and a Generous God
by Kenneth Westby
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 Christiansevidenced
by your acts of generosity toward God and manfeel 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
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
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
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
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 termsheart, soul, mind, strengthindicate
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
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 browby 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 GenesisAbraham, 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 firstin 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 ittoo
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
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
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
We express ourselves with our money and these different reactions
above reveal a level of spiritual maturityor 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
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
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 areor
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 Mercythe 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 troublesand 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 Christand
you yourself are blessed by God both personally, because you gave
with a happy heart, and spiritually, because your generous spirit
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 dohard, 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
lightno longer our own, but belonging to our God and
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 forgivenfor 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
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
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 ministrieschurches, 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 persongenerous 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
pointyou 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.
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.
- August 2005 The Sabbath Sentinel