Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? is a wonderful, thoughtful book. It is a challenge to us all.
How Should We Then Give? is a challenge as well, a poignant question demanding answers and action. God’s Word provides much instruction regarding giving. I have often asked myself whether or not I have taken His commands regarding giving seriously. For before being sentenced to a 30-year prison term, I’d been a “big giver” to the church and considered myself generous with my income and property. But was I giving in accordance with God’s will? I think not.
For nearly 14 years, I’ve lived in a prison cell. The prison pays me about $40 a month to work in the carpentry shop. I earn a modest amount helping other inmates with their legal work. Friends and family have been generous to give me more than I need. I spend about $150 a month at the prison commissary, and I pay $100 a month towards my restitution. All of my earthly possessions fit inside a small locker inside of my cell. I don’t have much, but I am required to give, and I do.
If I were asked to deliver a three-part sermon on this subject, I’d say that we are commanded to give obediently, wholeheartedly, and sacrificially. Giving is not an option for those who follow Christ. We are compelled to give. It is our obligation. It is our duty.
To give obediently, we begin with our tithe. We are all familiar with the charge of Malachi 3:10, “Bring all of the tithes into the storehouse!” In Malachi’s first chapter we are also admonished to give God our best, the first of our fruits, not the dregs, remnants, rejects, and defects. For God is owed His Share. In Matthew 21:33-29, Christ’s parable of the tenants demonstrates God’s relationship with us. It reminds us that He owns it all, and we are simply using His property with His (revocable) permission. This same parable as relayed in Luke 20:9-14 reveals the ultimate conflict at issue as those who possessed God’s property mistakenly came to the belief that they could take it for themselves, saying “then everything will be ours!”
But we don’t own anything. Our very life, our bodies, our health, our ability to earn income, our possessions–all of these things come from God and are owned by God.
Start with that when you ask the Lord how He wants you to give. For it already belongs to Him, all of it. What does He want you to do with that which is His?
When we are giving obediently, we are giving to the church, He requires that we give to those who are good stewards. Luke 12:42-46. A portion of what we give is designed to pay our leaders for their work as we advance the Kingdom of God together. 1 Corinthians 9:3-14. Some of it is to care for the poor, orphans, and widows. James 1:27; Galatians 2:10. We are to give in a manner consistent with the Lord’s desires. 2 Corinthians 8:5. We are to be honest with ourselves, with God, and with the church about our giving. Malachi 1:14; Acts 5:1-11.
To give wholeheartedly, we must give gladly with joy. He wants us to give generously. 2 Corinthians 8:1-15. God wants us to give cheerfully. He wants us to give willingly. 2 Corinthians 9:7. He reminds us that when we are giving to the church to provide for the needs of others that we are giving to Him, meeting His needs as if He were the one needing shelter, clothing, food, or water. Matthew 25:31-46.
When we are giving wholeheartedly, we are giving as an act of worship. The woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus was demonstrating her devotion to Him, declaring His value to her, and expressing her subservience to her Master in the extravagance of her act. Luke 7:37-38.
We are giving wholeheartedly when we are exercising our faith, demonstrating our complete and utter trust in the Lord as we show Him and others that we depend solely on Him as our Source; that no matter how much we give to Him, He will always provide more. Ecclesiastes 11:1; Luke 6:38.
To give sacrificially, we emulate the widow who gave her last penny. The widow’s mite of Luke 21:1-4 forces us to see that no matter how little we may possess, we are to give it to Him. Jesus remarked of her, “She put in everything. She has nothing left to live on.” Is this our own practice in giving?
When reading the story of Christ’s interaction with the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-30, we too often focus on the struggles of the wealthy without asking whether or not we are held to the same challenge. Has God asked of us the same? That we sell everything that we have and give it to the poor in order to follow Christ?
But this is exactly what Jesus asked of His disciples as well. In Mark 8:34-36, He told them to take up their cross and follow Him, to lose their life here on earth if they want to save it. In Luke 14:27, He admonished them that “whoever doesn’t” give up everything to follow Him “cannot be my disciple.” Is this something that we have taken seriously? Have we actually given up everything to follow Him? I know believers who have.
When we are giving sacrificially, we are becoming totally dependent upon Him.
In Luke 9:57-58, Jesus reminds us that He had no home: “Foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” In Acts chapters 2 and 4 we are given a glimpse of the early church taking this to heart in that they “shared everything.”
Christ gave us an example of how to live. He is our example of how to give. He gave up everything for us. In Philippians 2:5-11, we are reminded just how much Jesus gave up in order to take upon the form of man for 33 years, divesting Himself of His authority and power for a time, living with us, suffering torture and death in a way that most of us will never experience, not even close.
We shouldn’t worry about our needs, for He supplies all of our needs. Luke 12:22-34. In Matthew 6:19-34, He tells us not to “store up treasures for yourselves on earth,” not to serve Money, and to “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.” Malachi 3 comes with this startling challenge: “Test me in this!”
While writing this the Lord provided me an opportunity to give to another a small portion of what He has given me. I did, quickly and obediently, but I was not cheerful about it. In fact, I complained to the Lord about the oblivious selfishness of the recipient of my giving. As the Holy Spirit chastised me for my attitude, helping me realize that I had failed to do the very thing that I was in the middle of writing about, I laughed–then repented. I have a lot of work to do in this area. For even though I don’t have much, everything that I have is His. How dare I resent giving a small portion of it away to someone that I considered undeserving. I was tested and failed.
Perhaps next time I will not fail. I think most of us have failed to give in the manner in which we should. Perhaps from this point forward we will not fail to give Him what He is owed.