By Terry Gardner
“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” — C.S. Lewis
According to Bob Herndon, a number of years ago, a man asked his wife to
put all of his prized possessions in their attic, so that he could take them
with him when he died. His wife thought his request odd, but she complied.
A few years later he passed on to the next life. After the funeral she found
everything untouched in the attic. “Well!” she exclaimed. “I knew I should
have put it all in the basement!”
When we think about giving to the work of the Lord, some questions may come
to mind. First, to whom do all things belong? Second, to whom do Christians
belong? Third, what are the basic principles of giving? When we answer these
questions, then we may usefully ponder the example of John Wesley.
The Earth is the Lord’s
The Psalmist reminds us that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness
thereof” (Psalm 24:1) Nothing belongs to us; everything belongs to God. We
brought nothing into this world and we can carry nothing out. (1 Tim 6:7).
We used to sing an old song, “this world is not my home.” Do we believe
that our citizenship is heaven or do we store up treasures on earth that
rust will corrupt and thieves will steal?
Christians belong to God … indeed we are His servants or slaves
We are not our own, if we are Christians. “For you have been bought with a
price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20). Like the
Macedonians we should first give ourselves to the Lord (2 Cor 8:5). We may
remember that our Master, Jesus Christ, gave up everything in heaven and on
earth that “through His poverty we might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Jesus
also teaches us that a servant is not above his master (Matt 10:24). In
our giving we may become like Jesus who, “though he was rich, yet for your
sake He became poor” (2 Cor 8:9).
Our giving is acceptable based on our ability—“According to what one has,
not according to what he does not have” (2 Cor 8:12). We should not wait to
give until we have more to give, because God in interested in our readiness
to give what we have.
We should seek equality in giving. I do not mean that all should give
equally in either a fixed percentage (as in a “tithe” of 10 percent) or in
absolute dollars, but each Christian should give proportionally as we have
been prospered. If we load ourselves with debt by over consuming, we
demonstrate selfishness and are without excuse for not giving. No matter
the amount of our income we can render ourselves unable to give as we ought
by spending all we receive . . . and sometimes more.
As someone has said, “The trouble is that too many people are spending money
they haven't yet earned for things they don't need to impress people they
Covetousness is the enemy of giving. Paul (2 Cor 9:5) defines
“covetousness” as “idolatry.” The tenth commandment is, “You shall not
covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his
male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that
belongs to your neighbor” (Ex 20:17). Romans 13:9 repeats this commandment
If I give sparingly I will reap sparingly (2 Cor. 9:6) of spiritual
blessings here and in Heaven. Some argue that God distributes to believers
special material blessings, as he did in the Old Testament; but if so, then
why are some of the best givers poor like the widow who gave all she had
(two mites)? Some of the greatest givers are highlighted in Hebrews and
they “went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted,
ill-treated” (Heb 11:37). No one gave more than Jesus but he didn’t even
have a place to lay his head. What small value are material blessings
anyway, since I can’t take them with me?
A gift that costs us nothing is not much of a gift. David refused to give
God something that “cost him nothing” (2 Sam 24:24). How special does
someone think you are if they re-gift you?
John Wesley’s Example of Giving
The New Testament does not provide a specific amount that we are to give,
but it should lead Christians generally to be more generous . . . not less.
We give as we are prospered realizing that we are not our own and that the
earth is the Lord’s.
John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist Church. He was a great
preacher of love but there was one word that he hated. Wesley described
that word as “idle,” “non-sensensical,” “stupid,” “miserable,” “vile,” and
“diabolical.” He said it was “the very essence of hell.” A word that
obviously no Christian should ever speak . . . the exceedingly evil word was
. . . “afford.” “But I can afford it,” replied the Methodists when Wesley
preached against extravagance.
Wesley hated the word “afford” due to an embarrassing experience in his
early life. A poor young woman was cleaning Wesley’s small apartment and
shivering from the cold. Wesley reached into his pocket to give her money
to buy a coat, but he had none. He just framed some prints that were
hanging on the walls and he realized that her coat hung on the wall. Wesley
determined from then on to live only on what he truly needed and to give
everything else away.
As one of the most successful writers of his time, Wesley eventually earned
the equivalent of nearly $2,000,000 from his published work. In 1776 the
English tax collectors wrote Wesley, “We cannot doubt but you have a silver
dinning set for which you have neglected to report on your tax return.” The
tax collectors assumed that a man of Wesley’s prominence and wealth surely
had silver dinnerware. “I have two silver spoons at London and two at
Bristol,” Wesley replied. “This is all the silverware I have at present,
and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread.” Wesley was
giving away almost all of his earned income every year.
If I want grow better in my giving then I need to look to examples of those
who know how to give, like Wesley and the poor widow who gave but two small
coins and yet she gave all she had. I may not ever match them in their
liberality but shouldn’t that kind of giving be our goal?