Because the New Testament doesn’t command giving a tithe, how do Christians know how much to give? Although the New Testament doesn’t tell us how much to give, it does tell us how to give. In this post we will examine giving sacrificially.
Table of Contents
- The Macedonians—a Great Example of Giving Sacrificially
- A Poor Widow’s Giving
Early in our marriage, Katie and I were part of a home fellowship. A couple joined the group soon after being released from prison. Even though they hadn’t been Christians for long, their affection for the Lord was evident. They were thankful that He had forgiven them, that He would want a relationship with them after the things they had done, and that He would allow them to begin new lives in Christ. Because of their decisions that led to their incarcerations, and the burned bridges with most—if not all—family members and friends, it wouldn’t be too much to say that our home fellowship was just about all they had.
They were part of our group when Katie was pregnant with our first child, Rhea. Everyone was excited for us, but perhaps because this couple had no children or grandchildren, they seemed more excited than anyone else. They desperately wanted to give Rhea a gift when she was born, but as you can guess, they didn’t have much.
They settled on a dirty, smelly blanket, which they put in a torn plastic bag. They were smokers, so we had to put the blanket on the sanitary cycle on our washer quite a few times, but we still couldn’t get rid of the smell. While the blanket didn’t cost much and was never useful to us, the gift was very meaningful. Why? Because they had so little, we knew the sacrifice they had made.
Giving is much bigger than the gift. If I can use two analogies, the gift is an iceberg above the water, and below the surface is what went into the gift. The gift is a tree, and the roots in the ground are what went into the gift. Please keep these illustrations in mind because I will refer to them throughout the chapter. Everything behind the giving is more important than the gift itself.
In Scripture, a great example of this is the believers in Macedonia. They gave a gift to the believers in Jerusalem, and so sacrificial was their giving that Paul used their example to challenge the Christians in Corinth. Please keep this in mind: The epistles weren’t written only for the benefit of the church they were addressed to. The book of Romans wasn’t just for the Romans; Ephesians wasn’t just for the Ephesians; Corinthians wasn’t just for the Corinthians. They were written to benefit all believers.
So, just as the believers in Macedonia challenged those in Corinth, they should also challenge us. When we examine all that went into the Macedonians’ giving, we learn lessons to apply to our own giving.
The Macedonians—a Great Example of Giving Sacrificially
Most of these principles are found in two chapters: 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. If you want to read about Christian giving, go to these chapters. They provide the richest, most detailed teaching on giving in the New Testament, and we are going to dig into them in this chapter and the next.
The context for 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is important. One of the major goals of Paul’s third missionary journey was to gather a special offering for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He wrote to the Corinthians to get them to give to the cause by telling them about the Macedonians. Just as Job is synonymous with suffering and Solomon is synonymous with wisdom, the Macedonians should be synonymous with giving. Paul wrote:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.2 Corinthians 8:1-3
The Macedonians gave “in a severe test of affliction.” Macedonia was the northern region of Greece, where the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea were located. This area had been ravaged by many wars, and even at the time of Paul’s writing was still being plundered by Rome. This is a glimpse of the iceberg below the surface or the roots in the ground.
During trials, who do we tend to think about? Ourselves. Who do we tend not to think about? Others. But not the Macedonians! Even during their suffering, they still thought about, and gave considerably, to others.
Because the Macedonians gave so much, we would expect them to have been given so much (we would expect them to be rich), but it’s the opposite! They gave while experiencing “extreme poverty.” The Greek word translated “poverty” refers to a beggar with nothing and no hope of getting anything. And the believers in Macedonia weren’t just in poverty, but “extreme poverty.” When I think of first-century Christians, I think of people who were already deprived. For the Macedonians to be this poor means—financially speaking—they were the lowest of the low. But they still found a way to produce “a wealth of generosity.” In chapter 6, we discussed the rich being commanded to give generously, but the Macedonians are a good example of the poor and afflicted giving generously too.
Paul said they gave “beyond their means.” They gave more than they could afford. They didn’t have the money, but they gave anyway. Considerable sacrifice went into their giving.
A Poor Widow’s Giving
If the Macedonians are the best example in Scripture of corporately giving sacrificially, there’s a familiar account that serves as the premier example of individually giving sacrificially:
Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”Mark 12:41-44
I could bore you with a discussion of the different coins of the day and how much exactly this widow gave, but I don’t think that’s necessary. You can’t miss that she gave a tiny amount.
Jesus called over His disciples to talk to them about what He had observed. He wasn’t impressed with the much that the rich put in. Instead, He drew their attention to the amount the widow gave. He watched “how the people put [in] money.” The Greek word translated “how” is pos and means “in what way.” Jesus wasn’t just watching what people gave; He was watching how, or in what way, they gave. He looked beyond the gift to the giving.
First Samuel 16:7 says, “The LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” The widow is a good example because Jesus saw something that not even the disciples saw—she gave more than everyone else.
If rich people put in large sums and she put in a tiny amount, how could Jesus say she put in more than all of them? Clearly, He wasn’t talking about the amount of money. He was talking about the amount of sacrifice. God sees our proportion versus our portion. The rich gave large sums, but they also retained large fortunes, which means they sacrificed little. The widow “put in all that she had, her whole livelihood,” so she sacrificed much.
