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The fourth annual State of the Plate research survey conducted by Maximum Generosity and Christianity Today was completed March 2013. The research revealed some interesting trends about giving in the church. 7% of those who tithe give 11%-20% or more of their income, far more than the baseline of 10%. 97% make it a priority to give to their local church. 70% tithe based on their gross income, not their net. 63% started giving 10% or more between childhood and their twenties. Tithers carry much less debt than most people and are financially better off than Christian non-tithers: 80% of tithers have no unpaid credit card bills; 74% have no car payments; 48% own their home; and 28% are completely debt-free. What keeps non-tithing Christians from giving: 38% say they can’t afford it; 33% say they have too much debt; and 18% said their spouse does not agree about tithing. Giving has been a hot topic since the days of old. The real question is, “What does God want? What does the Bible say about giving and more importantly, stewardship?”
Let’s get back to basics. We are stewards, not owners of our possessions. Ps. 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” All that we have really belongs to God. Our house, cars, tools and everything else we think is ours. Every material possession has been given by God. My name may be on the papers for my house, but God made the materials and the men that built it. God didn’t charge anything for what He gave. All that He gives, He gives for free. We freely use His air, His land, and His animals. He provides the sun and the rain, the moon and the stars. All that God provides He provides for free.
If the Owner of everything is so generous, then shouldn’t we, as His stewards, model His generosity? In Eph. 4:28, Paul said, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” We work in order to have something to give. Thievery in Ephesus was rampant among the converts there. Paul instructed them to get real jobs, to quit stealing. Part of the money we earn is to meet our needs, but part also is to be used to meet the needs of others.
Paul had some interesting things to tell the Corinthians. Apparently, believers in Jerusalem could no longer meet their needs. As he traveled around, Paul collected money from Gentile Christians. Rom. 15:25-26 says, “But now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” He goes on to tell the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 16:1, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.” Let’s look at 2 Cor. 8:1-5. Although poor and persecuted, the Macedonians had given generously. Paul even wrote to remind the Corinthians about the gift they promised the year before. (2 Cor. 8:11) We see several principles of giving from these examples.
First, Christian generosity includes giving to those of other countries and cultures. Paul asked Gentiles in Greece to give to Jews in Palestine. Location and ethnic background were of no importance. What mattered was that they were fellow Christians. Second, Christians are to strive for excellence in giving. 2 Cor 8:7 says, “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.” Abound in this passage means to excel. The Corinthians were to excel in giving just as they excelled in the areas of faith, speech, diligence, and love. Paul ranked generosity right up with faith and love. Excel as givers, not giving just to meet some minimum standard or check a box. Can you excel as a Christian without giving?
Third, we are to give voluntarily and cheerfully. 2 Cor. 9:7 says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” You have likely heard this verse before, but let’s break it down. Everyone is to give. Each is to give as he purposes, or decides in his heart. Don’t give grudgingly or reluctantly. Don’t give out of compulsion. In other words, don’t give because you think you have to. In the O.T., giving reluctantly is portrayed as cancelling out any benefit that could be received from the gift while giving with a glad heart promises reward from God. “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.” (Deut. 15:10) Don’t give because someone has convinced, required, or manipulated you to give. Paul was not so interested in their money, per se, he was interested in their attitude toward giving. In fact, God isn’t so interested in your money; He is interested in your heart. Here is the kicker: we are to give cheerfully. Cheerful is from the Greek word hilaros where we get our English word hilarious. Give hilariously, but if you can’t, that doesn’t mean don’t give.
Fourth, we can decide how much to give. Paul teaches that we are to give according to our ability. 2 Cor. 8:12 says, “For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” When we say we can’t afford to give, we’re trying to give out of what we don’t have. Fifth, Paul teaches that God will repay us in kind. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.” (2 Cor. 9:6) Lastly, the more you give, the more you have to give away. 2 Cor. 9:11 tells us that God will enrich us in every way so we can be generous on every occasion. This does not mean that if you give $10.00 God will repay you $100.00. If you give so God can repay you, you are not giving according to God’s desire.
We’re going to spend some time on stewardship matters. The goal is to help us understand what our part is in Kingdom work. I do not believe that you can be a vibrant, growing, and maturing Christian without supporting His work. I urge you to let the Scriptures speak for themselves. Remember the statistic I quoted at the beginning: 63% started giving 10% or more between childhood and their twenties.
Brian Kluth, the researcher behind the stats, says, “No one is born generous . . . or born again generous.” He went on to say that, “Every person is on a generosity journey and needs help to grow in the grace of giving.”