By Beryl Jantzi
Director of Stewardship Education, Everence
No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed. —Deuteronomy 16:16
He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. — Luke 1:53
One of the biblical images used to teach generosity is that of hands. Empty hands. And the message is don’t come before God empty-handed.
Giving is an expression of gratitude, but it’s also a statement of feeling indebted, in a good way. If you’ve received someone else’s grace and generosity, you should respond in kind. Today we call it “passing it forward.”
In the Old Testament, people were taught about giving back to God for all kinds of reasons and occasions.
One of the reasons giving by Christians in the U.S. is only about 2.8% is because it isn’t being taught in our churches like it was taught by the prophets, the apostles and even Jesus!
As a result, giving is viewed as an optional Christian practice within many of our churches. I would agree that it’s a voluntary act, but is it truly optional according to scripture? I would say, “No!”
Besides the lack of teaching, here are four more reasons some self-professing Christians give little or nothing to the work of the church.
- People are in transition and it’s not a good time.
People may say they’ve just started a new job, or moved to a new city, or had a baby, or are caring for aging parents … These are reminiscent of the excuses Jesus heard when recent converts were invited to follow him (Luke 14:15-24).
Is it ever a good time to begin a new commitment? It reminds me of the quote, “When is the best time to plant a tree? Answer: 40 years ago! When is the second-best time? Now!”
Giving to the local congregations is an investment in the mission and ministry of the church. If you haven’t done so before, start now!
- It’s a difficult time financially.
We need to tread lightly with this excuse because many do struggle financially through no fault of their own.
But we also read in scripture that what matters is not the amount given but the spirit with which the act of giving takes place.
Widows are often the heroes of scripture. Widows were typically on the fringe of society and typically the most generous and trusting in spite of their circumstances (1 Kings 17:7-16; Mark 12:41-44).
To begin a practice of generosity is to test God in the present and to trust God with the future. Yes, I said test God. The only place in scripture where we are challenged to test God is in the matter of generosity (Malachi 3:10). Giving something is better than arriving empty-handed.
- Lack of connection and involvement.
People give where they are wanted, needed and invited to be involved for who they are. This is especially true for Millennials (23-38-year-olds).
We need to involve new attendees in our community life and leadership teams. We need to make room for them at the communion table, as well as the tables where decisions are made.
- Institutional and leadership mistrust.
If people don’t know their leaders beyond seeing them behind a pulpit, they are less likely to give. If the church or any institution is not transparent about how money is used, it becomes a barrier to generosity. People vote with their wallets, and this has never been truer than now.
All of these obstacles to generosity can be addressed and overcome. It will require a greater openness to confronting the subject of generosity than is often present in many of our churches.
The Apostle Paul frequently wrote about giving for the greater good of the whole, and because it’s good for the soul of the giver (Romans 15:23-24, 26-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-20).
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts! — Psalm 96:8
Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. — 1 Timothy 6:17