How Much Should I Give?

“Purposefully vague.” I hated it when Carl Garner, one of my instructors, was purposefully vague on how many pages we needed to write. I had to make a plan for the last week of the session and needed to know how much time to allow for the assignment, and “purposefully vague” did not help. As a student, it frustrated me; but today I appreciate brother Garner’s wisdom.

Often we try to get by with doing the bare minimum. A paper that needs to be 3-5 pages will usually be three. An article that needs to be 600-800 words will usually be 600. But vague expectations often prompt us to put forth more effort. When we work under expectations and not specific goals, it allows us to set our own goals. If those expectations come from someone we love or respect, we exhaust ourselves to do more. As usual, brother Garner got his wisdom from God.

Under Old Testament Law, God’s children were commanded to give a tithe or tenth part of their prosperity as their contribution to God, “Thou shalt surely tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year” (Deut. 14:22). However, in the New Testament God says, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (1 Cor. 16:2). Hence, a lot of people ask, “How much should I give to the church?”

How do we measure our prosperity? Does it only refer to our wages? What about investments? Benefits? Resources? Non-monetary compensation? Bartering? Once we establish our prosperity, do we give a percentage of it? If so, what percentage? Is it a percentage of our current assets? Net worth? Holdings? God does not specifically say. Maybe He leaves it purposefully vague to see how we respond—out of duty or respect.

Second, we give as we love. Jesus praised the widow who gave all she had (Mark 12:42-44). Similarly, Paul praised the Macedonian churches, “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves” (2 Cor. 8:2-3). A few verses later he reminded them their gifts were an expression of their genuine love for God (2 Cor. 8:8).

Third, we give as we determine, not a result of emotional appeal, compulsion or because someone is watching. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

Finally, we give as we give ourselves. One of my favorite verses in the discussion of contribution comes from Paul, they “first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5). Why were the Macedonians so eager to give what they could not afford? Because they had given themselves to God. This is the most important principle in determining how much we give. When we give ourselves to God first, we enjoy giving our resources. We push ourselves to give more and more.

I know Christians who start with a baseline percentage of their prosperity. Then they cut their budget to make more sacrifices so they can give more to God. Others decide on a progressive contribution, setting a percentage for one year then increasing that percentage each year until a new goal is reached. These Christians give themselves first, then their contribution.

How much should we give? Everything…at least when it comes to ourselves. Then allow God’s purposeful vagueness to challenge us to ever increasing potential.

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