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Stingy Christians

and a Generous God

by Kenneth Westby

My experience with many anti-tithe crusaders reveals, instead of noble motives, a quest for personal justification of their selfish behaviors. They don't tithe and they aren't generous toward God.

If you can describe yourself as a generous Christians—evidenced by your acts of generosity toward God and man—feel free to skip this article.

The Rabbi called on a member of his congregation for a pledge to enlarge the synagogue's sanctuary. "Sam, our congregation is growing larger every year and we really need this addition. Could you pledge a hundred dollars?"

"No, Rabbi, I can't."

"Well, then, how about fifty?"

"I can't do it, Rabbi, I'm heavily in debt, and I've got to pay my creditors first."

"But Sam, you owe a great debt to God, too, and don't you think He deserves your generous response?"

"He sure does, Rabbi, but God isn't crowding me like my other creditors."

In life it seems we are continually being "crowded" for our money by people as well as by our own needs, desires, and appetites. Money is a big deal in life which is why it was a frequent topic in Christ's ministry.

In the short space of the Gospels, Jesus preached at least thirty-one sermons on money or giving! Today, he would probably be accused of harping too much about money.

Most of us preachers don't have the courage of Christ. The truth is, preachers are afraid to speak boldly about money and giving for fear of being criticized. The scandal of money-hustling TV preachers, and of self-serving celebrity clergy have poisoned the waters of Christian giving. The result has been that dedicated ministers and Christian workers, sincerely serving worthy causes and ministries, have become too timid to bring up the subject of money lest they be identified with the money-grubbers and frauds. But such timidity is also cowardly and serves neither God nor his church.

I risk criticism by bring up the "M" word and suggesting some Christians are stingy. Well, criticize away, but please honestly consider the scriptural substance of this article. The "seed" of this message on giving may fall on stony ground, but the job of the sower is to sow, not to be popular.

The Strongest Scripture on Giving

It is not harping on money to simply follow the text of Scripture and make an honest effort to apply its principles to daily living. Let's begin with the Greatest and First Commandment which reads.

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deut 6:5, Jesus adds mind when he repeated it in Mk 12:30).

The gathering of terms—heart, soul, mind, strength—indicate the totality of our commitment toward God. We are to love God with our whole selves— everything that we are and everything we have within our power.

Rabbinical scholars note that the word "strength" includes more than how big your muscles are or your energy level. They suggest the primary meaning of "strength" has to do with loving and serving God with "all thy possessions."1

We are attached to our possessions and are rarely separated from them until that last breath when we leave every dollar and everything else behind. We acquire our possessions with money earned by the sweat of our brow—by dedicating our time to a job. Our life is time and we have invested some of that life to gain whatever possessions and wealth we presently have. There is nothing wrong with being rich, or with owning and enjoying material things, except when we have a stronger attachment to them than we have to God and the things of God. (God is rich and loves to abundantly bless his people as evidenced by the millionaires of Genesis—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.)2

Remember when the rich young man came to Jesus expressing his willingness to do any good thing to attain eternal life? How did Jesus test the fellow's commitment? He asked him to love God above his possessions: Donate them to the needy, join the disciples, and follow His Son.

In spite of his religious testimony that he was sincerely obeying God and chasing after eternal life, he was, in fact, unwilling to love God with all his strength/ possessions. He rejected Jesus' offer and walked away depressed. Matthew notes the reason why he wouldn't give, "he had great possessions,"3 and was obviously too attached to them. Was he a hypocrite? Stingy? Stupid? Maybe all three? Jesus wasn't fooled by his religious face and boast. True disciples/Christians must be willing to put God first—in everything.4

But before we get too hard on that fellow, we had best take a private look in our own mirror.

Excuses by the Trainload

After 42 years of pastoral work I have probably heard every excuse for not giving (or giving precious little) either by tithing or generous freewill offerings. They run from the obvious, to the creative, to the bizarre: "I can't afford it—too many bills," "I'm on a fixed income," "I've got a large family," "I pay too much in taxes," "I donate to charity through work and through the union," "churches get plenty of money and they don't need mine," "most preachers are crooks," "I don't belong to a church and I don't know any people in need," "I tithe to myself since every believer is a minister and priest," "I don't believe God expects me to give," "I give in non-monetary ways," "I can't give but I pray," "my husband won't let me," "my wife would object," "if I made more money or were rich I'd be very generous," "when I find a worthy church or cause I'll give, but haven't found one yet," etc.

