Christian Giving: Seeking A Healthy View of Giving and Tithing

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When it comes to Christian giving, no one passage has caused as much debate as the following Bible verse:

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV)

This passage seems to carry many of the same concepts as the following Old Testament verse:

Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. (Deuteronomy 15:10 NIV)

Traditional Interpretation of 2 Cor 9:7

If you don’t feel like giving, (your heart is not right) then it is better not to give.

I know this is the common explanation because I Googled – “How much should a Christian give” and I looked at a lot of the top articles.  I read all the same stuff said a bunch of different ways.

I scanned through the dozen commentaries I have on my computer – essentially all had the same answer.

If you don’t feel like giving, (your heart is not right) then it is better not to give.

First, let me say I don’t really disagree with the interpretation, but I have trouble accepting whether this traditional application tells the complete story.

The Relationship Between the Heart and Action of Christian Giving

Should we interpret 2 Cor. 9:7 as saying:

When you give, give with a cheerful heart.

OR

If asked to give, decide if you have a cheerful heart.  If not, don’t.

I believe the goal of this passage is to lead us to a both/and conclusion (give and give with a right heart) not an either-or conclusion (if you don’t have a good heart, don’t give).

Paul is saying if your heart is in the wrong place, change it so you can give generously.  Paul is not saying if your heart is in the wrong place, stop giving.

Giving is a Christian Spiritual Discipline

What is a Spiritual Discipline?

A spiritual activity that we learn to do in order to draw closer to God.

Discipline is the other side of discipleship.  The practice of a spiritual discipline makes us more sensitive to the small, gentle voice of God.  Henri Nowen in Making All Things New.

Speaking of solitude, Henri Nowen writes (in Making All Things New):

Once we have committed ourselves to spending time in solitude, we develop an attentiveness to God’s voice in us.  In the beginning, during the first days, weeks, or even months, we may have the feeling that we are simply wasting our time.  … It is clear that what matters is faithfulness to the discipline.  In the beginning, solitude seems so contrary to our desires that we are constantly tempted to run away from it.

I believe the same can be said of giving – it is “so contrary to our desires that we are constantly tempted to run away from it”.

How then can we apply the traditional application to giving – give only if you “want to”?

True or False: I don’t feel like reading the Bible, so it is probably better for me not to read the Bible.

True or False: My heart isn’t into praying today, so it is probably better if I don’t pray.

Perhaps rather than having the heart to give, all we need is the desire to learn to give. I might be greedy or stingy or find it is so hard to give.  Should I force myself to give so that I can learn the art of giving, or should I stand on the sidelines until I feel like it?

I’m not trying to promote legalism.  Continually giving because you feel like you must is spiritually unhealthy.  I’m trying to caution us against the fallacy of the I’ll-do-it-if-I-feel-like-it mentality that is robbing people of enjoying the grace of giving. I tend to think giving is a good thing.  So much of the debate about giving seems to leave the impression that it is bad to give.

I struggle to find the “If you don’t like it, don’t do it” motif in scripture.

I find it hard to believe that an entire gospel message about sacrifice, about discipleship, about giving would apply to every spiritual discipline except one – giving.

Am I a spiritually empty person if I give and say – “God, this is really hard for me to do.  In fact, I don’t want to do it.  I don’t think I can afford to do it.  But, I’m going to do it because I think you want me to, and in the end I think it will be a blessing.”  Is such a person morally bankrupt and spiritually abhorrent to God?

The problem is when we always give out of obligation.  If every day I ready my Bible because I have to, that means I am not open to discovering the spiritual blessing through my reading.  In this case, I’ve missed something about the discipline of reading, and as such, no matter how long I continue reading it will not bless me.

I just think we somehow miss the main biblical focus when we encourage people to take the road of not giving instead of finding a way to challenge them to develop a heart for giving.

If someone has a bad giving heart, what should they do?

How ill people ever develop a giving heart until they actively participate in giving with the understanding that it is God’s will for their life.  Until that happens, they will never be able to fully participate in the grace of giving.

I believe that if our giving is founded on what we “want” to do, we have made giving human-centered instead of God-centered.

Can a change in action ever result in a change in heart? I’d say yes.

Why giving is a spiritual discipline:

  1. Through giving you release yourself from the clutches of money – I have an unpopular opinion that money might not be a neutral or amoral thing.
  2. In giving we imitate the attitude of Christ.  Give up part of ourselves and our ownership for the sake of others.
  3. Giving provides the resources necessary for work in the Kingdom of God.
  4. Through giving we fulfill the command to love our neighbor.
  5. Giving is a kind of grace – a grace we both receive and a grace we have the opportunity to share in.

These things are of such vital importance that I wonder if we should allow them to be held subject to our whims and feelings.  Does not the heart deceive?

God loves a cheerful giver.

“Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given”. (2 Cor. 9:5b)

Seems to me that the gift will be given.  It can either be given generously or grudgingly.  Paul prefers for it to be given generously.

What are you thoughts on this subject?  What should someone do if they find their giving heart is hard?  How do we develop the needed attitude of joyful givers?

