Don't Be Guilted into Giving

Last year, I was sitting in a reasonably packed conference watching the host on the screen as he made a request for an offering to let the content of the conference be sent out to nations that couldn’t afford it.

A noble effort, to be sure.

But just before the collection was taken, he looks to the audience, points a finger and declares, “If you aren’t giving your full ten percent to your local church, don’t give to this. You are in sin and you are robbing God. Get right with God and then give to this.”

I’ve heard a lot of similar type comments before. But hearing it this time… honestly, it just made me angry and I’ve never been fully able to articulate why until recently.

I wasn’t angry because I was being convicted of sin in this area. I was angry because this attitude turns financial giving—something that should be a wonderful, worshipful act—into something ugly.

Why do you give?

Do you give out of a sense of obligation?

Do you give out of a sense of guilt?

Or do you give out of a heart of gratitude for all that God given you—in response to His saving you through faith in Jesus Christ?

What was most helpful for me was recently discovering the place of the tithe in the New Covenant community.

Tithing & Taxes

My pastor recently spent the last two weeks teaching on this, so it’s all still pretty fresh and I freely admit that I’m stealing from him. But here’s the big idea:

The term “tithe” is a mathematical term, referring literally to a tenth. It’s also a term that refers to taxation.

In Genesis 41:34, Joseph interprets Pharoah’s dream and says that a 20% tax—an imposed, mandated tithe—will allow them to store up provisions during the seven years of plenty to care for the people during the seven years of famine.

Under the Mosaic covenant, the Israelites are given three mandated tithes that equate to roughly 23% of their annual income. This provided for the needs of the Levites, the poor and for festivals.

In short, it was their taxes.

Accordingly, the tithe still exists today under the New Covenant. And it’s—ta da!—your taxes!

Your taxes, mandated by your government—which was put in place by God, whether they are godly or ungodly—are your tithe. You have no control over what you pay (aside from legal deductions).

And it’s a lot more than 23% for most of us in Canada.

As my pastor explained a couple of weeks back, and I think he’s dead on—paying your taxes, that money that comes off your paycheck before you even see it, is an act of worship.

Offerings from a Heart of Gratitude

But there’s another element to giving: The offering. These are gifts that are not imposed, but given in response to God freely.

In Genesis 4 we see the first one with Cain and Abel (as there is no command recorded we can only assume that this was a freewill offering).

We see another in Genesis 14:19-20 when Abram meets Melchizedek and he gives a tenth of his spoils from battle (again, there is no command for him to do so). This is motivated by his love for God.

In Exodus during the construction of the tabernacle, God says, “From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me” (25:2). Moses commands them in Exodus 35:4, “Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution.”

So they went away and they decided what they would give. Apparently it was so much that the people had to be restrained from giving more!

The New Testament Perspective

As I’ve been studying the New Testament, I’ve found that 2 Corinthians 8-9 contain the most exhaustive instructions regarding giving in the New Testament. While it may be an oversimplification, these can be summed up in three basic instructions:

  1. Give Cheerfully
  2. Give Generously
  3. Give According to Your Means

That’s pretty much it.

In 2 Corinthians 8:1-12, Paul commends the Macedonians to the Corinthians, saying that though they were in serious affliction and extreme poverty, they gave in an overflow of generosity according to their means. They worshiped God with their money.

He continues in 2 Cor. 9:6-12:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (emphasis mine)

Notice verse seven:

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

So what does Paul say?

Give according to what you’ve decided in your heart. Do not give under compulsion. To give out of guilt or a sense of obligation is actually an abomination. That’s actually the point of God’s rebuke of the Israelites in Malachi 2-3.

They are giving their tithes & offerings, but it’s only because they “have” to. They don’t give out of a sense of joy in their heart, a thankfulness for God’s grace in providing for all their needs.

That’s why He says, “And thereby put me to the test…if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Mal 3:10)

All of our giving is to be from a generous heart, cheerfully offered.

Guilt and obligation—these things don’t produce this kind of heart. But the Holy Spirit does.

Where Your Treasure Is…

What I’ve been reminded of is that, as Pastor Norm rightly said, faith and finances are inextricably linked. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” said Jesus in Matt. 6:21.

The reason I became so angry with the message presented during the conference last year was not because I don’t think people should give and give generously, but because it’s not a message that encourages heart change.

It leads to pride or despair.

