The Bible reminds us that ‘our’ possessions are not really ours. God provides, and we are only stewards of what we have. There is a wealth of material encouraging us not to hold on to our worldly goods, but to use them in God’s service.
Giving and the Old Testament
‘All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own do we give you.’ (1 Chronicles 29.14)
Sunday by Sunday, these words are said in many parish churches. They are taken from King David’s prayer at the consecration of the Temple, and recall the people of Israel’s understanding that we have nothing of our own – only what God has given.
The concept of the tithe (one tenth) is found in the Old Testament Law.
This tithe was to be given back to God, to be used for the upkeep of the community’s religious life and for the benefit of the poor. We don’t know to what extent the Biblical tithe ever became a real rule of life for God’s people. The prophet Haggai had extremely harsh words for those who lived in nice houses yet were prepared to see the Temple of the Lord fall into disrepair (see Haggai 1.1-3).
‘Ten percent of everything you harvest is holy and belongs to me, whether it grows in your fields or on your fruit trees.’ (Leviticus 27.30)
In the Church of England, agricultural tithes were used to support the clergy for many years – not without complaints from the farmers! Today, the tithe is still the basis for some Christians as they plan their giving. The first 10% of their income is given away, and they live off the rest.
Jesus and possessions
Jesus nowhere explicitly endorsed the tithe or any other fixed standard of giving. Yet one estimate is that two-thirds of his parables are about possessions and our attitude to them.
‘You cannot serve both God and Money.’ (Luke 16.13)
The rich young man went away ashamed that he could not – or would not – live up to Jesus’ command. But the poor widow was commended for giving what she had. Jesus’ words challenge our own consumer lifestyle age. The values of the Kingdom require followers of Jesus to not save up for themselves treasures on earth, but to share with those in need.
Christians recognise that God has freely given himself to them, at great cost. Discipleship is about our response to God’s grace. Our wallets, as well as our hearts, should respond!
Paul’s collection for the saints
The first Christian community in Jerusalem was noted for its shared approach to possessions. Yet this approach – which involved church members selling their own property and giving the proceeds to the church’s common fund – did not continue for very long.
We read in the later chapters of Acts (see chapter 24) of the collection being organised by other churches to support their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.
‘They held everything in common’ (Acts 4.5)
It may be that famine or persecution had caused the poverty which church members were enduring. The solution was – to hold a collection! We can deduce from Paul’s letters that the other churches – some hundreds of miles away – raised money and sent it to Jerusalem.
‘. . . First to the Lord . . .’ (2 Corinthians 8.5)
Paul particularly praises the Macedonian Christians, who, despite their own poverty, gave over and above what anyone had expected.
Paul’s view is that they gave themselves first to the Lord, and then to the cause of helping the others (2 Corinthians 8.1-5). But this was not just an emergency appeal – a ‘whip round’ in a crisis.
Proportionate and planned
It is quite clear that Paul encouraged the various churches to plan their giving on some fundamental principles – which we still apply today to Christian stewardship. Writing to Corinth, he reminds them of a previous message to Galatia and suggests four guidelines which you can apply to your own giving.
It should be:
- regular – on the first day of the week
- universal – every church member should play their part
- planned – the money should be set aside in advance
- proportionate – in proportion to what you earn
‘On the first day of the week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come.’ (1 Corinthians 16.2)
If you take this approach, you will never find yourself wondering how much you ought to put in the collection next time you are in church. You will have decided long ago how much of ‘your’ money you are going to give away.
‘Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’ (2 Corinthians 9.7)
- Planned giving enables you – and the church – to budget sensibly. Paying by bank Standing Order or via regular weekly envelopes helps you to stick to the discipline.
- Proportionate giving means that those who have more of this world’s goods give more. High earners can be high givers, as well as high spenders!
Paul also recognised that giving cannot be done to order. It comes from the heart. To see what this might mean in practice, have a look at our ‘cheerful giver’ charts which you can find on our ‘How much?’ page.