Christians are called to be godly in giving. That could be giving in attitude, time, energy or money – all are important. Here we will focus specifically on the area of money and the way we generously and responsibly use the resources that God has put in our care.
Let me make four points from 1 Timothy 6 which may help our thinking.
First, Godly giving is not a means to financial gain.
To teach that godliness in the area of giving will be a way to secure financial gain would be to teach heresy. It is a false doctrine. It is not what our Lord Jesus taught.
Look at what the Apostle Paul said to Timothy:
3 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-6)
This is a good double check of both my motivations in writing this and for any church when it comes to teaching about money. Giving should not be to make me or the church rich. Giving should not be to so that you might become richer.
When Paul wrote this, he wanted to make sure that the motivations that drove Timothy (who was charged with the responsibility to lead a church) were right ones. His point, when you teach those in your church, don’t do it for financial gain.
Godliness when it comes to money, looks different to the world around.
So what does godliness look like?
Second, godly giving has to do with contentment.
Contentment is a mark of godliness – see 1 Timothy 6:6 above. I imagine that Paul takes his lead here from Jesus when he warns people about being more worried about riches in this world. In Luke 12, Jesus helps a man to think rightly about riches and inheritance when he tells him the parable of the rich fool. This fool realised that he didn’t have enough barn space to store his crops and grain (and if he was around today his cars or tools or clothes or art collections!). So, he built more and more storehouses. But God said, ‘Fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you’ and Jesus says, ‘this is how it will be for anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.’ (Luke 12:20-21)
The point, it is much more important to be rich towards God than rich in this world. How can you be content if you spend your whole life building a financial nest egg, when you can’t take the nest egg with you when you die?
The human life is not meant to be a life of making money or becoming rich. Why would it be, when the greatest gift possible is the gift of life and the greatest riches to enjoy is what is in store with the heavenly inheritance that comes when we die in faith or when Jesus returns for his faithful ones.
That means for now, we should be living within our means and focus on looking after God’s affairs while he looks after ours. Jesus shows the man that ‘A person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’ (Luke 12:15). The author of Hebrews says: ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have’ (Hebrews 13:5).
Now, while affluence is unimportant, Jesus is not saying possessions are unimportant. There are basics which are necessary which are mentioned in 1 Timothy 6 – food, clothing:
7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:7-11)
The issue arises when we place the luxuries before the necessities and so get lost in the add-ons. Paul warns that a very real temptation and trap is to want to get rich. Money will inherently tempt, and the risk is that it will lead a person to place their hope in things that have no eternal meaning.
In our secular world, the way decisions are made are very often based first and foremost in the protection of our wealth – we give little, we chase after a bargain, we seek higher wages. In the country I live in, our policies about border protection, our tax system, the pursuit to own property, and the desire to be in an economic surplus are all examples of putting wealth and wealth protection before people. Why? Ironically, so that we can maintain a lifestyle, or protect ourselves in case things get really bad, or so that we can enjoy ourselves more and more.
It is a misplaced agenda. It is dangerous!
‘The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’. Paul is not saying that having money is the root of all kinds of evil (it may be the expression of all kinds of evil). He is saying the root of all kinds of evil is loving money. And the risk, which the Christian needs to be very aware of that that some people who love money, some who are eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs! Can you see the paradox here? The desire to get more wealth to protect ourselves, is the very thing that will pierce us with many griefs! That is like buying a weapon to protect oneself, only for that weapon to inadvertently be the very thing that harms you!!
So, Paul says to the Christian – you person of God, flee from the love of money and pursue things which have other-person centred value: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. All things that are hard to put a price tag on.
Contentment is more important that affluence.
Third, godly giving means putting your hope in God.
There is another problem with affluence, it is unreliable. Paul’s advice to Timothy is this:
‘Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth which is so uncertain, but put your hope in God’ (1 Timothy 6:17)
Riches can come quickly and can be lost just as fast. Regardless, we lose those riches when either we get so old that it is no longer any use to us or we die.
Money tempts us. It asks us to put our trust in it but yet it is such an uncertain thing in which to put our trust! So a better way is to be put our hope in God who provides richly and provides everything for our enjoyment.
Proverbs 23:4-5 puts it a little more eloquently:
‘Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches and they are gone for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle’
Sounds simple, but it is a fundamental test of faith for someone to recognise that the hours and effort, the salary or wage, the work goals or KPI’s, are not as important as living trusting that God has your life under control.
Finally, godly giving means being rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share.
If you want to be rich, then be rich! Be rich in good deeds:
18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Tim 6:18-19)
Paul closes off his letter telling Timothy to command his church to do good, be rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share. What does it mean to be generous and willing to share?
Generosity is a wonderful demonstration of love. Being generous comes with a cost. You pay so that someone else benefits. In fact, the best example of generosity comes in the gospel. God gives, his son, at great personal cost, so that we might freely live.
Christians are called to be generous in that same manner.
To be generous means to give even though there may be a personal cost, so that others receive freely. God gives, not so that we can be affluent, but so that our needs are met, in fact our greatest need is met, we are saved from our sin.
As such, when Christians give, it is not so that others would be affluent, but to give so that others needs are met, and to give so that their greatest need (that they are saved from sin) is met.
A few years ago, I had a husband and wife ask to see me to talk about their giving. There was some financial pressure in the household and some disagreement about the best way to use and give the money that they had. The husband had a hard and fast rule: ‘We give 10% because the Bible say so.’ And the wife, wanted to know if that figure could be revised because she was struggling to provide the necessary basics for the family on the amount that she had to spend. So I talked to the husband about the 10% tithe being an Old Testament guideline, that in principle it is a good guide, but not a command. In fact, the Bible said to be generous with what you have and if you don’t have it then you still have a responsibility to the family.
I then asked him what he did with the other 90% of his salary. At that point, his wife jumped in and said: ‘75% is used on the mortgage, he wants to pay that off as fast as possible!’ Now not being a financial advisor, I am sure there is wisdom in paying your home loan off really quickly, but I wonder if making sure both your family and your giving are priorities that should be placed higher that getting out of a home loan?!
The one who is rich, became poor, so that those who are poor, might become rich – not materially but eternally! Christians don’t give to make others affluent, they give because they are commanded to be rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share – just like the Lord Jesus.
For other articles in this series:
Generous in Giving (Part 1 of 4)
Christians are givers! (Part 2 of 4)
Godly in Giving (this one)
How does a Christian Organise their Godly Giving? (Part 4 of 4)