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Why is God interested in my money?

poundcoinsRev Matt Stone looks at the topic of financial giving and considers why we give, how much should we give and what the Bible says about giving.

My own denomination, the United Reformed Church (URC), has recently conducted a national survey about the giving habits of URC members. The results make for interesting – and challenging –reading. The survey found that the poorest 5% of URC members – those with an income under £5,000 a year – give on average 10% of their income to the work of the church. At the other end of the scale, the richest 4% – those earning £60,000 a year or more – give on average only 1.5% of their income to the work of the church. On average, the amount given in percentage terms steadily decreases as the member’s income increases.

It raises questions: Why is God interested in my money? How much should we give? Is there a right percentage or amount?

Old Testament Giving

In the Old Testament, we are introduced to the idea of tithing – giving a tenth of our money and/or harvest to God. It begins with Abram giving the Priest and King Melchizedek a tenth of everything he had (Genesis 14:20), and Jacob promising to give back to God a tenth of everything God had given him (28:22). In Exodus 23 and elsewhere, the people are requested to offer God the first fruits of their harvest, and this linked in with the three annual Harvest festivals. In Leviticus 27:30-32, the people are asked to give God a tenth of the produce of their land, and if they need to eat some of that food (perhaps because of a poor harvest), they were to repay it later (perhaps when the Harvest was better) with an extra 20% added.

By the time of Deuteronomy 12:5-6, there is talk of taking burnt offerings, tithes, first fruits and freewill offerings to the place where God chooses: this was to be God’s Temple in Jerusalem through much of the Old Testament era. The talk of these different offerings, in addition to a tithe, suggests that much more than just 10% might have been expected. Later, in Malachi (3:10), God challenges the Israelites to give their full tithe, promising to pour our heaven’s blessings upon them. But who was to get all of this food? What was it to be used for?

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 suggests that the individuals themselves got to eat some of this food in the presence of God. There might have been a communal meal of thanksgiving, perhaps like a Harvest Supper, at the Temple during the festivals. The Levites (the local priests, who do not own land) are also to be fed from the tithes, as well as any foreigners, widows and orphans. The tithe would have created then an early version of the welfare state. It was to be used for the benefit of the whole community, providing food for those who need it. There is no question as to whether those receiving it are the ‘deserving poor’ or not: the request is simply to put the food aside and for it to be used in the way God requests.

New Testament Giving

In the New Testament, there is no mention of tithing directly. Christians are bound by grace, not Law. There is no command that people must give 10% or more to fund the work of the church. However, Jesus warns us about money and its potential power over us: “you cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). To answer my first question, God is interested in our money because it can be a counterfeit god that we serve in His place.

How did Jesus’ first followers respond to Jesus’ teaching? Well, we know that the earliest Christians shared everything they had, not just 10% (Acts 2:44-45). When this started to go wrong and some remained excluded from the communal meals, they quickly tried to make amends (Acts 6:1-6).

Later on, Paul gives us the longest discourse in the New Testament about giving in 2 Corinthians 8-9, when he writes of the offering he is collecting for the Jerusalem church. We are left under no doubt that giving is a spiritual issue. Giving to support the mission of the church is a sign of fellowship and sharing in God’s work (2 Cor. 8:1-6,13-15), a sign of Christian maturity (vv.7-8), and a response to the poverty of Christ (v.9). Paul reminds us that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” and that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6,7b). 

Twenty-First Century Giving

The New Testament explains why we should give, but not how much. That is intentional: “Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7). Giving is a matter for prayer and reflection. We begin by remembering that everything we have comes from God, and indeed still belongs to God. Ultimately, our money is not the result of our hard work, but the grace and generosity of God. As Abraham Kuypers once said, there is not one square inch of creation over which Jesus Christ does not say ‘This is mine.’ Every breath of air, every bite of food, every drop of water, every pound in our pockets comes from God alone. Let us be under no illusions!

We need then to reflect on how much we retain of God’s resources, and how much we give away. Perhaps 10% should be seen as a starting point in our praying and reflecting. We also need to think about who we should give to. The ministry and mission of the church (locally and internationally) is one vital area worthy of support, but it is not the only area. The Old Testament tithe was never solely for the use of the clergy and religious buildings: it was for the good of the whole community and for supporting those in need. We might then consider some local, national and international Christian charities as part of our Christian giving.

I believe that God wants his people to invest in human flourishing; to show that there is a new type of life: “life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). God calls us to invest our resources – time, talents and money – not for a financial dividend, but for an eternal dividend. Our resources (which are really God’s resources) can transform lives. In the Kingdom of God, we are invited to be God’s co-workers (1 Cor. 3:9) – but will we take up the challenge?

MattStoneMatt Stone is a Minister in the Norwich Area group of United Reformed Churches, serving at Ipswich Road and Wroxham & Hoveton URCs.

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