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Biblical Guidelines for Giving

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If your experience is like mine, you are continually receiving requests for donations, particularly as we approach the end of the year. These requests are so numerous there is no way we can possibly contribute to them all. And so the question arises: “How do I decide which ministries to support?” Here are a few guiding principles, which I find helpful. Perhaps they will assist you in your decision-making process as well.

1. People are a priority.

In the Old Testament the people of God did give toward the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings, and later for the building of the temple, but this was for the sake of the people – God could dwell in their midst. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find monies designated for the purchase of property or the building of structures. Interestingly, we do find property being sold to meet the needs of others (Acts 4:32-37). In the New Testament giving is directed toward people. I believe it is safe to say that meeting the needs of people should always come first. If the end result of buying property and constructing buildings is for the benefit and blessing of people, then buildings and the like may be justified, but people are always the priority. I have heard of churches that have responded to crises that have produced great human needs by reallocating their building funds to meet these needs. People should always come first in our giving.

2. The poor are a priority (Acts 2:45; 4:32-37; 6:1-6; Galatians 2:10).

This includes those in genuine need, who have no other means of support, particularly the vulnerable, such as widows and orphans (James 1:27). Often, donations are requested with the promise of receiving something in return. Giving to the poor is giving to those who do not have the means to reciprocate. We must thus give, looking to the Lord for His blessings, perhaps in the present age, but certainly in the age to come (Proverbs 22:16; Matthew 6:1-4; Luke 14:12-14).

3. “Pressing needs” are a priority (Titus 3:14).

Virtually every request for a financial gift is linked with a need. Not all needs are legitimate, and not all legitimate needs are pressing (to use Paul’s language). Greater, more pressing, needs should have priority over other needs. The Scriptures help us to prioritize needs presented to us.

4. Spiritual needs take priority over merely material needs.

In the temptation of our Lord Satan sought to make our Lord’s physical need (for food) a priority. Jesus made obedience to God’s leading His priority: “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4, NET). Thus, fasting is one way that we practice the priority of spiritual things above material things (Isaiah 58; 1 Corinthians 7:5). I should hasten to add that sometimes spiritual needs are addressed in conjunction with meeting physical needs (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Philippians 1:4-7; 2:25-30; 4:10-20).

5. Believers are a priority in our giving (Romans 12:13; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 6:10).

These may be believers whom we know well (Acts 2, 4, 6), but it should also include Christians we don’t know personally, but who are commended by those we trust as being faithful servants and stewards of the gospel (3 John; Romans 16:1-2).

6. Those who teach us God’s Word should be a priority in our giving.

We are obligated to give to those who minister God’s Word to us. Notice this includes more than just money:

Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it (Galatians 6:6, NET; see also 1 Corinthians 9:1-12a).

7. The proclamation of the gospel leading to the salvation and spiritual growth of men is a priority.

Jesus clearly made the proclamation of the good news His priority (Mark 1:35-39). So did the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 9:12-23; 10:31-33). The proclamation of the gospel should be a priority, and should be prominent in the ministry of any who would look to God to provide for their ministry through others.

8. Godly motivation for giving is a priority (2 Peter 2:1-3).

God cares not only that people give, but also for why they give. There are many impure motives for giving, such as seeking material gain or the praise of men. Some employ guilt as a motivation for giving, while others appeal to greed or fleshly desires. Giving should be a voluntary act (2 Corinthians 8:3; 9:5-7) and should be viewed as a privilege, and not merely a duty to perform (2 Corinthians 8:3-5). It should be joyfully done as an expression of faith (1 Timothy 6:17-19) and of obedience to God’s Word (2 Corinthians 9:3-7). It is both tempting and easy to resort to tactics which appeal to wrong motives when seeking the contribution of others. Paul’s concern even encompassed his motivation for receiving gifts from others (Philippians 4:10-20).

9. We should give to the Lord, looking to Him for our reward.

The one who is gracious to the poor lends to the LORD, and the LORD will repay him for his good deed (Proverbs 19:17, NET).

The Lord Jesus made it very clear that giving to those in need was, in essence, giving to Him (Matthew 25:31-46). That is how we should view our giving – giving to Him, not to a dynamic, winsome, highly popular leader, but to God.

We should not give to get our reward from men. Those who proclaim a prosperity gospel promise their donors that they will receive more than what they give. This would include praise from men (Matthew 6:1-4), or some form of reciprocation (Luke 14:12-14). We look to God for our reward.

10. Proper handling and distribution of gifts is a priority.

Paul exemplified integrity and generosity in his own life (1 Thessalonians 1:9-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12) so that his own practice with regard to money was transparent. In addition, Paul was extremely careful to handle the donations of others in such a way as to avoid any suspicion or criticism (Romans 16:3-4; 2 Corinthians 8:18-23). The proper handling of funds is a crucial factor in whether or not to give to an individual or organization. This matter should be transparent and above reproach.

11. Requests for funds should be from believers.

5 Dear friend, you demonstrate faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers (even though they are strangers). 6 They have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they have gone forth on behalf of “The Name,” accepting nothing from the pagans. 8 Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we become coworkers in cooperation with the truth (3 John 1:5-8, NET).

I remember hearing of one ministry leader some years ago who said something to the effect: “I would take funds even from the devil.” Just as the priority for giving is “to” believers, it is likewise to come “from” believers. To give to organizations who fail to make this distinction is to run the risk of become partners with unbelievers in the work of God (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Philippians 1:3-7; 2 John 1:7-11).

12. Doctrinal purity is a priority.

Giving creates a bond of unity with those to whom we give (2 Corinthians 6:14-15; 9). We are strongly cautioned against unites with those who deny the faith by denying sound doctrine:

17 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! 18 For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naive (Romans 16:17-18, NET).

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist! 8 Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not remain in the teaching of Christ does not have God. The one who remains in this teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house and do not give him any greeting, 11 because the person who gives him a greeting shares in his evil deeds (2 John 1:7-11, NET).

We should know and agree with the doctrinal position of those to whom we give.

13. The end result and goal of giving is the glory of God.

I am reminded of the story of the woman who (in the eyes of some) “wasted” a valuable resource by anointing the feet of Jesus, rather than selling the perfume for money that could be given to the poor.

6 Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head as he was at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they became indignant and said, “Why this waste? 9 It could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor!” 10 When Jesus learned of this, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a good service for me. 11 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me! 12 When she poured this oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Matthew 26:6-13 (NET1)

Jesus made it clear that in this instance, this woman’s act of glorifying the Savior took precedence over giving a gift to the poor. The ultimate goal of our actions, including our giving, is to glorify God. Thus, we should give to those individuals and ministries which best bring glory to Him:

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31, NET).

11 You will be enriched in every way so that you may be generous on every occasion, which is producing through us thanksgiving to God, 12 because the service of this ministry is not only providing for the needs of the saints but is also overflowing with many thanks to God. 13 Through the evidence of this service they will glorify God because of your obedience to your confession in the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your sharing with them and with everyone. 14 And in their prayers on your behalf they long for you because of the extraordinary grace God has shown to you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:11-15, NET)

Related Topics: Christian Life, Finance