The Bank of England has recently raised interest rates by 0.25%. In the grand scheme of things, this is not much – but it will inevitably have an effect on those who have a mortgage or those already stretched financially.
This may not affect you at all, but there are still many reasons for 21st Century UK Christians to feel nauseous when they think about their finances and their giving to church, charity or mission. You may feel like there is not much joy in your giving, or that you understand but feel you cannot participate much in the grace of giving.
Here are three common challenges that we face when we think about our giving and, I hope, solutions which will help us enjoy the grace and joy of supporting the work of the gospel.
This is often the way we defend ourselves when we are invited to give more than we currently give. It is easy for us to dismiss any calls for support or increased support if this is our default position or mindset.
However, the inspiration Paul gives the Corinthian church is not of a generous multi-millionaire investor or a mega-church, but a faithful group of believers in a severe trial facing extreme poverty:
'In the midst of a very severe trial, [the Macedonian churches’] overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.' (2 Corinthians 8:2).
Clearly, for Paul, even poverty was not a barrier to supporting others, let alone extreme poverty.
Paul goes on to say, in 2 Corinthians 9, that God provides enough for us. Enough for us to live on, yes, but even more than that, enough for us to give.
I wish I knew this when I was a student – that giving was not to do with the amount in my bank account, but with the state of my heart. I chose not to give because I thought I didn’t have enough to give or enough to make a difference. The truth is, the amount is not important, the spirit in which you give it is.
Think of the widow who gives all she has (i.e. a couple of pennies) in the temple in Mark 12:
'Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”' (Mark 12:43-44)
The amount to her was huge. Of course she was too poor to give, but she gave anyway, as she realised the riches she had in Christ and responded in faith.
The New Testament doesn’t promote a tithe (10%) – in fact it only really mentions the tithe in a negative way (Luke 11:42). The tithe was introduced as a minimum in the Old Testament for a reluctant people of God, more interested in self gain than remaining faithful to God’s promises (Leviticus 27:30). The tithe was also separate from free-will contributions (e.g. Exodus 35:4-35). This means that, even in the Old Testament, generous giving was more than the minimum 10%.
So for the New Testament believer, the tithe should not be the goal but the starting blocks!
However, the principle of setting aside an amount regularly to give to the service of God is still commended in the New Testament: see 1 Corinthians 16:2. Regular support is a wonderful blessing to those receiving it because it is consistent and dependable. It is also good for the giver, as it prioritises giving before other kinds of spending, which can only grow our commitment to and dependency on our gracious Heavenly Father.
If a 10% contribution is your safety net, but you have more to give, it is worth noting that Paul provides only two options when it comes to giving: giving generously or giving sparingly.
'Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.' (2 Corinthians 9:6)
Generous giving means there is no set percentage and is never less than proportionate to our income.
How can we, who have more in the 21st century than in any other time in history, give less?
Everyone wants to make a difference, but if that is your motivation then the focus becomes more on you (the giver) than on the recipient (your local church, mission partner, charity).
If you want to make a difference, you won’t just invest your money generously – in response to the generosity God has shown you – but you will invest your time in praying for and caring for those you are invited to support.
The question in Scripture is not whether we can make a difference, but who we can make a difference to:
'Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.' (3 John 8)
If you missed our other blogs on giving, you can click here to read about the grace of giving and the joy of giving.
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