A few years ago I heard an earnest, well-intentioned speaker present a message on the topic of the Biblical model of giving. It was the story of the widow’s mite and, as you might guess, the conclusion was we should be willing to give everything we have.
I started thinking about that because I had heard almost my whole life that this story was the Biblical model for giving and, ideally, the gold standard. However, as I started looking at the different stories about giving in Scripture I realized there is a wide diversity of giving styles in Scripture — not just one.
David. A leader gives leadership gifts. When they give, others follow their example. Not only did he understand the importance of integrity (“I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”) but he expected others to sacrifice as well – and they did. David was not shy or vague about his own personal commitment of gold (3000 talents) and silver (7000 talents), and the effect was that all of the leaders of families and commanders and officials gave willingly toward the work.
Solomon. I call this the extravagant giver. Everything they do is large and more often than not extraordinary in size and quality. As well, it is rarely (if ever) anonymous or even quiet. People of unusual gifts are often exaggerated in their expression of them. God gave Solomon a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. He spoke 3000 proverbs and his songs numbered 1005. Men of all nations came to listen to his wisdom and his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. And when he gave? It, too, was part of his fame. He didn’t hide it or shy away from recognition. In fact, it is just the opposite. He built a Temple and a Palace that was unlike any other in their splendor.
Elisha. The prophet’s response to the plight of the widow was not a gift of money but the gift of an opportunity to create a short-term and profitable business to support her family. He commanded her to get all her neighbors involved in the venture (“not just a few”) by their giving her their empty jars. She then sells the oil to pay her debts and is able to live on what is left. This is innovative and cooperative and we all know people who think like this.
The Wise Men. Some of us are team givers as they were. We prefer working with others, but we also have a unique contribution. The wise men shared the risk, and they stayed together to accomplish their mission. As well, like the widow, they made their gift and released it. There is no account of their calling back to Mary and Joseph a year later to find out how their gifts were being used or to see how Jesus was growing as a result of their gifts. They came, contributed and departed.
Zaccheus. The “wee little man” is an interesting blend of exuberance and precision. While his life has been changed, his attention to detail has not. He does not say he is going to give it all away out of gratitude. Instead, he says he will give half of it – leaving himself the balance. As well, he does not say he will repay 10 times but four times. He has a number in mind that does not allow his exhilaration to get out of control. His new generosity has structure – and limits.
The Widow. I doubt any of us would have encouraged her to give to that ministry had we known what Jesus knew about the flawed leadership, the organization’s lack of vision and their misuse of money. Yet, instead of being an example of gullible giving she is an illustration of that giver who gives and truly releases the gift. They have the increasingly rare ability to trust that somehow God will use a flawed institution and still provide for them.
Barnabas. The account of the early Church in Acts tells us how they sold possessions and took care of each other. It does not say they sold all their possessions. One of them, Barnabas, sold a field and brought the money to the apostles. Barnabas did not sell everything over which he had responsibility. More importantly, he was gifted with recognizing and supporting new talent and giving them the credibility they needed to get started. Two of his “investments,” Paul and John Mark, turned out to be remarkable in their “return” for the Church.
This is not an exhaustive list. There are several other examples of unique styles of giving in Scripture. My only intent here is to offer up a different way of thinking about stewards and donors.
I hope you ask yourself which of these individuals would be most like your own style of giving, and in doing so, you begin to recognize how your giving is a part of God’s workmanship in your life.