One of the more popular excuses against a committed and generous program of Christian giving is: Tithing is no longer required. This frequent argument serves to excuse the Stingy Christian against any robust or generous giving program. I might agree with that statement, but does that mean that it is somehow wrong or "legalistic" to give ten percent of one's income by one's own freewill? Was the ten percent tithe, as presented in Scripture, the minimum or maximum amount one was to give? Is tithing the most powerful of God's principles on giving? What do you think?

What is the motive behind the loud chorus against tithing? Are these attackers noble liberators freeing people from doctrinal error and cutting off corrupt preachers from their support? Maybe. My experience with many anti-tithe crusaders reveals, instead of noble motives, a quest for personal justification of their selfish behaviors. They don't tithe and they aren't generous toward God. In fact many are hostile to churches in general and ministers in particular. We need to ask, are the tithers we know being forced to give against their will? (In the spirit of full disclosure I should disclose my personal belief: I don't believe tithing is binding upon Christians, nor do I believe churches should intimidate or require members to tithe. However, tithing, which is proportional giving, is one of many good examples of Godly giving principles. During our forty-one years of marriage, fifteen of which we believed tithing was required, my wife and I have always donated much more than a tithe. Read on for other biblical principles of Christian generosity.)

Years ago I remember when thousands of Christians who had been regular tithers (believing it was commanded), left their church organization, and after their study of Scripture, concluded that tithing was no longer binding upon them. The reactions that followed were varied and revealed in each person how much of the nature of God he or she had internalized.

Some breathed as sigh of relief and said that since they did "have to" tithe they weren't going to. They just got a ten percent raise and rejoiced they now had more to spend on themselves. For years following their departure from their old church organization they continued to complain about how they had been ripped off by a lousy church and never again would they part with their money for ministry, church, evangelism— anything religious. They could frequently drag up the "I've been burned in the past" excuse for being stingy with God and keeping everything for themselves. I wonder how their sad story sits with God. Does he give them a pass on developing a generous spirit toward supporting the Gospel because they, by their own decision, had belonged to an error-filled organization that misused some of their tithe money?

Others acknowledged a Christian responsibility to at least give something to the Cause of Christ, but felt they had paid their big dues in the past church regime and from here on out it was going to be nickel and dime giving. No commitments, no proportional giving, just a little here and there as the "spirit moved" or if a touch of guilt motivated them. In effect, they retired from an active support of any church or ministry. Perhaps they figured the money they had donated in the past, when they were required to do so, had amassed a sufficient treasure in heaven to tide them over.

Still others regarded their past tithing (in some cases hyper-tithing) as "given to God" regardless of the human failings of the people receiving the tithes. They had dedicated those funds as holy offerings to God and carried over no regrets even though they now no longer regarded tithing a legal requirement. They continued to be generous in their giving and continued to regard their freewill offerings "holy unto God."

We express ourselves with our money and these different reactions above reveal a level of spiritual maturity—or the lack of it. God is not fooled by our "victim stories," he just looks at our actions, our generous giving, and can see for himself if we love him with all our "strength" and with all we possess.

Some Giving Principles

God is a generous God and loves to fill our cups of blessing to overflowing. He also wants us to become like him and possess this virtue. This virtue, of course, is manifested in many ways beyond monetary giving. God wants us to be generous with our talents and abilities, generous with our time, generous in sharing our learning, generous in our encouragement and praise, and generous in our hospitality. But Scripture is clear; giving of our resources is one of the most important examples of the virtue of generosity. Let's just look a just a few principles of Godly giving.

1) Giving as God has prospered us. In giving, the source is "as God has prospered him," 5 as Paul expresses it. This means giving is to be in proportion to what a person earns, not necessarily what a church or some needy person requests. This principle requires one to measure the level of prosperity he has enjoyed (income), and respond in kind by determining a suitable amount to give.

2) Give according to the need. Needs do matter. This principle deals with giving to meet a particular need as was the case when the church first began and thousands of pilgrims had to be fed and sheltered. Drastic needs required drastic measures and the Brethren were selling whatever they could lay their hands on to support these needy Christians caught far away from their homelands.6 This principle could trump the "as you've been prospered" principle given the emergency circumstances.

In fact the first deaths in the new church were at the hands of God who struck down two people who, in the face of this crisis in the new church, were pretending to be more generous than they really were.7 Others may not have known this married couple were lying, but God did and revealed their lie thus making the point for all time that we can't fool God about how generous we are—or aren't. Some of the most terrible punishments God has meted out were upon the covetous.8 Paul said, "covetousness is idolatry."9 Covetous people are usually stingy. How we handle our money matters with God.

3) "Giving as you have been blessed" is the principle behind most of the offerings recorded in Scripture, whether by temple sacrifice, love offerings, thank offerings, or praise offerings. This giving principle is totally subjective. One must count his blessings one by one letting his heart overflow with gratitude toward God and then express that love with generous offerings in His Name.

