After reading through my articles on tithing in the Bible, you might be wondering exactly how you should give. So here are some Biblical guidelines for Christian giving.
1. Provide for Your Family’s Needs First
Giving so much that you neglect your family’s needs can be dangerous unless you have a clear call from God to do so. Your first priority must be to care for the needs of your family. God has made it clear that this is His first priority as well:
But if anyone doesn’t provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8 (WEB)
Paul makes is clear that neglecting your family’s needs is a serious offense to God for a Christian – on the order of denying the faith and being worse than an unbeliever. That’s a pretty strong statement! Paul is speaking here about believers who have widows in their family who need help, but the concept would also apply to your own household. Meeting your family’s needs is one way we show the love of God. Giving while ignoring your family’s needs can be detrimental to your witness as a Christian unless you have decided as a family to purposely deny your needs in order to give. This verse makes it obvious that you must be certain it truly is God’s will for you to give if it will prevent you from meeting your family’s needs.
However, the difficulty for Christians – especially those in wealthy countries, like America – is differentiating our wants from our needs. The line between a want and a need is often blurred in America. Is television a family need? Is eating out a family need? Is an expensive car a family need? Be careful that you do not mistake a want as a legitimate need.
This idea should also include reasonably providing for future needs, which would include savings and insurance. Again, remember we’re talking about needs and not wants. Making sure you’ll be able to eat a decent, healthy meal when you can’t work any more is saving for a need. Saving so you can eat at five-star restaurants every night during retirement is not a need – it’s a want. Again, be sure you don’t mistake wants as needs. I can’t emphasize how important it is that we don’t confuse the two in trying to figure out what we can give.
If you are so poor that you truly cannot meet your family’s needs and give at the same time, consider alternative ways to give. Giving your time as a volunteer or simply taking time to show God’s love to someone can actually be much more powerful than giving money.
2. Pay What You Owe
After meeting your family’s needs, your next duty is to pay whatever you owe. Your giving should never put you in a position where you will fail to pay what you owe to others (debts, taxes, etc.). Breaking a vow or promise to pay so that you can give will not honor God.
7 Give therefore to everyone what you owe: taxes to whom taxes are due; customs to whom customs; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor. 8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:7-8 (WEB)
Note: “Honor” in verse 7 can also be translated as “money”, as in a debt you owe.
It’s clear that you must first fulfill your obligations to pay anything you have promised to pay. I don’t take this verse to mean that you shouldn’t give at all if you are in debt. Most debt agreements require that you make a certain minimum payment – and that is an obligation you must keep.
If you are deeply in debt but able to meet your family’s needs and make your minimum payments, you will need to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit to determine how much of your extra should be given away and how much should go toward repaying your debt. Debt is not a sin, but it’s not necessarily a good thing either because of the burdens it can create.
Being free of debt can enable you to give even more, but the decision to completely stop giving in order to get out of debt is something you must personally discuss with God through prayer. Scripture is clear that you must at least meet the payments you have agreed to make, but beyond that I can give you no guidelines about such a situation.
3. Give Generously to Anyone in Need (Even Your Enemies)
After you’ve followed those first two guidelines the only instructions we have as Christians are to give generously to anyone in need (even our enemies). We should give willingly, cheerfully, and out of love.
You’re not going to find a specific percentage or amount in the New Covenant that dictates how much a Christian should give. Our example for giving is Jesus, who gave everything generously and sacrificially – even while we were still sinners rejecting God. The only standards we have are to take care of our family’s needs, pay what we owe, and then give generously to the needy with the right motives in our hearts. Here’s what the Bible says:
Give to him who asks you, and don’t turn away him who desires to borrow from you.
Matthew 5:42 (WEB)
He answered them, “He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.”
Luke 3:11 (WEB)
32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive back as much. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil.
Luke 6:32-35 (WEB)
Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Romans 12:20 (WEB)
Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly, or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:7 (WEB)
But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does the love of God remain in him?
1 John 3:17 (WEB)
1 Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does, 4 so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Matthew 6:1-4 (WEB)
If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:3 (WEB)
While those verses don’t tell you exactly how much you should give, they do make it clear that we, as Christians, are to be extremely generous for the right reasons (giving motivated by love for God or others). It’s also important to remember that just giving money isn’t enough to please God – right relationships are much more important:
23 If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 5:23-24 (WEB)
So what are we to do? How do we know how much to put in our “Giving” category when we make our budget? The answer is to commit yourself (and your money) to God first, then follow His Spirit’s guidance as to how much, to whom, and how often you should give. No, it’s not as simple as just saying give 10% and you’re good. But God’s desire isn’t for people who just follow a set of rules. God desires a personal relationship with each one of us – and good relationships require lots of time and communication.
If you want to do some more in-depth reading about New Covenant giving, check out any of these articles:
I pray this gives you a better idea of how Christian giving should look based on God’s Word. Please let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!