Our Approach to Giving is Broken & Why the Cross Must Be the Central Focus

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The better we understand the cross, the more generous we’ll be.

We (teachers, preachers, churches …) have tried all sorts of things to address the dismal giving situation in America.

Ultimately, I believe we’ve merely danced around the subject for the last few decades.

At one point, it was assumed that the reason Americans gave so little is because there is such a poor understanding of personal finance.  We concluded that the common sense aspect of personal finance was lost in a generation.  It was assumed that the better educated we were about debt, balancing a checkbook, and budgeting, the better motivated we’d be to share in the grace of giving.

We decided that if we help people get out of debt that they’ll start giving like crazy.  As a result, more and more churches started hosting personal finance seminars.  We started teaching personal finances all over the country.

But, as best I can tell, there hasn’t been any measurable fruit across America.  I hope I’m wrong and I just haven’t seen the right statistics.

Perhaps, for some individuals, the effort to improve financial literacy has resulted in the fruit of increased giving.  However, across America there’s not the giving renewal that I think many anticipated.

As a result, I’d say that, for the most part, we’ve simply been pruning the leaves while ignoring the core issue.

Teaching financial literacy is merely pruning the leaves.  Financial literacy is only valuable when a convicted heart first submits to the generous example of Jesus Christ.

Making more money doesn’t make you more generous.  Managing your finances better doesn’t make you a better giver.  Learning about investing doesn’t motivate you to make eternal investments.  These are tools that are only beneficial to a heart that’s passionate for God.

In fact, I bet more people have learned to be generous by reading their Bible than by attending a personal finance seminar.

Could I be as bold as to suggest that our root issue is really theological?  It’s about how we view God.  Specifically, it’s about how we view the cross. It’s about our inability to recognize how great a price was paid for our salvation.

There’s an unfortunate theme within evangelical Christianity that subtly claims that God exists for my betterment.  It’s the idea that the pursuit of happiness is the chief end of life, and God’s primary job is to help us achieve everything we’ve always wanted.  God’s your best cheerleader.  God’s your most helpful butler. God’s the granddaddy who is pleased to give us whatever we ask.

See the problem?

It’s our faulty view of God and the Gospel.

We think the world is about us.  We think the gospel is about us.

As a result, it’s not surprising that we’re not generous because we’ve only viewed ourselves as recipients and not participants.

By coming to this earth, Jesus Christ gave away everything.  He released his grip on the equality with God that he freely enjoyed.  He lowered himself by coming to earth.  He died on a cross.

The longer we reflect on the cross, the more humble we ought to become.

The more we embrace his self-giving nature, the more we’re challenged to become self-giving.

The more we recognize how much he paid, the greater payment we’ll lovingly desire to make.

I think the Macedonian Christians truly grasped the gospel.  Here are a few ways Paul described the Macedonian churches (2 Cor. 8:1-5):

  • Overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
  • Gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.
  • Pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service.
  • Gave themselves first to the Lord.

They knew Chirst. They knew the level of his sacrifice. They knew the power of his resurrection.

That knowledge – personal, intimate knowledge – motivated them to be more generous.

I’d probably ruin things in Macedonia by going in and saying, “We’ll help make you more generous by teaching you how to manage your money.”

  • They had extreme poverty.  We have extreme wealth.
  • They gave beyond their ability.  We give below our ability.
  • They pleaded for the privilege of sharing.  We ask questions like, “Do I have to give 10%”?

I’m using ‘we’ inclusively.  I have extreme wealth.  I give below my ability.  I don’t plead for the privilege of sharing.

Perhaps the more time I spend cultivating a relationship with the loving God, the more generous I’ll become.  The more I recognize that he gave up his riches for me, the more likely I’ll be to imitate his example.  I doubt my generous heart will be pricked by another class on personal finances.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.  2 Cor. 8:9

Comments

  1. Forrest says

    Craig,

    I enjoyed your post, thanks for writing. Do you think that a cause for the “de-valuing” of grace/forgiveness is an absence of the knowledge of sin/justice of God? I was condemned by the law in my conscience, the way the revivalists talk about it (http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols55-57/chs3254.pdf), felt the curse, and now that it’s lifted… salvation is real and sweet. My value for Christ directly correlates with the “largeness” of my sin, as I see it. What is your understanding here? I’m interested to hear! Thanks–

    Jeremiah 5: 4-5 NKJV “Therefore I said, “Surely these are poor. They are foolish; For they do not know the way of the Lord, The judgment of their God. I will go to the great men and speak to them, For they have known the way of the Lord, The judgment of their God.””

  2. says

    The one thing that stuck out to me from your post was when you talked about so many people viewing themselves as recipients, instead of participants in their faith and in their churches. It’s a consumer culture, and a consumer church in many ways unfortunately. People church shop in order to find the best “worship”, or the pastor that best “speaks to them”, instead of taking an active role in their faith through daily bible study, prayer and seeking God’s will for their lives. I freely admit that I’ve been there too.

