Editor’s Note: This is the seventh full article in the series on giving and receiving. Here are the links for the first article, second article, Q&A on the second article, third article, fourth article, fifth article, Q&A on the third through fifth articles, and sixth article.
In previous articles, we have seen some of the basics of giving. In this article, we will begin from the definition of post-Pentecost giving as described in article four. With the freedom of giving in the post-Pentecost church in mind, we will develop what it means to cultivate a giving mindset. We will find that, as we mature in Christ, giving will become more of a habit or lifestyle. Mature Christians give with ease, grace, and frequency.
In article four, we saw that the three basic ways of giving are to support ministers, to support missions, and to support the poor. In the post-Pentecost Church, God has the ability to communicate with His people directly, guiding them on how and when to give. This marks a vibrant and clear distinction from the time before Pentecost, when the majority of Israel did not have a spiritual connection with God. Because of this, God set up a system to guide the Israelites into giving an appropriate amount to the right causes. This system is useful in reminding us what God considers important but serves no major function in the Church today. Modern Christians also have the example of the first-century Church to see how and when to give.
Let’s take a look at some examples from the early Church. We’ll start with the positive example of Cornelius.
Acts 10:1-8 (ESV)
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort,
a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.
About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.”
And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.
And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter.
He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him,
and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
Cornelius was a Gentile, and at this point in his life, he was not born again. However, Luke described him as being “devout” and one who respected God. What examples did Luke give to support this analysis? He said that Cornelius gave generous alms and prayed frequently. While “alms” most literally means “acts of mercy or pity,” it typically is used of giving to the poor (see Acts 24:17 and Luke 12:33 for two such examples). Notice that giving to the poor is viewed in the same spiritual context as praying. God saw that this man loved Him. Cornelius did not pay to receive the holy spirit or this visit from Simon Peter. The gifts of God cannot be bought (Acts 8:20). God noticed his heart through his prayers and almsgiving and knew he would be receptive to the gospel. The quality of Cornelius’ life was evident in how he gave to the poor and prayed to God. If you read the rest of the record, you will find that Cornelius and his whole household were saved and manifested holy spirit via speaking in tongues. We can never be good enough to earn salvation. Similarly, Cornelius did not earn the visit from the angel or earn the salvation of his house. However, his receptivity to God was shown in how he acted. Luke recorded his example, in part, for us to learn about how to cultivate godly behavior.
Now, let’s take a look at a negative example: the example of Ananias and Sapphira.
Acts 4:32-5:11 (ESV)
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold
and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus,
sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?
While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”
When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.”
But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”
Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
During this time in the church, as certain people displayed need, wealthier people sold land and gave the proceeds to the apostles to distribute to the poor. There was no law in place that suggested that all of the proceeds from the sale must go to the poor. Peter made that clear with his confrontation with Ananias. Ananias and Sapphira had wrong intentions and determined to lie about the sale of their property. Satan had filled their hearts to lie to God (through lying to His people). Peter wanted them to be honest so they could ask for forgiveness for lying about their situation—it was never about the amount of money they gave! We don’t know exactly what happened to them, but we do know that the devil is ultimately responsible for death (Hebrews 2:14). Again, we see that a major component in giving is the attitude with which we give.
Although we have already briefly mentioned this before, it is worth mentioning again that we cannot pay for the gifts of God. No Christian can do enough to gain salvation by works, and no Christian can pay for a spiritual gift beyond salvation, such as a ministry. Some churches teach that certain levels of service require certain amounts of giving. Other churches teach that you can receive additional revelation from God or achieve further financial prosperity simply by increasing the proportion of giving. It is true that God loves and blesses a cheerful giver (II Corinthians 9:7-8). But none of the gifts of God are paid for by our actions. This is abundantly clear in Acts.
Acts 8:14-24 (ESV)
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John,
who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,
saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!
You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.
Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.
For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”
And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
Simon the sorcerer converted to Christianity and began to worship the true God. Simon began to follow Philip and the other leaders to learn more from them about ministering to God’s people. When he saw the power that the apostles manifested, he wanted to pay them for a gift of God! Peter’s response to him is clear: you cannot pay for the gift of God. Furthermore, Peter stated that Simon’s heart was not right before God for even thinking that you could buy the gift of God! And yet some churches today teach that very thing. How important is our heart with respect to living and giving?
How then should the Christian give? What is the basis for developing a giving mindset? The first key is to focus less on a specific amount and more on cultivating the correct attitude. This does not mean that Christians should significantly reduce what they are giving—the attitude of cheerful giving will necessitate ample giving in every category of life. The attitude fuels the amount. One great section we can see this is in II Corinthians 9.
II Corinthians 9:6-8 (ESV)
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
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.
Many people read this section and think that it is talking about “amount.” Generally, when we think about sowing bountifully and sowing sparingly, we think about the amount of seed sown. However, the Greek phrases underlying these words are illuminating. The word “bountifully” is translated from the Greek phrase epi eulogia, which literally means “with praise.” And the context makes great sense of this understanding, because verse seven is entirely about attitude and not about amount. Christians should endeavor to cultivate a bountiful and cheerful disposition towards giving. What a wonderful life we can live knowing that God will take care of us! We can simply look to give bountifully, praising God as we look for ways to give and serve in our lives everyday.
