How Much Should a Christian Give?

 

Hint: It’s not 10%.

How much should I give? Should it be 10% of my gross or net take home pay?

These are questions many of us have asked (I’ve certainly asked them), but they start us off on the wrong foot. These questions are basically another way of asking, “What’s the minimum I can give and not feel guilty?”

Instead, let’s approach it by asking a different question: Why does God ask us to give, anyway?

  1. God needs our money. That’s like asking if my young children will pay for my mortgage. We’ll throw this option out for its silliness. The reliance ratio is and will always be: You Rely : God Provides
  2. God is a socialist. God is both conservative and liberal; communist and capitalist; Yes, even a Cowboys and an Eagles fan. God can’t be boxed into one political view or fan base.
  3. God has another reason.

I read a story the other day on this very subject. Did you happen to catch the article about Aaron in The Wall Street Journal?

The Valley

When owners of a company want to cash out a portion of their company, they sell bits of it publicly in the form of stocks. Aaron’s startup did this in July, making him worth $1.3 Billion and a member of the elite 3 Commas Club (for non Silicon Valley fans, add up the commas in a billion). The story went on to say that he bought himself a mansion in Atherton, a flat in San Francisco, a Tesla, and a private jeteverything he fantasized about during those 100 hour work weeks getting his business off the ground.

This past November, as Aaron was getting ready for the 3 Commas Club Ball, he noticed an error in the mirror. A white strand ran down his shock of dark brown hair like a tributary from the River Father Time. He quickly plucked it out as if to reboot his youth and vitality. Thirty-two year olds aren’t supposed to go gray.

Then it hit him. It sucker-punched him, actually. He had amassed enough fortune for many lifetimes but had only one life to enjoy it. His Company might wither into irrelevance. Recession could reduce him tothe horror!two commas. His children might spend all of his money, or inflation would eat it up. His grandchildren will only have vague memories of him and he’ll totally be forgotten by his great grandchildren, if he’s lucky enough to meet them.* He was in the Rich Man’s Valley: the money of a king (the high), but a commoner’s problems (the low)mainly the brevity of money and life. This whiz kid was already thinking of death.

 

He dyed his hair. Then he did something crazy. He looked into freezing his brain until technology could revive him with a new body or connect his synapses to a computer program that can simulate life. But that was a little too Vanilla Sky or, scarierThe Matrix. One day, however, he came upon a story going viral about an eccentric, disruptive entrepreneur in Silicon Valley who might have cracked the code.

Moments later, the Tesla went ludicrously whipping around the corners before arriving at a derelict office off the beaten path.

Aaron opened the door—surprised at the lack of security, doubly surprised that the genius from the article was standing before him.

“I want the one thing I can’t buy,” Aaron said. “I hear you have a prototype that solves death.”

Aaron reached for his check book. The man looked at that check, then up at Aaron’s hair where the white strand once draped. The man smiled and nodded.

“If you want in, I want to make sure there’s no conflict of interest,” he said. “Divest ownership in your company, give the proceeds to the poor, and join my start-up. I’ll give you shares in my company worth a hundredfold of what you give away.”

Aaron looked at the blank check before putting it back in his pocket. His shoulders slumped. Their technology works, but give up a billion for this fly-by-night operation? Dejected, he shook his head and walked away.

Rich Guy, Poor Investor.

You may have figured out by now that this isn’t actually The Wall Street Journalit’s the story of the Rich Young Ruler.** When most people meet Jesus, they become transformed. And once transformed, they respond by giving their resources and talents to others. Except this guy. Why? A few reasons, one of which is that he’s a poor investor.

“Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

– Mark 10:21

Upon first reading it may appear that giving his money away will purchase him a ticket to eternal life. But look closer. Jesus is not telling him to give but to invest. He’s appealing to this guy’s financial sense. He’s saying: You think your money is a sure thing, but it’s actually risky. Instead, invest in something that won’t lose value. Ever. This Rich Young Ruler only saw poverty when there was a rich future with Jesus ahead. He was thinking about his billion dollars with a 10, 20, 30 year horizon. Instead, Jesus was asking him to think with a billion year horizon.

