Did you know that Jesus talked about money and material possessions more than any other topic in the gospels? Did you know that one out of every six verses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke has to do with the right handling of money and possessions? And half of Jesus’ parables deal with the same topic. Clearly Jesus thinks that the way we handle our money and possessions as his followers is important.
When I was a kid and I made a little money doing odd jobs, chores, or mowing the lawn, my parents always encouraged me to give some of what I had to the offering at church. The truth is, I liked to give money. I always saw the adults at church putting money in the plate as it went by, and I wanted to do it too. Actually, I was probably more happy at the fact that I was able to put money into the offering plate at church because I had more money at home that I was keeping for myself.
Giving is a part of the regular Christian life. The Bible is clear that Christians sacrifice of themselves and are generous with one another and with others even outside the church. The amount that we should give, however, is never spelled out for us by the Bible. But we can see from scripture that sometimes people gave their last cent, saved up in order to give, and even sold possessions in order to give the money away. God loves it when his people give generously.
Many Christians follow the principle of the tithe in order to determine the amount that they give, which is generally 10% of their income. The principle of a tithe comes from the Old Testament, in which the Israelites were to give God 10% of their harvest for the support of the priests. But this was on top of other gifts that the Israelites were required by law to give. And after those gifts, they were encouraged to give whatever was in their heart. Christians today have carried over this principle and typically give 10% of their gross income as a tithe.
While a tithe of 10% is certainly convenient and probably reasonable as a guide for how much to give as a Christian, we should realize that the idea of a tithe is an Old Testament concept, and Christians are not held to giving 10% of their income. Rather, the New Testament connects our giving much closer to the desires of our hearts rather than by percentage points.
In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Rather than making sure his readers were giving a certain percentage, Paul was more concerned about the condition of their hearts as they gave. He said that people should not give if they are reluctant. It should not be a chore to give to God. Similarly, no one should ever give because they think that they have to give in order to be a good Christian, or in order to live up to some manufactured, man-made expectation placed upon them. Paul doesn’t want his readers to stroke a check out of obligation, or because it’s expected of them to give 10% of their income.
Instead, Paul’s desires for his readers is that they simply give as they have decided in their hearts. In other words, Christians should give whatever they want to give. If that’s 10%, fine. If it’s 5%, fine. If it’s 20%, fine. Whatever amount it is, it’s between you and God. It’s a decision that you need to make in your heart. Don’t let other people tell you what to give, and don’t feel obligated to give a certain amount. You do you.
The key for making the decision on what to give is in the last part of the verse: “…for God loves a cheerful giver.” Can you give and be cheerful about it? That’s what God wants, regardless of how much you give. And if you can come to understand the high privilege of partnering with God in his work in this world, and contributing to that great work by giving some of your resources towards that end, what more could you ask? It is a high calling and privilege to partner with God in his work in this world. Hopefully whatever you give to that end can bring a smile to your heart and face.
So how should Christians decide in their hearts what they should give? Thankfully, Jesus gives us some principles for how to do that, which you can find here. In general, whatever you give to God, it’s not about the amount you give, but the heart attitude that inspires your giving. In fact, we could go so far as to say that God doesn’t really care how much you give, but rather he cares why you give.