Everyone should do as they have determined in their heart, not in a gloomy spirit or simply because they have to, since “God loves a cheerful giver.” ~ 2 Corinthians 9:7
Giving of our resources has always been an important task of God’s people. In the Old Testament there was a series of tithes (a one-tenth of something) and offerings established for various purposes. Some were simply sacrificed to God as an act of faith, trusting him as the ultimate Giver. Others were given to support the poor or the Levites who served as priests and had no territory of their own among Israel.
In the New Testament giving continues to be an important part of following Jesus. Through the pages of scripture we find three primary purposes for giving.
First, is to help the poor and needy. This, arguably, is the most important reason to give of what we have as more is said about it than any other form of giving. In Deuteronomy we find a vivid illustration of what it means to give generously. Moses called the people to “open wide your hand” to the poor and needy in their land. A wide-open hand is a sign of generosity from a heart that refuses to be stingy.
In the New Testament, Jesus spoke about how his followers would give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked (Matthew 25:31-46). Many in the early church went so far as to sell home and property so there would not be “a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34-35). Paul commanded the rich to enjoy their wealth but also “to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). And his encouragement to give in 2 Corinthians 8&9 was in the context of helping the poor in Jerusalem.
Second, is to support missionaries in their work to spread the gospel to places most of us will not be able to go. Paul encouraged Titus and the churches he helped lead to speed some men on their way, one of which was a known traveling preacher, and to “see that they lack nothing” (Titus 3:13). Paul also thanked the church at Philippi for their contributions to his missionary work and told them they could stop giving since he was fully supplied for the moment (Philippians 4:10-20). Such selfless giving to see the gospel spread is a good example for us all.
Third, is to support the daily functioning of the local church and especially so that the leaders are free to pray, study, and teach without the burden of other work. Though Paul gave up this right while in Corinth (thus showing that there may be appropriate times for self-funded or bi-vocational church leaders, depending on the circumstances), he spoke of having the right to be supported by the church, saying, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” (1 Corinthians 9:11). And Paul told Timothy to make sure the elders (pastors, overseers, leaders) of the church were supported, “especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
In whatever act of giving, Paul told the Corinthians that “God loves a cheerful giver.” In the New Testament we don’t find percentages assigned to these gifts. The New Testament doesn’t tell us that 5% must go here or 10% there. Instead, Paul wrote that each person should determine what God wants them to give—this to be understood in seeking God’s will through prayer and the Bible. And then give happily what God has led them to.
A heart that has been changed by the generosity of God toward us in Jesus will not have to be compelled to give. The generosity of God breeds generosity among his people. Thus, we will want to give. And if we seek God and his will in our giving, we will become people who give cheerfully, especially to help the needs of others.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.