scripture makes clear to us, we should be growing in our desire to give sacrificially, expectantly, voluntarily, with thanksgiving to God, and out of our love for the people and the Gospel ministry of Christ’s church.