Common Questions About Biblical Generosity

In a recent post, I described generosity as An Irrational Financial Act, going on to explain why it’s actually essential for anyone who wants to experience simple, meaningful financial success.

With this post, I’d like to answer two very common questions about generosity.

How Much to Give

I believe the first principle to follow when deciding how much to give is one that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. I call it The Principle of the Choice Gift, which is very much a matter of the heart.

It comes from the experience of Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel. As described in Genesis 4, when they were young adults they each brought gifts to the Lord. Cain brought “some of the fruits of the soil,” which scholars have explained means he gave a portion of his crops, but not the best portion. By contrast, Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” In other words, he gave a choice gift.

Their gifts said much about their hearts, and the Bible says, “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.”

Quantifying a Choice Gift

One of Pascal’s most famous quotes is: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” In other words, it’s difficult for us to fully understand the motives of our own hearts.

When it comes to generosity, our hearts may lead us to give truly choice gifts, or not. That’s why it can be helpful to get a bit more specific in answering the question: How much should I give?

The historical biblical starting point of generosity is a tithe, or 10 percent of income. As Randy Alcorn points out in the best book I’ve ever read about biblical generosity, it’s where God started his Old Covenant children: “Does God expect His New Covenant children to give less or more? Jesus raised the spiritual bar; he never lowered it (Matthew 5:27-28).”

At the same time, the Bible teaches that 10 percent is not the intended stopping point. After all, it encourages us to give both tithes and offerings. And besides, while 10 percent may be the choicest of gifts for a person making very little, for a person making a lot, 10 percent may be far from a choice gift.

So, my counsel is to base the amount that you give on a percentage of income, using 10 percent as a benchmark – a place to move toward if you’re not there already, and a place to move beyond if you are.

Where to Give

When deciding where to give, the Bible clearly reveals three causes that are important to God where our financial gifts can support His work in the world: The poor, those who don’t know Him, and those who teach His Word.

The local church is typically all about those three causes. It is usually active in helping to meet the needs of the poor in its community and elsewhere. It introduces visitors to God and often supports missionaries in other parts of the world who are spreading God’s Word. And, of course, it is a primary source of our biblical instruction.

Since the local church is, in essence, a one-stop shop for those three causes, at very least, a solid case can be made that it would be good stewardship to make our home church our first priority for the money we give, and then give to other organizations God puts on our heart.

Pay Your Purpose First

Part of the conventional wisdom in our culture is to “Pay yourself first.” The idea is that if we are to build a reserve and be able to retire one day, we need to make savings our highest priority.

Saving and investing are important. However, simple, meaningful success is found in paying our purpose first, and the first purpose of our lives is to honor God. Financially, that means devoting the first portion (what the Bible calls the firstfruits) of all that we receive to supporting His work in the world.

If you’re new to the idea of giving truly choice gifts to God, at first it will feel like a lot. Eventually, though, it will feel like it’s not enough.

That’s been my experience. It was difficult at first. Honestly, I didn’t want to. I didn’t even see how it could be possible. But I have discovered the truth of Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There is something about the practice of generosity that increasingly orients our hearts toward God.

As we grow in generosity, we discover that there is great joy in using money to make life changing, eternity shaping differences in the lives of other people.

Got a response to any of the above? Meet me in the comments section.

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4 Responses to Common Questions About Biblical Generosity

  1. Marc August 25, 2018 at 3:40 PM #

    Giving a specific percentage is really difficult for me because I’m self employed and my income is all over the place. Not only does the inconsistency make it a challenge, but the bigger challenge is what number what number would I use as my income? My business expenses include things like maxing out a 401(k) match, so would I go with 10% before or after that? My approach the past few years has been to pray and give as I feel led. I’ve found that I’m more excited to give the more time I put into thinking and praying about it, and if I leave it in God’s hands to direct how much I give, and to what causes, I wind up giving more than I would otherwise.

    The book that has had the biggest impact on me in this area is The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. He was the president of World Vision, so obviously he talks about the causes that they are involved in.

    • Matt Bell August 28, 2018 at 12:22 PM #

      Thanks for sharing some of how you approach giving, Marc. As for inconsistent income, one idea is to give the next month based on what you earn this month. Another is to give some set amount each month and then reconcile your giving at the end of the year.

      I’ve always believed giving should be based on gross income. That’s our purest form of income and it helps ensure that giving is truly done from a “firstfruits” perspective — that it’s our first priority before contributing to a retirement account or anything else.

      I love the idea of praying about this and trying to discern where God is directing us to give and how much. But I also find it helpful to follow certain biblical guidelines. It’s been helpful to me to view giving 10% of gross income (or other forms of “increase,” such as gifts, inheritance, etc.) as a starting point.

      Thanks for the book suggestion as well. I’ve heard good things about that book. I’m going to have to read it.

  2. Scott Johnson August 8, 2018 at 10:32 AM #

    Great Article! I love reading your posts and agree that hat Randy Alcorn’s Treasure Principle and Money Possessions and Eternity are two of the best money books that I had read.

    Have you read God & Money by Baumer & Cortines? Alcorn does the forward in their new book and they flip the script on the “How much should I give?” question and start asking a much better question. They also give a 3 S framework that is beneficial for everyone to work through to find their own Finish Lines.

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