By Lucas Hagen, Crosswalk.com
Christians are expected to be very generous with their money. Whether it be tithing to a local church, giving to charity, or giving to those in need in the community, it is expected that Christians be more generous than non-Christians.
Many of these expectations are very specific, such as tithing 10% of one’s income. What does Jesus say about this topic?
Hold Your Material Possessions Loosely
Christians in Western culture often fall into the trap of living a life dedicated to pursuing wealth and material things. While many Christians may say that they don’t care much about money and they are very quick to give to others, their bank account information may suggest otherwise. While gaining wealth is not a bad thing, and wise stewardship of one’s money is certainly a way to glorify God, Jesus presents a different focus in terms of one’s possessions.
Jesus consistently encourages his followers to freely give of their possessions, rather than holding on so tightly as is common today. For example, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matt. 5:42). Jesus does not say, “Only give when you can fit it into your budget.” He simply says to give to those who are in need.
Now, Jesus is also not saying to be recklessly giving your resources to the point where you are homeless and hungry. That is poor stewardship and is antithetical to Jesus’ views on material possession. Jesus’ point here is that one should hold loosely to what s/he owns, ready to give something away to one who needs it more.
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Giving More Is Not Necessarily Better
This point is very counterintuitive. It seems natural that the person who is able to give away more possessions is more generous than s/he who gives away less. However, Jesus’ teachings directly contradict this line of thinking. Read these iconic words in the Gospel of Mark:
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on – Matt. 12:41-44
In this well-known account, Jesus abolishes a universal misconception about giving. This poor widow is not less generous than the rich people who can afford to give great sums. On the contrary, Jesus singles out this woman as the most generous, because despite her lack of possessions, she gave all that she had to live on into the offering. While the rich people are generous to an extent by putting in large sums, they know that they have even larger sums to live on. According to Christ, this widow did not have other money to live on, and she still gave it away freely.
Even if you do not have thousands of spare dollars to give to charity or your local church, that does not mean that Jesus is displeased by what you have to offer. What pleases Jesus is a genuine sacrifice of our material possessions, not a certain dollar amount. A $100 donation from someone with only $1,000 is much more of a sacrifice than a $1,000 donation from a multi-millionaire. Give what you are able to give, knowing that God is pleased with your generosity.
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Give in Secret
The modern culture of philanthropy has distorted our understanding of what real generosity is. You may have seen a rich person in the news giving away millions of dollars to a certain charity or cause. While it is a wonderful thing to give huge sums of money to those in need, is Jesus pleased by modern philanthropy? In many ways, I think not.
One primary reason why is that many philanthropists and celebrities make a social event out of their donations. There is a reason why you see such gestures in the news. They are meant to be very public actions. Everyone must know how generous such people are. This would be displeasing to Christ because it is not a selfless act. Such donors get widespread recognition and praise for their donation. While they do make some extent of a financial sacrifice, the boost in reputation may lead to opportunities to make much more money than they gave away. Jesus teaches that when we give our money, no one is to know that it happened. Read His words in Matthew 6:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you – Matt. 6:1-4
When you give your possessions away, do not make a scene out of it. Give for the purpose of giving, not in order to be seen by others and admired for your generosity. When you give your possessions in secret, take pleasure in knowing that God is aware of your sacrifice, and He is pleased by your gesture.
There are countless misconceptions today in regard to giving. Many think that giving needs to be a large gesture with a grand amount of money. This is not what Jesus teaches. Christlike giving is low-key, and is suited to what you can personally afford to give. Give what you can, and do it in secret. This is what Jesus says about giving away possessions.
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Lucas Hagen is a freelance writer, recently graduated from Taylor University with majors in Biblical Literature and Youth Ministries. When he is not writing for Crosswalk, you can find him reading great books, playing guitar, competing in professional disc golf tournaments, and spending quality time with his lovely wife, Natalie, and their fluffy cat, Woodward. You can read more of his writing at habitsofholiness.com.
This article is part of our larger resource library of Christian questions important to the Christian faith. From core beliefs to what the Bible says about angels, we want to provide easy to read and understand articles that answer your questions about Christian living.