What kind of blessings would one consider? Not just your bank account or net worth, although they would be part of the picture. When considering my spiritual blessings I must take inventory of what God has so generously and kindly given me. I would think of His calling, His forgiveness, the knowledge of Him, His plan, His way of life. His patience, and His Mercy—the list would continue and be long.

And what about the many blessings in my personal life? I must savor the blessings of my wonderful wife, my marvelous children and grandchildren, my terrific friends, challenging experiences and opportunities, living in America, my comfortable home and car, my blessings of good food and health, my many deliverances from troubles—and this list would also be long. A heart filled with gratitude toward God cannot hold back from expressing itself with generosity toward God and man.

4) The blessing in the act of giving. Jesus offers another principle of giving that is mentioned only by Paul in one of those rare red letter quotes in the book of Acts: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."10

Is Jesus saying that giving produces a greater blessing than the blessing of receiving blessings? I think so. Would these greater blessings be realized personally through the profound psychological pleasure of helping or blessing someone or some ministry with our gift? Absolutely. Haven't you experienced that special joy that comes from giving? It can be a giddy thrill to see someone or some good work blessed by your hand. Can you agree with Jesus that the goodness of this fruit is even sweeter than being on the receiving end of a gift, which is sweet indeed? Giving must give God great pleasure.

If our giving itself yields a personal pleasure, do we also receive a spiritual blessing from God? I think so. Giving is part of God's nature and when we practice it from the heart we reap his spiritual blessings. What form those blessings might take are known only to God, but he who sees in secret will manifest his blessing upon you openly in some way at some time where it will have its greatest impact.11

These dual effects of giving remind me of the old saw about cutting wood: it produces heat two ways; you get warm when you chop the tree down and split up its wood, and you get warm when you burn it in the stove. Giving is similar. You bless the recipients— whether the needy or a ministry of Christ—and you yourself are blessed by God both personally, because you gave with a happy heart, and spiritually, because your generous spirit pleases him.

Giving is an Act of Worship

The job of the ministry is not to nag people to give. Nobody likes to be nagged. It causes one's defenses to go up against a perceived attempt to pry open a tightly clutched wallet. True Christianity is a heart religion and giving must be a willing act of the heart as part of one's total commitment to love God. It is futile to talk about the needs of the church to a person with little or no spiritual commitment to God.

Getting a heart for God and the things of God is where any discussion about giving should begin. The most memorized verse in the Bible begins, "For God so loved the world that he gave...."12 Accepting this precious gift from God means acknowledging insufficiency—"I have a need." It is not easy to do—hard, in fact— but it is the essence of the conversion experience. Accepting gifts from God must prompt a reaction on our part. It is "the goodness of God" that leads us to repentance.13

God gives his Son, offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life and what does he expect of us? He expects a response from us that is not a casual or partial commitment to Him. He expects a total commitment; all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Anything less will not be worthy.

Repentance means we have committed to become a new man in the image of Christ; we have dedicated ourselves to taking on the divine nature and to making the things of God most important in our lives. We see ourselves, our things, and our money in a new light—no longer our own, but belonging to our God and Savior.

With humble eyes God's Spirit helps us see reality for what it is; God owns everything and has for a short spell entrusted to us some of what he owns. "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it."14 Doesn't that include you and me and all our material things that have come forth from his earth?

The sinful woman described in Luke 7 expressed her love for Jesus in a most earnest way by wetting his feet with her tears, kissing them, and wiping them with her hair. Jesus said, "Her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."15 Have God and his Son done enough for us to "love much"? Should not our actions of gratitude express it?

Holding a coin, Jesus said we are to "render to God what is God's."16 How does one do that? Has anyone successfully sent a tithe or offering up to God's heavenly throne? Does the US Postal Service deliver there? Can we say God "needs" our money in any tangible way? Does God have bills to pay? Of course not. All giving to God stays on earth and is to be directed toward those dedicated to upholding his name and proclaiming his Word (the priesthood and temple ministry in the OT; the work of the Church in the NT), and to those among us in need.

Yet, in one sense our giving does reach heaven. To the Gentile soldier Cornelius God's angel declared.

"Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God."17 Jesus said that by the righteous use of earthly treasure you can "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.. for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."18

On one occasion Jesus planted himself next to the temple offering box to observe carefully how and how much people donated and then offered his commentary. He singled out a poor widow woman for particular praise. He noted that she gave much more proportionally than all the others.19 Apparently even the poor can be generous toward God. It should be noted that Jesus praised this woman's giving even though she offered it to a far from perfect priesthood (some would call it corrupt) and temple administration. Jesus and the woman both regarded her gift as given to God.