If I’m giving “my full ten percent” then I’m somehow “right with God” on the basis of what I do. If I’m not then I’m a good-for-nothing, useless sponge who doesn’t have enough faith in God to provide.

I’ve been the guy who has taken pride in how “generous” I’ve been.

I’ve been the guy who has felt beaten up about “not having enough faith” to give away our grocery money when we were learning how to budget again with one income.

Both are ugly. Neither encouraged me to love Jesus more.

Perhaps I’m naïve, but I don’t think brow-beating people into giving is going to produce soft hearts.

But reminding people of the gospel—that Jesus, though he was rich became poor on our behalf, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, offering up His life for ours and rose again to give us the gift of new life—that changes people’s hearts.

That moves people to be generous.

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  • Keystone

    Random thoughts on this post:

    Raised Catholic, I broke a nun’s heart and attended an Assembly of God service. It was a sermon day for money appeals galore (three offerings). I had not seen this before.
    The sermon was based on Psalm 126 basically saying “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”
    (v.5).

    The visiting from Africa, pastor, had proclaimed that the end of each harvest required a setting aside of seed for next years crop planting. It had been a poor crop year in Burkina Faso. But required bags of seeds for next years’s grain were set in bags in a separate facility.

    In time, folks were starving. No food to be found. A little boy wandering as little boys do, came across the bags of seed, and ran home with some,…. telling dad, “We are saved and won’t starve! I found some grain”.
    Dad recognized the seed grain for the spring crop to come, and knew if they ate that seed, there would be no planting or new harvest…..assuring starvation. He told his son to return the bags of grain to where they were.
    They would be planted; not eaten now….and some starvation now, would preclude all starvation later.

    “Those seeds would be sowed in tears”, the pastor proclaimed, but they will reap with songs of joy”, from having that small alllotment. He wanted money to hold back starvation in the interim.
    Hence, the third offering. I still remember that from 20 years ago, but do not know if it is a recycled sermon for money pitch, or a solo performance that year, as needed.

    But the effort sowed tears in an audience of a mega spot, and thousands of dollars accrued immediately for a third offering cause. I assume motivations to contribute or not varied, but it was a memorable momey pitch as you can see.

    Above, I read:
    “What I’ve been reminded of is that, as Pastor Norm rightly said, faith and finances are inextricably linked. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” said Jesus in Matt. 6:21.”

    I do not agree with Pastor Norm.
    Mother Teresa was doing her thing for the poor of Calcutta, long before the Nobel Prize and accompanying money that she then gave to her Indian people and cause, for taking care of the least among us.
    We are told to “Store our treasures in heaven”…..but that locale does not have an ATM machine.
    Treasures take many forms, and Mother Teresa was storing up her treasures long prior to Nobel monies being added to the cause. Her treasure storing truly revealed her heart, and it had zip to do with finances.

    New churches mean new buildings, new parking lots, new maintenance, new worship leader, salaries and more. None of the money feeds a single soul, gives medical attention to the ill, rehabs a prisoner, and the like; but, it does keep the game of church-money in profits, more than prophets.
    We have lost our way as Christians on this.
    Few pastors want a small church; they seek bigger and more modern, and MEDIA to outreach.
    That is their treasure; their heart.
    And it is to the detriment of the church of Jesus Christ globally

    (It amazes me that churches needed cash for Haiti earthquake, and the Tsunami folks a few years back in Aceh, but remain silent as oil fills the Gulf of Mexico. Treasures are a funny thing and truly DO reveal the heart.

    Third and final observation:
    Jesus healed ten lepers. One returned to say “Hey, I just wanted to tell you I deeply appreciate what you did for me and healed me”.
    Christ changed the topic.
    “Were not ten of you healed? Where are the other nine?”

    When I hear this anytime, I am reminded to be a “ten”, not an “other nine”, for their ingratitude will one day be judge by the Master Healer. But no money exchanged hands between Christ and the “ten”.
    His treasure and heart were linked and stored in heavenly currency called gratitude, for what he ahd received. He went back to Christ and said “Thanks”. Christ did not say “Your welcome”.
    He queried the motives of the other nine and a lack of gratitude that will come back to haunt each.
    This is not guilt; this is guidance from Christ.
    Notice a “tenth” returned.

