Duty-Free Giving?

 In Books, Community, Culture, Duty, Faith, Family, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, Giving, Gratitude, Money, Philanthropy, Teaching, Theology

A friend asked me to write a few words about a passage of Scripture that has been meaningful in my personal giving. That sounded easy enough. But as I thought about it I realized I do not have one verse. Different phases of my giving have been informed by different verses.

Early in life, I was required by my parents to “tithe to the storehouse.” That meant putting a coin in the Sunday School envelope. There was no questioning them on this. It was my duty, and yes, there were times I resented having to part with even one coin, but every study on giving I have ever seen has confirmed that teaching a child to give their own money is invaluable. It also shaped a habit of giving early on and I am grateful for that.

Later, I was more influenced by a verse that gave me far more latitude: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” This did not relieve me of the responsibility to give but allowed me more say in how I wanted to do that. I had a little bargaining power and could easily delay a gift while I made my decision or give a smaller gift that might make me feel more cheerful. Regardless, I was in charge and I liked that.

Of course, there is a dark side to the whole process of “deciding in your heart.” In some ways, it encourages ministries to spend more time and energy figuring out what is in your heart and how to move you more quickly toward a decision. There is, as we all know, an industry dedicated to helping us “find our passion” or prompting us with compelling images of need. Giving from the heart, unfortunately, has come to mean giving from emotions and that is not what Paul intended.

I also went through a phase when I found myself giving out of a form of greed. It was not just a misreading of the passage in 2 Corinthians 9 about being made rich in every way so that I could be generous on every occasion or falling into the false teaching of “seed sowing” that obligates God to giving me an increase. No, it was more about being greedy for profit and an outsized return on my giving or making sure it was tax-deductible. I either wanted more “bang for the buck” or I wanted to see proof that my gift was being used in the way I thought best.

Years ago, I discovered giving from the motivation of gratitude. Childishly, I had avoided gratitude because it only emphasized what I had compared to others. My first trips to Africa only made me feel guilty for being grateful! All the things for which I was thankful only made me realize how afraid I was of losing them. My gratitude was dependent on things that – like Job – could be taken away completely. But in time I realized genuine gratitude is having the ability to know whatever God has chosen for me – and others – is out of a love that runs beyond my understanding.

Not long ago I read a verse in Romans 15 that helped me revisit duty as a prompt for giving. Paul is speaking to the church about his collection for the Christians in Jerusalem and he says that they (the Macedonians) were pleased to do it, “and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.” The sense of obligation or paying a debt in giving was foreign to me. I had come to believe that the best giving was voluntary and motivated by gratitude and the heart. What did it mean to owe or be indebted? Well, it means exactly what I learned as a child. We have an obligation that is non-negotiable, but still something in us resents that because we have come to see duty as a grim and joyless demand – and not an affirmation of our belonging to something greater than ourselves.

So, for now, I am thinking about the obligation of giving and how that binds me in the best possible way. As Wendell Berry put it:

“And so I came to belong to this place. Being here satisfies me. I had laid my claim on the place and had made it answerable to my life. Of course you can’t do that and get away free. You can’t choose it seems without being chosen. For the place in return had laid its claim on me and had made my life answerable to it.”

There is something to be said for the simple duty of giving.

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  • Avatar
    Bill Smith

    As always, you give me much to ponder. The nature of “duty” and the nature of a “grim and joyless demand” are each independently thought provoking. I have not had to consider the mechanics of pulling someone else’s heart (or purse) strings, but it seems to me that a gift is a gift without regard to the motivation.

    • Avatar
      Reita Price

      Giving is easy & non-resentful: Give the First Fruits of everythinh so He may Bless the Rest!

      Give the First Fruits of our day; pray when we wake
      Give the First Fruits of our earnings; give generously so He may Bless the Rest
      Give the First Fruits of our energy; ask forgiveness, trust & step out in obedience, daily


      Genesis 4:1-26 ESV / 71 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

      Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. …

      Proverbs 3:9-10 ESV / 753 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

      Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

      Philippians 4:19 ESV / 355 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful

      And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

      Deuteronomy 18:4 ESV / 76 helpful votes

      The firstfruits of your grain, of your wine and of your oil, and the first fleece of your sheep, you shall give him.

      God Gives out of Love.

  • Avatar
    Steven Perry

    I have also pondering Paul’s words 2 Cor 9:7 and his admonition about not giving from compulsion. And if he is merely referring to giving out of being guilted or coerced into it, I totally agree. But what about being compelled (compulsion?) by the Holy Spirit to give? The Holy Spirit’s influence is often contrary to my natural inclination. Yet when I yield to the HS there seems to be a major difference in my attitude towards the gift than when I give out of coercion; no regret or remorse. I think compulsion can be either good or bad depending on where it is deriving it’s source of power.

  • Avatar
    Peter Kubasek

    Another challenging one with MANY facets — Praise GOD that HE loves us so much HE draws us and teaches us in each Season

  • Avatar

    Well said, Fred. I’ve come to regard giving to the Lord as a privilege, as an opportunity to participate in His continued creative activity. I imagine myself going back in time and somehow helping one of my favorite artists, Van Gogh, as he creates “Starry Night’, then fast-forwarding to today and seeing the completed creation. What a rush! It reminds me of the poem about the elephant and the flea:
    An elephant and a flea
    they say,
    Together crossed a bridge one day.
    To the elephant
    said the flea,
    We sure shook that one, didn’t we.

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