The second key is to recognize that everything is God’s. In the Old Testament, David recognized that God was the Supplier of all things good. He could never give anything to God that did not originate with God in the first place (I Chronicles 29:14). Isn’t this much more relevant to the Christian, who has been bought with a price? Along with many other Christian writers, I suggest that God owns everything in the life of the Christian.
I Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Christians have been bought with a price. We are no longer our own. This must include the things that we “think” that we own.
Luke 14:25-27 (ESV)
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
To understand this section, we must understand the word “hate” from an Eastern perspective. To “hate” something, in this context, is to give it less affection and love than something else. What Jesus is saying here is that we must put the kingdom of God first, we must bear our cross first, and put our families and, yes, even our own lives as secondary to that goal. The graceful, bountiful, generous Christian man or woman understands that he/she does not own anything. Everything in his or her life is God’s.
The third key is to recognize that God wants to work with us in the category of finances to teach us about how He works within us. The financial category is something that people can make sense of in the material realm. It is a tangible and quantifiable category of life. God designed this category of life to be a way for us to learn how to work with Him and see His designs for our lives.
Luke 16:10-12 (ESV)
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.
If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?
And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?
This famous account is in the financial context. There are two parables in the context of this section. The first parable is the parable of the unjust steward. The point of this parable is that the steward did not do right by his master. As a result, he was about to be put out of his master’s house. His reaction to this was to further cheat his master so that his master’s debtors would take him in. Jesus clearly was not justifying this behavior. He was encouraging people to be faithful. The second parable is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The point of this parable is that the rich man ignored the suffering of Lazarus outside of his gate. Lazarus is a “type” of believer—he is the type that suffers in this world in the physical categories. The rich man is a “type” of unbeliever—one who puts his faith in his money over his faith in God. Both parables fit the context of covetousness and proper stewardship, which is the main theme of the passage (see verses 10-14 and 18). Jesus Christ, through these sayings and parables, is emphasizing the proper use of life, beginning with the financial category. He who is “faithful in a very little” is faithful in the financial category. This section also uses the terminology “faithful in that which is another’s” to refer to the same thing. These are both references to worldly possessions and goods. The ancient Hebrews believed that God owned the whole world and everything contained in it (Psalms 24:1). He who is “faithful in much” is he who is faithful in spiritual things. This section also uses the terminology of “that which is your own.” These are both references to spiritual realities conferred upon the individual through God’s grace. The “true riches” are only conferred upon those who single-mindedly are faithful to God in every category. Thus, the whole point of this passage on stewardship is to highlight the facts that the Christian is to steward his life for God’s glory in every category of life, starting with the financial category.
The Christian must not strive for worldly goods or riches—he must be faithful to give in the financial category to those who are less fortunate than him. In addition, he must continue building that godly attitude of service through freewill giving, and he must give of his abundance in every category of life. The point of the whole passage is that if the believer is not “faithful in least” (willing to give freely in the financial category), then he will not be “faithful in much” (willing to give freely in the spiritual category). The believer thus must grow in his capacity and desire to give as he progresses through the stages of Christian development.
What should (and shouldn’t) a church organization do to help the people in their congregation develop in this category? First, the church has no responsibility to tell people how much to give or even where to give (or still further, force members to direct deposit to the church, which does happen in some churches). If the church is providing the right services, especially supporting ministers, supporting missions, and supporting the poor, then strong Christians will give to that organization. Beyond that, if a church organization (i.e.-church leadership) is walking with God, that organization will not have to worry about finances, because God will be sure to prosper that church. Second, a church should encourage the people attending their church to grow their attitude of giving to the point of giving bountifully in every category of life. God doesn’t just “own” our finances; He is the Ruler of everything in our lives. Our time, abilities, and financial resources are all ways that we can contribute to His kingdom. Strong churches cultivate that attitude among the entire congregation. Third, a church should develop a framework for the people in the congregation to serve others through missions and work with the local poor community. What a witness this can be to the community of the value of Christian organizations! Fourth, a church should teach the correct doctrine surrounding giving. Too many churches teach legalism surrounding this topic. As we have seen, it is not about the amount to God—it is about the attitude. It is vital for the growth of the Body of Christ that churches stop teaching the tithe and other forms of legalism. Churchgoers, you have every right to demand more from the church you attend.
Mature Christians develop and sustain the correct attitude towards giving: they give bountifully, praising God and recognizing His support in their lives. They know that God will take care of their needs—they focus on the needs of others. Mature Christians do not need a set of rules to dictate when, where, and how much to give—mature Christians are constantly looking to give in every category of life. Israel needed a set of rules because the average Israelite did not have the spirit of God. After Pentecost, every Christian has a direct spiritual connection with God Almighty. This gives Christians the exciting opportunity to work with the Creator on how to spend His time, money, and expertise through them. What a joy that is!
 See any good Bible dictionary. For example, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago: Moody Press (1985), page 539.