Some Christians are apologetic when a speaker or writer addresses the issue of giving. However, giving needs no more apology than does praying. In the Scriptures 1539 passages refer to giving, while only 523 pertain to praying!
Establishing a godly testimony in finances is critical to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. The poor reputation of many televangelists and religious leaders is reflected in the story of the little boy whose unchurched mother asked when he came home from the Sunday morning service, “What did the pastor preach about today?” The youngster was ready with his answer: “He said a man went from Jerusalem to Jericho and was beaten up by thieves and thrown into a ditch. By and by, two preachers came along, and when they saw the man had already been robbed, they passed by on the other side.”
The gaining of money may involve the greatest danger to the Christian, but the giving of money is likewise fraught with peril—hence the need for considering ethics in giving.
In 2 Corinthians 8:10–15 the apostle Paul sets forth three ethical principles for our giving to make sure that we honor God both in what we give and in the way we give.
The Importance of Integrity in Giving (2 Cor. 8:10–11)
The Corinthian church had failed to keep a promise to give to the needs of the saints at Jerusalem, marring and hindering their testimony of Christian stewardship. A year earlier they had made a pledge to God and to His people, but lacked the integrity to follow through. The apostle tactfully offers his advice.
Making a commitment to God, His work, and His people means honesty and timeliness in fulfilling that commitment. “When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee” (Deut. 23:21).
The cheetah, a sleek, beautiful member of the cat family, survives on the African plains by running down its prey. The big cat can sprint 70 miles per hour. But the cheetah cannot sustain that pace for long. Within its long body is a disproportionately small heart, which causes the cheetah to tire quickly. Unless the cheetah catches its prey in the first flurry, it must abandon the chase.
Sometimes Christians seem to have the cheetah’s approach to commitment to God. We speed into spiritual obligations, not considering if they are truly the will of God for us. We fail to count the cost, to see if we have enough to “finish our tower.” Lacking the heart for sustained effort, we fizzle before we finish. What is our need? Like the cheetah, we are desperately in need of a bigger heart, one that can be given only by God as we seek Him and allow Him to give us grace and endurance, integrity to do what is right, regardless of the circumstances.
One local church pastor captured the concept of ethical giving in relating the following, “My heart was greatly encouraged some years ago when honesty in giving affected an unknown donor within the fellowship of the church I was pastoring. Whoever it was put an envelope in the collection plate with only one word upon it: ‘Restitution.’ In that envelope were six $100 bills. This was honesty in keeping a trust with God.”
The Importance of Willingness in Giving (2 Corinthians 8:12)
Paul’s words are clear. God holds all men and women responsible for having a willing heart attitude in giving.
Willingness means giving without grudging. Mark Twain quipped that when some men discharge an obligation, you can hear the report for miles around. An elderly gentleman who was hard of hearing attended a church service where the congregation was attempting to reach a certain goal in the offering. The ushers passed the plate, and he put in a token amount. Later in the service, they passed the plate again. Reluctantly, he gave a little more. When the plate came around the third time, he was overheard saying, “What are they going to do next, frisk us?”
It has been said that there are three kinds of givers— the flint, the sponge, and the honeycomb. To get anything out of a flint you must hammer it, and then you get only chips and sparks. To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it, and the more pressure you apply the more you will get. But the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness. God’s desire is for our lives to overflow with the sweetness of Jesus Christ that we might be honeycomb givers.
Willingness means giving without unbelief. A church member was having trouble with the concept of tithing. One day he revealed his doubts to his minister: “Pastor, I just don’t see how I can give ten percent of my income to the church when I can’t even keep on top of our bills.”
The pastor replied, “John, if I promise to make up the difference in your bills if you should fall short, do you think you could try tithing for just one month?”
After a moment’s pause, John responded, “Sure, if you promise to make up any shortage, I guess I could try tithing for one month.”
“Now, what do you think of that,” mused the pastor. “You say you’d be willing to put your trust in a mere man like myself who possesses so little materially, but you couldn’t trust your Heavenly Father who owns the whole universe!” The next Sunday, John gave his tithe and continued faithfully thereafter.
