I once talked to a man who’d made millions of dollars from a variety of businesses and investments. “What’s the secret of your success?” I asked him.
“There’s no simple answer to that,” he said. “There are a lot of things that contribute to building wealth. But I’ll tell you something that may surprise you: getting rich is closely related to generosity.”
I knew a lot of very wealthy people were philanthropists, of course. In fact, I’d become acquainted with this man through his charitable giving. But how, I wondered, does generosity contribute to wealth?
“The successful business person,” he explained, “doesn’t value money as much as what it can do. The same quality of character that lets him gladly give his money to a charity when he sees a good use for it, is also the quality that enables him to take risks, make investments and entrust others to use his money to make more money.
“By contrast, the stingy man cares too much about his money to put it to work. He values having it more than he values its usefulness. Consequently, he’s not a very good steward. I enjoy my wealth,” he said, “but every time I give away a million dollars it makes me a better man and a better businessman, because it reminds me that hoarding money isn’t a wise strategy for building either character or wealth.”
Whether or not he was aware of it, he was following a biblical principle that generosity is the source of blessing and personal growth. Let me show you.
The biblical concept of generosity is based on five principles.
1. We are neither the originators nor the owners of any material thing. When the psalmist proclaimed “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,” (Psalm 24:1) he’s not just making an abstract theological statement, but suggesting our attitude toward our possessions should be one of tenancy rather than ownership. As valuable as our assets seem to us—land, house, jewellery, stocks and bonds, bank accounts—none of them are completely ours. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” says God (Haggai 2:8) and “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10).
2. We don’t find our personal value in wealth, but in a good character. Jesus tells a story of a man who managed to achieve perfect financial security—and then promptly died (Luke 12:14–21). You can take beyond the grave no material wealth, but you can take qualities of character that you nurtured on earth, qualities that will still be present when you are are in heaven. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” said Jesus (Matthew 6:20).
3. Generosity is the natural expression of those who love God. Generosity to others is merely a response to God’s generosity to me. An old hymn contains this phrase: “Jesus paid it all—all to Him I owe.” “We love because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19), love that He proved when He took “the form of a servant” and “humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7). When you give, says the apostle Paul, you are “not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people” but “overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” for “his indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:12,15).
4. Generosity rewards the giver. The prophet Malachi, noting the Israelites’ failure to bring good offerings to the temple, brings this message from God: “Test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10).
A few unscrupulous preachers have misused this passage to build personal wealth. “Send me your money,” they say, “and God will give you more money.”
But the passage doesn’t say that giving money will always get you more money. It says God will pour out blessings upon you, and God’s blessings are far more varied than just cash.
The blessing you receive when you give to your church may be the satisfaction of seeing lives changed through God’s grace. The blessing for giving to a charity may be knowing that someone who needs it is getting food or education.
5. This is a practical reason for giving: God wants your money to do the work of bringing others to salvation. The Bible has a guideline for giving to God’s work, called the “tithe” (Malachi 3:10)—an old-fashioned word for the fraction 1/10. For the farmers of ancient Palestine, that meant one out of 10 lambs, one out of 10 measures of grain, one out of 10 jars of oil or skins of wine, were to be taken to the temple for the support of those who worked there.
"Offerings are . . . gifts to God, but left up to you what you want to give."
There’s a story early in the Bible about an inter-tribal war that resulted in the capture of the patriarch Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Abraham and his people went to Lot’s rescue, in the process gathering a great quantity of spoils of war from the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Though there’s yet no direct command from God to do so, Abraham gave one-tenth of his gain to Melchizedek, a mysterious priest who Abraham regarded as a worshipper of the true God. Although this happened long before God established through Moses the formal rites and rules of Judaism, it shows that the principle of returning a tenth is nearly as ancient as the principle of setting one seventh of your time, the weekly Sabbath, to worship and honour God.
Offerings are, like tithes, gifts to God, but left up to you what you want to give. In the New Testament, the apostles would collect offerings as they travelled, both for their own support and for charity to needy Christians (Acts 11:29, for example).
The concept of paying pastors was established by Jesus when He told His disciples that they should accept hospitality when they travelled “because those who work deserve to be fed” (Matthew 10:10, NLT). Paul instructed Timothy concerning “those whose work is preaching and teaching” that “Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17-18). Paul himself would sometimes find work to support himself, but he stoutly defended the practice of paying a pastor for his labour
(1 Corinthians 9:14).
The right way to give
I’ve known people who give tithes and offerings because they think God will be angry at them if they don’t. But they resent every dollar they have to part with, because they are at heart selfish and want only to give enough to keep God from being annoyed with them.
When I was a young person, I’d participate in an annual door-knocking campaign to raise money for benevolent work and disaster relief. I remember the annoyance on the faces of the people who answered the door, how they’d dig in their pockets for a few cents just to get rid of me so they could go back to their quiet evening at home. Though they appeared to give without much joy, I hope God still honoured His promise toward them: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:10, 11).
The Bible says the greatest blessing comes to those who give gladly, not grudgingly. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver,” wrote Paul (verse 7).
God doesn’t begrudge His gifts to us. So shouldn’t we give with the same joy that He gives to us?