Giving is like investing in a 401k that will be withdrawn in the coming economy. Just like in the current economy, the performance of this 4(ever)01k depends on the proportion of resources allocated to giving.

But the Rich Young Ruler is confused about his role. He thinks Jesus asks him to give his money, when Jesus is really asking him to give His money. God gives us every resource and talent we have, and He cares very much about how you invest the resources He gives you.

 

God gives you all of your resources. You are like his Hedge Fund manager. What you do with His resources has wildly different returns.

Getting It For Free.99

Grace is free. Giving can’t be the price of admission to eternal lifethat’s already been paid.

Want to know something? There’s a problem with how we receive free. The other day I was talking about “free” with my friend Chaney, founder of the interior design firm Mix & Match Design Company (who did a heck of a job designing my bedroom despite my small budget). She occasionally runs a free design giveaway contest. She’s noticed something curious about it, though.

Everyone who hires her service is responsive, communicative, and the process is smooth. By contrast, some of her contest winners have been slower to respond, slower to communicate, and the process drags on. In both cases, she provides the same service. In both cases, she spends a lot of time researching and designingbut she has two very different experiences.

Free is not without cost from someone else, but when we get something free we treat it as worthless. When we pay or work for something, we tend to appreciate and treasure it more.

Againgrace is free, but it cost Jesus his life to give us this free grace. What the Rich Young Ruler couldn’t see was that Jesus himself was infinitely rich but became poor so he could offer this Rich Young Ruler a treasure in heaven.

Why God Asks Us to Give

Again and again, grace is free. You have it whether you give a billion or nothing at all. The pressure is off. You are not giving to earn grace, but as a reflection of your grace.

But if you only focus on the free, you forget the cost. And your appreciation of—and gratitude for—it is minimal. When you don’t give, your experience is more like that of a contest winner. You value it less, leading you to underinvest in your 4(ever)01k.

When you give sacrificially, your experience of grace is more like one of Chaney’s paying customers. You value it more. In the same way that communion is a sacrament of Jesus’s bodily sacrifice, giving is participation in Jesus’s willing poverty.

Now we have to ask: Why did Jesus willingly forsake his own riches and become poor? For his joy. So then, if God asks us to give in order to emulate Jesus’s willing poverty, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s for the same end goal: For our joy.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

– Matthew 13:44

What I Do

Again, seeking hard and fast rules leads us down the wrong path. That mindset results in a feeling of obligation rather than joy.  It makes it a God tax where we obsess about loopholes.  Instead, it should really feel like someone who grew up eating waxy chocolate bars who discovers a hidden warehouse of Swiss chocolate.  Your whole world changes and you just can’t go back to the waxy stuff.

I remember Tim Keller mentioning in a sermon that the call to give 10% was given prior to Jesus, but since we have the benefit of experiencing grace, our giving should be at least 10%. I pretty much follow this advice.

I have 10% of my gross salary automatically taken out of my account every month. Then, beyond that, I give to causes I care about. While I don’t cap my giving, I do make sure I know my budget so I don’t cause myself to get in debt by my giving. (If you are in a debt spiral, I recommend you give what you can but focus on getting your finances right so that you can enter into the joy of giving.)

Lastly, I’m trying to build a machine that can give more—sustainably—so I can exponentially grow my giving.  

Related:  How I Plan to Make $1,000,000 to Give it Away


How do you give? And do you have joy when you do?

*Ecclesiastes 1:11.

**Ok, so not the WSJ. The story is found in Mark 10:17-31, which was basically the WSJ two thousand years ago.

***I found instances where Jesus admonishes people for wanting to say bye to their loved ones, but omits their response. The rich young ruler was the first and only outright rejection that I see.

