The “Charity Commons” Series features sector experts sharing their perspective on the interaction of giving and the understanding of human flourishing: science, philosophy, human behavior, spirituality and religion, etc.
This post is written by John Cortines, who is is the co-author of God and Money: How We Discovered True Riches at Harvard Business School. All book royalties are given to charity. John lives in Orlando with his family and works for Generous Giving. He has shared the Christian message of generosity on national radio, TV, and at conferences around the country.
“Keep your life free from love of money.”1
“Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor.”2
“Do good… be rich in good works… be generous and ready to share.”3
Christians consider the Bible to be our source of truth in matters of faith. And the Bible says more about money than it does about heaven and hell combined. Nearly half of Jesus’ teaching related to money, and there are over 2,300 verses pertaining to money in the Bible. Clearly, it occupies an important place in what we consider to be God’s inspired word. So, what does it say?
In short, three things:
- All of our wealth originates from and belongs to God.4
- In light of this, our wealth should be used for God’s purposes.5
- God’s purpose is to restore the world to wholeness. This occurs spiritually through salvation in Jesus Christ, and physically through our service and giving to serve the poor, needy, and weak.6
Implicit in these three statements is the idea that our wealth is not our own. As followers of Jesus we believe that we have been bought with a price—when He died for us, we were purchased into His eternal family, accepted, and redeemed.7 In light of what He’s done for us, nothing but radical and total submission to His purposes would be reasonable.8 Thus, our wealth is not to be used for our own, selfish goals, but rather subsumed into the greater purposes of God; this is a source of joy.
This is expressed in a variety of ways, but a few real-life examples might paint a picture of what joyful, radical, 21st-century, Christian giving can look like:
- Mark and Megan, in their late 20’s, are so thankful for the $50,000 bonus Mark earned at his law firm. Joyfully, they give the entire amount away toward international justice efforts and a Christian camp they admire. They regard the opportunity to give to God’s work better than their own potential enjoyment of this money, including their need for a home down-payment.
- Tom and Bree relocate to a poor neighborhood, despite Tom’s high income. They lead a Bible study for the community and eventually welcome a family in need to stay in their home for some time. They give a large fraction of their income away, raising their family on the median family income out of a desire to serve the world around them.
- Greg and Alison, after home shopping, buy a house that is only half of what they can afford, because they want to be able to address international poverty and spread the Christian message of hope with their budget surplus. The house is less than what they’d like to have, but they’re thankful God has given them money to share with others.
The Apostle Paul gave the Christian Community this charge in his tear-filled, final address:
“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”9
Why was Paul mixing up money behaviors with the spiritual message of God’s grace? Consistent with the rest of the Bible, Paul didn’t see money and spiritual matters as separable. His life, free of covetousness and fully generous, was evidence of God’s grace acting in his heart. As the well-known Christian Pastor Tim Keller says, reflecting on this passage,
“To the degree you understand the Gospel of grace, you will live a radically generous life! If you truly have a spiritual inheritance, you are going to be promiscuously generous with your earthly inheritance.”
Christian giving springs from the Christian view of God.
Because we believe He emptied himself and gave everything for us,10 we have no proper response but to turn around, face the world around us, and give ourselves away.
31 Timothy 6:17-19
4Deuteronomy 8:18, 1 Chronicles 29:11-14, Colossians 1:16
5Luke 12: 42-43, Matthew 25: 31-46
6Luke 4:18-19, 2 Corinthians 5:18, Matthew 28: 19-20, Jeremiah 22: 13-16, Proverbs 19:17
71 Corinthians 6:20
8Matthew 16:24, Luke 14:33
9Acts 20: 32-35, bolding added
10Philippians 2: 5-8