God loves to give. It’s part of His nature, and He does it freely. He invented the idea that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the grace that His death provided are the best presents we have been given.
In fact, giving is a “philosophy of life and relationship which is wrapped up and illustrated by the example of a little girl who had been given 10 new pennies. She held them all in her hand, admiringly. Then she took one and laid it aside.
“ ‘This,’ she said, ‘is for Jesus.’ She took a second and said, ‘This is for you, Mummy.’ A third, ‘This is for you, Daddy.’ And on to the tenth. ‘And this is for Jesus.’
“Her mother said, ‘You forgot, dear; you have already given one to Jesus.’
“ ‘I know,’ she replied, ‘but that belonged to Him; this is a present.’ ”1
God desires that we make this gift of the Spirit (Romans 12:8) an automatic expression of gratitude. Giving reflects His character in our life. However, some Christians don’t give, or if they do, they give very little. They don’t think about the consequences.
grace—the ultimate gift
Without Christ, grace is a hopelessly abstract idea. But with Christ, it is the ultimate, most complex, and wonderful gift ever given to humanity. Grace is divine mercy—the most valuable gift God has for us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9, NKJV). Its power reaches down to the bottom rung of human perversion and the deepest humanistic thought. God gave His grace to the world whether people wanted it or not. We may reject it, but we cannot stop it, delay it, or change it. Grace stands alone, waiting for us (Revelation 3:20), and it is activated only if we accept it.
There is no selfishness in grace. Where grace is needed, selfishness is present; but where grace is accepted, selfishness is rejected. “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:9). It cuts through hate and selfishness so that they may be completely removed.
The grace of God includes His deepest thoughts and emotions toward sinful humanity (Psalm 139:17). We are of such worth to God, and He has such love for us that He gave all He had to keep us. “Divine benevolence was stirred to its unfathomable depths; it was impossible for God to give more.”2 We are His treasure; His heart is focused on humanity.
Grace satisfies our souls by replacing our filthy garments with white robes of righteousness (Revelation 7:13, 14). When we accept it, we become givers of grace. Without accepting the gift of grace, we will be motivated to make few sincere offerings of gratitude.
Our best offering to God is ourselves, “a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). Strange as it may seem, we are the most valuable asset we have to give. This is true only because of what Jesus has done for us. By giving ourselves, we put God first with our best offering. Mary understood this when she offered her best to Jesus (Matthew 26:7, 12). In the twenty-first century, the bottle of perfume she bought might be worth about US$44,000. She knew the sacrifice that Jesus would soon make. Those who love much give much, and those who love little give little.
When we give an offering, we are giving back to God what is His in the first place (1 Chronicles 29:14). He accepts it from a heart filled with gratitude (2 Corinthians 9:7).
motive for giving
As a young pastor, my inexperience got me into more than one sticky situation. I remember two wealthy men in my church, George (not his real name), who was not a church member but never failed to attend on Sabbath, and the other, Sam (also not his name), an older man who was recently baptized. At a church work bee, some deacons wanted me to talk to George because they didn’t like what he was doing. I immediately jumped in and expressed what the deacons wanted me to say. George responded, “If that is the way they want to do it, I quit.” Throwing down the tools, he got in his car and left.
Sam bought an organ for the church without notice. Some church leaders asked me to tell Sam that such things needed board approval beforehand. Again, in my inexperience, I repeated to Sam what the board members had said. As he stood listening to me explain the board’s position, tears welled up in his eyes, and he said in a shaky voice, “Pastor, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any harm. I just wanted to do something for my church.”
Whether time, money, or objects, examining the motive for giving is one of the most frequent internal spiritual struggles that a Christian goes through. Actions reveal the motives of our hearts.
Jesus watched a poor widow put two coins into the collection box at the temple. He told His disciples, “She out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:44, NKJV). “This poor widow has put in more than all” (Luke 21:3, NKJV). Jesus recognized an astonishing display of character while the widow’s motive was hidden from those around her. To give everything you own is a radical faith experience that reflects total commitment.
God alone can weigh our motives in giving (Proverbs 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:12). “The eye of God takes cognizance of every farthing devoted to His cause, and of the willingness or reluctance of the giver. The motive in giving is also chronicled.”3
Loving God for what He has done for us (1 John 4:19) is the only true motive for giving (1 Corinthians 13:3). A young man gives his fiancée a dozen roses because they are sweethearts. He is motivated by love. “Love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10) and love of the world (1 John 2:15) are the motivations that keep us from giving to God. But true love, “the basis of all true beneficence, is more frequently and more emphatically enjoined than any other Christian duty. . . . [Matthew 22:37–40].
“Here we have a concise and comprehensive summary of the whole duty of Christian benevolence.”4
Christ left the riches of heaven and became poor so that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He considered the poor a special group and singled them out for attention during His earthly ministry. Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11).
Two things occur when we help this special class. First, giving to the poor transfers our wealth from earth to heaven (Mark 10:21). “Every opportunity to help a brother in need, or to aid the cause of God in the spread of the truth, is a pearl that you can send beforehand, and deposit in the bank of heaven for safe keeping.”5 You keep for eternity what you have given away by doing good.
Second, and far more important, when we help the poor, it is as if we are doing it to God Himself (Matthew 25:40).
In Scripture, the concept of helping the poor is much broader than just giving food or money to those in need. “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord.” Helping the poor is like lending to God in that “He will pay back what he has given” (Proverbs 19:17, NKJV; emphasis added). Of course, the poor are to be faithful stewards too. The Old Testament says that the poor were allowed to freely glean the fields at harvest time (Ruth 2:3). They were not to be lazy. They were to do what they could to escape poverty.
How can you be “a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7)? There are three steps: Gratitude leads to generosity, and generosity leads to cheerfulness. The Bible makes a direct connection between tasting and trusting: if a person will “taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8, NKJV).
1. Tasting God is having a personal experience with Him. He encourages us to experiment with our expectations of Him and venture into a close relationship with Him (Psalm 145:9). Tasting God is living a life based on the certainty of God’s goodness, regardless of the situation (Romans 8:28), and it will make “the face cheerful” (Proverbs 15:13).
2. Trusting God is seeing God by faith, making clear for us the reality of what we have experienced. It is like our response when turning on a light in a dark room.
Cheerfulness is the product of tasting, seeing, and feeling generosity. “So let each one give . . . , not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NKJV). The word hilaros, translated “cheerful,” actually means hilarious, so we are talking about hilarious giving.
“Experience is knowledge derived from experiment. Experimental religion is what is needed now. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ Some—yes, a large number—have a theoretical knowledge of religious truth, but have never felt the renewing power of divine grace upon their own hearts.”6
God invites us to do good as He has done good (Psalm 119:68; 3 John 11). He promises that we will not be disappointed. As Jesus gave His life for us and keeps providing daily for our needs, He desires that we give back to Him and to humankind and taste the results.
1. Carlyle B. Haynes, The Legion of the Tenth (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1956), introduction.
2. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press®, 1948), 9:59, 60.
3. White, 2:519.
4. J. Ashworth, Christian Stewardship, 4th ed. (Auburn, NY: William J. Moses, 1861), 29.
5. Ellen G. White, Christian Service (Washington, DC: Review and Herald®, 1947), 221.
6. White, Testimonies, 5:221.
John Mathews is an ordained minister whose passion is teaching stewardship principles and money management in a postmodern culture.