How Much of My Money Should I Give to God’s Work?
Pastor Dillon Thornton
A large crowd gathered around Jesus, eager to hear his teaching. He taught them many things, including the importance of generosity. “When you give,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:2). Not if, but when. Following Jesus means giving to others. This basic principle of generosity is crystal clear in the New Testament. But how much should we give? Second Corinthians 9, a central passage on giving, provides some guidance for us.
No Prescribed Amount or Percentage
Some churches insist that all members are required to give 10% of their income to the Lord’s work. This approach to giving is faulty, in at least two ways. First, “tithing” is an Old Testament concept; this system of giving applied to the nation of Israel, not to the contemporary church. Second, no Israelite was giving a mere 10%. A careful reading of the Old Testament reveals that there were several tithes. The first 10% of an Israelite’s resources went to support the leaders of the nation (the Levites). An additional 10% was given to cover the national festivals and holidays that God’s people celebrated together. Another 10% was given (every third year) to provide care for the poor, the orphans, and the widows. In addition to these three tithes there were other required offerings, meaning that God’s people in the Old Testament gave roughly 30-40% of their resources, and this was compulsory giving.
The church is not the nation of Israel; we are not a theocracy, so for us there is no system of compulsory or required giving. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul doesn’t require a gift of 10%, 20%, or 30%. He doesn’t prescribe any specific amount or percentage. Instead, he says, “Each person must give as he has decided in his heart.” So how do we decide how much to give?
Stewardship vs. Ownership
The place to begin is by understanding the difference between stewardship and ownership. Most of us think this way, “I’ve worked hard. I’ve earned my money. How much of my money should I give to God’s work?” But the big truth Paul develops in 2 Corinthians 9 is this: everything you possess is a gift from God. Maybe you hear this and think, “Wait a minute. I’m a doctor. I went to Med School. It was hard work. I earned what I have.” Did you really? Where were you born? Probably somewhere in the U.S., where you had the opportunity to pursue a quality education. What if you had been born in South Sudan, where people live on less than $1 a day? The place of your birth, the identity of your parents, the opportunities that have come your way in life, your intellect or whatever abilities you have: you didn’t earn any of these things. God gifted them to you. The same is true for me. So we have no right to claim that income as our own. Your life is not one of ownership; it’s a life of stewardship. We shouldn’t ask, “How much of my money should I give to God’s work?” Rather, we should ask, “How much of God’s money should I keep for myself?” Phrasing the question this way changes everything.
Sacrificial Giving vs. Selfish Giving
In addition to stewardship, we need to understand the idea of sacrificial giving. Here we need to pivot to the short but powerful story told in Mark 12. Jesus watches countless rich people place enormous amounts of money in the offering box. Then a poor widow approaches. She has only two small coins to her name, and she places both of them in the offering box, to which Jesus replies, “This woman has given more than everyone else.” Others that day gave far greater amounts, but Jesus was most pleased with the widow’s two coins. Why? Because only the widow gave sacrificially. In contemporary terms, the professionals with their six figure salaries dropped off their annual $5k and $10k checks. Then this single mom, struggling to survive, gives her two coins. Two coins compared to $10k is nothing. Two coins isn’t paying anybody’s salary. It’s not covering the property maintenance. It’s not funding a foreign missionary. But it was all this woman had. She felt this gift. Letting go of these two small coins was going to affect—greatly affect!—the way she lived. The amount was small; the sacrifice was significant. And Jesus was pleased.
Many of us are more like the rich people in the story from Mark’s Gospel, and less like the widow. Let’s be honest with ourselves: we’re selfish givers. Selfish givers say, “I’ll give, but I want to keep as much as possible.” Sacrificial givers say, “I’ll give, and I want to give as much as possible.” Selfish givers ask, “How much of my money should I give to God’s work?” Sacrificial givers ask, “How much of God’s money should I keep for myself?”