Giving money away is the barometer of Christian joy. At least it can be. While it is possible to give a portion of our income to the Lord’s work for the wrong reasons (to earn favor with God, to ease a guilty conscience, or even to impress our friends), truly joyful Christians can’t help but be joyful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7). Giving is a reflex of Christian joy. Believers who have been captivated by the love of God and who are convinced of the providential care He provides find themselves giving generously. And then their giving, like all obedience, produces more joy.
While the above is true, it is also true that evangelical Christians don’t give anywhere near 10 percent of their income to the Lord’s work. Yes, they do better than those from liberal churches, but nevertheless, only a small percentage of evangelical Christians put their money where their joy is.
William Lobdell, formerly a religion writer for the Los Angeles Times, chronicled the loss of his own Christian faith in Losing My Religion (Publishing Company, 2009). One of the factors contributing to Lobell’s departure from the fold was the stinginess of his fellow believers. He reflects, Only a very few, often on the fringes of mainstream or evangelical Christianity, behave with their money as if they believe the Gospel is actually true.
Does my giving really testify to my belief or disbelief in the Gospel? Definitely. Jesus told us to take no thought for tomorrow (Mathew 6:34), to be generous like the widow who had nothing and shared everything (Luke 21:2), and to give to anyone who asks (Matthew 5:42). Giving both demonstrates that we are faithful and it increases our faith. Giving teaches us to believe in and rely upon God’s providential care for his children. As Randy Alcorn put it in Money, Possessions, and Eternity, “God’s grace is the lightning. Our giving is the thunder. Thunder is both a result and a testimony of the lightning.”
It was the autumn of 1939 when C. S. Lewis climbed the stairs of a pulpit in an Oxford church and preached to the students who attended. His sermon had a title: “Learning in Wartime.” In the sermon, we gather that some of the students were finding it difficult to keep their minds in the books because of the coming war in Europe. Excitement, frustration, and fear, all intensified by the war, were seen by Lewis as roadblocks to the students’ responsibility to study and prepare their minds for their calling in life. One by one, Lewis demolished these impediments to undergraduate scholarship. Hear what he said:
“The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.”
As I write, we stand at the edge of a much smaller precipice. We do not face the megalomaniac machinations of Adolf Hitler, but we wonder where we are going as a people. What will become of our economy, and what will become of the American dream? Will the stimulus package work? Will health care become affordable or hopelessly Canadian? Will the national debt sink us, or will congressional spending save us? Et cetera.
To paraphrase Lewis, the economic war and the uncertainty of our times create absolutely no new situation.…The recession simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it…So let us consider our giving in economic wartime. Will we be among those who put our money where our joy is? With the above in mind, I have three suggestions.
First, give some of your money away. If you are in debt, give. If you are gainfully employed, give. If you are only making a fraction of what you deserve and need, give. If you plan to make a lot of money when you grow old and give it away, start giving now. I spoke with a woman in our church who has been married more than thirty years. She told me that in the year 2008, she and her husband got out of credit-card debt for the first time since they got married. Overjoyed to tell me the news, she added, For the first time we’ve met our giving goals, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. She is absolutely right. Giving reduces debt because it compels us to gain control of our spending. And gaining control of our spending increases our ability to give.
Second, begin with a tenth. Tithing (tenthing) is a good place to start giving. In Old Testament times God’s people were called to give a tenth of all their income to the Lord’s work and then to be generous givers on top of that. Let’s trust God with a tenth of our income and then look for other avenues for generosity.
Third, give through your church. Let’s not bicker over how much or what percentage of your giving needs to be channeled through your local church. Yes, there is room for biblical giving to your favorite ministry or missionary. In fact, if we were all tenthing, there would be more money in Christian ministry out there than we would know how to handle. But if we are called to live out the Christian faith in the context of the church, we ought to first participate in the financial commitments and ministries of that body of believers. Giving through our local church is an act of submission (Hebrews 13:17) and an act of ownership. It is a part of our worship. Our heart follows our treasure (Matthew 6:21). When we give through our church, we find our hearts grafted to the ministries it supports. We own them, and they own us.
It was C. T. Studd, the famous cricket-player-turned-missionary, who penned the line, “Only one life will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” Corny poetry perhaps, but as true as gravity. When our lives are spent and gone, most of the things we poured our money into will die with us. But our giving will endure forever.