The Importance of Equality in Giving (2 Corinthians 8:13–15)
Albert Barnes comments on verse 12, “Probably the Corinthians were able to contribute more than many other churches, certainly more than the churches of Macedonia . . . and Paul therefore presses upon them the duty of giving according to their means, yet he by no means intended that the entire burden should come on them.”
The principle of equality teaches that the rich are not to be expected to bear the load alone, and the poor are not to be excused from proportionate responsibility. Not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice.
In prosperity we are to give of our abundance. J. S. Basford rightly said, “It requires a strong constitution to withstand repeated attacks of prosperity.” Proportionately, church stewardship experts say that the more church members make, the less they give. In 1990, American households with incomes of less than $10,000 gave an average of 5.5 percent to charity; and those making more than $100,000 gave only 2.9 percent.
A churchgoing IRS agent recorded the following story several years ago. “The other day I checked a queer return. Some guy with an income under $5,000 claimed he gave $624 to some church. Sure, he was within the 20 percent limit, but it looked mighty suspicious to me. So I dropped in on the guy and asked him about his return. I thought he’d become nervous like most of them do, but not this guy. ‘Have you a receipt from the church?’ I asked, figuring that would make him squirm. ‘Sure,’ he replied, ‘I always drop them in the drawer.’ And off he went to get his checks and receipts. Well, he had me. One look and I knew he was on the level. I apologized for bothering him, explaining that I have to check on deductions that seem unusually high. As I was leaving he invited me to attend his church. ‘Thanks, I belong to a church myself.’ ‘Excuse me,’ he replied, ‘that possibility never occurred to me.’ As I drove home, I kept wondering what he meant by that last remark. It wasn’t until Sunday morning when I put my usual dollar in the offering plate that it came to me.”
John Wesley wrote concerning the importance of giving from our abundance: “I fear wherever riches have increased [that] the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches. What way then can we take that our money may not sink us to the nethermost hell? There is one way, and there is no other under heaven. If those who ‘gain all they can,’ and ‘save all they can,’ will likewise ‘give all they can,’ then the more they gain, the more they will grow in grace, and the more treasure they will lay up in heaven.”
A bumper sticker read, “Tithe if you love Jesus. Any idiot can honk!” But a Bible teacher was closer to the Biblical concept: “Giving a tithe means nothing if God has enabled you to give 50 percent and you give only a tithe.”
In poverty we are to give of our adversity. Christians are sometimes put to shame by unbelievers in the matter of giving in the midst of adversity. A number of years ago the San Francisco Chronicle carried the following story. “One of the poorest countries in Africa has a Rotary Club with a heart. Last February, Carmen McCabe, president of the Rotary Club of Guerneville, California, received a letter from Laurent Nzeyimana, president of the Rotary Club of Bujumbura, capital of Burundi. ‘In the spirit of Rotary International,’ the letter read, ‘a club even as poor as ours wishes to share this modest contribution from the members in response to the flood that has devastated your area. We trust this minute contribution would display our solidarity with you in your time of grief.’ Enclosed was a check for $200.”
Several years ago there was a terrible earthquake in Alaska. The city of Anchorage was devastated. Many people wrote the governor and demanded that he do certain things for them. They outlined the suffering they had endured and demanded that the state take responsibility. Later the governor appeared on television and reported that among all the demands that he had received in the mail came a letter from a small boy, written on a 3 x 5 card, with two nickels taped to it. He had penned these words: “Use this wherever it is needed. If you need more, let me know.”
A woman with no money and too old to work began to pray, “Teach me how to obtain. Give me something to send out to a missionary.” Before her death she was supporting 93 missionaries!
To illustrate the importance of ethics in giving and receiving, the apostle Paul in verse 15 cites an incident in Israel’s history from Exodus 16:18 pertaining to the gathering of manna. The person who greedily appropriated more than his share found that the residue spoiled and was lost. On the other hand, the individual who gathered only that which he needed had no lack at the end of the day. In all things, the Israelite was expected to follow God’s will and Word in receiving and giving.
God expects integrity, willingness, and equality in our giving. When we have fulfilled His will, let’s not be proud of our obedience, but rather thankful for the heavenly grace that has enabled us to give back something to the One who gave His all for us.
Dr. Bud Steadman is the Executive Director of Baptist World Mission.
(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)