Editor’s Note: This is the sixth 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, and Q&A on the third through fifth articles.
When I was younger, there were (occasionally) days when I would go to sleep with a grand plan to get things done the following day. I would fantasize about how I would spit shine my room and how the bathroom would glimmer and all the laundry would be clean and put away. And then I would run and tell my mom, and she would tear up with how wonderful her daughter was … And then my mom would wake me up and inform me that we would be spending the day cleaning. And in spite of the fact that that was already my plan and I had actually been excited about it until that moment, suddenly the bubble would burst and I would become recalcitrant and grumpy. Why?
When I was originally formulating my grand plans, I was excited to give. I was doing it from the heart and couldn’t wait to surprise and bless those around me. When I was told that I had to clean, my free will was interrupted, and suddenly the idea lost its shimmer. Most of us have surprised a friend with a gift; the whole process is a joy, from seeing it in the store and instantly thinking of that person to packaging it up to delivering it and watching their face light up. “Occasion” gifts are slightly less fun. We all know the holiday stress. Although ultimately we still get the reward of watching our loved ones’ delight as they open their presents, the whole process can tend to be more stressful than enjoyable. We humans, left to our own devices, generally enjoy giving. But under obligation, it quickly becomes stale.
Our Christian giving operates under that same principle. Unfortunately, many Christians faithfully calculate and give their tithe, or drop money in the collection box every Sunday because we’re pretty sure that’s what Christians are supposed to do. We don’t feel any obligation as such, but experience a twinge of guilt if we give a little less than last week or cut from 10% to 9.5% if money gets a little tight. This kind of obligatory, mundane giving gives us very little joy. We may feel comfort knowing that God will take care of us as we give, or satisfaction in contributing to a cause we love, but as for excitement and delight? Very little. Fortunately, as we will explore in this study, God is well aware that we have the capacity to delight in our giving if it isn’t forced or required, and it is exactly this sort of cheerful, delighted giving that He desires of us.
This may come as a surprise, but even in the Old Testament, which most of us think of mainly for its 600 plus laws, God was far more focused on attitude than strict adherence to the specific laws of tithe and sacrifice. The laws that God put in place had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with God being hungry for animal sacrifices or thirsty for blood or fond of watching His pets jump through hoops. Consider the Psalms.
Psalms 89:11 (ESV)
The heavens are yours [God’s]; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
Psalms 50:7 –13 (ESV)
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Isreal, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?
Everything belongs to God. Believe it or not, He doesn’t actually need any physical thing that people could or can give Him. In Deuteronomy, God makes it clear who all of those laws were actually for.
Deuteronomy 6:24 (ESV)
And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.
The requirements of the Law were always for His people’s good. Demanding as the laws may have seemed, they were also practical, and the Israelites were always better off for keeping them. The laws of tithe and sacrifice were important to make sure the Levites and the priests were taken care of, as well as the poor among the tribes. They also served as a reminder of the goodness of God.
The laws were for the people’s benefit. Yet even if the Israelites kept the laws to the letter, but failed to give their hearts to God, though they may have retained the practical benefits of giving, the spiritual blessings and God’s delight in their sacrifices were removed. Saul made this mistake, and it cost him his kingdom.
I Samuel 15: 22, 23 (ESV)
And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”
This speech was from Samuel, speaking to Saul after he had failed to listen to God and destroy all of the Amalakites. Thinking he knew better, and that God might prefer a nice sacrifice to what He had actually commanded, Saul kept the best of the spoil to offer as a sacrifice to God. God, through Samuel, made it clear that He had little use for sacrifices themselves, but preferred the trust and obedience of His people. God elaborated on this further in Isaiah.
Isaiah 1: 11 – 20 (ESV)
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?
Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations – I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct opposition; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;
But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
In this passage, God told the Isrealites that, although they were apparently doing everything right – making the sacrifices and keeping the feasts and Sabbaths that He commanded – He was sick of all of their religious pantomiming and didn’t want what they were offering. They were keeping His commandments to the technical letter, but their hearts were dark, they were cruel and unloving toward those around them, and their deeds were evil. However, we see that if they had been willing to repent and change, to start loving and helping those around and among them, God would have forgiven them, accepted their offerings, and caused them to prosper.
I’ve started in the Old Testament to make it clear that, even when sacrifices and tithes were a requirement under the law, God still didn’t want just obligatory giving. God has always desired only one main thing from His people: our hearts. Since the law has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ and is no longer our schoolmaster, we now have the opportunity to give with complete freedom: no obligations, no requirements. There is no set time or amount. There is no requirement to give anything at all if we don’t want to. Under these conditions we can feel completely free to give of ourselves and our resources without restriction. Let’s look at some of the scriptures that outline the conditions under which we can give in this time after Pentecost.
Mark 12: 28 – 33 (ESV)
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Isreal: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him.