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6 Comments

  • Logica December 26, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    I agree overall. Well thought out and explained. I didn’t see anything specific about supporting the church specifically verses ‘giving to the poor’. What are your thoughts on that?

    If the church you attend makes a priority of helping the poor then I guess that works out well. I know some people start with their 10% given to the church and then other gifts above that to various ministries or individuals.

    And what about helping individuals? My husband and I have often given money or needed items directly to people we know that are in need. We have felt it better to do what the Lord is calling us to do rather then worry about the tax deduction.

    Thanks again for sharing your take is this important topic.

    Reply
    • JT December 26, 2016 at 10:08 pm

      Great questions, Logica! These are just my own personal rules for giving and my rules only:
      1. I give to organizations over individuals so that my dollars could go toward an entity built for scale to help more people / solve bigger problems than I can tackle on my own. My church spends part of its budget on the needy and marginalized, so I know the money is invested in their needs. The urban, underfunded school I invest in does a great job serving many children from poor households so that these kids have a fairer shot at getting out of poverty.
      2. For organizations that receive a larger share of my investment, I am familiar with their finances and see their work up close or volunteer. I want to have a direct understanding and experience of the work they do. Due diligence is important. I would like to do more with cancer research but want to read up on organizations more to invest in organization doing the best research with high potential solutions.
      3. This is a different take, but I don’t ever meet the full ask of a larger fundraising campaign even if I can solve it for them by writing a check. These organizations need both a strong development program and more invested supporters. If I solve it myself, I weaken the development and rob the other supporters the chance to invest.

      Thanks again for reading. Keep the great questions coming!

      Reply
  • Michael December 26, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    JMC, another great article! I’m interested to hear more about the machine you are building! I’m nearing retirement myself and trying to figure out what’s next. I’d like to maintain some form of income to allow me to continue to give generously.
    I really enjoy reading your writings. If you are interested in my opinion, I think you should compile these into a book. If you, let me know, I would buy it!

    Reply
    • JT December 26, 2016 at 10:18 pm

      Thanks so much, Michael! I might write a book about it, after I figure out how to do it first!

      The machine is basically JMC itself. Again, I’m no expert yet, but the intent of this site has always been to build it into a machine — and by machine, I mean a semi-passive thing that generates income, leveraging current technology.

      I haven’t written about it recently, but you’ve given me a great idea for a future post where I’ll be a little more specific about my blueprint. (And what is working / what isn’t) Thanks for the idea and it’s good to hear from you again!

      Reply
  • Joleisa December 27, 2016 at 2:46 am

    As always, a well thought out and written piece. Although I do give to organisations (ADRA and the British Red Cross), I do believe it’s necessary to give to individuals. Once I had the opinion that I would never give to a beggar, but I’ve since changed that. Long story, but once I got stuck in London, about three hours from home. I had taken the coach there just to go pick up a passport. On the way back, I was in the crowded coach station when a well dressed man came up and asked me for money. I told him I didn’t have any and he walked away and asked others who gave him enough money to purchase a coach ticket. He had had one but somehow lost it and didn’t have enough money on him to buy one to return home to his family. He was a teacher and a Christian, just like me! I felt so bad thinking that could have been me, and what if no one helped.
    With street people however, I choose to give but not monetarily. I know that sometimes the reason they are there have to do with drug abuse and I wouldn’t want to be fuelling it. I give food, clothes etc.
    God has no other hands and feet but ours. But we must pray for a discerning spirit.

    Reply
  • JT December 27, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    I love that your heart is soft toward the needy! I’ve been burned one too many times having spent 11 years m in NYC, a lot of time in inner city LA, some weeks in the Bay Area specifically to help the homeless, and the last 5 years in Philly (At one point, I felt like I knew most of the homeless in center city Philly). In each city, I used to buy lunch or groceries for homeless folks I met, then, in each city, an incident happened that I didn’t appreciate, some where I was prepared to defend myself. At this point in my life, I will give to organizations with staff that have better discernment than I do. Hope to renegage directly in the future.

    Reply

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