GIVING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Today’s Christian gains big-picture understanding of what the Bible teaches about financial giving by learning the Old Testament background and foundational truths related to the subject. This was presented in the previous article. But the New Testament contains the full teaching that guides what we do in the church and in our individual Christian lives. Join me as we survey Jesus’ teaching, the practices of the newly-formed first century church, and the instructions given by the apostles.
Jesus’ Teaching on Giving
Some say Jesus spoke on the topic of money more than anything else. I haven’t personally verified this assertion, but I do know that He had a lot to say about giving. The following is representative of His teaching on this subject.
- The right condition of our relationships is a prerequisite to giving.
Jesus said, Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24). We must endeavor to resolve offences between ourselves and others before we offer any gift to God.
Jesus made it clear that our view of God and other people is more important than any material offering we could present. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices (Mark 12:33).
- Openhanded generosity is the measure of giving.
Probably the best-known example is the poor widow who gave her two mites. The monetary value was minimal. The proportional value was incredible because it was “all that she had” (Mark 12:41-44).
Jesus also encouraged generosity when He said, Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38).
- Invest earthly material possessions in ways that produce eternally lasting dividends.
Jesus taught this truth when He said, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20).
He also spoke of giving to others as an eternal investment when He said, Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys (Luke 12:33).
He used the parable of the unjust servant to convey the life lesson, . . . make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home (Luke 16:9). This means to use our money in a way that will influence people toward believing in and following Jesus so that we will spend eternity with them.
In the previous article, Three Ways People Give, I demonstrated that Jesus mentioned tithing (giving 1/10 of one’s income) on only two occasions. In both of them He was addressing the sinful attitudes of certain Jewish people. He was not instructing His followers to practice tithing. The examples above are representative of Jesus’ teaching on giving. He emphasized the condition of the heart, having right relationships with God and others, being generous, and investing for eternity.
The Newly-Formed Church’s Practice of Giving
Now we’re getting to the principles and practices that directly involve the New Testament church. The book of Acts relates a number of occasions in which the first Christians gave financial offerings. Their practice is our example. Let’s learn from them. Here are the characteristics of giving in the early church.
- Giving with voluntary generosity
According to Acts 2:44-45, the brand new Christians had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Their actions evidence spontaneous generosity that would be considered extreme in our day.
- Responding to people with specific pressing material needs
This is evident from Acts 2:45 (above). Also, much of the Apostle Paul’s instruction on giving includes appeals to provide assistance to needy believers. 2 Corinthians 8-9, the most extensive New Testament passage on financial giving, is an appeal to contribute to a relief fund for impoverished brothers and sisters in Christ. In another example, Paul thanked the Philippians for giving to meet his material needs as he spread the Gospel (Philippians 4:10-20).
- Channeling offerings primarily through the leadership of the church
This doesn’t mean the leaders were the primary recipients of all that was given. The people brought their offerings to the leaders who then administered the use and distribution of the funds.
This is described in Acts 4, which contains another example of the spirit of generous sharing that permeated the infant church. It tells us the people actually liquidated their land and houses in order to have funds to assist their needy Christian friends. Verses 34-35 say, Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. Verse 37 specifies that Barnabas having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. They entrusted the funds to the church leaders who oversaw the distribution.
Acts 11 reveals that the church in Antioch collected funds for the relief of the Jerusalem believers. Designating Barnabas and Saul (later Paul) to deliver it, the church sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:30). In other words, it was delivered to the leaders in the church of Jerusalem who determined how it would be used.
- Confronting sinful heart issues related to the practice of giving
Ananias and his wife Sapphira participated in the real estate liquidation program. Ananias brought part of the funds and “laid it at the apostles’ feet” just as the others had done (Acts 5:2). But evidently he and Sapphira had conspired to give the impression that they were donating the full amount of the proceeds of the sale (verse 3). The Holy Spirit revealed this to Peter, who accused Ananias and Sapphira of lying to the Holy Spirit (verse 4).
Both Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead (verses 5-10). Word spread of this occurrence and produced a healthy fear that suffused the young church. The sinful heart attitudes of hypocrisy and pride seem to be a perennial problem. Malachi confronted these issues as did Jesus. The exposure of these attitudes and the forcefulness with which God dealt with them should send a strong message to us today as well.
- Giving voluntarily according to ability
This was the pattern from the beginning. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea (Acts 11:29). Paul commended the Macedonian believers for giving according to their ability and even going beyond that (2 Corinthians 8:3). He also said that what a person gives is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have (2 Corinthians 8:12).
The Apostles’ Instructions on Giving
This will be a fairly concise view of the overall teaching of the Apostles on financial giving. For now I am omitting the instructions on the causes, projects, and people we support with our giving. These will be addressed in a subsequent article on the targets of New Testament giving. The following instructions focus on the motivation, attitudes, and practice of financial giving.
- Give in response to the grace of God.
He is the Supreme Giver. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32). This tells us that giving starts with God, is modeled by God, and is possible because of God. Paul motivates the Corinthians to give by reminding them, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). See also 2 Corinthians 9:15.
- Give your whole self to God.
We no longer offer animal sacrifices. But Paul exhorts us, Present your bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Also, in the context of encouraging financial giving, Paul says of the Macedonian Christians, . . . they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God (2 Corinthians 8:5).
- Give sincerely, not hypocritically.
Paul exhorts Christians saying that “he who gives” should do it “with liberality” (Romans 12:8). The Greek word translated liberality means singleness. It conveys the idea of being without pretense or hypocrisy. We are not to give for show, or to impress people, or so we will receive appreciation or recognition or a financial advantage.
- Give intentionally and systematically.
Paul told the Corinthians, On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come (1 Corinthians 16:2). This particular offering was for the relief of suffering Christians in Jerusalem. Paul wanted them to be proactive in preparing for this offering by setting aside an amount after each week’s work and corresponding to each Lord’s Day (“on the first day of the week”). Rather than arrive unprepared or make a spontaneous decision, they should decide to participate in the giving opportunity, designate an amount, and keep it for that purpose (“lay something aside”). Paul did not specify a percentage, but told them to make their gift proportionate to their income (“as he may prosper”).
- Give from your abundance.
People who are financially prosperous should be ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
- Give from your poverty.
The Macedonians are the models once again, who in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality (2 Corinthians 8:2).
- Give as an act of worship.
Because Jesus Christ is our full and final substitutionary sacrifice, we are not obligated to make blood sacrifices at a temple. But we still bring offerings to our gracious God. In addition to the sacrifice of praise, we can also offer the sacrifice of giving to help others who are in need. So we should not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16).
In addition to these apostolic instructions, 2 Corinthians 8-9 contain a high concentration of teaching on giving. The concept of grace giving is front and center in this passage. It is here that we are exhorted to “abound in this grace also” (8:7)—the grace of giving. I will devote the next article to developing, primarily from 2 Corinthians 8-9, The Concept of Grace Giving.