If one were to bring up the topic of generosity or giving in church today, they would probably receive a mixed response depending on which side of ministry one finds themself. If you’re a normal church attendee, you probably don’t want to hear a sermon on giving because it is usually followed by a call to give to a special project by the church or by an announcement that the church isn’t meeting its financial needs.
If you’re a pastor, you probably don’t want to preach a sermon on this subject for that exact stigma and usually, it’s followed by some rude emails that claim you have a lack of faith for not trusting God with the financial future of the church. However, it’s of vital importance that we not only have these conversations in church about the what (giving), but the why (generosity) as well.
To be honest, it’s a hard balance to strike when speaking of financial generosity because, on one hand, you have those who believe that New Testament believers are called to tithe (or give 1/10 of their income) whereas other Christians believe generosity is to be free from specific percentages (2 Corinthians 9:7). Whatever side of the debate you fall on, we can all agree that God wants us to be cheerful in our giving (2 Corinthians (9:6-7). Over my years of being involved in a church and teaching generosity, I’ve seen three responses to the question of “Why do you give?” that should be addressed because frankly, they are terrible reasons to give, especially to our churches.
1. I feel guilty for not giving.
This one is listed first primarily because a lot of people fall under this category, and it is something that garners a lot of sympathy from me. For so many Christians, they’ve been fed messages of legalism and prosperity gospel that tells them that they are stealing from God if they don’t give or if they don’t give 10% or more to their church, they won’t reap God’s blessing for their lives. A lot of manipulation has been utilized in the preaching of giving to get people to give to their churches when we haven’t even stopped to ask, “Are we asking people to give for the right reasons?” While it’s possible that some do not care about this distinction, Scripture points to the heart of giving is more important than the giving itself. Read what the Apostle Paul has to say about this:
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7
It’s also helpful to consider the distinction between guilt and conviction in the life of a believer. While conviction comes from the Holy Spirit to guide us into making decisions that reflect more of Christ (John 16:8), guilt and shame only come from the enemy. The book of Hebrews sheds some light on this subject:
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. “- Hebrews 10:22
Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we no longer must bear the burden of our guilty consciences. We are freed from that burden because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Does this mean we never feel bad for doing wrong? Of course not! But rather than guilt and shame telling us lies about how disappointed God is in us, we rather face conviction that leads us to live more faithfully to Christ’s call. Conviction is the opposite of guilt because, rather than drawing us away from God into isolation, it draws us toward God to His grace and forgiveness so we may be free to live as He desires us. Simply put, when we give out of guilt or obligation, we’re not fully embracing the freedom that comes from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the extravagant joy that comes from giving generously considering that freedom.
Conviction is the opposite of guilt because, rather than drawing us away from God into isolation, it draws us toward God to His grace and forgiveness so we may be free to live as He desires us.
2. I want to control what the church does.
While some may think this problem is relatively new considering updated digital platforms that allow people to give to certain aspects of a church’s budget, the reality is that this issue is nothing new. We even see this problem highlighted in Scripture. Mark 7 talks about a situation where Jesus is dialoguing with the Pharisees regarding the subject of “Corban”. If you aren’t familiar with what Corban is, here is a description from Got Questions:
“Moses had instructed God’s people to “honor their father and mother” (Exodus 20:12), but the Pharisees negated that command by teaching that they could give money to the temple in lieu of helping their parents in need. Whatever money might have been used to provide for aging parents could be dedicated to the temple treasury instead. Saying, “It is Corban” would exempt a person from his responsibility to his parents. In other words, the Pharisees took a legitimate Corban offering and used it in an illegitimate and devious way to defraud their parents (and enrich themselves). Thus, the Law of God was nullified. Jesus tells the Pharisees that their misuse of Corban was an evil rationale to avoid doing what they should. God never intended that the good principle of devoting something to the temple should be twisted to dishonor fathers and mothers.”
While this situation doesn’t refer to giving to specific ministries of a church, it does capture the heart of this point, which is: control. The Pharisees didn’t want to have to provide for their parents so they decided to give money that could’ve helped their parents and consider it “Corban” so they could set it apart according to the Law. However, Jesus is quick to point out that this is evil because the Pharisees were committed to the letter of the Law rather than the spirit of it. They were giving to the church, so they didn’t have to give to those they didn’t want to.
Sadly, with a lot of churches today, some members give to certain ministries because they don’t want to give to the general ledger. This often happens because a pastor might have done something they disagreed with, so they are trying to silently voice their opinion by not giving to the pastor. Not only does this cause problems that only cause more division, but it also communicates that our giving isn’t bearing the heart of generosity. When we give to our churches to control them and then withhold our giving as soon as we don’t like something, we financially hold the body of Christ hostage. If this reflects your heart toward giving to your church, it is just better that you keep that money because the simplicity of not having your gift far outweighs the financial benefits of receiving it.
If you’d like to learn of more reasons why designated giving may not be a good idea for your church, Dr. Thom Rainer provides an excellent analysis here.
3. I feel better about myself when I give.
Now before we get any further, there needs to be some nuance in saying that there is a difference between someone being blown away by how God has provided when they find out how much they gave in a previous year vs. someone who feels like they are above others because they offered a certain amount. We see this mindset on full display in Luke 18 in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector when the Pharisee prayed:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ – Luke 18:11-12
Of course, if you read the rest of the story, you see this stark contrast between someone who displays a lack of humility about their standing before God (Pharisee) and someone who displays a very humble attitude about their short comings and lack of merit (Tax Collector). It’s clear from this story that the Pharisee has found their identity in how well they supposedly keep the Law when it’s apparent that they couldn’t have missed more of the point.
By no means am I telling people that they can’t have great joy in reflecting on God’s generosity in their lives, but if it causes us to feel like we are better or more spiritually mature than others who may not give as much (as if we could know that), that’s when we get into the dangerous territory of pride. There are excellent ways to celebrate generosity goals in our lives, but we must never act as if we did this without God’s enabling grace and provision (Deuteronomy 8:18).
There are excellent ways to celebrate generosity goals in our lives, but we must never act as if we did this without God’s enabling grace and provision (Deuteronomy 8:18).
Giving for the right reasons.
As we reflect on what it means to be generous followers of Christ, may we not give merely because we’re told to. May we give because we see that God has invited us all on this generosity mission of His as we understand more of what it means to be generous in all our resources. If we want to reflect on our generosity, Art Rainer has a great framework to look through:
· Giving is to be a priority (Proverbs 3:9).
· Giving is to be done proportionally (Malachi 3:10).
· Giving is to be done sacrificially (2 Samuel 24:24).
· Giving is to be done cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Whatever that number ends up being, give that amount with complete joy, knowing that you are contributing to God’s work in the world. Regardless of how that number compares to others, we must never forget that generosity looks different for everyone (Luke 21:1-4). We can always know that this gift honors and pleases God when given cheerfully.
So the next time we’re at our churches, and we see those plates being passed or we see the giving graphic on the projector screen, may we examine our hearts to make sure we are not only giving to God’s work in the church, but that we give with the proper heart posture because, at the end of the day, Scripture reveals that God cares far more about the latter than the former.