Comments

  1. Teresa says

    Interesting post, and something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently. Do you (or does anyone else) have any tips about the “practicals” of developing a heart for giving? I think that giving in faith that God will change our heart is a good discipline, but are there any additional methods to developing a generous heart?

  2. says

    I have to agree with you, Craig (not that that’s a bad thing). The Bible says that if we see someone in need and we don’t respond in generous giving then God’s love doesn’t dwell in us. If you have accepted Christ and claim to follow Him, generous giving should be a natural result. How can it not? If you’re a Christian and you don’t feel like giving, you really need to examine your relationship with God and ask yourself if you have truly accepted and understood the sacrifice of Jesus.
    .-= Paul Williams´s last blog ..Personal Finance in the Bible: Proverbs 19:20 =-.

  3. Craig says

    @Teresa
    In the post I was trying to say that I think the best way to develop a giving heart is by giving. The problem is that most people recognize they don’t have a giving heart so they stop. I think that removes their opportunity to develop a giving heart. Someone s if we do the action first, our heart will fall in line.
    The problem is that this is often interpreted as a legalistic approach to giving. Which it would be if it was a long term game plan.

  4. says

    Great post Craig! I like your two possible interpretations of the verse (which I never thought of).
    What should someone do if they find their giving heart is hard? How do we develop the needed attitude of joyful givers?
    Changing your perspective to be that of a steward of God’s money (and blessings) helps me be generous. By intellectually removing myself from the ownership role I immediately can change my attitude about how to best manage God’s money.

    • Craig says

      @Deacon Bradley

      Thanks for your kind words.

      You make an excellent point. We must remember that we are not owners, but stewards.

  5. says

    Great, in-depth post Craig!

    In response to Teresa, I would say that one practical way to develop a heart for giving is to reorient ourselves back to the Gospel. Meditate on 2 Corinthians 8:9:

    “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

    Christ gave up everything to become nothing so we might gain everything. This is an amazing truth that shouldn’t be overlooked once we become saved. The riches of this truth should be savored each day as if it were a new truth to us.

    I think just appreciating the truth of the Gospel more will fuel our hearts with a generous attitude. The very fact that we deserved nothing and yet God paid a costly price to make us his treasure is unbelievable.

    I think that legalism would come in to play if we view our giving as a way to earn God’s favor – or that somehow He’ll be mad if we don’t give. We should rather view it as:

    Because of God’s favor on me – because of His grace, I am freed to grace others with my generous giving.
    .-= Jason @ Redeeming Riches´s last blog ..10 Ideas for a Frugal Valentine’s Day =-.

  6. says

    Not all giving has to do with money. I think people get caught up in the dollar amount of giving because it can be measured but you can give your time and services and be just as much as a blessing to a person who received $50.

  7. FinancialBondage.org says

    The fact that only 2.6% of Christians actually tithe speaks volumes about our view of giving and especially tithing. We have much work to do in this area.

  8. help says

    I don’t really have a comment, but more like a question. I am and have been having some finacial difficulty. I was a faithful tither/giver for most of my walk. I have not been faithful in this area at this time. I feel bad and some times worried because I know that I do not have the Lord’s blessing in this area and having to try to figure out how to get myself out of this fix on my on. I have repented for being a poor stewart of my finances. In my heart I so want to give/tithe, the only thing is that I am, at this point having to choose between giving/thithing or making the house payment , light bill payment or groceries. I am aware that God loves me and nothing can seperate me from His love, but knowing that He is not pleased with me because of my lack in this area makes me feel bad. What should I do?

    • alan says

      I am so sorry to see you sad because you don’t need to be. God loves you and sent his Son to die for you. Don’t worry about *how* you got into your present financial situation because that is in the past – if it was because of sin but you are trusting in Jesus then that is completely and totally forgiven because of his mercy. So just take things from here, and give what you can, and don’t be controlled by anybody’s made up rule about giving a certain percentage. Maybe the amount you can give in your present situation might not be very much in absolute terms, but God does not measure it the same way we do, see Luke 21:1-4. And take hold of God’s promise that as you give generously he will enrich you so that you can be generous on every occasion, 2 Cor 9-10. (Obviously this is not promising enrichment for any other purpose!)

  9. Dr. T.R.Kom says

    It gives me a lot of understanding about healthy giving and donts and dos .Praise the Lord for keeping this web site. May the Lord blesws you abundantly. Amen.

  10. says

    That is one of my favorite verses, and yet it is also one of the many I struggle with. It is so hard to be a cheerful giver. It’s hard not to start looking for excuses why not to give or to just give because we feel like we should. It’s only when I think about how much Christ has so freely given to me that I am able to give for the right reasons. How could I hold back from someone else what isn’t really mine in the first place, and how could I not be gracious to those in need when Christ is immeasurably gracious to me. Thanks for sharing. I really appreciated your post!

  11. Aaron Adams says

    A fact i know in life is (GIVERS NEVER LACK and BEGGERS ALWAYS ASK). Any one that give out to help his brother n to propagate d gospel must recieve blessings from GOD. Try n give as the mesodonia church the gave out of their poverty because they know the importance of giving n the really did recieve blessings 4rm God

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