In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Some time later, the Lord got around to making man in his own image. He gave us dominion over his Earth. As we know, that didn’t work out so well. Although, we also know that situation will ultimately be rectified. The first problem we face in managing our money is understanding that it isn’t our money. Our planet, the cattle on a thousand hills, the gold and the silver also; all of it belongs to the Lord. Whether God has given you one cow or ten thousand, they don’t belong to you. You are just managing them on the behalf of their creator. You are just passing through. All too soon someone else will take possession of your wealth; perhaps through misfortune; perhaps through bad decisions; perhaps through death, but it is a certainty you won’t take it with you. So keep these words in your mind as you walk through this valley of tears: 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Under the old covenant things were pretty straight forward. God commanded the people of Israel to bring 10%, a tithe, of all their increase to his temple. This money was to be managed by his servants, the Levites, according to His law. If you complied you would prosper. If not…well, not so good.
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
In the new covenant what was primarily a question of behavior was transformed into an issue of the heart. As always, controlling my heart is even harder than controlling my behavior (which is hard enough when it comes to giving).
Christianity is a religion of freedom and grace. How much you give and to whom you choose to give is a private matter between you and God.
However Scripture does provide some general guidance on these questions.
Just as ancient Israel supported the temple and the Levites, I think your giving should begin where you are receiving your spiritual food. For most of us that would be our local church. Some ministry or church or combination of churches are providing you with spiritual nourishment. These are the people who are watching out for you, praying for you, and bringing covered dishes to your family when you are in the hospital. Your pastor has a family. He needs a salary and health insurance; just like you and your family. Purchasing and maintaining an appropriate building that facilitates worship and fellowship events ain’t cheap.
If you don’t feel like you should give to your local church, you are in the wrong church.
If you listen, God will give you a heart burden for certain other ministries beyond your local church. Heed the guidance of the Spirit. The believers in local churches fueled Paul’s missionary journeys. We know because he thanked them for their generosity. We also know of godly men and women who took care of Paul as he spread the Word of God across the Roman Empire.
Finally, there are an abundance of Scripture in both the Old and the New Testaments about giving to the poor. Here is a sample.
If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother;
Acts 4: 34-35
Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
Take account of how much of your increase is going to where God is directing your heart to send it. Ask the Lord if you can do more. For me the answer to that prayer has always been, “Yes.”
Many years ago, I listened to Larry Burkett, the Godfather of Christian personal finance gurus, on the car radio on my drive home from work. He received phone calls from women (always women) who wanted their family to give more to their church or some ministry than their husband. His advice was always the same. Tell your husband to pick a number a little higher than your current level of giving. Tell him agree to give at this level for a year then let’s look at our financial situation in comparison to our current state. If it has improved, we can talk about giving more. If it is worse, I promise never to bother you about giving again. Burkett claimed that while he received many phone calls from families who improved their situation by taking this challenge, he never received any from people who did worse.
In spite of my fears and lack of faith, so far I have not been able to out give God.