And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
In a jaw-dropping move, Jesus here took the approximately 613 laws of the Old Testament and reduced them down to two: love God with everything that you have, and love your neighbor as yourself. The brilliance of this is that obeying these two laws does not actually eliminate the rest; it fulfills them. If we love God first and others as much of ourselves, then our hearts will be correct and there will be no question of stealing, killing, taking advantage, slandering, or any of the other hurtful things the Old Testament laws seek to avoid. There will also be no question about how much we should give or to whom. If we are loving others the way we love ourselves, we will see the needs that arise and want to do everything in our power to relieve them. II Corinthians elaborates more specifically on giving.
II Corinthians 9:7, 8, 11, 12 (ESV)
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.
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.
That’s juicy! Let’s dig it a little bit. The word “decided” is defined by Strong’s Concordance as “to choose for oneself before another thing (prefer), i.e. (by implication) to propose (intend): purpose.” This decision whether to give and how to give is very personal and preferential. God leaves it up to us. He no longer tells us when, how, how much, or to whom we are to give. It’s our choice. Matthew 10:8 (KJV) says, “Freely you have received, freely give.” Although the original context in Matthew 10 is giving spiritually, this truth applies to financial giving as well. We have been given so much, and we have so much freedom to give. I love the definition “prefer.” When we look at all the options of what we could potentially do with our resources, we can prefer giving to other options that may selfishly tempt us. What cause makes your heart ache? What friend’s dilemma keeps you up at night? What project fills you with excitement? Give there. Give freely where you decide to give.
Returning to verse 7 of II Corinthians 9, “reluctantly” could be translated “with grief” or “with heaviness,” and “under compulsion” as “out of necessity or constraint.” God does not want us to give because we feel like we have to or should. If it’s causing us any sort of sorrow or conflict to give, we should probably stop and focus on getting our hearts correct before we give more. A key to giving, which you don’t typically hear about in church but is very clear in this verse, is – if you don’t want to give, you don’t need to give. Giving grudgingly can be a danger to our spiritual walk. If we give grudgingly, the promised blessings and prosperity are unlikely to follow, and if we fail to recognize the source of our lack as our own hardness of heart it can lead to blaming God and erosion of our trust in Him. No, in contrast to this giving out of constraint or obligation, God loves cheerful givers. In fact, the word “cheerful” is the Greek word “hilaros,” from which we derive the English word “hilarious.” Our giving should be downright delightful to us!
The next verses show some of the benefits of giving that can contribute to our cheerfulness as we give. God will continue to supply us with sufficiency and surplus so we can “abound in every good work.” He keeps us enriched in every way so we can be generous in every way. This concept of God keeping us supplied with a surplus so that we can give is found throughout the New Testament. The more we give, the more we will have to give. Although avarice should never be a reason to give, this giving and receiving principle is a great benefit. It can be such a carefree joy to give because we know that God is the one ultimately responsible for our well-being and care, and that He will make sure we have enough that our needs as well as our generosity are covered. Additionally to the personal benefit to the giver is the obvious benefit to the recipients and the overall result of thanksgiving to God, who is the ultimate Giver.
We’ve seen that we can and should give freely and cheerfully. What other characteristics can our attitude of giving have? Romans 12: 8 (KJV) states, “He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity.” The word “simplicity” is defined by Strong’s Concordance as “singleness, simplicity, sincerity, mental honesty; the virtue of one who is free from pretense and dissimulation.” Our giving should be simply that: giving. There should be no hypocritical motives, no desire for recognition, no expectation of return (at least from people). Just giving for the simple joy of helping someone who needs it. Jesus puts it plainly in Matthew 6.
Matthew 6: 1 – 4 (ESV)
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from you Father who is in heaven.
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing
So that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Along with a lack of hypocrisy, this word “simplicity” also implies a lack of double-mindedness. When we give, we shouldn’t be second guessing or hesitating. Once we decide to give somewhere, we should give cheerfully and never look back. Three months down the road if money gets unexpectedly tight, we shouldn’t look back and regret—that will only prevent our unhindered giving in the future. Remember, God promises to supply both our need and our generosity. There is no need for us to second guess or hold back because we’re worried that our gift may be required in the future for our need. We can give simply, no hesitation and no hidden motives.
Our only motivation, in fact, should be love. It says so right in “the love chapter.”
I Corinthians 13: 3 (ESV)
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Even if we were to give away everything we had, if we did it without love, there would be no profit for us. Of course, the people we contributed to would still be blessed, but we would be like Saul or the Israelites that Isaiah corrected: though going through the motions correctly, our hearts would be wrong. If we’re truly loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as much as ourselves, our love will be all the motivation we need to give generously.
I encourage you all to find rest and comfort in your absolute freedom to give as you choose, and to find the opportunities to give that bring you joy and delight. God delights in our giving, but only when it is done freely, cheerfully, simply, and with a heart of love. In giving, we have an amazing opportunity to bring blessings to both ourselves and others, and cause great thanksgiving to God. Our ability to give in this way truly is a gift.