Jesus made the point many times in many ways. In the Sermon on the Plain, he exhorted a large multitude: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).
In the Sermon on the Mount, he likewise cautioned: “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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19–21).
These words ought to haunt every reader with a job—especially those who, like me, are among the wealthiest people in world history. (Economists tell us that the average American today is much richer––roughly 90 times richer––than the average individual throughout history.)
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. What a word in season for affluent disciples.
The average American today is much richer––roughly 90 times richer––than the average individual throughout history.
Stats Don’t Lie
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity reports that the total income of Christians worldwide is now $53 trillion per year. How much do we spend on Christian causes per year? $896 billion—less than 2 percent of our income.
According to a recent poll by Infinity Concepts and Grey Matter Research, 19 percent of American evangelicals (defined by belief in the authority of Scripture, the importance of evangelism, penal substitution, and gospel exclusivity) give no money whatsoever to churches or charities. Among those with six-figure incomes, 10 percent gave nothing in the past 12 months. (Those who did give donated 4 percent of their income to churches and charities. And when evangelicals who don’t give anything are factored in, that number falls to 3.2 percent.)
Bear in mind that these numbers are inflated by a small group of very big givers. The median figure is worse. It is only 1 percent, which means half of evangelicals give less than 1 percent of their income to churches and charities. (Americans at large give at much the same rate; being an evangelical Christian makes very little difference when it comes to generosity.)
The disparity between what [evangelicals] give and hope to get is hard to miss.
As if this weren’t enough to convince us of the need to improve, the Barna Group reports that younger Christians give at even lower rates than their elders. This has yielded what some now call a “generosity gap,” which does not bode well for the future.
Most believers today think God wants to bless them with financial resources. In 2018, LifeWay conducted a survey in which 69 percent of American Protestant churchgoers affirmed that “God wants me to prosper financially.” And the more these respondents went to church, the more likely they were to say God wants to prosper them. Evangelical respondents—defined, again, by belief—were the most certain of all that God wants to give them money (75 percent).
Many seem to have forgotten Jesus’s teaching quoted above: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” The disparity between what they give and hope to get is hard to miss.
Back to the Bible
Over and over again in Scripture, the Lord says that giving is an indicator of trust in his providential care and gratitude for his provision day by day. It’s also the way he’s asked us to enable corporate worship and care for the physical needs of others.
The ancient Israelites practiced fiscal stewardship with care—at least some of the time. Though their giving history changed from time to time and place to place, and though Bible scholars differ over details, Mosaic law required many tithes and offerings of the people year by year: a primary tithe (or tenth; in Hebrew: מעשר maaser) of crops and new cattle, propitiatory offerings (for sin and guilt), dedicatory offerings (various kinds for various reasons), and communal offerings (for fellowship, peace, thanksgiving, or sacred vows). Such gifts honored the Lord, paid the Levites and priests, funded corporate worship in the tabernacle and temple, and met the needs of the poor.
This giving system grew under the rabbis in the Talmud, becoming more expensive. Even before that, though, its proceeds totaled far more than 10 percent of the Israelites’ income. Even wealthy Jews spent a much smaller portion of their money on luxury goods than middle-class Americans spend today.
In the New Testament era, Moses’s rules were relaxed for Gentile Christians. But apostolic teaching on stewardship and giving proved just as robust—and more aspirational. Paul admonished the Corinthians concerning his collection for the Jerusalem saints: “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” (2 Cor. 9:6–7). He said much the same to his mentee Timothy, who struggled with timidity:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Tim. 6:17–19)
Beloved, let’s grow in discipleship by living like this teaching from the Lord applies to us. Let’s do what Jesus says. Let’s practice what we preach. Really, how much more self-indulgence do we need? We will answer one day for the way we spend our money.
Near the end of his life, the disciple whom Jesus loved left us with a question we ought to ask today: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children,” he urged, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17–18).
May it be so, Lord Jesus.