Christianity is a heart religion and one's treasure should be controlled by the heart, not the heart controlled by the treasure. Jesus concluded one of his many discourses on money by saying, "You cannot serve both God and Money."20

Church, Money, and Stingy Christians

The stingy Christian doesn't think he is stingy. He is thinking his problem is paying his mortgage; let someone else be responsible for the church's needs. Besides, he's planning to buy an RV and take a trip which will keep him broke for months. The stingy Christian doesn't want to think too much about the good works being done in God's name lest he feel obligated to support them.

The stingy Christian is a spectator Christian. He doesn't want to do anything himself. He just sits on the sidelines and boos, criticizes, and occasionally cheers. He likes to handicap, evaluate and critique what others are doing in Christ's name, but takes no active part, nor does he pursue a ministry of his own.

The Church of God isn't a club with dues, it is a spiritual fellowship created by God and led by his Son. It has important things to do that require all its members to take part in carrying out its work. The Body of Christ is diverse in its various administrations and ministries—churches, evangelism, publishing (this copy of The Sabbath Sentinel is an example), research, teaching, counseling, translating, ministering to all kinds of special needs, etc. All these good and noble works need money to function.

The sad fact is that most ministries are not financially prosperous. They limp along, under-funded, their workers and ministers overworked, their budgets paltry. (The entire annual budget of the Bible Sabbath Association would not purchase a fancy SUV with shinny wheels!) All this in the richest most prosperous nation in world history. There is some shame here.

Just as you don't like to think of your life being all about money, you have to acknowledge that your life and your family run on money. Without money you might end up in a homeless shelter living on someone else's money. Money has a God-given role in making the world work. It has an important role in allowing the church to carry out its commission.

One important lesson I've learned about money and Christians: What a person gives may have nothing to do with what he has. After interacting with thousands of Christians over many years, I've also learned that a Christian with a real heart for God and the things of God is a truly generous person—generous toward God and man.

Some Closing Questions

If you'd like to be more financially committed to any one of the various ministries of the Body of Christ, here are some questions to consider. Ask yourself:

1) Am I helped by what I hear, see, or read from this church, TV, or radio program? Do I benefit from their magazine, literature, tapes, videos, counsel, or services? Do I identify with their mission? If you can answer "yes" to any of the above, become a generous supporter.

2) Do I agree with the overall thrust of their (whatever group) message and doctrine? (This does not mean agreement on every last point—you can't expect more of a church or para-church ministry than you do from your own mate). Are they sincerely proclaiming the truth of God? If you say "yes," then offer your support.

3) Do I want to see this ministry grow and continue to serve others as well as myself? If the answer is "yes," please support them.

4) Is the Body of Christ enriched and strengthened by the message and ministry I am presently supporting? Is it a message the entire culture should hear? If so, become even more committed and generous in your giving.

God has been in the giving business longer than you and me. We would be wise to adopt his policies and enjoy his benefits. He lives by the rule of generosity. One word that could never be applied to God is "stingy." We need to see to it that it doesn't fit us either.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul praised the Macedonian churches of God saying,

"Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints."21

He called their giving an "act of grace" and counseled the Corinthians to "see that you also excel in this grace of giving."22 I'll let that be the final word for us.

References 1 Rabbi Abraham Ben Isaiah and Rabi Benjamin Sharfman, The Pentateuch and Rashi's Commentary, Deuteronomy volume, Jewish Publishing Society, Philadelphia, 1977, p. 65.
2 See Catherine Ponder's book, The Millionaires of Genesis,
DeVorss & Co, Marine del Rey, CA, 1976.
3 Matthew 19:16-22.
4 Luke 14:25-35.
5 1 Corinthians 16:2.
6 Acts 4:32-37.
7 Acts 5:1-10.
8 Achan was stoned for taking the Babylonish garment and silver. Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, was stricken with leprosy for his covetousness and we read what happened to Ananias and Sapphria.
9 Colossians 3:5.
10 Acts 20:35.
11 Matthew 6:1-4.
12 John 3:16.
13 Romans 2:4.
14 Psalm 24:1
15 Luke 7:47.
16 Mark 12:17.
17 Acts 10:4.
18 Matthew 6:20-21.
19 Mark 12:41-44
20 vs. 24.
21 2 Corinthians 8:2, NIV.
22 vv. 6, 7.

Ken Westby is a former president of the BSA and is the founder and direction of the Association for Christian Development (ACD), which can be found on the Web at godward.org.


July - August 2005 The Sabbath Sentinel