A few dollars given by some can be much more than hundreds or thousands given by others. Conversely, hundreds or thousands given by some can be much smaller than a few dollars given by others:
God judges what we give by what we keep.G.L. Morrill, Life as a Stewardship: Five Bible Studies of Man’s Relation to Things (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1924), 19.
An Example of Eternal Rewards
If we get an elevated view of this account, it can serve as a window into the way the heavenly reward system works. The widow had no idea Jesus was watching her, just as we easily forget that the Lord is watching us. There’s no indication the widow heard what Jesus said to the disciples, just as we don’t know what the Lord thinks of our giving. When the widow put the coins into the treasury it’s as though they were deposited into her heavenly account as well, just as we can lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven.
Considering Jesus said she put in more than everyone else, the amount she had deposited in eternity was greater than the amount she had deposited in the box. She put in two mites on earth, but “[laid] up for [herself much more] in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20). On the other hand, the “rich put in much” on earth, but little (maybe only two mites) in heaven.
Why God Cares About Giving Sacrificially Versus the Amount
The amount we give isn’t of greatest importance to God because He doesn’t need our money. He can accomplish His goals with or without our help. If we give a little but God needs a lot, He has no problem obtaining what He needs because “the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14; see also Psalms 50:10-11; 89:11; Haggai 2:8). God owns everything, so He doesn’t ever think, I sure hope so-and-so will give enough or I’m going to be in trouble.
But this brings up a question: If God doesn’t need our money, why does He want us to give at all? The answer is twofold. First, it is one of His ways of giving to us. He is graciously providing us the opportunity to participate in the work He’s doing. Second, He is allowing us to worship Him. Because giving is an act of worship, and because God doesn’t need the money, our worship isn’t defined by the amount we give. Instead, our worship is defined by the amount we sacrifice.
Our Sacrificial Giving Is Worship
Unfortunately, when we hear the word worship, we typically picture singing in church, but we should think of worship in terms of sacrifice. Under the New Covenant, we might believe there’s no priesthood, high priest, temple, or sacrifices, but there’s still a
- priesthood: “You [are]…a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5).
- high priest: “We have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God (Hebrews 4:14).
- temple: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God?” (1 Corinthians 3:16; see also 6:19).
And there are still sacrifices! Just like New Covenant believers are priests and the temple, we’re also expected to be sacrifices: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1 ESV). Did you catch the relationship between worship and sacrifice?
Under the Old Covenant, God accepted the sacrifices of dead animals as worship, but with Christ’s sacrifice, dead animals are no longer acceptable. Instead, we worship by offering ourselves as living sacrifices, which means our very lives are to be lifted up in worship.
What does this have to do with giving? Giving can be worship, but it must involve sacrifice. Consider these three examples.
Sacrificial Worship with Abraham and Isaac
In the previous chapter, I explained the “principle of first mention.” The first instance of the word “worship” occurred when Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac: “Abraham said to [the two men who accompanied them], ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’” (Genesis 22:5). It’s hard to imagine that Abraham thought of sacrificing Isaac as worship. But because the greater the sacrifice, the greater the worship, this might be the greatest act of worship in the Old Testament.
Interestingly, who else did Abraham say would worship? Isaac! He said, “the lad and I will go…worship.” How was Isaac worshipping? He was willing to be sacrificed! Because Romans 12:1 commands us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice,” aside from Jesus Christ Himself, there might be no better example of doing this than Isaac.
Sacrificial Worship with Animals
When people sin, there must be an accompanying death: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In the Old Testament, animals supplied the death in the sinner’s place. These sacrifices were a temporary covering for sins that looked forward to Christ’s substitutionary atonement: “[The sinner] shall offer the [animal] as a burnt offering…the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for the sin which he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him” (Leviticus 5:10).
If the animal’s death was all that was needed to make atonement for the sin, why does Leviticus command twenty-four times that the sacrifices be “without blemish”? Animals that are old, sick, dying, and full of blemishes aren’t good sacrifices because offering them doesn’t involve much sacrifice.
Sacrificial Worship with David
David, who was a man after God’s own heart, understood worship must involve sacrifice. God told him to build Him an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Araunah was a generous man who thought highly of David, so when David asked to buy Araunah’s threshing floor, Araunah replied,
“Let my lord the king take and offer up whatever seems good to him. Look, here are the oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing implements and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All these, O king, Araunah has given to the king. May the LORD your God accept you.”2 Samuel 24:22-23
Araunah offered David everything needed for the sacrifice, including the threshing floor, animals, and the wood. But if David accepted all this, it wouldn’t be David’s sacrifice, it would be Araunah’s; therefore, David replied:
“No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.”2 Samuel 24:24
David wouldn’t offer anything to the Lord that cost him nothing. He knew that a sacrifice that doesn’t involve any sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice.
Giving Without Sacrifice
The sacrifice behind the sacrifice (or the roots or iceberg below the surface) is what makes a sacrifice worshipful. Let’s tie this back to giving. We want our giving to be worshipful, but if our giving doesn’t involve any sacrifice, it isn’t not worshipful. Giving without sacrifice is like offering animals that are full of blemishes, or offering a sacrifice paid for by someone else:
Those who give much without sacrifice are reckoned as having given little.
Lutzer, E. W., How In This World Can I Be Holy? (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1974) p. 45.
While I can’t say how much we should give, I can say we should give sacrificially. We should feel it. If we can’t, we probably aren’t giving enough.