One of the most striking pictures, painted in words by the writers of the Gospels, is that of the Lord Jesus sitting over against the treasury, watching those who gave of their wealth. This incident took place near to the end of His public ministry and perhaps its appeal is all the more forceful in the light of the self-emptying devotion of the cross. Mark records in one brief phrase the object of His watching: He “beheld how the people cast money into the treasury’, 12. 41. Luke says that He “saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury’, 21. 1. Mark comments “many that were rich cast in much”, 12.41. But we are bound to feel that the actual amount cast in that day mattered little to the Saviour. If this had been the prime consideration, the poor widow around whom the story is built would have had no place. He “beheld how they gave" – this turns our minds from the riches cast in to the manner of the giving, which is a prime factor in all Christian giving. In what manner do we dispose of goods and possessions for the Lord? Is it without sacrifice being involved, out of our abundance? Remember, David would not give to the Lord that which had cost him nothing, 2 Sam. 24. 24.
Early in Christian experience, the question of rightly balanced giving is bound to arise in our minds. One thing is certain. None can evade the challenge of the lavishness of God’s giving. He “giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not”, James 1. 5; He “giveth us richly all things to enjoy”, 1 Tim. 6. 17. These, among many other Scriptures, tell of a God who delights continually to give. Generosity is a Christian grace and it is true, in a largely selfish world, that liberality brings its own recompence. It is also sadly true that the work of God suffers in many ways when there is a lack of concern regarding the “grace of giving”. To give is to be God-like; the measure of giving should be as He has given to us.
We can consider four features linked with the meaning of the Christian’s giving.
The way we give to God is invariably the expression of the way we live for God. Notice the order in Paul’s commendation of the liberality of the churches of Macedonia; they “first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God”, 2 Cor. 8. 5. How wonderful this is and how important. For all sanctified giving to the Lord must spring from the devotedness of sanctified and surrendered lives. As we value God’s giving to us, we must realise that the Giver is much more important than the gift. We know, with deep thankfulness, that because we have the Giver, the gifts are ours to an unlimited extent. It is none the less true that, unless God has our lives first, He will not receive that for which He is looking. Let us surrender our lives to Him, putting them at His disposal, and then our giving will be directed aright.
"God so loved … that he gave”, John 3.16. This wonderful truth lies at the very heart of the Gospel and must inevitably colour all our thinking in relation to giving. When God looks at our response to His great giving, we can be sure that He looks beyond the hand that gives to the heart that lies behind it. As the Saviour witnessed the giving of the widow at the treasury, His commendation gave evidence of His appreciation of the thoughts of her heart. The grace of giving is therefore more than a duty. Cold duty sets its limits and calculates the extents of giving. Devotion sets no limits but is prodigal, giving out of a full heart. Thus of the Macedonians Paul said, “according to their power, I bear witness, yea and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord”, 2 Cor. 8. 3 R.v. Dutiful giving is so often linked with philanthropy and acts of charity, but God does not ask for charity to support His work. He desires gifts that are the result of loving, sympathetic hearts responding to His own love. Let us make sure that our giving is inspired by an irresistible response to the unbounded love of our God.
All fruitful Christian giving must be controlled by a right understanding of need. It is easy to be satisfied with putting a few coins in “the collection”, without considering the relationship it has to possessions or needs. It is so often asked “How shall we know how much to give?” Systematic giving is an essential. The whole tenor of the New Testament teaching on giving indicates that there must be a part of personal possessions set apart exclusively for the Lord, 1 Cor. 16. 2. This must be His – for His servants – for His work. Tithing is a good exercise and leads to good strong giving habits, but it is well to recall that the tenth was God’s portion. If it was withheld, the people “robbed God”. It was what they freely gave in addition to the tenth that was accepted as true giving by God.
We must also learn to give sympathetically, with a true knowledge of the needs existing. There is a great danger in giving vaguely, hoping that it meets the right need. We must prayerfully seek God’s guidance, asking Him to show us the various areas of need. How many wonderful stories can rewarded faith tell of assistance received at the time of desperate need. Behind these stories there lies the power of guided giving – generosity controlled by an intelligent, spiritual mind. Let us then study to give systematically and sympathetically, learning the extent of our power to give and also of the needs to be met.
Earnestness and sincerity result in useful giving. “God loveth a cheerful (joyous) giver”, 2 Cor. 9. 7. It is possible to give a large gift with a niggardly, grudging spirit. It is also possible to give a small gift with a large-hearted generosity so that unmeasured wealth seems to be there. God takes account of that which is left as well as that which is given. Let us never forget that heaven was emptied in order that God might prove His longing to bless, to share His love with men. God literally could give no more. Of the widow the Saviour said, “She . .. did cast in all that she had, even all her living”. Behind the gift given, there must be the depth of a self-sacrificing spirit. Liberality must be inspired by deep and fervent love, 1 Pet. 4. 7-10. And thus out of the grace of giving there will ascend gratitude that glorifies the great Giver Himself. Thus the end is achieved, lasting glory to God.