Well, because God did. Money was something of a hot topic for Him - 16 of the 38 parables focused on money; the topic came up on average once every ten verses in the Gospels and the Bible has well over 2000 pieces of advice on dealing with money, compared to around 500 on prayer and less than 500 on faith. Put simply, God cares about what you do with your money. And He should - it's clear from the state of the developed world that money can't solve problems like loneliness, depression and relationship breakdown, and it has the power to facilitate greed, anger and envy on a grand scale. What we do with money and what money can do to us are topics that Jesus spoke about in great detail.
As well as being stigmatised, giving in Church can be confused by the use of lingo and strange props and customs (what is a tithe? Do you wear it? Why does everyone hand round velvet purses in the final hymn? Does the Church actually have a bank account or does it all go on new candlesticks?). I'm hoping to go some way to demystifying the issue of giving, and why it's both essential and incredibly beneficial to Christians today.
WHAT IS GIVING?
Giving is a simple way of saying that you are sacrificing some resources to God's Kingdom and the Church. This has meant different things over the centuries - the first clear case of giving was Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, where Cain gave grain from the fields and Abel gave a lamb from his flock. It's also the first case of someone getting giving spectacularly wrong - more on that later. Through the Old Testament, people often gave livestock (Deuteronomy 12:5), grain, wine, honey and olive oil (2 Chronicles 31:4-5), and sometimes even treasures and precious artefacts. During the New Testament and in the millennia following, Christians have predominantly donated money to the church, although some still offer other resources instead.
The command which ties all of these offerings together is the command to tithe. Tithing very simply means giving the first tenth of your income to the church. It's talked about throughout the Bible - here are just a few examples:
- And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything (Genesis 14:19-20)
- Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord (Leviticus 27:30)
- We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord (Nehemiah 10:35)
- Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine (Proverbs 3:9-10)
The pattern is fairly clear here. God wants us to give away at least a tenth of our income. That applies to all of us: rich or poor, young or old, wealthy businessman or poor student. The tithe doesn't set a limit on how much you can give - many people gave more, in some cases all they had. It acts as a guideline for what is good for us to give. But why?
WHY SHOULD I GIVE?
Well firstly, because God tells us to. Constantly. If you're going to follow the more palatable teachings about loving people, being humble, going to Church and practising kindness, you need to follow the less fun commandments too. Either all of the things Jesus said are true, or none of them are. As you're reading this blog, I'm going to hazard a guess that you're at least entertaining the idea that they're true, so I suggest that you accept the lessons about money alongside the ones about being nicer to people.
But God doesn't leave us with a "because I said so". He's better than that. He knows what life on Earth is like and He understands that it can be uncertain and frightening. He also knows the human heart (He made it after all) and He knows that we have a rational streak where self preservation is concerned. The Bible doesn't just tell us that we have to give; it also tells us why it's important.
Giving is important for 2 very good reasons:
- It's good for your soul. Yes, really. Paul said that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). Money is not an inherently evil thing, but worshipping it has the power to corrupt us. You don't need to look very far to see this - Cain, Solomon, Saul, Judas and many other Biblical figures fell afoul of greed and a desire for greater material wealth. Jesus issued dire warnings to those in love with money, suggesting that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Or in the words of my curate: "If you want to see what someone worships, look at their bank statement."
The best way to remove this influence? Give it away. Don't let wealth become something you can't bear to part with, or it will have a significant impact on your relationship with God. Aiming to be wealthy is a pretty hollow goal compared to what God has stored up for us in heaven, and worldly riches are both temporary and rotten compared to the riches that God can bestow upon us. Giving weakens the power that money can have over us, and it gives recognition to the fact that the money we have is not ours to keep, it's ours to steward.
"Not how much of my money will I give to God, but how much of God’s money will I keep for myself?" - John Wesley
- It's good for your walk with God. He knows that giving is hard. It's counter-cultural and feels unnatural to give away your resources, but the Bible promises to provide for those who give. "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it." (Malachi 3:10) It's a rare example of God telling us to test His promises, and He means it. God promises that we will have what we need - not what we want - if we trust in Him.
Giving is a chance to grow in faith and reliance on God. It also gives us a chance to provide for others, and to be provided for in response. Giving to the Church strengthens the community - the model for this is the Israelites: you shall give...to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied (Deuteronomy 6:12).
As much as anything else, it's a chance to show gratitude to a Saviour who gave more than we ever could in dying for us. If eternal life was a subscription service, how much would you pay? And yet it's given freely, so many of us won't give anything at all. Don't give out of guilty legalism, give out of gratitude to a Father who loves us and gives us far more than we need.
I DON'T HAVE MUCH MONEY. WHAT CAN I GIVE?
If you're a student like 95% of the ones I've encountered, money is tight and income is dependent on loans from the government and/or parents. Giving any of that money away may seem foolish and the amount that can be given seems tiny compared to what wealthy members of the Church can give. So what can you give?
The story of the widow's offering illustrates the answer to this one:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 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.”
God uses what we have. If all you can afford to give is a £5 note, He will use it. I daresay that if He willed it, God could start a FTSE 100 company with that £5 note. Don't be ashamed of a small offering - if it's what you can afford to give, it's enough. It's also enormously helpful to get into the habit of giving generously while you're on a small income - if/when you end up on a larger one, it's much harder to give generously if the habit isn't there already. Try giving £5 a month. Then make it £10. If it feels costly to give money away, think how much it would cost to keep it and have it get a hold of your heart.
Money isn't the only thing you can give. If you have no income, give your time. Give your skills. Find whatever it is that God has blessed you with and be generous with it. Be honest with yourself and with God - find what you are reluctant to share, and share it.
WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO?
Churches often have an unfair reputation where money is concerned, as most are transparent and wise in their stewardship of money. If you want to know how your giving is being spent, ask the Church leaders. Most will happily tell you, or point you towards where you can find that information. Not being willing to share information about expenditure is not a good sign - we are allowed to hold our leaders accountable in their stewardship of resources. As a rough guide, at the Belfrey, some of the main areas of expenditure are mission projects in the North of England, upkeep of the Church and donations to charitable projects all over the world.
We've been looking at Worship in our sermons over the last few weeks, and I'd like to conclude by saying that giving is an act of Worship equal to singing hymns or serving the poor. If you're promising to give your all to Jesus, make sure that you include your heart, soul AND bank balance.
For more information about giving at the Belfrey, please follow this link.