How Do We Decide How Much to Give?
Another Commitment Season Reflection
How do we decide how much to give? It is most often a practical question, yet it has strong theological underpinnings. It is a question that the faithful have asked for generations, and, although it is ultimately a question that each person and family must answer for themselves, there is both theological and practical guidance. So, here is the first of a two-part article based on the question, How do we decide how much to give? This week focuses on the theological; next week the practice.
Theological Foundations for Deciding How Much to Give
Tithing goes all the way back to Abraham. Long before Israel was organized by laws and judges, Abraham gave one tenth of everything to King Melchizedek in response to God’s blessing (Genesis 14:20). Two generations later, Jacob bartered with God, offering God one tenth of what he had if God would provide enough bread to eat and clothing to wear and safe passage back to his father’s house (Genesis 28:20-22). The tithe was then encoded as Law during the time of Moses. Israel understood that God delivered them into the Promised Land. The land and the fruits of the land were not understood to be possessions of the people, rather, they were gifts to provide for the people, to be stewarded and shared so that everyone had enough. Toward that end, each household was instructed to give 10% of what they reaped each year. In addition there were special tithes and offerings to care for the widowed, the orphaned and the refugee.
First fruits also dates back to the Laws of Moses. Israel was instructed to give “the first of all the fruit of the ground” (Deuteronomy 26:1-2). Instead of giving what was left over at the end of the year, families in ancient time gave the first fruits as a sacrifice to God. This practice served as a constant reminder that everything they had came from God, and that they could trust God with their future.
Stories like The Widow’s Offering (Luke 21:1-4) and the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-25) remind Christians that deciding how much to give is not about arriving at an exact mathematical formula. Giving in the New Testament is rooted in principles of gratitude, trust, justice and mercy. Jesus calls his followers to give proportionally. He is clear about the danger inherent in trusting our security to possessions that we collect on earth, “Take care!” he says in Luke 12:15, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” saying later in the chapter, at the end of a parable, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (12:48). How we give is also important to Jesus. Giving of our tithes and offerings should not be a public display of righteousness, but an act of faithfulness and trust. Finally, sharing is at the heart of the early church’s giving practices. Indeed, in Acts 4:32-37 believers held in common all of their possessions and in that act of sharing, every member of the community had all that they needed.