God has a plan for our finances, and giving plays a big role in it. In addition to tithing to our local churches, God wants us to give abundantly to those in need, and to ministries and organizations that advance the work of His Kingdom on earth. But the question arises — exactly how much should I be giving?
We’ve established that God wants us to give as often as possible — “at all times” and “on every occasion” — but how do we know how much of our income we should be giving? There’s no one answer that will fit every person or circumstance, but the Bible does give us some good guidelines to start with.
Once again, we look to II Cor. 9:6-11 for direction:
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
In this passage, Paul is using the metaphor of sowing and reaping to teach us about how generosity works in our lives. And when we read the text, it’s pretty easy to understand that the more we give, the more God promises to bring back around in return. The more you sow, the more you’ll reap; the more you give of your resources, the more resources are entrusted to you.
But the agricultural metaphor extends beyond the sowing and reaping cycle, and gives us an insight into how much we should be giving. Notice verse 10: “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed, and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.”
Bread and seed are important points here. Bread represents the resources that we should use to eat, provide for our families, and take care of life’s necessities. Seed, on the other hand, is a resource that is set aside for giving.
When a farmer harvests a crop of wheat, he has a choice to make: He can either take all of that wheat and grind it into flour to make bread, or he can use all of those wheat germs to plant more wheat fields in order to have a bigger harvest next year. Of course, if he makes bread of all of the harvest, he won’t have be able to harvest any wheat next year. On the other hand, if he plants all of the seeds, his family will starve as they wait for the next crop to come around.
The clear solution to this conundrum is that we must do some of both. What Paul is pointing out here is that God provides enough resources for us to both survive and give. It makes sense — you wouldn’t eat your seed, nor would you want to sow your bread. Either of these options would be counterproductive. Rather, we should eat what has been allocated for provision, and sow what has been allocated for generosity.
How does this help us determine what we should be giving? Well, it tells us that God intends for us to use some of our resources to take care of ourselves and our dependents. So you should never feel guilty about using your money to meet your needs. But we also know that God intends for us to give often and abundantly. So once our needs are met, giving ought to be one of our chief financial priorities.
There’s no golden ratio here — God doesn’t say that we should all live on 70% of our money and give the rest. So how should you go about determining how to give? Start by making a good budget that will help you figure out what you and your family really need. Be sure to plan for your long-term needs as well, and to factor in a tithe to your church. What’s left over is your seed.
Of course, life is not always so cut and dried; sometimes it’s not easy to clearly identify what expenses are needs and which are only luxuries. And a little bit of luxury is okay. But we should use discernment and ask God to show us how to make the right decisions in these areas, so that we’re both giving and providing in the way that He wants us to.
If at the end of all of this, you find that your seed is woefully small, fear not. God tells us that as we are faithful to give, He will increase our store of seed. That means that giving a little bit now will make us able to give even more later on.
Full disclosure: Much of the content in this article came from a sermon that David Jewell preached in our church years ago. Thanks, Dad — I was listening!
Photo by Jill M. Used under Creative Commons License.