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Six Questions about Biblical Giving

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–Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is adapted from the chapter on giving in Twelve Traits: Embracing God’s Design for the Church by David Platt. 

Why Do We Give?

First, we give as an expression of God’s worship. The church at Corinth was instructed to give “on the first day of the week” (1 Cor 16:2). The church met on Sundays to worship, and God instructed them to set aside an offering when they gathered. The church does not receive an offering on Sundays simply because it is convenient. The church receives an offering on Sundays because it has been the practice of God’s people since the church was first formed nearly two thousand years ago.

Since an offering is taken each week, it can easily become a mindless routine. But what is happening is far more powerful than that. In the middle of the gathering, the church stops to acknowledge that God is Lord over its money and that He is much more valuable than gold or silver. The church gladly gives its money in worship to God because He is more satisfying and more wonderful than anything money can buy.  

Second, we give as the overflow of God’s grace. The word translated “gift” in verse 3 is the Greek word charis, which means “grace.” This passage does not demand an obligatory offering in the church but rather giving compelled by grace. We do not give because we have to but because we want to. We do not give because we think things will go well for us in return. We give because we are overwhelmed by the grace God has given to us in the gospel. 

Who Gives?

Every follower of Jesus is called by God to give. Paul says, “. . . each of you is to put something aside” (v. 2). This letter was not written only to members of the church with a certain economic standing or financial status. It was for everybody. In the church at Corinth, there were members at both ends of the economic spectrum, some very poor and some very wealthy, yet all were instructed to give. So also today, all Christians should give because the same grace has saved all of us, and the same Lord reigns over all of us.

Whatever God says, His people do. After all, a Christian is one who follows Christ as Lord. This is not a one-time decision, but rather a commitment to follow Christ as your life. Everything you have, including your possessions, plans, dreams, and even your kids, belongs to Jesus. And He has commanded His people to give. 

Where Do We Give?

Christians give to and through the local church. The offering mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16 was for the saints at Jerusalem, and it was collected in the church at Corinth. Each Christian would bring his or her gifts to the church weekly, and the church would then set aside the gifts for this specific purpose.

Sometimes we have the idea that we are on our own in the Christian life, and we can each give wherever and however we want to. It is not wrong, at various times and for various reasons, to give outside the church. However, the New Testament puts a clear priority on giving to the church for ministry through the church. This is what we see the first Christians doing in the early chapters of Acts. They brought their gifts and offerings to the gathering of the church and laid them at the apostles’ feet. These followers of Christ were pooling their resources for purposes far greater than any one of them could accomplish individually. Their generosity fueled unity in the church and unity between churches. This is another reminder that God has not called us to be isolated givers. We give together in the church, and as the church we decide together how that money is used.

When Do We Give?

In short, we give regularly. The expectation in the church at Corinth was that followers of Christ would give “every week” (v. 2). Now that does not mean if your paycheck comes bi-weekly or monthly that you are biblically required to space out your giving to fit a weekly schedule. But it does reveal a clear pattern: the Bible expects Christ-followers to give regularly. We do not wait for an emotional appeal to come our way or for a bonus check to land in our lap, nor do we give sporadically based on whether we feel like we can afford it. Regardless of what our financial situation is, we should regularly put something aside to give. 

How Much Should We Give?

The word “tithe” means “a tenth,” and in the Old Testament tithes were given to support God’s people, Israel (Lev 27:30; Num 18:21–24; Deut 14:22–23, 28–29). Keep in mind that Old Testament Israel was unique. They were not simply a spiritual community, like the church is today; they were also a political nation, so some of the funds they would collect were similar to what we would classify as taxes today.  

When you add it up, the Israelites gave about 20% of their yearly income, and then every three years they gave another 10%. The average, then, came to about 23% per year, and even that was not the total sum of their giving. There were also various offerings (Exodus 23:16; 35:29). In sum, then, the tithe was just the beginning point. It was a floor, not a ceiling. There was no ceiling. Giving in the Old Testament was never intended to be a dutiful, dreary set of offerings that weighed down God’s people. It was, instead, an opportunity to gladly acknowledge the Giver of all good gifts. 

In the New Testament, we do not find a specific command to tithe. Instead, we see many examples of giving that go beyond the tithe. Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy” (Lk 12:33). He tells one man to sell every single thing he has (Lk 18:22), and in the very next chapter, a new follower of Christ gives away over half of his possessions (Lk 19:8). And, as we’ve already seen, the early church in Acts did what Jesus said to do: they sold their possessions and belongings and distributed the proceeds to the needy (Acts 2:45; 4:34–35). Moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament, then, we see expanded giving, not diminished giving. This makes sense when we remember what compels us to give, namely, the overflow of God’s grace.  

If you’re still wondering where to begin, then start your giving with a tithe. Some, due to serious financial difficulties, may need to take some steps over time to get to that point, but the general practice for Christians should be to at least start their giving with a tithe. Tithing honors a biblical principle, one that the Old Testament explained, Jesus endorsed, and the early church practiced. Do not let tithing be the finish line but rather the starting block. 

What Happens When We Give?

When we solicit financial advice, we look for the closest thing possible to a guarantee. We want to make sure that our money will bring a good return. If you give in obedience to Scripture, then you have at least three guarantees. First, your heart will be changed. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). If you spend your money on the things of this world, then that is where your heart will be. But if you spend your money on the things of God, then your heart will be with Him and the things that honor Him. Second, giving guarantees that the church will be edified. As we give to the church and through the church, the church is further strengthened to become that which God designed it to be. Third, giving guarantees that God will be glorified. How do we fight the idolatry of money in our culture and the love of money in our hearts? We give as God has called us to give. 

–For a free download of Twelve Traits: Embracing God’s Design for the Church by David Platt, go here.

David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and president of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.
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