Working in business development for a church giving platform, I am often asked if there is a Biblical precedent for churches using digital technology to accept tithes and offerings; any scriptural evidence that "text-2-give is acceptable to the Lord? I’ll save you a concordance search: there isn’t.
In many ways, the Bible remains frustratingly vague when it comes to our most pressing questions about stewardship and generosity. This may explain why so much of our preaching about finances remains frustrating and vague.
How should we teach our people to give? How often? And how much? Do we teach that believers have to give to their home church? Or is it okay for our congregants to send money elsewhere? And what about tithing? Is that the minimum requirement for Christians or the maximum? Is it even relevant to New Covenant believers?
Over the years, many good-faith efforts have been made to answer these questions. More than a few pastors and theologians have attempted to codify the ABC’s (and $1.23s) of giving to the church. And yet, for pastors and parishioners alike, these efforts have provided little assurance.
In fact, it wasn’t until I came across this quote from C.S. Lewis that I felt like I had ever heard a truly compelling “rule” for Christian generosity:
“I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. If our giving habits do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we want to do but cannot do because our giving expenditures exclude them.” – C.S. Lewis
That pretty well settled the issue for me – in large part because it cuts to the unspoken underpinnings of the questions above. Sadly, what we are really after is this: “What’s the least we can give while still honoring the Lord with our finances?”
It’s a perfectly understandable – and perfectly human – question. It mirrors our tendency to seek out the lowest common denominator in our life and our faith. What is the least I can do while still fulfilling my duties as a husband and a father? Can I love my neighbor without unnecessarily disrupting my own life? How far can I go before it becomes a sin?
We’ve been granted freedom from the Law, and yet we want to return to the comforting specificity of the Pentateuch. Just give us a line, so we can know when we’ve safely crossed it!
Like so many of the freedoms granted by the New Testament, the expectation for Christian generosity is actually more challenging than the requirements of The Law. God is not going to let Christians get away with a simple “give 10% and you’re off the hook.” He asks us for so much more than that. Our congregations are challenged to give cheerfully, faithfully, consistently, and – above all – sacrificially (2 Cor. 9:6-7).
I was reminded of Lewis’s “rule” once again on a recent Sunday when the pastor used Mark 12:41-44 as his primary text. It’s a story we’ve all heard, perhaps even preached from. After watching a woman contribute $0.01 toward her church’s general operating fund, Jesus remarked, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Jesus’ comments affirm the oft-repeated truth that “giving is not about what we can do for God, but rather about what God wants to do in us.” How can it be said that this women’s penny was worth more than all of the other gifts? Because she felt it more. Because she gave more than she could spare.
When generosity is viewed and practiced in this way, it forces our givers to do two things:
1) Acknowledge the primacy of Christ over all things. If materialism and greed are the sicknesses of our age, then sacrificial generosity is the cure. Are their things in your members’ lives that they want so badly, that they’d sooner decrease their giving than go without them? Sacrificial giving restores generosity to its rightful place atop their priority list. It helps keep first fruits truly first.
2) Depend on Christ as the source of all things. As I look ahead to the remaining years of my life and my career, it is easy to dream about the day when money will no longer be a source of fear or anxiety. In short, to the day when I won’t have to depend on God to provide for my family’s needs. Perhaps there are some in your congregation longing for the same. But, of course, this day will never (and should never!) arrive. “Feeling the pinch” of my giving reminds me of this, and forces me onto my knees in gratitude and supplication, regardless of my income level.
Jesus’ call to generosity – like so many of his more challenging teachings – leaves no room for half measures. The Bible makes no mention of “lowest common denominator,” “better than nothing” giving. Jesus desires authority over all of our finances, and there’s no better way to grant him that authority than to give more than we can spare.
This is the kind of radical, “all in” generosity that is missing from so many of our sermons on giving today. Rather than scaring people away or saddling them with yet another onerous financial obligation, Lewis’ Rule sets givers free to experience a life of joyful generosity. The kind of life Christ intended for us all along.