    In reality we need to be more active participants in our faith, striving to be more like Christ, and trying to live out his example – not just be inactive recipients of his love and forgiveness. We need to be fostering that relationship with Christ by reading his word on a daily basis, doing our best to be generous to a fault and realizing where our true treasures are stored up.

    Great post, and a message that sorely needs to be heard!

  3. EricShelly says

    Great post, Craig. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve long felt that churches and we Christians alike think that just because we are using Dave Ramsey or Crown Financial programs that we are managing or stewarding our money well and in a way that pleases God. It has always concerned me because the primary focus of many of the popular personal finance programs that churches/Christians use, is getting out of debt. Debt reduction is only a small aspect of stewarding our financial resources well. The Bible has so much more to teach us about generosity with our gifts and resources rather than simply the danger of debt and how to enlarge our estates.

    Thanks for the insight!

  4. says

    John Wesley famously stated that “Wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion… For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all of its branches”.

    Applying Occams razor, I think it’s an issue of stewardship. Since God owns everything, then it’s simple logic that we must manage what is entrusted to us according to His principles.

  5. Gary Haas says

    As usual another great article. This is a conundrum that I’ve struggled with for a long time. It not only is displayed in our own lives but also is repeated in the bible. For example, David came from poverty as a shepherd then is blessed over and over by God, made King, and the blessings became sin in his life, just like King Saul before him and Solomon after him. In my own life, my grandparents and parents were Godly people. My grandfather a poor minister, yet gave and served God all throughout my childhood and adult life. I’ve been blessed because my Grandparents and Parents were faithful to God. My sons were admitted to the best colleges, and are successful, beyond my wildest imaginations, and they have less zeal for God than all generations prior, and each generation becomes more greedy and gives less than the generation before. I think of Harvard, starting off as a Christian University and becoming renown the world over, being blessed and successful, and now is more known for its anti-Christian views than many other universities.

    I can’t keep from wondering why God will bless us, when he knows we eventually use it for sinful desires. I’ve attempted to tithe all my life, but find it harder and harder. The more blessings I receive, the more I justify in my own mind how I need to keep from losing what I have. I don’t need more, I just don’t want to lose what I have, so the sin goes.

    Keep up the good work. I look forward to your insights.

  6. says

    Craig,

    Why do you suppose that many people on the receiving end of charity often feel that those on the giving side of the equation are not giving enough? Can the receivers of handouts objectively judge or assess the approach others may have toward giving? And, when it comes to discussions about the quality of our giving, are we talking about the giving of our means and time directly, on person-2-person basis, or are we talking about institutional giving? Those on the institutional dole, whether private or public, always want more. When something is free everyone wants one. Currently, in the U.S., more than half the population is receiving some type of entitlement check and the numbers and amounts of these entitlements continue to grow. It sounds as if the receivers are beginning to overtake the givers, doesn’t it? Is this the fault of the givers or the fault of the receivers? Or, is there some other explanation?

    Many believe the Christian commune of early New Testament times represents true Communism as opposed to Crony Communism of the former USSR. And, there are some Christians who publicly attest that true Communism, as they believe is depicted in the Bible, is the proper model for Christians to follow. We don’t subscribe to that philosophy.

    If one truly believes that our approach to giving is broken, the following story, circulating in various forms on the internet, may provide some insight into cause and effect:
    —-
    “An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

    The professor then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan”.. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A…. (substituting grades for dollars – something closer to home and more readily understood by all).

    After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little.

    The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F.

    As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

    To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed. This is the beginning of the end of any nation.”
    —-
    The early New Testament christian was perhaps more highly motivated to give than many are today. After all, they knew the “end was nigh” and expected their Savior to return while many of them were still alive. Therefore, they were convinced there was no need for the accumulation of wealth to sustain them many years into the future and that the physical needs of many of their brothers and sisters in Christ were a far more dire consideration.

    Once giving becomes institutionalized and to the point that givers no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel, they lose their incentive to give. The givers in the early New Testament times saw the light at the end of the tunnel and gave of their means appropriately. Trying to replicate the dynamics going on in the days of the early church, over 2000 years later, is probably futile and no doubt frustrating to those who don’t recognize the dynamics in play at that time in history.

    So true Communism can only work for a short period of time before people begin to lose their incentive to produce and give to others on an indefinite basis.

    • says

      Steven and Debra,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I guess I’m a little confused about your response. Thanks for helping to clarify your position.

      First, I’m not on the receiving end of charity, but this post is written from the giving side. I’m a giver calling for more giving. I’m sorry if you thought I was making a call for others to give me more.

      I’m not sure where the topic of communism came from … Do think that if we increase giving as Christians we must embrace communism? Are those the only two options before us? Giving = Communism.

      To summarize your belief (correct me if I’m wrong) – since we don’t share the same imminent expectation of the Second Coming of Christ (which might be a problem in itself) we ought not to be generous?

      What solution do you propose? Is there anything to solve? Are Christians in America doing all they can do to help?

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