    I have a suspicion that the entry to heaven’s narrow gate will approximate this number and ratio.
    Perhaps 10% will enter heaven as a result of knowing how to store treasure in heavenly currency in God’s economy. Building bricks and mortar, paving parking lots, having esspresso machines on hand for “the elect” to enjoy church (with donuts too please) has nothing to do with tithing…..but that is where the vast majority is consumed.
    We are way out of whack as Christians on tithing, how to tithe, why, and the songs of joy we reap when we store treasures in heaven, not here.

    I said last above, but more comes to mind, so I add:
    My aunt was among the poorest women I ever knew. She was also among the most joyful people I ever knew. I recall many a time when someone would compliment something in her home…..from curtains to her purse. Whatever it was, she always replied: “Oh,…do you like that? Take it now! It’s yours!”
    People were stunned as she emptied her purse and smiled as she handed it over, empty, but filled with joy to the giver and receiver, for BOTH knew it was “liked”.

    As a family, we learned to NOT tell her we liked something or she would stop what she was doing and give it away to you. This was a woman who had nothing……and everything. She died with a smile.
    I suppose she thought we liked it and so she left the planet, with her smile left behind. I miss her.
    As Christ said of the woman who ticked off Judas by beaking a nard of oil and washing Christ with her hair and tears comingled: “Leave her alone. What she has done is for me, and will be remembered wherever the Gospel is preached forever, She done what she could”. That was my aunt. She done what she could.

    Ok, last thought….though I wish I could tell them all.
    I worked for an oil company at one point, and the president invited me to his church. I went.
    It was a decent sized, modern Protestant church, whopper choir, mission oriented spot.

    Offertory time came, and plates of gold plating were passed row to row, front to back.
    It was my first visit and I observed this tithing moment up close.
    I passed the plate to the president, who had a $20 bill in his hand, but his hand was shaking in grasp, with an internal decision underway in his mind, to drop it in or keep it. It consumed a good ten seconds and a frustrating scowl on his face, until his second wife on the other side of him and me, nudged him to move it buddy. He dropped the twenty in.

    At work, i asked an older co-worker what that was all about. Surely he did not invite me to church to display that a millionaire several times over was a skin flint….so why the trouble disbursing a twenty dollar bill?

    The coworker replied two items:
    “Look around here Keystone. We have to recycle one box of paper clips in this office. When you need one, go to the office receptionist and claim a recycled one. (I laughed at this, for I had lamented to a friend of the hoarding of paper clips and she mailed me a whopping 100 clip box for a Christmas gift for 99 cents).
    I was the envy of the oil company workers, thereafter.

    “Keystone”, he continued, “this man is running out of planet to vacation. He is gone three weeks of each month. But long ago, he bought for that church he took you to (and my coworker when HE started working long before), the organ in the upper loft. He thinks he is going to heaven for storing that organ up there.
    In his mind, it makes no sense to give another $20 when you gave the organ….he’s going to heaven already”.

    I began to understand the minds of the poor through my aunt giving away anything she had that brought joy to another.
    I began to understand the perils of the rich getting into heaven…..when you hoard paper clips to save money, yet vacation in Thailand and 6 more spots annually, but church giving is once a lifetime and get it over with.

    “Where are the other nine?”
    Be a “ten”…….again and again.

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      Your aunt sounds like a great example of generosity for all of us, Keystone.

      Your former boss is also a great example of what Jesus (and my pastor) was talking about when he said “Where your treasure is, so will your heart be also.”

      But that’s the thing that Norm was talking about when he made the statement “faith and finances are inextricably linked.” We either love God and use money, time, talents, everything we have to serve Him. Or we love money so much that it’s a struggle to even put $20 in the offering without breaking out into a sweat.

      If we love money more than we love God, we’re not going to be generous, and if we are brow-beaten into giving without heartchange, we’ll hate God even more.

      It always comes back to the gospel–because that’s the only thing that can change one’s heart and allow him tor her to be more generous.

  • Mark Vice

    Great post!

  • http://twitter.com/chrismacleavy Chris MacLeavy

    Spot on Aaron – I wrote a similar post about 2 months ago (http://bit.ly/jDLGzy).
    It’s a really important (and all to often misunderstood) principle to understand clearly; not as an excuse to get out of giving on a Sunday, but to recognise that giving is from the overflow of blessing we’ve received, and give back purely out of that joy.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Thanks Chris—and thanks for sharing your take on the issue as well!