We’re Enslaved by Greed
The American church’s financial potential is staggering! With 80% of the world’s evangelical wealth in North America, 10% of our collective income represents about $260 billion. But despite our extraordinary wealth, giving among protestants averages less than 3% per household income. That’s significantly less than American evangelicals were giving during the Great Depression! (See Revolution in Generosity.)
Sadly, American Christians give less even as we make more. This is biblical disobedience.
Studies show that even America’s millionaires don’t consider themselves wealthy. Indeed, because wealth is always relative, greed is difficult to identify. So here’s a challenge: As you read the rest of this post, assume your greediness. Admit it out loud (“I’m greedy”), and consider your giving accordingly. Although greed is difficult to diagnose, it’s really simple to treat. Just give.
We’re Set Free by Grace
But how much should we give? Well, we could make a biblical case for 10% (Leviticus 27:30-33). We could make a biblical case for 23% (Deuteronomy 12:6-7; Deuteronomy 14:28-29). We could make a biblical case for 50% (Luke 19:8; Luke 3:11). And we could even make a biblical case for 100% (Mark 10:21). But to do so would miss the point.
"I do not give away 10 percent, I surrender 100 percent.” - George Barna
It’s true that the Israelites were commanded to give up to 23.3% of their annual income under Mosaic Law. But some argue this was a theocratic tax, corresponding to our modern state and federal taxes. So perhaps our most applicable Old Testament guideline for giving was the "freewill offering,” which was never associated with a percentage. But this we know: God wants the entirety of our lives, which is almost always more than we’re ready and willing to give.
The Apostle Paul considered the nation of Israel to have been children under the tutelage of Mosaic Law (Galatians 3:24-26). But “when the fullness of time had come,” God’s people reached spiritual adulthood in Christ (Galatians 4:1-11). Over the course of biblical history, our Heavenly Father has been maturing his children, and one day, we will receive our full inheritance in Christ! Under the Law, God disciplined His people according to timeless, God-honoring principles in preparation for their freedom in Christ. The Law was etched in stone back when our hearts were stone, but the Law has now been hidden within our hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19-20)! Astoundingly, we're now characterized by the indwelling of God Himself (Galatians 4:6)! So for God’s people to be less generous under grace is a disgrace.
"With freedom comes responsibility.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
With our great and glorious and costly freedom comes a great and glorious and costly responsibility. So as we say every Sunday, the faithful follower of Christ should give regularly (1 Corinthians 16:2), sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:2-3), and cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). Not to give at all, or to give disproportionately, or to give reluctantly is sin.
We’re Entrusted by God
In Matthew 7:14, Jesus says "the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” As children of Western thought (“I think, therefore I am”), we cheapen and distort this verse by assuming he means only to challenge our thinking and believing. But he’s talking about a way of living. And how we use our money determines that way of living. Think about this: As you make your living, what kind of life are you making?
God works mightily through a people who are willing to give, willing to serve, and willing to die. But when we rob God, we rob ourselves (Malachi 3:8). Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need (Malachi 3:10). Trust Him! Put Him to the test, and watch as He works mightily!
That said, many Sojourners have asked for practical advice on how to budget for generosity. Our Financial Stewardship Team members are always available to help you with your budget (simply fill out the form in the footer of this page), and the quotes below should give you an idea of how they think through their own:
First of all, we commit never to give less than 10% to the local church. Secondly, we commit to always give more to our local body than we set aside for savings. This principle is meant to express tangibly where we place our trust and our treasure.
Our goal is to invest well in the local church, our family’s presence in the neighborhood, our neighbors, and people around the world. Our budgeting priorities are as follows: (1) giving to the local church, (2) paying taxes, (3) providing for our basic needs, (4) paying debt, (5) setting aside money for benevolence within the community, (6) saving, (7) setting aside money for entertainment, and (8) giving the remainder to church or parachurch needs.
Eventually, we want to give the largest portion of our income to the local church, but for now, our mortgage and student loans make up the bulk of our expenses. We give at least 10% of our income before taxes, but our plan is pay off our loans quickly in order to increase our giving.
I begin by giving 10% of my gross salary as a minimum. After that, I look at my expenses and determine whether anything will be left over. I try to plan for big purchases and look to give part of the remaining money away. I also have a cap on my bank account. When the cap is reached, I give away all but 2 months worth of expenses.
We invest our money where we're most invested. Thus, giving to the local church takes precedent over parachurch organizations and other charities. The church is a family, and our family members are our first priority.
Giving shouldn't be easy. True sacrificial giving won't go unnoticed in our hearts. So in giving to the local church, we go without some things we might otherwise have. This challenges our priorities and reveals what we care about more than the gospel. But that’s a grace of God.
I give a semimonthly amount online. If my income increases, I determine how much more I can give as a result. If my income decreases or my expenses increase, I pray through how I might continue giving the same amount by decreasing my spending elsewhere. In addition, I give any unexpected income (bonuses or tax refunds) away to the church.
So what are your convictions regarding giving? What factors do you consider in deciding how much to give? How do you struggle to give? Does your giving reflect the mindset of someone who knows this world is not their home? What do you hope your children learn about Jesus and His Church from your budget? Are you open to discussing your finances with other trusted individuals within your parish? Why or why not?
“I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare…” - C.S. Lewis
Take some time to meditate upon God’s generosity in the gospel, and pray for your Christian brothers and sisters, your lost friends, and the needy. Then, repent of any greed, and ask yourself: How much do I really desire to give? And if giving still feels like a burden, try committing to six months of giving more than you think you should. Growth in generosity always works against the grain of our fallen hearts. But we are the stewards, managers, and trustees of God's resources (1 Chronicles 29:14). And this responsibility is an incredible honor! We can’t serve God AND our money, but we must serve God WITH our money.