Paul's Strange Instructions for Opening the Giving Lock

I worked for a few years in development and was trained in best practices for raising money. I was blessed to work for a Christian organization who was committed to raising money in a godly way, but the broader development industry doesn’t have many scruples in doing what they do best: separating people from their money. How does a development professional unlock the giving vault?

Secular Generosity

The secular handbook on getting people to give reveals a lot. There are three universal rules in development:[i]

1)      Appeal to donors’ emotions, not their minds: tell a story that will move them;

2)      Inflate their sense of importance and appeal to their interests;

3)      Create urgency: donors need to feel as though the need is immediate and significant.

Christian Generosity

The Christian generosity handbook is very different. Having delivered his four strange reasons for giving. Paul is now going to five equally strange instructions for giving in his letter to the Corinthian church. Paul’s instructions contradict the development professional’s handbook at almost every turn. Paul tells us we should give this way:

1)      Thoughtfully

2)      Not reluctantly

3)      Not under compulsion

4)      Cheerfully

5)      Through the power of Christ

Paul explains his instructions this way in 2 Corinthians 9:7-8: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” It is staggering just how different this is from today’s secular handbook for giving.

Faux Christian Generosity

But shouldn’t we take tithing seriously? The Mormon Church takes tithing very seriously. In an official publication, they state that a bishop may move forward with disciplinary action on that member including “information probation, temporarily restricting his privileges as a Church member – such as the right to partake of the sacrament, hold a Church position, or enter the temple.”[ii] That’s a far cry from our evangelical churches today. On the one hand the Mormon Church is to be commended for the seriousness with which they take stewardship and generosity. On the other hand, these guidelines draw very near overturning two of the ways in which Scripture calls us to give: “not reluctantly” and “not under compulsion.”

The Beautifully Strange Difference

Where today’s handbook tells one to appeal to the emotions, not reason, Paul tells us our giving must be thoughtful. Where the secular handbook tells us that any giver, even a reluctant giver is okay, Paul tells us that true generosity requires that there is an eagerness. Where the secular handbook compels the donor with language that overstates the urgency, Paul says we are not to give under compulsion. And where the secular handbook inflates our ego and demands that we are stroked, Paul says that the giving is to be done cheerfully (which can’t happen unless we’re truly joyfully selfless), and done through the power of Christ alone.

Our giving is not to be haphazard, it is to be done as we have thoughtfully planned. Scripture calls our tithe our first fruits.[iii] What is meant by that is that our tithe isn’t what is left over, it is the first and the best. We don’t just give to our Compassion child when our heart strings are tugged on, we give monthly. Our giving must be built into our budget just as our rent is.

The Reason for the Gap in Our Giving

Why is it that 17% of Christians think they tithe when only 5% do?[iv] Is it because 12% of Christians are liars? I don’t believe that is the main issue here. The main issue is that we give thoughtlessly and compulsively and in doing so inflate how much we actually give. Is your generosity planned out? Is it strategic and thoughtful? If we get the first instruction right, if we give thoughtfully, then the second and third will take care of themselves. Thoughtful givers aren’t reluctant givers and they don’t need to forced to give under compulsion.

The Key to the Giving Lock

The last instruction is the key to transforming us not into just givers, but cheerful givers. We are to give through the power of Christ, who makes “all grace abound” to us. We can’t create joyfulness in our giving if we don’t grasp the power of the four reasons. It is only when we see giving as an opportunity to experience grace and as a response to God’s generosity that the key to cheerful giving is unlocked.

The gospel and God’s grace to us are not set aside in giving, but God himself in his grace is the one with the power to make this grace abound in us. God’s blessings result in good works.[v] And every good work is the work of generosity. In this we return to Paul’s first reason for giving: it is a grace. Generosity is beautifully cyclical.

When we actually cheer as money leaves our wallet that is when we are a place of delighting as God delights. It is then that we are experiencing the gift God intends to give us, the gift of generosity.

Angel and I reached a place about seven years where our marriage was strained as the financial demands of life ratcheted up significantly. We came into marriage with a commitment to tithe, but it was a commitment of obligation and duty. As our financial responsibilities mounted, our tithe began to feel like something that was being extracted from us, and our accounting for that tithe likewise was squeezed. We had built the foundation of our giving on obligation and effort. That is a foundation that will crack when it meets the pressures of the world.

It took a work of God breaking through and aligning our hearts to transform us. In his mercy, he showed us the joy and grace that giving is.  As he promised, he made “every grace abound” to us. It was then that we made a commitment to give an additional percent every year to God. That was a stressful and faith-inducing commitment, but it has ultimately been profoundly joyful and life-giving. Every year as the year closes we love considering how we get to participate even more in the grace of giving in the coming year. Where is God calling us to give the extra percent? And each year God unveils his grace to us ever more deeply. Giving is a joy. Giving is a grace. Don’t miss out on this good work, friend.

 

Photo credit: James Sutton/Unsplash

 

[i] Network for Good is one of the best organizations at training development professionals. Here is one of their posts on how to get people to give: https://www.networkforgood.com/nonprofitblog/how-to-get-non-profit-donations/.

[ii] http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/25954/what-actions-does-the-lds-church-mormon-take-when-a-member-does-not-pay-tithing 

[iii] Proverbs 3:9-10

[iv] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-briggs/the-flesh-is-weak-churchgoers-give-far-less-than-they-think_b_1846516.html

[v] Frank Matera, The New Testament Library: 2 Corinthians, 206.